Thursday, 4:30pm, the phone rings,
“Hello,” I say.
“Tabias, hi, I have a job for you,” says the excited Marci from Atrium Staffing. “Have you ever heard of David Yurmen Jewelers?”
“Sounds familiar,” I respond.
“Well, it’s a prestigious jewelry company in Tribeca,” she says with the enthusiasm of a lady selling gold watches on the home shopping network.
“Cool, OK,” I respond.
“It’s a six week job, $12.50 an hour, 9 to 5, 5 days a week, dress casual, you’ll be doing data entry and basically just helping out around the office, easy money. You can bring an MP3 player if you want to listen to music, but don’t bring anything you have to carry since they don’t have lockers for you to keep it in, OK?” chipper Marci says.
A six week vacation from empty pockets, guilt, dead beat disorders, and co-dependence. I can repress more of my books, postcards, CD’s and finally feel like a circle can fit into a square without turning into one.
“Awesome, a good way to help more kids in Sierra Leone get their limbs chopped off while forced to dig in coal mines for diamonds,” my self-righteous voice says.
Wondering if consciously doing something you’re opposed to, yet doing it for survival is a justification for compromising, a euphemism for selling out. Fuck it, I need the money -is the end all.
“The job starts tomorrow. Can you make it?” asks Marci.
“Yeah, no problem.”
Friday, beep beep beep, 6:50 am gleams red on my alarm clock that’s set 20 minutes ahead, punch snooze, beep beep beep, 7:10 am, punch snooze, beep beep beep, 7:20am, get up. My first step on the carpet, I sway back and forth as if I’m on a Sears tower-tall plateau that only has room for that one foot. Finally the other crashes into the ground. I collapse back on my bed to find balance, yawn,
“Damn,” I say out loud, recollecting last night’s suicide, realizing my thoughts are still zombies staggering through swamps of Bacardi mixed with orange juice.
Blue jeans, hospital green button up dress shirt, brown wallabies, morning cigarette on the couch, watch Katie Couric’s pill popping smile, her bad impression of a good morning, Al Roker talk to the Midwestern freaks on the street, the beautiful Ann Curry and the rest of those mind control androids stumble over and distort the news. Wash my face, brush teeth, put on my pea coat,
“Yo, I’m out,”
“You’re going to work?” my brother asks.
He know damn well where I’m going.
“Ok, I’ll see you later,”
“Peace,” I say as the door swings open.
On the corner of Hudson and Varick: David Yurmen Jewelers, I stumble to push through the glass corridors, nervous, stuttering, nervous,
“I’m going to the 5th floor,” I say to the security guard with a military haircut.
He smiles condescendingly, calls upstairs, presses a button to let me through the bank vault-like security door. The elevator, first one in, late 20’s to 30-something-year-old women invade with a cloud of conversations, blonde, brown haired suits, each with a Starbucks coffee cup, painted with lipstick on the edges. I wait in the lobby for my boss,
“Good morning, come this way,” she says wearing a red pants suit.
Her name is Leonardo. Wrinkles converge around her lips. Her hair is a dirty blond beehive. She stops to look me up and down.
“You can hang your coat on the coat rack near the elevator,” she said, pointing at the rack while continuing to study my shoes.
She watches me turn into Kramer from Seinfeld. I grab a hanger just clumsy enough to make other hangers fall off. Then bending down to pick them up I hit my head on the coat rack and make more hangers fall off. I pick up the other hangers, hang my coat, turn around and I’m a retard trying to make Jerry’s Kids proud. Within seconds of showing me around she stops to re-scan my clothes,
“I don’t know if you can wear those shoes in the office,” she says, pointing at my black Adidas.
“C’mon you stupid fucking dog,” I say under my breath.
On Spring St. between Sullivan and Thompson, SoHo, NYC, I stand anchored by an ugly little white bulldog with big bulging brown eyeballs and a facial expression that convinces me it has Down syndrome. After staring up at me for a good five minutes, it finally decides to walk in my direction as if to say,
“I’m ready to go now, bitch.”
Just as we start to plod down the sidewalk the mailman, who I see almost daily and has never spoken to me, stops,
“What kind of dog is that?” he exclaims.
Before I can reply, he’s already bending down petting Maddy, oblivious to my response,
“That’s a pit bull, right?” he says, staring at the dog as if waiting for it to speak. “You’re so cute,” the mailman exclaims, “Yes you…what’s his name?”
“I don’t know, I just walk him.”
