This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

March 19, 2010

The Magic of Hair Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — pprscribe @ 11:42 pm

I cannot believe I have never re-posted this from my old blog. Recently, due to jam-packed schedules, I was unable to take my daughters in for their usually-scheduled braiding appointments at the professional hair stylist’s. I did their hair myself. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed hair day. And I was pleased that I hadn’t lost the knack!


Something magical happens to me on Hair Day. I am a person who lives in the mind quite a bit, so maybe it is the tactile, manual nature of doing hair—but it usually results in me being so…present. Oddly, at the same time I feel an almost otherworldly connection to all the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and Miss Johnsons before me when I do my daughters’ hair.

Hair Day?

Previously, I talked about what happens in our house on Hair Day:

The hours-long ritual that is washing and braiding my daughters’ hair is more than just a task that needs to be done. It is also an exercise in ethnic identity and pride building. First, the three of us decide on a style by looking through one of our hair books…It’s not that I am good enough to pull off many of these styles given my current level of very low skills. (Growing up, while my sister and girl cousins were doing each other’s hair, my nose was usually in a book.) But I can at least usually approximate the styles. And looking at the books gives us a chance to speak about the wide range and beauty of Black hair. These children are beautiful, I tell my daughters. Their hair is joy to behold….

(It’s been a while since I wrote that. I am getting more skilled at doing my daughters’ hair. But I am by no means yet an expert.)


Last week was my kids’ spring break and one day we spent all afternoon at one of our area public libraries. Both my daughters were in the children’s section, seated at a table with their books. Soon another child joined them. From my chair a few feet away I noticed this little girl noticing my daughters’ hair. Her own hair was blond, straight, in a small pony tail at the nape of her neck. My daughters’ hair was in a style we have come to call “freedom hair” after a character in one of their books: large, picked-out, perfectly symmetrical afros.

The little girl reached over and patted one daughter’s hair. I held my breath. And sat erect in my seat.

“Look at your hair” she exclaimed. “Did your mommy do that?” My daughter lightly caressed her freedom locks. “Yes, she did,” she said, turning in my direction and beaming.

I exhaled. And relaxed my spine back into the curved wood of the chair.

Right, Under, Left, Cross, Pick Up…

My husband does not understand it, but when I first begin braiding I actually have to concentrate. I cannot discuss what I want to have for dinner that evening, or laugh at a witty commercial on TV, or opine about the merits of one summer camp over another. The simple rote act of correctly crossing three strands of hair to make neat rows of crop-like patterns requires all of my PhD-bound brain power.

Often I must comb out unsuccessful rows and begin anew. Almost always, my first attempts at sectioning hair into parts with the tip of my pink rat-tailed comb are ragged and rough. Sometimes early on I try to rush the process, combing through a section of hair before all the tangles are out—resulting in predictable pain and cries.

I have been known to poke a patient little girl in the ear lobe or eye with a comb, brush, or thumb.

But I do not give up. Mainly because I know that—if I just stick with it a little—this initial period of bumbling and fumbling will give way to something truly special.

Enter the Matrix

My mother is a pianist. She believes solo pianists should be old-school and memorize even the most complicated classical pieces (instead of appearing on stage with sheet music and a page-turner). When she would rehearse, she would say she had to practice until she was able to “get the music in her hands.” If she was able to sit down and play a piece that she hadn’t played in years, she would say that it was “still in her hands.”

That the closest analogy I can think of to what happens to me at some point during braiding. It is as if my hands take over some memory, some proficiency, some something that cannot be explained by my multi-year self-taught course in Black natural hair care. I do not always know exactly when I have reached this point. I usually only realize after: after I find that I have been looking up at the TV (instead of down, at my braiding) for one full minute at the SpongeBob episode where Sandy enters SpongeBob in a weight-lifting contest. Or maybe after I have near-simultaneously told one daughter where to find a missing puzzle piece, shouted to my husband what I want on my pizza, and completed another row of braids.

