Monday, February 2, 2009

My Columbus Journal

Saturday, January 31st:
I’ve been in Columbus nearly a week now. I arrived last Sunday morning a few minutes past midnight and went to church later that day at 8:00 am to hear my sister, DE’braR, preach for the first time. I was both proud and sad: proud because my baby sister inspired and moved me; sad because her sermon preparation and organization so much reminded me of my father who died eight short years ago.
After a short church service, we went to breakfast during Reverend DE’braR’s break between services. She is a church musician at her home church, Liberty Hill Baptist, and her other home church, St. Mark’s AME, playing alternate Sundays at both churches and rehearsing with choirs from both churches during the week. This is in addition to having a fulltime as manager of Macy’s Playaway (day care) at Easton Mall and performing in our brother James’ spoken word theatrical company, FLOW Theatre. Whew! Sounds like my former life.
James, who is an absolutely fabulous gourmet chef, had a wonderful dinner ready for us after church, featuring my favorite vegetable, cabbage, and a “dump cake” in order of my deceased former best friend, Dr. Karen Flowers who loved making this dessert. James is not just a great chef, he is a consummate baker (I think he’s channeling both our grandmother who made the world’s best sweet potato pie and our Uncle Calvin who was a chef extraordinaire).
Monday I attended a certification class for instructors for PATHS (Professional Advancement through Training and education in Human Services) – the reason for my trip to the state capitol where I lived for five years before moving to Toledo. The class was fantastic with a teacher that should teach ALL would-be teachers how to teach. He's also a mentor and gave me some useful information about upcoming opportunities to write curriculum for some of PATHS specialized training.
I made a new friend among my “classmates,” a fellow Toledoan who, of course, has a friend in common with me who just happens to be a former hab tech of mine (my only male hab tech and the best one I ever had). My new friend, Fern, and I had lunch together at a great Mexican restaurant (Columbus is full of great restaurants, the city’s ONLY redeeming quality for me, aside from being the home for two-thirds of my immediate family!). Monday night, James, DE’braR, and I were treated to an amazing “organic” meal prepared by my brother Joseph and hosted by him, his partner, Leslie, and Joseph’s two wunderkinds, Kiana and Joe.
At the end of the delicious meal, James outed me for wanting to bring my own food – hey, I went on a healthy eating kick back in the mid-1970s and after being a vegetarian, then trying a macrobiotic diet, and taking as many as 20 health supplements daily, I concluded that I would never eat another thing that tasted like cardboard, twigs, or tofu. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by how good organic food tastes now. Joe made a salad that had a variety of organic vegetables, fruit, and nuts in it and that reminded me of a salad bar I frequented as a grad student and during my health food kick where you could eat all the salad you wanted for sixty-nine cents.
The rest of the meal consisted of stuffed pasta (with cheese for everyone but me – I had squash), chicken sausage, and the piece de resistance, a delectable bean stew that we could not get enough of. Leslie made coffee for us afterwards and we relaxed, talking, and eating almonds and some great tasting pita chips.
It was such a great evening and a real treat to my siblings and I that we so rarely share. Of course, I stopped by next door to say “hello” to Mom (who I sat next to at the 8:00 Sunday service) and made sure she was all right. She opted out of coming to dinner (she doesn’t have much of an appetite these days), but was overjoyed that her “kids” were hanging out together.
After dinner, I went back home with James, my host for the week. The next morning, my new “little brother,” Kunta served me breakfast in bed, spoiling me for good. I took up residence in James’ upstairs den/guest room which had everything I needed in it: a daybed (I hate conventional beds), a massive low table in front of the day bed that served as my dining table, laptop desk, and make up table; a large console that served as a stand for the TV; a writing desk with a nice, comfortable leather chair with a printer nearby; and a closet that held a microwave and a fridge where I kept my new favorite drink – Lemon Berry Hawaiian Punch.
Aesthetics were also taken care of with James’ distinctive flair for decorating. One large portrait flanked by portraiture, landscapes, and a still life hang above the daybed and an adjoining wall holds numerous proclamations given to James by various municipalities and framed theatre posters of James his play, “Our Young Black Men Are Dying And Nobody Seems To Care,” celebrating the play’s New York debut over a decade ago.
