Wednesday, May 30, 2007

the day after that

queen esther in ft. tryon park

nyc can be so beautiful, sometimes. the filth they're always showing in the movies and on television doesn't ever measure up to the real thing when it's this breathtaking and simple. this is me in fort tryon park -- a place that looks and feels a lot like my parents' backyard in atlanta.

actually, in my first few years of living in nyc, i would take the train to this park and wander through it until i got to the cloisters, because it was a "pay what you wish" situation and i was all kinds of broke. it was the same deal at the met. i always thought of that place as especially spectacular because it was basically five museums in one. and believe me, i treated it like it was my very own palace. when i didn't have enough money to get on the subway and head to that glorified castle near the end of the A line, i would walk across the park and spend all day getting lost in the post-Impressionist wing, staring at my favorite one, but mostly scheming and making lists and daydreaming about my future in nyc and what it might be like.

i always thought that the cloisters are a bright shining example of what people should do with their money when they're really loaded.

later, when i had two nickels to rub together, the met was the first museum i joined. but then i joined MoMA too -- because it was so unbelievably expensive but mostly because i'd been stuck in bauhaus for years and i really needed to learn about modern and contemporary art.

i think of any work of art as a kind of snapshot: a moment in time that captures something of the artist's life, the artist's essence. when i walk through any museum, i feel as though any one of them have been split open and emotionally disemboweled right in front of me. kandinsky makes me feel that way. so does de kooning. and rauschenberg. a live performance, a song, a recording should do the same thing. seeing emmylou harris at joe's pub and listening to her sing red dirt girl made me blink back tears. i don't know if it's me or what but i don't hear a lot that moves me. i can still get lost in what i see, when i wander through a museum. and then certain pictures become touchstones in the same way that i can get so emotionally tangled up in a song or a particular lyric. so when i go, i want to see certain ones and get that particular feeling all over again.

i think i made the beginnings of pre-production plans on my next cd while sitting next to picasso's goat in the rock garden at MoMA. i like that goat. it looks unhinged. besides, i have an uncle with a farm in walterboro that has a lot of goats. if i could have a pet, it would be a goat. so until i get back down south, this one will have to do.

picasso's goat

at first, i went to museums because i wanted to see the art that i'd been looking at in textbooks all of my academic life. and then i went because it helped me to think through ideas in this really expansive way. now i get it: it's occupying one part of my brain while another part is ticking away like a metronome. and some other part of me is exploding...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

the day before the day before the first day of summer

coney island, memorial day weekend

i wanted us to get away to a place that would make us feel as though we had actually gotten out of the city without actually having to leave -- so we went to coney island. i'd never been there before but i'd heard lots of stories about it when i was a little kid from my father, who still occasionally waxes poetic now, at the grand old age of 90, about the fun he'd had there as a young man. the question floated before me like a mirage: would i see any of the coney island that my father knew?

everyone on the train was so upbeat about being there. as we headed towards the water, we were surrounded by people of all ages in varying stages of undress. they wandered around strategically and ate all kinds of things, and spoke very little english -- to each other, at least. lots of sailors, too. (i totally forgot that it was fleet week.) and there were other things going on, too -- pretty girls on stilts waving little flags, a tatooed lady here and there, some guy with a puppet that sang and sang. it was a permanent oceanside carny, not unlike any i'd seen and performed in when i lived in texas. too bad there was no frito pie.

sure there was no nathan's hot dogs in the panhandle but there was way better food. every stand seemed to offer the same things: roasted meats on a stick, italian sausages, hot dogs, french fries, hamburgers. fried chicken, fried clams, fried shrimp. fried, fried, fried, with nary a vegetable in sight -- unless you wanted some onions as a garnish. (and yeah, those were fried, too.) it was somewhat crowded, quite relaxed and just a little bit glorious. a punk rock three piece at one end of the boardwalk. a live latin outfit at the other end, with a crowd that leaned in to watch people dance. bad r&b blaring out at you as you passed some ride, some hit or miss game, some spin and barf with the added plus of letting you sail through the air over and over, like a well-controlled well-oiled slingshot. cleaner than average carny. and yes, after listening to story after story of how filthy all of it was supposed to be, the beach was surprisingly clean. it made me giddy, looking out onto that blue horizon line and drinking in all of that fresh breezy sea air and sunshine. my friend was like a tour guide, prattling off facts, leading me this way and that.

which ride would be first? the wonder wheel.

