Not Yet Finnished

2016/01/04



 

Friday night. Late August. I wanted a laugh. More important, I needed to hear other people’s laughter. Problem was: I only wanted my pet’s food to be canned, and I didn’t want my living room to be comedy central. Devoid of amorous company, I dove into the subway and emerged into the neon nirvana of Forty-Second Street, Times Square.

Passing on caricature portraits and flirtatious pickpockets, I swerved around starry-eyed tourists and glazed-eyed addicts to zoom in on the first hawker of comedy venue flyers in my hot concrete path. “Hmmm…twenty bucks for three comics performing live?” I asked the husky, bearded Black dude in baggy denims and black tee. “I’m there.” It was roughly forty-five minutes until the eleven o’clock set.

After I was ushered to one of a dozen tables among stadium seating, I distracted myself from both claustrophobia and the dearth of Black people in the tiny, dark club by inhaling the first of four turkey sliders on pretzel buns divided between two red-and-white checkered paper boats. Before I could fantasize about sailing away from the venue into fresh, open air on the Caribbean Sea, I heard a reedy voice ask, “Excuse me, madame. Is this seat taken?” Apparently the joint had filled nearly to capacity while I was on my armchair vacation, and the average-height blond man hovering over my medium cup of Coke was assuming that my companion had stepped away to use the men’s room — or to find a slender girlfriend.

“No one’s coming,” I told the stranger through my thin napkin  as a couple of thirtysomething stick-chicks tittered my way as if I were the set’s opening act. He squeezed his thick frame into a red wooden seat perfect for Baby Bear, plunked his bottle of Heineken at the tiny corner of table that I had managed not to monopolize, and then neglected to provide either his name or a handshake. He did mutter a monologue about being in Manhattan on business for two days before returning to Finland and finding it difficult to close a precarious deal. I recall him smiling as I reacted between munches: “Oh, you’re Finnish. I was trying to pin down your accent and thought I detected Nordic — ”

Before I could complete my sentence, all the house lights (“hut” lights would be more apropos) except the ones onstage went out, and the emcee — a dead ringer for singer-songwriter Levi Stephens, sans guitar — asked the crowd, “Are y’all ready to laugh yo’ asses off?” After waiting for our tiny, nearly all-white village to chant “Hell yeah!” for the third time, the night was on like Cheddar cheesy pop-poppity-popcorn.

From the lesbian comic opener who is responsible for my repulsion to rabbits of the silicon variety (let’s just say her repetitious ribbing rubbed my insecurity the wrong way) to the Honduran pothead from Red Hook — I lost all six porcelain fillings by laughing and coughing so hard. The few times I looked over at the Finnish businessman, he seemed to be enjoying the comedy as much as his fourth or ninth Heineken. I wasn’t counting, the bottles that is.

By the time the house lights had flickered back on and the applause had waned, my Finnish seatmate was gone. I was left with his emptied beer bottles and his cold, stiff seat. “Well, not even a goodbye,” I thought. Biting my bottom lip, I stood up and swiveled around to watch all the other patrons making their way toward an exit so narrow that we could have been trying to flee a funhouse. And like that amusement park feature, life suddenly appeared so distorted, though no deceptive mirrors were in sight.

Friday evening had begun in solitude; it now ended in loneliness. Although crowds of people were wandering the vivid, illuminated streets between Eighth Avenue and Broadway, I felt abjectly alone. Rendered two-dimensional by virtue of melancholy, I was a crumpled soul embodied in a woman who was destined always to be a party of one. Faltering with each footstep, I couldn’t compete with those five-dollar caricature portraits drawn in haste in front of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Unbearable awareness of my mateless meandering had reduced my bodyweight to that of pencil lead.

Heading toward the BMT subway, I thought that a downpour was threatening despite the hour, but it was my own rain. I felt tears streaming down my face and gazed in horror at the left side of my torso, which already was beginning to be smudged out. With watercolors for eyes, I probably stumbled past the vanished Finnish visitor, whose soliloquy on his apprehension toward a business deal with boorish Americans could have competed for length with any of Hamlet’s procrastinations.

Topped with charcoal-gray hair, I lost my balance beneath an unexpected gust of wind — my maker’s hurricane breath sweeping rubbery bits of eraser into the fragile paper frame’s northwest corner. In contrast to my disappearing form was a colored-in scene of jubilant figures shouting, singing and otherwise affirming their existence within a replacement neon picture frame.

Before my lungs could be extinguished, I gasped at the irony that I had made an unplanned Broadway debut but that the last laugh was on me.

 

First published on October 5, 2015

 
“Not Yet Finnished”  © 2015 Chantale Rêve  All Rights Reserved

 

Photo Credit:  de.forwallpaper.com

Advertisements

Folks, I’ve never blown — now, now, this is a non-fiction blog post, not one of my Negrotica naughties — a trumpet or any other kind of horn. Well, unless a conch shell counts? I’ve blown a few deadlines, many chances, some fuses including ones in my brain, okay.

When I was a young girl stuck with a play-by-number organ, instead of gifted with a piano that must’ve dropped from my Christmas wish list — e-v-e-r-y year — while Santa Claus was either texting his head elf or sexting Mrs. C (or vice versa), my mind was blown upon watching “Soul Train” one Saturday morning: The band rocking out on Don Cornelius’ hip show was Sly and The Family Stone. (I was a kid; I knew nothing about lip syncing and instrument syncing back then.) However groovy and funky the frontman was, I was transfixed by Cynthia Robinson (pictured above within a photo of Sly and The Family Stone) showing the trumpet who’s boss. “Daddy, I didn’t think a girl could do that. Gee, wow!” Yeah, those were the days when lots of working-class families had one television (or only one color television), so the entire nuclear unit would be watching shows together. Those also were days when I used to exclaim in such geeky ways.

When the musical dynamics changed on “Stand,” I nearly lost my lil mind. Amid my father’s crisp fingersnaps sounding like the popping of fresh stringbeans and my choreography unbefitting of a Brownie, I never lost sight of my role model and heroine: Cynthia.

This past weekend, I had a good time viewing a rebroadcast of TVOne’s “Unsung” profile of reclusive musical genius Sly Stone during the dynamic cable network’s marathon of ninety-nine episodes. (Just a sampling of the unique, seven-year-old biographical series blows both A&E’s “Biography” and VH-1’s “Behind the Music” out of the broadcast journalism water.) As I was sitting riveted on my settee, and cussing every time the need for English subtitles arose during Sly’s raspy accounts of onstage performances and on-the-road antics, I was elated to see and listen to music legend Cynthia Robinson — one of the world’s first female trumpeters — providing her perspective of experiences as a key member of The Family Stone. After smiling at the still photo of  her with her then-school-aged daughter, I received a pleasant surprise when Cynthia got real in a sassy, Cheryl Lynn way on the topic of romancing the head stone.

“That was my man!” she said about Sly. It was like witnessing Cynthia transforming into a chick nearly fifty years younger because her face lit up like that of any assertive young woman boasting about her main squeeze. There she was, my first female idol — after my mother, grandmothers and my septuagenarian Puerto Rican baby-sitter — rolling forward and backward on her hips and rejoicing with laughter as she waxed rapturously about a true love. Methinks I spied upon the pearly whites of a victorious mistress. To be fair, and clear, she was commenting within the context of Sly being married at the time and, thus, she was acknowledging not being his woman.

Hmmm … How many Black women of various ages today are rising above the funk of spinster-style fatalism, choosing to share rather than despair? It’s not for me to judge any sista’s decision — conscious or subconscious — to ignore her boo’s tan line around a particular digit or, for that matter, to relish droppin’ it like it’s hot on the finger that his wife had “put a ring on it.” Whoah-ho-ho, all I’m saying, here, is that Cynthia — in love as in music — was ahead of her time. She owned it. Therefore, by living in the authenticity of her being, she rendered the word “mistress” an anachronism.

Never ever hard on the eye, Cynthia Robinson was, musically speaking too, a beautiful badass to the end. My only regret is never having the chance to see her featured with Prince in any live concert. As the Bard might say: To think, perchance to dream.

 

She would’ve turned seventy years young this coming January 12th. Rest in peace, Cynthia.

 

 

Text only: © 2015 Chantale Rêve  All Rights Reserved

Image result for death of trumpeter Cynthia RobinsonImage result for death of trumpeter Cynthia Robinson

Image result for death of trumpeter Cynthia Robinson


 

 

I’ve just completed a blog post about valuing oneself and not identifying by occupation.  There are times, however, when it’s totally appropriate to ask where a person works.  Those are moments when you find yourself singing the melody of that cautionary Jackson Five song (but with the lyrics slightly altered):  Stop, the life you save may be your own.

Some years ago, I reluctantly attended a company party at an upscale jazz club-restaurant on the East Coast.  Of course, the event took place at night and in the middle of a week that didn’t contain a payday.  That meant – for the non-promiscuous among us – going home alone by subway, not by taxi.  I say that I reluctantly attended the shindig because I knew most of the co-workers would be talking out of their asses the way they did back at the office, except they’d be full of more shit after taking advantage of the open bar and buffet.  (I was right.)

Ah, but there was yet another reason I’d decided to go to the bash:  Just as I know that all humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, I knew that my upcoming performance review hinged on how I navigated the testy waters of the company party.  I had my eye on a promotion, and since I wasn’t willing to kiss any female manager’s ass or sleep with any male manager with a perpetual hard-on, the company party would be my last opportunity.

The grapevine gala was going on its second hour, with voices growing louder as bottles of differing shapes and sizes emptied faster than a well-serviced drainpipe during a torrential downpour.  By then I’d already stretched the rayon of my little black dress by returning to the buffet tables for thirds of fried spicy wings, jambalaya and cornbread.

Meanwhile, a live band took a break from 1970s disco tunes, and lots of silver-haired folks ambled toward the dance floor upon hearing the opening strains of the American standard “I Remember You.”  The change in pace prompted them to channel the confidence of “Dancing with the Stars” competitors and deliver their best imitation of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – and, when the rhythms switched to swing, their best impersonation of Frankie Manning and Freda Washington (look ’em up, y’all).