There nestled in the corner are also posters of two double features of my plays that James directed and produced: “I Ain’t Ja’ Mama” and “Fat Ladies Ain’t All in The Circus” (which I performed as a one-woman show) at Aldersgate United Methodist Church September 26, 27, and 28, 1986; and S.K.AIDS (School Kids with AIDS) and B.R.AIDS (Black Response to AIDS) performed at Columbus’ MLK Center, April 28-May 1, 1988.
Over the desk are creative displays of theatre posters from past performances, including one of “Black Man Rising,” James’ latest play to be performed in New York after being featured at the 2007 National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina; photos of actors (and one of me performing in a video-tapped production of a play by Da Coloured Gurlz Collective) and a very modern graffiti painting that I’ve always liked. The TV wall is actually a large window covered with wood blinds with limited wall space, but there is a framed photo of a crowd gathered at the nation’s capitol.
A pair of red leather armchairs with nail head trim sits underneath the theatre posters with a low chest between them and an ornate brown leather armchair sits on the opposite wall next to the TV console. Wooden tables flank the daybed with huge lamps, a collection of trophies, sculpted figures and a photo of the two foster sons James had planned to adopt decorating them. Other features of the well-decorated room include a wooded pedestal holding a white ceramic arm and hand holding a golden belt between the desk and the door; a milk can holding a bowl and a tree stump in a corner right outside the closet and next to the TV console, and my two sentinels: five foot tall wooden African statues, male and female, sitting on stools on either side of the daybed, standing between tables and chairs reminding me that history is always with us.
However, my favorite items, which I offered to, buy when James said he was selling them on Ebay, are the woven cases stacked underneath the TV console. There are four of them and a collection of nesting baskets. James gave them to me and told me I could take them home with me, but Kunta stores his clothes in them, so I can wait until he gets a chest or dresser. I described this room in such great detail because I rarely left it from Tuesday until Friday, when I went to spend the day with my mother while Kunta fixed some plumbing for her and DE’braR and then went with James to tape this year’s entry in the National Black Theatre Festival.
I spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday doing about an hour of work a day on a final edit of my novel (a copy of the book was sent to me for final approval but I wasn’t able to read it while I was in Columbus, so I edited my computer copy). The rest of the time, I waited out the winter storm relaxing, watching cable TV and actually paying attention to what was on the screen, looking at James’ decorator magazines, enjoying his cooking, answering numerous emails, and doing a little laundry. I also slept A LOT!
I didn’t realize how tired I was until I stopped to rest. Had it not been for the over a million people left without power, I would have considered the storm a blessing. My sister’s sermon Sunday helped me realize that I have been trying too hard to do things that will get done and relying on myself rather than trusting God and letting the power given to me by the Greatest Power loose to effortlessly do the things I need to do to be successful.
Realizing that, I was able to relax and to handle the rejection emails I started to receive from my queries of agents and publishers with a positive attitude. In the past, I have not sent out my work due to the devastation of rejection letters I received, some of which have been brutal. It was a great three day reprieve from my frenetic nearly round the clock writing schedule.
Thursday night, I treated Kunta, James’ houseguest, also named James, and a friend, K.C., to pizza.
Kunta and James (who I secretly nicknamed salt and pepper because Kunta is black and prefers blondes and country music and James is white and prefers black women and rap music) brought the daybed that was my place of repose for an entire week up from the first floor, navigating up a steep staircase and around a sharp corner into “my room.” They also had to take the leather sofa which had been in the den downstairs. Kunta gave up sleeping in the den and slept downstairs in James’ on the leather couch now in James’ dining room during my stay, as well. He’s also been doing the repairs on the house I bought with Joseph and Leslie. And I got breakfast in bed again Saturday morning, so I felt buying pizza was the least I could do. Friday, I spent most of the day with Mom, watching TV, talking, and doing laundry (mine and some towels and rugs from DE’braR’s basement bathroom that got soaked from a busted pipe upstairs in Mom’s bathroom). I also got to eat some collard greens, cornbread, and baked chicken Mom cooked earlier in the week and a piece of fruitcake leftover from the holidays (I swear fruitcakes could last a hundred years!).
