Tuesday, June 29, 2004

ASK QUEEN JAMES: a Love Advice Column

Dear Queen James,

My 7-year on-again/off-again relationship with my college sweetheart felt like it was going nowhere. A girlfriend suggested I write out a "Happy List" to see where I really stood. At first I thought her idea was selfish and wack. But after getting tired of lookin at the same tired scenery, I decided to indulge and give it a try.

Five pages later, my "Happy List" revealed what I'd been afraid to admit all along was true: That my long-term relationship with my pothead college sweetheart was not-so-happy.

So, I broke it off.

With him deleted, just one month later, as I waited for the bus with no umbrella in the rain, my knight in shining armor pulled up right next to me in an E-class Mercedes Benz!

He's everything I asked for and more - handsome, smart, ambitious, and churchgoing. He opens doors for me and knows how to order wines. He's taken me yachting on the Hudson, showers me with gifts. And when we go out on the town, he even dresses in suits! He's just lacking one thing:

I need my p*ssy popped!

I'm 25 and he's 43. When he visits me on the weekends, he only brings one condom. On top of that, we usually don't even use it. He just wants me to j*rk him off!

And on top of that, if and when we finally do do it... Let me just say this. If he makes me do it in the missionary position just one more time, I am going to scuh-reeeeam!

I'm not used to this. My ex used to bend my legs into knots, give me carpetburn, and make me speak in tongues. My current boyfriend is Christian, and I do enjoy going with him to church. But how do I tell him, without crushing his ego, that I want off of the Missionary Board!

Need my P*ssy Popped! in Poughkeepsie

Dear Need my P*ssy Popped,

Let me get this straight. Yr broke-ass wz standing at the bus stop with no umbrella in the rain, okay. Then the man of your dreams just randomly pulls up to you on the curb & offers yr cain't-even-afford-an-umbrella-ass a ride in his E-class Mercedes Benz.

Hmmm... soundz oddly like the plot from some 80's movie... Pretty Woman. Is you a hooker?

Seriously though, I understand yr pain. Or rather, yr lack of pain. Which is the problem. But don't fret, honey, Queen James has a solution!

According to my personal trainer, j*rking a man off might qualify as a forearm toning exercise, but it is not a sexual act. And bein all pinned down in the missionary position is not so pleasurable either. As a woman approaching her sexual peak, you gotta have room to work it out!

But when a 40-yr old man hits the sack (trust me, I've had a few), the first P he thinks about hitting is more likely to be Pillow than P*ssy.

Your problem, honey, is not with your 40-yr old boyfriend. It's you. Get rid of yr 19th century scruples and use yr 21st century resources! You already got a man who can make yr p*ssy pop. Your ex!

Rule #41 in the Queen James Handbook: Don't trade in a good car if you can afford to make two payments!

Use Mr. Moneybags for all his culture and gifts, and call yr ex when you need that ghetto pop! And trust, no twenty-something yr old man will turn down free p*ssy. You don't have a problem. You, my darling, have the best of both worlds.

In the meantime, if Mr. Moneybags needs assistance coming out of his sexual shell, tell him Queen James is available for house calls!

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Pyrotechnic Propaganda?: Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11

I ROSE BRIGHT AND EARLY SATURDAY TO CATCH an 11:15 a.m. showing of Michael Moore's cinematic polemic, Fahrenheit 9/11.

Let me start by saying that, going into the film, I was not George W. Bush's #1 fan... nor #2... nor in the top 10... Let's just say that if there were a George W. Bush fan club, I'd be the first to buy it... and beat him with it!

Figuratively speaking, of course. (Hello, Secret Service!)

Now, on with the show.

As the opening credits roll, Bush and selected members of his Cabinet - Powell, Rice, Rumsfield - are shown in various stages of having their faces made-up for the camera. (In one shot, a less familiar Republican, after unsuccessfully trying to tame his stubborn cowlick with a handful of spit, wets his comb in his mouth and tries again. When that fails, his assistant wets his own hand with spit in a final secretion-as-hairgrease attempt to tame the cowlick himself.)

Which is to say that Moore portrays the Bush presidency as a low-budget vaudeville act which tax-payers are paying top-dollar to believe.

Michael Moore narrates the film the way Cathy Bates might read Hansel & Gretel to a wide-eyed child. To a soundtrack of banjo music, the film opens with a fairytale sequence recounting the controversy around Bush's election: the Florida recount fiasco; the Black Caucus protesting President-elect Bush's illegal seizure of power on the Senate floor; Bush's speeding inaugural motorcade being pelted with eggs by protesters; Bush - for his own safety - being unable to even take the customary first walk to the White House.

A few sequences of ranch vacation footage later, the fairytale ends - not with the site of the World Trade Center - but with an ominous black screen as the audio footage of Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower begins.

We then get the film's first priceless moment (well, not exactly pricless; we paid for it): President Bush in a second-grade Florida classroom as a Secret Service agent whispers that a second plane has crashed - this time into the North Tower. The agent disappears and, without anyone around to tell him what to do, little-boy Bush sits looking stupidly for 7 full minutes without moving.

And the film is full of such priceless moments - from the hilarious to the horrifying. Upon being questioned about the whereabouts of the elusive WMD's, Rumsfield affirms, "We know they're there. We know where they are. They're in the East, North... South... and West!" Upon a Congressman admitting that they never entirely read any bills that they sign, Michael Moore rents an ice cream truck and drives round-and-round in a circle, reading the text of the Patriot Act on a bullhorn in front of the Capitol. Upon learning that only 1 Congressperson out of over 500 has a child serving in Iraq, Moore takes a recruiter to the Capitol to attempt to get Senators and Representatives to enlist their sons and daughters for Iraq. With these public figures knowing they were being filmed, you still would not believe the you gotta be kidding me looks the recruiter got.

And the horrific includes Iraqi men, women, and children; crying, here screaming, and there speechless; some armless, some legless, and some headless. But all venomously cursing America.

A woman, standing outside of her burning home, screams over the sirens at the top of her lungs for Allah to bring a shower of bombs down on the homes of those who terrorize her. Moore isn't questioning the notion of attacking, he's questioning who we attack.

Moore notes that two days after the World Trade Center attacks, during the "absolute" shutdown of U.S. airspace, 142 Saudis, including 24 of Osama bin Laden's relatives, were permitted, not only to fly but, to leave the country! And without ever being questioned! This, in light of the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

Which brings Moore to the point of his film - that September 11 was just an excuse for President Bush to do what he wanted to do all along: finish the job his father was unable to finish in Iraq to secure the rights to Iraqi oil.

Moore posits that, if there was an attack to be made, it should have been targeted at Saudi Arabia. But a Saudi attack would never happen because of the Bush family ties to Saudi money and, more importantly, that Saudi investments in America (totalling just under a trillion dollars), represent 6% of the U.S. stock market.

You thought we were in a recession before? Imagine if 6% of the money in the stock market vanished overnight.

