Thursday, March 31, 2005

mental note: don't watch scary movies with black folks

last night, ralph and i went to see the ring two in times square. we'd both seen the first one so we kind of knew what to expect: the well, the dead girl in the well, the water in the well that shows up before she does. i needed a distraction. i had been throwing things away like crazy -- everything from old papers to ugly furniture -- and it was a strangely emotional process, one that left me feeling maudlin and a little high strung. i met up with ralph in a turkish bar in hell's kitchen and after some heady talk and polish honey wine (he said it was fantastic), we sauntered over to loew's.

the other day i noticed that my new regimen has me eating like a french white girl. that means i don't nosh anymore at the movies, i don't snack and i've given up junk and processed foods. it's just three small squares everyday, a workout here and there and a lot of running around. (no wonder i'm losing weight!)

as we're sitting there waiting for the movie to start, i'm cringing as i'm watching all of these oversized people waddle in with buckets of popcorn and hot cheese on tortilla chips and what not. i could feel my arteries tightening at the thought of consuming all of that grease within a two hour time frame. the scary movie that most people live through without realizing it is that most diseases are lifestyle related. with excercise and good nutrition, something as pervasive as heart disease wouldn't have to be an inevitability. i turned around and looked over the crowd in one sweeping glance. how many of these people were going to have a heart attack before the age of 40?

by the time previews began, there was a low murmur in the theater. it sounded like a very quiet study hall. that irresistable smell of popcorn was everywhere -- so hard to resist. i love popcorn. it's my favorite. but these days, i treat it like a bouquet of flowers that i can't eat. i just enjoy the fragrance.

and whoever i'm with has to talk to me. they just have to.

everyone started right in with the running commentary almost as soon as the first scene was underway. i remember a fat black girl a few rows away from us with her own bucket and quart sized fountain beverage who was talking to the screen like she was at home in her living room. it was so much fun. we all pretty much laughed our way through the whole thing. somewhere in the middle of it, my phone wouldn't stop vibrating. it was my mother. all i could think was, who died? that's what always runs through my head when i get a phone call from home after a certain hour. but i didn't answer it. it was probably nothing, i reasoned. just her checking in because she hadn't heard from me in awhile.

the next morning, my mother called me because she figured i hadn't checked my messages. my cousin had a heart attack the day before and was in a hospital somewhere in queens. my nice cousin, who called me his favorite. the one with a son and baby-mama-drama. my good guy cousin, the mechanic. the one that worked 50 hours a week. the one that ate mostly junk food and that hardly ever cooked for himself, by his own admission. i was grateful that he was alive but i knew that he was scared. his mother died of a heart attack more than a year or so ago.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

johnny cochran is gone?

unbelievable but true: johnny cochran passed away on tuesday. he had a brain tumor. click here for the new york times article, so you can read all about it.

they say these things come in threes. who's next?

gordon lightfoot revisted

my little brother moniah called and left a message on my answering machine. he was blaring that gordon lightfoot song in the background and yelling "i'm rick james, bitch!" at the top of his lungs. he was calling to thank me for sending that mellow easy listening stuff he loves so much. stuff like the little river band and bread and seals & crofts. and yet he can get more crunked up than anyone in ATL! go figure.

he was visiting my parents for a few days from fort stewart, where ever the hell that is. his visit was right on time for my father's 87th birthday. interestingly enough, it's the same day as ralph's, which is also the beginning of the Feast of Purim. hm. i'm sure there's a connection in there somewhere...

