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August 15, 2003

Belle Isle

(from the archives - august 2002)

lawrence otis graham. how did he become a sympathetic character? moreover, how did his world suddenly seem desireable? well, he admitted the silliness and the self-hating nature of the brownbag and ruler tests, and the capriciousness of the old money exclusions. if you didn't go to camp atwater you couldn't hang with the massachusetts links. he copped to it all. and he also said, hey we're still not getting invited to the junior league cotillions.

i was just in detroit last weekend, and my sister drove me through the various grosse pointes as we headed to belle isle with the kids. she was casually mentioning the junior league home renovation shows. "a lot of these big old houses", she remarked as we drove past streets named ford and wellington, "are really nasty inside". "you could tell", she continued, describing the results of the charity remodeling "that there were african american designers working on the ones they fix". "they don't make a big deal out of it". "i know one." as we were driving through i saw a huge stone episcopal church, and i just wanted to be *in* there.

so we arrived at belle isle and hung around the big fountain for a while, and then moved to the interior where there was a huge, huge number of blackfolks picnicing in the park. there had to be at least 3 family reunions going on, and several other large picnics where folks had brought their gas powered generators to power their dj stations. (not everybody was playing jah rule, though). over at one end was the giant slide. and i just took it all in for half an hour, as hundreds of black kids slid down squealing in delight, falling flipping... i could win a palm d'or just filming that with a sony. i went over and bought myself a strawberry shortcake from the ice cream man, er ice cream black girls at their truck. and i said to myself that this was a black working class paradise.

i walked around back near the reunion with the best smelling barbecue (and believe me that was no small task in discerning - a skill i hadn't used in a while) and crossed the street. the highly polished cars were slowly booming past, i got in between a new matrix and an escalade. i headed across a small bridge near the old zoo and away from the party, to a massive open space. 150 yards away there was a completely deserted soccer field, and a lone black man in a white cap hitting golfballs. over to the left there were a couple softball games going on. but the man, the games, and the picnics were all far enough away from me that their sounds were muted. in the distance was the canadian side and ore ships huffing through the channel.

i stood alone, only for a moment, and headed back towards the ruckus. it was time to go. my sister took us all the way round, past the pond where they used to fish, past the new chipping and driving range, past the other large pond where they 'never even thought to go out there on a boat - nobody did', past the old marina and yacht club, past the bath house and beach were 'we always used to come right here', past hundreds more picnics, and out through the portal.

what i find admirable about detroit is the old architecture. i like the stone of it. it has a grand and settled feel to it when you can see it through the abandoned and burned out places. my sister's house is a small brick 3 bedroom with a basement in a neighborhood full of sycamores. farren, her boyfriend, told me about the wall built at 8 mile drive. i think somebody here was asking me about that separation. after the riots, they built a brick wall.

i spent that entire weekend wondering to myself if it was really true that i didn't have a job to come back to, knowing that i would have to come back to houston and find out for sure. i spent that whole weekend with my family - kids reunited for the first time since my cousin's wedding at the end of june. the house i lease is in california, the apartment i lease is in houston, my family is in detroit - the blue collar paradise. exactly where do i belong today? where do i belong period?

i still remember the day that i walked out on my buppy friends at a pool party in torrance. i decided that i'd rather read 'beloved' than drink wine coolers and be chatty. it has been more than 10 years. right now, the only thing that seems to make sense is moving to atlanta and living in the same neighborhood as my friend charles. i haven't even seen the place.

all this week i've been living in my own private idaho. sending out resumes, writing and programming, and working logistics of how we get the family and things all back into southern california, so we don't have to break *that* lease.

i can remember when everybody said that the greatest album in the world was 'what's going on', and most everybody knew how to chacha and those that didn't were embarrassed about it. it was a small world, but it was my world. these days i've even heard snoop dogg referred to as 'old school'. what!? i've got to find my corner. somehow i think i've realized that have worked twice as hard, and yes i may have actually managed to only get half as far. it seems unbelievable but true. it's nobody's fault - i'm not trying to blame anyone. i'm the one who walked out of the big house, through the fields and out into the wilderness. getting back to the fields of detroit has made me homesick for the big house, and i'm sitting here on the perimiter on the edge of freedom's hostile wilderness thinking maybe that front porch is not so bad after all. maybe what goes on inside the black snotty class, the particular connecticut episcopaleans and new orleans catholics i come from is not so bad after all. and although it could be all about the money, it's really not. it's about supporting the ways and means, and that takes money because it requires a place. a place i ain't got.

so i tried to find boggs academy on a map. i put the words 'boule' into the google search bar. i scoured the net for "The Links Cotillion". i couldn't find much. i found a cloudy black and white picture of lake idlewild. i found out the tuition for hampton university. didn't it used to be called hampton institute? see, if i've got to be somewhere, it has got to be somewhere my children can be young gifted and black without being alone at it. i know that song's a generation old, but it's really the best i can imagine for them.

my problem is that i don't get tired. i get frustrated and angry, but i just change and go another direction. i never settle down. i just pick a different battle and if nobody offers, i fight with myself. but i haven't changed the fundements of who i am, and i'm still calling the same type of black women beautiful and i'm still calling the same kind of music inspiring and i'm still answering 'the lord be with you' with 'and also with you'. but i think that i have been migrating too fast and too far and too wide. i think that i've been flying over country which is not just fly-over country. i'm now angry at myself for not finding a place. i haven't managed to make open refrigerator door neighbors out of anybody, least of all our kind of people. today that is the failure that haunts me the most. oddly. i've been making too much money to be constrained into one place, but not enough to pick the be-all end-all. i have arrived with finality with a little bit of everything adding up to a whole lot of nothing. me. the one who used to laugh derisively at the social perks of home equity as such a bourgie trap.

was i a leftist? was i actually trying to be a leftist? i don't think so. is my father a leftist? he must be. he gets deleriously happy poking fun at his white colleagues at his little liberal arts college, but he has a big old house. i need a big old house too.

'if money makes a man strange, we gots to rearrange that, so what makes the world go round? if love is against the law, listen i don't know, gotta to change the way it's goin down', said the poet.

there's a woman who works at the company i am now prohibited from entering. she regularly shoots in the 70s. she has my copy of 'the emperor of ocean park'. i think i miss her most of all.

Posted by mbowen at August 15, 2003 01:49 AM

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I just want to say thank you for sharing. I have really enjoyed reading your blog in the last week or so since I discovered it. You definitely have a way with words.

Posted by: Ibyx at August 15, 2003 09:36 AM