V7N5: July 2001
Volume 7 Number 5
Table of Contents
AMOA and MexicArte Museum by Sean Denmark. 1
The captions of the exhibition emphasize the isolation and otherness of the East LA community Iturbide recorded in the '80s and early '90s. Gang members make complicated hand signals that we cannot understand.
Cliché Zone – Free by Terry Roberts
A Line Describing... by Jodie Keeling. 3
There are no chairs to recline in, nor screen to gaze upward at. The film begins then with everyone standing around the room at comfortable distances from each other, as strangers do. And it's clear from this point that this film is going to demand a different kind of attention.
Master of the Game by Ursula Whitworth. 4
With only two days left to shoot, the crew is intensely concentrating as they film a man dressed in prison garb who is wiping blood off the cabin floor over and over again.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer. 5
Do we accept the musical status quo? If we rebel, how do we do it?
I stand at the podium and read my work. I hate poetry.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 8
For me, being a Texas Black man, I guess I -- and other Texas Black Folks -- are double-free, double-lucky. We got Juneteenth and the 4th of July.
What Are You? by Justin Davis. 11
AMOA and MexicArte Museum by Sean Denmark
Austin Museum of Art
823 South Congress
Salomón Huerta, Paintings;
Images of the Spirit: Graciela Iturbide.
Through July 8
419 South Congress
Santo Niño de Atocha:
Faith, Art, & Culture.
Through July 7
Some of the difficulties presenting foreign cultures as art are brought out by two exhibitions at the Austin Museum of Art, photographs by Graciela Iturbide and paintings by Salomón Huerta. Iturbide, born in Mexico City, began photographing in a small town in Oaxaca in 1979. She has continued to record mainly rural communities.
A theme in these photographs is the hidden face. Masks, especially of skulls, frequent her works; hands and screens obscure features. Some men, I surmised, are shown cross-dressed. The Native American in the 1979 "Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman)" is one of many subjects with their backs turned to Iturbide's camera. With her strange shape and hidden visage, the "Angel Woman" seems to me a mythic figure, about to launch off the cliff. The titles of other photos, like "Guardián de los caminos (Keeper of the Roads)," 1995, explicitly add a mythic dimension to their images. Many backs are those of departing figures; feet are also shown to suggest departure.
A series of girls are decorated as angels; in "Ángeles cementerio (Cemetery Angels)," 1992, a man carries a plywood angel, which in turn hides him. Costume and religious trappings hide at least as much as they transfigure or mythologize in Iturbide's works. "La frontera (The Border)," 1990, displays a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on a man's back. Through his hiding, anonymity, and departure, religion arises: he recedes, the virgin emerges. The back signifies departure, but departure and anonymity are somehow connected to religion for Iturbide.
The captions of the exhibition emphasize the isolation and otherness of the East LA community Iturbide recorded in the '80s and early '90s; they describe the photographed children of Mexican immigrants to LA as belonging to neither American nor Mexican culture. Gang members make complicated hand signals that we cannot understand. If these people were not "other" to Iturbide when she took the photos, they are by the point I view them in this exhibition.
As Iturbide travels to indigenous populations of her own land, humanizing and exotifying tendencies come into conflict in her portraits. Pieces of complex and fascinating roles and personalities are captured. Hiding is resistance on the part of the members of these rural cultures to being possessed as exotic commodities, but the camera is also hiding its subjects behind the trappings of their culture. These photos are of the highest aesthetic quality, but I don't know how to navigate between my preconceptions, Iturbide's compositions, and the presentation of these subjects as culturally distinct.
Salomón Huerta's subject is modern urban and suburban America. In a series of portraits of young men, and some women, with close-cropped hair, the subjects' backs are turned to the viewer. Ethnicity and gender are submerged in these works; closer scrutiny reveals surprising, meticulous details in a process which creates monotonous results. These youths neither hide themselves nor take on mythic or religious traits. For Huerta, the back is a symbol of American anonymity. Heurta portrays his hometown LA's diverse populace as homogenous, while Iturbide sometimes exotifies Mexican peoples; surely larger cultural principles are at work in the two artists' divergent perspectives.