Friday, March 25, 2005

singing in shul for purim

i would be remiss in my duties as an honorary jew if i didn't tell anyone about the story of queen esther or my special day, the feast of purim.

i used to try to find a shul to sing in every year but the older jews that loved me so much have all passed away. and now there is no one left to invite me to service or even call me hadassah and give me hamentashen and those wonderful brightly colored little noisemakers. i miss them all terribly -- especially harry, the moil who called himself a professional pencil sharpener and who loved to stand in the hallway outside my room and listen to me sing songs like "stars fell from alabama" and "azalea" to myself, when i was working furiously to learn as many standards as i could, for my own satisfaction.

and then of course there is mr. fineman, who would refuse to answer his phone when he knew i was calling so i would sing bits and pieces of songs like "midnight sun" into his machine.

i don't know of very many people who know those songs. they're all older and genuinely surprised that i sing them the way that i do. actually, i hardly know any vocalists who've bothered to learn them. not the songs that most people wouldn't know, like "gloomy sunday." they don't even know standard issue boiler plate pedestrian stuff, like "the way you look tonight." i find that to be highly disturbing. if no one ever sings these songs, how will they live?

sometimes i would sing standards in shul. they were always quite moving and strangely appropriate.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

i want my body back!

my momentary depression that had lasted for several months last fall was actually a blessing in disguise because it knocked a lot of chunk off of my frame. i must have lost something like 20 pounds. basically, i was sad and didn't know it. i'd stay in bed for days on end, watching cable, playing my guitar in the dark and drinking bottled water. pretty soon, i just couldn't leave the house. this behavior didn't last that long but the after effect certainly did. after awhile, acquaintances would give me compliments about the way i looked and ask if i'd been working out a lot. oh yeah, it was the "no solid food" workout.

thankfully, i started working out. i reached a plateau recently and realized that i needed a little push -- something that would motivate me to work harder physically, for optimum results by the time the spring really hits. i wanted my body back by the time the weather would allow me to take off my bulky clothing. i don't obsess about how much i weigh. reclaiming my body means not feeling sluggish or drained at the start of the day. no aches and pains and whatnot. i want lots of energy and strength and flexibility. i want to be able to fit into all of my clothes. nothing extra-fancy. just the basics.

i don't know where i saw it -- probably in a fitness magazine or something -- but i went online and joined Self magazine's fitness challenge. i have to write down everything i eat and every workout thing i do, even if it's just a long walk. so far, so good: i bought a pair of Gap size 6 low rise denim trousers earlier this month to motivate me and now they actually fit comfortably.

what's trippy is that i (who usually sleeps until noon) am willing to get to the gym every morning before 9am to make this happen. will i pull this off or not? i'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

O, Death, Part Two

i was standing at the end of the downtown platform at 137th st. as it pointed towards the above ground platform at 125th st. so we could talk for as long as we liked. but then of course, the train arrived and all of a sudden, we couldn't talk at all. moniah (the world calls him john) was in training at Fort Stewart, Georgia. God only knows what he did all day. he fastidiously reassured me that he didn't spend it marching in formation like gomer pyle. moniah has a funny accent and he talks up his nose. it sounds like a high winny with a laconic buzz. plus he's an ATL-ien. he's got a lot of slang and he loves crunk. i made him laugh and then he drawled good-naturedly, you've been watching too many movies about the military, big sis. that's all media. reality is something else entirely.

i'll bet.

he sounded as though he were right down the street. i felt my heart start beating again. hard, like before when i was listening to the howling from the apartment next door. it still felt like somebody died.

i was still mad at him for joining the army and i didn't want to be. i didn't want anything to keep me from loving him as much as i possibly could, no matter where he was or what stupid idiotic foolhardy thing he did. he would always be my little boy. the one whose diapers i changed. the one i bathed, endlessly. the one i carried through the woods on my back, like a little bearito. the one who would climb into my bed as a toddler when he was afraid of the dark. it was me that made him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he went to bed. it was my bed he hid under, to escape a spanking and my mother's inevitable wrath. i taught him how to catch frogs. it didn't matter that he was 6'4" and walked the earth like a tree. to me, he was still 4, looking up at me helplessly in tears because yet another frog that he left in the bib of his osh-kosh overalls had somehow died. it didn't matter what he'd done. he was mine. he always would be. and he knew it.

