Thursday, April 10, 2014

I does miss dem bad bad

Quentin, boy, I wish you was there last night so we coulda brace Mr. Walcott and tell him you was Ismond's favorite. Kayrein, girl, I did miss all yuh bad bad last night. I think about Pat and how she did talk about Walcott like she siddong right dere next to the man while he writing. I could still hear she say "Maria Concepcion" in that way she had. St Lucians living in and loving Trinidad.

I wish I coulda tell him about dis Indian chick who thought she was Shabine and she red fren buss out a stupid-ass laugh. I coulda taste the Doshman curry and feel Skinny head on my shoulder telling me how she still hungry even though she pack 2 pot spoonful a rice and peas for she lunch. I did know den I was happy.

But, wha ha' happen was...

Last night (4/9/14), John and I went to see and hear Derek Walcott read his own work at the 92nd Street Y. There was zero information about the program itself so it is only when we got there that we found out who would be introducing him and reading with him. Some Brit poet whose name I cannot remember and never heard of, who say he was a student of Walcott at Boston University in the early 80s, did the introduction. He and Caryl "Caz" Phillips read with Walcott.

I met Caz Phillips in the late 90s, I think. Time plays funny tricks with me these days. It was definitely after 1996, when I graduated, and before "The Mystic Masseur" came out in 2001. Anyhoo, the point is that he was adapting Naipaul's novel for the big screen. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had been first touted to write the screenplay. Merchant-Ivory Productions was behind the flick, and had worked with Jhabvala through 3 Academy Award Nominations and 2 wins, including "Howards End," one my favorite movies.

But, I digress. Back to Bom.

So Ruth (cuz we is pardners now, ent?) felt she couldn't do the screenplay justice and suggested Caz because he from St Kitts and know Trinidad and whatnot. At the time, I was working full time at the Guardian and part-time with the Prof. Prof convinced me to take a day off work to go on what essentially became a lime by car.

By whatever machinations that make these things happen, Caz and Ismail Merchant came to Prof's house and he was to take them on a little road trip so Merchant could scout for locations to shoot the movie. I nearly die dead when I realize it is Ismail Merchant. I nearly die deader when I laid eyes on Caz. How I kept it in my pants was only out of respect for the Prof, who already thought I was a 'ho!

So, the 3 a we jump in the Prof's car and head into Central, where we stop at the worst hole in the wall bar and drink what was possibly the best Shandy of my life. I was having a quasi beer with Ismail Merchant and this incredibly hot man!!! I did not know what to do with myself, I tell you. We spent the day driving all over the place and even went down to La Brea to see the pitch lake, which was the first and onliest time I ever see it. It was breathtaking.

All of this flooded back as soon as read in the program that Caryl Phillips would be introducing Derek Walcott. I wanted to find a way to talk to him, to remind him of one of the best days of my life, an unforgettable experience for a chick like me. I had not actually thought about that day in any kind of serious way since Merchant passed away in May 2005. I was preparing to move to NY, so he didn't get that much play. I did grieve for a man I met, so full of life and film and everything. 

But yesterday, so much more came back. Before law school, the three best years of my life were the ones I spent at UWI. I made great friends and met amazing people and developed a lifelong love for West Indian literature, particularly Naipaul, Sevlon, and Walcott. Even poetry, my nemesis. I wasn't a lover but I took every single poetry class the faculty had on offer to try to kick it. I think it worked. A little. I discovered Mikey Smith, Martin Carter, and practically all of "Voiceprint!"

So this Brit tells some funny stories about being a lazy git and being lured to BU because they "had Derek Walcott." He said he didn't know who that was so he went to the library and got a book and that was the end of that.

He introduced Walcott and my heart broke to see Caz push him out in a wheelchair. That was quite a blow. He is not a l'il fella! He looked so frail and he shook. But, as John pointed out, when he began to read, he was so strong and fierce.

He read "The Schooner Flight," one of my favorites. It tells the story of Shabine, who becomes tired of Trinidad because it is becoming corrupt, so he leaves on a schooner to see if he can recover from his disillusionment. Walcott said that the committed a little "thievery" by fashioning the opening lines of "Flight" from the opening lines of William Langland's medieval poem,"Piers Plowman." 

That little confession took me back to Dr. Patricia Ismond's class at UWI. I think she did the Walcott portion of a class I was taking with Dr. Gordon Rohlehr, on three major West Indian poets. I never forgot that she said that Walcott used the language of the colonial masters, almost mimicking them and abandoning the Creole, to craft his own work about Caribbean struggles. And he take real pong for dat!

But I didn't intend this to be an essay on Walcott's poetry. It's just that seeing him last night brought back so much that I am not sure I have room to feel all of it. He read more of his work, and Caz and the Brit did too. It was funny to hear the Brit say "macauel" and "kaiso." I wanted to run up on the stage and say, "Let me read one, nah man!"

I did really want meh UWI posse to be dere with me. I wanted we to go up to de man and tell him how we know Gordon and Pat and Ken and they helped we to see de place for what it was. Is. Is not like anything change since 1993, or 1973, or 1953. Ah did just want dem to be dere with me. Is 20 years now we leave de people university but it just take reading one man name on a piece a paper to bring it back like we did never leave. Like I is still 20, with legs up to meh throat in the blue short pants. Like Quentin's pelau, and Kayrein's fried chicken, and the curry I does still dream about. And my tiny Indian Shabine, who does love me like I love she.

We discovered something together and I wanted us to see it again, 20 years later, so we could go in a bar and drink some beers and talk about what we used to talk about. I can't re-discover Walcott, or Naipaul, or Carter, but I could re-live when I did, with the people who were right there with me.

