My daughter,Leslie, dropped me off at Adamsville Rec Center. It is a neighborhood away from her Collier Heights Home of brick ranch style houses of every variety that had steep drive ways in hilly wooded landscapes and lawns that ended at the street. No sidewalks. I go there five days a week, Monday through Friday, on my two-month long visit for an hour and a half of swimming laps in the heated pool. I am greeted in an Atlanta warm–honey urban southern drawl”
“Why hello Mam, how ya doin today?”
I drop my West Coast accent, even though I haven’t lived in the south for twenty–five years.
“Why, hello to you, darlin. I’m doing just fine, thank you. And you?”
I pay two dollars for the swim and make my way to the women’s locker room that is especially clean and has a well designed disability dressing rooms and shower stalls. I walk through the women’s locker room door dressed in my black speedo swim suit, size 24, and black flip flops holding a cane.
I push the women’s locker room door open and begin to make a hard right turn toward the Olympic size pool and the walk between eight swimming lanes on the right, observer bleachers above, and on the left. I am looking forward to my twenty–five laps to keep my recently replaced knee in good shape, my un–replaced knee with minimal swelling and pain, and in need of prescription pain medication. I’m ready to bask in one of my places of meditation and prayer, and stroke, turn, stroke and turn again, and again.
As I turned right, I nearly collide into a young man. We are both surprised. He steps back and moves out of my way, while holding the door for me. He is a young black boy. He is ten, maybe eleven-years-old, growing into a young man. He has a wiry muscled and toned swimmers body. Water is beaded on his skin the color of new pecans. He has a close haircut and dark caramel eyes. He was passing the women’s locker room door in route to the men’s locker room holding swimmer’s goggles and other swim gear. Other young men are passing us by after their team swim workout. Each of them say, “Evenin Mam,” Hello Mam” How ya doin Mam,” as they have been taught.
The young man who nearly collided into me, the one with the new pecan colored skin and the caramel colored eyes, did so automatically. Home training, especially for an elder. As he held the door, however, he paused, turned his head to the side, moved his head back a bit, tucked his chin in a little. In this seconds silent exchange, he looked me up and down slowly, like I was a dark milk chocolate ice cream swirl and said, “Well hellooo… there!”
His voice was a boy’s. His look is pure unrivaled appreciation.
I responded with a friendly, but elder–to–child, “Thank you, son,” (for stopping and letting me pass) “And good evening to you, darlin.”
I passed to his left and walked toward the pool. I didn’t look back. I know he was still looking at me noting the rhythm of my flip-flopping steps, my cane on the tiled pool deck, my wide coffee with a generous pour of milk body, swaying hips, ample buttocks, thighs, legs to the ankles and back up again, to my graying long locks banded into a thick pony tail.
As I walked pass eight lanes of teams of swimmers, their hands stroking and legs kicking, I heard them making the sounds of water falls or high waves rushing to shore. Swim coaches blew whistles and shouted directions and encouragement. I was surprised and delighted as I looked into the face of this growing boy. I saw him. Boys like him whose grand mothers and grandfathes, I had grown up with, our families were neighbors or church members or socialand pleasure club members. The appreciation in his eyes told me that he appreciated my size. He likes big bosomed, big butt women, and so did the boys and men that make up the constellation of his living. In his voice, I hear he had been taught to appreciate and praise power and grace when he found himself in its presence.
I kept my smile small, but allowed beams of pleasure and sweetness to enter my warm liquid sanctuary at the same time I entered the Adamsville Rec’s heated pool.
Free Initial Individual Wellness Consultation for writers, artists, and those who use creativity and imagination to navigate their lives and world with a Novelist and Memoirist with extensive teaching and emotional support experience.
Do you have stories that beg you to write them down? Has your writing or artist life and practice been stalled or placed on a back burner? Have you been thinking about or longing to start, revise, complete or move to publishing that novel, memoir, poetry collection or essay collection? What is in the way of you having a more vibrant and productive creative life?
Explore individual creative–wellness consultation and group writing classes and workshops that will start January 2019. Give yourself a gift of one free specialized individual creative and wellness consultation.
