William Jelani Cobbs
Don’t be rude Sapp; Maybe he just has one of those sleeping disorders or something… I sat fifth row back, inside the Free Library’s conference room, trying my hardest to concentrate on what William Jelani Cobbs, who was reading from his new book, The Substance of Hope, was saying. It wasn’t that he was boring or anything. To the contrary, his theories on the relatively short rise in popularity of Barack Obama were quite thought-provoking. Not to mention that he wasn’t bad on the eyes either. Tall, brown, bald-head, strong-physique and smart; if I had a type, Cobbs would be it. He looked like the type that if some random dude decided to take him for bad, he would beat his ass down to a pulp - and then pick the dude up and give him a good lecture about choosing your opponents wisely. And as a black history and sociology professor (at Spellman no less), Cobbs can study my social impact anytime, if you catch my drift. But as fascinating as Cobb spoke - and looked - I still found myself distracted.
Dang, can’t a girl get some privacy, Gheez.
I was sitting on the toilet and as usual, Coltrane barged in the bathroom. he barged in like he had to talk to me about something. But he's a dog, so he can't talk. Instead, Coltrane sat between the tub and the sink and started staring at me. I’m sitting on the toilet, trying my best to avoid eye contact but he keeps staring at me. He watches me, so I watch him back. Our stare off goes on for about another 30 seconds until I’d finally peaked and asked, "What do you want dog?"
He motioned his head upwards, which meant he wanted me to pet him. Why he'd chosen that particular moment to decide to be affectionate is beyond my reasoning. But I didn't have anything else to do, and it wasn't like I was going anywhere for a while, so I obliged. I stroked his head and scratch behind his ear. His fur felt icky. I smelled my fingers and they smelled a little funky, like unshaved armpits that had been playing sports all day under the hot sun.
"Dog, you stink," I said to him, half expecting Coltrane to respond back.
Instead, he looks at me and started panting through this wide mouth grin, which makes it look like he’s laughing at me. Oh, he thinks it’s funny.
“Go Away Coltrane, I’m serious,” I yell.
He moves to the bathroom door but just before he walks out, he turns to give me the biggest, doughiest, orphan dog, sad eyes I have ever seen. Now he’s playing on my emotions. Still bored and sitting on the toilet, I called him back and proceeded to scratch him some more, hoping that he would stop looking at me that way. As I scratched behind his ear, he wiggled his leg, which let me know that it was feeling good. When I reached a spot around his neck, he wiggled his leg harder. Maybe it was feeling a little too good. Then I felt it. A tiny little ball rolled against my index finger. I located the spot on his neck, dug into his fur and picked it off. It was a flea. Heavy sigh. I shooed him away again and finished my business. Eight o'clock on a Wednesday night (a work night at that), I had decided that I needed to wash the dog.
this is not the crazy man
Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, Ain’t love in the heart of town…
Evelyn Redcross, Foreue
Evelyn Redcross removed the cap off the 2 ounce bottle of room freshener and instructed me to stand back. “I spray over here and you let the scent come to you,” she said. She pushed the pump only once but within seconds, the room was filled with the gentle fragrance of Lime. “Man that smells really, really good,” I said, as I savored the scent Usually, my senses do not take kindly to sweet smells, in particular artificial aromas like room fresheners and perfumes. But this was really soft and reminded me of that pleasing to that palette feeling you get from drinking a glass of lemonade. Corny, I know, but true. “You don’t need to use much just one squirt should be enough,” she said. “Some room fresheners, you have to keep squirting, you know?” Yeah, I know. I had stopped using air fresheners years ago and opted for boiling spices and herbs on the stove but this sray, I could stand.
The Lime-Wood room freshener is just one items being sold under the moniker of Foreue natural skin products, which are vegan-friendly and not tested on animals. Hand and body lotions, soaps and facial astringents round out most of the product line. I hadn’t planned on purchasing anything that day; better managing my discretionary dollars had been at the forefront of my mind for a minute. But Redcross infectious smile, coupled with my sudden thirst for a glass of lemonade, convinced me that I could splurge - maybe just a little.