Friday night, Kunta, James, James, and I watched the video before James mailed it. I saw my baby sister and another actor, Amber, performing excerpts from James’ play “Womyn With Wings” that was written for my best friend, Pajil who never got the chance to perform it. However, she will be performing it in North Carolina next summer if it’s accepted by the festival judges.
DE’braR, Amber, and the other members of James’ company, Jeffro and Ron will also perform. The video was quite stunning. DE’braR’s acting and singing is better than ever and Amber is a gifted actress and singer, as well. The play has evolved since I saw it nearly twenty years ago and now includes a tribute to Michelle Obama, our new First Lady. “Black Man Rising” is also being submitted again by the New York company.
I plan to enter B.R.AIDS as a readers’ theatre, as well, so my last task before I leave Columbus is to do a FINAL edit of the play. Then, tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll be returning home to resume working and writing, with just as much zeal and determination, but less self-imposed anxiety and frustration. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be working just as hard and still won't be available for chit-chat except for my column by that name or much socializing of any kind (sorry, friends!), but it won’t be frenetic. It will be far more relaxed and enjoyable.
My trip to Columbus has really helped me put things into perspective. Actually, I was tempted to move into James’ guest room when Kunta said he was going to move into the basement, but I realize, as much as I love this room – and I do love this room – and as much as I have ALWAYS just wanted to lock myself in a room with books, paper, pen, a TV, and, now, a laptop, I can’t: not even if the room is as beautiful as James’ den/guestroom where I know I’ll always be welcome and can come here and re-group anytime I want.

Monday, February 2nd:
Since I stayed an extra day in Columbus, I have more to share! I attended James' church, Advent UCC, yesterday and had Communion for the first time this year. I used to have issues with drinking Christ's blood symbolically until Kenneth Copeland, a fellow Texan, explained why blood is a necessary component to the spiritual salvation of humankind - it has to do with mankind's history of blood sacrifice and I suspect an event that pre-dated religious ritual which I explore in a novel I am developing that gives my view of creation. Anyway, we had to leave early due to a sewage problem that had to be fixed as soon as possible (sewage was seeping into James' basement after all of the moisture from last week's storm).
Once the plumber finished snaking the sewage line, James and I went to lunch at my favorite Columbus restaurant, Schmidt's in German Village, my favorite area of the city (James lived there briefly a few years ago). We got turned around on our way to the restaurant and I saw a house I want to buy! It's gorgeous, but a little large for German Village where the houses are small brick edifices patterned after real German residences.
We got to Schmidt's before the lunch rush and I had my favorite Bahama Mama sausage and James had a Reuben. We also had ham and bean soup (it's better at Al Smith's and the Glendale Garden Cafe in Toledo!) and I had a really good Riesling wine. Riesling is a white grape that originates in Germany and is not too sweet and not too dry for me. I prefer it to the popular white Zinfandel (Schmidt's other house wine) which I find to be a little bitter in taste. I actually prefer red wine to white and my favorite wine, believe it or not, is Reunite Lambrusco. Cheap, but good!
For dessert, I had to forego my favorite, banana cream pie after having had excessive diarrhea from the cheese on the pizza we ate Thursday night. Instead, I had apple strudel with ice cream. I know I shouldn't have had the lactose, but apple strudel is just not the same without the ice cream and Schmidt's apple strudel is not as good as the apple fritter I had at Shorty's in Toledo which I vowed to never go back to after the treatment Diane Gordon and I received there when she took me to Shorty's to celebrate my birthday last fall - I knew we should have gone to Ruby's Kitchen!
Speaking of Ruby's Kitchen, James offered to drive me back to Toledo today and save my boss' brother a trip here to pick the PATHS kit and me up until I told him Ruby's Kitchen is closed on Mondays. I also think the trip would be hard on his Kia Sportage which already has 50,000 miles on it - hey, he bought it for $200 and it's great for driving around Columbus.
I wore my Christmas present from Mom and Debbie (my baby sister who stopped being Debbie a long time ago, but will never stopped being "the baby" in the family). It's a black velvet dress with a high split in the back and a low neck in the front, and a lovely camel-colored fleece jacket with black piping, plus an embellished black chiffon scarf. I'm wearing the dress typing on the computer in one of the photos I posted to my page at this morning. Well, I got some attention from a couple of men at Schmidt's who kept staring at my decolletage (boobs). Since we were the only blacks there who weren't working, all of this attention was coming from white males.
