I go for the preachin’

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.

012308missaartje.jpgI 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…visibleVery 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.

photo:  missaartje


through other eyes

The young man climbed the sticky steps of the Manhattan subway station exiting at 86th Street and Lexington.Recent rain on a summer day had dried too quickly and not cleaned the concrete of half-dried soda, food, spit and slime, and the young man stepped with his head down, moving with the Sunday morning crowd, one of many, not a separate individual so much as a piece of a whole.

“Twenty-five cents for a meal!” shouted a voice at the top of the stairs where the exterior light met the dank of the subway tunnel. The voice had a Deep South accent, gravelly, older, black. Directed at everyone: “Ah fought in the wah faw yuh!” Continue reading