I am in the hair zone. I have entered the hair matrix. I am making hair magic.

My fingers are moving in effortless choreography to carve razor straight parts, create three perfectly even strands, and knit them together in strong, tight braids. My eyes have developed a sort of x-ray vision, discerning even microscopic masses of tangles which my suddenly gentle hands are then able to coax apart with not a single whimper. Whole sections of freedom hair are transformed into twists, braids, plaits, cornrows—of any thickness I please.

Some of the sections even look like the pictures in the hair books.


Within the last year or so my daughters and I have added a new ritual to our hair styling–every time we do hair, but especially on Hair Days. After I finish, I fuss a little over the result, deem the style complete, then “crown” my daughter. This, apparently, is a step that I cannot skip or else my daughters will let me know about it. I must say, “I crown you ______, Princess of ______land” or “…Dutchess of ________ville” or “…Queen of __________.” As I bellow this phrase in my most solemn-sounding voice (no matter how silly I make the title or land) I must make a crowning motion with my hands, then turn my daughter around to inspect herself in the mirror.

Sometimes I wonder if I am going overboard with all this hub-bub about my daughters’ hair. But I usually conclude that positive hub-bub is just fine. Especially if it gives my daughters a confidence I never had to answer questions of curious children. Especially if they come to associate their hair with their regality.

And I have to admit that I love the special feeling in my hands that lasts for a few moments after I crown them. It lasts while my hands wash and put away the brush and rat-tailed comb…while my hands cap the spray bottles of special oils and empty the spray bottle of warm water. It starts to fade as my hands wash each other and dry themselves on the Hello Kitty towel hanging on the rod.

With that my hands are back to being the blunt clumsy instruments that merely poke at computer keyboards or wrestle a steering wheel. But I know that the memory and the magic are still there, somewhere inside them, waiting to take over from my mind on the next Hair Day.

February 4, 2010

“You can’t let it go to the judges…”

…and other snippets of words of wisdom from the Black experiences in HBO’s “The Black List, Vol 1“:

Both Volume 1 and Volume 2 are now out on DVD (I think, only at Target stores). I highly recommend them. Volume 3 premiers on HBO February 8.

(Yes, I know I am breaking my ‘no video clip’ rule here at the blog.)

January 8, 2010

Images for No. 1 Ladies

I was very happy to see that the amazing HBO series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has been nominated for three NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for Jill Scott, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Anika Noni Rose.

I first wrote about the show the night after its premier:

Last night, about halfway through The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency I realized that I had been tense since the program began. It only took me a moment to figure out why. I had been so looking forward to it, so hopeful for it. But I feared that I would be let down.

But what I suddenly felt at that moment was…relief.

Also, a sort of a feeling of revelation. It is actually possible to depict Black people (and, more specifically, Black African people) without having the required one good White person? Perhaps the White school teacher from Britain with a heart of gold…. Or a White American missionary who begins the tale with ambivalent feelings about the dark people but, through a series of heartwarming interactions and growth-inducing traumatic experiences, comes to terms with both his underlying racism against Blacks and his disappointment with his God…. Or a White female Australian there to save the apes from the ravages of a changing global ecosystem and the bias and ignorance of the natives who have lived amongst the apes for generations….

No? None of these obligatory White characters are present? Just Black Africans going about their daily business and lives? Africans who are proud of and happy in their country (Botswana, in this case) and are not looking to escape to somewhere else? Africans who have the capacity for tremendous good, tremendous bad, and all levels of complexity in between? Africans who face plagues and violence and the tug-of-war of the old and the new with bravery and grace?

The very notion of such a program appearing on my television set is almost too much to comprehend….

I did comprehend the program. And wrote about it regularly. (My posts on the program can be found here.) Sadly, the series is not currently filming a second season and it does not appear as if it will any time soon—although the show’s producers and HBO are said to be “in conversations” to figure out a way to bring it back. I really do miss The No. 1 Ladies and hope that these discussions will be fruitful. Until then, I know what I will be rooting for if I watch the Image Awards.