$85.00 per session
Sliding Scale and Bartering Opportunities Available
A Writers Group Serving Women, Women of Multi- Cultural–Multi Ethic Heritages
2nd& 4th Sundays
Morning: 10:30 am–12:30 pm
Preserving Women’s wellness and creative space for writers to share creative process and to build and celebrate the writings of Women of Color & Women of European Descent communities. In addition, to and share coping and liberating strategies to conquer sexism, racism, ableism, colorism, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and other systems of structural oppression while living and creating in multicultural families and communities. These services can be provided in person and via phone skype anywhere.
Fee: $15-25 per group.
Andrea Canaan & Charlene Allen Invite you to a Women Writers CampOctober 10 through 13, 2019 in San Francisco-Bay Area
A Writer’s LifeWriter’s Campsprovide a nurturing writing environment grounded in supported writing, building writing and creative community, promoting individual wellness, and publishing and promoting our writing and creative work. Our time together will include individual consultation, writing, revising, workshop, and a public reading. For more information and Writing Camp Schedule please contact us.
Free First Individual Consultation at Beginning of class
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Location: Verve Wellness Studio1231 Cortland Ave-Cortland at the corner of Cortland and Sanchez in Bernal Heights Neighborhood-San Francisco, California 94110
Except from Memoir: The Salt Box House on Bayou Black
There’s a little wheel a turnin’ in my heart There’s a little wheel a turnin’ in my heart In my heart In my heart There's a little wheel a turnin’ in my heart – “There’s a Little Wheel a Turnin’ in My Heart.” American Folk Song
Along with my brothers, Dwight and Jesse, and my sister Jean, I watched Roy Rogers on a black-and-white console TV that our grandfather, Peter Samuel Ransom, Ditty, we called him, had won at a raffle for World War I veterans. He had it shipped to us because he and my grandmother, Martha England Ransom, T. Martha her family called her, didn’t have electricity in their saltbox house on Bayou Black. As I watched the cowboy show, I imagined the colors of a desert sky, rock, cactus, and low sparse trees. My throat and chest swelled with delicious trilling when they sang, while riding into the sunset. Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
My brothers and sister rooted for the good guys, white men in white hats, and against the bad guys, white men in black hats. I rooted for the Indians. When we played, I was always an Indian. None of us were the prissy white women whose dresses dragged in the dirt or the floozies who hung out in saloons, leaned all over strange and drunk men, danced the can-can, and let men follow them upstairs to their rooms.
I wrapped the belts from Jesse and Dwight’s trousers around my chest and shoulders. They turned into quivers to hold my arrows. To overcome the driver of the stagecoach, I climbed to the top bunk. I pushed Dwight off, onto blankets and pillows piled up below. I took over his reins and spread my feet across the narrow space between the two sets of metal bunk beds in our bedroom. The bed’s metal frames became the backs of wild horses stolen from their lands, and I was coming to the rescue. I pounced on the bottom bunk, dragging greenhorns and gringos from the coach. I hooted and howled and smashed and slashed with tomahawks fashioned from wooden spoons.
Breakfast, an extra special treat, was delivered express to our Wells Fargo stopover in our Magnolia Project room by our mama. We demolished the eggs, grits, biscuits, and grape jelly. Milk chalked on the sides and hardened to rich soft– yellow cream circles on the bottoms of our jelly glasses. We dashed down the hall and into the kitchen to hurriedly scrape and stack our dishes. We scurried, pushing, shoving, and laughing between cliff–hanging scenes and during commercials advertising Tide, Ivory soap, Hula Hoops, and Brylcreem.
One day without warning, while we scraped dishes, I felt heartsick. My brothers and sister suddenly turned mean, too rough. They pointed and laughed. A cappella and in harmony they sang.
“Crybaby, crybaby, suck ya mama’s titty. Always rooting for the Indians. You betta get tough girl. You betta know the right side to be on.”
