Posts Tagged ‘fort green


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


Home Alterations pt. 2

Brooklyn is still Brooklyn, and probably will always be. But Bedford-Stuyvesant isn’t Do-or-die Bed-Stuy anymore. Everybody remember the Bed-Stuy of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing? Granted it was a caricature of the real Bed-Stuy, but not a gross one. Well, out with that old Bed-Stuy and in with the new. Bed Stuy’s being renovated, rejuvenated, resuscitated, gentrified, diversified, pacified, revitalized, reorganized, and pasteurized…Pretty soon you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from Fort Green or Clinton Hill.

You know that song: in a New York minute? Well, it’s on point. Shit happens really quick in the big city of dreams!

I shouldn’t be surprised. I mean, even before I moved to Asia change was well underway. But, when I’d pulled up to Ma’s house, the brownstone two-doors down (where an aging black couple used to live) the yard was littered with bikes…about ten of them, chained to every location you can chain a bike in a front yard. And standing in front of the house were 2 guys and a girl, dressed in Halloween get-ups (she was Sarah Palin, one of the guys was Batman and the other was a Fairy) Need I mention they were white?

I used to rant and rave til I was blue in the face about the evils of gentrification before I left NY. Not that I have a problem with white people. Gentrification isn’t white, it’s green. Green as the tree-lined historical Brownstone street i lived on. Green as the green-eyed monster I feel inside me that I couldn’t afford that house. And, green as the million dollars you can pay for a house in Bed-Stuy these days. No, some of my closest friends are gentrifiers, and they’re mostly black. I just took issue with the way it was displacing people left and right and destroying the character of communities, turning every town it feeds on into a carbon copy of the one it just digested.  I used to write for a local paper in Brooklyn, and my articles on the subject were alarmist, totally devoid of impartiality. I was fiercely against it, and as inevitable as I knew gentrification to be, having witnessed it swallow Bed-Stuy’s neighboring neighborhoods of Clinton Hill and Fort Green whole, like some rapacious monster, I railed against it and did all I could to offset the toll it would have on my community. I took it personally.

But, in the end, like Jay-Z (A Bed-Stuy native) says If you ain’t in it for the money then get out the game. And when you come at an old couple rapidly approaching retirement age, like the couple who used to live in that home, who bought the house in the 70’s for 20 or 30 grand, with an offer 20 or 25 times that, it’s a cinch they aren’t going to think about any negative effects their platinum nest egg is going to have on the community they’re abandoning. They’ve done their time. 30 years in the ‘hood will fossilize any heart, and they’re not holding their breaths waiting for Starbucks and Sushi Restaurants to materialize, either. That’s just not their idea of the good life. A half a million can buy you a 2-bedroom co-op in Park Slope but in North Carolina or Georgia? Hell, you can live out your golden years in style.

Ma shared with me how many of our other seniors and some not-so senior neighbors have cashed in and relocated to greener pastures. I ain’t mad at them. I’m over it. Hell, life is short so why not take that long money? Ma doesn’t have a problem with white neighbors, or the skyrocketing property value (except for the increased property taxes that come along with it.) She doesn’t even have a problem with white people, in general. But, she ain’t too fond of the idea of white people living in her house. I won’t be too surprised if she takes in a long money tenant before long, though. She says she’s been getting juicy offers and she’s currently tenant-free and strapped.

I took a shower, threw on some clean clothes and headed out to meet my recently emancipated buddies Sharlene and Wendy. The bar they were waiting at was in Crown heights, on Schenectady Avenue. I parked around the corner from it and as I made my way back I saw a guy standing around the side of the building talking on his cell. I gave him a nod and said what’s up. He gave me a suspicious look. I kept it moving. I got to the front of the bar. The door was locked. I gave it a few taps. I’d been to this spot several times before I moved to Japan, so I knew the routine. it had a new name now but everything else on the exterior looked the same. The door was opened by an overgrown cat, with a no-nonsense I’d do you and your mother if you step outta line look on his face. I didn’t remember him but I oddly felt compelled to say what’s up. He cut me open with a look and nodded me into the lobby where he spread his arms wide indicating I should do the same. He frisked me down to my ankles, thoroughly, like a cop. If I’d hid a single edge razor blade in my Tims he would have corralled it.

Sharlene and Wendy and I go way back, over 25 years, so love-love was waiting for me near the bar, already drunk and mouthing off. We hugged and looked each other over. They looked exactly the same and that was very comforting. They told me I looked thin. When I left NY I was about 240 lbs. Now I weigh in at about 200. 40 lbs in 5 years…

“All that damn sushi,” Sharlene said.

“You eat sushi everyday?” Wendy asked, I thought earnestly.

“Japanese have a lot of different-” she started smiling. “-Funny…”

“Seriously, what do y’all eat over there?” Sharlene asked. I felt a little stab. Like a nailfile in my kidney.

“Who the hell is y’all? I ain’t Japanese.”

“You know what I mean…shit, you been there long enough.”

“Can you speak Japanese?” Wendy asked.

