18
Nov
08

Home Alterations Pt. 3

It took me about a year of living in Japan before I had my first dream that included Nihongo, and about 3 years for my dreams to take place in Japan. I had such a dream here on Ma’s couch in Brooklyn. I couldn’t remember all the details. All I remember is that I was at an Onsen in Nikko with girlfriend and she was laughing…I woke up to the SKYPE line’s ring.

“Hello.” I just knew it was my girlfriend.

“You coming?” it wasn’t. It was Sharlene.

“Oh shit, what time is it?”

“It’s after 7.”

“Aight, give me a sec…”

I bounced off the sofa Ma had allowed me to crash on and made my way upstairs into the empty apartment where I had lived for the 6 years before I moved to Japan, and took a shower in my old bathroom. It felt strange being in my last home in NY without any of my old furnishings. Memories rushed at me. I’d lived a good portion of my life in these rooms. Major events. Love affairs and crazy break-ups. The novel I wrote in my little home office space. The end of the Clinton years, where I did very well, and the first of the Bush years, when i abandoned ship. 9/11- from the roof above I watched the Twin Towers fall and the fighter jets darting by overhead. A grand party celebrating my independence from corporate America. An emotional farewell party before I left for Japan. All in these rooms.

My landlord had done some renovating, changed the tile in the kitchen, added a doorway, a new fridge, some lighting fixtures, and she’d gotten rid of my purple. I’d painted the whole living room 2 shades of purple. I loved it. I guess the tenants that followed me weren’t feeling it, though. The apartment was unheated and that reminded me of my duplex back home in Yokohama…

Back home?

15 minutes later I was at Sharlene’s door tapping the first few notes to shave and a haircut on the horn. I felt weird doing it, like I was disturbing the peace. I rarely hear horn blowing in Japan. A guy was standing on the corner near her house. He was looking my way. “Sorry about that” I said and nodded and smiled/grimaced. Then Sharlene and her daughter came out of her front door. Damn, i remember when she was born. Now she’s a teenager and filling out them jeans, and the guy standing on the corner turned out to be her boyfriend. I aged about 20 years with that knowledge.

“Hey you,” Sharlene chimed.

“Hey. What time is the train?”

“It leaves at 8:20. We won’t make it.”

“Hell we won’t.” It was about 7:50. From Bed-Stuy to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, minus Traffic, is about a 20 minute bounce. I’ve done 42nd Street, where i used to work, in 20 minutes, if the bridges are clear. I raced that rental through Brooklyn to the bridges and crossed them no problem, green lights all the way up 6th Avenue to 34th Street and like clockwork the four of us got on the 8:20 train to Philly.

I’d never canvassed for a politician before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never cared that much about any particular candidate before. I’ve always been interested in politics, though and after 9/11 i became a political junkie. But, it never really made a big difference to me who the president was. And, local politics in NY is just fucked. I used to cover it for a local paper. You got a bunch of useless, untrustworthy black politicians in Bedford-Stuyvesant, from Assembly and Council all the way up to Congress…and as far as Senators are concerned, you got Hillary Clinton, the shameless carpetbagger extraordinaire.

But, Obama changed my opinion of Black Politicians. In fact he changed a lot about my outlook on things in general (more on the Obama Effect in a later post.) He was changing the game entirely. Pennsylvania is usually a Democratic state. But, the rough primary race with Hillary Clinton had made the state a little iffy. New York was steadfastly democratic, a shoo-in for Barack, so many New Yorkers had volunteered to take the 2-hour ride down to Pennsylvania and pull some PA coats get the PA votes. I’d been canvassing people in Indiana by phone from Japan (SKYPE made this possible) on my free time, but I was a little apprehensive about doing so face-to-face. I’d never even been  to Philly before.