I walked down the narrow hall knowing Mama was not home. There was no recent music of her in the rooms ahead. I walked to the front door. When I put my hand on the doorknob, I knew she had not passed this way. I looked out anyway.
I counted the doors of all the buildings in our court hurriedly, fifty-two, as I did every day. I called my playmates’ names, reciting them, silently moving my lips, calling up their faces as my eyes slid quickly past each door. Pat, Lil Pam, Big Pam, Lil Ursula, Marie, Myrtle, Sister, Tiny, Loria, Justine, Nesbitt, Ida Mae, Rita . . . until I completed the naming, a prayer. I skipped their brothers and fathers, but I called up their sisters, mothers, godmothers, and grandmothers.
I worried about Pat. Her uncle peddled dope. I didn’t envy their expensive clothes. I knew they lived in fear. I knew tragedy would come. I avoided looking into the dark uptown-riverside corner. The O’Neal brothers could terrorize us all at any time. I shrank from the thought, as if it would bring them tumbling out of their homes, waving shotguns and calling out someone’s brother or father.
I shut the front door and hummed the song I sang to calm myself.
“You sing that song when you is vexed,” Big Pam always said imitating her mother’s voice when someone asked her how she was doing.
“I is as vexed as a chicken bout to get they neck cut off.”
I didn’t know if I was vexed, but my brothers and sister had hurt my feelings, and I could not find my Mama. I sang to soothe and comfort myself. There’s a little wheel a turnin in my heart, as I closed the front door of my small world. In my heart, in my heart, there’s a little wheel a turnin in my heart.
I walked back across the small living room. This room was spare, open, and bright. A small mint green brocade sofa sat like a delicate grandmother. Come, sit with me but be careful, it said to me. There was a dark brown table polished to shining with red oil. A fern sat on a one-legged stand like the ones that held the flowers in church. The curtains were heavy white cotton. They were starched and stretched on wooden frames four times a year. When a breeze came, they lapped gently at the windowsill as if they were sipping water at the edge of a river. The floor glistened with Johnson’s Paste Wax. We would wax the mahogany linoleum square tiles again later that day, after my oldest sister and brother gave it a good soaking and scrubbing with ammonia to get the old wax up. We would make small circles as we smoothed the hard paste until it was as soft as warm butter. We would go out to play until the paste set and it was time to polish and buff the floors on our knees or with soft old rugs under our feet. We danced, scooted, and skated across the floor until it shined, laughed, and sang in delight, just like we did. This was a good room.
Jean and Dwight were singing the Oscar Mayer jingle in front of the TV as I entered the kitchen and peeked into a pot of chicken necks, celery, bell pepper, and bay leaves boiling very slowly on the stove. Gumbo, okra and shrimp, shrimp Creole, cornbread dressing? I reached the back door and the dimmed warmth on the brass doorknob told me she had come this way. We would polish the doorknobs with the special pink polish later that day, smoothing the polish on and then waiting for the pink liquid to dry. We used rags to polish the faceplate and then curved the cloth around the neck of the knob, and polished them the same way we polished our shoes, with gleeful, fast, whipping motions, to make the cloudy polish turn to sparkling gleam.
I walked into the back hallway and stopped. Was she up the back stairway to Miss Aldonia? No, I didn’t think so. I would smell coffee and chicory and hear them talking and laughing about some goings-on. Besides, Mr. Addison was home from working on those ships. Their house would be silent and cold. Miss Aldonia would have bruises beneath her eyes. Loria’s sweet good child face would be filled with hate. Marie’s eyes would be wild with fear, but her body would be hard and unyielding, like a sentry on guard. No, my Mama was not up the stairs, and neither would I be until Mr. Addison went blessedly on his way back to the waters again. I turned from the stairs to walk into the day.
Where was she?
Bright bottle-blue day above red tile roofs, a cavern of buildings, yards divided by low chain-linked fences, clover-filled grasses covered in early morning dew, tiny gardens exploding with color and the scents of rich dark earth, kitchen herbs, morning glories, and newly mown grass. Back yards, a cluster of close fitted islands floating on a green and black velvet sea. Our driveway, a curved way within a crescent city. A hot blue-green summer Saturday morning. The sun not yet come over the three-storied buildings that marked the borders of my home.
