Saturday, February 04, 2006

Southern Bodegas on the Edge of Hard Knocks and Section 8


I live in Northwest Nashville. Our house is in the Black subdivision of middle-class homes that no one knows about. Or, let's just say knew or cared about when I was growing up. The uppity negroes. As time has progressed from our genesis back in the 60's when somebody decided to develop this land, the generation that played in its streets in the 70's and 80’s moved to Atlanta where you could be black, or gay, or a lesbo, or dab on the side, or see strippers, or hang with your lawyer friends, or play in little five points, etc. . . . So the parents, rich enough to move somewhere else either sold their houses, rented them as section 8 or simply stayed their ground while the world around them was invaded by the black folk across the river beccause the mayor wanted that land where the projects were in order to build a stadium since run down concrete grassless acres do not look good on NBC during football season from an arial view.

I live on the hill. We are safe up here, though I question our property value, not in an act of race hating but as part of the propertied class.

So funny to hear my self use such language.

The reality of black life is that no matter how much money you have, if you live in a black neighborhood, you may be in a position where you are starving for goods and services. When I opened my bank account, the guy said "I don't understand why they don't bring more stores and services out to this area?" I giggled and just signed on the dotted line. He is obviously from another part of town and has been stationed out here in the outskirts by the company.

When I was twelve they opened a Kwik Sak gasoline connivence store on Clarksville Highway. They offered gas, magazines (I would look at the dirty magazines, my sister would just laugh two steps behind me when the cashier would scream "Hey!", we weren't embarrassed for some odd reason), fresh backed glazed donuts, chicken and potato wedges with that crumbly breaded coating used for fried steaks in the morning. The store was the closest thing to a corner store for us. We would brave a very narrow road open to two way traffic to get to it for a pack Hubba Bubba and a box of Whoopers. There was no sidewalk, and the edges were trimmed with white gravel and bits of concrete. These gray, light sand brown and bleached bone white bits of calcium and limestone were speckled with tiny shards of green glass. It was dangerous, especially going up hill where the cars could not see you. We walked there in the summer, at least a mile and a half and thought nothing of it. It was close. Just for a grape soda and a talk about our parents and who was moving to which neighborhood cause their dad got a raise; or, who was moving to a new state cause their mom just finished dentist school; or, who got into a fight at the all white private all boys school that their mother worked two jobs to send them to. You know normal shit.

One day during one of these talks, Paul, a friend of mine, who was only 2 months older but a full head taller walked in front of me with an umbrella. A crazy redneck with his girlfriend faked like he was going to run us down. His girl was in one arm, his other hand was on the steering wheel and we both froze as the practical joke played out and his fiery brown hair flared back like a super hero, a super villan that my mother warned me about, those crazy white guys that will abduct you, stab you, violate you, kill you cause your black. This guy was just a blip on a world that was ending around us, but a world that was and still is behind in race relations. But at 12, I thought that these green trees and this thin road and our nice house was the world. I thought that the guy in the green car was going to run us down because he could.

That was just one incident of many while walking down a street on Clarksville Highway, but the only one I will tell today.

But for me and Paul, this was a big incident. We talked about how we wished he would come back. We talked about how we wished Paul had held the tip of his umbrella out to scratch the car, cause he was that close to us. Cause there was no where to go but into the thicket, of which any 12 year old would be scared in my neighborhood. Poisonous snakes. Chicken Snakes. Black Racers. Thistles. Ticks. Wasps nest. Rabid dogs. All I had seen in my yard or under our house, let alone in the woods, all threats.


Today after maybe 22 years of that store being there it has a different name. All of the cars in the parking lot are duces, beat up trucks, Cadillacs, fixed up Toyotas, etc. . . . The guys running it are Middle Easterners. It is a bodega and not a connivence store anymore. It is a cornucopia of nukka city delights. Hot Fries. Hot Potato Chips. Onion Rings. Golden Flakes. Little Debbies. Hostesses. Brimms’. Old English. 5th Avenues. Golden Flakes. Sour Creams and Onions. Cool Ranches. Extra Cool Ranches. Beef Jerkies. Egyptian Musk Inscenses. Strawberry Inscenses. Drakar Inscenses. Philly Blunts. Fried Chickens. An ATM. High Lifes. Genuine Drafts. Coors Lights. Mystic flavors. Nutty Buddies. Banana Fingers. Lotto. Pick 3. Rub-Off. Chocolate miniature Donuts 6 in a Pack. Powdered miniature Donuts 6 in a Pack. Toasted Coconut Dusted miniature Donuts 6 in a Pack. Honey Buns. Glazed Honey Buns. 35 cent Honey Buns. 99 cent Honey Buns. Cokes. Sprites. Diet Cokes. Newports. Salems. Winstons. Virginia Slims. Camels. Malboros. Lights. Menthol. Life is in a can. Life is in plastic. Life is in a box. Life is in a wrapper. It is a bakery. It is a chocolaterie. It is a soda shop. It is a brewery. It is a dairy. It is a tobacco shop. It is a smoke house. It is a parfumerie. It is provisions. It is Madison Avenue thin paper weight placards painted blue with silver lettering. It is a photshopped black girl on every box.It is a field of dreams. It has oil for the car so you can fuck to a sweet scent. It has car oil. It has newspapers. No magazines. It has little horoscopes rolled tight like spliffs of different colors. It is worn. The North Africans or Persians or Syrians talk without looking. Their lips are black. Their eyes are black. They seem to want to be there. They are comfortable. Everyone is comfortable with them being here in my neighborhood.