A few blocks down South Congress from the Museum of Art, the MexicArte Museum is presenting altar pieces and ex-votos of the Santo Niño de Atocha. A collection of mostly 19th-century Mexican altar pieces of the child saint are varied and beautiful. The many 20th-century ex-votos are what overwhelm; the testaments to the Santo Niño's intervention include short descriptions of the miracles performed and folk illustrations. Their piety jostles with their new presentation as works of art (or anthropology?). A large altar has also been set up; its purpose eludes me. Is it sincerely religious, a museum replication, or merely empty presentation, like a required school diorama project? The intention of the removal of these works from Atocha, their sacred environment, is to present them in a different light, but whether aesthetic or anthropological seems vague. For me, the effect is reminiscent if seeing Iturbide's photos hanging on the walls of an Austin museum. Both museums' exhibitions are beautiful. The Iturbide photographs embody and humanize their subjects, yet exotify them. The ex-votos of the Santo Niño are removed from their Catholic context towards what end I, at least, was unsure of.
Cliché Zone – Free by Terry Roberts
Come, Come with me
Come with me to the Cliché free zone
cuz all that cliches do is create clay feet that freeze one
Let the I-C-E! Melt U -- woe man!
let it drip, from the heat
from the heat, let it drip
let it take all you got caught up in that
freezer box of da mined -- of a mind that is damned --
of a dying mind let it melt!
Leave the cliché zone,
Leave the she say zone,
Leaf through the androgynous zone,
Branch out past the drone-on-zone,
Root out othe rot of the another groggy U think
you're a genius zone
Come beyond -- the erogenous -- the error of genius,
the guise of Eros, just flow, let the drips be da beat,
as the ice meilts from the ovrhangs of the eaves of
your mind, flow --
Just leave the glue of what U say U knew zone,
let it all unravel,
let it reel,
let it all be the red bell, that all arms you when you
to the clay say zone!
A Line Describing... by Jodie Keeling
For the most part, when I enter a movie theatre I'm certain most of my expectations will be fulfilled. History has repeatedly shown me: I can expect to sit, face forward in a half comfortable chair, the lights will go dim, the projector will switch on, and a beam of light will shine through some dead celluloid matter to send forth a cast of characters that converge to tell a story on the screen in front of me. Light+ Celluloid= Life. It's a tiny miracle and I come expecting to leave the narrative of my own life behind for ninety minutes, to journey into the illusion of another. Hopefully to leave afterwards feeling the affect.
Anthony McCall's Line Describing A Cone (1973) simultaneously upsets and exceeds any movie-goer's ordinary expectations. I knew right away it was not going to be like any film I had seen before. The viewer is placed in the most unusual cinematic scenario. There are no chairs to recline in, nor screen to gaze upward at. There is just a projector on the floor and a smoke machine in the corner of an otherwise empty warehouse room. The film begins then with everyone standing around the room at comfortable distances from each other, as strangers do. And it's clear from this point that this film is going to demand a different kind of attention.
Lights go down, the projector whirrs, and for a moment nothing happens. The room remains pitch dark until a distinct 40 foot solid beam of light makes its way from the projector to the opposite wall where it forms a single pinpoint of light. ("Let there be light!") We gather around it along either side. Then someone touches it, and a long shadow casts through the empty space, blacking out portions of the pinpoint of light now becoming a line on the opposite wall. Ohh... Suddenly the attention of everyone in the room is focused. The beam expands in its arc circumscribing the bottom quarter of a white circle in the blackness of the wall. A horizontal cone is gradually forming across the room, narrowed to a tip near the projector, broadened at its base on the wall opposite. The audience's fascination is growing. You could hear a pin drop. Hands and arms passing through. Everything but the beam is completely shrouded in darkness so if you look along the length of the beamof light towards either end, hands, arms, heads and other body parts apparently attached to nothing, appear and disappear inside of an illuminated cone floating in dark space.