But where was she? I wondered
My throat and chest hurt from trying to hold back tears that fell in fat drops anyway. I loved the Indians, wild horses, open land, mountains and skies, the singing cowboys, and girls. They loved the sheriffs, guns blazing in the noonday sun, and shooting the bad guys. They said I was a baby and had too tender feelings that only Mama cared about.
Aunt Gladys’? No, Aunt Gladys always slept past noon on Saturdays. Miss Corrine’s? No, she was already gone to market. Miss Etta’s? Miss Juanita’s? Since these last mothers were the most likely, when I reached the backyard gate, I turned right toward La Salle Street.
My mama was leaning on Miss Etta’s fence talking. I walked toward her. Miss Etta saw me coming. She smiled openly and loving me, like the light and air filled with roses growing all around her. Without missing a beat, while she continued to talk to Miss Etta, my mama spoke to me. Well, she didn’t say anything with her words because she was talking to Miss Etta. But her eyes talked to me saying, Hello, Darlin. Come looking for your mama, did you? Well, I wasn’t far.
I leaned into my mama holding gently to the bottom of her dress. Miss Etta’s rose beds were sprinkled with coffee grounds around the neat rows of bright-colored flowers filling the air with their perfumes. I felt the rhythm of Mama and Miss Etta’s voices. The pulse of their hands moving as they talked vibrated through my Mama’s thigh and hip into me. I moved with her when she shifted from one foot to the other, like the ships and tugs we saw on the river, moving as one with the heaving river, yet never colliding.
As I leaned, I looked out from this safe place. Laundry flapped in the warm humid breeze. I smelled the scents of bleach, flowers, earth, and dew damp cement. Some women bent down slowly to enamel wash basins, wringing, then shaking in a no-nonsense, sometimes violent, snap of towels, sheets, work clothes, school clothes, and church clothes. They hung them carefully and slipped on wooden clothespins to hold them on the line, like family portraits. Every so often a woman sighed, held a hand to the small of her back, surveyed her world, waved or nodded to a neighbor, and watched the brown grey sparrows.
My mama did not speak to me or even look at me. She didn’t need to. I didn’t need her to. She made a space for me against her hip and thigh. Her hand caressed my head and shoulder, the way she transplanted tender herbs from Miss Etta’s garden, tenderly tamping the earth, like a prayer, a song, a blessing, a promise made between the sun, the earth, the sky and God.
While my mama and Miss Etta continued to talk, I imagined myself one of the grey brown sparrows flying in spurts and stops, to the roofs, the copper gutters, the guava trees, the drooping black utility wires, porch rails, garbage pails, the sweet clover, the orange trees. I was quick and wise, brave and cautious, remembering the joy and work of the day. I felt my mama’s plump hands at the small of my back leaving a warm trail of comfort. Her nails were unpolished and shaped like almonds with white crescent moon tips. My mamma smelled like garlic, filé, basil, and that sweet mother smell, like just bathed and nursed babies, the sun, and roses.
My mama and Miss Etta began to end this part of the still early morning by counting all the chores yet to be done
After they said their goodbyes, my mama turned toward home and I turned with her. I carried the bag of fat yellow onions, tomatoes, smoked sausage, fresh shrimp, and long grain rice. The reason for her desertion so early had been lying at her feet, jambalaya for dinner. I forgave her, not knowing I had been blaming her for leaving me home alone with my mean and rough brothers and sister.
My mama said her “Mornings” without stopping to talk to Miss Juanita and Miss Louise. We entered our yard, still in cool shadow. We looked over our small garden. Shallots, mint, green onions, and Wandering Jew were coming to fullest life. The orange tree, the worm bed, and the gardenias held out secret promises in the warming to full day. I would dig later to feel the cool earth in the hot day, watch the fat pale worms dive and ooze into the black velvet soil, and know the heavy spiced scents of my small world out back. We stopped at the top of the steps. We held onto the morning.