December 31, 2009

“Seize the promise of tomorrow”

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Michelle and I send warm wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season. This is a joyous time of year when African Americans and all Americans come together to celebrate our blessings and the richness of our cultural traditions. This is also a time of reflection and renewal as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another. The Kwanzaa message tells us that we should recall the lessons of the past even as we seize the promise of tomorrow.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa – Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith – express the values that have inspired us as individuals and families; communities and country. These same principles have sustained us as a nation during our darkest hours and provided hope for better days to come. Michelle and I know the challenges facing many African American families and families in all communities at this time, but we also know the spirit of perseverance and hope that is ever present in the community. It is in this spirit that our family extends our prayers and best wishes during this season and for the New Year to come.

~Statement by the President and First Lady on Kwanzaa

December 29, 2009

The War on the New Years

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — pprscribe @ 11:38 pm

Forget the so-called war on Christmas. The real war is on all things New Year. As evidence:

1) We see images of Santa Claus, Frosty, and Rudolph—as well as religious icons from Christianity and Judaism during this holiday season. But rarely do we see images of Baby New Year to the same degree. Abortion may be to blame. In which case this is a liberal plot against the new year. Or a conservative bias against nudity, because most often Baby New Year is butt nekkid. In either case, I bet that both the old man in the red suit and the little baby in swaddling blankets get more image time than the little guy with the top hat.

2) All these “best of” and other ending year lists unduly elevate the year that will soon be no more at the expense of the year that is not yet quite here. There seems to be a list for all things ending-year. And people argue over the lists—what should have been included that was not, what was not included that should have been, what should have been higher or lower than something else—as if these rankings had any meaning.

3) The mad rush of celebrities passing away in the latter days of December is a clear bid for attention from a year-ending-obsessed media. In any given year, about a half of these deaths are of celebrities most people had assumed had already left this earthly plane, while nearly a half were of people who once were famous but who need “of…fame” after their names to let us know why their death is news. Most years there are only a handful of truly famous, truly unexpected celebrity deaths to close out the year.

4) There are numerous day-after-Christmas sales, but few (if any) high profile January 2nd sales. In years where January 2 falls on a weekday, most people just grudgingly return to work. There are no consumerist efforts to, say, get a jump on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday gift-giving season. True, at this point on the calendar a lot of stores begin putting out Valentine’s Day decoration and merchandise. But who, truly, starts planning for V-Day in January?

5) Many people make resolutions for the new year. Few keep them—for example, as evidenced by the vast drop off in gym attendance, smoking cessation sessions, etc. People may have good intentions, but somehow these good intentions are never enough. This is due, I believe, to the lack of true commitment to the new year. A lack of commitment that gives aid and comfort to those who are trying to destroy new years.

6) Although many make predictions for what the new year will bring, most seem to make them for the satisfaction of seeing at the end of the year which things have come to pass. No one makes predictions that are that much truly unexpected or that would really be something come December should they come true. Like, say, that this will be the year we learn to clone the gene for human flight. That would be a prediction worth reaching for all year long.

I submit that this neglect of the New Year is an organized and evil effort to keep us focused on the past instead of looking forward to the future; to keep us stuck on what was instead of oriented to what could be. This is an all-out attack. A war. And we must fight it. I’ll volunteer to be one of the foot soldiers on the front lines of this battle. I will not blog these next couple days about all that was in 2009. I will not compile any “best of” lists. I will not lament any high (or low) profile celebrity passings.

My eyes are on the new year: 2010.

Which is, to be correct (and despite the frequent statements to the contrary), the last year of this current decade. Not the first year of the next.

December 25, 2009

Santa Claus is a Black Man—and a Black Woman

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We do not do Santa Claus in our home. We never have. Our children—from day one—knew that any gifts they received under the decorated tree were from me, their father, and family and friends from far and wide.

