i would like to take a moment to say thanks to the dominican thug on my block who, whenever he sees me, proclaims at the top of his lungs that anyone that effs with me effs with him, too. it was (and still is) momentarily embarassing, listening to his voice boom out over the street and then watching everyone readjust under the sheer volume of his seemingly spontaneous tirade, and then look at me sideways as i walk past them. but there is much love in it that i don't care anymore. i'm just loving the love.
when i first moved to the neighborhood, everyone assumed that i was dominican, too. and when they realized how bad my spanish was, they thought i was haitian. at this point, they're convinced that i'm some kind of foreign but they aren't sure exactly what. i wasn't necessarily one of them, but one of them looked out for me.
it was like that with will, the crackhead who lived on the first floor of my old building on west 150th street. when the con ed man would show up to shut off my electricity because i hadn't paid it in like forever, will would sic his twin dobermans on him. he tried very hard to convince me that if i didn't stop being so nice to everyone, something bad would happen to me. i would see him in the street all the time. my brothers had known him since forever and he would come over sometimes. he was like my crazy uncle or something. there were moments when we could not separate until we were nearly screaming because we were laughing so much. when his heart finally exploded in his chest and they dragged him to harlem hospital and worked on him and then he overdosed for real and died, i cried for days.
for some time after that -- and still to this day, really -- i find myself surrounded by junkies. most of them are hiding in plain sight, with day jobs and children and such. reformed, clean, sober. walking the narrow and playing it straight. invariably, i'll meet someone and eventually they'll tell me that they still shoot up sometimes. or that all that skag they used to do is something they don't ever really talk about. junk is usually in there somewhere. there was one someone who used to sing the chorus of that gun club song to me all the time. indeed, there have been so many junkies that have followed the sound of my voice and fallen for me that i'm starting to think of it as the will residue in my life.
and then there was the little old jew in my old building on west 86th street -- a retired moil, no less! -- who would bring me hamentashen on my special day and correct my relatively okay yiddish, and teach me more. actually, harry the moil was one of many. there was norman. and marty. and adele. and sam, who sat at the front desk and decided who could live there and who couldn't. all of them, fluent in several languages. all of them, holocaust survivors. sam filled the building with brazilians, artists and students, and harry would sit in front of the building and talk about "the old days" with his friends who also lived in the building. i have a 92 year old father who made it through the great migration north in 1928 -- from st. george, south carolina all the way to brighton beach, coney island to be exact -- so i've been hearing about the old days my whole life. you know. when a loaf of bread was a nickel and you didn't have to lock your doors at night and ladies were ladies and you only ate pickles out of barrels, not wrapped in plastic like nowadays and how you could go to dance halls for a dime and coney island was really fun, not like it is today and all this stuff. to this day, my father probably knows as much yiddish as they do.
at first they treated me like i was a walking freakshow but then eventually all of them totally loved me. they would sit in a half circle all day under the trees on that broad sidewalk and kibbitz. whenever i would come in or out of the building, they would teach me a new word. after awhile, i could greet each of them in at least six languages. including croatian. and oh, yes. my yiddish improved.
all of them looked out for me, all of the time.
and then there are the africans -- all of the africans from the entire diaspora that i've ever met, stateside and and across the pond, anywhere, ever -- who would assume that i was african and talk to me in their native language until i stopped them, who were repeatedly dumbstruck time and time again by how african i look, who would call me sister and mean it, who reached out to understand and embrace me as an individual and not some "american" stereotype, who would help me find my way and let me help them find theirs. the brothers who would teach me french, dance with me, eat my cooking, hold my hand, show me pictures of their little sisters who look like me.
everytime we pass each other, there is love. it happens so easily when we let everything go. all of our differences, all of the things that separate us. whatever tribe we belong to, whatever country we come from, whatever language we speak. there is that moment when all of it falls away in an instant. we "speak" in that time-honored tradition that still means everything to us and we say nothing at all, and in so doing, we say everything. we look at each other with this knowing and its so full of feeling that we can't look at each other any more. we look at each other and all of these things happen in an instant and all of a sudden, we have to look away.
and yes, there are so many more.
all of you -- i can't stop writing songs about you. you all changed me and helped me grow into a better person and a stronger blackgrrl. thank you for all the love.