the wonder wheel

this was a piece of history that my father rode as a kid. how could i say no?

of course, i should have rethought that before i jumped on the cyclone. i think that thing realigned my spine. i'm pretty sure that if i'd eaten something substantial beforehand, i would have involuntarily flung vomit out of the pit of me, far and wide, in wide sloping technicolor streams of undigested glop that would arc high into the air just so and land, hot and steaming and merciless, on the unsuspecting heads and shoulders of most of the small children in the kiddie park directly below. but that's another story.

i'm glad i rode the cyclone and i'd probably do it again just to say that i did it but deep down i wish i hadn't. i should have known better when i saw how padded our seats were. heh.

coney island, up in the air

this is a shot from somewhere atop the wonder wheel.

afterwards, in spite of the fried greasy everything that everyone gorged themselves on, i found a stand that sold nothing but fresh chilled fruit. as we settled into the freak bar and wondered about the demise of coney island, i munched on sliced chilled mango. we fantasized about what it might be like to live out there, in some wide open space with a car, maybe. then again, maybe not. no grocery stores. high crime. high development. that's gentrification in new york city for you. in a few years or so, it'll be the place to live. and everyone who stuck it out and bought something will be saying, "i told you so." yeah. maybe.

my friend wouldn't take me to the sideshow because he said he'd had enough of freaks. and bars, too. i wanted to see chuy the dog-faced mexican. next time, he promised. and there has to be a next time because this is coney island's last time, or at least, it's the last gasp like this: old-school, wide-open, neo-burlesque, cheap, freaky fun.

at the freak bar

from what i'd been told, this was coney island's last summer before a massive renovation that would sweep away much of the boardwalk and fill the strip with expensive condos that would stand in the shadow of the high rise projects nearby. in our walk along the dock that extended over the water, one of the city workers confirmed what i'd been told: coney island would be a playground for the rich. astroland would stay and so would the freaks, probably. the developers had even bought an old deserted bathhouse that we'd glimpsed just down the boardwalk. there was just no stopping them. what a mess. the question that no one can answer is, where will the poor people live?

so this is the beginning of summer. almost. do i look like i'm ready for it?

the day before the first day of summer

one thing is certain: happiness isn't something that happens to you. it's a choice. i'm really really happy right now. gleefully, giggle-out-loud, throw-my-hat-up-in-the-air, walking-around-smiling-for-no-reason happy. and so is my friend. in a way, it doesn't get any better than that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

le freak! c'est chic!

there are articles and books that talk about disco as a cultural phenomenon but i haven't really read anything that dissects the creative drive or the musicianship behind certain groups or producers. the overall presumption is that disco lacks both. nowadays most talk about disco like it was a strange, tacky blight on the american music landscape. but i never thought that about the group chic.

then came the book everybody dance: chic and the politics of disco by daryl easlea. of course the author is a regular contributor to Mojo, arguably the only music magazine worth reading these days. of course it's published by helter skelter located in london, a city that knows a good black american thing when they see/hear it. of course a brit would intellectualize what chic has done and give their music and their production aesthetic the respect that it deserves. of course.

here's a glimpse: a live performance from back in the day. even from this far away in time and online video, it feels like a party. (check out nile rogers' afro! i love it!)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

queen esther the photographer?

harriet tubman's house

i've got two photos that i took of harriet tubman's property last year that are going to be in a children's book about her, to be published by sterling publishing (this fall, i think). this one is her house.

i remember showing this photo to some black someone that i was doing theater with at the time and he gagged and blurted, you mean she didn't live in some lean-to shotgun shack somewhere out back or something?

no. she didn't.

at a time when it was illegal for black people to own property, william h. seward, the former governor of new york and a very close friend of hers, stepped in to make sure that she'd be able to purchase a plot of land in auburn -- a few miles on the same road as his place, actually. in their ongoing excavations/renovations of the property, they found the remains of a kiln that was located some distance from the house while i was there late last spring. as it turns out, her husband built a beautiful two story brick house there, from scratch. what was appalling is that her family lost the house right after she died because they didn't pay taxes on it. (!!!) one other family occupied the house until the mid to late 1980s. someone had the bright idea to turn her property into an historical site, amongst other things. it's still in the works. i hope it happens. as of yet, we don't have a national museum devoted to the black holocaust or our history as african americans.

her husband building that house from scratch wasn't that deep to me because i watched my grandfather do it in charleston, south carolina when i was a little girl. he used brick that had been discarded from a nearby construction site and made the beautiful four bedroom/two bathroom house that filled much of my childhood memories.