People shift up and down along the length of the sides of the forming cone. Standing near the projector, at the tip, looking down toward the base, I notice the circle being etched into the far wall. Everything within the circumference is illuminated as if it were in a spotlight. Everything outside remains invisible. At the far end, people pass through the cone from one dark side to the other, visible for a moment and then, poof. Gone. There. Gone. There. Gone. Standing at the base, looking towards the tip, the diameter of the circle gets smaller. Only parts of bodies visible now. Hands. Arms. Heads. Faces. Chests. There. Gone. Everyone is whispering. Whispers. Giggles. Laughs. "Wow." I want to hold, to taste the light, chew it up and swallow. People are on the floor crawling under and around the beam. Strangers lying down by strangers on the floor, engaged, absorbed in play with light and shadow. Some walk the length inside, others marvel from the periphery, hesitant to break the tunnel's flow. Some play, others watch- actors and observers. We all take turns. And the line eventually carves a complete circle on the wall, describing the full circumference of a cone through space. The completed form holds. In awe, we all stand back and watch superficially scratched film send constellating, random flares of light darting around the galaxy of the room, like a universe expanding until the room goes black.
Ah. Definitely unlike any film I've ever seen. Traditional film pulls the viewer OUT of the theatre through the window of the silver screen. The escape and engage happens somewhere "out there" at the level where our thoughts and emotions identify with the characters, but are not directly linked to the narrative story. Narrative is compelling because it is safe. You get to experience a fantastic journey with very little risk. Line Describing a Cone engages its viewer through spectacular wonder, at a direct, physical and experiential level. The subtlety of its simple geometry and formal qualities pull you INTO relationship with the space and the people around, bringing you into the present, while illuminating mysteries of the human drama where images and words usually fall short. But the end itself, a line described cone floating in space, is really a large amplified projector's beam- the source, from which a new narrative can begin.
Master of the Game by Ursula Whitworth
I walk up to the old abandoned airport hangar. I enter from light to dark into an intense quiet. The air is thick with it and I wonder if I exhale it will be too loud. Cedar permeates the air. A log cabin has been build in the middle of the hangar and stands in stark contrast to the metal surrounding the set of Master of the Game. With only two days left to shoot, the crew is intensely concentrating as they film a man dressed in prison garb who is wiping blood off the cabin floor over and over again. His line consists of three words. He says them again and again with intensity while the crew waits and works in silence barely daring to breathe. At last the sound, the camera, and the actor come together in harmony and the shot is complete. Everybody breathes.
Producer Dirk Higcon is sitting before me, and, although he chooses his words carefully, I have the immediate impression that this is not something that comes naturally to him. He is laid back and, I am certain, more likely to speak his mind than not. In an industry where egos are the norm and artistic temperament dines parasitically on most creative projects, Dirk Higdon is a breath of fresh air. Raised in Jeffersonville, Indiana, Higdon began his career as an assistant working on such films as Mississippi Burning and Full Metal Jacket. However, his real break came first on a low budget feature called The Real Queen of Hearts Ain't Even Pretty. Soon after, he was hired as a production manager for Night Vision starring Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who was also seen in Robert Altman's MASH. Later he was hired by John Scofield, who produced Enemy at the Gates, Jerry Maguire, and many other films. Higdon's recent films include Lone Star State of Mind and The New Guy which will debut this summer, followed by Master of the Game, Higdon's current project.
Master of the Game takes place in Nazi Germany. From a psychological standpoint, it explores the relationship between four German officers and a Jew. The film's screenwriter Hygar Actan says, "It is not enough to detail the atrocities that took place during this time. What I wanted is to explore and what the film portrays is the motivation behind the atrocities." Master of the Game seeks to touch on issues that few in the film industry have been able to effectively portray, and if successful it will open up new doors of understanding into the minds of those that lived the tragedy. Good luck guys! We'll be waiting.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
Back in the days of campus activism I remember one grassroots polemicist forcefully making the point that there is no such thing as an apolitical person. Everyone is organized to a political viewpoint, whether consciously or unconsciously. Your likes and dislikes have been instilled in you since birth by complex and ongoing influences.
If we accept this idea, then any discussion of freedom must do away with the notion of a tabula rasa when it comes to people's capabilities and limitations. No man is an island, every choice you make is conditioned by many factors, most of them social. The monolithic advertising industry knows this and spends a huge budget figuring out ways to get into your subconscious so they can make you twitch in the desired manner. The science of mind control may be unwieldy and inexact, but a basic tenet is that repeated information will be absorbed into the mind at some level. Also, the human organism finds it difficult to ignore an irritant. A loud voice yelling at you from your television about some worthless commodity may be highly irritating, but you will remember the brand name of that commodity. And if the name is repeated enough times, on your next foray to the supermarket you may be unconsciously drawn to that particular worthless commodity.
