I live in column time. My clocks tic snatches of conversations and tocks moments when humanity notices itself. Suddenly war, AIDS, famine and empires make sense.
This is dedicated to all those times when nobody sees it but you. "There's something in the way of things," says Amiri Baraka.
The morning of my 38th birthday, I woke still drunk from hours before. Birthdays ego-trip us into believing perfection is a birthright and a day without revelry is a failure.
Intoxicated, I stepped into my day. Vinnie lawn jockeyed on the stoop, and I stooped to conquer our past hostilities. We joked with the mailman.
"Don't bring me no bad news," I said.
I ripped a bill to shreds and moved my lips as I read a card from my beloved mother. God cooperated and pulled back the curtain on His son/sun.
Black men sagged on corners. They didn't avert their eyes when I looked to size them up. Some smiled. Some watched until they lost sight of me, and we weren't at odds.
Vine Street was mellow like late summer and cats counted their loot, leaning to the side to shield us from the sight of someone else's money.
I ambled into Tucker's. The boxer at the counter stole my nut. "It's her birthday," he said to the room. He never said how he knew.
David DJ'd a mix tape from the mid-1980s, and I ordered to the blue-eyed popcorn Soul of Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love." (Whatcha gonna do when you get outta jail? I'm gonna have some fun.) None of it mattered once Lee brought the steak, eggs, grits, toast and lemonade.
I matched music trivia with Rick while The Cure's "Close to You" played me back to the University of Colorado circa 1985. David sent me off with carrot cake.
At Findlay Market people recognized me from my Hot Seat schtick. I felt black by popular demand when the short white lady told me she rarely agreed with me but liked the way I express myself. How nice for her.
At my car a derelict and dirty black woman with a beard asked for seven or eight dollars. I derided her for passing on to me the inflation of homelessness, crack addiction and mental illness. Remember when a buck panhandled your guilt? I gave her $1 and told her to be careful.
I sailed home to sort clothes. The laundry swishing, I camped out next door at Simone's. Atif and I solved the world's problems slouched in the employee booth. I begged for a kite from AmeriStop and, while I folded pajamas, received a fistful of kites wrapped in the plastic sleeves of my girlhood. We kidnapped the African man doing his laundry and flew kites in the parking lot.
Back home, my cell phone chirped and it was my brother, Kenny, recuperating from a bicycle accident. He said he's fine but sounded tired, small and scared. He wished my birthday happy. My brain percolated toward night.
April, Nicole, Nikki and Courtney showed up, delivering a church-basement-grandmamma-good 7-Up pound cake commissioned from my Aunt Janice. The quartet of black women who live at 106 & Park in a Real World reality coerced me into Thai food.
I broke camp for The Greenwich and the Ra Session, where Eric Steins split my wig with vowel movements borrowed from Gil-Scott and Baraka. Then i.e. croaked the "Happy Birthday Song" and Dani from Camp Dennyson battled flaming B-52 shots that made her dance down demons and that blazed down my throat and settled sunrises behind my breasts.
Nas made us look on the way to Lava, where sweaty white men thanked me fallettinmebemicelfagin and the DJ eulogized Nina Simone in a sorcerer's remix of "See-Line Woman."
A filmstrip of Napoleon woke me Sunday and I told him so in an electronic Valentine. "You don't even have to call back," I say.
Welcome to the colored section. Tears well up my throat. All the commitment, promise, shame, power and beauty of my 38-year-old ass floods my dining room like shafts of black sunshine and I cry over spilled ilk of this dichotomy — abundant blessings and anorexic praise.
Everything is OK, and strangely that's not OK. And it goes on like this.
Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.