Jill Scott

The Roots MFSB
And we weren’t exactly headed to Jill Scott’s, The Roots’ or MFSB’s Philly. Barack already had the African-American vote in Philly locked in. We were going to the lily white suburbs of Philly. These weren’t the same people that got angry at Barack because of an audio recording that surfaced after a fund raising event which caught his ill-advised statement about Pennsylvanians being bitter and clinging to guns and religion, and what not.
Thank God, cuz the last thing I needed to do today was take my black ass, best friend, her teenage daughter (and her friend) trick or treating for votes in Red Neckville, knocking on the doors of bitter, gun-toting, bible-loving, Obama-hating, so-called undecideds. That just wasn’t on my to-do list.
But, it was the same state, so I retained a little wariness.
That is, until i came to my very first door, nervous but determined to do my part.

“Good Morning…umm, well, uh…my name is Loco and I’m a volunteer for Obama/Biden 08 and, um, well, you know…” I stuttered to a pair of eyes peeking through a cracked open door.

“Did you say Obama?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m a volunteer for…”

“OH!” The door swung open, and I stepped back (prepared to breakout if necessary) as an elderly white woman strode out on to the porch. “Oh yes, me and my friends and my children and some of my grandchildren are all voting for Obama. He is a wonderful man, don’t you think?And…and he’s going to change this country for the better, by god. And it’s about time, isn’t it? Are you ok?”

“I’m fine…I’m just…well…”

“Where did you get your cap and t-shirt?” she asked “They’re really nice! Do all volunteers get them?

“Well, actually, I bought it from Obama’s campaign website.”

“Ohhh…well, it’s very nice.”

“Thanks…thanks a lot,” I stammered. I didn’t know why I was so rickety. I decided to stick to the checklist and script I had on the pad I was carrying. “Ok, so do you need a lift to the polls on Election day?”

“No thank you, kindly, that’s my car right behind you. I’m taking myself and all my friends…”

“Ok, do you know where your voting site is?”

“Why, yes, unless they changed it since the primaries…I voted for Hillary, then,” she smiled and winked a little. “The polls is a few blocks away. I may even walk there?”

“Ok…Will you be available to volunteer for the campaign on Election day?”

“Oh, no, I can’t on Election day. Sorry. I have to work, dear. I volunteer at the Senior Citizen center downtown. I’m a retired teacher, you know. But don’t you worry. I know these people in this area and they are going to support Obama. You mark my words. ”

“Ok…well, thank you so much for your time, and sorry to have disturbed you so early on a Saturday.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, you know old folks are early risers. I’ve been up since 5am, young man…” she said and smiled broadly. “Where are you from? Because I know you’re not from around here.”

“New York.”

“And you came all the way down here…that’s impressive! When you first came I thought you were Jehovah’s witnesses, that’s why I didn’t open the door. Anyway, you go ahead and wake up these other folks around here if you think you need to. But I know them and most of them are going to support Obama.”

Well, she was right on. Over the course of the day I knocked on about 80 doors and about 60 of them pledged their support for Barack, 10 for McCain and the rest were unanswered or undecided (wasn’t much difference between the two at this  point.) No one volunteered though. They were all white, working class, mostly of Jewish, Russian or Polish descent, some first generation American, most 2nd and 3rd generation. Some gave a short, kurt responses, some were long and talkative. And, no one was rude. No guns. No drama whatsoever. By the end of the day, I felt like I’d personally handed Pennsylvania to the senator.

When we got back to the campaign office to hand in our paper work it was as busy as a beehive. In an office suitable to hold a maximum of 50 there had to be 3 times that many. Even when we were leaving more volunteers were just arriving in droves. I overheard conversations of people who had been doing done what I’d done that day everyday for weeks…and the people coming and going, hustling and bustling, were predominantly white. I’m talking 90% white. It was absolutely remarkable, to me. This has never happened in American history. I’m certain of it. I almost started weeping right then and there as an overwhelming pride I’d truly never felt about America, and shame at the wasted prejudices I’d held for so long, swept through me, but I managed to keep it together.

Jet lag caught up with me on the train ride home and I slept all the way back to NY.

