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The Tricycle Of Doom Meets An African
a morality play
We are going to have story time today. It’s been a while since Uncle Andy sat you kids down with a warm glass of dairy type drink and dropped a ‘to good to be true’ snapshot of my life. I will share with you cats and kittens something that happened to me yesterday, and I already know that I am going to fail to impart on you how absurd and awkwardly fantastic it was. I’m going to try to not provide a commentary on the happening, but rather just share with you one of the greatest conversations I have ever had. And for those who think I am doctoring the story to make it more interesting, I am not that good of a writer. I can’t make this shit up. This may be a long blog, by the way. With that said, let’s begin.
This will be the third consecutive week that I’ve mentioned my friend Izzy (www.jisobeldelisle.com). She’d better be happy with that, but it’s relevant. She’s a photographer, and a very good one. High concept art, lots of nudity, some goo and drooling, an occasional penis. I try not to gush over art, but Isz is good at what she does. Through her, I am friends with her friend Steph. Steph is a beautiful and wonderful friend who brings out the best comedy in me. Steph models and studies biology. That info is unnecessary, I suppose. Also, biotech is Godzilla. Together with our friend Rob, the four of us have been called the Tricycle of Doom. (Rob is the streamers and I am the broken wheel.) Isobel had a gallery opening in Philly last night. Literary element alert: This is the setting.
If you’re not from the Philadelphia area, all of the freakshow rumors about South Street are true. It’s like the waiting room for people who auditioned for a carnival but were rejected. There are unusual shops, fantastic pizza, cheesesteaks of course, and odd people. If you’ve not been, be. It’s a good time. Comedy clubs, music venues, a store called Condom Kingdom, bars as far as the eye can see, and the birthplace of Larry Fine (the greatest Stooge ever). This is where Izzy’s gallery opening was, the third floor of a sex toy shop. It’s a shame as an adult the word ‘toy’ means something you stick in your vagina. It used to mean Hot Wheels and Barbies. Sad.
First floor, dildos. Not all that interesting. We’ve all seen dildos. At least, we all ought to have. For those who haven’t, they look like penises but smell like a brand new Masters Of The Universe action figure. (Hordak was my favorite.) Up the perilous steps (even if you’re not crippled) to the second floor, bondage gear. This room would have been fine if it weren’t for the glass case full of shit that doctors have been using on me since I was six. Little anxiety there. Also there was a bathroom. That’s not important. Third floor, more perilous steps and the photography of J. Isobel De Lisle.
Hugs and handshakes. Art and friends. Good times. Steph gets hungry and I mock stupid spellings of names while suggesting Steph ought to spell her name like this: Stĕ•ff. After assessing her hunger, Stĕ•ff decides to order Chinese. Food. Chinese food. Not a person. She can’t eat a person. I escort her downstairs to the street so I can have a cigarette. Stĕ•ff walks down the road to pick up her food. A new friend, Cara, and Rob (the streamers) stand with me. Literary element alert: These are the characters. This is where the story stops being ungodly boring.
Smoking my cigarette, minding nothing more than my business and the business of Rob and Cara, a short, thirty something black woman with an acoustic guitar strapped to her back approaches us. It isn’t important that she has a guitar. It is important that she’s black. Remember; we’re on South Street, bastion of the strange and deranged. The black woman, with an African accent in her voice, stands less than two feet from my face, stares through me and says, “Respect.” Keep in mind throughout this story that this is taking place in a street outside of a dildo store.
“Right on,” I say and drag my cigarette while looking at her moon sized dilated pupils. She’s fuct up on something, but I’m thinking she is just a homeless weirdo looking to bum a cigarette. “Respect,” she says again. I extend my hand and she folds hers behind her back. “How are you going to say respect and then not take my hand? What’s up with that?” I ask. She nears my face. I don’t move back. She raises her dirty fingers toward my septum ring (and you thought it wasn’t going to be mod related). “You’re going to need to back up,” I say. “Why you do this?” she asks. She flicks my septum ring and my eyes catch a glimpse of Rob’s face (which is behind the woman’s view) and it is fantastically aghast and wrought with the strain of suppressed laughter. “I like the way it looks. You don’t?” I say now staring at this woman with a bravado and preparation of a switchblade in my belly. The woman went on a speech. She told me about Africans and their modifying. How women are abused and how jewelry like mine is made to segregate and make an ugly of people who are disobedient to the regimes there. Rob’s face continues to be awesome, and Cara (whom I met that night) is imbibing the absurd with a cautious and pensive curiosity.