The icing on the cake (or the chickpeas in the falafel) happens when Moore sets up his camera across the street from the Saudi embassy in Washington. Before he can say Falujah, Secret Service agents have arrived to interrogate him - kinda like how agents appear in The Matrix (except this wasn't scripted.) Moore hadn't approached anyone at the embassy, but was simply on the opposite side of the street.

"I didn't know that the Secret Service protected foreign embassies," Moore said.

"We don't," the official said. "Usually."


I've gotta say that I've been waiting for Bush to get roasted for four years, and now Michael Moore has tied it up and boxed it in a nifty two-hour package. My only regret is that Moore perhaps went a little too far. His excessively sardonic tone is about as balanced as the Supreme Court.

In fact, very early in the film, Moore includes footage of himself and Bush at a Bush fundraiser in 2000:

"President Bush, do you have any words for me?" Moore yelled, briefly passing the President in a rush of people.

"Be good," Bush said. "And find some real work!"

Can you say vendetta?

Sadly, because of this, Fahrenheit 9/11 is not going to change anyone's mind. While this documentary is based in fact, it is so editorialized that it will only further polarize the body politic.

If you didn't like Bush before, Moore's film will make you hate him. If you hated him before, well, it'll push you to hateration hysteria. And if you actually like Bush (poor soul), I would highly recommend that you not waste your money because you will walk out of the theatre faster than you can say Weapons of Mass Destruction.

prop·a·gan·da \Prop`a*gan"da\ n.

3 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

As imbecilic as baby Bush is, if the Democratic Party National Convention doesn't have free mass screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11 (which is the greatest political ad ever) next month in Boston, they're the real idiots.

So enjoy!


ACT NOW AND BE COUNTED: If you've moved recently (or even if you haven't), November will be here before you know it. Be sure you're registered to vote!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

When He Looks He Finds (Himself)

15 JUNE 2004

THE HARDER THE RAIN FELL, the drowsier I got. It was a quarter of 5 on a Tuesday, and Georgia 400 looked less like a highway and more like the Chattahoochee River. If there was one, there were thousands of cars ahead of me return-commuting to the city. I couldn't get comfortable with the air on, the heat on, or the fan. The thunderstorm was a dark covetous carjacker, waiting for the slightest crack in my windows.

The way-too-enthused traffic reporter rattled off accident after accident after accident, before ending:

285 and 400 Southbound, blocking the two right lanes. Traffic is at a standstill.

No sh*t.

Twenty miles ahead. Right where I'm going. And then my gig at Emory, 10 miles beyond that.

I nodded in the thickening air, fighting a quick nap before my 6:45 performance.

If I am to be completely honest with you, it is at moments like this that I wonder why I even bother.

You might not know this, but I don't particularly like public speaking.

Plus, at gigs like this, when I'm forced to perform poems which are "appropriate for high school kids," I feel like a green-afroed clown at a birthday party.

Granted, the gig does pay, which I'm thankful for; but between my day job, the traffic, and the rain, this makes me miserable - with a capital MISERABLE.
By the grace of God, I lay my head on my pillow at 5:45, and I thanked Him for a 10-minute nap. Except there is no such thing as a 10 minute nap.


Thirty minutes later, half-asleep and half-ironed, I dashed through from my frontdoor through the tropical downpour to sit in traffic again. Except this time I had a dozen different routes to get to my 10-mile destination - 20 minutes to get there. Waiting were a couple hundred Georgia youth in the Communities in Schools Summer Leadership Institute. And so I floated behind Noah on his ark.

At each interchange, each intersection, I opted for the path of least traffic. 6:30. 6:35. 6:40. The Emory campus was at least three miles off the expressway. And I hadn't yet even exited.

You can just call and tell them that traffic was impossible. They'll understand. They have no choice.

You're pushing 30. What do you really have in common with these high schoolers?

Besides, you're scheduled to perform with another poet. He'll cover.

I was tired. I was hungry. I decided a hundred times to go back.

But I decided a hundred and one times to keep on.


After navigating the white-columned maze which is Emory's campus, I finally pulled into the designated dormitory parking lot at 7:10 p.m. Umbrellaless, I checked my itinerary beneath the softly blueing sky. At 6:45, I was scheduled to be shuttled from this parking lot to the campus building where the poetry reading was to be held. I was scheduled to perform in less than five minutes.

I watched one campus shuttle stop, then go by. And then another - stop, go by. And if there's one thing that I learned while in college, it is:


I wandered the rock-gardened courtyard looking lost for another couple of minutes when a gold minivan pulled up. The jolly driver was talking into his walkie-talkie.

"Excuse me, are you with the Summer Leadership Institute?" I asked.

"Yes," the driver said in an African accent, thick as his thighs.

"Well, I'm one of the poets - Ayodele."

"Oh, yes, yes, hop in! I'll take you just where you need to go." And we sped away through the green dripping trees.

He fumbled with his communication device. "I have one of de poet... De poet... Yes... I'm bringing de poet to you now."

Something interesting happens to me when people call me something like "de poet." Something transformative. Suddenly, I had fire where I had none before. My back straightened, my mind focused. I was now, not a worn-out corporate cog, but a shining diplomat of a centuries-old tradition.

"I'm sorry I'm running late. Traffic was terrible."

"Yes, yes. The rain. Are you from here?"

"Yes, I am. And you?"

"I'm from Ghana. My name is Prosper."


He chuckled. "Yes, Prosper." He shook my hand.

Prosper dropped me off on a sidewalk, where an escort in a black Summer Leadership tee-shirt was waiting with another passenger in a golfcart.

"He'll take you where you need to go," Prosper said.

My new escort laughed, nudging his other passenger. "He told him his name was Prosper." This passenger, apparently part of the program, too, seemed to get a kick out of it. Apparently some Leadership humor. I didn't get it, but at least they were good-natured!

I climbed onto the back of the golfcart, and we zipped down the sidewalk.

"So, what have the kids been doing so far?" I asked.

"Well, earlier today they had some leadership training and worked with conflict resolution. Tonight, they're learning salsa dancing, doing some painting, and getting some spoken word."

Salsa dancing? Painting? Me? That's so... cultural. Sometimes I have to be reminded who I am.

When I finally arrived at my destination at about 7:25, there was a mixed group (in Georgia, this means roughly half Black & half White) of about a hundred youth in a small theatre, listening to someone on-stage reciting a poem - someone who was not the other poet I was scheduled to perform with.

The program participant yelled. "Don't kill yourself! Don't kill yourself!"

There were scattered laughs across the audience.

"This ain't funny, y'all. This is real!" she continued.

She sounded like a bad afterschool special, pacing back and forth, whipping the microphone cord across the stage like a tail.

"Look, I still got the scars," she said, offered up her razor-sliced white arms, half-laughing.

"Killin yourself is stupid! Killin yourself is stupid! This ain't no joke, y'all. This is serious!"

And as she continued riffing for another couple of minutes, completely sabotaging her personal testimony on suicide, it all sunk in:

This is their idea of what spoken word is. This is why you're here.