Ironically, I arrived at the Foreue table only after touring an amazing art collection at the October Gallery, which specializes in the artwork by mostly African American artist. Nestled on the tree-lined residential block of Green Street (6353 Greene Street), the secondary space for the October Gallery is a bit deceiving – particularly if you are expecting a store-front, retail shop with big glass windows rather than an actual house (I actually drove pass the gallery twice before I noticed the sandwich board sign on the sidewalk). However, the home-like feel serves as a wonderful way to showcase how certain pieces might look on your own walls or propped up on your mantle. In the kitchen, a woman boiled corn on the stove in preparation for the ArtNik, which was happening later on in the afternoon, while nearby a stirring picture by Amachi Omenihu inconspicuously hanged on the wall. In the converted dining room, Mercer Redcross, proprietor of the Gallery, perfomed his managerial duties of paper work, while the black women figurines by Annie Lee frolicked behind him. “Are you a collector,” asked Mercer, as I walked through and admired the pieces. I nodded accordingly. I told him how I began collecting earlier this year, after being hip to the amazing artistry that goes into protest posters. Mercer and I engage in a discussion about how many artist present both social and political themes in their pieces without it necessarily being overly overt. He shifted through a bunch of prints, which had been sprawled across a table and shows me prints from Laura Cooper’s White Mask series. Sometimes an artist draws inspiration from the political and social climates that exist during the time in which they lived, he told me. I thought about it for a second, it made sense. I didn’t purchase any artwork that day as my rigid budget wouldn’t permit it. However, I left the gallery with my newly purchase bottle of room freshener in my eco-friendly paper bag and a new frame of mind. Like the bottle of freshener, it is the subtle messages in an art piece that once discovered and appreciated, could be just a powerful as if the message was sitting your face.
Yesterday (Thursday, July 9th 2010), the guilty of lesser charges verdict
was handed down to the cop, who killed Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man that was shot while laying face -down, restrained and handcuffed on an train platform in Oakland and the country cries for Lebron James. Go Figure.
Just days after the videos of the shooting, caught on over a dozen camera phones, was plastered on Youtube as well as the mischaracterization of the riots in Oakland, I decided to take pen to pad to appease both my anger and helplessness. Short of getting on a plane to Oakland, the only other option I felt I could assist from hundreds of miles away was to make an appeal for justice. Here is my letter and the subsequential responses I received back.
"Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom over me. And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and Be Free."
Michael Coard hurried into the square of the Liberty Bell Center at 6th and Market Streets. His long-sleeved, white shirt and beige suit pants, while professional, looked a little overdressed for the above average temperature event. Coard, who is a local attorney and founder of the Avenging the Ancestor's Coalition, was one of the last presentators to arrive, which was odd because he was also the one leading the rally. No problem though, as Pam Africa had his back. Fresh off the energy of the Free Mumia rally, which happened only minutes earlier directly across the street, Africa, member of the Pan-Africanism movement MOVE, had already taken the stage, laying down hard truths about the meaning of the 4th of July. Once Coard got his self together, he apologized profusely for being tardy and told the dozens in attendance that the program would begin shortly. In the meantime, Bro. Farugh had taken to the mic to properly administer libation for the ancestors, and requested, in traditional form, that we call out the names of those whom should not be forgotten. I called out great-grandmother, Marian Catherine Guess. Ashe. We stood only feet a few feet away from what would be the new site for the Presidents House, a tribute center to America's first White House. On the far side of the construction site, where lines of people waiting in the shade to walk past one of America's most defining symbols of freedom - the Liberty Bell. The weather forecast for the Monday following the Sunday the 4th, would have Philly sitting ugly in the upper 90s - that day proved that the forecast was way already behind schedule. It was hard not to concentrate on anything other than the heat. As I wiped the sweat that began to accumulated behind my ear, I realized for some folks, the idea of standing in the grass with the hot, blazing sun beaming down their backs, may have seem like a chore - especially if it meant leaving the comforts of an air conditioning home. But then I thought of my ancestors, who masked labored once passed through the very grass I had been stepping on. Those ancestors that slaved from birth to death and sun up to sun down, so that many of the signers of the Constitution could be considered "great." I realized then that I had an obligation to be here. Last year at the 3rd annual Avenging The Ancestor Coalition (ATAC) Rally outside The Liberty Bell, I pledge then not to ever celebrate a holiday in which its symbolisms of freedom from tyranny did not originally include my own ancestors. That faithful day would come well over 100 years later (see post entitled Juneteenth Day: To Early to celebrate). No there would be no fireworks after the Welcome America Concert for me or staging of Bar-B-Ques neither. This rally to finally emancipate the nine enslaved people by George Washington would be my only celebration for the day and I was going to tough this heat out no matter what.