Before we had children, my husband and I talked about this. I had nothing but fond memories about believing in Santa Claus and in our family we went the full nine yards: taking pictures in the mall sitting on his lap, compiling our massive wish lists, leaving cookies and milk out for him to consume before leaving our gifts and flying off to the next house. My Point of No Longer Believing was pretty unmemorable. No major trauma of, say, an impossible wish followed by a glaring disappointment that showed me the folly of my faith. Rather, I just sort of gradually didn’t believe, until one day I felt sure enough to broach the subject with my parents. They confirmed what I knew, and I felt fine being “in” on the story for the sake of my younger sister and cousins.

My husband’s experience with Santa was quite different from mine. He was the son of working class parents who wanted to make sure he knew that his parents—not some bearded White man—were the ones who sacrificed all year long so that he could have a chemistry set or a 10-speed bicycle.

When we compared our Santa histories, my husband and I decided we would just never start the Santa myth with our then-future children. Not that we would rail against it or anything. And since our kids have been old enough to understand, we never delivered an anti-Santa speech to our kids. For them, the jolly heavy-set man is a character—much like SpongeBob Square Pants or Harry Potter. He seems to be as “real” to my daughters as these two much-beloved-by-them figures.

We have told our daughters that some children “believe” in Santa in a different way, and that they are not to spoil this fun for those kids by saying that he is not really real. I sometimes can’t hep thinking that this must set up some sort of logic chain for my kids: belief in Santa is fun for other children; We do not believe in Santa; We must be missing out on some sort of fun.

Yet they have never shown any hints that they have come to this conclusion.

For a while, my confidence in Santa-less parenting faltered. When my daughters started loosing their baby teeth, I did the whole Tooth Fairy thing with them: having them put their tooth under their pillows and placing four new quarters under their pillows over night as they slept right before removing the tooth. At one point one daughter asked, “Mommy, are you the tooth fairy?” Why do you want to know? I asked. “Because if you are, can you leave us $2.00 instead of $1.00?”

It will be interesting to see what my daughters do with regard to Santa if they someday raise children. I won’t be surprised if one of them does pretty much what she has experienced as a child, while the other goes all-out, full-tilt Santa immersion. But so far, from what I can discern, Christmas is no less magical, no less special, because of our lack of participation in the yearly Santa mythology. Of course, I could be wrong. In that case, at least my children will have something interesting to discuss with a therapist later in life.

December 23, 2009

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — pprscribe @ 3:35 pm

So asks the song. As I listen to it this year (Ledisi’s wonderful version) I am alarmed that it has been years since I have “done” anything special to ring in the new year.

There was a time when I would plan for weeks in advance for the event.

One year, when my and the now-spouse’s relationship was young, we went out partying at a swanky hotel with several other couples. Before going out, we gathered at one couple’s house and everyone made a toast. One guy made a particularly moving toast to his then-girlfriend. Something is up with those two, I told my husband. I think he’s going to propose to her tonight. My husband poo-poo’ed that notion—“Nah, he’s not that type of brother.” What “type” would that be, I demanded. “Umm, another glass of champagne, dear?”

Later that night at some point the two of them disappeared. We later found them by the huge Christmas tree in the lobby—him looking relieved, and her crying her eyes out with a giant rock on the fourth finger of her left hand. He had hidden the ring in an ornament hanging on the tree. I do not know if he was more relieved that she said yes or that the ornament with ring had not been been swiped.

Another year my husband and I, strapped for plans, went to a fraternity party. It was…interesting. This was the party hosted by the older, not younger, members of the fraternity. Besides seeing my aunt and uncle there, we also got a chance to sip champagne and dance the night away with our high school advanced placement English teacher. Seeing the woman who taught me how to diagram sentences tipsy and doing some combination of the Hustle and Richard Simmons work out is not something I wish to see again. Ever.