I knew a little tango and a lot less foxtrot, so I had no inclination to join the brave on the dance floor and glide amid the royal blue and lavender spotlights.  My exuberant co-workers, however, began goading me to “get out there!” because they knew I’d begun taking formal lessons at I-wouldn’t-have-dared-tell-them-where.  (Actually, I had been dancing for many years, but not ballroom dancing.)

I ignored their girlie chanting, holding my purse to my chest and bearing my weight into my shoes and into the chair.  They laughed loudly, perfuming the air with mingled spirits – and I don’t mean joie de vivre, either – as they attempted to pry my purse from my tight embrace.   I must’ve flattened my “D” cups to a set of “B’s” that night in a fierce attempt to fight off those drunkards.  In contrast, I was chain-drinking sodas.   This was like one of those pseudo-lesbian scenes from a bad 1980s women’s prison flick, except we remained fully dressed.  (Come to think of it, were there any good movies of that subgenre in the ’80s?)

Out of nowhere stepped a rather charming, handsome man.  He looked nothing like Astaire or Gene Kelly or either of the Nicholas Brothers, but, more importantly, he wasn’t dressed to the nines like most of the employees at the party.  However, he smiled so widely and his teeth were so bright, that I guess he had us blinded from his purpose.   Then again, our company was quite large, so none of us couldn’t possibly know everyone present.  The guy stood about six feet, had a lanky physique and reddish-brown complexion, and he kept smoothing back black, wavy hair brushed close to his head.  I didn’t try to guess if he had a conk; he had a cock, which made him a man — at least in the semidarkness of our table — so I knew to be wary.  His smile appeared a bit fake, as if he was contemplating:  Which of you sisters will I be bedding tonight?  I thought:  Not this one!  And just as that thought flashed through my mind, his gaze zoomed in on my face. Damn, damn, damn, I cursed inwardly while trying to snarl outwardly.

Just then, Mr. Charm extended his hand and grinned under a mustache thinner than Don Ameche’s.  I played coy because I was embarrassed as hell.  Glancing up at him, I said, “Merci, monsieur,” while shaking his hand.  I’d just returned from Quebec and was still feeling Frenchified, when what I should’ve have felt was too petrified to lift a limb.

Excusez-moi, mademoiselle.  Êtes-vous française?” he asked before raising my right arm higher to give the back of that hand a slo-mo peck.

Smiling and struggling not to imagine growing a wart on my hand, I replied:  “Non, je suis americaine.”  Then I snapped myself into my non-French reality and re-answered, “No, I just came back from vacationing in Montreal.”

“Montreal, eh?” he said, pronouncing his beloved city “MAWH-ray-YAHL.”  He raised an eyebrow and smiled back at me before practically dragging me tango-style onto the dance floor.

Mr. Charm looked to be 15 years my senior.  I didn’t understand why he selected me, but then I rationalized that he didn’t want an inebriated dance partner who would spill her guts when he spun her.  That thought caused me to look back at the giggling dingbats at the table.  Whenever I wanted to glance over at them, he would pull me in closer to him.  I think he really was trying to cop a feel, desiring the sensation of my heavy bra on his muscular chest.  Whatever.

It was difficult to place my right palm in his as my hand was still limp from his light kiss in front of my colleagues.  I made up some fancy footwork that I’d watched on those dance championships which aired on PBS every year.  Oh, but he was quite the dazzler, displaying smooth footwork of his own. And those damned chalk-white teeth.  He dipped me so sharply at the end of our twanglo (it wasn’t the tango; but it was twisted), that my left shoe nearly flew off.  A rather embarrassing moment, yes, but one about to be outdone by a horrifying sequence.

When Mr. Charm and I returned to the table, I reclaimed my purse, checking for any missing currency inside while my co-workers asked my dance partner within which department he worked at our company.  The assumption was that everyone at the bash was an employee.  “Leave the man alone,” I urged the intoxicated gaggle.  But no, they insisted on imploring further.

Mr. Charm complied.  Retrieving his scuzzy-looking backpack from beneath the table, he matter-of-factly revealed, “I don’t work for your company at all.”  Then he smiled widely.  That night, he explained while zipping up his windbreaker, he had landed at the Port Authority bus terminal after a 10-hour ride from Montreal.

The other women acted as if his admission was artistic and bohemian.  He said nothing about just finishing an avant-garde installation at a gallery in Montreal; he wasn’t distributing flyers for his upcoming high-wire act in Mont Royal; and he didn’t magically produce an easel and palette to do our portraits there in the club-restaurant.  No, this man had just held my waist, danced cheek to cheek with me, touched my palms with his, and now I was learning with the subtlety of a Band-Aid ripping the hairs off my arm that he was some kind of vagrant!?!  I was terrified that he’d crashed our company party and was even more of a stranger than a co-worker on crystal meth sliding by on HR’s second written warning.

When another co-worker at the table had the gall to ask him what he did for a living in Montreal, he casually replied that he handled cadavers.  Oh, great! I thought to myself while sneering over at her.  At this point, my colleagues were giggling nervously, but I wasn’t.  My jaw felt locked and my pupils must’ve been as dilated as a comatose patient’s.  When the intruder reached into a pocket at the front of his backpack, I held my breath.  What, is he going to retrieve a knife or gun now? I wondered.

Looking around at the other women, I could tell they, too, were having a cardio-pulmonary event.  Any trace of laughter was replaced by grim silence.  Still grinning, the mysterious stranger whipped out a company I.D. card that contained his photo, the name of the hospital, and the department where he worked:  the morgue.

I’ll never forget how “The Addams Family” theme flitted through my mind and how this interloper’s increasingly weird vibe crept through my bones and over my flesh.  I’d just danced toe to toe with a man that tagged toes.  A part of me struggled to escape out of my skin, but I caught myself midflight.  I was above discriminating against anyone’s occupation – unless it was serial killing, rape, armed robbery, etc. – and I didn’t want him mistaking me for one of those paranoid, post-Patriot Act Americans who assume that all foreigners are terrorists.  Still, for all any of us knew at the table that night, Mr. Charm could’ve been a murderer of Ripleyesque or Ripperian proportions.

The next day, I made it a top priority to communicate discreetly to the appropriate department at our company that there had been a security breach at the party.  Perversely, the cliché about “no good deed…” echoed in my head when I was placed under surveillance for having danced too intimately with a company-party crasher.  Yeah, where was the videotape when I was getting my ass groped in the mailroom earlier that year for committing the sin of hand-delivering my manager’s last-minute package after hours?

Alas, the moral of this true story is:  Go with your gut instincts and ask crucial questions because, if you don’t – and especially if mind-altering libation (or another kind of drug) is involved – you could wind up as some morbid statistic.

 

 

 

Article was first published on the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog on February 25, 2010.

 

“Rethink Passing On (and Passing Out at) the Company Party”  Copyright © 2010/2014 Chantale Rêve  All Rights Reserved

 

 

Clip Art Source:  commons.wikimedia.org


 Photo Credit (above):  Asterio Tecson

The first time I heard Whitney Houston’s voice, the song playing on an FM radio station was “You Give Good Love.” The year was 1985; the season, late spring. As a young woman barely out of her teens, I found Whitney’s sweet but throaty, gospel-trained alto the perfect vehicle for depicting the awe and beauty of falling in love, and the apprehension, courage and responsibility of being in love.

My paltry paycheck couldn’t come sooner. Once back home from the record store, with the Whitney Houston album spinning loveliness from my File:Whitney Houston - Whitney Houston (album).jpgturntable, I couldn’t get over the contradiction between the jacket’s front and back covers. On the front was a close-up of a fresh-faced girl like me wearing a pastel gown like a goddess of virtue and, flipped, was a full-length image of a leggy woman in a stunning white swimsuit posing like a sensuous warrior at the ocean’s edge.

At the age I was then, Whitney’s songbird voice spirited me through my academic weekdays and crisp, green weekends. In those days of firsts — pink-frosted feathery haircuts, lipstick, kisses, miniskirts, lingerie, nightclubs, concerts, and forbidden invitations — life transformed into rainbow colors as soon as the needle dropped to the vinyl or the chunky “Play” button was pressed on the Walkman.

When the straight, popular girls (read: big-busted skanks) would snatch away the straight and bisexual normal boys, the only guy I had to hold me was a figment of my imagination. That was OK, though, because all I had to do was shut the door to the attic, snap my fingers to summon my fairy godsista, Whitney, and “dance with somebody who loves me.”

The Greatest Love of All

Image via Wikipedia

Back then, whether a record or an artist won a Grammy didn’t matter to me. As long as the music moved my bottom half — heaven forbid if the lyrics also stirred my soul, as in “Thinking About You,” Whitney’s duet with synth maestro Kashif — I found kinetic bliss a prize worth pursuing. An undergrad degree was more difficult to achieve through a combo of unpredictable death benefits, an eleventh-hour grant that covered only senior-year textbooks, and a part-time night job the commute from which courted danger in a predominantly white section of town. With A Dirty Mind and Around the World in a Day bookending my freshman and senior years, it was a miracle that any schoolwork got done. Though, it was easy to understand how I got done. Seriously, Prince (before and during The Revolution), Whitney, Michael Jackson, Angela Bofill, Madonna and Eldra DeBarge all helped me get through college studies and some heavier stuff right at home.

Thanks to the conviction with which Whitney sang “Saving All My Love for You” and, in a duet with Jermaine Jackson, “Take Good Care of My Heart,” I had intuited a clue to love’s mystery and had received fair warning of the complex emotions that unfolded in relationships which catapulted my tenderoni self into adulthood. By the time Whitney was full-bodied, her mature pipes fluttering and “shooping” through “Exhale,” so was I.

When it came to covers, Whitney reshaped a song and made it her own. Several examples of Whitneyfied remakes include “The Greatest” (originally recorded by R&B-jazz singer-musician George Benson for the 1970s movie The Greatest, starring then-heavyweight champion of the world Muhammad Ali) ; “Living for the Love of You” (The Isley Brothers); “I’m Every Woman” (Chaka Khan); “I Believe in You & Me” (from the soundtrack of The Preacher’s Wife [that film itself a reimagining of The Bishop’s Wife], and originally recorded by The Four Tops); and, as alluded to in the title of this blog post, the thematic song for the 1992 blockbuster film The Bodyguard: “I Will Always Love You” (written by and originally recorded by Dolly Parton).

