Friday, June 29, 2012

Vanilla is Nice, but I'll Take Freak

I've been to Harlem twice in as many days for dinner at friends places and can we just say the Harlem Renaissance has Renaissanced? This is Noveau Harlem. 125th street has outdoor sidewalk dining! It's downright chic, but not gentrified. Harlem's just swank around edges and is otherwise authentic with its baptist churches, friend chicken joints and men with far too many gold teeth. 129th street is now barricaded off by police because there's too many shootings. Yes, I could totally live here.

At my friend Sharon's on 145th street I get way too excited because she lives across from a 99cent store. There's shit for 99 cents! On her stoop three boisterous black ladies are yelling at passersby, sitting on chairs on top of the stoop and having a little party. I get the feeling they have this party every day. The building door is wide open and they wave me on in with a smile, not even a word.

Sharon tells me she's been learning about Hindu gods from her students in Queens. Hindu is chaotic and confusing because their gods supposedly all come from three gods - but not. There are more and other worlds within and somewhere is a deity named Kali - who holds severed heads in her hand and wears a necklace of skulls and a skirt of severed arms. When Sharon asked her student if this god was a devil, the student shook her head like Sharon was crazy. This bloodthirsty woman is a god, there are no devils! Hinduism has it all, keeps evolving, even adding bits of other religions, there's even a little Buddha in Hindu heavens. It's continuosly morphing, changing, and most importantly absorbing... and in that way it reminds me of New York City.

On the train home there are three people seated across from me. A wide-eyed backpacker, a big black dude with "selena" tattooed on his forearm and a baseball hat all askew. In between them is a white woman of at least 85 years old and she is dressed to the nines as if she just got out of the opera. It is long after midnight.

By day, the city is a sweltering soup and... there are homeless! One of them asks me to "borrow" a quarter. When I refuse, he says god will bless me anyway. Relevancy is struggle is survival is being unemployed but pursuing your dream hobby is rampant jaywalking (I'm inordinately happy to have found this lost tribe) and that line of people waiting for a $1 slice of cheese pizza. They're speaking Spanish! And Hebrew!

Within the crowds of 8th avenue I hear my name being called. It's Aron, walking his dog. He owns a fashion showroom and I used to work for him at trade shows. Below, on the A train platform I'm sweating into my shirt and the wet spreads into it as if it were a paper towel. I hear my name again and there is Brian, a theatre kid I went to school with at USC.

At Industry bar, darling drag queen Dallas Dubois gives me a huge hug and when I speak with her she doesn't even realize I ever left for Australia. I strangely agree with her. Anita stumbles drunkenly through the crowd to tell me, "I couldn't get laid if I were an EGG," hastening to add, "I keep telling them that beauty is only a light switch away!" My friend Travis pops something in my mouth, "It's my last quarter of adderall... but you have to dance with me!" and I do.

On the way home along Delancey, a young Latino struts past and leers at me. There's a mix of danger and dare in his eyes and I stare back defiantly. How long has it been that I've been leered at? I don't know what's wrong with me that I miss a sense of menace. I don't know exactly why I need to be surrounded by freaks, in a place that feels like foreign travel where I am always aware, noticing, absorbing like the Hindus. For whatever reason, it's inspiring. And I realize what I miss the most, what I elementally require, even if it be in bad taste, is what we call FLAVOR.   


Tony said...

Hey Jesse -

The Big Apple is nothing but flavor, as your vignettes attest.
Amen to "beauty is just a light switch away."

Pulsbeat said...

--- Happy Birthday!!! May you never be stuck with just vanilla!!!
Many more birthdays...

Dtown-Blog said...

So true. I think we enjoy being in the company of those who are "different" because there is less pressure to conform to mainstream standards. And how often has the mainstream bit us in the ass?

P.S. I'm catching up on old blog posts, relating to stories...forgot how much I need this!