Thursday, October 27, 2016

In the Home Of

In the Home Of

In the home,
it was swinging the big heavy hammer.

They all wondered at me,
"Look at what this guy's got."

I had on a fat leather belt,
a hammer in fist,

buckets, wheelbarrow.
I demolished your rooms.

I delicately carted the building 
materials of your home.

Your daughter, your wife
tugged at my sleeve.

"A shower?
A dip in the pool?"

"Housewrecker only, please. 
I do not wreck homes."

Our Nigger President

Michael Chandler
October 16, 2016

Our Nigger President

In 2008, I had been working the DJ booth at Barette, in Brooklyn, for about a year and a-half. They had started me out on their opening week, when they had no idea what they were doing, and with me as their DJ, no idea what they were getting into. They gave me Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, with many other nights arbitrarily sandwiched in. I played music for what the dancing girls referred to as “burlesque;” although, a savvy friend asked me during my tenure, “So does that mean that they have comedians and juggling acts as well as the the girls who shake their tits?”
  We had a number of girls in the burgeoning “burlesque” scene, clad in homemade or vintage, traded, collected pasties, g-strings, furry-and-otherwise bikinis… all R-rated and paraded with enthusiasm and dedication to a craft which I see as having spanned from the 1870s through the 1970s. The girls, with varying elements of beauty and talent, shook it in an ersatz go-go bower of Mylar streamers to the jumping soul and rock ‘n’ roll that I played over the house sound system. I got to know them, and we worked together very well.
  As Barette became more popular and management learned that they could find more popular music monkeys than myself, they did so, and I got fewer weekend engagements. Tuesdays, however, remained mine, and we had a regular crowd who loved and knew exactly what they were going to hear and see. I studied the music and the girls’ tastes, and I varied my music choices with new and daring material, got the girls and the drunks in a lather, and yup, Tuesday nights were mine. I was promised them and I promised right back to make that potentially dead-ass night something for my regulars, the hot, the homely, the sober, the defeated, the new, the jaded, the go-go dancers. I made sure that it was a cool destination.
 It was Tuesday, November fourth, 2008, when a man named Barack Hussein Obama was elected The President of the United States of America, while Caitlin Grillo, with whom I was smitten (who would not have me as anything but her favorite DJ), twirled her classifieds.
  What a sharp breath did I take in! What a slow, pleasurable exhale! Who would have thought that the race riots, the car-draggings, the arson, the disrespectful spitting upon the ground by the undignified, the mortifying hatred, could find a way to be somewhat overcome? Here was a public acknowledgement of a person’s skin color meaning less than that person’s value as a human being capable to lead our nation!
  The bar patrons got all chummy, and at the end of the night, I drove from Barette’s Clinton Hill section and parked my car near the L Train in Williamsburg, my habit, as I could find easy parking and leave it there for two days. In my meat-packing-district neighborhood in Manhattan, I could spend an easy two hours looking for a space a mile from my door. That election night, I got off at Union Square to see how the streets had become, with their certain outpouring of emotion for the new guy in charge. I was hungry, and I had the night’s eighty DJ bucks, and I went down to St. Mark’s Place to a yakitori place called Taibo, just below sidewalk level, near Third Ave. It was very popular, and it was crowded with mostly Asian students. They didn’t seem to be too affected by the election, but were focused on the yummy grilled meats and seafoods, noodle bowls, beer and sake. I took a small table and got whatever I wanted. The preprogrammed sound system played “People Get Ready,” by the Impressions, so subtly, and I think I was the only one in the joint who got the unintended mechanized reference.
  The only thing about Obama’s election that I didn’t like, was that on my way to my day job on Wednesday, back in Brooklyn (I was the dispatcher for a bicycle delivery service of marijuana.), was that every damned place I looked, and I knew every damned place, cars had followed the New York Times trucks and stolen every bundle of newspapers which would have been for sale. I wanted to do the damned crossword at work, and… well the Wednesday one isn’t that much of a challenge. But still!
  I kept up my Brooklyn engagements, both pot and tittie oriented, for some months, each ending quite late, parking my car in Williamsburg, having a nosh, and hopping the L Train back to Manhattan’s “meat market.”
  One night, there was a group of three teen-aged black kids laughing it up, roughhousing with one another on the Bedford Avenue platform in Brooklyn, which was fairly empty. Every third word out of these kids’ mouths was, “nigger.”
  “C’mon, nigger!” “Yeah, you go, nigger!” “I seen yo’ mama, nigger!” “I’ll get you back, nigger!”
  All of this was punctuated with boisterous laughter, and the shoulder-shaking, wide-grinned lightness of innocent youth. The three of them pushed each other around next to and in front of me.
  I knew I was going to do it, and I got quite nervous. My mind and body were agitated. It was like I was twelve years-old and on the spelling bee stage, and I was down to the winning word, and it was a spelling demon, but I knew it, if I could only call it up.
  As they came my way again, I stepped up to them and said, “Hey kids,  I’m sick of this ‘nigger’ talk. The President of the United States is a black man, and you finally can claim some respect for yourselves, and this is how you talk?”
  The three of them stopped cold. Any of them were big enough to pummel me. The three of them together?  Forget it.
  That is not what happened. They backed away from me as they would have from a rattlesnake.
  I continued. “Why don’t you learn some self-respect? What is it with the ‘nigger-this’ and the ‘nigger that?’ Isn’t that the word that whitey used to remind you that you were slaves? Is that what you want to be? Just quit it with the ‘nigger’ talk. Your families have been waiting three hundred years for this.”
  These kids had shrunk far back from me, hardly daring to look at me as they did. Their energy levels had gone from nines down to tenths of a percent. They looked back and forth at one another with embarrassed, bashfully mocking smirks over the crazy white guy.
  One of the couple people who had been on the platform appeared and stepped up to the blushing, now quiet boys. I hadn’t seen her. She was a rotund church lady. She wore a lightly veiled, felt meeting hat, had on a demure, ankle-length skirt, a white blouse, a houndstooth vest, and a loud magenta woolen coat. She wore white gloves.
  She barked, “You know boys, that man is right. Everything he told you is true. Now you go and tell me, who do you want to be?”
  The boys looked at their shoes.
  “Do you want to spend your life laughin’ and runnin’? You know where you’re gonna end up.
 “Now you listen to what that man says, and get some pride in yourselves. Grow up! Respect ain’t no joke.”
 Those poor little boys. They didn’t know what hit them. I still have an image of each one of them kissing their mothers when they got home, having a real, reflective moment before they fell asleep. The church lady gave me the subtlest flick of her chin and dematerialized. I was as surprised as the boys, and probably more shaken. A pipsqueaky, geeky hipster, probably about a third of my body weight walked up the yellow warning stripe toward me. He did not break eye contact with me, and his mouth was involuntarily agape.
 “Hey,” he said, and he shook his head. His voice was nasal and mousy. “That was really courageous, dude. I mean, that was really fucking… I don’t know! Like what you’re supposed to do.”
  He shrugged his skinny shoulders, pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, turned and walked off.
  The train came, and I went home and played around on Myspace.

Here, eight years later, we are going to again take a step toward rectifying another embarrassment. We are going to choose a woman as our world leader, as our representative.

  In my days as the burlesque disc jockey, how indeed did I and the girls and women, the regulars, the management, the strangers, the liquor distributors, the banks where the bar proceeds went, the families of all of us, just take it all in stride that a young girl or a woman is going to shake her scantily clad figure for the entertainment of others. Like the teenaged boys at the Bedford Avenue stop, I think a lot of us have some growing up to do.