It’s Not a Misdeed Unless I Smile
you step left I step
left. Repeat. Finally you
feint right to escape
It’s not just that spring has arrived in Boston . . .
It’s that it’s arrived for my favorite tree along the Muddy River Path.
Robins pull worms, Canada Geese graze their fuzzy goslings in the young grass, but my eyes are for this sparsely flowered specimen of spindly grace.
Dear Stranger Whose Business Suit-clad Rear I . . . Bumped:
Remember me? I’m the ‘little black girl’ who ‘smacked your butt’ on the Red Line headed towards Alewife. I swear it was an accident.
We must have been crossing the salt and pepper bridge because I remember the train car being well lit. I recall the echo of train wheels rolling up and over and across, Charles River glinting below. It wasn’t a packed car, but it also wasn’t empty, so probably other passengers witnessed my transgression.
Business Suit Dude: you had leaned over to fuss with the bag at your feet when the train swayed and my arm . . . swayed. There was contact: your tush, my hand. I remember thinking a muzzy uh-oh! when I realized I was too late to resist the motion.
You shot up, squeaking in surprise. Or maybe it was a gasp. (I assure you, the sound you produced
maybe wasn’t was very manly.) However it’s best described, your response contained an implicit ‘oh!’, which, if you were a 80’s-raised black woman like myself, may have been followed with an outraged ‘you didn’t just do that!’ But you were a white dude, probably late 30s, early 40s, and, judging by your shocked expression, this was not an interaction you’d ever envisioned.
You gaped. I shrugged one shoulder and, as an afterthought, added a disarming, half-sorry smile.
My bad. I probably should have been less amused?
In any event, dear Business Suit, you have my 78% sincere apology. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve re-told this story many dozens of times. Don’t worry, you’re always the victim.
Somewhere along the wandering lines of my life, I started thinking of New Jersey as the Mothership. Born and raised in the Township of Neptune, this description seems appropriate.
Though the sand and soil on which my baby toes trod has no true name beyond what we humans (temporarily) bestow, I too am named. Jersey girl. Tristate resident, East Coast style. Yankee. American.
I leave, yet I do not. The smells, the sights, the feel are stamped upon my brain. Every new place I visit I impulsively, helplessly compare. Haven’t lived on that crabgrass patch, that blond stretch of overheated beach, that collection of crab shacks and kitsch, that mass of shopping malls, for twenty years, but nor can I abandon it. Follows me -to the Ring of Kerry, to Paris, to Boston, everywhere. The Garden State can’t stop, won’t stop, refuses to let me go. And I find I don’t want it to.
Hey, Mama Jersey –beam me up!
Thank you for so many things.
For being the pop-culture bookend of my life, opposite Michael Jackson.
For displaying your flamboyant masculinity that operated in wild, electric opposition to the stoic, colorless, emotion-stripped version I was sold in school and social life.
For your lush, full-band sound and music gifts that were the soundtrack to my childhood: 1999, When You Were Mine, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Purple Rain, Sign O’The Times, Diamonds & Pearls, Kiss, and Nothing Compares 2 You.
For not being too annoyed or embarrassed to show up to those award shows where the greater Black community claimed you so desperately, it must have chafed. Or, one might say, for your grace.
For showing us how to reclaim your Self when corporations tried to own you beyond what was appropriate or possible.
Finally, it was your image I recognized when I noticed a comic on the wooden, window-side shelf at Carla’s Book Shop in Neptune City, NJ. Strongbow, the character created by Wendy Pini, resembled Prince but behaved like Clint Eastwood, and he drew me into one of my great loves –Elfquest in particular, comic books in general.
Lastly, thank you for purple. I vote we, in the U.S., rename that color for you. ROY G BIP for evah.
Red orange yellow green blue indigo PRINCE
Interrupting this regularly scheduled WHL to re-post tweets. Yeah, I said it.
A Bit of Background
This past week, I participated in an event where I pitched two of my unpublished novel manuscripts on Twitter as part of an event called #DVpit. Essentially, it was a giant, Twitter Accelerated Slush Pile for would-be, hope-to-be, will-be authors, specifically writers of color and/or folks from marginalized or underrepresented communities, and works featuring the same. Why?