Whitney Houston   -   Concert in Central Park ...

Whitney Houston – Concert in Central Park / Good Morning America 2009 (Photo credit: asterix611)

Over the past decade, it was refreshing to find Whitney — daughter of the legendary gospel and soul singer Cissy Houston, cousin of pop icon Dionne Warwick, and goddaughter of “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin — performing more gospel songs live and with verve. She was very much alive. She looked and sounded inspired. It’s not my place to judge whether her elated or dreamy expressions were from natural highs or recreational ones, for Whitney showed the world that, despite the various drug-related controversies and media witch hunts, she was but a humble servant of her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is to Him I’d like to think her soul floated for divine comfort and joy, and eternal rest.

This weekend, Black Entertainment Television (BET) re-aired “Celebration of Gospel,” from 2011, in which Whitney surprised the on-site and television audiences by stepping onstage in a pretty, gray dress to join the legendary Kim Burrell for a stirring gospel duet. The riveting encore moved emcee Steve Harvey, too. I had watched the excellent program when it was first broadcast, and its appearance on my TV set on February 12th led me to the news announcement, during commercial breaks, of the tragedy. My fairy godsista, Whitney, was gone.

I didn’t learn of the much-adored yet widely maligned pop icon’s passing until today — Sunday — because over a sixteen-hour period I had been sketching and writing the short story “Mixed Signals” for my Negrotica blog. I usually don’t believe in coincidences, but it’s an eerie one that around the time Whitney was reported to have died (according to the news I viewed on BET and CNN today, February 12th), I had incorporated the emotional relevance of her song “Run to You,” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, into the aforementioned short fiction.

Cover of "The Bodyguard (Special Edition)...

Cover of The Bodyguard (Special Edition)

Whitney’s film career was launched in 1992 with The Bodyguard, a romantic thriller that I loved then and now in spite of a plot which has more holes than a thin slice of Swiss cheese. No disrespect to her co-star, the gifted and handsome actor Kevin Costner, but the movie (co-produced by Costner) turned into a critical vehicle for Whitney Houston and revitalized her pop music image. According to Wikipedia, Lawrence Kasdan, The Bodyguard’s screenwriter and a co-producer, had pegged Steve McQueen and Diana Ross for the leading roles back in the ’70s, when he scripted the film. As a gi-normous Harrison Ford aficionada, I didn’t need Wikipedia to inform me that Kasdan wrote the screenplays for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi.

Although Whitney’s model good looks were taken for granted in The Bodyguard, the woman was incredibly sexy and portrayed the seducer, which for me was a first for a Black actress in a major motion picture involving an interracial romance as a subplot. Were it not for Whitney’s alluring crescents for eyes, expressive lips, serpentine movements and earthy charm, there would’ve been no credible chemistry between the “Queen of the Night” and her protector, and no basis for the 360° farewell kiss at film’s end. Midfilm, though, Costner’s Frank Farmer had my cheeks burning when he taught Houston’s Rachel Marron a horizontal lesson about tinkering with a sharp sword.

Having let down his guard and agreed with (t)horny Rachel to give her an authentic dating experience, he invited her into his private world: his kind of bar, his kind of flick, his kind of fetish. One would think that the vintage Japanese film which they had viewed at the cinema in town was In the Realm of the Senses. (Surely I joust, you say? Hai, hai. Besides, Rachel’s neck scarf was worn loosely, and there was nary an egg in sight.) Experiencing Far Eastern cultural aftershocks from the samurai movie, Rachel gave herself the green light to pierce through to Frank’s sensual layer. While she certainly was no Black geisha, she approached her off-duty bodyguard’s mounted weapon with slippered poise.

Her demoted, incompetent bodyguard, Tony, had learned the hard way just how proficient Frank was with knives, but she was about to get the point of his fetish. Although she first had seduced Frank, she was now in his man-cave by his design, and he only needed to be lured to the edge of passion to take over the seduction. Executing a few, faux samurai moves, Rachel extended the sword like a temptress with penis envy. After halving her silk scarf like an illusionist’s act gone awry, he got her undivided attention. Awestruck and startled was she. Twinned with desire was he. Unheard but understood was his direction to his member to: “Chaaaaarge!”

Their suppressed, forbidden lust unsheathed, they were woman and man, no longer pop diva and bodyguard — at least not until dawn. Can any true appreciator of The Bodyguard forget how the camera slowly revealed Frank’s massive, long blade penetrating the crotch of Rachel’s dainty, lace, limp panties? Am I the only one who frankly didn’t give a damn that it was overkill when the camera next panned over to the bed, where the pair lay embracing each other in their afterglow? The bedroom was bathed in indigo blue; their faces, in blissful satisfaction (hers) and ambiguous regret (his).

For me, Frank’s perilous sword maneuver — his chivalric touché to Rachel’s initiation of foreplay — in The Bodyguard was the sexiest Kevin Costner scene since his smooches north and south on Sean Young’s statuesque bod — he in uniform, she in lingerie — across a limo’s wide backseat in the Cold War-era suspense film No Way Out (1987), based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock. While the film’s eponymously titled, synth-drenched balladic duet led off by Paul Anka saturated the night, Costner’s naval commander and Young’s two-timing mistress frolicked and panted away behind the involuntarily shut slide, leaving the disappointed chauffeur (Bill) to circle DC’s illuminated monuments. And, no, Costner’s Tom Farrell didn’t leave his hat on.

File:TheBodyguardSoundtrack.jpg

Not since The WIZ, Saturday Night Fever and Purple Rain had I played an original soundtrack (OST) back to back over an entire year! I adored then, as I do now, every track that Whitney laid down on The Bodyguard OST. Also highly listenable are the cuts not performed by her, such as “It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day” — Clivilles-Cole’s sensually aerobic rendition of Bill Withers’ 1977 hit song “Lovely Day” — which remind us of their contributions to the film’s atmospherics. That is, they musically aid director Mick Jackson in dramatizing the enviable (to some) lush life juxtaposed with a paranoid sensibility that can accompany the perils of celebrity. To date, The Bodyguard remains the highest-selling OST on Earth.

Not one film that Whitney’s talent, name and fame carried — not a one — tanked. I’ve exhausted my praise for The Bodyguard. Now please allow me to take you back down memory lane, for this now-ascended star who in mortal life easily flashed her megawatt smile also had entertained us with her commendable work in The Preacher’s Wife (with Denzel Washington), Cinderella (with singer-actress Brandy in the title role) and Waiting to Exhale (with a tremendous ensemble cast that included Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and the late Gregory Hines).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[I’m infamous for my asides, so here we go:

Aside #1: Thank you to director and Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker for bringing us the gem Waiting to Exhale in 1995. We need, no, crave, many more films that represent the multifaceted Black Experience. We are human, too, and so non-Blacks (now’s not the time to pelt me with the anthropological “Lucy” theory) will perceive and appreciate the universality in our stories just as we do in theirs. If we can guffaw through The Help — a film I refuse to sit uncomfortably through when an über-rich person such as Oprah Winfrey keeps touting it — then non-Blacks and Blacks can view a film about, say, a happily married, working-class Black couple trying to deal with their twentysomething son’s PTSD after he has survived his “tour” in Afghanistan but no one wants to hire him.

Here, I’m making my plea to: Spike Lee, Kasi Lemmons, Forest Whitaker, Sanaa Hamri, Tyler Perry, Carl Franklin, Marlies Carruth, F. Gary Gray, Darnell Martin, Antoine Fuqua, Neema Barnette, Denzel Washington, Julie Dash, Clark Johnson, Cheryl Dunye, Lee Daniels, Angela Robinson, John Singleton, Coquie Hughes, Sheila Norman, Martin Lawrence, Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Hughes Brothers, Ayoka Chenzira, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and the rest of you responsible Black American, Caribbean and other African-descended filmmakers. Please lift your cameras and, for the auteurs among you, your pens now like never before!

Aside #2: I’m still wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ that somebody will make a major motion picture about the life of Tammi Terrell — and I’m for real. I’m continuing my campaign launched with my November 2010 post on this Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog, in which I stated that actress Taraji P. Henson would be magnificent cast as Tammi. If those with the capital to fund just about every damned thing else could get in touch with author Vickie Wright and her co-author on the Tammi Terrell bio, Ludie Montgomery, who is Tammi’s sister, then these wonderful ladies will be able to bring their film project to fruition. I plan to be on line on opening night.

Aside #3: Now, what’s being plated in heaps among the annual sampling of films (and TV shows) containing predominantly Black casts? Junk food. We desire soul food! Tyler Perry shouldn’t take all of the heat. He’s a self-made millionaire in an industry that would never do what he does: employ many long-seen-and-heard-from Black actors. And they’re major talents. But I take issue with the excessive histrionics and slapstick that often distract from the serious matters which Perry had the insight and courage to explore. Don’t get me wrong; Madea is fucking hilarious! However, when we already are presented with such a gigantic woman — Perry in drag as a caricature of a composite of grannies and great-aunties some of us know or knew all too well — do we really need the actors in supporting roles going over the top like Madea’s prosthetic tatas? Or should I say, taDAHS!

I’m all for tribute and affection wrapped in comedic irreverence, but in the burial scene in Meet the Robinsons, did Jenifer Lewis’ strident-voiced character need to desecrate “Amazing Grace” and get shoved into the open grave? Why didn’t Perry go further and write a few broken limbs into the script? You Tyler Perry fans know that’s a rhetorical question. Perry sketched a two-dimensional cartoon character, for in the kitchen scene that follows the burial shot, Lewis emerges only with a facial bruise and a crooked wig. Rubbish.

Auteur Spike Lee justifiably was publicly critical of Perry’s representations of Black people and the ironic acceptance by Blacks. But the responsibility of making quality films cannot rest solely on Spike’s shoulders — by the way, I’d say that if he stood over six feet tall. Spike isn’t flawless, of course. He seemed preachy in parts of his 1990s films, such as the scene in Jungle Fever in which Wesley Snipes’ adulterous protagonist steps out of character to give a PSA-worthy speech about unwed teenage mothers. Yes, Spike misstepped there by not ministering to unwed teenage fathers.

