A bit of a rant.
for those who have tried to take them from me
I feel these blues deep and hard. Always on time, never to waiver. The meanness of these rain-slicked streets, mad broiling. I cannot refuse. My life is thick as molasses and transparent as blood.
I suffered long for betrayal, the arrogance which kept me away for so many years. I had words but so what? The streets don’t give, they are not impressed, they care not for noble.
It’s taken me awhile to claim them again. But this IS my city. That garbage on the curb belongs to me. The piss in the elevators and all that blackened gum on the sidewalks is mine. At the wave of my hand, those rats in the hallway, on train tracks, and inside every shadow multiply – because I say so. I’ve been privy to the conversations of nefarious transit workers constantly come up with labyrinthine ways to fuck with your commutes. And I broke all those payphones because I couldn’t stand that broad’s voice interrupting my conversations with her incessant demands for money in that smart-assed, detached way of hers. Understand? No, you wouldn’t. You couldn’t, these blues like a muh fucka.
Rob knew these blues and reached out to me under the impression I had for him some yellows and greens. But my own blues had me reaching out for Jessica’s. Rob couldn't handle all that weight on his own and so he died, leaving them for me. Motherfucker.
Tupac knew but didn't understand these blues and Kurt’s were not mine.
Dese blues. Not those fancy ones of Broadway, but these fierce ones of Spanish Harlem, Da South Bronx and Queensbridge. These blues of A, B, C, D and every other letter of the alphabet, each standing for the first initial of a woman long gone but still with me. These lonely only-child blues. These fatherless blues. These no money-havin-ass blues. These gentrification blues. These Alan-Onic blues. These childhood sexual abuse blues. These light-skinned-blue-eyed-intellectual-Latino-from-the-ghetto blues. These NYPRBLUES. These mad sad fools’ blues. These lowdown, filthy blues of war and famine. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
I never knew this city as a playground. I’ve known it only as a towering force that’s broken my heart more times than even I have. A place that has never been kind to me and mine – since us Ricans arrived in the 40s, it has been a constant struggle for breath that hasn’t let up to this day.
Walking Lower East Side to Upper West hands in pockets after Alan-On fellowship, I could hear the sax intro to that Glen Frey song play in my head – except that the city belongs to ME. Invited to go out dancing with the girls, I chose to dance with myself – a midnite stroll through hard-won streets that once held me hostage but are now loosening grip, in deference to my newfound confidence and complexion – all they respect and understand. Yet still in my worst moments I feel their massive grimy weathered calloused hands around my throat. These same streets my mother walked as a child – all these years, all this painful history and neither one of us has moved an inch.
Me, a street soldier without the garb – undercover, a spy for both sides. Me, an archivist, chronicler of time and emotion. I’ve forgotten more than you'll ever know, Bobby D. wrote. I remember these streets when they roared. And they remember me when I did the same. These memories flow like freestyle rhymes:
Two years-old at a house-party in The Bronx and my father teaching me to roll a joint – my quick-learning infant-child mind thinking, Hmm, do-it-yourself cigarettes, and picking up the lesson.
Being on the roof of the WTC as a child, not thinking much of the view and wishing it were greener.
Stopping a rape in progress only to have the victim spit in my face; remember never being shocked after that.
Long nights in my late teens and early twenties spent walking from The Village to Harlem and back.
Never leaving apartment without walkman and box of Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Marvin Gaye cassettes, as well as taped calls I’d made to WBAI in the wee hours – revolutionary cries to set the White House on fire.
Chatting with junkies who shot up as we relieved ourselves, made out, smoked up in the Bond Street alleyway before it got gated. Shooting a short film there once, guy steps in to take a leak and finds a discarded gun, something about young urban male rage; cops interrupting our shoot with pistols raised and my lead actor was nearly arrested. I remember smiling the whole time and getting it all on Hi-8 tape.
Being slipped angel dust in a drink and subsequently having a nervous breakdown on the sticky floor underneath the stairs at Wetlands, me flat on my back, my crew surrounding, look of puzzlement on their faces – their fearless leader, voice of mad reason, showing vulnerability for the first time ever.
Summer of ‘89 – Koch’s last, death of Yusef Hawkins, release of Do the Right Thing, PE’s Fight the Power everywhere, air thick and wet and edgy.
Jessica, best friend back then, one of the first women I loved, the first Libra and the first I called when I found out Rob died – “I don’t know what to say,” said between puffs on her cig, “I’m so sorry”. Was with Rob when I lost my virginity, some place in Jackson Heights he frequented, twenty bucks a pop; it rained that day and I felt emptier than the first time I was molested by a man at six years-old.
Seeing Bad Lieutenant four times at The Angelika – twice alone, once with Jessica, the other I’ve blocked.
Visiting my favourite Hopper painting at MOMA once a week for six months, it reminding me of the historic RKO theatre in Queens, with its art deco interiors and sweeping staircases leading to the big house, in which I spent much of my childhood. Saw my first movie inside that theatre – Saturday Night Fever. I was three and my mother and I stayed for two viewings, leaving just before Bobby C. jumps off the bridge.