I wasn't put off by it; I've dated a few white guys and, besides, ever since Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton did the nasty (and I do mean nasty) in "Monster's Ball," I've noted heightened interest in black women by white men. This was noted in articles written during the whole Duke rape scandal by black college co-eds who complained that white guys would come up to them at parties and grab their butts or make sexually suggestive remarks to them. Well, I haven't experienced anything that blatant, just a lot of staring and friendly chit-chat - in Toledo, it's always men who look older than my mother.
One young man who was dining with what appeared to be his parents kept staring at me and when they got up to leave, his father patted James' shoulder in a very fatherly manner, as if giving his approval of his son's interest? in a black woman. My brother, author of "Our Young Black Men Are Dying And Nobody Seems to Care," "Black Men Rising," "One Race, One People, One Peace," and "Martin and Me" said quietly, but loud enough for the departing family to hear, and I quote:
"Don't be touching me, m-fer! My name ain't Obama." I nearly fell out of my chair! The poor white guy looked wounded, but the look on James' face was one of incredulity. His attitude was classic John Henry Chapman, Sr. - our father!
My father's grandfather was a sharecropper who had an account at the "company" store which was never paid off no matter how much he worked. Every week he'd go to get his pay and his boss would add up what he owed and the store, which was always just a little bit more than he made working in the fields. "You almost made it this time," the boss would say with a smile. So, my father grew up, left Texas and while pastoring a church in Oklahoma, returned home and went to that "company" store where he saw that same man, now old and half-blind. He bought a pack of gum and paid for it with a fifty dollar bill. When the "boss man" gave him back his change, he said, "Ain't you John Henry?" My father replied, "Yes, and I made it this time!"
Now that man at Schmidt's had nothing to do with any of the oppression my father's family suffered in Texas and is probably the descendant of immigrants who didn't own slaves or force black folks to sharecrop for them. However, people who come here to benefit from all the good that American has to offer must understand that once they become American citizens, they inherit America's legacy which includes slavery and the oppression of not just African-Americans, but Native Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, and many others.
I actually felt a little sorry for the man who thought he was being magnanimous and accepting only to be shot down. What he didn't understand was that his gesture was one that was often used by slaveowners and condescending whites after slavery to infantilize black men, treating them like little children or worse, pets. James statement "I ain't Obama" symbolically reflects the difference between our black President and those of us who are descendants of slaves and slavery.
I only wished I'd captured the expression on James' face with my camera phone. It was priceless. Aside from being a bit patronizing, I don't think the gentleman meant any harm, but my brother had a flashback. Some psychologists call this Post-Traumatic Slave Disorder. I wrote about it in a series I did for Sojourner's Truth that was nominated for a Toledo Press Club Award. (I was beat out by the guys at The Blade who did the expose about Vietnam and the ones at the Toledo City Paper who covered the Jeep shooting.) Unlike President Obama, who would have accepted the gesture, James saw red. He also saw white and we might have all seen blue had the man said anything in response.
Speaking of our new President, James, a true Obamaphile, made five beautiful shadow boxes featuring the President that he attempted to sell at the church's bookstore. However, probably due to the economic crisis, they didn't sell. So, I offered to buy them from him. Of course, he gave them to me. And I plan to give four of them to my favorite Toledo Obamaphiles: Denise, who campaigned for Obama; my present and former bosses, Michael Zeigler (actually, I'll give it to his wife, Reba to make sure it gets home!) and Gary Easterly; and chairman of Zeigler's board, Rev. Alexander Sheares. I think
I'll give the fifth one to a manager that I worked with at the board who is leaving the facility where we worked together to work at another facility. She was an Obama supporter from the beginning, so I think she should have one of the shadow boxes to put on her desk in her new office. Our old management team, which has since been dissolved by the board's HR department, is getting together Friday night to give her a send off; however, I'm so busy, I may not make it. I didn't get a lot done this week due to taking some needed time off to rest, so I've got to get busy when I get back. I have to get started finding writing assignments for my new online freelance writing business that I just started yesterday.