However, Spike doesn’t rely on slapstick and on Black characters acting like white actors in blackface in a minstrel show. That’s Perry’s forté. I only hope that I don’t waste $12 ($20 with popcorn and a beverage) walking out of Perry’s Good Deeds the way I did with For Colored Girls.

Aside #4: We are force-fed a plethora of movies from male-dominated POVs that depict Black men, women and children as “coons” — yeah, I went there. Those types of characters are nothing but 21st-century versions of actors made to ape around in flicks that European American audiences flocked to see during the half-century following the end of legal U.S. slavery.]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Back to the subject of this blog post: the late great Whitney Houston

When Sparkle, her last film and a remake of the 1976 classic that starred singer-actress Irene Cara in the title role, is released this summer, let’s all go out and support it. Thank you, Bishop T.D. Jakes, for bringing it … and for bringing it back to life. Yes, thank you for resuscitating a film that most of the world forgot, perhaps because it’s about a Black adolescent (singer Jordin Sparks in the title role) — a middle child — who has God-given talent, a big dream, a strong church family, a supportive and adoring friend and, most importantly, a single mother who loves her so much that she fears losing her to vices and materialistic success.

In Sparkle Whitney portrays the matriarch of a family of sisters in a role originated by the graceful actress Mary Alice, who illuminated the small and big screen with an authentic, downhome kind of femininity and mature sensuality. (Mary Alice was ubiquitous in 1970s television programs, especially “Sanford and Son” opposite comedic legend Redd Foxx, and she’s long overdue an “Unsung” profile on TVOne.  Hint, hint.) Recalling Mary Alice’s poignant performances during my youth, and how she balanced poise and feistiness, I’m so happy that someone had the prescience or genius to consider Whitney Houston — a religious, doting mom to a teen-age daughter who publicly had expressed her own music industry dreams — for such a coveted role in Sparkle. Timing is everything, and Whitney is a natural for the part.

Those of you who either lined up outside the cinema house in ’76 (as I did that autumn with my mom) when the original Sparkle was released or have viewed it on cable television (thanks, TVOne) or DVD, know that all three daughters were fast-tracked into adulthood amid harsh urban realities. You also may recall that the eldest sibling, “Sister” (pronounced Sistuh), played to the hilt by Lonette McKee, lost her battle to drug addiction — heroin, the drug plied by her pusher-lover, Satin. It’s inspired casting when one considers Whitney’s courage to make a comeback after struggling with a failed marriage — one in which substance abuse and love were intertwined (if not symbiotic), by the pop icon’s own admission.

In the film’s original version, set vaguely in the late 1950s to early 1960s, the midtempo song “Hooked on Your Love” seduced the moviegoer with its muted horns and stripper beat while the gowned-down girl group (McKee’s, Cara’s and Dwan Smith’s characters, in proper birth order) sashayed what their momma gave them to the delight of single and attached men seated at tables in the nightclub. It would be a travesty if in the rebirthed Sparkle movie, “Hooked on Your Love” (sung on the soundtrack album by Aretha Franklin; in the film, by McKee on lead vocals) were omitted instead of re-envisioned.

This time, the whole world will take notice of the film, not only for the dramatic performances and the great soundtrack, but also for its lifesaving messages about loving and believing in oneself and about the significance of supporting and standing up for family and friends when one gets a divine call. Yes, the entire world will pay attention to Sparkle this time around because Whitney Houston no longer is.

Cissy Houston, thank you for trusting the world with your beloved “Nippy.” Many out there did your baby wrong, but they’re greatly outnumbered by us — the longtime fans that discovered who Whitney was through the music which also helped us discover ourselves, who encountered an angel on earth and whose love for her will live on like her amazing legacy.

Just Whitney

Image via Wikipedia

 In Memory of Our Recently Departed Sista-Girl,
Whitney Houston: 1963-2012

© 2012 Chantale Rêve

All Rights Reserved

In Memoriam

2011/05/28


Mourning the very recent passings of:

GIL SCOTT-HERON

JEFF CONAWAY

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My personal tributes:

As a child of the seventies, my first memory of revolutionary urban griot-poet Gil Scott-Heron was skipping rope to the beat of “The Bottle” as Gil’s voice raspily singing “Nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah, nah-nah …” crackled out of our overblown speakers at a family BBQ that continued into the night.  At that young age, though, the meaning of Gil’s lyrics to that R&B-jazz suite went as high above my head as the airplanes that seemed ready to land in our backyard as they approached JFK Airport.

My fave adult memory of Gil was his performance as part of a socially conscious concert at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in the early nineties.  By that time, I had formed a worldview, protested domestic and international injustices from police brutality and apartheid to imperialism.  Hmmm …  Perhaps Gil’s lyrics on that summer day back in the early seventies weren’t beyond the grasp of my subconscious mind.

As a young teen in the late seventies, my first memory of Jeff Conaway was of him skidding across the silver screen as “Keneckie” in the blockbuster Grease.  His tidal wave of blond hair slicked back on the sides, he gyrated sensually opposite John Travolta in the “Greased Lightning” number until I blushed and clapped simultaneously.  And thus was born my love of car racing — OK, viewing on television only, where I can’t get mowed down in the stands, but where my face still can flush from the high-octane rush.

My favorite memories of Jeff are too many to mention because he was the only reason I watched “Taxi,” on which he (as “Bobby”) often out-heartthrobbed Tony Danza with his megawatt smile.  (I also tuned into the sitcom because I dug jazz musician Bob James’ ” Theme from ‘Taxi.’ “)  If you had to grill me for my fave “Taxi” episode, though, it would have to be the one in which the very talented ensemble cast performed an ode to Broadway.  In that tribute, oh, how Jeff shined.

 

May their artistic contributions live on like every sunrise and sunset.

May their souls rest in peace.


 

In an effort to beat the holiday blues, I am running the following story, which I wrote and first published in December 2008, in the hope that it connects with the inner child of each adult, female and male, reading the Blah-Blah-Blah-Blah Blog.

While I do not have a recollection of exactly when I stopped believing in jolly Ol’ Saint Nicholas – as he was embodied in various media images – I can recall with the clarity of an idle snowglobe that the week leading up to Christmas Day felt surreal.  Okay, I did not know the concept of the word surreal at the age of three or seven or even eleven.  It was a magical time, when my thin body felt lighter than the new snow into which my childhood friends and I would make angels. There was not a plaid wool coat or parka that could stop us from practicing that winter ritual, especially at Christmastime.

It was an innocent era.  We would run up and down the block, enthusiastic about the perennial Rankin/Bass TV movies of doll-like stop-motion characters – Kris Kringle, Rudolph, et al. – and of lollipop-bright colors that made for warm winters.  We would bid each other a cheerful “Good night” so we could finish our dinners in time to watch one of the programs, knowing that each aired only once a year.   In a similar vein, it was a sin to miss A Charlie Brown Christmas, and there was no DVR back in those days.

Houses on my block smelled like gingerbread was baking inside, while on the outside dazzling light displays competed with others.  Despite the frosty air – back then, global warming was an unknown threat of the future – neighbors with reddened ears and noses still managed enough warmth to stammer “Have a merry Christmas” and “Happy holidays” through their carbon dioxide mist to passers-by.  In this atmosphere, the most outlandish scenario was believable.

So when my parents asked me and my older brother to compile our Christmas lists, we both believed that those doodads would find their way on Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve.  It did not matter that we had no fireplace in our modest brick home.  I just figured that Santa had found an ingenious way of creating a route from the chimney to the boiler room, from which he easily could sneak up the basement staircase, pad across the kitchen, and skulk into the living room to leave us all presents.  I used to think that Santa must have studied ballet, for what other way could he tiptoe in those clunky black boots around that lopsided tree without disturbing any dangling ornaments?

All I had to do was brush a branch with the bun atop my head for ornaments and bulbs to come tumbling out of their places and tinkling as they hit the bare, glittered “blanket of snow” wrapped around the faux pine tree’s red-and-green base.  My young mind could not bear to imagine Santa getting electrocuted from the tangle of strung Christmas lights and twisted metallic fringe.  Who needed strings of popcorn with that chaos?

Each year, I kept my faith in Santa Claus, knowing it would be redeemed the next morning upon my sighting of dolls crying “Mama” and my brother’s Lionel train chugging around the track that made a village out of our small living room.  So intense was my anticipation on Christmas Eve that, until the age of eight or nine, I would become so anxious that I would – to put it as indelicately as it felt – lose my dessert.  My belief in the portly red-and-white angel was so potent that I was torn between staying up late to catch a glimpse of him and having my nose sprinkled with pepper as punishment for not obeying my parent’s nine o’clock bedtime curfew.

Until the age of eleven, I faithfully accompanied my mother to her workplace – a nearly all-female branch of Ma Bell – every Christmas Eve day for the chance to sit on Santa Claus’ well-padded lap.  There I would bring his legs closer to an arthritic state as I whispered my wishes into his ear and then feel his belly roll from his thunderous “Ho, ho, ho!”  I had a wonderful fashion sense at that age already, and so I noticed how well the big man’s white hair, mustache, and beard complemented the white fur trim of his suit.  His coat was, like, a vintage Lilli Ann number, but designed for men of generous girth … above the belt, that is.

What a harmonious sight!  I would swing my annual gift from this workplace Santa:  a foot-long, red net stocking filled with toys and hard candies.  How psyched was I that Santa had stopped at my mommy’s job for the afternoon before whisking off to join his reindeer for an amazing trek around the globe, including my brick house that night!

When the next summer arrived, I saw red.  Not the red of Santa’s suit or of the candy stocking, either.  Rather, I gasped at the first sign of womanhood. It was a total coincidence that I had viewed Brian DePalma’s horror movie Carrie only a week earlier – I believe it was a double feature with They Came from Within (Canadian title:  Shivers), about fornication-inducing parasites.  Honestly, I was more freaked out by Carrie than by the horny-parasite flick, because of what I interpreted as an evil connection between telekinesis and menses.  But, hey, I figured if Sissy Spacek’s scary Carrie could make knives levitate, I could use my yet-to-be-manifested telekinetic powers for a positive cause:  making Santa’s reindeer fly.