Sundays at that and other moviehouses with my alcoholic grandfather who’d sleep, snore, fart during the show and trip home – but he adored me, I know. Remember, as the only other male in the family, feeling I was old enough to be able to protect its women and fighting back at him with words – “You’re gonna be a writer,” he said to me with a vicious grin and for years I denied that was what I was.
2:10 am show of Pulp Fiction night it was released at an all-nite theatre on 42nd and 8th – thugged-out audience and I throwing food, spitting at the screen and afterwards sneaking into Jason’s Lyric, which wasn’t any better but had Jada (my Jada, Tupac's Jada) before she married Will.
The old Times Square, videostores and peep shows wherein I spent much of my eighteenth and nineteenth years, continuing with what those malevolent men had started over ten years prior and further polluting my sexuality.
Leaving during Dinkins’ last days as da mayo (his autographed picture still in my wallet, addressed to “Moneybags Jayce”), streets full of strung-out junkies from Wisconsin and the word Onyx spray-painted on buildings uptown and down.
Seven foggy years spent in Boston, MA, yearning for these streets, the mournful sound of a jazz trumpet always bringing me back to springtime in New York City.
These are my blues. These are my blues like hell you cannot touch.
Here, in this city, is where my restless spirit will linger after I’m gone: on the benches of The Promenade, listening to The Spinners’ Ghetto Child, Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s T.R.O.Y., watching the sun ease behind the skyline.
Dear Streets, if I give you props, if I acknowledge what you’ve taught me and who/what/where/why I am, if I treat you as everyone else does – with reverence or blind adoration – will you leave me be, let me go?
Didn’t think so.
To prevent raising my kids here I will abstain, because these streets are not to be trusted and these buildings fall down – anything man-made is faulty and will eventually crumble; to demand permanence from any of it is arrogance, stupidity, madness.
Do you feel me? CAN you feel me? Are you listening? CAN you listen?
WAKE THA FUCK UP, YOU UNCONSCIOUS MOTHEREFFERS! You are being lied to. Even by me.
Yank Sleepyhead back to the living. Kill that part of you chooses to rationalize the myriad lies thrown at you. Bludgeon her/him with the pure, unblemished, honest Truth. Beat its face with a bat, DeNiro-style. Or clean and simple-like with just one bullet to the forehead. But DO NOT SUBMIT. If not for you, then for your children, for the next generation. Get it together. Check the date, RISE UP, STAND. Because sooner or later, it will affect you, too.
We are the children of the children of Watergate, raised up in the Reagan/Bush era and so it’s no surprise we are hopeless, but please, stick with me here, now, in this very moment. Let that willfulness go. What helped you as a child will kill you as an adult. Look, clear-eyed and sober out the window. The way we're living is wrong. Step out of illusion and into the bright overheads of LA-HYFE. Do not accept anything less than all of it.
You are alive and in your prime. Like The Dramatics said, Get Up and Get Down. Pave the way. Grab those you Love and s e t i t o f f . The time is nigh, sink or swim, do or die, pay or play, shit or get off the pot. DO NOT LEAVE THIS LEGACY. Your sons and daughters are dying.
God is on our side. He recognizes that we are supreme beings. He is a fan. He is not wrathful. Our parents lied because they were lied to. The church lies like a ho in a hip-hop song.
What’s that? What is this about and where is this going? you ask. Focus, you say. I say fuck you, I’ve been listening to your spoiled, arrogant ass yap my whole life, sitting quietly in the sidelines, acquiescing to your decisions and listening to my language being butchered in your schools (it’s pronounced Vlaunko, not Blank-Oh), my history non-existant.
It’s my turn. So sit down, shut the fuck up and pay attention – you might just learn something. Checkit: I am on your side. Your derision, your judgment I do not understand.
I’ve been a victim of transference all my life and my words have been misquoted, taken out of context and used to mock, scorn, condemn me. Why is it so easy for you to believe I am wicked?
I am sick to fuckeeng death of your irony. That smirk. Stand up and Be real. Learn to appreciate a smile as I do. And an embrace.
Yet still I am on your side. Praise be, Hallelujah, I love you like a brother. We come from two different worlds but are one and the same and when I reach out to you, I am reaching out to myself.
I know, I know, I’m pompous, pretentious, arrogant, sanctimonious, among other things (you have no idea). But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. And it doesn’t mean I don’t mean it with all my heart and soul. There, I’m done now; I’ve stepped off the podium.
Except for one more shout-out to my Brothers and Sisters in the shadows. Dear brethren, everything I do is for you. I dedicate this, my earthbound life, to you. And to my children. And to the Good Lord – all one and the same.
I know how this ends. It ends with me sitting on my balcony in Spain, sipping café con leche or more likely, te con limon (no carbs or sugar), reading the front page headline of SE MURIO NUEBA YOL! over and over. I fold the paper, toss it onto the table, put left leg over right, lean back, look out to the sunset and smile, thinking There but for the grace of God go I, before beginning to reminisce again on the way it used to be for me.
Or, standing atop a rock overlooking waterfalls in the rain forest of Somewhere Far Away, gray hair on my head and face long and thick and wet, skin taut and tanned, not looking back at all but feeling the tremors of what will happen here. And thinking, again, There but for the grace of God before jumping --