J_c___a, the program coordinator, beamed the moment she recognized me from across the room. She cleared her copper dreads from her face, and shortly took the mic.

"Let's give it up for C_______!

"I want to thank all of you who shared your poetry, and now I would like to introduce our special guest..."

She rattled off my bio. And as she said it, I said to myself, Gee, she makes that guy sound really important.

Then, I thought, Hey, that's you. You better hurry up and be somebody important!

Between the end of her introduction and my trot to the stage, I completely forgot about the rain. I forgot my fatigue, my hunger, my impossible commute. Clowns at birthday parties bring joy to people's lives, as do I. But I was not here to simply entertain; I was here to inspire and to teach.

I did a 20-minute set of poems. Naturally, they loved it ;-). The greatest joy was seeing my light, reflected back in their eyes - the students as well as the adult chaperones. In a small way, I had changed a hundred lives. Which is really payment enough.

It turned out the other scheduled poet wasn't able to make it after all. I'm glad that I was able.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Troubling the Waters: Stepping Out on Faith (Part 2 of 3)


It had been a quarter century - that would be 25 years - since my three-foot tall, bony body shivered a foot from the edge of the fiberglass diving board at the Gresham Park Community Pool. A gray sky swirling above, 200 miles from the nearest saltwater, you couldn't tell me that Jaws, Jaws 2, and Jaws in 3-D weren't sharpening their razor teeth in the 10-ft. deep waters below.

A half hour before, there were a dozen other shagged boys and cornrowed girls waiting in line to take their first leap. But I could not remember, for the life of me, whether they even survived. All I could remember were the days leading up - weeks of kicking, breathing, and stroking exercises in the shallows, which now seemed a continent away - all I could remember was the leaden dread of the moment of truth: when I'd be forced to give up the security of the shallow end's sure concrete floor and exercise faith that these new dubious waters would hold me.

And so I stood, less than a foot - farther than an impossiblity - from the edge.

I never made the leap.


So two weeks ago, my friend K___t_, agreed to give me lessons. K___t_ is a man of many hats: a husband, a father, a photographer, and among other things, a preacher at the church where I was baptized. After learning that I couldn't swim, K___t_, (in his mid-30's and a swimmer all of his life), having the power to do something about it, did one of the things that makes him such a valuable friend:

He did something about it.

"You wanna learn how to swim? No problem, I can teach you."

I had no faith in the water, but I did have faith in K___t_.

That first day at our gym's indoor pool had the makings of a bad comedy routine.


After a short interview, K___t_ said, "Show me what you know."

So I performed what I could remember of the freestyle stroke. About midway across the 50 meter pool, at the end of my first held breath, I thrust out of the water gasping for air.

"Okay, you need to breathe." K___t_ said. "Like this."

He took off down the lane, and I watched.

Stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke. Breathe. Stroke-stroke-stroke-stroke. Breathe.

That looked easy enough.

He touched the far end, and I plunged into my lane to meet him.

Stroke-stroke. Breathe. Stroke-stroke-stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke-stroke. Br-

I self-destructed not quite halfway across the pool. There wasn't a hint of rhythm to my mechanics. This was a fight. And I wasn't winning.

As chlorine gushed down my nose and into my mouth, I gasped in great heaves for air. If it weren't for the roof above us, I think I would have sucked all the clouds out of the sky.

As I gathered my bearings in the 4 feet of water, K__t_ was certainly laughing at me behind my back.

To my surprise, he wasn't. He was laughing at me in my face.

"Okay, okay," he was trying to control himself. "Let's start you at square one. Your problem is your breathing. Let's get you comfortable in the water.

"What I want you to do is to dip your head underwater, and breathe out through your nose."

"My nose?" I was puzzled. "You mean, underwater?"

"Yes, your nose. And, yes, underwater. I know it's gonna feel uncomfortable, but you have to develop a breathing pattern - kinda like running.

"When I run, I breathe every four steps. You have to do the same thing in swimming. Breathe out when you're underwater, and breathe in when you turn your head to come up for air."

A lightbulb came on. Just like that. Was it really that simple? Instead of fighting against the water, I was supposed to work with it. So for the next five minutes, I practiced exhaling underwater through my nose. It tickled and was crazy uncomfortable at first, but that was only because it was something I'd never done before.

"Okay, we're gonna change up a bit," K___t_ said. "Let's see if you can float on your back. Try this."

K___t_ threw his head back on the water and his legs rose to the surface, like magic. He moved his arms a little and, whaddayaknow?, the water supported him. Just like that.

Now, K___t_ is 6'2" and just under 200 pounds - meaning, he is fit, but no small man. So it should logically follow that I should be able to get my 5'11", 165 pound frame to glide across the surface with no problem. Right?


"Just lay your head back on the water, and kick your legs near the surface. Your legs are naturally gonna wanna go down, so keep your head back to compensate."

I tried.

"Keep your head back," K___t_ said.

And I tried.

"Keep your head back!" he yelled again.

And I tried again.

"Keep your head back. Why do you keep looking?" he said like a parent to a stubborn child. "What are you trying to see?"

He was asking for the impossible - for me to have blind faith.

After about 10 minutes of awkwardness and futility, with K___t_ even putting his hands beneath my back to support me, he looked around the pool and decided on another approach.

"I'll be right back."

He returned with a kickboard.

"Watch this."

He put the kickboard beneath his back and floated down the pool.

"Now, you try."

I fell off the board a couple of times before something clicked. I found that if I arched my back - that is, put the back of my head in the water (which is what K___t_ had been asking me to do all along) I could float.

And with my head in the proper position, I could see my lithe body in the mirrored ceiling, easily advancing down the pool. Propelling myself backward with my arms, gliding on the kickboard, I made the entire 50 meters without falling off!

"Great," K___t_ said. "Now we're making progress.

"But that's enough for today. So between now and your next lesson, here's what I need you to do: Continue practicing with the kickboard; get accustomed to having your head underwater; and, most importantly, get comfortable breathing."


It always comes back to breathing. It is the one voluntary act that we do every moment of life. In childbirth, in meditation, in sex, in swimming, in running, in singing, in public speaking, in dreaming, in hypnosis - when our breathing betrays us, we fail.

The secret is to be in tune with the hum of the universe - to not cry out in discord against it. It is there to support you.

If you let it.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Things My Father Gave Me (Which I Never Asked For)

Life. A backyard with a pitching mound. A home plate. A split-finger fastball, a slider, a curve. How to break in a glove. When to slide head first. A family name to uphold. Open arms.

Time. A Huffy bike. How to crack pecans. A sandbox. How to piss. How to be a rock. When to till the Earth. How to make a fist. When to fight. When to smile. How to trap a rabbit. How to catch a liar. How to play dumb. How to talk when White people are present. How to talk when White folk ain't. Prejudice. The difference between a flathead, a Phillips head, and a hardhead. A roof over my head. A good whooping. Room to grow.