The formula carries over well into the sphere of popular music. We all know the basic rules of pop song construction: simple melodies, simple lyrics, easily identifiable melodic hooks that can be repeated until they are drilled into the brain of the listener. For many people who have been organized since birth to accept pop music as soothing and entertaining, this repetition formula is welcome since these folks actually like the music they are inundated with from radio, TV,and record stores. For other people who may not specifically like the musical crap they are being force fed, the irritant formula can be almost as effective. You hear the saccharin melodies, they irritate you, but with repetition they become familiar, until you accept them as normal, mainstream music. You may not particularly want to consume the sonic junkfood, but soon you are accustomed to it, and it becomes the background music of daily life. You have been politically organized to accept and participate in pop music culture.
What about the rest of us? Do we accept the musical status quo? If we rebel, how do we do it? Personal rebellion may include the headphones and walkman, so that you shut out the sonic mainstream. This represents one kind of personal freedom, but an extra-terrestrial looking down on our planet might be bemused to see armies of individuals alone in their collectivity via their headphones. It might look as much like dissociation as freedom. It might look like we have given up on affecting our sonic environment and retreated to our hermit caves of personal music machines. This is not in itself a bad thing but it sacrifices the social interaction of music in the service of personal freedom.
Another form of rebellion is the time-honored ritual of youth music, music designed specifically to be different from your parents' music, and hopefully highly unpleasant to the parentals. Rock & roll, punk, metal, rap: all share these qualities, and thus represent the struggle by youth for freedom of self-expression. The problem is that these musics are not free from commodification and from coopting no matter how loud and dissonant the sounds, no matter how violent and pornographic the lyrics. The songs of today's rebels will be TV jingles for the next generation. So rebelling against the sonic mainstream is an elusive and illusive prospect.
What other options are there in the struggle for sonic freedom in a world of execrable pop music? Many musicians and audiences find refuge in the ironic stance. You can't escape pop music, you can't ignore it. You can only position and redefine it. This general principle can take many forms: an avant garde jazz band covering Ricky Martin; conversely, a lounge cover version of the Sex Pistols; samples and remixes of various pop schlock to create musical commentary. This is a ripe field of endeavor. Commenting and critiquing on pop music culture, whether through your instrument or by sampling recordings, reflects a contemporary attitude that doesn't dissociate itself from mainstream culture, but asserts its power to respond to it. This may be the strongest expression of musical freedom of which we are capable right now.
Podium by stant
I sit and tap out words. I listen to All Things Considered over the Internet. The broadcast comes from Santa Monica. I listen to the traffic updates and pretend I am in California. I have the windows open today. It's warm. Except for the thin dry air, it even feels like California.
I get an email. It's a submission for the web site. I try to read all the way through it, but it's difficult. Words on paper. I don't know if it's good. I only know if it's painful. I wade through the piece again. I get distracted. An itch on my knee. The ash on my cigarette. I hate poetry. I have no right editing a poetry web site. I read the email anyway.
I shouldn't outta do it, but I'm frustrated and in need of diversion, so I read the bio. The poet is about this old. Lives about here or there. The poet has a homepage. DON'T CLICK ON THE LINK! I click on the link. It takes about two and a half weeks to load. I wait. In a world of fire engines, LoDo cop crashes, and surly upstairs neighbors tanned by the flashing strobe lights of Colfax piercing boutiques, I have to open this homepage and peek in like I was passing a car crash looking for a severed head. I am out of control. Now I'm looking at the nights of Christmas because this asshole has all sorts of shimmery twirly things. My mouse hand starts to twitch and I feel pressure on my bowels. His web page looks like the New Age meets a fucking Goth nightmare.
He's got arrows, and torches, and vines growing up the side of the page. It looks sort of like the botanical gardens grafted on to a 42nd St. cityscape without the hookers. As the page loads, I watch my toenails grow cause the master jpeg of them all is loading. It is a photo of the bearded offender loading. Loading right there in my house. Right there on my desk. He's looking really sharp, wearing one of those blazers with the leather patches on his elbows. He's looking there. OUT THERE! BEYOND! Some place that you or I will never know and never go. To me he looks like a therapist or a shrink. Hell, he don't look like he's ever even thrown up! He's looking out, off into the pretentious distance.