That night, I popped over to Myrtle Avenue again. This time, to my favorite hero shop, number two on food tour list. It’s called Farmer in the Deli. This is something I truly craved while I was in Japan. Japan has Subways but their sandwiches, comparatively, suck. Forget Subways…this deli is the ultimate hero shop and if you’re ever in Brooklyn, you MUST go there. They know how to make a manwich. The lines can get a little long and now that it’s catching on like the Soup Nazi’s soup kitchen back in the Seinfeld days, I’m sure the prices will go up too. I stood in line trying to figure out a way to smuggle a few back to Japan.

farmer in the Deli
farmer in the Deli
Farmer in the Deli is in Fort Green. I mentioned the fate of Fort Green in part 2.  Myrtle Avenue is trying to hold on, and has a pretty firm grip due to the existence of Fort Green Projects. Actually Fort Green Projects is two different housing projects: Walt Whitman Houses and Ingersoll Houses. Only Tenants and people who actually go there know this though. Farmer in the Deli is a block from Fort Green Projects.
There’s been a rumor circulating for years that the residents of both are being pushed out so that their homes can be turned into coops or condos. It’s a persistent rumor. These projects are in a precarious place, that’s for sure. Gentrification on two sides and Metrotech / Downtown Brooklyn on a third. It’s just begging for revitalization. Who knows what the future holds for Fort Green? Next time I come home maybe they won’t be there at all.
But, all and all it was wonderful day!                       Loco

Walt Whitman Houses Ingersoll Houses

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2 Responses to “Home Alterations Pt. 3”


  1. November 20, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Good blog. I walk through these projects when I walk to work (ft greene -> dumbo). I just came back from Japan myself, hope to move there in a year or two. Keep up the good posts, I’ll be reading 🙂

  2. December 20, 2009 at 6:14 am

    After reading this and several others as I go through you archive I am noticing several things about you, that might change as i keep going through so I will refrain from mention most of them.

    However, I am very curios about a couple of things on how you perceive the world, or perceived the world at this point in time.

    To preface what is to follow I live in “Fly Over Country”, man I despise that term for reasons I wont go into right now. You almost can’t get more in the middle of the US than where I am in Tulsa Oklahoma. However, I am active all over the world in many different forums and chat rooms, and blogosphere. So I talk to people from around the world and have come to many conclusions about the world which it has taken friends of mine leaving the country to realize. The biggest one is I remember the exact moment I realized other people can be truly happy in their little part of the world. Was probably 15 or 16 at the time and talking with some people about England. While they hated it they didn’t want to leave because they loved it too. While I still believe the US is the greatest country in the world, granted with a few faults, it hit me you can be happy, for sure, in other parts of the world. It’s just all we see on TV are ads about the little kid in Africa that needs a dollar day, another blaring sign of media control in our world.

    Anyway, more to the point. I find it interesting specifically in this post, and others, where you are not afraid of white people, but still apprehensive about them. In this post you made it seem that you still feel that all white people are racists because you are so surprised that so many worked on Obama’s campaign. Along with other little things you have said gives me the impression that you live, or lived, in the same sense as the Japanese you describe in all your posts. Basically the default is “all white people are racist in some way or out to get me”. Is this observation correct? I am not thinking it is at this point as much because you mentioned in another post that you were brought up that way in your “African” school and you grew out of it so a little sketchy on this issue at this point.

    This also leads into another point of the whole redneck thing. Going to be honest being told I live in fly over country or am a redneck for having guns and reading the bible is like, for you, being called a gaijin. Granted I have a few different views than those around me in Tulsa I am still lumped in there because of where I live. So this presents a couple of questions. Do you honestly consider those people that like guns and are gun enthusiasts as red neck uneducated hicks whos opinions don’t matter, that is kind of how you make it seem at times? Also what were your feelings on the subject of guns more specifically after your stent in the Waiki gun club? and for full disclosure, yes I like guns only have a couple and rarely get to shoot them, play a lot of paintball though.

    I hope you are reading these as honest to goodness questions and not i’m trying to pick a fight. I have come to find your opinions and perspectives very insightful and interesting so am asking these in an honest to “I want to know out of blatant curiosity for the sake of own knowledge”. Last time I tried to ask someone these questions I got yelled at and called a racist 😦 Being a student of sociology sucks sometimes when you want to ask unpopular questions.

    Sorry for the long post; hopefully you understand what I am asking.


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Please know that this blog is my original writing and may not be reproduced in any way without the expressed written permission of the author (that's me!) Thanks!

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