as the train left the 125th st. station, i promised that i'd call in an hour. whenever i talked to him, he always said that he loved me. it always wrecked me to hear it but this time, it knocked me down. i went to my destination, tearful and heavy-hearted. what a strange day. i could hardly believe how happy i'd been, only a few hours before.

i think the thing that made me so upset about the little boy is that i haven't really come to terms with the fact that he might not make it. he really could die over there. i may not ever see him again until i am in glory. i don't want to believe that may be true. i just can't accept it. not when he's calling me up out of nowhere from south georgia, to surprise me.

i called moniah back while they were setting everything up in the studio.

what are you doing, he asked and after i explained, he went on about how much he loved music. will you send me some, he asked.

i don't have any crunk, little boy, i warned.

i don't want any of that, he said. i could see him sitting there, waving his long arm in the air for emphasis. do you have any gordon lightfoot?

you want gordon lightfoot? i laughed into the phone. it doesn't get much cheesier than that.

yeah, he said dreamily. i love that song he does about the highway...

you mean "carefree highway"? i stammered.

yeah, that's it! and the other one about the sun going down.

strangely inspired, i burst into song. "sundown, you'd better take care, if i find you've been creeping down my back stairs..." with that, moniah let out what could only be described as a rebel yell.

sing it again, he demanded. i cagily refused. i don't like being a human jukebox, even when i get paid for it. that's the horrible thing about telling people that you sing. command performances.

do it for your country, he whined. i didn't want to get into the argument we'd have if i didn't sing it at that point, so i sighed and sang it again. he howled and put me on speaker phone. i couldn't believe how happy i was making him by just standing around and singing snippets from gordon lightfoot songs. neither could anyone else within earshot. black people aren't supposed to like gordon lightfoot, are they?

you know i love all that easy listening stuff that was around in the 80's, he explained. when i was a kid, that music was everywhere. hey. do you have that song, "i go crazy"? how about journey, do you have any journey?

hey, i said, before the conversation took a wrong turn. do you like country music? like, johnny cash?

the conversation went dead. there was a moment and then he said, with as much intensity as he could muster: NO.

sure you do, i said. you love waylon jennings.

no i don't, he countered flatly.

sing the dukes of hazzard theme song, i demanded. and he did. as a matter of fact, he knew all the words. that's waylon, i said. you love that song.

on and on we went. i promised that i'd burn him some cds of what i thought he'd like. the theme song to the movie "midnight cowboy" immediately comes to mind. it's not from the 80's, but i know it's just what he'd like.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

O, Death

i was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, daydreaming about nothing in particular. i was wallowing in the afterglow of a great audition. i had been seen for some tv thing and when we realized that i had to alter what i had or discard it completely, i was forced to improvise my way through it and i nailed it. of course with film and tv folk, there's always the chance that they could be blowing smoke up your butt because that's such a big part of what they do (and yes, that definitely includes the music industry). but there are moments, even for them, when certain things can't be denied. this was one of those moments. trust me. i go into these auditions expecting nothing. when i get anything at all, it's more than overwhelming.

i love it when i nail stuff, especially if it's film or tv because the medium is so new to me and i'm still trying to figure out how to work it. when i do a good job, i feel as though i'm coming closer to getting good at auditioning for stuff on camera and that means progress. that means growth. improvement. i walk away feeling like i own everything i see. and then i float all the way home. i'm thinking, hey -- if i don't get the part, it won't be my fault. it won't be anything i did. it'll be something that's out of my control. like some guy behind a desk doesn't think i'm pretty enough. or i'm not tall enough. something stupid like that.

as i was lying there, i thought about what would make me really happy at that moment and then i realized that i couldn't think of anything because i was already happy. and that made me even happier than i already was. when was i this happy out of nowhere? it seemed to happen a lot when i was a little kid -- that habit i had of bursting into laughter out of nowhere, for seemingly no good reason. it has finally come back to me. i closed my eyes and smiled.

that's when i heard it.