The Magnolia Project, later name C. J. Peet, and three other New Orleans housing pojects survived Hurricane Katrina with very little damage. However, housing project dwellers were locked out of the city and the their home were demolished.
Preserving wellness and creative space for Women of Color Writers to share creative process and to build and celebrate Woman of Color Community. In addition, to and share coping and liberating strategies to conquer sexism, racism, ableism, colorism and other systems of oppression while living and creating in multicultural families and communities. These services can be provided in person and via phone skype anywhere.
Verve Wellness Studio
1231 Cortland Avenue (Bernal Heights Neighborhood/Corner of Cortland & Nevada)
I was flying from San Francisco to Atlanta with a United Airlines Buddy Pass on December 20, 2016. A best friend sister, Carol, works for the airlines and afforded me passes. There was no seat on the ten a.m. or the Noon flight. All seats w
ere booked and cascading cancelations, and delays for various reasons caused people to pile up at gates, and customer service counters seeking alternative flights. Buddy passes are considered non–revenue producing, therefore, Buddy Pass holders were the last to be seated.
I ‘ve never flown stand by before. I have insisted on flying direct over the last two decades. I made this exception because a fixed social security income requires it. Carol texted me there was possibly a seat on a three p.m. flight. However, it would get into Houston too late for a connection to Atlanta. The next flight to Atlanta from Houston would leave shortly after seven the following morning at the dawn of the Winter Solstice. Carol, suggested by text, that I sleep over in the airport; that the amount of time and money it would take to leave the airport, take a taxi, get a hotel, check in and out of the hotel, and get back to the airport for an early flight would get me only a few hours of, so why not get anxious–bleary– not–worth– it sleep that didn’t cost an additional two–hundred dollars at minimum. Carol reassured me the airport was safe and, she had slept in the Houston airport many times after missing her reconnection to Atlanta. I felt if she could do it, I could too. I also didn’t have an additional two–hundred dollars minimum to spend.
I did get a seat on the 3 p.m. flight. I reached Houston at nine–thirty p.m. When I reached the concourse near the gate I had disembarked from, I spotted a Starbucks nearby. I decided to get coffee, maybe an eggnog latte, and hang out there until they closed. I went into my travel bag for my wallet to pay for my egg nog latte, I had decided. I could not find it. I searched every section and ever pocket of my computer travel bag. I tried not to panic. I managed not to look or sound panicked, even when I talked to my daughter, Leslie, on the phone. It was an act. I had no money. I had no identification. I was flying to New York, then Vermont, and then back home to San Francisco. How could I fly without may wallet, I thought panic stricken inside.
I saw a man who appeared to work for the airlines. I told him about my lost wallet and asked him to access the locked jet way and look for my wallet in the overhead bin my carry–on bag had been stowed in. Miraculously my memory was working. I told him the bin number. 33J. He unlocked the door, walked down the jest way, and returned. His face said no wallet. Then, I remembered, it could have been left in my seating area that was different from where my carry–on bag had been stowed. My memory was still working. I told him my seat number. 39J. The man was patient and kind. He walked back down the jet way and back again. His face still said no wallet again. I thanked him profusely for his kindness.
I searched the bag again and again. Still no wallet. By then the Starbucks and all of the of the restaurants and shopping places were closed or closing. I tried to calm myself by finding a place to hang out for the night. As I was organizing my bags in the spot I had chosen and was about to begin to search them for my wallet again, a little girl came over and knelt in the chair in front of me. She seemed to check me out. She seemed to decide I was someone she wanted to talk to, and talk she did.
“I’m Sophia. My mom and dad met and held hands. Then my mom’s dad held her hand and walked with her. He gave her to my father. A man made them hold hands and then told them to kiss.”
Sophia paused dramatically, made a face as if smelling something bad and said, “Yee wee,” while waving her hand in front of her nose.
Sophia continued, “And then I was in my mommy’s stomach. And then I came out. And here I am, she said while holding her hands and arms out, as if she were shouting, “Ta Da!”
I smiled and clapped and said, “Congratulation,” matching her celebratory ending.