How to shoot a free throw. When (and when not) to call a foul. How to drive. A high-top fade. Marvin Gaye. Confidence. How to ask out a lady, how to let her be a woman. How to put out a brush fire. How to pump gas. A pimpstroll. How to use a level. How to keep your cool, when to be cool. Cool.

How to mow the lawn, how to hammer, to saw. How to change a tire, when to change the oil, how to jump off a car. How to smoke out wasps. Where to get good fish. Funk & Wagnalls. Skepticism. How to pick good watermelon. When to ask for help, when to give it. How to speak up when you have something to add, to listen when you don't. A love of brown. Talbotton. How to tie a tie. How to lead, how to follow. How to read the spread. When to swallow your pride. Quiet strength. How to raise a fence. How to use a knife for a pencil sharpener. When to shoot a gun.

A Black hero. How to earn an honest dollar. A key. How to shake a man's hand. How to look him in the eye. How to tip. How to save. A day of rest. Humility. Sunday drives. A thirst to learn. A bookcase. A peaceful home. Muscadines. Nights to dream. Dreambooks. A reason to cry. Dark skin. Strong teeth. Full lips. A narrow frame. Forgiveness. The thickness of blood. A brother. How to care for elders, how to honor elders. How to buy a suit. How to admit when you're wrong, how to apologize before the funeral. How to love. How to always come home.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Eyewitness # 5: The Bassist Speaks

First thang ya gotta understand’s
every man in a jazz band’s
gotta have his turn to shine.
With that in mind, every Sunday round
10 we’d swing a set down at Monk’s Joint—
me, Ra, Sweetie, King Keita n’ Jive.
Though we got started late, things kicked
off pretty smoove. I mean, we was straight groovin
Footprints. And I was doin it.
Workin my Sweet Lady - my upright bass.
That joint was jumpin! Me: thumpin that thang
like it was the last piece
of poontang on Earth, and I was chosen
to save mankind. Naturally I played within
my bounds, complementin the sounds
of whoever was on lead. First up
was Jive purrin like a phat cat on that
silver horn. Then, Ra did his thang, made that sax
sang praises like the Jazz Messiah had returned.
(God could even take notes
when Ra stands so cool blowin at the four
corners of the Earth.) Of course, Sweetie
on keys is next. Everybody knows the rhythm
section goes last. But when King Keita jumped
in - cymbals smashin, snares poppin, workin
his foot; breakin sticks; he even
stood up! - ya shoulda seen the look
in Sweetie's eyes - a long green blade.
Especially with his new chick
in a front row seat! I mean, ya gotta understand
who we are. Every man is gonna have his turn
to shine. When that half-hour drum solo shut
the joint down, ya could hear the glare
in Sweetie's eyes. Where we from, a flashed blade
is gonna get used; even a improvised song
has to resolve - in the future, if not
the now. Listen, cat, I'ma give it to ya
straight: I knew somethin
was bout go down.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The greatest gift you
can give to a writer is
to receive his words

Friday, June 11, 2004

A Taste of Crow

MY GAS NEEDLE NUDGING "E," I PULL onto my exit to work this morning and weigh the scales: Gas before? Gas after?

Such are the elaborate innerworkings of a mind of unrecognized genius.

I conclude it's more efficient to stop before since the station is on the right on my inbound commute, rather than bother with a left turn after on my outbound commute. (I'm so smart.) Besides, when 4:30 rolls around, I'm ready to get me and my 220 horsepower of Japanese engine the hell out of Forsyth County - fast as possible.

For those of you not familiar with Atlanta's ever-expanding sprawl of suburbs, Forsyth County, just 20 miles north of the City Too Busy To Hate, was the subject of a 1987 Oprah show for its colorless distinction of not having had a single Black resident since 1912. That would be 75 years. Longer than Jim Crow. And its not because Blacks haven't tried to live there.

And this is where I commute 5 days a week.

I could be all dramatic and leave it at that - leave you to believe that I am the lone Black person in the entire county, bearing the whole weight of decades of racial oppression for nine hours a day on my lonesome lashed back; that I am psychologically tortured by my company's mandated Gone With the Wind screensavers; its vending machines which only accept Confederate currency; the Klansmen running Accounting; the wall-to-wall Stars & Bars carpeting.

But the truth is what you want. And the truth is - to Hosea's and Oprah's credit - as of 2004, the county does have a trace number of Black residents.

I mean, the county high schools do have to field basketball teams.

So I pull up to the pump, proud of my anticipated exercise in efficiency, and (who but?) two plump Forsyth County police officers are parked at the convenience store, leaned against their patrol car, guzzling coffee.

My heart does a little jump (which would not be for joy) as I tense for conflict.

Now, why would you be afraid of cops? would be the natural question. Are you guilty of something? Is there a warrant out for your arrest? Are you a fugitive from the law?

But such questions are the luxury of an other demographic. If you know me at all, you might correctly assume that I've never had a warrant out for my arrest. But the answer to one of the above questions is: Yes, I am guilty of two things.

I'm Black and I'm male.

Granted, I've never had a Rodney King experience, an Amadou Diallo experience, an Abner Louima experience, an Arthur McDuffie experience, a Nicholas Yarris experience, a Carl Lawson experience, a Michael Evans experience, a Vincent Moto experience, an Anthony Porter experience, a Dennis Williams experience, a Larry Mayes experience, a Leroy Orange experience, a Donovan Jackson experience, a Patrick Dorismond experience, a Joseph Nahume Green experience, a Darby Tillis experience, a William Gregory experience, a Perry Cobb experience, a Calvin Willis experience, a Walter McMillan experience, a Daryl Hunt experience, a Ronnie Bullock experience, a Charles Ray Giddens experience, or a Verneal Jimerson experience, but I'm in no rush to have one either.

There ain't many things that make me nervous, but cops make me nervous.

So I pull up to the pump and process the equation: (Black man) + (late-model Infiniti) + (2 Forsyth County cops) = TROUBLE. I begin destroying evidence.

First, I free my rearview mirror of its cowrie charm. Then, I eject Roy Ayers from the CD player and tune my dial to NPR; I adjust Steve Inskeep to a moderate volume, leaving the car door ajar for the officers in earshot.

Tag? Check. Insurance? Check. License? Check. Finally, I do what I came to do: I swipe my card, give my full back to the cops, and I begin pumping.

As I watch the digital meter, to keep myself calm, I count the gallons internally, One... two... three...

Halfway there, I think. Which is when the inevitable happens.

"Sir," a voice twangs like an out-of-tune banjo.

You didn't hear that, I think, even as I hear it. Besides, you're just pumping gas. If you ignore it, it will surely go away.

Pretending to check the nozzle, I give the cops more of my back - much as a gorilla might do in a zoo.

"Sir!" the voice twangs again, a little louder.

My collar begins to tighten like a noose. God, it is too early in the morning for this.

I tense as I turn around; the pig is still leaning against his patrol car. Why now? My blood is racing. Why now? Control. Control.


"Your rear tire," he says.

God, is it illegal to have tires now?