One year when I was home for the holiday break from college in Boston, some friends and I drove up to Chicago to party. I was looking cuter than I ever had looked in my life. Normally not a fashionista, I had actually taken time to carefully choose an outfit that revealed enough to say “Maybe…” while at the same time declaring “…but not so fast.” I was ready: dressed to impress and ready to mingle. We went to two parties, each time having to walk in the frigid night from the car to the locale. My pump-clad feet were killing me. The wind was whipping my body in its lightweight (but very cute) coat to shreds. At the second party, around elevenish, we got a tip about where we just absolutely had to go. I was outvoted 4 to 1. We went back outside, walked a couple of miles, piled into the car, and—through a series of mistaken routes in this pre-GPS era—finally made it. I elected to stay inside the car. I rang in the new year with the radio—and the car heater—on full blast.

Many years later when the kids were small, the Mister gave up his New Year’s Eve to work in the hospital so that the single folks could go out and party. In return, he had been home with us Christmas Eve. An hour before midnight, I strapped the girls into the car and we drove to the hospital. The kids were so excited to hear their Daddy’s name over the loudspeaker. He came into the waiting era, completely surprised, and gave us all big hugs. I got a midnight kiss from him right there in front of everyone. Which is something because my spouse is not, generally speaking, that “type” of brother.

Most other years recently we have just spent time together as a family. Those years that nothing “special” happened are just a timeless montage in my memory. Playing board games or watching movies…The novelty, for my young daughters, of staying up until midnight…Their joy at sipping sparkling apple juice from our wedding champagne flutes…My husband and I reminiscing together over the aging acts performing on one televised New Year’s Eve special or another….

I guess I take it back. Every year when the evening of December 31 rolls around I am “doing” something. Something very “special.” Granted, my younger self in the sexy dress, high heels, and non-sensible coat would probably be appalled to see what my New Year’s Eve festivities have come to.

But the today me—I wouldn’t have it any other way.

November 24, 2009

“When did you discover you are African?”

"When did you discover you are African?" PPR_Scribe

"MOAD Exterior." PPR_Scribe

That is the question asked at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.

While I was in town recently for a conference, I dragged my old college roommate there. Although she has been a resident of the city since we both left Boston, she had never visited the museum. I remember being very excited about it when it first opened in 2005; in fact, I think I even wrote a post about it on my old blog. So I knew I couldn’t visit the city and not visit MoAD.

I am tempted to compare MoAD to the National Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center, which I blogged about this summer. That would be, perhaps, an unfair comparison.

The Underground Railroad museum is working with probably 10 times more space for one thing. The exhibits are more emotionally charged at the Underground Railroad Museum just by nature of their content, and are a lot more participatory than the exhibits at the more gallery-like MoAD. There are also probably important differences in terms of ownership of the real estate that the two institutions inhabit that might partially account for how MoAD is able (and unable) to use its building, though I do not know for sure what all these details are.

"Museum of the African Diaspora, exterior." PPR_Scribe

Given these differences, though, I do think that MoAD could better utilize its small space. The exhibit space was small to begin with, and configured strangely—Rule number one of any public space is that it should not be so difficult to find the restroom.

But I was happy to see that the space was being used as a community gathering area: During my visit there was a respectable group there to hear artist Richard Mayhew speak. We did not have time to listen to the lecture but did enjoy the retrospective of his work.

There were creative uses of some of the spaces: Both the stairwell and the elevator were covered in hundreds of images of the people that make up the African diaspora, for example. And the space itself is gorgeous from a design standpoint. The small gift shop was impressive. The staff was welcoming and knowledgeable—the two young Black men working there who tried to talk us into attending the lecture were especially wonderful to see. The place had the feel of an intimate, cozy, vibrant cultural salon. And the on-line museum is user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing, and educational.

That the museum exists is reason enough to be happy. Hopefully with more time—and more monetary support—the space can be transformed (and maybe enlarged) to better host its important themes.

