I was supposed to meet my colleague Sonja at Amy Ruth’s, a restaurant off of Lenox on 116th Street in Harlem and apparently about 50 yards off the #2 or #3 train. Instead, I took the #1 train, thinking the local would get me there just as well, and got off at 116th and Broadway, bordering Columbia University.
I called Sonja and she kind of said, “Oh…you didn’t take the #2?” From the tone of her voice, I knew that this was not an optimal situation. I told her where I was, knowing that I stood significantly to the west of where I wanted to be, yet what stood between me and the cornbread at Amy Ruth’s was Morningside Park at dark, and west Harlem.
“You can walk it – you’re a man.”
I didn’t realize, at that moment, that in a mere 20 minutes I would be spooning hot “Rev. Earl Johnson’s Harlem Gumbo Shuffle” into my hungry mouth, served by a pleasant, coffee-skinned young woman from the Islands. I wondered, instead, about the walk through the park and the traverse down Morningside Avenue…4?…5?…blocks…I did not know how far, to Lenox Avenue. I was feeling very…White, and very…Upper East Side, and very…visible. Very visible. Like a flaming red zit on an albino’s nose.
I comforted myself thinking about the times I worshiped at Bethelite Community Church on 123rd and Lenox back in ’95 and heard the pastor preach and roll and rumble from the pulpit, and how I was practically the lone white guy in the crowd, and I how I felt more spiritual because I was crossing racial lines and how that made me Oh So Good. And then reality snapped in as I – garbed in a long, olive, trench coat with a Ralph Lauren blue blazer underneath (could anything be more White…?) and trendy Kenneth Cole shoes and my designer glasses – strode by a group of younger black males, all of them about 7′ 5″ and capable of making the NY Giants’ offensive line whimper, and of course everything I heard someone say alongside me as I walked I internalized and self-referentialized, so when one of them snapped, “Aw, man, that’s fu*#ed up,” I thought he was referring to me trespassing on his street and that I was about to be shown how Justice-For-400-Years-of-Slavery-and-Racial-Inquality-Looks-and-Feels-White-Boy, and not, perhaps, how his buddy’s girlfriend dumped him for another guy, maybe a guy who left the neighborhood and was now working for Ogilvy Mather Advertising and living in Chelsea – that would indeed be fu*#ed up. But no, I was inescapably paranoid and terminally self-indulgent. I stared at the sidewalk and kept walking like I was meant to be there, the forward-motion equivalent of a Jack Russell Terrier rolling over on its back and spreading its legs in the face of a growling Rottweiler.
Please, friends: Sniff, and know that I am good.