"It's a little flat."


If I could crawl into my fuel tank, I would. But I'd combust in flames.

A thanks would be appropriate, jackass.



COMPLETELY ASHAMED OF MY BEHAVIOR, I CAN'T EVEN LOOK the cop in the face. So as I top off my tank, I turn my back to them again. I can't bear to let them see me eating crow. I don't even check my deflating tire until after they pull off.

The tire looks salvagable. Though it is a slow leak, it is a quick lesson.

So, I scan the service station for a hose for Air. I find it, but my lesson isn't yet done.

News travels fast. It seems the Karma Fairy has already paid me a visit. The Air at this station is OUT OF ORDER.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Nezhukumatathil Writes a Prescription for Shrinking “Hippopotomonstros..."

As some of you know, I am attempting to return to the world of academia. Part of my application includes writing a critical essay on a poem by someone other than myself. The essay is likely not the most page-turning reading, but I've provided it here for your perusal. (Note: The essay will likely make more sense if you read the poem first.)

PICTURE THE FRENZIED STUDENTS as the professor passes out the syllabus. Already nervous about the novel-a-week reading load, on top of a 10-page annotated research paper due in week 7, then there’s this: atop Office Hours, atop Course Objectives, a 15-letter tongue twister (which they are likely seeing in its entirety for the first time) which they have to now correctly pronounce every day of the semester - the professor’s name! In a land where terse, monosyllabic surnames like Smith, Brown, and Jones are the norm, the scene is set for Filipina-East Indian-American poet-professor, Aimee Nezhukumatathil‘s poem, "Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: fear of long words."

In her poem, recently appearing in the on-line journal, Slate, Nezhukumatathil plays shrink, using polarity as the key device to doctor her students’ phobia of the long word, and hopefully in the process, to bridge a cultural gap as well. By employing opposing poles in tone and content, Nezhukumatathil deconstructs the foundation on which her class’ fear is built.

To counter her students’ initial reaction of fear, the poet uses opposite tones of calm and humor. The opening language is exceedingly passive and non-threatening: "I secretly beg… Don’t be afraid of me." It then grows more disarming, "I know/ my last name… is chopped off or probably misspelled -/or both. I can’t help it." The poet then goes so far as to present herself on the students’ side, almost advocating their fear: "I know the panic/ of too many consonants…”

And just as the students are getting comfortable, Nezhukumatathil gives them a surprise tickle, extending this phonetic metaphor into something hyperbolic, claustrophobic, and absurd: "I know the panic/ of too many consonants rubbed up/ against each other, no room for vowels/ to fan some air into the room of a box/ marked Instructor." Having now invoked the universal language of the humor, the poet playfully asks, "You want something/ to startle you?" and administers her next treatment with polarity in content.

Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is founded on two qualities—magnitude (FEAR = LARGE), and the unknown (FEAR = UNKNOWN). Now in stanzas 4, 5, and 6, the poet chooses content to directly debunk this. She instead suggests fear to be found in the miniscule: be afraid of an unexpected "small, black toad/ who kicks and blinks his cold eye" in your cupped hand; of nanoscopic "X-rays/ for your teeth or lung," (and what they may reveal); or of the barely 2-millimeter-as-adult sized "money spiders/ tiptoeing across your face while you sleep." Likewise, in these three images, the poet equates fear to the familiar: a common "small black toad" rather than, say, a lethal Kihansi spray toad; a routine "X-ray for the teeth or lung" rather than an experimental lobotomy; and an everyday "money spider" as opposed to a Venezuelan Red Stripe tarantula.

Approaching the end of the poem and the end of her prescribed treatments, Nezhukumatathil prepares to introduce the very agent which caused the phobia in the first place—long words. She first resumes her non-threatening tone, "Don’t be afraid/ of me, my last name, what language I speak" just before unleashing a flurry of hyper-syllabic, exotic images in stanzas 7 and 8. Earlier in the poem, these would have surely caused a hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobic attack, but now the words can be fully experi-enced in their full sensual pleasure. She promises to help them see "the gleam/ of the beak of a mohawked cockatiel"; "sweeps of ocean, full of tiny dinoflagellates oozing green light"; and "dark gatherings/ of toadfish and comical shrimp, just when [they] think [they] are alone…" She makes the exotic endearing.

If we divide the poem into four sections (each, a tercet-quatrain pair) we see the poet consciously increases the students’ tolerance for long words (defined for this purpose as words having > 9 letters) on a gradual basis as the poem advances:

Section I (2): misspelled, consonants
Section II (2): Instructor, something
Section III (2): pneumoultromononucleosis, tiptoeing
Section IV (5): cockatiel, luminescent, dinoflagellates, disturbed, gatherings

As the number of long words increases, it is worth noting that their complexity increases also (e.g., cockatiel and luminescent are considerably more complex than Instructor and something.) It is also worth noting that when the 10-syllable, 24-letter pneumoultromononucleosis suddenly appears in stanza 5, Nezhukumatathil tempers it by juxtaposing its two-syllable vernacular equivalent, "coal lung." By doing so, she suggests that all long words, even her serpentine 15-letter name might be simpler upon closer inspection - bi-syllabic, or , dare we say, human?

And as a final gift, without ever mentioning her surname in the text of the poem, Nezhukumatathil subtly approximates its cadence, its syllable-count, and its music in the phrase, "mohawked cockatiel." Without even realizing it, her students have confronted, survived, and even enjoyed this attack of long words.

Patients cured.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Why I'm Late for Rent

THERE ARE AT LEAST THIRTY-TWO REASONS I SHOULD HATE Johnathon Larson's 1996 musical, Rent. For starters, I hate musicals.

Generally, I'm a relativist, but in this way I'm an absolutist. Typically after about the 4th or 5th singing number, I'm absolutely screaming on the edge of my seat, Shut up and just SAY the lines, already! I mean, some emotions - like say, joy or sorrow - are pleasantly enhanced by song, but other emotions - like say, You just stole my woman, I'm bout to give you a beatdown, beyotch! - seem, IMO, just downright inappropriate.

Let's just be real about character here for a moment: Sure, it makes perfect sense for a woman to be frolicking in the colorful hills of Austria spontaneously combusting in song, but a Puerto Rican gangbanger flicking knives on the Lower East Side? Hello! Why are you singing?!!!

But I digress. I realize that this ranting is slowly eating away my cultural points. And I do have a point - a point with which I'm about to (hopefully) redeem myself.

There are at least thirty-two reasons why I should have hated the musical, Rent, starting with the non-stop singing - that would be, 32 musical numbers non-stop. My God, 32?

But despite my prejudice, I must report that I've been converted. Saturday night at the Fox, I saw the touring production of Rent, and it was sensational, fantastic even. After the opening number I was fully transported - something lacking in my previous forays into musicals - my disbelief suspended in a two-act dream of song and dance that I hated to see come to an end.

Reading the eight-armed plot beforehand, conveniently summarized in the playbill, significantly enhanced my experience. Which I discovered is another thing that put me off about musicals before. All the singing, the dancing, all the flash-flash-flash all seemed at expense of the story. But not here.