“Hell yeah, I hear him, when we be talking on the phone, yelling at his girlfriend in Japanese,” Sharlene snapped. “You better be nice to her.”

“Oh, yeah, how is she? It’s the same one, right? What’s her name? Yuki or Yuka or Yoko or Ukulele or something like that?”

“Why you didn’t bring her this time?”

Last time I came home I’d brought my girlfriend. We all went out one night and had an awkward time, but there was no bloodshed or damage done so I considered it a success. Bringing your un-black girlfriend to meet your late 30-something single black, where all the good black men at? They with white women or gay talking girlfriends is a little risqué. But, I guess since she was a minority, in America anyway, they cut me some slack.

“She’s busy.”

They were doing most of the talking. Their pace was tricky to keep up with. I kept second guessing my contribution to the conversation. And they didn’t seem to notice, having grown accustomed to my not being there. It wasn’t like this before. We used to have a rhythm, a communication pattern. They might not have felt it but i felt the loss, and I thought it was a hell of a price to pay.

Though a little strained, we managed to laugh and talk for an hour or so, catching each other up but soon I started feeling a little edgy. I was taking in everything about the room. This was the Brooklyn I had been so looking forward to coming home to. Smiling family and friends who know me and can understand me completely. Places where the people who share my values and experience dwell: Home, be it ever so…dodgy?

We sat near the door and I couldn’t stop myself from checking it whenever i felt a draft. The people entering the place were, thankfully, subject to the same search I’d undergone. Several of them looked like they were bound to be carrying. I half expected one of them to pull out and blast the bouncer he looked so shady. It was supposed to be a Halloween party, but unless the guys all decided to come as Fifty-Cent or Wu-Tang Clan, they hadn’t read the advertisement. A number of girls came to, but they weren’t searched thoroughly. They were mostly dressed in the spirit of the evening.  A couple of them wore ghetto versions of Catwoman, Playboy bunnies, French Maids and so on. How do you ghettoize a French Maid costume, you ask? Well, you add some bling-bling and silk-screened nails and put a 170lb sister with an ass that accounts for a third of that in it, that’s how.

I hadn’t been in a room filled with nothing but black people speaking nothing but English in 3 years. I’d forgotten what it was like. This was not the den of diversity that I had been boasting to the Japanese as the America I was a product of. And I had known this all along. I just needed something to use as defense against when Japanese persistently, though I believe unawares, assault me with their culture and philosophy and negative stereotypes about America and Americans. I’d illustrate visions of Manhattan for them to exemplify the diversity of America, to vengefully shame Japanese people. But, in these defensive moments I’d leave out the Brooklyn I grew up in, which however culturally diverse, racially was mostly monochromatic. Now, I felt a surge of my own hypocrisy.

Around me, there were several conversations going on, and one word kept jumping out of every conversation, spitting in my ear: Nigger! Everyone was using it. This is nothing new. It had been this way most of my life and so until five years ago, it was quite natural to hear it, ad nauseam. But, now…after not hearing it for such a long time…it was disconcerting. I mean, sure, the Japanese are xenophobes and some are racists as well, and when I hear Japanese use the word Gaijin as opposed to gaikokujin, and knowing formally that gaikokujin is to gaijin as negro is to nigger, I sometimes think of it being synonymous with nigger, minus the race specificity. But, I rarely hear that word unless I listen to Hip Hop or on rare occasions when I find myself in Ropponggi or Shibuya at a bar where other Black Americans are.

Actually that’s not entirely true. There was this Nigerian cat in Harajuku who’d called Black Americans Niggers in a way that informed me he actually believed that the proper way to refer to African Americans were as niggers. Ironically, he used nigger not only in a derogatory way but also in a deferential manner. It was the first time I’d heard it used that way. I stood there wide-eyed, open-mouthed, while he said shit like, “Some of these Nigerians guys are as lazy as Niggers but…” and  “Sometimes I go to the bars in Roppongi and I see a lot of Africans trying to act like Niggers, but they’ll never be as cool as real niggers,” and “I used to want to be a nigger but I’m a business man. I just play nigger for that Japanese money.” The funny thing is if he had referred to Nigerians as niggers too I wouldn’t have had too much of a problem with it.

And, I’m not innocent of its use. I used to use it quite a bit…never in mixed company, of course (race-wise, not gender-wise.) But, to come home to hear Obama is my Nigger and If that nigger win, man, shit is gonna be off the hook! I felt like I had returned to Niggerworld.

Something else hit me about then. There, among my people, I understood every word uttered. every song played. understood every nuance, every emotion, every everything…and it had become a little overwhelming. I felt like I was a computer that had had its security system on high, blocking all cookies, suddenly having its settings changed to accept all cookies. I didn’t realize how immersed in Japanese culture I had been until then. Nor, the benefit of not accepting cookies. My processor slowed down considerably.

And, noticeably.

“What’s wrong with you?” Sharlene asked, genuinely concerned.

“I don’t know…I feel like…I don’t know. Maybe I need a drink.”

“You driving ain’t you?”

“Ah, fuck, that’s right…One won’t hurt.”