it had been going on for awhile but i had ignored it. i didn't know what it was, at first. an alarm? someone's mexican soap opera turned up too loud? a hysterical child, maybe? but then it went on and on and on. at one point, there was a blood curdling scream that made me sit up in bed abrubtly, like my body was reacting to what my mind couldn't fully digest. my heart was beating so fast, i could feel its thumping throbbing resonating inside my chest like an echo, rattling my nerves, completely upending me. i knew what that screaming meant when i was at home, down south. somebody died.

i went to my front door and opened it. the screaming was so loud, i had to hold my ears. it was a miracle that no one had called the police. it was coming from the door to my immediate left. someone had tipped it open slightly, probably because they'd gotten tired of answering it. i almost pushed it open and walked through it. instead, i retreated back to my bedroom and sat down on the bed again. i am a stranger, i thought. i'm not family. i can't intrude. and besides -- i don't speak enough spanish to really talk to anyone. i folded my hands and placed them in my lap, closed my eyes and listened. i was transfixed by the sound of her voice.

when i left the house, she was still screaming. i could hear murmuring as others tried to console her. i stood there outside my door like a lost child, staring at that door handle, wondering what would happen if i just walked into their home with nothing but my throbbing heart in my hands. just then, a fat dominican girl with long stringy reddish hair in a t shirt and pajama bottoms came barrelling down the stairs, on her way to the first floor. i asked her if she knew what was wrong and as she said no, she knocked on the door to find out.

as a lanky boy came to the door and opened it, her screams became even louder and pushed us back slightly. i was right. someone had died. it was her great-grandmother. i went a little numb. once upon a time, i had a great-grandmother, too. i knew exactly what that felt like.

i ran into my Straight White Roommate in the lobby as i checked the mailbox. he'd come home to take a nap inbetween school and work. what's all that noise, he asked. when i explained, he said flatly, with a smirk, even--they can't have been surprised that she died. i mean, she was old, right? she was a great-grandmother. i looked at him for a moment, unblinking. i unwillingly supressed the urge to throttle him. i don't know what kind of family he had, but "old" in my world has never meant incapacitated. my great-grandparents were very active in the church and in the community, very much a vibrant part of our extended family on into their old age. my grandfather was a pillar of our community. i still have my grandmother. my beautiful grandmother, who is the mother of my uncle's church and who gets around town in a red cadillac and who still bakes the best bread pudding i've ever had. age means nothing. everyone is in God's waiting room. are we supposed to cry less if the last child of the family was stillborn or if old aunt ida was 92 when she passed away? if it's someone that you love, it's a shock when they go, no matter how old they are or how they leave.

but of course, i said nothing. i even gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back as i walked up the street towards the subway. i'm getting better at not letting anyone in general know what i'm really thinking or feeling. think about it: if i'd let him have it, even if i was totally calm and zen about it, he would have been completely freaked out. kind of like that upstate situation when i tried to explain a slice of my black female perspective to my white host and his gay white neighbor. talk doesn't change anyone's mind. especially when they're convinced that you're angry, violent and fabulous just because you're black and female.

as i'm mulling over all of this on the subway platform, my cell phone rings. and it's -- guess who? -- my little brother, moniah. the one that's on his way to iraq.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

neo-burlesque night at galapagos!

i don't know why but lately, i'm more determined than ever to not surround myself with the essentials (music and food) and bury myself alive in my apartment. it must be the weather. the snow is hell-bent on engulfing me in an urban igloo of ice and so i'm steady at it, trying to dig my way out.

my quest to up my fun quotient took me to billyburg, of course. my lovely date for the evening was an all-purpose irish (american) man of the world who, as a borderline workaholic, needed to get out of the house and have fun as much as i did. we ate like royalty at a lovely thai place -- easy to do in williamsburg, isn't it? -- and then we jettisoned at galapagos, an art space that i had never experienced, as an audience member or as a performer. i just wanted to see reggie cabico host "smut" and say hi.