It takes me a minute to remember the dog’s name after realizing that I’m introducing a dog to a human, with no regards to me in any way, shape or form. We reach the corner of Spring and Sullivan, in front of Savore, an overpriced restaurant where rich people sit outside sipping juice and water out of wine glasses. Just as I’m about to pass the last dinner table, the voice in my head is getting louder, pleading for the dog not take a dump in front of the restaurant. I feel a tug on the leash, the dog stops, this son of a bitch squats down, licks his mouth, smiles, tongue dangling, careless of being dragged or not, since to him taking a shit at that exact spot and time takes precedence over who gets to decide which direction we’re walking in. He looks at me seemingly amused as if to say,
“The fuck are you looking at?”
Finally, he plops out four smelly brown sausages that fall on one another till they form a shit pyramid. I pull a biodegradable “doggie waste bag” from my back pocket, hold my breath from the fumes, and as I bend down my life is drastically put into perspective:
My Dream: To turn my body into more than a retirement home where my brain sits in a wheel chair starring out into the world through two windows, anxiously watching it pass me by. Tell stories that are not the great American novel, but help diagnose the great human condition. To steal rings from Saturn and place them around the moon. Buy my mother eternal life so that I never have to contemplate a world without her in it. Find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis so that Haruki, my on and off ex-girlfriend of 7 years, doesn’t have to live the rest of her life in pain. Buy my middle brother a brownstone in the West Village with a backyard and grill for bar-b-q’s. To live unrepentantly, discarding my mask while others perfect the wearing of theirs. To write something that will let me pull the mountain out of my pocket. Travel the world and swim in space. Proving to my father that he can’t control me, that he can be proud of what I’ve become.
“You can do anything you want. The word ‘can’t’ doesn’t exist in our house,” Moms says to me after selling food to construction workers all day and only making $5.
Four years earlier: college, art school, the dean’s list, a promising writer, beautiful women who once held my hand just to make their necks stretch so far into the sky that the clouds made their bodies appear headless. I self-published my first book of poetry. Directed, produced, wrote and acted in a play. Sold-out both nights and donated all proceeds to a social activist center. Organized hip-hop and spoken word shows. Drugs and alcohol were for the weak. Protesting the bombing of Afghanistan, homemade post 9/11 documentaries unfinished. A beautiful girlfriend that made me more than I thought I could be just by peering into the unknown and pulling out intricate photographs with language. A focused young pupil who once lived humbly in high school, but grew into his own in college. Living away from Moms’ at times smothering love and dad’s psychotic booze guzzling control freak sentiments. After all that, it came down to me listening to these corporate meat heads and money humping skanks giggle at me because I was getting paid $8 an hour, 12 hour days, with half hour lunch breaks to drop off, pick up and walk people’s dogs. I’m like a butler for a childlike animal who lives in a huge downtown flat where the elevator opens up into their living room. To quote Hov, “I got apartments you can fit your house in.”
SoHo, wealthy-artsy-liberal conservatives, upscale cafes that sell giant Rice Crispy treats and chocolate muffins meant for a single person, but enough for three people, gas gulping hummers with satellite TV, Blackberry two ways, clothing stores that only have six items for sale, young Beatles business hipster look-a-likes with their Power Books, which has made me a bitter window shopper, gangsta wanna-be black-white boys driving in Escalades, beautiful woman advertising good times and Paris Hilton smiles, spoiled children spitting on any respect they’re supposed to have for their parents, high school East New York Black and Hispanic kids beating each other up amongst the real enemies, rehearsed chuckles, private mansions in inconspicuous buildings where doorways are slits for entrances, paying 3g’s a month for a single bedroom apartment for the temporarily successful to feel like they made it. Where if you look close enough, the people are contortionists, bending backwards, shoving their heads up their asses, trying to strut the Spring Street catwalk, making Fashion Week year round.
Doing this 3 days a week, ushering at the gay, Jewish artsy independent theater for $6 an hour, 15 hours a week, is enough to make me forget what I came here for. Smelling like wet dog and picking fur off my clothes everywhere I go. All the while, looking forward to seeing a kind-hearted, too polite to say “no,” or acknowledge when he’s being taken advantage of, obsessive-compulsive, passive aggressive, nervous, 24-hour TV watching older middle brother. Pete works for MTV and has had the same job for 10 years while his co-workers that he started off with went on to produce TV shows, leaving him behind. Why? He’s not a tall, good-looking white boy who likes to snort coke and go to hipster parties. Instead, he’s a short, stocky, African American Gay male who still lives by what our parents taught him and really wants to live the American Dream-Revised: fitting in while standing out, good wine, a beautiful, honest good looking man who’s racially and culturally aware (yes, that’s code for white… possibly other), 2.5 kids and enough money to make sure Moms and dad enjoy their last days on Earth. Underneath it all, he suspects I’m an arrogant fuck up,
“It’s always about you. You think everything is just going to come to you and it doesn’t work that way,” he says in a high-pitched strained tone with his arms spread and eyebrows crinkled.