The story here is a modern adaptation of Puccini's opera, La Boheme where the setting is 1990's Lower East Side New York instead of 1830's Paris and the looming disease, AIDS instead of tuberculosis. And homosexual relationships have complicated parts of the love triangles of the struggling artists.

Benny, a former tenant of the building where the production takes place, has come into some money and buys the tenement where he once resided. The money has rendered the artist heartless as he wants to change the building into a mixed-use condominium/high tech cyberstudio. But to do so, he must evict his penniless artist friends - including an S&M dancer, a filmmaker, a performance artist, a musician, a hacker/philosopher, and a drag queen among others - who haven't paid rent in a year. Act One concludes as the artists organize and stage a performance protest in an adjacent vacant lot, during which the landlord Benny padlocks the building, leaving them all out in the cold.

Act Two follows the artists' tumultuous lives through the following year - one dying of AIDS, another nearly OD'ing from heroin - as they deal with hard times and loss and how to make a meaning of it all.

The musical numbers were an emotional rollercoaster ride - the blockbuster opening number, "Rent,"; the coy and seductive "Light My Candle" between Roger and Mimi, a heroin addict; the breezy Santa Fe (a take-off of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose"); the hilarious over-the-top performance-art tribute to cows - yes, cows - "Over the Moon" by Maureen; the sweeping and poetic, "Seasons of Love"; the stirring "Goodbye, Love" and "What You Own" after Angel's death.

And despite the somber events of Act Two, Rent ends on a high note, which speaks to the resiliency of artists and the greater resiliency of the human spirit. That the playwright died himself during the final week of previews in its first Broadway run and that he never got to see the avalanche of awards Rent would receive gives even more poignancy to the production's perspectives on artists' lives.

And as universal as the starving artist theme is, there's something about Rent that's decidedly New York, that could only be New York. Something hard yet vulnerable, ugly yet beautiful, hopeless yet utterly hopeful.

Something that made me believe in musicals.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Troubling the Waters: Navigating the Things Black Folks Just Don't Do Handbook (Part 1 of 3)

THERE'S A LONG LIST OF THINGS THAT BLACK FOLKS just don't do. Those of you who aren't Black may not know this, but right after the umbilical cord is snipped - right there in the delivery room, before we can read even- each of us is given a crushed velvet handbook entitled (what else?), Things Black Folks Just Don't Do. It's about 8.5" x 5.5", the size of a dreambook, with a silhouette that looks like Jesse Jackson stitched on the back cover. I've only see the American edition, but I hear there's a Caribbean one, too.

Without much shuckin and jivin, it opens on page 1 - no by-line, no publisher - and gets right to the point:

Dear Reader:

You have been given this book either because yo Mama is Black or yo Daddy is Black; or your Grandmama is Black or your Granddaddy is Black; or your Great Grandmama is Black or your Great Granddaddy is Black; or somebody in the long and storied history of your family was rumored to be Black, or to have been Black at one time; or looked White and had a little too much rhythm to his step; or looked White and liked neckbone just a little too much.

And thusly so, by your politi-genetic design, here is a list of things that you and your kind just don't do (and most especially not in the presence of another Black person) - lest your Black card be permanently, retroactively, and effective-immediately revoked until Eternity to the ninth power:

0. Arrive anywhere on time.
1. Dance off-beat.
2. Walk barefoot in a public shower.
3. Pee in a public shower.
4. Pee with the door open.
5. Watch NASCAR.
6. Enunciate.
7. Have sex with animals.
8. Pay bills on-time.
9. Hike.
10. Hitchhike.
11. Read.
12. Fall while running from the killer in a horror movie.
13. Pass up free food.
14. Graduate on time.
15. Patronize Black-owned businesses.
16. Let a dog lick you in the face.
17. Leave a tip.
18. Publicly acknowledge that Eminem has talent.
19. Get sunburned.
20. Serial kill.
21. Snorkel.
22. Write science fiction.
23. Molest children.
24. Go to the opera.
25. Analingus.
26. Ride with factory speakers.
27. Speak a second language.
28. Consider walking into a Supercuts.
29. Catch AIDS.
30. Crossword puzzles.
31. Live in New Hampshire.
32. Watch films with subtitles.
33. Play tennis.
34. Succeed.
35. Trust the police.
36. Vote.
37. Vote Republican.

And the list goes on and on and on for pages and pages ad nauseum, with appendices updated annually. (If you ain't got the latest, I'll hook you up!) It all becomes very cumbersome the older you get - way too much to remember. The 2003 edition ends with entry 48,402:

48,402. Blog.

The reason I bring this handbook up is that somewhere along the way - consciously or subconsciously - it became my life's ambition to do everything the list said not to do. Okay - not everything - but to do as many of the things as possible that improve my quality of life. Not because I want my card revoked, but because, quite frankly, the list is preposterous. Most recently, I'm tackling number 138. Which is to swim!

I'm sure you've all heard the myth: Black people don't swim. I mean, look at the Olympics; look at the World Championships. When was the last time you saw a Black person in a pool? Even in our most lavish fantasies (you know, in BET rap videos?), Black people are always around the pool, but they're never in the pool. About as close as you can get us is to a pool is sipping Cristal in the jacuzzi.

Well there haven't been any widespread sociological studies as to the validity of this myth, but it nonetheless got addressed in a very realworld way recently when the North Miami Police Department dropped swimming as a requirement in order to recruit more Black representation on the force. It seems that they believed many otherwise qualified Blacks weren't applying because they couldn't swim:
North Miami PD Drops Requirement In Bid To Recruit Blacks

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. -- The North Miami police department dropped a swimming requirement for applicants, saying they need new officers and want to encourage blacks to sign up.

North Miami police say they are dropping the requirement for a year. They say few departments require swimming and their officers rarely save people in water.

"Our swimming requirement may give the false perception that we are not serious in our efforts to hire Haitian police applicants," police chief Gwendolyn Boyd-Savage wrote in a memo explaining the decision. Boyd-Savage is black.

"They have been intimidated because they don't swim, very few of them swim," said Mayor Joe Celestin, who is Haitian-American. "They have the ability to learn how to swim, but many of them are not that great of a swimmer as the standard, current requirement that we have. We want to bring them in and give them a chance to learn."

The requirement is for police recruits to swim 150 feet without stopping while wearing all clothing except shoes, assistant police chief Doug Brown said Thursday.

Critics say race and ethnicity are not factors when it comes to swimming.

Assistant Police Chief Doug Brown said, "We are not here to make any type of cultural assessments. We are looking to attract both minority and non-minority candidates who would normally not apply."


And were I to have considered applying to the North Miami Police Department, it would have been a very short consideration. I can't swim.

Then it occurred to me that I didn't know whether my own Black friends could swim or not. So I decided to do a not-so-random poll of my friends. And the results were a bit surprising.