Sophia continued, “I’m on my way to Nicaragua to see my Grandpa. My Daddy’s is working. He’s gonna come before Christmas. I have grandparents who live in Nicaragua and grandparents who live in America.”
Sophia has the voluptuous body of a girl just turned four, still a little girl, not a big girl quite yet. She had rich chestnut colored eyes and hair, and she moved with a dancer’s flair. She was uninhibited, direct, hilarious, and adorable.
“Where are you going,” she asked me?”
“I’m going to Atlanta,” I answer.
“Who are you going to visit there, “she asks as soon as I answer.
“My daughter,” I answer.
“What her name,” she asks predictably.
I knew immediately after I said, my daughter,” she would ask her name. Sophia’ asked before I could include her name.
“Leslie,” I answered.
“Where is your husband,” she asked looking around as if to see if a man nearby matched her expectation of a husband for me.
Now here is the problem I have unfailingly always want to tell the truth, even to children. I understand that children do, in fact, want the truth, usually, but they the telling of it needs to be kept simple.
“I’m not married,” I said.
Sophia leaned away from me and gasped dramatically, as if truly scandalized.
I paused a moment to think quickly what to say honestly and simply.
“Leslie’s father and I decided we would always love and take care of our child together, but we would not marry,” I said.
Sophia was still dubious, but she appeared less scandalized, and she relaxed her leaning body, still leaning away from me, just a bit.
Worried she thought me a fully fallen woman, I added,” Both our parents were very upset with us.”
Sophia leaned back towards me her belly resting on the back of the airport seat again.
“Did they fuss at you,” she asked seeming to marvel at grownups being fussed at.
I answer honestly, “Yes.”
Sophia relaxed completely for the first time again since I told her, I had a daughter, and I had not gotten married. She slipped out of her chair and came directly to my chair. Meanwhile, Sophia’s mother had moved into a chair behind Sophia and facing me. She had listened Sophia’s story of her birth and her questions about my unmarried state. At times her eyes rolled in exasperation, tiredness, and apology. I smiled and nodded affirmatively that it was completely all right for Sophia to talk to me a mile a minute and tell her birth story and ask me my husband’s where abouts. Sophia’s mother and I communicated non–verbally this way, while Sophia continued to talk a mile a minute.
Suddenly, a small boy came over trailed by his brother, who I assumed, was about nine or ten. The brother was trailing behind him while reading or playing a game on an electronic tablet of some sort. The little boy, it turned out, was Brice. Brice was small, thin, but strong, with light brown eyes and a winning confident smile. His brother had light brown hair and eyes, and he had a strong, thin, athletic body with a studious good–boy face. Sophia and Brice, and their families, and about thirty other families had spent two nights in Houston hotels not able to leave because of trouble with their airline passage to Nicaragua. They were hoping to leave in two hours. Nearly seventy –five people were sitting on chairs, the floor, and standing in line waiting to board the plane while their children slept, read, listened with head phone on, stared at tablets and phones, and whined, and cried while they waited.
When Brice arrived, Sophia and Brice told dueling stories about who was oldest, smartest, and fastest. Brice finally topped Sophia by saying, directly to me, “When I get to be four, I’m gonna be bigger than you!”
Since, I top 275 pounds, Brice was really making a huge statement.
Sophia had no comeback for Brice’s announcement. Instead, Sophia changed the subject.
“I just had my birthday, Sophia said with a flair. I’m four!”
I sing both the regular version of Happy Birthday and Stevie Wonder’s version wile clapping at a brisk tempo. Sophia danced and basked in the birthday attention. When I ended my songs, Brice said, puffing his tiny chest out, “Well today is my birthday and I three!”
His brother’s eye brows shot up in total surprise.
I sang both songs again and both Sophia, and Brice pranced and danced in the glow of birthday attention. When the songs ended, they were off chasing each other and using the airport seats like a jungle gym. Sophia’s mother attended to their excesses.
“Sophia, no running!” “Sophia stay where I can see you!” Sophia, inside voice!” “Sophia, that’s enough.” “Come and sit down, now!”