What can I say?  The mind of a young writer can be a minefield of absurdity.  Perhaps I lived in some enchanted suburb.  No, not every child on the block and in class discussed the existence of Santa Claus. Or could it be that my faith in Santa was so great that when those who were naughtier than nice spoke of his non-existence, I simply could not hear them?

Reflecting back – this time with a little less clarity, like the Animagic vista of a shaken snowglobe – I realize that my parents did not know what to do about the Santa Claus tale that they had raised me (and, when he was much younger, my brother) to believe.  Later on, I figured out that my father was just going along with the Santa program.  My mom, on the other hand, loved fantasy.  She was a major fan of Natalie Wood, having grown up with her film characters, and so it was one of our perennial traditions to watch Miracle on 34th Street together.

To this day, I faithfully watch Miracle on 34th Street at Christmastime, albeit on DVD.  Back then, the movie was playing on the old black-and-white television in the kitchen while I helped my Betty Crocker-wannabe mom bake Christmas treats (and make a major mess).  I can recall my tween self shrugging off the cynicism displayed by Wood’s precocious Susan.  And so I said within, and with conviction:  “I believe.  I believe.”

You see, I had no awareness that I was too old to believe in Santa Claus. At the time, I was still playing with baby dolls as earnestly as I was with Barbie dolls.  On my Christmas list for Santa, there was no request for a Nintendo DS, but for new fashions for my four-year-old Malibu Christie doll and diapers for Newborn Baby Tender Love. I was midway between dreaming about how soft the first kiss from a boy might feel and fantasizing how powder-fresh my first baby might smell.  Oh, and how I’d share the news of each event with my mom.  Looking back, I am glad that I gave her that glimpse into the future, even if only part of it would come true.

I forever will be mystified that, that summer, my mother encouraged me to get baptized. Although I remember the lone walk down the aisle to join the church while the choir and congregation sang, I do not remember the feeling just before the minister plunged me backward into the water during the baptism, which occurred the following week. Or perhaps my subconscious remembers that suffocating feeling because whenever life seems too tough, it is as if I’m being submerged in water while I can see the light above me. I do recall the splashing of the water upon my emergence and my gasping for air as I was cleansed of sins I had no idea I had committed—apparently since Adam and Eve’s transgression.

Soon I was learning more about Jesus’ life and His Resurrection, and being told that I was on a path to being a Christian adult. And months later, in December, it was as if my mother (my non-churchgoing father was silent on this) was equating Ol’ Saint Nick with Jesus Christ.  She talked of faith and the need to believe.  She had lost me.

Somewhere between my thirteenth and fourteenth year came the poignant pause to Santa Claus.  My mother no longer could keep down her dessert, but not because she was anxious about Santa’s arrival.  In fact, she was frequently having difficulty with her appetite and sustaining a healthy weight.  Despite being mysteriously ill, she promised that for our family the next Christmas would be the best one yet.  I have no idea what she discussed with my brother, but she asked me to think hard about what I really wanted.  I was a teenager, but she still told me to compile a Christmas list – and to complete it as quickly as possible.

In vain, I wrote down the only three objects that I desired:  a Miss Piggy hand puppet, comedian Steve Martin’s album featuring the smash “King Tut,” and a Polaroid Land B camera.  I cried an ocean that day because I knew that Santa Claus would find it a breeze to deliver those objects but doubted he could summon up enough magic dust to actualize the wish that was not on my list:  to keep my mother alive.  And not just long enough to hear me swoon about my first kiss and to coo with my first baby.

In less than a year, Mom had surgery and was diagnosed as terminally ill.  Our family was stunned.  She continued to work at Ma Bell, and I began going there after school so that we could travel home together.  While she had the fate of a tragic operatic character, I had plenty of time to kill watching soap operas in the break room – the end of “General Hospital” (the Luke & Laura days) and the entire “Edge of Night” – until she was ready to depart for home.  Every one-on-one moment of those after-work evenings was special to us, and all these years later they are a reminder of the significance of quality time.

It was difficult, however, to be draped in her melancholia every day and to listen to repeated accounts of well-meaning friends, co-workers, and strangers wishing her a successful pregnancy.  She resembled a woman in her last trimester; oncologists had given her six months.  A working-class parent, she could not actualize the made-for-television fantasy of traveling to all the places she wanted to see before dying.  Years later, we would meet each other on nameless beaches in faraway tropical places of my recurrent dreams.

The vicious reality of my mother’s fate had wiped out my already waning belief in Santa Claus as swiftly as the cancer was devouring her tissues and organs.  When the claustrophobic feeling of being submerged in the baptismal tub washed over me, I was smacked more than fourteen years back to my voyage from amniotic fluid to the birth canal.  Dropping to my knees, I prayed through moist, shut eyes to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This time I needed the Trinity to, in the words of Natalie Wood’s Maria praying to Madre de Dios in West Side Story:  “Please, make it not be true.  Make it not be true!”

By the time her final Christmas Day with us arrived, my mother had firmly believed that she was journeying closer to Mary’s Son in His resurrected form.  There she was, already close to heaven, and we were stuck down on earth, unable to hide our somber faces.  She was afraid and unafraid; she had faith.  We were the helpless ones, unable to attend church without her.

Cessation of work gave her more time to begin planning her cremation.  She had control of the where although she could not know the when.  It was ironic that she wanted such spare accoutrements, the opposite of the Black character “Annie Johnson”’s opulence in one of my mother’s favorite films, Imitation of Life, the 1950s remake of which was required viewing in our household.

Funny how I grew up to prefer the original Imitation of Life, released in the 1930s.   Instead of a white actress, it featured a Black actress, Fredi Washington, in the role of the teenage Peola Johnson.  It is interesting to note that in the original Imitation of Life, the racial identity of Peola’s father was revealed as Black, not white.  People tend to forget that detail, yet that fact makes Peola’s rejection of her Blackness much more emotionally complex than passing.  And in no way am I saying that it was easy for all ivory-complexioned Blacks to pass.  By the way, it is Peola’s mother, the live-in servant Delilah Johnson (played by Louise Beavers), who reveals Peola’s father’s identity – saying that he was a light-complexioned “colored” man – while she is disclosing her daughter’s inner torment to Beatrice Pullman (played by Claudette Colbert).  “Bea” is her employer and later becomes her partner in a business based upon Delilah’s pancake recipe.  (What else is new?  Can you spell A-u-n-t  J-e-m-i-m-a?)

By the time of the 1950s redo of Imitation of Life, just as Blacks were still getting lynched in the South and North, there was still no way to whitewash the tragic circumstances of an identity-confused young woman who believes she must choose between loving her mother – and, by extension, herself – and the murky privileges of “passing” in segregated U.S. society.  Ironically, the 1934 original is more positive with regard to Black self-determination than the 1959 remake, within the macrocosmic context of real-life Black people being better off economically, culturally and spiritually during segregation than in assimilation.

My mother may have nixed the idea of a formal funeral à la Imitation of Life, but she did want to hear Mahalia Jackson … while she was still alive. Surrounded by colorful, sparkling Christmas cards mounted on the living room wall and an assortment of gifts that would have loaded down the Three Wise Men, my mother wailed and hummed along with Mahalia Jackson as one of her Christmas albums spun on the turntable inside the flip-top stereo unit.  I thought it strange that Mahalia seemed simultaneously exalted and sorrowful, her voice bending as the needle popped with static against the record beneath the wobbly metal arm of the old unit.

As the LP spun slowly and unevenly, I imagined that the buxom angel belting out Christmas carols gospel-style also was preparing Mom spiritually for her coming transition.  Only one religious selection by Mahalia caused my mother to weep that Christmas morning, and all these years later the reason is midnight-clear:  “No Room at the Inn.”  Its meaning was not apparent to me then.  And just like that, my mom had lost me again as she had done in my twelfth year when she talked of faith and the need to believe.

Indeed, I was lost, in an “Amazing Grace” kind of way, but all I needed to do was turn to God and find peace in divine comfort.  Although I could not see Him, I needed to believe that He existed just as I had held steadfast to a belief in Ol’ Saint Nick in early childhood.

Copyright © 2008 By Chantale Reve


The commenter at the end of my blog post (in the Obits & Tributes section of this blog) about Malcolm McLaren’s passing made excellent points in his review.  Please check out what he wrote; just click on the hyperlink in his comment.  However, like many White liberals, the commenter felt the need to McClarify what didn’t need clarification at all in the way that many White liberals proceed when conversing with Blacks.  Not that this is a black-and-white issue; many liberal Whites feel the need, have the obsession, to correct many different kinds of non-White people.  It’s not always intentional; it’s an internal flaw.

First off, this is my blog, and I can say whatever the fuck I want to say about the reason I (read:  I as in my blog, my mind, my expression) that I sat down at the computer to blog at that particular moment.  Malcolm McLaren passed away; I read about it; I reacted and in a positive way:  by remembering a damned song.  I’m not saying it (“Buffalo Gals”) was the greatest song ever created or that McLaren’s exquisite treatments are the most avant-garde stylings I’ve ever heard.  I was remembering my (there’s that pronoun again) introduction to his music.

This may be a poor analogy, but the song that introduced me to Marvin Gaye was “What’s Going On,” and at the time I was a little kid.  When I got older and listened to all those wonderful songs that he sang and recorded in the 1960s, I didn’t try to embrace all of Gaye’s music.  I liked what I liked.  To this day, when I think Marvin Gaye, the songs that immediately pop in my mind are “What’s Going On,” “Let’s Get It On,” “I Want You” and “Sexual Healing.”  I know that lots of the songs he sang are underrated.   I don’t have to care about that because I highly rate the songs of his that I like.   The man was here; he made his music; he got high; his music and sensual vocals helped people procreate (profusely); he became an icon; he got high; he got murdered; and he damned-near became a prophet posthumously. 

I know that the ego is what enables us to represent ourselves to the world.  And my ego, just like yours, hates being corrected in the first place.  I accept criticism, but I just don’t want to be corrected in my blog.