I return home today, but I have really enjoyed the last eight days. Columbus is not a place I ever want to live again, but I did pause when James offered to sell me his house, complete with furniture. The pause was because the house is fabulously decorated. I described the guest room where I spent most of my time the past week, but the rest of the house is equally elegant. First, there's a painting on the porch, which is also decorated with African masks. Walking into the living room, a small room with a staircase wall painted orange (I love that wall!) and a small table and four chairs for playing card games in the center, you feel cozy and welcome.
There's a Victorian sofa on the wall beside the door that I want when James gets a new one and two antique looking chairs on the opposite wall. A huge entertainment center on the wall opposite the staircase houses the television and stereo. Of course, there is art on all the walls, including the window wall above the sofa: actually, it's a hanging sculpture of different facial expressions painted a bronzey gold that I've always loved. Past the living room is a dining room that now has the leather sofa that used to be upstairs and more chairs, tables, and art. Then there's the kitchen which I think James should put on HGTV's "Rate My Space." It's a galley kitchen and the ceiling, walls, floor, and appliances are all black.
I hate kitchens (hate is not a strong enough word, believe me!), but this is one of only maybe two or three kitchens I've ever loved. Upstairs is a similarly shaped bathroom that has a wood-topped table that holds the sink, and a tub with black leather on the side and a clear shower curtain that makes the room look larger. The only window is covered with mudcloth. Even the toilet paper holder, a chrome spindle attached to the wall like a sconce, is elegant. There's also a stacked washer and dryer just inside the door for convenience.
James' room is smaller than the guest room, but he made the most of the space by taking the doors off the closet and putting the headboard of his bed in the alcove that was created. He has a beautiful antique bed that belonged to our grandmother's sister, Jessie, who we all called Aunt J. James also has other antique pieces in the room and more art. James home is exquisite and the idea of buying it and the furnishings was tempting, even if it means living in a city I detest. Maybe I could learn to love Columbus? No, I still have nightmares about the five years I lived there, stuck in a suburb with no way to get out - it's a nice place to visit, but...
Driving around the city with James and looking at all of the houses for sale (not as many as in Toledo!), I thought wouldn't it be great to have enough money to buy some of them, let James live in them for a few months - just long enough to decorate them and make them into homes - then sell them to people who want homes but can't get a mortgage and can't afford a large monthly payment. The Murphys do this in Toledo with rental property. Something to consider if I ever write that best-selling novel or get a play produced on Broadway! Actually, James may be headed to Broadway; for the second time, he's entering a play in the National Black Theatre Festival. The last time, his play, "Black Man Rising," was staged in New York. Who knows? "Womyn With Wings" could very well make it all the way to Broadway!
When I return home today, I'll miss my little piece of heaven (James' guest room) as I look around at my house that is falling apart around me because my landlord won't spend the money needed to renovate it and refuses to lower the price so that I can buy it and give it the love and care it needs. I love my Toledo residence because of its history (the Gladieux family started their catering business there, selling box lunches at the old Jeep plant) and its "bones." It has a spectacular stone fireplace, beamed ceilings downstairs, nine foot high ceiclings and gold-leafed valances downstairs, a black tub and sink and mosaic over the tub in the bathroom upstairs, and an enclosed porch with seventeen five-foot windows.
However, it needs new plumbing, new wiring, new flooring, new appliances, new ceilings due to water damage, and will soon need a new roof because the landlord won't trim the two large trees in the front yard or put new gutters on the house (the last ones were removed to put a new roof on the house about five or six years ago). Plus there's a hole behind the house where an attached garage which collapsed and had to be removed once stood. Instead of clearing the area, the landlord just had some trucks come out with loads of dirt and dump the dirt on top of the remains of the foundation, creating a rats' nest. The only repairs done to the house are superficial ones that the city requires my landlord to do.
I could move and I may if the owner of the house my realtor brother John bid on for me in the LaGrange area accepts my offer. However, I love the house I've lived in for nearly twenty years and really hate to give up on a great old house that I know if I leave, my landlord will do the minimum repairs to, slap on some paint, and raise the rent. I want to make my historical house a place befitting its history. I hope I get that chance. Until then, I'll keep returning to Columbus to bask in James' decor, as well as my mother's and Debbie's (she just redid their kitchen area). I also like the way Joseph and Leslie have re-done their home and felt very comfortable there when they invited us all to dinner.
O.K., so Columbus will be my second home.

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