I remember when that store had black employees. I remember when the store up the street the Little Red Barn was own by a black guy after he bought it from a white guy but then sold it to another guy whose origin I do not know. The men behind the counter of the Little Red Barn are from the Middle East too. As I approached the former Kwik Sak, driving in a Cadillac, looking for a parking space, on this outpost I paid attention to my direction. When traveling north on Clarksville City Highway you can turn right on Kings Lane and see a couple of big houses to your left. To your right the world is becoming the hood, with roaming groups of young peoples. They are harmless and not foreboding, but looking down this road, to my right and watching three children, maybe not even 16, walking with a baby and a stroller on that same precarious concrete crumble trim of a narrow two way street unnerves me. That is harmful. It is foreboding. The boy up front, holding the pink fitted infant, the two girls pushing the carriage behind talking as they go. 2 are dark, one is brown. 2 have straighten strands of hair, one is beady and boney and tall and lanky. The boy walks like he his balancing something on his head the baby is a secondary gesture in his arms. It is extra. The girls chatter as if they have husbands and must rush home to cook and prepare a bath. They chatter like they have men at war and one has just had an affair or their next door neighbor has just sucked off an officer on leave. They wonder about that husband. They chatter as if they know the kids. They hurry pass me on the road, the shorter dumpier one's motion with the carriage, the speed at which she tries to keep up, the way she is bent over the rail of the buggy, betrays chatter concerning judgment. They are passing judgment, the two girls, the boy strolls atheletically and with perfect posture, almost ready to break into a strut, but the little baby legs clip his motion.

To the left, if you choose to turn left, you are heading to my neighborhood. I live on the hill. There are many hills, but mine is not the big one where the science teacher lives. Mine is the small hill, in the middle of the suburban calm but spacial chaos. The bumpy lands make it so that our land is not carved out so well, not true squares but pie slices. The kids on the bottom of my hill’s north side are in smaller houses. When I was younger friends would visit and they would say that I was rich (not seeing the house I lived in before my parents divorce). I did not believe it. I played it off. It made me uncomfortable to hear such words. But today, as I drive through I wonder. I wonder what is happening to the neighborhood. What is it going to mean for us if that group below the hill invades? From the north comes the look of dilapidated front yards that are grassless. Are grassless yards a sign of poor coloreds? Just a question. Are lush grasses a sign of uppity coloreds? Is that the code? I don't know, but I plant my seeds at the beginning of every spring, sowing my seeds from a basket by hand, like my grandfather used to do. I heard you should do it when it gets cold, in the fall, cover the yard with straw after sowing and wait for the snow. When it melts, the weight of the water will take your seeds into the earth. A bit much. No? I am not that uppity. Negroes.

Below, to the South are my neighbors with the fences. A couple have manicured gardens. Another is a handsome couple who have handsome children that I have not seen for years. They are probably in college now. I remember when they were really small. That yard has two German shepherds that bark all the time at the rabbits that run through our yard. To the West is a view of the green hills before the green mountains. To the east is a church steeple that is new to me. When I played in that church’s backyard it was not built. The pastor has died too. The old first lady of the church lives up the street. Her daughter married a friend of mine from high school who I saw buying chicken soup for his sick son at the Kroger they just built at the sight of an old drive-in theater which once held a blues festival back in the nineties that I missed cause I was in New Jersey finding myself. He is balding. I feel funny near him. He seems conservative, I thought he was wild, he kind of remembered me, but didn't. I forgot. I had a sexual identity problem, I did not speak to anyone in school that much. I just went to class, laughed loud, but I did not go out out out. I did not know what to do with whom. Doom. Gloom. A girlfriend here, a girlfriend there, but no boyfriends. The girl I liked I think became a Black Republican. Not for me.

I went into the Kwik Sak after getting my haircut. It took all day. Today was a service day for the teachers so fathers were at the barber’s with their sons. I waited for 2 hours without any food. Afterwards I went shopping at Kroger. I bought ground chicken, a big chili spice packet, one onion, one pepper, some milk, some eggs, a small can of tomato sauce and a case of Diet Vanilla Cherry Dr. Pepper (nectar from Venus's titty). I then drove to the old Kwik Sak and bought a honey bun because I did not eat all day. I know that I am diabetic, but all those nikka city delectable delights were circling my head like sugar plum fairies. They all gathered at my temple and killed the little sugarless gum bitch of a fairy that is normally talking into my subconscious. Then I picked up a beer for the chili mix and drove away. Every time I am in line I want to speak French to them, but I am nervous, a bit scared. The cashiers have a programed way of addressing everyone. I instantly turn into "boss" or "dawg". They can tell that something is different about me. Something is different about me. Something is different about me. They must know where I live. Maybe they think I am an immigrant too. Kwik Sak is the last gas station for some miles. The Clarksville Highway goes on forever, out of my subdivision into a world of farmland and horse farms. Beautiful little communities. They are agrarian. They are working class. The majority are white. They do not consider themselves Nashvillians at all.


Kai in NYC said...

Of course there's no guarantee they speak French (I've embarassed myself with Eyptians a time or two), but if they do, they're sure to be delighted to hear a little French. I love to see people's face light up with appreciation and pleasure, hearing the language of home from an unexpected face.

Littlemilk said...

That is very true, since I don't know any Arabic it is kind of stupid to assume, but when I was in France it was just safe.