I read on and find out that he's an MFA from Pompous U. In his latest literary coup he was selected and printed and lauded in none other than the September Issue of The Gentle Asswipe Review. Not his work. Him. He's been accepted. His persona. His aura. Him.
And I know, I really really know that I'm gonna reject this asshole's work. because it won't have any balls. It won't have any heart. It won't have any depth. It will be the culmination of seven years of higher education where some other pretentious asshole taught him to write like a buncha other pretentious assholes. Probably taught him how to dress too. If he had gone to UVA I bet he would dress like Tom Wolfe... NO. I am going to reject his work. I'll do better than that. I'm gonna reject Him. And I'm gonna pay. Cause he'll keep writing and writing and writing, sending me reams of electronic shit, till I can't stand it and I'll finally ask him to leave me alone.
Eventually he'll say the equivalent of, "Don't you know who I am?"
And I'll say, "Yeah. Why do you think I'm rejecting you?"
Poets. Ain't gettin' paid. Ain't gettin' laid.
I stand at the podium and read my work. I hate poetry. Hell. I hate poets. Poets ain't got a leg to stand on. Ain't got a pot to piss in. Poets crush words. We call it art then wonder why we're so misunderstood. With 112 readers on the list, poets walk up and read everything they've written since they was fifteen years old. A poet stands up and gives a five minute explanation to a one minute poem. Usually it's because he hasn't written the damn thing well enough for anyone to understand it, but sometimes it's to show us that he's a learned individual. We can marvel at the fact that he has read so much and fucked so little.
"Umm, the title of this poem is taken from a third century B.C. Greek philosopher Hemroiditous. There is also a reference to a little known figure in Greek mythology Epicacous who is known in some small intellectual circles as the Purger."
And when he gets done with that, we'll get to marvel at more of his brilliance cause the poets creed is, "just one more." In the middle of a disinterested audience and impolite applause, the poet, completely disconnected from the audience has to read just-one-more. The poet has been going to this reading for the last twelve years and has to read just one more! Never one more. Always just one more! Just one more like he's gonna leave here and get hit by a bus. JUST ONE MORE! Just one more about I am so misunderstood. I am so manly. I am so girly. I am so down. I am a junkie. Fuck me.
I'm gonna cut out the middle man. Right here, right fucking now. Wanna know what this shit's about? "LOOK AT ME, DADDY! LOOK AT MEEEE!" Try it sometime. Be honest! Stand up in front of this podium, jump up and down and scream it out. "LOOK AT ME, DADDY! LOOK AT MEEEE!" and sit back down. Cut the crap about art and feelings. If I hear one more piece about feelings I'm gonna puke polar bear shit outta my nose. If I hear about your molestation one more time I gonna scream. This ain't therapy motherfucker. If I hear one more poet get up and describe female genitalia in explicit detail, I'm never gonna fuck again. Ever! In fact, I'm gonna take showers with a fig leaf on for the rest of my life. If I hear one more poet stand up with a book of 14th century Gaelic love poems, I'm gonna stick ice picks in my ears and laugh uncontrollably. What's wrong with reading your own work? Even if it sucks, it's yours. This goes for reading Latin love verse, too. If they knew so damn much about fucking, how come they so extinct?
I've been listening to this shit since I was eight years old. That's right. Eight. In 1966 I was going to coffeehouses and listening to beatniks read shit that is even more insipid than what I've heard in New York, LA, or even our fair Denver. And they did snap their stupid fingers instead of clapping. And they did think they were down. And when I was eight, it was really something.
I am not eight anymore.
When I was a child I spake as a child. This page is a sponge filled with blood and doves, and it takes balls to squeeze a moment out of this mess of nouns and vowels. It takes balls to throw a passage on the floor because it doesn't fit it my piece, although it may be the best thing I've written in ages. It takes balls to get honest. The thing about writing is sometimes I manage to rise above myself. I manage to do something that is above my abilities, and outside my self-involved bullshit.
So I sit and tap this piece out. I daydream about California. In front of me is only white. Only white is a question. Only white mocks. Only white is anything I have the balls to make it. It is my father's depression era mentality of "if you work hard you'll get ahead." Almost. If I work hard I'll stay even. I won't drown.
This piece is not honesty. It is what honesty means to me. It is the glory of the coffee house and the sound of three listless people clapping. It is also self-indulgence. Writing about writing is horribly self-indulgent.