Now, because I know that White liberals just looooove for Black people (no matter what geographical location) to explain themselves, I’ll indulge any to whom this sentence applies.  The reason I’m doing so is I don’t want anyone else to misinterpret the purpose of my McLaren blog.  Hence, what follows is not my apology for the McLaren blog, but my friggin mini master thesis (go ahead and be a moron, and complain to me that that’s oxymoronic) that could be titled ‘Buffalo Gals’: An Exposition on Race, Class and the Impact of Rap on the Individual and the Media.

When I learned that Malcolm McLaren died, I could’ve written a brief blog, one containing “R.I.P.” with McLaren’s name and birth-death dates.  I didn’t want to do that.  Why?  This is my fucking blog, and I’ll do whatever the fuck that I want.   (By the way, to some of you out there who’ve been watching the excellent HBO drama “Treme” — the producers omitted the acute accent; my keyboard doesn’t have it — they may appreciate my excessive use of fuck as homage to the larger-than-life character Creighton Bernette.  For the rest of you: watch the damned series, and then you just may think I’m not being profane enough.)  My brief ode to McLaren was not intended as a review at all.  Nor was it meant to encompass his oeuvre.  Rather, it was meant as a shout-out to him upon his passing.

Earlier on the day that I penned the first draft of my “R.I.P. Malcolm McLaren (From a B-Gal)” blog  post, I had been catching up on news around the world and learned of his transition.  I was saddened for only one reason:  Of all the music that maestro McLaren created, produced, trailblazed, etc., there was one song of his that shocked my system in a positive way when I was a teenager.  That song was “Buffalo Gals.” Thus, McLaren’s death stirred up the memories of events in my young life that translated to the death of my innocence (on so many different levels).  And, no, I will not explain that at all.  Why?  Because this is my fucking blog, and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want in order to find catharsis within the confines of this blog.

So, yeah, I could have  posted a poem, a review or other paean to McLaren to ease my pain over humanity’s loss.  Sure, I could’ve rehashed some yada-yada-yada over McLaren’s many controversies concerning the Sex Pistols.  However, I’m not trying to pursue my friggin M.F.A. in comparative musical analysis; nor am I trying to court publishers for a biography about the punk impresario and entrepreneur.   Instead, to quote the Dramatics:  “what you see is what you get.”

Thus, what I posted on my blog page — and, apparently, what the wannabe ethnomusicologist commenter from the U.K. myopically read — was exactly the expression that popped into my brain at the moment that I found out McLaren died.  I didn’t bog down my mind with the cause of death, either, because his visionary status far outweighs that.  Though, I admit that, when there’s an air of mystery surrounding an iconic artist’s death (think Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Michael J. Jackson), he or she is first vilified, then canonized by folks seated on their piles in the hypocritical court of public opinion.

[As an aside: When the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is globally commemorated around this time next month, depending on how I’m thinking of MJ —  if I am thinking about MJ at all or, if I am, if I decide to blog about his music or about anything at all — I might just do a shout-out that mentions a song or two or three.  And God forgive me if one of those songs isn’t “Got to Be There,” “Thriller” or “Man in the Mirror”!  Give me a fucking break.  In no way would such a brief tribute try to encompass all of MJ’s musical output.]

But, lest I be accused of Flogging a Dead Horse

There’s a reason that “Buffalo Gals” is the song that introduced me to McLaren.  (I’ll go out on a cellulitic limb and say McLaren’s contribution to hip hop introduced a lot of Black Americans to his music.)  Sometimes it only takes one song to have that kind of impact on a person’s life. “Buffalo Gals” made me curious about McLaren; then I searched for more.  Around the time that “Buffalo Gals” was released, I was just getting into New Wave music, being bored by a lot of the plain vanilla pop and neodisco that was being churned out. 

The eccentricity of “Buffalo Gals” was so fresh that it added to the innovative (and improvisational) nature of rap music.  Simply, it thrilled me like no other record had done that year.  Now you may be thinking:  So was (and is) rap music fresh and innovative.  Despite all the musical samples, yes, I believed then as I do now about today’s rap music that it is fresh and innovative, but for me there was one catch: Admitting to liking rap music, not just one song but the entire genre, would’ve meant — in my teenage mind-set — accepting the lifestyle that accompanied it.

I’ve been greatly enlightened since adolescence (I hope so), but when I was still in high school, there were lots of negative issues associated with people who regularly listened to rap music.  My old, old-school dad’s attitudes about the then-emerging urban music didn’t help me latch on tightly to all or most of the rap output during the early to mid-’80s.  In my neighborhood back in the day, for example, listening to rap made you part of the in-crowd, which I wasn’t.   Again, that was a good thing because lots of people my age were getting gunned down.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I believe, today, that rap music or any other kind of music causes people to commit violence (though I’m not so sure about certain video games today “rated ‘T’ for teen”).  It’s just that there was nothing euphemistic about this in-crowd.

I wasn’t elitist and certainly had no concept at 16, 17 years old of that word.  I knew that I didn’t want to identify with the criminal element in my neighborhood — and I lived in the suburbs, not too far from where Run-D.M.C. hailed.  I favored different, and admittedly assimilationist, kinds of urban music styles (i.e., not just rap music). 

At that time also, pledging my alliance to hip hop culture would’ve meant mindless conformity to commercialism targeted at Black youths.  This is no exaggeration.  I recall with disgust that scores of Black teens were wearing one type of denim jeans and one type of sneakers after a certain rap duo made a certain record, yet it’s highly unlikely that most of their parents owned stock in those companies.  Meanwhile, those companies grew richer — and off the blood of those teens who were killed for refusing to give up their cherished articles of clothing.

I may have been young, but I was no idiot.  I used to wonder:  Wow, I bet [insert name of manufacturers here] are reaping millions by these not-so-innocent product placements in rap songs.  The famous-name dropping was about as subtle as a sponsored wedding.  I would’ve preferred the inflated egoes that come with MC’ing over rappers further inflating the egoes and wallets of these profitable companies’ CEOs.

Sure, rap was considered a form of underground music — as were house and punk, to name a few — but it created a façade of class distinctions, which was followed by actual divisiveness in Black families across the USA.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around a bunch of damned-near-affluent Blacks gaining prominence quickly while the poverty-stricken Blacks — whose raps were far better because they dealt more with survival without glossing it over — didn’t get their due.

Today, we don’t think about this because people across color lines and of many different ethnicities embrace rap and hip hop culture itself.  With some exceptions, hip hop is now pop (and has been for some time).  But in my neighborhood back in the day, if you were a youth “into” hip hop culture, you were viewed as a thug.  I couldn’t date any young men who were into hip hop, else feel my parent’s disdain and its ramifications.

Even today, I have mixed feelings about rap music.  I see the MC’ing, the boasting, and the roasting as an art form — as I do the scratching and complex sonar sounds and sampling.  While I’m happy that rap music in particular and hip hop culture in general have worldwide appeal and acceptance (just because I’m not “into” rap doesn’t mean I don’t like a bunch of songs in the genre), I get uneasy — no, pissed off — when Whites get so comfortable quoting it back in the presence of Blacks while also enjoying the privileges of being White in America.

There are still places (here in the Northern part of the United States, that is) that will try to seat me at the rear of the restaurant at peak time.  Once I have my table by the window, there seems to be some kind of time limit not placed on adjacently seated White parties and “visibly” mixed-race parties.  I’m rushed through appetizers, entrees and desserts in such a flurry that it’s as if they’re one course.  Then the moment comes when I remind myself that rap music is the great equalizer on the dance floor, not in the restaurant.  The dance floor is where the endorphins are rushing all around amid flashing lights and darkness — a fantasy environment where we might as well all be the same color.  I don’t care what Michael Jackson sang; in the U.S.A., it does matter if you’re Black or White (shum-on, shum-on!).

Oh, wait.  There’s more.  I can’t digress into the topic of racism within only one or two paragraphs; it’s only the beginning of the 21st century.  Even in the centuries depicted in the original Star Trek TV series, characters had their problems … on other planets!  OK, OK, those were allegories.   But it’s no science fiction that, here in the highly industrialized United States, there are still Ku Klux Klan meetings going on in a fine suburban neighborhood near me, if not near you (for those of you dear readers located in the U.S.A.).  After all, the affluent can afford higher thread-count sheets and frequent dry cleaning to keep them white.  Just kidding:  Here in the North, sheets are an option, and that enables the practicing of racism to be subtler.

I’m a bit off-topic, here (as always), but I recommend viewing the very underrated G, from 2006, which is a slick cinematic updating of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.  In G, directed by Christopher Scott Cherot,  hip hop culture figures quite prominently and is poignantly superimposed on the conservative ambience of the Hamptons.  The title character, a/k/a “Summer G,” is portrayed with arrogant charm by Richard T. Jones.  (I’d like to see Jones portray Shakespeare’s “Othello,” for he’s hellasexy even when he barely contains a jealous rage in Cherot’s G.   In Othello he’d finally get a chance to consummate a romance with a White female character, something deprived of him in the long-ago canceled TV series “Judging Amy,” which teased the progressive faction of its fans, who desired the fulfillment of a judge-docket clerk sex fantasy.  I doubt that I was the only one thinking this.)  The GQ-fly casting in G continues with Blair Underwood, who is brooding and convincing as “Summer G”‘s archrival:  “Chip.”   Actors Chenoa Maxwell, Andre Royo, Laz Alonso and Sonja Sohn all lend supporting roles and deliver memorable performances.  After experiencing the atmospheric beauty and palpable passion of G, I couldn’t bear to watch The Great Gatsby (1974), starring Robert Redford, again.  And Redford wasn’t hard on the eye either.

But getting back to the topic of rap music … Sometimes I have to check my watch to see if it’s 2010 and not 1950.  Several years ago, on a nice spring day, I got called “nigger” by one of a group of White men riding in a car with opened windows from which rap music — yes, rap music — flowed as freely as the blood of James Byrd Jr. on dirty Texas roads.

