Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ya been hoodwinked, led astray...

you know, i really really don't like cooning. really.


i was on my way to the post office and i was rushing lunch, so i bought a hot dog from a vendor and proceeded, hustling and bustling in the heat towards the post office, after telling the vendor i'd be back for another in a moment. on the way there, i noticed a man squeegeeing someone's windshield for cash. it caught my eye 'cause it had been some time since i'd seen that on the street. as i continued to walk down the block, the squeegee man came back to the sidewalk out of traffic, and i noticed that he wasn't alone, that there were maybe two or three other men with him standing around.

when you are a girl in the city, you learn quickly as you grow into a woman that it's in your best interest to find a (somewhat) happy medium between acknowledging men's presence and attention and unquestionably holding them at bay. my girlfriends and i used to do just that very balancing act when we were teenagers on the way up the avenue to the little stores for chinese food or hair products. there's a little bit of science to it. you can't be too friendly, 'cause then they'll bother the mess out of you. on the other hand, you can't ignore them altogether, no matter how much you may not want to talk to them, because being regarded as a stuck-up female canine isn't the safest thing to have on your back as you're walking in the city, sans car, sans male companion, sans pepper spray. women have been verbally and physically assaulted over something as simple as not wanting to flirt with random strange men on the street. i actually have a poem about this. y'all should come hear me read it one day.

but anyway, i knew what to do. as i approached them and walked through their chosen sidewalk hangout, i gave them the universal "i see you and acknowledge that you're standing there" head nod, without a smile, but with a little eye contact, never breaking my brisk got-to-get-to-the-post-office-and-back-to-work stride. "how ya doin." that shoulda been enough. but, to my dismay, mr. squeegee man decides to cut up. in his best man.tan moreland/ impression, he opened his eyes wide and cooned all over the sidewalk, jerking his arms and shoulders as if mister charlie himself was having a good time playing marionette with his manhood. grinning at me, as if i was supposed to somehow be entertained. *sigh.* as i continued to walk on, i think i gave him one of those insincere smiles people give when they don't want to be rude, but can't help it - you know, the one where the corners of your mouth turn up a little, but your lips never part to show your teeth, and in fact, your facial muscles contort a little as if it pains you to be polite. my nose wrinkled up, and i could feel my eyes glaze over as i attempted to somehow NOT see this full grown african male acting with less dignity than little buck.wheat. what was he doing! what response did he expect towards such a shameless display? arrggghhhh...

after i passed, one of the men (who was old enough to be my father) asked, "lemme ask you a question." i continued walking as i responded, "MmHmm" as in, go ahead. this repeated, as i suppose he hadn't heard me the first time, or was thrown off by the fact that i didn't stop just to hear his question. he said he'd like to buy me lunch. i held up my half-eaten hot dog and he responded, "no, a REAL lunch," to which i thanked him and told him i was alright. "have a good one," he said. "you too," i responded, and the encounter ended. now, i could have lived with that. but even now, over an hour later, the image of mr. squeegee cooning still smarts in my memory. i'm thankful that as i walk down city streets, i come into contact with more brothers who are not like that. but the fact that there are any men who coon like mr. squeegee did today... it disturbs me.

i never made it back to the hot dog vendor after the post office. i walked around the other end of the block and picked up a sandwich instead. i don't think i would have been able to stomach bambooz.led the sequel.

part of me wishes i'd stopped and spoke to him, lovingly ministered to his spirit, and sternly admonished him to stand with an erect spine and have the bearing of man of worth - a Malcolm X, or a Muhammad Ali, or my own daddy. but i was so taken aback, so disappointed, so eager to shed the taint of being in the presence of that mess, that i felt no inclination at that time but to escape the madness. yet it has seared itself into my visual memory. i find his actions to be no different than those who pretend to be thugs when they're not, who posture and dumb themselves down, yet somehow find themselves superior to people who simply are who they are. they're no different from people who value their limited knowledge and celebrate their own ignorance, or who perpetuate the foolish idea that there are parameters for acceptable Black behavior or experience, beyond which blackness is challengable, excluding those of us who hunger for knowledge or who try anything new. no different from those who embrace and embellish and roll around in the dust of our stereotypes. people who think "ghetto," and "hood-rich," and "nigga," are endearing or cute. and i am so disappointed in us, all of us, for allowing any of our people to be this way in this day and time.