It turns out I am not alone - nowhere near it. What are the reasons? It seemed the most common reason in my not-so-random sample was lack of access to a swimming pool. There are historical factors as well. Neither of my parents can swim, and there were actual societal reasons for it during their generation:

On my day job, I was speaking on the phone to a Black satellite technician in North Carolina about my first swimming lesson. Grady, who is 50-or-so and cannot swim, told me of a visit his family received from his cousin from New York when they were in their early teens in the late 1960's. His cousin could swim, it turned out, and wanted to take a dip as it was hot and it was his summer vacation. But the closest pool was not so close. It was in a trailer community which had politely posted a "For Residents Only" sign over its chlorined waters. Naturally, all of the "Residents" were White.

Anyway, Grady's cousin decided to take a dip in the evening when the sun was low, while no one was around. But he knew better.

Interestingly enough, no one harrassed Grady's cousin at all while he swam. But when they passed the pool the next day, much to their surprise, the pool had been drained dry.

So I'm going to exercise a bit of courage and make a change in my life. My good friend, K____, who happens to a real live Black person who can swim, has agreed to give me lessons!

I actually had lessons when I was five, but completely chickened out when it came time to jump off the diving board. So now, 25 years later, I'm revisiting my fear to shatter the myth. I'm gonna make my Things Black Folks Just Don't Do handbook lighter - one line at a time.

Tomorrow: an update on my first week of lessons.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


Behavioral science tells us that it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Well, I decided to test this theory out on myself for two reasons: 1) to see if this theory is a crock of sh*t and 2) to see if I, while lugging my sh*t detector, could concurrently accomplish something I'd been unable to do in years - writing on a habitual basis.

Well, today's blog entry makes this day 21. And is it a habit?

[Drumroll please]

Do queens love drama?

I've always had this sneaking suspicion that I was prone to addictive behaviors. Which is why I've steered way clear of illicit drugs and which is why I didn't try alcohol until I was 25. Fortunately, my addictions have been predominantly constructive and inexpensive: reading, googling, thinking, taking tests, live performance, and a couple of other things I'm not privy to discuss here... yet. And here's another to add to the list - blogging!

I am obsessed.

But did it take 21 days? For me? No. For me, all it took was one euphoria - albeit 3 hits - to get hooked. That euphoria actually came [oh sh*t, that's my spot!] on day 3. Ironically, that day's entry mistakenly got deleted. I cannot begin to describe the crash I felt when I hit <<>PUBLISH<>> and there was nothing there--armsful of balloons hurtling toward Iran or Eritrea or any other place where no one I knew would ever read them. It did occur to me, for one split second, that I could never recreate that entry the way I had written it that day. And it also occurred to me to give up on this little project altogether - over a thousand words erased as if they'd never existed. But they had existed! The euphoric orgasm of words sizzling through my bones and out of my fingers was so great that I knew there was no turning back.

The next day's entry, "1-800-NO-IDOLS," when my cable went out, picked up right where the previous left off. And I began to recognize a consistency in tone, a prosaic voice that I - having written poetry almost exclusively for my writing life - never knew I had.

By day 6, the "Making Dollar$ Without $en$e" entry really made it official. Part tragicomic/part neurotic/part wise-ass/part social critic is when I am at my best. And over the course of the previous 20 days, I can see moments where it all came together... and when it all fell apart. In the words of D____l R__p, "here is beauty; but when you fail, you fail dramatically."

I dig that. As a matter of fact, I love that.

Thanks to this experiment, I have written over 11,000 words in the past three weeks - eleven thousand. I don't know that I've written 11,000 words in the past three years! And I love it. In the process, I did things I never knew I was capable of. I hope you've enjoyed it.

But don't start rolling the credits yet. Though I won't be posting daily, now that the habit is developed, I'll continue to post three times a week - more personal anecdotes, more social commentary, poems, upcoming performances, announcements, reviews. I've got a lot in the works this summer - a couple of trips. Thanks for your support so far.

And also, in the words of the fine Southern eatery, Picadilly, "If you don't like it, tell us. If you do like it, tell a friend." Further, whether you do or don't like what you see (if you feel anything at all), feel free to use the comment fields to let me know. You can post anonymously.

And if you say anything mean, Marvin is a nice guy; he won't talk about you. Just ask Queen James!

M. Ayodele Heath

On the plate this week:
- "Rent" at the Fox Theatre
- Troubling the Waters: Navigating the Things Black Folks Just Don't Do Handbook (Part 2 of 2)
- an undercover assignment

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Clowning of Queen James: Ayo's Revenge!!!

IF IT HADN'T ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO ME, I WOULDN'T BELIEVE IT could happen. God writes me the greatest scripts sometimes, and it is just up to me to transcribe them.

As many of you know, my entry in Creative Loafing's third annual fiction contest, "The Gospel According to Queen James," won second place. What some of you may not know is who the real life Queen James is and what prompted me to write the story.

I wrote the story in black venom. A former associate of mine (see how much distance that 4-word phrase created?), _e__r___, made a comment toward me which was unforgivable.

But Ayo, you may say, isn't forgiveness a fundamental principle of spiritual well-being?

Well, first I wrote the story: No forgiveness. Then I published it: Still no forgiveness. Then I got the sweetest revenge, which I will tell you about.

Now I forgive him.

_e___r__, at various times in his life has been a security guard, a Special Ed teacher, a father, a choir director, a husband, a gay lover, a pastor, and - most recently - a used car salesman. Which is to say he has some identity problems. So to substitute for his lack of identity, he surrounds himself with people who do have one: Lawyers, Athletes, Doctors, Politicians, etc. I served the purpose of Artist. Which is how he wound up personally inviting me into his own home to smear a creamy pie all over both of his faces.

Although I completely fabricated the events in the story, I was nervous from the moment I completed it that _e__r___, if he ever got his hands on it, might recognize himself in the scandalous Queen James character and get all Southside-of-Chicago on my ass. When I found out the story had actually placed and would appear in the January 1 edition of Creative Loafing, I feared "the call" even more. I had not spoken to him in five months, when I finally received "the dreaded call" at work:

"C_________ Media, this is Marvin."

"Hellooooooo, Awo-della." (This awful pronunciation is part warped endearment, part lisp.)



"Oh, hi, _e___r__, how are you?" I asked as cold as politely possible.

"Wonderful, thanks for asssssking," he slithered. "Congratulations on your story in Creative Loafing. I was reading it to a friend of mine over the phone, and I couldn't even make it through the story it was soooooo hilarious."

"Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it," I said, still searching for the dagger.

"Listen, I'm having a dinner party at my home, inviting some of my friends, and I would be honored to have a famous author come and give a reading of his prize-winning story."

Gee, he's laying it on thick, I thought. Even for _e___r__.

"When?" I asked, ready to produce a schedule conflict.

"Oh, I don't know, Tuesday, Wednesday.... Thursday, Friday... Take your pick. It's in your honor."

How stupid does he think you are? This is a trap. He'll be waiting for you with a pink blade.

"Well, how about next Tuesday?" I said.