Prior to the above incident, I’d been no stranger to the “n” word, having been labeled with it at the age of 4.  My same-aged neighbor stood in her facing yard and hurled the “nigger” insult my way, even throwing a brick for full effect.  I had committed the childhood sin of  inviting her to my tea party.  That wasn’t exactly a whimsical adventure in Wonderland, but I learned an early lesson in mad haters.

Ahhh, but rap music is bringing all of us together, riiiiiight?  Wroooooong.  Then again, rap music isn’t responsible for separating people either.  It’s just that, increasingly, Whites are co-opting rap music (and Black American-created vernacular) in everyday life, including in the media, to the point that it can be perceived as condescending.  When I hear that, I don’t feel endeared to rap music.  But I do admit to having an inner conflict about the issue.  What can I say when I simply don’t have the liquidity to attend a majority of concerts by new-school rap acts that I do admire (including Mos Def, Ludacris, Eve, Common, Sean Paul, T.I., and Trina)?  I won’t bother to mention my old-school favorites — what’s the point?  At this rate, I’d better settle for having been able to see a few of them in concert back in the day.

In big cities, many rap-loving White people can afford those tickets.  Could it be that White workers more than workers of any other phenotype hold more managerial jobs at U.S. corporations (physically located in the U.S.)? I used to witness the large White crowds at blues venues too.  I’d be nearly broke after the cover charge and table minimum.  You see, it’s not that the majority of Black Americans don’t ever want to hear the blues (and jazz and rap) live — a myth that needs to stop immediately. They simply can’t afford attending the shows with any frequency.  Some can’t afford them at all.

As for White people’s creative influence on a musical art form conceived by Black people:  It’s great when someone, from any culture, adds  his or her  personal touches to rap music.  Music is organic, and it doesn’t belong to this group or that group. It’s just so ironic that the same music that my peers didn’t think I was hip enough to appreciate is loved by many Whites.  And my peers definitely wouldn’t have thought them hip enough because in my neighborhood, to be White was to be the Other — an Other who fled (i.e., “white flight”) when Black and Latino people began buying homes.  After the tea party episode, it wasn’t long before my young neighbor’s family up and fled, too.

Prior to listening to “Buffalo Gals,” I used to think of rap as belonging to a certain demographic.  Notice that I’m referring to rap and not hip hop because, at the time, I didn’t think of hip hop as a culture unto itself.  Today, of course, I know that hip hop is inclusive of the music — rap music — as well as the business of making and marketing the music, the worldwide impact of the music on media and individuals; the lexicon; the style and manner; and the fashions.  At the time, I also thought of rap as a subcategory of contemporary R&B but, again, a kind of music that I wasn’t hip enough to be accepted as appreciating.

In other words, back in the day when rap as we know it first became popular, I wasn’t part of the in-crowd (that is, in my neighborhood).  In fact, I was just getting into New Wave at the time, having been a late bloomer to the punk rock scene.  At first, the band Blondie was as wild as I thought it could get — that is, with punk-influenced club music — but her rap style was weak, always sounding martini-tinny.   The Clash was a different story; “Rock the Casbah” was amazing!  Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern” (a sample of which was performed on “White Lines [Don’t Don’t Do It],” by a band working with Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five) was gravity-defying.  I’ll never forget the sheer electricity of leaping off the dance floor when the lyric “Base!” thumped, pausing a rumbling bassline.   That was a natural high.

However, when “Buffalo Gals” first boomed from my box, I was forever changed.  For me, that song was an ingenious synthesis of rap and New Wave dance music, and there was nothing exclusive about it.  It didn’t matter what the color of your skin was.  If you embraced the song, it embraced you.

For the record, I loved McLaren’s “Hey DJ,” too, but it didn’t shake my foundation (and my shapely azz) as much as “Buffalo Gals” had because it was basically contemporary R&B with an infectious hook.  I wasn’t surprised many years later to find the piano hook of “Hey DJ” sampled as the melody of Mariah Carey’s “Honey.”  In fact, the sample was so effective that today I still associate that piano melody with Carey’s song before I do McLaren’s original.

That “Honey” comes to mind before “Hey DJ” doesn’t bug me because sampling is a testament to the work of a genius. Like delicate stem cell surgery, sampling enables a living form — the original music — to be perpetuated for future generations to appreciate and experience.


Eiffel Tower and Sky

I could’ve titled this essay “The Dark Side of Paris,” but I’m no Jackie Collins, and despite my penchant for black eyeliner, I’m not a whore.  This isn’t meant to be any kind of travelogue.  The tone of this memoir starts off on a bitter note because I decided impulsively to see Paris after the life of someone close to me ended.  And, just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, spiteful colleagues sent me on my way, not with a “Bon voyage!” but with mean-spirited comments about how nervous and lonely I would be, how I “should’ve waited until you landed a boyfriend first,” and with questions concerning why I would “want to go there anyway.”

These colleagues, all of them White and female, had just returned from leisurely vacations in various European countries.  Those misguidedly envious women couldn’t have been more off-target because not one of them could ever know what it was, and still is, like to be Black, American, female and alienated in the United States.  Therefore, it stands to reason that they also could never have known what it was, and still is, like to be Black, American, female and traveling solo in a foreign country.  I ignored the naysayers and traveled to France by myself, with nothing to prove to anyone.  Once I reached my destination I was alone, but not left alone.

However, my negative experiences – and my positive ones – as a solo Black American woman traveler in Paris were so far beyond my racist-conditioned, jealous, clannish colleagues’ imagination that they reached an existential level.   In our department, I was the token Black journalist.  In the U.S., I was, and still am, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in female form.  But in France, I was a very visible woman.

In the late 1990s, after returning from a weeklong trip to Paris — my first trip to France — I was still tingling from the erotic sights I’d witnessed in the “City of Light,” hereafter occasionally referred to as the “City of Enlightenment” for better or worse. When I say “erotic sights,” though, I’m not referring to erotic movies, of which I’d seen not a one during the trip, but everyday tableaux, such as many couples of various persuasions and ages smooching and caressing each other.  They openly expressed their love and lust in parks, in subway cars, in alleyways, and in restaurants; fed each other chocolaty, sticky sweets in pâtisseries; and stole moments on the lower and upper quays of the Seine in full view of videocamera-equipped tourists on passing bateaux-mouches (“fly boats”).

Other erotic sights were the outdoor sculptures in parks such as the Jardin de Tuileries, and the seminude and nude imagery on billboards and subway posters that would be considered obscene in the U.S.  Oh, and I can’t forget the erotic overload of the Pigalle district, which made New York City’s former red-light district pale in comparison to the point of seeming like the Disneyland that it is today.  Add to those images the sounds of French in various tonalities and dialects from the mouths of descendants of West African countries and of Algeria — and, booyakah!  My worldview began expanding through the language of other people’s love and lust.

In addition to the sensual sights and sounds in Paris, there were the not-so-subtle encounters I had, which only make me smile awkwardly from the safe distance of years gone by.  They were encounters that continue to find their way through my consciousness and defensive filters in composite form in some of my short stories.  Thank goodness, I’d carried several small notebooks and many rolls of camera film with me on my  journey to the City of Enlightenment.

For example, there’s the motorcyclist who couldn’t care less that he was on his way to work when he swerved to a screeching stop.  He wanted to burn rubber, and I’m not talking about his bike’s tires.  Picture it:  I’d just turned a corner in a high-rent Right Bank district, and was wearing shades and an all-black outfit except for a leopard-print chiffon scarf that was flowing behind me à la Isadora Duncan.  I didn’t mean to strut but I was trying to walk briskly in new ankle boots, to get to a fashion show on time.  (Printemps, one of the city’s two famous department stores that had their origins in the late 19th century — the other, Galeries Lafayette — still hosts a free, fantastic fashion show every Tuesday morning.)

At the time, I wished that I’d studied a bit more French because all I understood from what the guy said beneath that helmet, with a strong undercurrent of testosterone, was: Mademoiselle, vous êtes quelques chose (“Miss, you are something“).  As for those ankle boots, they’re the same pair I was wearing when I slammed a foot into that pillar in Le Panthéon on the Left Bank two days prior to the motorcyclist’s seduction.  You can read about that mishap on my “About” page on my Negrotica WordPress blog (http://www.mujerotica.wordpress.com).

I could go on and on about my encounters in the City of Enlightenment, but I’ll share just a few more: about the sexagenarian security guard who was somewhat working at the American Express building (the same building where iconic scenes in the Audrey Hepburn-Cary Grant film Charade were filmed).  The gent was almost stereotypically French.  Think of the horny animated skunk “Pepé Le Pew.”   When he – the White security guard, not the skunk – stepped forward to grasp my brown hand (well, orange; I was blushing all over), he bucked his eyes and suavely propositioned me near the lobby.

In a seamless Bogart move, Pepé slipped me – no, not a mickey, but something symbolically close – a discount ticket to some bullshit tourist film.  Then in a liquorice-smelling breath akin to absinthe, he half-whispered to me in Franglish that “yerrrize arrre zo beeyooooteefuuulll” and that they reminded him of Josephine Baker’s.  Well, I did take that as a compliment because La Baker left racist America for France, and France — not just Paris — loved her back and loved her not just for her artistry but her Blackness.  I also have an overbite similar to hers, but if the old French guy made reference to that, my beginner’s French didn’t pick up on it.

Pepé Le Pew got a leetell clozerrrr to me, so close that I could taste his spittle.  His hand moved to my hand, and I was in utter shock because in the United States, I was used to White people wiping their hands on their pants and, in the case of White women, their skirts.  So I watched as if it were some other Black woman’s hand that Pepé was groping.  I watched a gradually reddening, spotted hand moving up, beneath the cuff of my pea coat sleeve.

The heat from the “security” guard’s body must’ve sparked my neurons because my French lessons came back to me all of a sudden, and I warned him: “Pas touchez, monsieur!” in near-perfect Parisian French.  I swear I sounded better than Thandie Newton in that needless remake of Charade, titled  The Truth About Charlie, with a miscast Mark Wahlberg.  Before I could shout, “Au secours!”  Pepé suggested in a surreptitious, spy voice that I meet him back at “L’Américain Express” after the film, “pour un café, Mademoiselle Baker.”  At this point in the story, I’d just about had it with the Josephine Baker references.  I love her, but I couldn’t get past the scene of her topless, though iconic, performance in film documentaries.  Banana dance, ma derriere!