Because have you seen publishing? Because agents and editors and writers and readers and their familiars have long been feeling the lack and seek to address it with, among other perhaps more traditional methods, ❤‘s.
Something About Process
I have an affinity for hyper-summary. Usually I can’t get this function to work with my own writing, but thanks to #DVpit (Kudos Supreme to organizer, literary agent Beth Phelan) I was inspired to get down in it, chopping words LEFT and RIGHT! The situation looked a lot like this:
OK Fine, The Tweets
For the most part, these are posted in the order I wrote them, with the initial efforts taking themselves quite seriously and the latter . . . well. You’ll see.
Note: mg = middle grade; novelette = wee novel
Recently I trimmed my To Read list to around 100 books, down from 160. Why? Well, I’ve long been aware of the likeliness I won’t survive it, especially with how I cheat on my list. Prodigiously.
It can be disconcerting to stare your mortality in the mouth with each log-in to a website that is intended to provide hours of . . . you know, nerd-alicious, collect-em-all delight (as well as sell me things. Don’t play coy, social media. We know.)
I’d been telling myself for months, seasons, years, to aggressively trim my To Read list. Only the books I honestly want to read; that I’m likely to. Nothing I’ve already read and wish to read again (count those ‘done’). None of those coquettish frips that briefly turn my gaze during a bookstore browse or library-stack wander, web crawl.
Truly, the browse must be considered the enemy of all tidy, thoughtfully curated To Read lists. The browse will skillfully and blithely seduce your partner, steal your bosom buddies, and convince your parents that honestly?, it would have made a better child.
It’s a home wrecker, the browse. I love it. By which I mean I succumb to it. Often.
Exhibit A as to why my To Read list never got any shorter, no matter how I apply myself to ordering library books online, shortly delivered straight to my grubby paws. (Digital library catalogues are an amazing, boundless, fortuitous magic. If you haven’t yet availed yourself –don’t. There’s no room for you. It’s for ME.)
Borrowing from comedians, I’ve transformed my problem into a punch line: I’m not going to survive my reading list! (Hahah! Lets joke about our deaths.) I know for a fact that I cannot claim a speck of originality. Plenty of people pre-mourn their lives; some even produce clever, pictographic charts that terrify my friends.
The awful truth is, of course, that my Goodreads To Read list is by no means comprehensive. Why? Because I read nearly everything. Blame a life-long habit instilled by my parents. Blame curiosity. Heck, blame the printing press and desktop publishing! Everywhere I go, something to read . . .
Non-exhaustive list of reading
Thankfully, there are also things I don’t read:
What about you? Say you meet your reading list in an alley and, zimbo-bapo!, you magically gain martial arts skillz . . . WHO WILL WIN?!
Dear Youngish Dude on the B Train:
Remember, that time on the Green Line, when I dropped blueberry muffin crumbs on you? I wasn’t sure if I should reach down and sweep them from your shoulder and leg, because: a.) too obvious an admission of my transgression and b.) intimate. (Sidenote: isn’t it funny/curious/strange how, if I elbow a person or singe someone with angry eye beams for getting too close or fresh, that act is somehow less intimate, despite common elements touch and eye-contact?)
Dude: I didn’t know you. You didn’t know me, but there you were, dotted with fluffy crumbs. There I was, swaying from a nearby handhold, struggling against rising tides of mortification and laughter. I recall coming to a decision, taking the risk to casually brush a creamy-yellow muffin fluff from your nearest shoulder. (I wouldn’t dare get so forward as to brush your leg.)
Train jerked. Muffin jostled, and more crumbs joined their cousins on your person. You still didn’t seem to notice but, on my end, all hope for a graceful recovery was dashed.
Dude on the B Train: my bad. Wherever you are, I wish you well (and muffins).
What I know about Quincy, MA can be summed up in five neat bullet points:
#6 on that list? Quincy Quarries. Clearly a favorite of the youths, as well as rock climbers, this urban wild also seems to attractive positive affirmation graffiti. Hmm.