So, in the spirit of self-righteousness, I say my piece, feel the breeze through the window and pretend I am back in California.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
Happy Independence Day. Both of them.
How free, how independent, just how emancipated are you? For me, being a Texas Black man, I guess I -- and other Texas Black Folks -- are double-free, double-lucky. We got Juneteenth and the 4th of July.
It has just been in the last few years that the whole Juneteenth thing has made it into the mainstream. Who would have ever thought that state agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and others would be granting this day as an official holiday or providing the option for employees to take the day as a personal, paid day off from work. Originally the Juneteenth notion was just a Texas thing for Black folks. Now it's all over the place, Black Texans throughout the nation are throwing 'Teenth parties in all parts of the US. And for some reason, the State of Texas is embracing the practice and laying claim to starting a national cultural tradition. This whole thing is quite cool, if not ironic.
Now, I'm not really an old guy, but I remember when I was a kid growing up in Emory , Texas there was not wide-spread agreement on what to do with or about The 'Teenth. Just because you were part of a Black family, it didn't necessarily mean that you threw a big party every year at Juneteenth. And, especially so in the 1960s and '70s, white folks in Emory, Texas had no idea what Juneteenth was. The ones who did, for the most part I'd say, had absolutely no interest in coming out to Sand Flat (that's what my neighborhood was is called) to join in the celebration of African American Freedom. Some would, however, come out for the baseball game or to buy some of Uncle Boot's barbecue ("...You people sure can play some baseball. And, I swear, can't no colored man smoke pork like Boots. Damn, that boy can cook. I don't care what you people are celebrating, gotta have some of Boot's firemeat.")
Like I said, I'm not really an old guy, but the truth is, when I was a kid in Emory, Texas most of us didn't celebrate Juneteenth. We, the then recent recipients of the Voting Rights Acts, Civil Rights Acts, and various Kennedy/Johnson Era desegregation measures didn't need to celebrate The 'Teenth. My parents, relatives, and friends were citizens of the Great Society. And in the Great Society, even in backwoods Northeast Texas, "evolved Negroes" didn't need to go back to the Bad Old Days of Being Colored. We was newly Black Americans -- "Get them chitlins and headrags, and red soda water and moon pies, and Juneteenth baseball games away from us." We didn't any longer need a segregated emancipation party. Mr. Charlie was now gonna let us march in the 4th of July Parade. In backwoods Northeast Texas in the 60s and 70s, contemporary political correctness meant that many "smart" Black folks stopped celebrating Juneteenth.
The thing is, by and large, the poorest, country-est, Colored-est Negroes went right on with their Juneteenth barbecues and baseball games. The newly Black Negroes, however, pretty much stopped their parties, looked down their noses at 'Teenth celebrations, and told stories of how in grandpa and grandma's day -- the Bad Old Days of Being Colored-everybody had such a good time on Juneteenth because Colored folks were not really welcome at 4th of July Celebrations (or anywhere else in town). Segregation required that these independence day celebrations be looked at as "separate but equal." Unfortunately, the thing that the '60s version of New Negroes didn't see, didn't appreciate, was that they were really, often times, selling their Colored cousins short. They didn't get (and yes, I think my parents were among these) that, perhaps, the Juneteenth celebrations were also ways for Black folks to demonstrate that the promise of the Declaration of Independence , The Bill of Rights, and much of the Constitution really was not reaching African America. Perhaps they didn't spend enough time asking that question: Just How Free Are You?
So, for me, my early youth didn't include actual celebration of Juneteenth as much as it was a time for my elders to tell stories about how they used to celebrate the Teenth.
Just how free were we in Emory when I was a kid, in the 60s? Not very.
I am but a mere 40-something guy, but I have vivid memories of visiting my Aunt Dee in the kitchen of the Delux Cafe on the square in Emory. Since I was just a little guy, I thought it was cool to have the run of the kitchen with my favorite aunt. Dee was the kinda woman who ran the situations she was involved in. She was about as wide as she was tall, loved to cook and eat, and didn't take any shit from anyone. She was a great talker and story teller and gossip. Everyone just loved Dee. Some feared her. Make no mistake, to me, she owned that kitchen and the Delux. My six year old self felt honored and special to be allowed in the back door of the Delux to hang out and eat with Dee. I ate all and whatever I wanted. Paid no money. And got to just dump my leftovers in the slop bucket (which Uncle Fannon, Dee's husband, would retrieve each day and dispatch to his hog farm). Dump what I didn't want to eat, and ask Aunt Dee for my next course. Was that cool, or what?