I also was regretting that I hadn’t stood in line for another crêpe instead of craving a visit to the American Express building like a true fan of Charade — and I don’t mean the word guessing game.  I wanted to pull this perv’s ear (“sounds like … rat”) because I was no easy chick.  But I did take the easy way out and lied en anglais about looking forward to mixing coffee and cream.  I then jetted off to see the film and, two hours later, made sure to merge with the crowd in case Pepé was looking for me.  Thank God that Paris had lots of Black people (most of them immigrants from West African countries, Algeria and the French Caribbean), or else I would’ve stuck out like a blemished grain in a pot of white rice.

Ahhh, but this Paris memoir isn’t without a twist.  While it’s true that many nationalist French people despise Algerian immigrants and Algerian descendants born in France just as much as, if not more than, West African immigrants and West African descendants born in France, I found myself caught between empathizing with the non-Whites’ plight and despising their men for objectifying me as much as their White French counterparts.  I mean, I got rather pissed off when a Black French guy in a navy blue pinstriped business suit stopped me in the middle of the sidewalk on my way up the hill to Montmartre’s vineyard, undressed me with his eyes while speaking in rapid-fire French and then, when he could see that I didn’t understand anything he was saying, insulted me in even more-rapid-fire French.  To add insult to injury, he punctuated his monologue with a very guttural “Umph.”

Before Le Suit turned on his stacked heels, I rolled my eyes at him as if to dismiss him with, Moi aussi. Merde.  It may not have been proven that the rolling of the eyes is West African in origin, but I think it is.  If that’s true, how ironic that said body language could exist today through practice by descendants of survivors of the African Holocaust, yet be a trait that is much-maligned here in the U.S.

Again, it’s the curse of being a cinema buff.  Why?  I was headed to Montmartre for only two reasons:  to photograph the old vineyard’s exterior (Clos de Montmartre) and to walk the same winding streets beautifully filmed in two of my fave retro films:  Paris Blues and Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and A Woman).  If I’d wanted to be chatted up and spat out by an upwardly mobile Black professional, I would’ve just vacationed in a major urban city in the U.S. — that is, after having a very expensive lacefront weave sewn into my hair and learning how to flip it like Beyoncé, getting my nails air-brushed, losing 30 pounds and undergoing liposuction, getting breast implants for double-E effect, getting a Brazilian and buying post-waxing pain medication, threading my eyebrows until they’re em dashes, and losing any trace of facetiousness exemplified by this paragraph.  Me, bitter?  No.

Again, the phenotype of the French male chauvinist didn’t matter, but having an interest in independent cinema did.  While walking back to my Left Bank hotel from indie moviehouse L’Arlequin — the name that filmmaker and comic genius Jacques Tati bestowed on the Art Deco-era theater when he acquired it in the sixties — on the rue de Rennes, I was trailed by a van filled with Algerian male youths.  The rue de Rennes is a very wide street running the length from Boulevard Saint Germain and Montparnasse in a trendy, artistic district called Saint-Germain-des-Prés; the street (or rue) can fit a huge number of cars — especially the tiny ones in Paris — but on this night, it seemed like the rickety van was the only vehicle on the road.  There were five or six young men in the vehicle and they were quite vocal.  This was a nightmarish version of the experience I’d had the evening before, in which a pair of White French sailors had catcalled me as if I were a prostitute.  I’d been minding my business, dressed down like any of the Parisian college students, while on a self-guided tour of Montparnasse.  An avid reader, I desired to trace the bold footsteps of literary giants and American expatriates such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Chester Himes, and of the “Lost Generation”‘s Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller and others.

Back on the rue de Rennes, I was terrified but managed to smile in a relaxed way as the van rolled on.  My blue denims were too tight to enable me to run.  As I contemplated the many ways I could die after they pulled me into the van, I wondered if they thought I was a Parisienne or an American — as in U.S-born, not Mexican or Canadian.  (As long as they didn’t think of me as the Ugly American; I saw plenty of those idiots.  One couple, clearly from Central Queens — I could almost pinpoint their neighborhood, Forest Hills, perhaps — couldn’t even figure out how to exit the friggin turnstile.  Can you spell “Paris guidebook”?  When they appeared terrified and looked in my direction, I wanted to pretend to be a Nigerian Parisienne so badly, but I couldn’t get the accent together in time.  Besides, I was on the verge of laughing … at them.  The couple was middle-aged, but not septuagenarians, and the woman was struggling with her “PARLAY-view FRONT-say.”  So I stopped her from further self-humiliation and, in the thickest Central Queens accent I could muster, I told her: “Look here, youze guys.  Insert the ticket in this way, and wait for it to pop up.”)

I walked fast, fleeing (but pretending not to be) my would-be Algerian-French captors.  I concluded that the young men probably hated both Parisians and Americans, so I said nothing.  I suddenly became religious and invoked a prayer, then fixed my line of sight straight ahead.  Somehow my mind drifted to the sensation of sinking my Josephine Baker front teeth into the juicy ham and cheese crêpe I had stashed in my backpack.  OK, there were two huge crêpes in there — WGAF?

The young men were shouting all kinds of remarks as their van occasionally swerved near the curb.  Perhaps they smelled the crêpes and were angry that I didn’t want to share them.  Perhaps they drove off when they figured that I was struggling to walk fast as part of a nightly exercise regimen.  Yes, that’s it.  They thought that I was a Black Parisienne, and they actually were trying to incite me to join them in brown solidarity.  By the time I reached my room in a very American (read:  inexpensive) hotel, I nearly swallowed one of those crêpes whole.  All was calm.

Three days later, I would watch CNN in horror as a group of Americans were killed amid the Pyramids in Egypt.  I know I’m way off topic here, but I will never forget being afraid to look American (whatever that is) when I walked through the Paris streets the next day, French military everywhere with their big guns out.

Apparently, being a lover of visual art was also a curse of being a solo female traveler — of any “color” — in Paris in the late 1990s.  Merde, I couldn’t get past the Black Parisian security guard near the entrance of Musée d’Orsay.  There was only one damned hour remaining to see the works of Monet, Cézanne and Picasso.  I was on a packaged tour and had to coordinate the museum visits by arrondissement so that I could hop from attraction to attraction while using a three-consecutive-day, unlimited metro/bus pass.  After spending much time at Musée Rodin, I ventured over to the Musée d’Orsay to see Cézanne because:

1)      While Le Musée d’Orsay didn’t contain the largest number of Paul Cézanne’s works, it had more than, like, three of them, so I took a shot.  (Atelier Paul Cézanne – the Cézanne Studio Museum – in Aix-en-Provence, does not contain the Impressionist’s works but has preserved his rooms.);

2)      I figured I had time to visit the Musée  de l’Orangerie, which houses a larger collection of Claude Monet’s works (I never made it; next time I’m in Paris I’ll go, or I’ll take an inexpensive day-trip to Giverny by bus); and

3)      I already had a few hours penciled-in (there were no PDAs then) to visit Musée Picasso (Ideally I needed a half-day after getting lost through the tiny, narrow – read:  medieval – streets of the must-see district of Le Marais.  Taken another way, I was so busy marveling at the beautiful, ancient buildings – actually, for Paris, 14th-century buildings, not 17th– through 19th-century edifices, are ancient – that I easily lost my way.  After going back in time at Musée Picasso, there were trendy boutiques to browse and ethnic cafes and bakeries to resist with their calorie-adding aromas.).

I also love the work of another modernist, the great surrealist artist of Catalán heritage: Salvador Dalí.  The Espace Dalí-Museum, in Paris’ hilltop village of Montmartre, was the first museum devoted to the works of Dalí.  A return to Paris warrants a visit to this museum.  I missed my chance during my trek to Montmartre because I went on a Monday, a day when many museums in Paris are closed.  Again, that damned, three-consecutive-day, unlimited metro/bus pass.

I shouldn’t complain, though.  When visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art five years ago, I acquired a ticket to a touring Dalí exhibit that was sold-out.  It was a total fluke.  I’d planned only to flit through the museum in the hour before closing time, knowing I easily could return to Philly.  If I hadn’t been standing there near the front desk pouting and watching all the Dalí exhibit-goers filing their way toward the special space, I wouldn’t have caught the attention of the front-desk guy.  As it turned out, a married couple with a name like “Peabody” or something or other, couldn’t make the exhibit, so the front-desk guy gave me one of their coveted tickets after I handed him the PMA general donation of $10. He could’ve pocketed the $10 bill for all I cared.  The point was that I was in like Flint!  Well, wrong simile there, but you catch my drift.

As for that dream trip within France, it may never come true if I don’t take driving lessons really soon.  See, the thing to do is rent a car after departing from the TGV.  For example, Atelier Paul Cézanne is in the region known as Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and it’s not exactly a few feet from the train station.  I also desire to see three museums in the South of France:  Musée Matisse de Nice, The Chagall Museum, and the Picasso Musem in the city of Antibes.

Getting around and staying in all those cities, not accessing the museums, is where one’s wallet takes a hit.  It takes a big bank roll to afford to stay and dine at a luxurious hotel in the French Riviera, too.  I wouldn’t go to the South of France to do the Novotel thing.  I’d be better off waiting for Vegas to reproduce the French Riviera the way it has done the Eiffel Tower.  But wait, Vegas — not the off-peak flight fare — isn’t cheap, either!

And yes, if I ever get to the South of France and nearby Monaco, I will be compelled to walk the same hallowed grounds that Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant strolled in To Catch a Thief.  I will not be compelled, however, to step foot into the Monte Carlo Casino, which, I’ve read, drips in opulence, and which means I’d be broke after tipping the doorman.

That’s why these wide-eyed fantasies are called dreams.  Pipe dreams.  As in I’d have to be inhaling from one of those funny, colorful pipes to think I’ll really ever again have the kind of job where I can earn enough money to save for a trip to California, let alone France.  As for luxuriating in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera proper, and (hah!) the principality of Monaco one day?  As that West African Parisian suit said to me in Montmartre:  “Umph.”

Copyright © 2010 By Chantale Reve