D*NOTE Featuring PAMELA ANDERSON / “A Place In The City”

Have I been blind? Have I been lost inside myself and my own mind? Hypnotized, mesmerized by what my eyes have seen… —Natalie Merchant, from “Carnival”
I was out running this morning when I came around a bend and saw a little girl pushing a stroller that was taller than she was. I glanced down at the stroller half-expecting it to be empty or for there to be a baby doll in there. It wasn’t empty and the baby in there was no doll. I looked up, expecting (or possibly, hoping) to see an adult. Not another soul in sight except for a little boy who looked even younger than the girl. The girl said something to the boy in Spanish. In response, the boy ran to catch up with the girl. All the way home, I wondered where could they have been going with that baby and why. A few months ago, my sister Asante and I were walking to Bronx Pizza on Washington Ave. in Hillcrest. We saw this grizzled-looking white man of thirty-five or forty sitting at a taco shop on the corner. Even though he was sitting, he looked unsteady enough to fall over. Just before I looked away, a Hispanic teenager with a long stride, a black t-shirt, crisp white sneakers and a dangling, silver crucifix strode past the man. It amused me to think about how much energy the kid had vs. how little had the man. We got in line to order our pizza. For about three weeks in May of this year (2008) an old homeless lady took up residence at the bus stop in front of the Blockbuster Video on the corner of Fairmount and University. Each day on my way home, I’d cruise past that bus stop and look to see if she was still there. She was always still there. The thing I couldn’t get over was how many bags she had. She had so many, she’d made the bus stop practically unusable: she had bags piled beside her on the bench; bags stacked on the ground all around her; bags shoved under the bench; she even had bags on her lap. More interesting than the bags was that she was always looking for something. Every time I passed, she was searching through one of the bags. Maybe she was trying to find her life. One day I passed and she and all her bags were gone. I was in my work truck at a red light on the corner of Sports Arena and Rosecrans in Point Loma when I saw a cop talking to a homeless guy. It’s a long light and I’m nosy, so I cut the engine. The cop was saying, “You know any other guys who moved around here from P.B. or Mission Beach?” The homeless guy shook no. The cop said, “What about you? How long have you been around here?” I couldn’t hear the answer. The cop said, “Where are your buddies? I haven’t seen them in a while.” The green light for the crossing traffic turned yellow and I cranked up my engine, drowning out the rest of the conversation. I’ve been subpoenaed to appear next Wednesday (06.25.08) at the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego – El Cajon Judicial District. Why? Because on Easter Sunday of this year, I was on my way to my friend Danny’s house when I saw a young black dude standing on the corner masturbating. Normally, I don’t care what people do with their personal time or where, but this was Easter Sunday, there were kids everywhere (including one of my own in the backseat of my car) and this dude looked liked he’d intentionally picked a spot where he was most likely to be seen. Danny’s house was only two blocks down the street. When Danny heard the story, he said, “Let’s go get that ---- off the corner.” The cops beat us to it. To make a long story short, I ended up performing a citizen’s arrest (not as involved as it sounds; it entailed nothing more than filling out paperwork right there on the corner) and now I have to testify in court. I don’t like it – I’ve never been a fan of cops or courts – but then again, I don’t like people getting off on masturbating in front of little kids either. I always catch the red light under the 805 at the spot where Sorrento Valley Rd. turns into Mira Mesa Blvd. If it’s the afternoon, there’s usually a long line of cars to my right – all the people starting there daily homeward commute. I have a game a play where I count how many cars pass me by getting onto the freeway and how many have more than one occupant. Then I try to calculate a percentage. Usually, it’s pretty easy because the number of cars with more than one occupant is zero. Years ago in New Orleans, I was waiting at a bus stop on Canal St. It was late at night. There was a middle-aged black man next to me. He didn’t look quite messed-up enough to be homeless, but he didn’t look like he was cashing payroll checks on a regular basis either. You see people like that all the time on and around Canal St., but something about this guy made me watch him out of the corner of my eye. Something just wasn’t right. After standing there for a while, the man leaned forward, opened his mouth and out came an discomforting amount of clear liquid. The oddest thing was, he wasn’t gagging or retching. The liquid was just pouring out. It was as if his head was a bottle that had been tipped over. I shifted a couple of steps in the opposite direction. Whatever that stuff was, I didn’t want it splashing on me. Last April, my sister Kiini sent out a “Happy Birthday To Me” email. Except, instead of writing about her birthday as she’d intended, she ended up writing about a fish market vendor, a crazed street singer, a well-dressed panhandler and “other skewed characters in varying states of decay.” The story that stuck with me the most was this one:
So today while on the [subway] platform, watching the rats frolic, I saw a woman, obviously on the edge, walking with a slight twitch. What was she doing? Pushing a baby stroller. The baby stroller had a mismatched wheel that looked like it was wobbling on its last leg. Inside the baby stroller was a baby...a real live, fresh-faced baby. Everyone was in shock. I heard whispers of speculation of what would happen to that baby. Was the baby currently in danger? I'm not sure if I was the only one who asked was that her baby. They [the woman and the baby] seemed to be of different ethnicities. The baby looked all wide-eyed and serene. It was a bizarre scene.