Do you want some Tea to go with that Whine?Oh boy, imagine my elation when I walked from underground off the Market-Frankford El train, entered Independence Hall and accidentally found myself in the midst of the “Proud to Be An American” July 4th Tea Party Rally. I was actually on my way to another rally (more of that in another post), when I stumbled upon what had to be the whitest bunch of folks I have ever seen. It was so white that the only other black person present, who too looked as if she had made a wrong turn around the Liberty Bell, asked me if this was a Klan Rally. I don’t know, Sis, the juror is still out, I said. What I found out very quickly was that there is never a shortage of Thomas Jefferson quotes at a Tea Party Rally, which is unfortunate if you’re trying to convince the world that you are not a pseudo-racist group posing as a party of free-thinking individuals (Sorry but you can’t believe that all men are created equal while owning enslaved people). The tall older white man, who was dressed in the traditional red, white and blue, had the bad luck of stepping in my path and attempting to hand me a pamphlet with The Best of Thomas Jefferson quotes. What he received back was a rude Angry Black Woman awakening when I spiritedly slapped the leaflet from his hand. Happy Birthday to the ground, Thomas Jefferson, Happy Birthday to the ground. Also present were the anti-abortion groups, the state chapter of a national conservation party group and the 9-11 Truthers (actually I have no beef with the Truthers other than why are you at a Tea Party rally?). There was also frequent buzzing around me from other ralliers, who gazed at me suspiciously as much as I did at them, about their belief that Obama was to blame for…well, just about everything. Obama was the reason the U.S was in two wars, knee-deep in the economic recession and lost in the World Cup to Ghana (Because he never produced that birth certificate, you know). While no one would ever accuse me of being a blind follower of our commander-in-chief, you do have to wonder where all these were folks were during the Bush-Cheney years.After the reading of the names of those locally (and white) serving in Iraq, followed by an uncomfortable speech from the sister of an soldier in Iraq, who bizarrely ended her homage to her brother with a picture of the family dog, and several cult-like salutes to the American flag, I was done. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster the patience to hear their thoughts on Immigration, National Security and Defense (which was conveniently outlined in five-page program book. I also found out that Joey Vento of Geno’s Steaks was one of several businesses co-sponsoring the event). Way too much white, middle class angst for my taste. But despite published media reports about the antic at previous Tea Party gatherings, there were no violent outburst, overtly-racist gestures or issuances of death threats against Obama (at least not during the 20-25 minutes I had been present). Although the guy with the oversized hiking backpack and Don’t Tread on Me flags, did make me a bit uncomfortable. There are no trails here dude, what’s with the backpack?
Been spending most our lives, living in a Hipster’s Paradise. Southwest Philly looks nothing like how I remember it being – the jurors still out on whether that’s a good thing or not. It was only a few years ago (maybe seven years at the most) when that section of Philly, particularly around Baltimore Avenue, was the premier spot to buy weed (mainly because there wasn’t a shortage of supply). Now the area has been gentrified into a young Hipsters’ paradise. Horn-rimmed glasses, flip-flops, baby t-shirts and tapered jeans on bikes are almost as prevalent as organic groceries, ethnic restaurants, hookah bars and funky little fringe art shops. At the center of this Hipster’s Mecca, is Clark Park, which is located between 43rd and 45th streets; Chester Avenue and Woodland Street, where on a typical summer night, you might find only the hippest of the hippiest engaged in barefoot, organic picnic in the park or shirtless romps of soccer (or football) with the nearby African immigrant community. You will also find tons of dogs because hipster LOVES dogs. Hipsters also love progressive politics and social issues. But not the domestic issues that exist further up the Avenue or mainstream political crap you find on CNN or MSNBC. No, Hipsters are in tuned with more global issues, whether it be the Coup de tat in Honduras or the plight of the Mexican farm worker, Hipsters are all on it and all about it. That’s where the local chapter of the International Action Center comes in, which is a grassroots group of mostly old hippies, who still haven’t lost their drive for sticking it to The Man about U.S. wars abroad, racism and economic exploitation of workers here at home. Throughout the summer, the IAC will be offering movies in Clark Park with socially and political themes at a Hipster’s favorite price – free. Last Friday, a good friend and I invaded this usual insular bunch to see the independent film Amreeka. Admittedly we stood out like sore thumbs with our penchants for wearing shoes and shaved armpits as well as my messy chain-restaurant taco salad from Qdoba. But the counter-culture congregation greeted us with open arms and didn’t even mind our brash gawking at the gender-bending older person with the pink bonnet and 2-inch heeled loafers. And admittedly I rather enjoyed sitting out in the cool night air, watching a great movie, which makes you think, on an unsophisticated theatre screen, made out of a bed sheet and plumber’s pipe. Yes, there something bizarrely appealing about that Hipsters charm – whether I like to admit it or not.
