June 18, 2015
So I’m at this party, right. Low lights, champagne, Michael
Bublé & a gang of loafers I’m forever dancing around
in unduly charged conversations, your favorite
accompanist—Bill Evans behind Miles, ever present
in few strokes—when, into the room walks
this potentially well-meaning Waspy woman obviously
from Connecticut-money, boasting an extensive background
in nonprofit arts management. & without much coaxing
from me, really, none at all, she whoops, Gosh, you’re just
so well spoken! & I’m like, Duh, Son. So then we both
clink glasses, drink to whatever that was. Naturally,
not till the next morning & from under a scalding
shower do I shout: Yes, ma’am. Some of us does talk good!
to no one in particular but the drain holes. No one
but the off-white tile grout, the loofah’s yellow pores.
Because I come from a long braid of dangerous men
who learned to talk their way out of small compartments.
My own Spartan walls lined with their faces—Ellison
& Ellington. Langston, Robeson. Frederick Douglass
above the bench press in the gym, but to no avail—
Without fail, when I’m at the Cross Eyed Cricket
(That’s a real diner. It’s in Indiana.) & some pimple-
face ginger waiter lingers nervous & doth protest
too much, it’s always Sir, you ever been told you sound like
Bryant Gumbel? Which is cute. Because he’s probably
ten. But then sometimes I sit in his twin’s section, & he
once predicted I could do a really wicked impression
of Wayne Brady. I know for a fact his name is Jim.
I’ve got Jim’s eighteenth birthday blazed on my bedside
calendar. It reads: Ass whippin’. Twelve a.m.—& like
actually, that woman from the bimonthly
CV-building gala can kick rocks. Because she’s old
enough to be my mother, & educated, if only
by her own appraisal, but boy. Dear boys. Sweet
freckled What’s-His-Face & Dipshit Jim,
we can still be play friends. Your folks didn’t explain
I’d take your trinket praise as teeny blade—
a trillionth micro-aggression, against & beneath
my skin. Little buddies, that sore’s on me.
I know what you mean. That I must seem, “safe.”
But let’s get this straight. Let’s call a spade a—
Poor choice of words. Ali, I might not
be. Though, at the very least, a heavyweight
throwback: Nat King Cole singing silky
& subliminal about the unforgettable model
minority. NBC believed N at & his eloquence
could single-handedly defeat Jim Crow.
Fact: They were wrong. Of this I know
& not because they canceled his show
in ’57 after one season, citing insufficient
sponsorship. Or because, in 1948,
the KKK flamed a cross on his LA lawn.
But because yesterday, literally yesterday,
some simple American citizen—throwback
supremacist Straight Outta Birmingham, 1963—
aimed his .45 & emptied the life from nine
black believers at an AME church in Charleston.
Among them a pastor-senator, an elderly tenor,
beloved librarian, a barber with a business degree
who adored his mom & wrote poems about
the same age as me. I’m sorry. No, friends.
None of us is safe.