I wish dey was dere.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Meeting the Mayor at Gracie Mansion

On December 18, I got an invite to meet the new NYC Mayor an an open house event at Gracie Mansion, where he will reside during his term. A couple of days before that I read about that event and that tickets would be on a first-come, first-serve basis. I never do well with things like that, so although I really wanted to go, I ruled it out immediately. Getting that email was so exciting. It's like the universe new! All I could think of as to why I got it was because I was on his mailing  list as a campaign worker.

To be fair, I did very little. I made some phone calls and talked to some people. What I got out of that was a real sense of the man and his City experience. I do not deny, either, that his family had something to do with it. Even in this day and age, being in a mixed-race family is not easy. I loved that Derek can see it from the White House and in his own back yard.

So I wasn't about to look this gift horse in the mouth. I hoped it would be a networking kind of thing, so I secured 3 tickets, as Derek was supposed to get in without one, for me, John, and my friend Jess. I worked with Jess at the Waterfront Commission and we just hit it off first day. I've always counted myself as lucky when I make a friend at first sight. I've been very fortunate in my female friends and Jess is no exception.

Perhaps I should have taken a fellow NYLS alum (Jess went to Brooklyn Law), but she and I had dinner 2 days before and she reminded me she went to Wellesley College, where Chirlane McCray, aka Mrs. Mayor, also went. Again, it felt like the universe was lining stuff up, so I asked her if she wanted to go with us. She was kinda meh.... JK!!!!!!! She lost her mind! And said yes. She's a big fan of Mrs. Mayor and she works for the City. What could be better!?

Sunday, January 5, dawned, chilly and rainy. We met up for 11am to wait for doors to open at noon. Smartest idea I ever had was to get there early. There were people in front of us and I don't even want to know what time THEY got there. Brrr. But I discovered later that 5,000 people showed up. We were definitely in the first 100. Whew!

The cold and rain wasn't the worst it could have been and for that I am grateful. However, none of us prepared our feet as well as we could have. I have never experienced such toe agony in my life! I was wearing stocking and fairly thick socks, but I wanted to die! Moving my toes around just made it worse, especially my left foot, for some reason.

There was a little ticket drama that got sorted reasonably quickly. We stood out in the cold for about 90 minutes before we got inside the mansion proper. It is a lovely place. I read one person say that it doesn't seem like the kind of place a family can really put their feet up. I have to say from what I saw, I agree. But we only saw a few rooms. We did see the dining room and it was a rather severe place for a close family to really enjoy themselves over a meal. Eight bathrooms sound lovely, but I don't really the de Blasios.

By the time we got to the room just before meeting the Mayor, aides were practically shouting at us to take our coats off for pictures. John had offered to hold all our coats as he wasn't getting his picture taken, but aides seemed to lose their minds when they saw him. It's like no one prepared for someone actually deciding not to pose with the Mayor! It was kinda funny. They had him actually cross in front of de Blasio when the 4 of us were in the picture-taking room. I have no idea why they did not direct him to go behind the photographer and gathered media, which could have been done. If anyone even suggests that there was a guy that was so rude to cross in front of the Mayor I will personally hunt them down and slap them up. He had no choice and he didn't care and he didn't have to. He had even offered to step away from the roped off area, which also would have been fine. Protocol is weird sometimes.

So here's why I think I got to be the media sensation! A few minutes before, de Blasio made a short statement to the press in the room and took the closest guy in the line to stand with him and be interviewed. Said dude was a white architect from Manhattan and had actually visited the mansion before. Not the best use of a photo op!

Brown pride served me well yesterday! I may not have been able to use the event as a networking tool, but I still made an impression! This article has the best summary of what happened with me and Derek  and is pretty accurate. What it left out was easily the best moment of my little time with de Blasio. I said I work for the City and am volunteering because I don't actually have a paying job. I gave the Mayor a sweet side-eye and he laughed, along with everyone else.

A really nice bit came just before I said that. Someone asked me what I'm doing and I said I just graduated law school (I already said I was 39). I was just about to say I went to NYLS and passed the summer Bar when the Mayor and everyone in the room began to cheer and applaud. I almost died dead!

I was so glad I was able to get a photo on my own and then with Derek. When I said I saw this as a once in a lifetime sort of thing and I brought my 11-year-old because he's old enough to remember this, de Blasio made Derek come over and chatted with him. Derek answered reporters' questions so confidently and loudly, it was adorable. He even got to tell them he went to Harlem Academy.

To say I was elated by the whole experience is the understatement of the last 6 days of the year!!! People said they felt rushed but I did not. De Blasio put his arm around me and he did not let go until he was done. It was endearing. And he is one tall man. Derek had told John that he didn't want to take a picture alone with the Mayor because he is so tall. He was happy he got to be in the pix with me and not have to stand by himself. I can understand that. The man is huge!

Jess even got a chance to chat with him a little. She told him about the Wellesley connection and to give Mrs. Mayor her regards. He actually asked her for a business card, which sadly none of us had. Both Jess and I got held up by the press after our chats to talk more: how long did we wait? we were cold? how do we spell our names? We both got to give our jobs a little shout-out and that was nice. Never hurts. Jess even told them that she and I met interning at the Waterfront Commission.

So, contrary to the majority of news reports, the cold wasn't so bad, except for toes, we saw a bit of the mansion, had a highlight of an experience with the Mayor, who chatted us up, and no one shoved us along. Normally, I get terrible anxiety about doing things like this, but not this time. A new Mayor in my new home was to good of an opportunity to let slip by and I am so glad I got to share it with Derek and my wonderful woman friend, Jess.