Brice’s brother continued to trail behind them.
Sophia’s flight was finally called. Sophia, Brice zoomed across to the opposite gate. Brice’s brother walked without hurrying. Sophia’s mother picked up Sophia’s scarf, shoes, and a toy dog on a leash they had been playing with. She said a silent thank you and good by. As the line of borders inched forward, I could see Brice’s bother, his head still bowed into his tablet, but Brice was swallowed up in the legs surrounding him. When Sophia’s mother reached Sophia, she looked over to me with a dazzling smile and waved goodbye frantically. I waved back matching her frantic delight until she disappeared.
When the gate was empty and all were on board, I relaxed in the airport chair. It was just after midnight, the Winter Solstice. I was still in lingering delight and calm. I was no longer acting calm to cover up nearing lost mindedness. I restarted the search for my wallet again and found it deep in a packet of my travel bag. As I settled into a seven hour wait for my flight, I lingered in gratefulness and delight.
I asked specifically for Denise. We arrived at the appointed time. I sat in a large rectangular room, four hair dresser chairs, black, boxy, modern, and new since the last time I was there. A wall of lighted mirrors covered one side wall. A counter attached to the mirrored wall was neatly organized with straightening combs, curling irons, curler paper, curlers, hair clips, and pins. Dyes, conditioners, and locking agents, of various sized boxes, tubes, jars, and bottles, were stored in a cabinet at the end of the counter. Only one hairdresser today, Chris, the owner. On the opposite side of the shop were two shampoo bowls and another wall of lighted mirrors. Only one shampoo person today, Denise. Non–stop Christmas music played on an Atlanta black radio station. The station also played non–stop commercials directed toward poor black people. The announcer hawked, “Forget your FICO score. Those scores are just a number. Come on down and we can work something out.”
Chris quipped after the tenth such commercial. ” You know what they say about those people who give out those loans and sell those cars, don’t you?”
Even though the customers had heard Chris ask this question before and heard the answer, one asked, “What they say Chris?”
“You go get one of those cars with one of those loans in November and the Repo Po-Po comes to get it in May.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” anther customers commented.
“And the people who give out the loans and sell those cars will all make a bunch more loans and sell a bunch more cars just like those the next November.”
On the same side of the room as the shampoo bowls, four chairs with hair dryers, that looked like space helmets sat behind the new boxy chairs. Together they gave the illusion of cubed alien bodies. Plastic aprons and towels were neatly folded, stacked, and waiting for use along the opposite mirrored wall and counter. Bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and neutralizer sat in good order on the counter behind the two shampoo bowls. The two sides reflected each other, allowed conversation with just a look when Chris or Denise was turned away completing a task. The front of the shop was all glass, and looked out on a mostly empty parking lot of a mostly empty strip mall.
Denise’s is dark brown, petite, and plump with a round sweet good natured face. She wore maroon glasses that stretch around her eyes like goggles, only very fashionable ones.
“Denise, those glasses look very good on you. Where did you get them?” I asked, as her hands guided me to lean back to place my neck into the curved bottom of the shampoo bowl.
“Oh, thank you,” Denise giggled in shyness and pleasure. I got them at the eye glass shop over at Kroger Plaza on Columbia.”
“What kind are they?”
“Oh, they’re by Joan Collins.”
I sank into the chair, my head cradled in the neck of the shampoo bowl, thinking about Joan Collins eye glasses being sold in strip mall south of Atlanta catering to poor black people, while Denise began her shampoo waltz. Warm–warm water. Shampoo that smelled of sunshine and dew laden morning air. Denise applied it tenderly, thoroughly, then gently scrubbed my twenty–four–inch long dreadlocks from my scalp to tip end. She then rinsed, rinsed, and rinsed some more. I felt the strong flow of the very water on every inch of scalp, and the slight tugging on my hair as she lifted and showered the water close to my scalp. Denise gently rocked my head this way and that, while her other hand cupped and covered my ears. She toweled my hair to damp dry and then applied hair conditioning that smelled like the warm evening air moving through night blooming jasmine. I relaxed and sighed in the scents dancing and swinging around my head.