See, I was my Aunt Dee's favorite nephew. She and Uncle Fannon lived next door to us. Dee was my dad's baby sister. Her youngest son Leslie, was my protector and best friend. So when ever Leslie and I got to go hang out in the back of the Delux, I always had a great time. And regardless of how it was in the rest of beautiful downtown Emory, in the back door of the Delux, me and Leslie were the kid-kings. No whiteboy better not come back there and try to throw his weight around. Aunt Dee would set'um straight and run them right out of there. So what if the table off of which we ate was two feet away from a huge, open container of slop for Uncle Fannon's hogs.
Did it smell?
Did the waitresses (and owners) come through an make jokes about Dee's "little pic-a-ninny ?"
Did all of the other Black folks who ate at the Delux have to come through the back door and eat at that table next to that stinkin slop can?
Yes. And they paid the same price as the white folks sitting out front with table service. We ate better than they did, though. And you can bet the owner didn't dare cross Dee about it. They knew better.
Dee would walk in a minute if she was abused, more than the inherent abuse that came with her jobs. She was legend as a cook. Dee was not a chef, she was a cook. Everybody she worked for, and there were tens of cafe kitchens and white folks' houses where she worked, knew not to push her too far. She had this countrified colored dignity that was unshakable. She'd work in your kitchen, take care of your kids, clean your house, and give advice on how to handle a sapsucker of a husband. She was fair and respectful, if respect was earned. One of her sayings was " you don't shit where you eat." She lived by that. But, she didn't take no shit -- especially from white folks.
As I got older, I finally began to understand what was going on. It was not an honor to eat in the back of the Delux with Dee. Not the DeLux, or City Cafe, or Bell's Cafe. Dee and Fannon had a family to support. Kids to send to college. Hogs to slaughter for cash. Trash to dump, metal to scavenge through for resale. Houses to clean for a living. Yards to mow so the kids could help make the bills. This was not fun and games for anyone. This was life in America in my lifetime. Your lifetime.
Dee was a pistol to deal with. A big fat lovable woman who would gossip about you, but feed you when you were hungry, without fail, no matter who your daddy was, no matter what color your hair was. Dee would tell you squarely to go right directly to hell, and then send her boys over to help when there was a crisis at home. No matter who your daddy was. And, funny thing, many of the white kids that Dee took care of, had more respect for her than they did for their parents. Dee was the quintessential strong, no nonsense mother figure. Fannon, for some folks, was a Tom. He picked up white folks trash. He smiled all the time and always said yes ma'am and no ma'am to white girls half his age. But he owned land, and took care of his family. They were never hungry. Dee and Fannon did what they had to do to make a living in Emory, Texas.
I finally understood why Mr. Nix always got upset when we went to the soda fountain and I sat down at the same tables that white folks sat at. I don't think he ever actually asked me, being the cute little pic-a-ninny I must have been, to get up. But I remember him talking to my sister about it. Asking, didn't they teach me better than that?
"He's a cute little darkie, but ya'll need to teach him better. We can't have him sitting at the table while he drinks his malt. Ya'll, you know better, have to stand up or take your drinks to go."
The thing is, at that point, even as a cute little pica-ninny, I did get it. From that time on, every time I went into the drug store with my brothers or sister, I sat down at the "for whites only tables." Yeah, I could read the sign. But I dared Booker Nix to ask me to get up. Yeah, I continued to have to go in the back door of the Delux (or whatever place it was that Aunt Dee was working). But I understood why Dee stuffed me with more food than I could possibly eat and made sure I always took some home. And I understood why my folks would not go or allow us to go into the back door of any cafe in Emory unless we knew the folks who were in the kitchen cooking the food. You support family and friends. But you do so, eyes wide open.
I chose to talk about Dee and Fannon here because their eyes were indeed wide open. Many of the folks they worked for had no idea how subversive they were in their menial jobs. Many of the folks in the community had no idea just how significantly they were "getting over," given the cards they were dealt. Like Dee always said, "You don't shit where you eat. But you sure as hell-as long as you're Black -- take no shit from nobody. I don't care who their daddy is."