He changed my diapers and raised me when my parents and oldest brother were either out farming or picking tomatoes. For the past several months he’s paid the rent and cooked me food that could easily be displayed on a food channel, which he watches religiously. He’s my mother-brother who actually knows my potential, but thinks that is what makes me lazy. As if MTV or Mark Twain himself will pop out of the grave and demand that the world recognizes my talent, while the real world recognizes my corner-cut efforts. We live in Harlem. The very rock where the greats like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Ralph Ellison, Mingus, Miles, Zora, Billy, Nina, Armstrong, Bird and Ted Jones changed the world, but it’s hard to tell by the gun shots and siren sounds that score the night.
Then there’s me-27, dread locks, yellow buckteeth, an emotionally conflicted romantic, the one that Bob Dylan said, “can do what’s never been done.” I’m slightly disoriented by last night’s Blunt or 40. At the theater I take tickets from Nas and Kelis, the actor that told The Warriors to come out and play, former Mayor Koch, and Woody Allen. They always complain about the temperature.
My boss yells at me with a thick Jordanian accent. Abraham, nice dude, bad temper, good looking, stressed, always agitated, talks calmly, almost under his breath.
“What’s up man? How are you, did you get sleep last night?” he ask me.
I’m always surprised at how sincere he sounds, but with the flip of a script, he can jump down your neck as if you just punched his mom in the stomach.
“C’mon man, I said ‘get Danny and bring him here.’”
“You said, ‘walk Danny.’”
“Tabias, I’m not arguing with you today, go get Danny, bring him back here.”
To not argue with him is like tackling myself into handcuffs.
“…OK,” I say, lips curled, deep breath and out the door.
I come back in a modest mode.
“Tabias man, you slam the door every time you walk in here. That’s an expensive door. Come man, you’re gonna break the door.”
Before this, it was production assistant freelancing for MTV2 for the MTV Music Awards. But those jobs didn’t lead to anywhere unless I had interned or knew somebody with juice.
“We talked about this and I told you I’m not working in the devil’s kitchen,” I’d say to my brother all through college after he’d repeatedly try to get me to work there.
Those jobs finally ended, ending my monetary paradise, borrowing money from close friends. Not looking for a job, but an internship at a magazine. Eventually I found one, which turned into a writing gig at an “urban” magazine, full time, web editor, getting paid $800 a month to do what I love to do. I was interviewing and talking to people that I grew up watching on Yo MTV Raps and listening to on Orlando’s Indeed Isreal’s 91.5 radio show. Dinner with Roy Ayers, getting drunk with Jean Grae and Mr. Len. Listening to Vinia Mojica tell a story about Mos Def ducking under the dashboard of DJ Evil D’s car to avoid a certain Rawkus, female employee. Talking to Killah Priest about Heavy Mental. I left the magazine months before it folded. A lot of believers who invested, lost a lot of money. Friends became estranged. It was like watching people jump a sinking ship and cursing at it as their lifeboats zoomed away.
Afterwards it was hustling for an indie hip-hop record label that fired me without telling me,
“Yo, take a vacation, everyone is going on tour. Come back in two weeks, things are slow,” Chase mumbles, peeking at me from under his low baseball cap.
Two weeks later my boy Todd replaced me. I got a gig driving film crews around New York City for the Martha Stewart Reality Show. Everyday, seeing a billionaire wearing an ankle bracelet, after getting out of country club jail, is a mind fuck that I can’t describe. Running red lights, near car crashes, getting lost in Pennsylvania, lots of last minute turns, getting high on the job, arguing with a sound guy who was fucking a producer who was arguing with me because she didn’t feel like reading a map to help me get her back to her hotel,
“I’m saying….help me, help you.”
Getting yelled at by a camera man trying to get his “Emmy award” winning shot, accompanied by a 20-year-old, slow-talking pot head production assistant who happens to be the son of some big TV exec working on the Donald Trump Show, a young camera assistant who will go on to make lots of money producing some titty bopping, ass jingling man show for spike TV and a condescending sound guy from Cali who has never been to New York City before and is trying to tell me where to go.
These days have passed like a starving snake in the night, slithering on a foreign landscape afraid to strike bombs disguised as rodents with vice grips that squeeze nectar out of tumbleweeds.
Downtown has become my domain. Waking up at six in the morning, take the 2,3 train to 14 St., transfer to the 1,9 to Canal St, cigarette, no coffee, get keys, get car, rush hour traffic, pick up and drop dogs off in a Honda jeep with Pup Culture cheaply painted on the side. From Houston to Wall St., I am given the keys to these people’s apartments in order to pick up their best friend for, “doggie daycare” or a thirty-minute walk. Yet, I am a wallflower that wrestles pink pandas and does The Charleston. Walking on Thompson back to Broome to the Pup Culture office, my bloody bite wrapped in toilet paper after a rat dog bit my index finger, refusing to come out of its cage. Annoyed and miserable I was immediately entertained by the billboard women that strolled around me, angelic, flimsy, plastic, they paid my bankrupt mind, but were too counterfeit to be legal tender.