I knew what it was but I wasn’t going to get into it with them. I wasn’t sure how they would react. Living among the disproportionately thin, fashionably and ostentatiously sexy, yet otherwise conservative Japanese had somehow altered my idea of what’s what. The women at this club, for example. 5 years ago I probably would have been thinking damn, if I didn’t have a girlfriend I’d be all over that French Maid. But, now she looks like a woman in a cheesy get-up who doesn’t know she’s let herself go…and why would she? Her sense of what’s what is endorsed by every drooling male eye in the joint. So, I knew it wasn’t her who’d let herself go, but me. I was the one who was gone. And even though I was here in Brooklyn- home- in the flesh, essentially I was in limbo, torn between two worlds.

But, I’d only been home a couple of hours…some kind of culture shock was to be expected. So I tried not to overreact.

Wendy’s boyfriend came in. He’s the owner so the overgrown cat gave him a pound. He came over to me. I smiled and half-bowed only to see his extended hand before me. Shit. I took it and pulled him into a hug to cover-up my slip-up.

“What up, yo?” I said.

“Same ole…business is business. You still in Japan?”

“Yep, still there.”

“Must be good to you.”

“It has its moments…”

“I hear you. How them hunnies treating you?”

“Hunny, singular. She’s good to go!”

“Hunny singular??? Nigger, Yo ass ain’t never coming back!”

“I don’t know about that…” I said, feeling like I was lying. “if Obama pulls this off, and the economy bounces back, I might consider it…”

“Those some hellified conditions, yo…”

“Tru dat,” I agreed.

Man, it felt good to speak English with New Yorkers. But, something occurred to me while I was talking to him. I’d thought about how the guy talking on the cellphone outside reacted to my greeting as well as the bouncer’s reaction and the half-bow I’d given Wendy’s man. In Japan, every time I’d come across a black guy, 2 or 3 times a week, we’d, at minimum, nod in greeting and, if they were African, possibly even make it verbal. It’s like some unsung agreement, a non-verbal understanding, that we’re in this together. This being the quagmire that is life in Japan. In a nod, with a bit of eye-contact and a smile we’re acknowledging the paradise Japan is from time-to-time, and the cultural trappings therein as well as our common daily struggle to keep it together in an environment where doing so is a considerable accomplishment.  At least, that’s my take on it. Africans tend to give more, will even get into a conversation if I don’t snub them. African-Americans tend to give less. I’ve even had them snub me before.

How can i tell the difference between an African-American and a full-blooded African, you ask? (Assuming I can’t hear him speak, of course.) If you’re asking you’re probably not black. So, I’ll tell you. The same way you can tell the difference between a Chinese and a Japanese person. Or an Italian and a British person. Or a Puerto Rican and a Dominican person, I suppose. You either can or you can’t. It took my living in Japan several years to tell the difference between a Japanese and a Chinese person on the spot. I still can’t tell the difference between Korean and Japanese people, though.

Anyway, I digress. The point is I hadn’t left my Japanese habits in Japan. I’d smuggled them through customs into America, a little cultural contraband.

“Yo, I’m gonna bounce…Jet lag is kicking my ass,” I told my friends. It wasn’t a lie, just a little exaggeration. I just needed to get away for a spell.

“OK,” Sharlene sighed. “But don’t forget…we’re going canvassing in Philly tomorrow bright and early.”

“I think I’ll be alright by then.”

On the way home, I was little concerned. Some of my Japanese habits are just not conducive to life in the West. In fact, they could be downright dangerous here in NY.kumkau1

I was feeling a minor buzz from the one drink I’d nursed back at the bar and decided to take a spin around the old neighborhood. It was about 1:30am. I drove over to my favorite Chinese Restaurant, Kum Kau, over on Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill and bought some sesame chicken and brown rice and then headed home.

On the way I drove up Franklin Avenue from Lafayette Avenue. Franklin Avenue was the Avenue when I was growing up. If something went down there’s where it happened. If someone got shot or stabbed, it either originated on Franklin or ended up there, or it was done by or done to someone from there. But, The Ave is rich with memories for me and many of my old friends still live on and around it.

As I drove along it I noticed something and I couldn’t believe my friggin’ eyes. Here it was, damn near 2am, and Franklin Avenue was alive…that’s not the shocking part. Between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street, possibly one of the toughest and notorious 10 block strips in the Bed-Stuy I grew up in, I passed about 40 or so odd white people, couples, singles, dog walkers, some costumed, some looking inebriated, just a-celebrating Halloween, or casually strolling, carefree, like they were in Williamsburg or DUMBO.

I didn’t even see any black people. It was like some crazy Twilight Zone episode.

There goes the ‘hood…

to be continued…

Copyright © 2010 Loco in Yokohama / All Rights Reserved

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!

Words I love…

Everybody is a star
I can feel it when you shine on me
I love you for who you are
Not the one you feel you need to be
Ever catch a falling star
Ain't no stopping 'til it's in the ground
Everybody is a star
One big circle going round and round

Words by: Sly Stone

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