Oh yeah. Dee and Fannon were among those who did celebrate Juneteenth, even after they stopped being Colored.
Verities by Anonymous
What if, tomorrow, after your coffee,
after your Wheaties, while you're buttoning your clothes-
a dove descends and inspects your chimney?
(What if it doesn't?)
Expect nothing. Suppose.
What if, while putting your room in order,
after you've stashed every thing where it goes-
you see that your mirror's haloed in foxfire?
(What if it doesn't?)
Expect nothing. Suppose.
What if, during your smoke on the park bench,
after your cogitations, before your doze-
who should kiss you but a leftover virgin?
(What if she doesn't?)
Expect nothing. Suppose.
What if, suddenly, deep in a bookstore,
a ghost voice comes leap-frogging over the rows-
the voice says, "I love you." It's your father's.
(What if it isn't?)
Expect nothing. Suppose.
What if, one evening, watering your bean patch,
kite-caught, you quicken: you know what God knows-
the salt of your tears withers the sproutlings-
What if it doesn't?
Suppose. Suppose. Suppose.
What Are You? by Justin Davis
In a town far away from here, tucked up in an isolated valley of a forgotten corner of reality, lived a wizard. He was a real wizard, not a magician, not a master of illusions, but a master of reality and the strings behind it. He understood life and the great subconscious (God, Allah, Whatever) and that everything was, is, or will be connected. He was free from the binds of society: work, marriage, expectations of humanity, because he knew they did not matter. He knew that he was there for a purpose and that purpose did not have anything to do with enslavement of any way, shape, or form. His purpose was to fit into the grand picture. Not to lead by taking control of people, but by example. If people were wise enough to notice the natural flow of the wizard's life and to heed his gentle warnings they too could be free.
The wizard took to supporting the town which grew up slowly but surely around his homestead. He created the connections to farms and suppliers of goods which were impossible to come by otherwise. He taught people how to cook, how to hunt, how to listen to one's body. The people took to the wizard's wisdom en masse and became a very wise people. There was a gentle ebb and flow, like the tides, of knowledge, response, and learning between the wizard and the town folk. They respected him for his caring nature, his constant presence, and his wisdom. He respected them for their humbleness, their devotion, and their strength.
Gradually the townsfolk grew older. Some moved away, some died, some became senile. There came a new generation of town folk, younger, more dynamic, and stronger. They saw the success of the past and wanted to expand upon it. They wanted more food faster, more goods faster, more of everything. They wanted to expand the town and upset the balance the previous generation had worked so hard to achieve. They wanted to sacrifice their freedom for a set of beliefs they came up with to impress each other. They wanted to enslave themselves. The wizard did not support this departure from the wisdom of the past. He did not support these distractions from the responsibility to future generations. But the wizard was not a violent or disrespectful man. He was not one to interfere with one's right to do as one pleases. He did not want to take control of this unwise new generation. He wanted to continue to lead by example and perhaps a few would follow. Perhaps this was part of the natural ebb and flow of the life of the town. But it sure was a large ebb.
The ebb continued and people grew tired of the wizard's presence throughout town. They grew tired of his hand in the suppliers, tired of his help in healing, tired of his support of the old ways. He stood in the way of progress. He would step aside or be pushed! And so one day the wizard was captured and slowly tortured to death, he died a cruel, unusual death. He was missed by the few, the wise. And so the supplies and food stopped coming. The people gradually forgot how to cook, how to hunt, and how to listen to one's body. They lost contact with the very thing that kept them alive, the strings were broken. They never knew what hit them for they were ignorant of the wisdom of the past. Ignorance can be bliss, however temporary. The people of the town died slowly and unusually. The world gradually forgot them. The wizard didn't. He still cared for them deeply and wanted to provide knowledge and love for them.
When he died he didn't leave this world. The earth, trees, and sky absorbed him, and one day he was born again. He continued where he had left off, continuing to grow, change, and lead by example despite the binds of those around him. Many people, upon hearing of the wizards lifetime of happiness, asked him what his secret was. "No secret," he said. "Just listen to the voice of the great subconscious and it repeats the same thing over and over: Once you become free you are eternally so. And so I ask: What are you?"