Christmas music had been playing relentlessly on the radio and Chris turned to another station only to find more Christmas music. When my hair was rinsed and damp dried again, I got up and walked across the room to Chris’ chair. She sprayed and then separated, twisted, and clipped each section of my hair with a pin close to my scalp. I was looking forward to the magic Chris would do styling my dreads. The last time she had given me a complete up do, twisted and curved upward all eighteen inches on the top of my head. When the pins would not hold my thick hair, Chris decided to sew the style in place. I loved it! Showed it off to everyone, even people in museums, restaurants, and dog parks when my daughter and I walked my grand–dog. I wondered how she would top that style.
A black performer, I didn’t know, sang soulfully on the radio suddenly at twice the volume it had been before. Denise began to bop and sway in place to the music. An announcer interrupted the music and began to hawk a concert that would happen in February at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta. Another performer followed closely behind the announcer. The beat was heavy. The female voice was strong and suggestively romantic. The announcer hawked that performer and then others. He admonished listeners to, “Buy tickets right away before they are all sold out!”
Denise spoke quickly and excitedly in a high pitched adult-baby-doll voice, with a soft Florida twang, and an urban Atlanta drawl.
“Oh this show is gonna be good. I gotta get my tickets. I know,” she said like she had just had a great idea,” “It’s my husband’s birthday right then and it’s at the Fox. I can get us tickets and get really–really dressed up. He’ll like that”
Denise sang along with the various performers, in a quite sweet melodic soprano voice, as she continued to shampoo another customer’s hair.
One of the customer’s in the shop said, “Ya husband will be so happy. That’ll be a great birthday present, Denise ”
Denise did not look up from her work, but her tone implied the customer was out of her mind when she replied.
Denise reared back a little with her eyes wide and incredulous.
“Mister ain’t goin,” as if her husband’s going to the concert was never ever in her thinking.
Denise continued, “I’m gonna ask….,” naming women who I thought might be her daughters or sisters or friends or a mix of both.
Another waiting customer said what I was thinking.
“But you said it was ya husband’s birthday present,” she said in a questioning tone.
Denise responded, “Yeah. But he ain’t no people person. He don’t go to
thingslike that. He talk too rough when he be around company. But, he’ll like seeing me all dressed up. He’ll drop us off and pick us up. I’ll tell him all about it. I’ll buy him a CD. He’ll like that.”
Everyone in the shop laughed and hooted, while Denise’s look said,
‘What? What are you laughing about? Ya’ll just don’t know Mister. He’ll be very happy. Really,” Denise reassured.
Chris finished twisting my hair and I went under a dryer that muffled the voices of the women and one man in the shop who were having rolling conversations about football, school board scandals, O.J. and Cosby’s innocence, which ball player was cheating on his wife or beating her or their child. They caught each other up on Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, the latest movies, the soaps, who had appeared on late night TV dressed how, and the ongoing rivalry between the Hawks and the Saints.
Chris maintained a strict policy of no gossiping about the people they all actually knew, or barely knew. So, there was no talk of what preacher was acting badly or which wife or husband was cheating with whom, or whose child had been arrested for what or whose house the police had showed up to or who had a drinking or gambling addiction or anything people could judge another about in their absence.
When my hair was mostly dry, I switched to Chris’ chair again. She cut my hair about six inches, just below my shoulders blades, and styled it with a round bun behind my right ear, almost sitting my shoulder.
I wanted to like it and so I tried to.
I paid Chris gladly and gave both Chris and Denise a generous tip. Later that day, as I sat in reserved stadium movie seats, the faux leather kind that have high backs and you can recline in I realized, I could not fully turn my head because my hair doo wouldn’t let me. Irritated by my hair doo, I reluctantly picked out the pins holding my style together. I chuckled to myself and leaned to whisper to my daughter, who eyes were questioning the pile of pins being dropped into my purse
Oh well. Not this hair do. But, absolutely, yes to Str-8-N Natural. Oh, and Mister.