It was definitely worth the visit.

"Ancestor Image Stairwell." PPR_Scribe

"Ancestor Image Elevator, detail." PPR_Scribe

"Transformation-MoAD Lobby." PPR_Scribe

November 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Old Friends

I did something yesterday that I absolutely hate: I said goodbye to old friends.

I had been building up to it for a while, trying to prepare myself emotionally. Over several days I had gone through and caressed all of them, trying to decide which I would keep and which would be gone from my home. Finally, I decided I was ready.

Light tan bankers box, emptied of hanging file folders containing remnants of two semesters of my graduate school career. (Which I saved. Never know when I might need, for instance, my notes from a family theory course from the early 2000s.) Okay, I said to myself, only what will fit in this box. Any that do not fit in the box will go back on the shelf.

I had made a stack, a tall tower on the floor that reached up to counter height. A few were books that had been given to me as gifts, but that turned out to be not my cup of tea. Two taboos broken here: never say goodbye to a book and never return a gift. Yet those went in the bankers box fairly easily. A few were books that I had bought, tried several times to read, but never managed to finish. (One, We Who Are Dark, I put back on the shelf. Didn’t I just read a review of that book that brought up an interesting aspect that I had not considered? Maybe it was worth a third try.) These, too, went from the tower to the box.

"Fillmore St. Marcus Books." PPR_Scribe

There were three titles making up the tower that were duplicates of ones still on my shelves. I don’t know why I kept these multiple copies. Perhaps I thought I might one day open up my own book store? The Women of Brewster Place and John Henry Days duplicates went in the box. I imagine some bored teenager who had just seen the film version picking up my copy of Gloria Naylor’s first novel and becoming transformed. I imagine someone in the bookstore searching the fiction section looking for a book by some author whose last name starts with W—Richard Wright, maybe, or Thomas Wolfe—not finding it, but happening upon my copy of Colson Whitehead’s book and deciding to give it a go….

But I put the Breaking Ice anthology duplicate back on the shelf. That copy was one I had bought when it first came out. Around the same time I had just begun dating the now-spouse. He had given me a copy of the book too, which he had signed and wrote a very nice note on the inside cover. For years the two copies sat on my shelf: the one that I bought and the one that I had been given. Without both red spines on my shelf, how would I remember the story behind them, the story of one of the earliest and most meaningful romantic gestures from the man I love?

Several Patricia Cornwell books from her Scarpetta series went in the box. As much as I love the doctor’s hunt for clues from the dead, I consume the books like cotton candy and there is no reason to hold onto them after I have read them. Plus, I figured they are ever popular and should fetch a high price as the sell-back counter. The three José Saramago books I own owned went in the box. Blindness had been my first and favorite. It disquieted me for days after I finished the last sentence. I experience mind tremors still, today, when I think of it. I have avoided the movie version because I love so dearly that feeling I got from the book and fear that the movie will be a huge let down. If I were filming that movie I’d just have audio and a white screen. I’m guessing that’s not what the actual movie’s director did.

The book and its siblings (The Cave and The Double) went in the box. Someone else should get the chance to love them.

A Mercy went in the box. Then out of the box. Then back in the box. Now it sits on my bedside table. My promise to Ms. Morrison is that I either re-read the book within the next two months, or I give the book away to someone else to read and enjoy. I additionally promise to do a review on this blog of the novel, based on my second reading of it. I will have to have the book in order to re-read and blog it, right? So I guess you could say the bankers box, then, was A Mercy-less.

None of my textbooks went in the box. Not a one. On the spot I made up a rule that only in the process of major residential moves will I say goodbye to textbooks. My last big move I got rid of dozens. It is not yet time to get rid of more. Not sure why this decision was elevated to “rule status,” but I am comfortable with it. It has a ring of seriousness and formality about it. It stands.