Just as I turned onto Broome, I spot a young, upper middle class woman in a vanilla trench coat fall to the ground, disoriented and terrified. A man stood over her. Assuming it was her husband helping her up as he stood next to a baby stroller. When she tried to get up, the husband pushed his wife back down to the sidewalk. The city’s eyes doing their-everyday frantically stopped to witness private turmoil. Their cumulating presence was like a stage building itself underneath the couple’s feet. After the husband pushed her down, he continued to push the baby stroller down the street. He passed less than 10 feet away from me, looking down disregarding his gasping audience. I stared at him wishfully taking a bat to his head. Stunned and still, I watched him exit the frame. The wife slowly got up and begun to walk in the same direction, chasing her baby,
“Ma’am are you OK?” I say, trembling at flashbacks of my pops hitting my Moms.
Tears mudslide down her freckled face.
“I’m OK, thank you,” she said, her voice cracking.
Feeling cowardly helpless, quickly trying to grasp the situation’s magnitude, I took a chance, gently grabbed her arm, wait a minute.
She stops. I lean towards her face,
“Ma’am, are you OK?”
Her face crinkled in misery, embarrassment and beauty,
“I’m OK, thank you.”
“That man should get his ass kicked,” I hear a young white woman standing across the street yell.
She stood there with one arm firmly pointing down the street as the man pushed the baby stroller. I walk over to the young woman to confirm what I witnessed in exchange for a fresh account of what I missed.
“He pushed that woman on the ground,” she said, with the same arm fully extended attempting to measure the length of the incident. “That motherfucker should get his ass kicked…and he’s got a baby stroller.”
We both watched as the man waited on the corner for his wife. I marched to the end of the block noticing a police car pass. The couple stood there several feet away from the baby stroller as the man shoved the mother away from trying to get to it. Just as I was about to step into something I didn’t understand,
“I wouldn’t go over there. I thought about it too, but at the end you’ll be the only person doing something wrong,” a somber voice said.
An old black man appeared beside me. He continued walking, glancing back at me.
“You’re right,” I said, turning around and shoving my eyes back into the collar of my jacket. Two cops run towards the couple’s direction.
“He went that way,” I shouted at them. Hurry the fuck up.
“Thank you, we got it.” The black female cop responded.
“What happened?” the all too perky Marci asks over the phone trying to glaze her angry voice in concern.
“You said ‘dress casual,’ so I did that, but they said I wasn’t dressed right and sent me home. If I had known I would’ve dressed more appropriately.”
“They called me and said you looked like you had just rolled out of bed and came in. When we send you to a job you are a representation of our company. I meant dress business casual,” she firmly spouts.
She says something about “moving forward,” yet lends no inkling as to when or if she’ll call me back for another job. Broke and my last two dollars spent on my subway ride home.
“I can’t believe I’m walking dogs on Monday,” I say to myself in total disbelief. Stuck at home for the weekend I search for jobs online. Sunday morning, as the first working day of the week steadily pushes its way closer into my now, my head collapses into my hands. My eyes start to flood, but the micro-men in their micro-boats beg me not to blink them over the cliff. Sunday evening, after e-mailing out my resume to more job openings than I’d like to remember, in case none respond, which they don’t, the phone rings,
“Yeah, Tabias man,” Abraham says.
Getting paid pennies under the table with no benefits and walking rich people’s dogs, isn’t homelessness. I still have a job.
“I won’t need you anymore. It’s really, really slow man. I’m going to do the deliveries myself, OK?”says Abraham.
“OK, no problem.”
The first girl who ever liked me, wrote me a letter and handed it to me like a bouquet of flowers. When I wrote her back I didn’t know at the time that it would lead me to writing more sophisticated letters or poems to future girls that I had a crush on. Richard Wright’s Native Son and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory had me filling notebooks. Astonished classmates, not with my poetry, but my naturally nearly upside down left handed writing, as I hid my notebook in my lap, huddled up on the floor, leaning against a wall, waiting for the dismissal bell to ring. High school, junior year, I had a 25-year-old white English teacher from Sanford who listened to Public Enemy and a creative writing class to coerce myself to take writing more seriously. Senior year, at The Florida Film Festival, I saw Saul Williams in the documentary Slam Nation.
“That’s I what I want to do,” I said to the screen, while Williams waxed about the rapture.