I sit at my desk by the window staring at the blank page on the computer screen. My thoughts are interrupted by the profane laughter and bravado of a group of young people gathered outside. I do my best to ignore them and open the window blinds. Soon my room is filled with the scent of junipers and cherry blossoms. I look at the two-story houses that stand like sentinels guarding my private kingdom; Beige buildings with red tile roofs on a clear blue background.
The constant chirping of birds, the playful shrieks of happy children, and the low bark of a dog all come together in a familiar suburban symphony. Every now and then I hear the ice cream man making his rounds and the drone of the mail truck, triggering the nervous anticipation experienced by those who have submitted their work to a publisher or two … or twenty.
What a difference a move of a few blocks makes! This house is a long way from the cramped apartment I used to live in. There, the view from my desk was of an empty parking lot, with drug addicts and prostitutes on parade. There were annoying neighbors, who always seemed to have water, a pitcher, and the Kool-Aid, but no sugar. The sounds of that world produced the cacophonic mix of screeching tires, slamming doors, and profane lovers fights late into the night.
Once again, my thoughts are interrupted by the sounds of exuberant antics among the youth, and my mind goes back to my youth …
I spent lazy summer days on the back porch of my parents’ house, daydreaming and turning billowing clouds into faces and inanimate objects. I remember reading late into the night, when everyone else was asleep, and then I got out of bed the next morning to get ready for school. At sixteen, I would sit in my father’s recliner until two-three in the morning, going over a couple of lines from a poem or story, until I got it “perfect”, only to read it a month later and rearrange everything.
My friends and I would sit in the park and watch the ladies strolling from our cars: afro puffs, double hoop earrings, culottes. That night we were going to a party at a house and we met those same women. They would play hard to get it, and they were. The next day, we would meet in Granny Steptore’s garage and brag about who was “playing” us and who we were planning to attack. Back then, “La, la, la” meant “I love you” and Motown really was “The sound of young America.”
She would find “that one” and the two of them would hang out during the summer: at the pool, the park, the movies, the parties. You had “your song” (for me and mine was Be My Girl from Dramatics). Back then, love songs were about love and its search. The real tension came later: first kiss, meeting the father …
When the first day of school arrived, the expected one arrived, but sad, goodbye …
Unfortunately, both the romance and the house party seem to be relics of the past.
Disagreements were resolved with clicks, or maybe even a fist fight. Then it was over; the fighters went their separate ways. The fights were over women: someone spoke ill of you or directly challenged you to get over it. Guns rarely figured in the equation, and if so, it was out of self-defense, not because someone outside of a different group was “badly mugged.” “or he was” being hated. “
The world was a different place, full of protests born of optimism. Music didn’t just make you shake your head and get up and dance – it made you think. We were blessed with poets like Smokey Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown, who told us to say it out loud, that we were black and proud. You had to defend something or you would “fall in love with anything”.
Today’s music is all about sex and shooting, sometimes in the same song. All women are labeled “whore” and “whore”, and women don’t seem to care. Today, everyone has a gat, a clique, and an attitude. Fistfights are passed and “black unity” means gathering in a church to bury another victim of the errant gun game and misguided machismo.
… Sitting here looking out the window reminds me of the “good old days” and I silently murmur a prayer for the youth of today.