In the end, that still left a very full bankers box of books. There were a couple of odd gaps left in the box, so I stuffed a couple of pulp paperbacks in the spaces. The box was heavy. That is as it should be. Before anyone gets rid of a shelf full of books, she should feel the literal weight of such a serious decision. It should be a little painful. The cardboard cutout handles of the bankers box should bore into her fingers, leaving a reddish mark for the next 40 minutes. She should get a back spasm from lifting the boxed books into and out of the passenger car seat. Her thighs should ache from where the box repeatedly bumped them on the long walk from the parking lot to the store.

My daughters went with me to say goodbye to my books. They were fascinated by the new (to them) process. Their reaction reminded me how infrequently I do this kind of purging, and I promised myself to do it more. Maybe…one book out for every two books in? Something like that. Maybe keep a fresh, empty bankers box in the junk room or in my home office labeled with thick black permanent marker “TO BE SOLD”? Maybe.

My daughters assumed we were going to be wealthy from the sale. I think they were imagining riches like those that awaited Alladin in the cave. They excitedly pulled my jacket sleeve when they heard the bookstore clerk call my name over the loudspeaker, indicating he was ready to give me my offer after inspecting my collection of volumes. Calm down, I said to my daughters. I’m guessing it will only be about $20.00.

At the counter the clerk gave me the verdict: $25.00.

Before I even left the store I saw my copy of The Scarpetta Factor on the shelf in the new titles section. I had to restrain myself from buying the book back. The three of us bought books that totaled a little over $7.00. I left the store, then, with almost 18 extra dollars and two new, lovingly used books. And, I guess, I also left the store with the satisfaction of knowing that now others will now get to experience the joy of discovering books that once sat on my shelves.

And an empty bankers box.

*Image: Marcus Book Store, 1712 Fillmore St., San Francisco

November 21, 2009

Streets of San Francisco: Jazz Writing on the Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — pprscribe @ 12:44 pm

"Jazz Graffiti." PPR_Scribe

The streets of San Francisco are no joke. If I had a few more days of walking while at my recent conference I would erase several years of being out of shape. At least I was rewarded on my walks with surprising wonderful sights, like this wall of graffiti.

"Lady Day Sings Forever on the Wall." PPR_Scribe

Closer shot: Billie Holiday sings urban art.

"And on keyboards, Thelonious Monk." PPR_Scribe

And a closer shot of Thelonious Monk.

"1300." PPR_Scribe

More jazz at the 1300 Restaurant: extremely upscale soul food and two rounds of Bourbon Street Sunrise.

"Fillmore Street, Jazz." PPR_Scribe

I will have to think of way to get back to San Francisco soon—perhaps for the Fillmore Jazz Festival next July 4th holiday.

November 10, 2009

Round Up All the Black Boys in the Neighborhood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — pprscribe @ 12:08 am

That’s what my father did just before my first “girl-boy party.”

We lived in a majority White suburb (the setting for my “n***** story” that I related here), and I was turning 13 years old. I was going to have a birthday party—a real party in our apartment complex’s clubhouse. The music was to be provided by my uncle and his band. They were an extremely talented bunch that included his then girlfriend (or wife…the relationship is still unclear to me to this day) who reminded me of Chaka Khan. In fact, the band was Rufus-like, in that they could handle anything from Ohio Players to Yes.

I do not know how it came to be…what (if anything specific) instigated my father’s actions. But at some point my father left the clubhouse and began walking throughout the neighborhood, looking for Black teen-aged boys who were hanging out in order to invite them to the party. One thing is for sure: Without the addition of the few Black boys who decided to check it out, I would have had no Black male presence at my first mixed gender, teen party.

Recently the topic of this party and my father’s action came up during one of my family’s marathon story-telling sessions. I need to backtrack a little and explain something about the Scribe kinship line: We are a family of storytellers. But we do not just tell any old tales. We are tellers of tall tales. We have been known to stretch the truth a little if it will make for a better story. I have a term for this tendency: jeweling the elephant. Actually, that is not my term, but from one of the characters in Armistead Maupin’s The Night Listener. Some of us in my family are bigger elephant jewelers than others; my father—the elder of our clan—is the biggest jeweler of us all.