no, this is not THAT moon
It wasn’t like I was trying to look but I just couldn’t help it.
Standing in line in McDonalds inside the shopping plaza on Chelten Avenue, I initially was fixated on getting one of those $1 Sweet Teas to quench my thirst. Running around in the hot sun can be draining. And while water is the best solution, sometimes your palette appreciates a little flavor. I had been waiting impatiently in line for 5 minutes and I still was nowhere closer to my oversized Styrofoam cup of diabetic deliciousness. Apparently, the young cashier, who must have missed that day in McDonald’s training on how to operate the picture buttons on the register, couldn’t quite figure out how to ring up a customer’s chocolate sundae. I stood there, thirsty and a bit agitated but I kept my cool, instead opting to draw attention away from my thirst by taking in my surroundings. There was a homeless man, dozing off in one of the back booths, A pregnant woman with a halter top, flip-flops and a black hair bonnet, screaming at the top of her lungs at her 2ish year old daughter to sit down and stop running around the dining room and a dark-skinned woman with blond shoulder length locks, complaining to her companion about how the fries that she had half-eaten, were cold. It was pretty calm that day however, if you want a macrocosm of Germantown, definitely checks out the McDonalds on Chelten Avenue. But even as a regular visitor to the area, I wasn’t fully prepared for what I saw next. There it was, staring right at me at the front of the line, I saw a full moon.
It wasn’t as magnificent as when I’ve seen it hanging in the sky. It didn’t glow brightly pale against the dark backdrop like a harsh mistress nor did it bring the wonderment of majestic beauty. Unfortunately, up close and personal, the moon was dull and unimpressive. The woman, who was escorting the moon around on her backside, was also the same woman holding up the line over a chocolate sundae. She argued and articulated her point with one hand; while the other hand rearranged her top and pulled at her blue nurse’s scrub pants, trying in vain to cover her lunar eclipse. The more she’d tug, the more the pants resisted its’ upwards mobility towards her waistline. And the rest of us, standing in line behind her, had to witness the moon’s most fatal flaw – her crack. While I didn’t have a ruler present, my best estimation was that there was at least 3 to 4 inches of crack exposed. Poor moon, your infinite glory has been overshadowed by the hard truth of your rough exterior.
According to estimates of many astronomers, a full moon is only suppose to grace us with her presence 12 times this calendar year, with the next date of arrival on July 26th. However, as I travel around the city, I am besieged with glimpses of her, peeping over very low-rise jeans, pants and shorts. As much as I want to criticize the handlers of the moon for their obnoxious presentation of her, I also realize that part of the blame begins on the door step of the fashion industry that has perpetuated this sometimes unsightly trend. Shopping alone for waist-length pants is almost as difficult a find as Gollum search for his precious, precious ring. There have been many times, when I have stood in the mirror of a department store, trying desperately to wiggle the low-rise up my hip about an inch or two, only to leave defeated and empty handed. And even when I had been impulsive enough to take a pair home (I purchased a pair recently to wear to a party but couldn’t bring myself to walk out the house with them on), attempts to disguise my own personal moon under some low-cut panties and a belt only left me strangely desiring a cranberry muffin.
Now, I don’t say all of this to totally take the girl with the sundae in McDonald off the hook. No, she had a choice that morning between wearing something more comfortable and what she ultimately decided to put on. Even if it meant pulling a pair of pants out of the dirty clothes hamper and repeating an outfit, she still had a choice (I would have even been more forgiving if she had on a pair of underwear. Even if they were exposed, at least I would have been comfortable in knowing that she gave it the old college try). However, when your manner of dress and appropriateness depends on what’s vogue for that season, which usually means that retails stores are overly-saturated with that particular fad, you do have to wonder who else is to blame when you find yourself on the wrong side of the moon.