everyone knows reggie from def poetry jam except me. he was warm, spontaneous and fun, infusing the evening with an "anything can happen" kind of vibe that kept things interesting, whether they actually were or not. every so often, he would interject a few of his pieces here and there, which were riveting -- and all the more unnerving because reggie is basically the cutest thing since they invented cupcakes, and he doesn't seem to know it. that juxtaposition gives everything even more of an edge than it already has. he makes me want to write poetry again.

seeing him do his thing and having a little erotica read to me was enough. imagine my surprise when they announced that there would be neo-burlesque contest afterwards, hosted by everyone's favorite drag king, murray hill. a real amateur competition, with a baby tiara and everything. burlesque! how cool.

neo-burlesque is one of those professions that i always fantasize about, like being a race car driver or an animator/cartoonist or a black cowboy/bull dogger: something to think about as "the road not taken" whenever i imagine that what i'm doing for a living is somehow conventional and not exciting enough. (ha.) maybe someday, i'll play one in the movies. maybe someday, i'll get up the nerve to try to win an amateur contest somewhere in the city. until then, i am left to press my nose up against the window of someone else's life, whether i'm mesmerized by a picture of the beautiful black cowboy nat love or hanging out at the slipper room on a friday night.

there were seven rather shapely and fleshy contestants. thankfully, they all looked like real women. the place was so packed, it was ridiculous. of course it was free to get in. it's williamsburg! who's going to pay a cover anywhere in this neighborhood?

  • last month's winner (a big girl called miss la rue, i think) who had a bevy of supporters, telling the audience that she took her winnings -- all of $180 cash -- dry cleaned a few things and went for an interview with morgan stanley. lo and behold, she got the job. in fact, that morning was her first day! too bad her co-workers weren't there to see her take it off and shake it around last night...
  • after awhile, every other question from the guy i was with went something like, are you sure that's a girl? towards the end of the evening, he even forgot that murray hill was a drag king.
  • the two girls (my friend guessed eastern european or russian) who told the story of a relationship in dance. they were like isadora duncan without the gauzy clothing.
  • my favorite one was a girl who came out on a leash in a cartoony looking dog outfit and seriously stripped as a barking yelping canine to iggy pop's "i wanna be your dog" -- i remember thinking, now this is neo-burlesque. his favorite: the girl in the cowboy hat who sang as she stripped to "home on the range"-- later in the women's room, she told me that she was absolutely terrified. trust me, she really didn't look it.
  • looking over my shoulder at the end of the night as all the girls lined up in varying stages of undress and seeing a painfully well-dressed hasidim gentleman, staring wide-eyed and standing on tippytoe to get a better view.
what can i say? i'm a total fan now. i wonder who'll win next month?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

free pizza in williamsburg?

what's up with the free pizza in williamsburg?

we're all used to free bar food at happy hour -- in small portions. but there are establishments in billyburg that are doling out slices of pie like they're a pizza parlor, not a bar. and not just at happy hour, either. they serve it up all night long, if you buy a drink.

am i out of the loop, or what.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


all i can think about right now is the stuff i'm going to buy with that cash money that's coming to me from my tax return. all of this stuff is dancing around just above my head like little sugarplums:
  1. a tricked out laptop that's powerful enough to let me record songs while i'm on the road
  2. an ipod that takes/stores pictures
  3. a digital camera so i can add visuals to all these words
  4. a cell phone that i can use while travelling outside of the u.s.a.
  5. a four in one copier/scanner/fax/printer machine
at least i've got a good palm pilot and cell phone. and a hardcover for my baby taylor, so i can travel with it.

i've made an appointment to see my accountant early next week, so i'm going to spend the rest of the day sifting through my reciepts, making lists and adding everything up. and sure, i'm bracing myself, but i've written everything down in painstaking detail in my palm pilot "expenses" section and i've saved everything, so maybe i'm ahead of myself and this won't hurt like i think it will. either way, i'm going to have a happy spring because i will finally have caught up with everyone else and my little office will finally be up-to-date and complete. wow. i'm so glad i always had extra money withheld whenever i got paid.

i wonder if i'll have enough money left over to get a video camera?