In my father’s version of my 13-year birthday party, he saw all of us new teenagers—all White except for his eldest daughter (me)—just standing around, segregated by sex, merely listening to all this incredible music played by a real live band. The party was going to be a dud. His daughter’s initiation into teenhood was going to be a colossal failure. She would not even have her first teen dance because none of the White boys present would ask her to dance. (Not that she—with her limited social skills—would have danced if asked or, goodness forbid, initiate asking someone herself.)

But a moment before this fate could be forever sealed, my father dashes out of the clubhouse in search of life support for my rapidly flat-lining party. Moments later he re-enters the party, leading a line of be-bopping, ultra-hip Black boys like some sort of pied piper of adolescent males. The rest of us loosen up, pair up, and begin to jam—the be-bopping ultra-hip Black boys teaching us the latest dance steps from Gary and Hammond and East Chicago. I have my first dance—including my first slow dance—with a shy, but adorable Black kid who was in town from down South visiting his cousin. I am saved a certain social death, and become the talk of the suburban junior high school!

OK. Actually, that is not my father’s version. (I said my father was the master of jeweling the elephant, but his firstborn is a close second place.) What really happened was not quite as dramatic as all that. But the gist of the tale is true to reality. And my father actually did go outside, walk around the apartment complex, and at some later time a group of random Black boys did show up at the door who he had seen in the neighborhood and invited.

How much things have changed. Never mind that if my father did something like that today, the boys would probably head straight to the police. A strange adult man out inviting young men to come over to the clubhouse for a party? They would have had the film crew from “To Catch a Predator” on their cell phones as soon as my father turned his back.

I wonder, though…would my father even do the same thing today, more than 30 years later—say, with his granddaughters (my daughters)? Would he do the same thing in reverse with my teenage brothers who have also grown up in a majority-White suburb? My daughters are not even in double digits yet. But what do other Black parents of Black teens do today under similar circumstances?

If I had my wits about me—and any small bit of entrepreneurial sense—I would start a business with this kind of situation in mind. It would kind of be like an employment temp agency. I would have groups of Black boys and girls who could be hired by parents to attend the social functions of Black teens  being raised in majority White neighborhoods. Eventually, of course, the word would get around and White parents would employ my rental Black teens for their kids’ parties, to give the gatherings that extra cool factor. I could even expand the business to include adolescents of other ethnicities… But I’d start my business model with Black families.

Afterall. What else do you get the privileged Black teenager living in the exclusive cul de sac who has everything? Black friends, of course.

But maybe I am stuck in an old, out-moded mind-set. Maybe such a service is not actually needed in today’s so-called post-racial world. Maybe my daughters’ 13th birthday party will be rocking and jamming…and possibly quite multicultural…without any need for intervention on my part. That would be a very good thing for me for all sorts of reasons. (Only one being that my social skills still are not that great.)

November 8, 2009

“Good Hair,” Man-style

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — pprscribe @ 9:42 pm

Though I’ve yet to see Chris Rock’s Good Hair, I have been following a lot of the blog chatter as a result of it. What I have heard very little of, however, is the fact that Black women are not the only ones to “perm” their hair. I find this lack of discussion especially interesting given that Rev. Al Sharpton, himself the sporter of a perm, apparently makes an appearance in the film.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this post commenting on the top Black Man Perms of all time, by a blogger who always wanted a man-perm but was to be forever kept from this fashion statement:

So, in my disappointment I turned to the study of man perms. Over the last twenty years, I have studied man perms extensively until I have emerged as an expert. And it is with that authority that I present you “The Greatest Man Perms of All Time: An Evolutionary History by Max Reddick.”

Of course, I’m a little ticked that Prince does not rate the number 1 man perm. I mean, surely he belongs ahead of Snoop!

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