harriet tubman's home for the aged

this one is the home for the aged that she built to help the old and the sick.

i'm relieved that they're going to use the photos because they're really beautiful (it was a picture-perfect blue sky day when i took them) but also because they singlehandedly deconstruct a lot of myths about who she really was and how she lived her life in her last years. it's hard to get to know an icon but when it's someone that casts such a long shadow throughout our recent american history, you have to try.

seward was no slouch, by the way. not only was he was a lawyer, a new york senator, a globe-trotting diplomat and a secretary of state under lincoln (and andrew jackson) -- his mansion was a pit-stop on the underground railroad. there's an infamous letter that he writes to his wife (who was a quaker, interestingly enough) where he's positively giddy about everyone thinking he's this fine upstanding citizen and all and there's half a dozen runaway slaves hidden in his basement. i couldn't wait to wander around in this place. as luck would have it, i had my own personal tour guide who was absolutely delighted to answer all of my bumbling idiotic picayune annoying questions about architecture and family portraits and credenzas and such (stuff like, "where did sewell die?" "was it this fainting couch or that one?" "who found him?" "is this place haunted or what?" oh, and here's a real winner: "i know i can't sit in that inaugural carriage that seward and lincoln rode in - but can i touch it?") i figured they didn't bounce me out of there because i was featured in the hit musical in their town that summer and everyone was talking about it.

of course, they wouldn't let me take any pictures inside, but they did let me stand for a few minutes in that very room where those slaves hid. leaning against those walls had a strange effect on me. i could feel them resonating into my bones.

i thought that it was kind of fantastic that his house was a part of the underground railroad but from what i was told by my tour guide, there are lots of houses in auburn and in other towns upstate that were pit-stops, too: they were filled with hidden doorways, cabinets and bookshelves that moved to reveal some other room or that led to some other part of the house, unused cellars and attics. what an all-american treasure all of that is. i suppose there would be a movement to show those hidden rooms and such in those homes but people still live in them. someone should take pictures of them, at least. document them, somehow.

bizarrely, his mansion was also party central for a host of dignitaries and the like. i remember walking around thinking, how could you throw parties all the time and hide runaway slaves and never get caught? so yeah, i went a little nuts over the china, the furniture, the sitting rooms, those exquisite pocket doors and all of the beautiful decor from asia. (and there was a lot of it.) but i never forgot that hidden room. i love it when history stops wallowing in books and becomes real, even if it's in the form of some handmade bloody bedsheets that seward lay on while recieving medical care after that attack. all i could think was, this really happened! but more on that some other time.

so yeah, those photos. i'm not surprised that harriett tubman decided to settle in auburn. it's so close to canada and it's a really beautiful place. it's much more rural than i thought it would be -- lush and green and pretty -- but my friend kept calling it the suburbs anyway. with seward so nearby, she could own land and help others. and she did -- she opened a home for the aged. ironically, in her old age, she actually moved into it.

hm. i'll bet her husband built that house, too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

everyone's seen it but me

i'll figure out a way to post it here eventually but if you want to see the prego commercial that has me in it (it's actually called "rosemary and herb"), click here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

did you think i wouldn't get it?

to tell you the truth, i didn't think i would, either. but lo and behold, i got the comedy central promo -- afro and all, much to my father's surprise. (sigh.) we shoot it tomorrow. someone is calling me with details this afternoon.

i would kick up my heels right now and scream yippee!!!!!!!!!!! but later on today, i've got a look-see for Dell in midtown and an audition for a Deloitte industrial. i feel like i hit the ground running yesterday and my legs are still moving. more details as they unravel.

guess i'll have to scream and jump up and down on the inside.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

where's the avalanche?

Not that I believe in this stuff or that I make a habit of reading it or that it means anything at all but this is what greeted me today in the horoscope section of

"Your relationship with money is about to go through a very interesting phase. You'll be tasked with managing a far larger amount than you were prepared for, and you should not attempt to go it alone. The sums involved could cause you to make incorrect assumptions. If you don't understand something -- even something small -- seek out professional advice. These are murky waters, and you definitely don't want to get in over your head."

Mismanagement of funds, hm? Ha. I've been broke for so long, it would take an avalanche of money just to set me straight.

well, guess what?

got a call yesterday from my commercial agency. i'm on hold for that comedy central promo i auditioned for on friday. imagine that.