"Fine. Tuesday it is."


ON MY TRIP TO COLLEGE PARK, I FELT LIKE DENZEL RIDING TO HIS DEATH in Spike Lee's Malcolm X to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." You should have brought someone with you. When I arrived promptly at 7, there was only 1 car in the driveway. What are you doing? You know who this person is. It's a trap, I kept thinking, but my feet kept walking right up to _e___r__'s front door. I rang the bell.

_e___r__ appeared in the doorway - all 6 feet, 200 flamboyant, muscle-shirted pounds of him - and he embraced me twice, once for each cheek.

"Come in, come in, everyone's on their way," he said. "Help yourself to a plate."

I peeked around the corner and the dining room table was laid out: cornish hens, pot roast, pasta, wine, various hors d'oeuvres, fruits, and desserts.

"I ate a late lunch," I lied. "I'll eat a little later."

I ain't eatin till I see somebody else eatin. He ain't poisonin me!

Over the next quarter hour, 7 or 8 guests arrived. Perhaps this is legit, I thought.

"I loved your story," one of the guests said. "_e___r__ was reading it to me over the phone. He couldn't even get through it he was laughing so hard. I can't wait to hear you read it."

After dinner went smoothly and I didn't die of poisoning, _e___r__ gathered the guests.

With all the pomp and circumstance due a coronation, he began, "As many of you know, we have a celebrity among us this evening. M. Awo-delli Heath's short story, 'The Gospel According to Queen James,' won second place in Creative Loafing's annual fiction contest."


"For which he won a prize of $250."

More applause.

"And our dinner this evening is in honor of him - a Black male who has followed his dream of being a writer and made it a reality.

"Let him be a shining example to us all, as we set upon 2004. In recognition of him, let us bow our heads in prayer."

Oh shit, this nigga is really serious. If there's a hell, I'm likely gonna burn in it for this one.


"Now, without further to do, I bring to you, Awo-delli!"

Applause, applause, applause.

As I took the floor, I had no idea what was about to come out of my mouth.

"Um... well... First let me say... thank you to _e___r__ for opening his home to us this evening." Good. "And to tell you the truth. Well, you see, I'm primarily a performance poet, and when I wrote this story, I never intended to read it out loud." I think you're on to something.

"However, I understand, from this gentlemen over here, that _e___r__ did such a wonderful job reading this story to him over the phone-"

I can't believe you're about to do this

"that I would be honored if _e___r__ would read the story aloud to us here tonight." I said this with about as much sincerity as a Republican.

After about 2.5 seconds of feigned humility, _e___r__ leapt to the stage - which was his living room - assumed his regal position and launched into the flamboyant first person narrative starring... himself!

And what a star he was! He gestured, he demonstrated, he clutched pearls even. And without stage directions! Only about halfway through the story did I fully surrender to the fact that he really had no idea this character was him. The dinner party had a ball and chuckled long after his final line.

But being the man of a million faces that he is, being the host for the evening and being the star in the one-woman show starring himself wasn't enough. After the room settled, he wanted to play Oprah.

"So, I must ask-"

Here it comes.

"Whatever inspired such a story?"




"Do you really wanna know?"

"Yes," he said, as warmly and sincerely as possible.

"No, really. Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yes! Yes!"

"If I tell you, I'm not going to walk out of this house alive."

Now everyone was curious.

"Yes! Yes! Please tell us!" They were on the edges of their seats.

"_e___r__," I couldn't believe I was doing this. I couldn't write this any better myself!

"The reason why you so identified with this character... and why you found him so entertaining-" Oh, I was savoring this!

"Is because it's you!"

The room went silent save the sound of his two faces cracking.


Then an Ohhhhhhhhh sh*t!

Then there was not a single ass in a chair. All were on the floor rolling in hysteria.

I felt bad for a moment, but it quickly subsided.


As _e___r__ handed me my coat on the way out the door, "Marvin," he said, "I'm asking you one last time. Was that story really about me?"

And in that moment, I had a change of heart. I could no longer lie to him. "Yes, _e___r__, it really was."

And I don't regret it. Maybe now _e___r__ will see himself as he really is and change his messy ways. I feel like I did the world a service.

Boy, revenge is sweet. And to top it all off, the pie was delicious!


As if it could get any sweeter, "The Gospel According to Queen James" has new life in the latest issue of the webzine, storySouth.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

REVIEW: Lizz Wright at the Atlanta Jazz Festival

RAIN THREATENED ALL MONDAY AFTERNOON as I debated whether I would negotiate the hassle of finding Midtown parking, then walking ten blocks to Piedmont Park only for the sky to open up, drenching me en route to an outdoor concert that might never happen.

Well, I got a drenching, but it wasn't from the sky. Twenty-something up-and-coming jazz sensation Lizz Wright is a rarity in music these days. She actually sounds better live than in recording.

And that, my friends, is a very high compliment because her debut 2003 Verve release, "Salt," is rock solid - no joke. With a throaty blue alto reminiscent of Oleta Adams (and Anita Baker at times), Wright shakes her jazz/gospel seasoning into jazz standards ("Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly" and "Afro Blue") and a remake of a Broadway tune ("Soon As I Get Home"), does the hippest update of the gospel standard "Walk with Me, Lord" I could ever imagine, gets sensual and inspirational, and still manages to write five other tunes including the uplifting title track, "Salt." And as added bonus, production is provided by Brian Blade, drummer/percussionist on Norah Jones' debut project. But enough of Lizz's album.

Once we settled in a seat in the grass about 50 or so feet from the stage, the 3-piece band teased the mixed crowd numbering a couple of thousand for a 5-minute jam session of that wicked did-the-Roots-produce-that? bassline for Wright's rendition of "Walk with Me, Lord." Nodding her short-Afroed head in funky affirmation, hoop earrings dangling, Lizz followed her 100-watt smile on-stage. She may be less than five feet tall in heels, but her presence is celestial.

Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me...

Completely effortless, she puts the oo in smooth. You could not tell me in ten thousand lifetimes that I would ever be nodding my head - yes, nodding my head - to "Walk with Me, Lord" - even in Heaven. But here Heaven was, and her vocal quality was impeccable - soothing, seductive, rich, and so clear. The best way I can describe it is like a wash of blue light.

The rain played a game of hide-and-seek for before Lizz's shine burned away all of the clouds. About halfway through her hourlong set, every umbrella was down.

With such talent, it would be easy for Wright to take on the negative characteristics of divaism; yet she was so down-to-earth:

"My Daddy says I need to talk more when I'm on-stage," she laughed. "Hi, my name is Lizz Wright. I'm from Hahira, Georgia..."

Completely refreshing.

She performed most of the material from her debut album including "Open Your Eyes..." and "Salt," which had many of the incense-burners in the audience on their feet and singing along. She also worked in a couple of jazz standards for the true jazz heads, for good measure.

If she comes to your city, she is well worth the ticket price. In the meantime, the doctor's prescribing an increase of your intake of "Salt."