Five minutes of ‘I’m wrong for being white and co-opting a culture of Africans’ hate speech pass. And I say, “We’re in America. In this culture, this is beautiful. And I’m beautiful.” The woman gets closer to me and tugs on my lobes. “Why you do this?” she says. Before I can answer, she says, “I like you. Why you do this? This is my people. It’s not fashion. I am a woman!” and lifts up her shirt. “I get killed in Africa for what I am. I am a woman!” Stĕ•ff reappears with a stupidly large bag of Chinese food, completely unaware of what is happening. Stĕ•ff’s eyes write and interesting sonnet of ‘What the fuck is going on?’ The black woman points at Stĕ•ff’s crotch and says to me, “You fuck her vagina?” I step forward, now offended. “You’re going to need to back off,” I say. The woman flicks my septum again, now close enough to my face to make out with me. I don’t move, pushing my jaw slightly forward, narrowing my brow, and trying to look as intimidating as a five foot four inch crippled kid from Jerz can. “I’m a woman,” the black woman says, “Your people beat and kill my people in the woods, and now you wear this? (flicking my septum) And this? (flicking my lobe) And this? (pulling on my labret)” I tell her, “My people were making olive oil in Sicily when your people were being sold by their leaders, so you’re going to need to check that shit.” She smiles. “I like you,” she says. “Let me see your tongue.” I show her my mod. Stĕ•ff’s face is pretty awesome at this point, and the laughter stifling of Rob has made portions of his face red. “They kill me for being a woman,” the black woman says lifting up her shirt. Rob adds, “Not in this country. This is America.” She looks accusingly at Rob as if he spoke out of turn. Stĕ•ff is still confused, and Cara seems still entertained if not slightly frightened.
The black woman gestures to my cane. I thought she was going to grab it. People do that, you know. Just grab my cane and ask me about it. Happens all the time. I eye (cap’n) Rob’s shoulder in case I need to lean on it. “What’s this?” she asks. “My legs don’t work,” I say. A pause. She paces in an odd rocking, a step in each direction as if she were doing a crackhead box step. “Why they don’t work?” she asks. “I have a disease.” She snickers as if she doesn’t believe me. “Yeah? What is it?” I tell her. She laughs at me. I say to her, “My spine is fuct up. I’m not going to live as long as you will. I’ll be dead before you because of this fucking cane.” Then she told a story about an African (which she then later corrected as a Chinese man) who was very tall and lived to two hundred years old because he had his spine stretched. “Why you don’t do that?” she asked. “I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about,” I respond.
I grow impatient. “You’re not going to accept what I say,” I say to her, “I have a friend waiting for me upstairs. I’m going to go now.” The black woman said…something unintelligible, lifted up her shirt, told me she was a woman, and then asked again, “You fuck her vagina?” I turn to walk away. “Respect,” she says. “Right on,” I say.
I usher Cara, Rob and Stĕ•ff (still holding a giant bag of Chinese food) ahead of me into the dildo store and follow in behind them. We re-arrive at the gallery where Izzy and her man Chuck lamented that they weren’t a part of our strange, half hour long street conversation as Rob regaled the story to others with an animation and a staying sense of awe as he still processed what happened while speaking the story aloud.
There’s no commentary here, kids. I just wanted to tell you a true story that I thought was entertaining. I love where I live. I love Philadelphia, and as misanthropic as I try to be, interactions like this remind me that there is a whole different world going on inside the minds of people who aren’t me. Stay beautiful, kids.
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