Two days ago, I was unloading freight at the NBC building on Broadway when I saw a female bike messenger skid to a stop in front of me. Something about the way she stopped seemed strange. It took me a moment to realize what it was: her bike had no brakes. I watched her (blond hair in two pony tails, blue-eyed, fresh-faced, baggy fatigue-style cut-offs, heavily tattooed right arm) lock up her bike and get ready to deliver whatever it was she had slung over her shoulder in her bike bag. As the businessmen in suits and businesswomen in incongruous sneakers and all the assorted downtown street people passed us on the left and right, I asked the blond bike messenger about her bike. She called it a “track” bike and explained that it has only one fixed gear, which means, the back wheel moves forward when the rider pedals forward and the wheel moves backwards when the rider pedals backwards. There is no coasting, no gear-changing and no braking. So strange. When I came back from my delivery, I saw her on her bike, heading towards Horton Plaza. She was pedaling, of course. Thursday or Friday of last week, I was running south on Fairmount Ave when I passed a man and a woman camped out in front of the recycling center. The man was black and tall with a scraggly, bushy beard and no shoes. The woman, who appeared to be Filipino or Thai, had multiple facial piercings and strangely clumped-together jet-black hair. Her t-shirt, which was probably white at one time, was now the color of dirt. She was reclining between two of their many bags of recyclables with her shoeless feet (she was barefoot too) up on another of the bags. The bottoms of her feet looked like she should have been sitting in a hospital emergency room instead of at the front gate of a recycling center. The two were arguing in an animated fashion, but her accent was indecipherable and his words were garbled by last night’s alcohol. I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. Back on Washington Ave., Asante and I were walking past the taco shop again, heading back to the car, pizza in hand. The unsteady-looking white guy was sitting in the same place, but now he was bent over with his head between his knees. Of all the available seats at that taco shop, the overly-energized teenager had picked the one directly across from the man. The two made a strange pair: a bent-over, middle-aged white guy slowly rocking from side to side; and across from him, a freshly-groomed, crisply-dressed Latino youngster chewing off huge chunks of a burrito but only after dumping a glob of salsa verde on each bite. “Hey, old man!” the teenager yelled between swallows, “You alright?” “No,” the man muttered into his knees, “No, no, no.” Then, as if on cue, his upper body convulsed and he began to vomit all over his own shoes. The teenager shrugged, still chewing. He didn’t even bother to move his feet. “Old man got problems,” he announced to no one in particular. I looked at Asante. “Jesus Christ,” she said. “No shit,” I answered. By the way, in case you happen to live in San Diego, the pizza was great, although the service was predictably surly. With a name like Bronx Pizza, what do you expect?
* * *
Get your city songs here: forss.jpg Forss’ “Using Splashes” – From Soulhack (Sonar Kollektiv, 2003) Something starling and wordless to get us started: atonal and unsettling yet oddly lush. elaine elias.jpg Eliane Elias’ “Slide Show” – From Around The City (RCA, 2006) An evening cruise through the concrete, steel and asphalt – sleek and sensual. d*note.jpg D*Note’s “A Place In The City” – From Criminal Justice (TVT, 1995) An epic sound-painting cataloguing the grime and splendor of the urban crush. natalie merchant.jpg Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” – From Tigerlilly (Elektra, 1995) Natalie muses; the drum machine swings; a wild-eyed mystic prophet raves. nas & olu.jpg Olu Dara & Nas’ “Jungle” – From In The World: From Natchez To New York (Atlantic, 1998) Steady and cool; slightly sinister too. Things may be quiet, but they’re far from calm. cibelle.jpg Cibelle’s “City People” – From The Shine Of Dried Electric Leaves (Six Degrees, 2006) The air is so hot that the city people’s foreheads drip with sweat. And there’s Cibelle, lost in her play-dreams. blackalicious 01.jpg Blackalicious’ “Sleep” – From Nia (Quannum Projects, 2000) Back at home. Nighttime falling. Tomorrow’s on her way. —Mtume ya Salaam            2 More City Songs               I like this theme, like it a lot even though I’m not so hot on a couple of the songs—you know in some other universe that Natalie Merchant might even sound good. Might. Wouldn’t bet on it, but I hear the backbeat, so I know (hear) all the influences. On the other hand, the Eliane Elias is cool even though I'm generally not a big fan of her music. That D*Note jam reminds me of Natalie Merchant in some small ways except I (hugely) prefer Ms. Anderson’s vocal work. You know I dig Cibelle’s kookiness, not enough to listen to it on the regular but enough to recognize something is happening whenever I do listen. The Forss is cool too in its own electronic way, especially the outro where they try to kick the drums hard. Of course, Nas & Olu are happening, got to like a strong father/son team, especially when they drop some nastiness like this. And Blackalicious, well, they are one of my favorite rap groups. They drop science and not just so-called intelligence designed to be popular. So, Mtume, within your mix, I’ve drop two too dangerous cuts. One old school and one thoroughly modern. I’m sure you’re already down with both. keziah jones 02.jpg “72 Kilos” is by Nigerian artist Keziah Jones from his Black Orpheus album. It starts off irresistibly tongue-deep-in-cheek paraphrasing Stevie Wonder and then it goes global (well at least Western global) and has this great line about having a college degree but only be qualified to drive a cab in New York—but hey that’s the Big Apple, rotten to… This is a drug song that’s not about getting high but about trying to find a niche in a commercial world where what you are best at is slinging. rakim 03.jpg “Living For The City” by Rakim from The Rakim Collection (an underground mixtape not commercially available) almost needs no introduction, except to say this is one of the greatest rappers ever laying down his personal description of the game. And I like the beat too; as they used to say, you can dance to it. Alright, I’m out. —Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, June 23rd, 2008 at 1:22 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “D*NOTE Featuring PAMELA ANDERSON / “A Place In The City””

taro nombei Says:
July 6th, 2008 at 12:43 am

Somehow managed to miss out on this edition of BOL — too busy? My email reminder didn’t get through? Whatever, I may have missed the music on the jukebox (and I know a few of them, love that Olu Dara), but the writing’s still up. And the text really grabbed me, on this sticky Tokyo afternoon. Thanks for that, Mtume!

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