Monday, May 07, 2007

about that comedy central audition...

i got seen for a comedy central promo on friday. i didn't know exactly what that meant -- promo. i'm thinking, it's kinda like a commercial, right? no matter what it actually is, the audition will feel like a commercial one: i'll say the lines, they'll give me direction, i'll readjust -- but not too big -- and then maybe more direction, more readjustment, a thank you and i'm out. it's a routine that hardly ever changes with camerawork. no matter. i'm ready.

they said casual business attire. i wore a button front denim dress because i didn't have any cash money to run out and buy something to wear for the moment, like i usually did when all of my clothes were dirty. why didn't i have any clean clothes? because the elevator in my building is being upgraded and i didn't feel like hauling three large loads in a rickety cart up and down three flights of stairs. that's why. i waited until everything was dirty and it still wasn't fixed. oh, well.

which wig did i wear in my arsenal? did i do something extra-fancy with my natural hair? what about those cornrows? frankly, i didn't have the energy to bother. i decided to wow them with something really spectacular: my self. i came to this decision in part because of a conversation i had with my father, wherein i told him i got the prego commercial and that it was running but he probably wouldn't recognize me because i had that wig on (come on, you know the one) and then he told me that the reason why i got the prego commercial was because the wig made me look like a lady. then he said a lot of other stuff. like how he was kidding, and how i was supposed to be intelligent enough to know when he was joking. so i told him that i was completely daft but i knew enough to know that people say what they really mean when they're kidding around. and that was his passive-aggressive way of telling me what he thought of my hair. and why did i go for years wearing wigs to auditions and getting nothing. and yeah, he could give my mother the phone back now, and he's like, no, let's talk. and i'm like, i don't have anything to say to you. and that's when we were off to the races.

so when they called me in, i thought, you know what? i don't have the energy, the wherewithal, the time or the inclination to try to figure out what these executive corporate white people -- or my stubborn father, for that matter -- want me to look like as a black woman. they all think they know me, they all think they've got me figured out, and none of them do. especially my daddy. i mean, i've had it.

don't get me wrong. i'll work harder than anyone. i'll readjust. i'll wear a wig. why not? i like wigs. but this -- telling me in no uncertain terms that i'm patently unattractive because i don't straighten my hair -- this is over the top. the world tells me this every day but i don't listen. it shouldn't be a struggle to know that what i am is enough and to live that out in the ordinary moments of my world.

i know what you're thinking: it's just hair! but you know what? it's not. not when you're black and female.

so i showed up at liz lewis casting on time with a tight afro wearing a denim dress and some boots, took my polaroid smiling like mona lisa, and sat amongst gleamingly permed hair-dos and office casual outfits straight out of central casting until my name was called. i remember something about jack link. i remember having them pitch different office scenarios at me. i remember some white guy talking like mr. t at me, and me having to react to that, and everyone in the room laughing at what i did. wierd.

and then the next thing i knew, i was back on the sidewalk making my way through the breezy sunshiny streets, wondering what happened and somehow knowing exactly what happened. telling myself i didn't care -- and meaning it. i've always got way bigger catfish to skin and fry. it won't be the beginning of the world if i get it. it won't be the end of the world if i don't. but i would like to get it, just to leave my hair the way it is and in so doing, to silence my father -- if that's possible. and it isn't.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

so i didn't tell him

where did we go? to a town on the jersey coast called spring lake, to a bed and breakfast called the victoria house. i think it took a whole day just to relax. on saturday, we rode no speed cruiser bikes all day like a couple of nine year olds, from belmar to point pleasant and back again. our innkeeper said we must have put in something like 20 miles, easily.

and now i have to go play guitar and watch adult swim. more later.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

he doesn't want to know

heading out of town tomorrow with my friend, to celebrate his birthday. we're going to a place that neither of us has ever seen. he has absolutely no idea where we're headed. when i would offer to tell him, he would balk and demand that i stop talking. i told him to pack a toothbrush and some walking shoes -- and an appetite, of course. with any luck, we'll be back early on sunday afternoon.

this getaway is as much for me as it is for him. i need to get out of the city for awhile. i'm totally burnt out.

remarkably, everything is going spectacularly well. the guitar lessons and the guitar playing are coming on strong and so is the songwriting, i got two new cookbooks that i can't stop salivating over, the bike arrived from my friend's mother (thank you, thank you, thank you) and i had an audition today for a comedy central promo. here's the kicker: i just washed all my clothes, so i've got a whole new wardrobe.