Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ask a Negro - 6/28/05

Dear Quintessential Negro:
I'm an Intellectual Negro. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from a Historically Negro College in Atlanta, and I'm currently a Ph.D. candidate at the most prestigious English Literature program in the country. Without a doubt, I'm a Cultured, Extremely Well Educated, Upstanding Negro. My question is this: Is it okay for one such as myself to dance to the Ying Yang Twins summer smash hit "Wait (the Whisper Song)." I find the lyrics objectionable, and it's important that I keep up appearances.

Intellectual Negro

Dear Intellectual Negro:
Hells yeah you can dance to that shit! Pardon a Negro. I meant to say that there's nothing wrong with enjoying a good dance to the Whisper Song. Yes, it rather explicitly discusses the pleasures of the flesh and the size of one's male member, but at bottom it speaks to one of the most essential aspects of human nature--the sexual drive--and it does so quite creatively. Celebrate your sexual drive, Intellectual Negro. Grab your member and dance a thrusty dance. We all know that song is tiiiight. Just remember that there's a time and place for everything. It would be most improper for you to approach your female Shakespeare professor and whisper the lyrics in her ear. Most improper.

A brief note: Many Negroes have expressed concern about supporting the music of Michael Jackson (Molester Negro) and R. Kelly (The Other Molester Negro). These are valid concerns. Witholding support is respectable and even commendable. Celebrity Negroes too often escape justified criticism. At the same time, Those Two Molester Negroes are musical geniuses. Ain't nothin' wrong with hummin' the tune to "Beat It" every once in a while.
-The Quintessential Negro

The Quintessential Negro loves giving advice. Send questions about Negro Life and Culture to quintessentialnegro@gmail.com. Negroes and non-Negroes alike are encouraged to ask away. The Quintessential Negro reserves the right to edit questions for length, clarity and, of course, humor.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Smell of Success

I've been an Unemployed Negro for almost a month now. I spend most days sitting in front of the computer in my red upholstered swivel chair. The chair--a relic from some 80s office that I bought at a used furniture store--looks modern in a retro kind of way, but the upholstery is like a heat magnet. It's this coarse yarn, almost like burlap, that absorbs all the heat from the 150 watt track lights above my desk. When I job search or surf the Web for more than a few minutes, I break into a light sweat and eventually a medium-light sweat, which grows into a peculiar funk that, fortunately or unfortunately, is concentrated between my legs. Unemployment really stinks.

So does my apartment. Lately this weird smell has been emanating from the pipes. The air is stale because I never go outside. And because I can't afford to set the thermostat too low, the Texas heat creeps in through the crevices around the windows and doors. The funk bakes, and in case you didn't know, hot funk smells much worse that room-temperature funk. It would drive Any Negro toward complacency.

Last Friday, I mustered up the conviction to cross the threshold to the outside world. Unemployed Negro had to make a Post Office run. I needed to mail a couple of job applications that I'd completed, and I wanted to send copies of my first ever cover story to my folks in Atlanta.

It was a journey of smells. I stepped outside my apartment, and for an instant I could smell the Houston outdoors. On my second breath, however, the Houston heat seized my olfactory senses--the air was too hot to breathe or smell. All my nose hairs fell into my hand. I almost died of asphyxiation walking to my car, but as I drew what could have been my last breath, I fumbled with my keys, got in the car, turned on the engine and blasted the A/C. Ahhh, the smell of rank air coming off the old filters.

I don't rememder what the Post Office smelled like. It was probably the nondescript odor of the federal government. I moved through the line quickly and was called to the counter. I gave my underarms a quick, surreptitious sniff before approaching.

An Older Negro Woman whose name tag read "Sharon" was working at the desk. She wore so much make-up and foundation that her face was a strikingly different color than her arms, which her Post Office-issue short sleeve shirt left exposed. She also wore a deep nutty brown wig, cut just above her ears. (It shone the way synthetic hair does.) Despite it all, she was an Attractive Negro Woman with a classy demeanor. I smelled just a hint of perfume.

Ms. Sharon had wisdom in her voice, if you can imagine that. She helped me select an envelope large enough to fit four copies of my story, and then, in a friendly way, asked me why I was mailing so many newspapers.

"That's my name on the cover," I told her. I held up one of the papers for her to see. "I'm sending the issues home to my parents in Atlanta." She suddenly beamed with pride. She asked me how long I'd been a writer, where I was from, if I had siblings. When I expressed dismay over my unemployment, she encouraged me to stick with it.

She was proud in the way that Old Negroes are proud of the accomplishments of their grandchildren--the way that So Many Old Negroes are proud of the accomplishments of All Young Negroes, kin or not. It's Negro Pride. It's something that, sitting at home in my hot funk, I'd certainly lost touch with.

Toward the end of our conversation, Ms. Sharon asked if I'd like to take a look at some commemorative stamps. I'm usually resistant to all forms of salesmanship (especially now that I'm a Broke Negro), but I offered to take a quick look. She opened the binder to the Negro section and showed me a sheet of Paul Robeson stamps. Robeson was indeed a Great Negro. I bought the stamps without thinking twice and thanked her for the conversation. She offered her hand, and I shook it. Then she promised to look for my name in print.

When I got back to my car, I smelled my crotch and my underarms. Maybe unemployment doesn't smell so bad after all. I smelled the Paul Robeson stamps hoping to somehow connect with that Great Negro. The stamps smelled like paper.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tout le Monde est Nègre

Thursday night, Your Average Negro watched the San Antonio Spurs strangle the life from the Detroit Pistons in game seven of the NBA Finals. Crowned the new champions, the Spurs players danced around the court in a confetti rain and a throng of sports reporters and cameras. Spurs starting point guard and Paris-native Tony Parker (The French Negro), interviewed with sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.

She opened the interview with a probing question. "Tony, how do you say 'NBA Champion' in French?"

It was the type of question that left more than a few wondering just how intelligent one has to be to work in television. But The French Negro was too caught up in the moment to notice. "Le Champion NBA," he summarily replied, smiling for the camera.

Tafoya went on to ask more of the questions that sports reporters ask--How does it feel, How did you do it, What were you thinking? When she could no longer hold Parker's attention, she relinquished The French Negro to revel in the frenzied celebration. But just before he darted off, he looked dead into the camera, smiled and yelled, "Nous avons gagné, Nigga!"

Did he just say what I think he said? Can an American Negro get a translation?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Man Dingo

I'm an amateur comedian, or, as I like to call myself, One Funny Ass Negro. I don't actually write jokes or perform in clubs. That's for professionals. Instead, I recite the jokes of other professional Negro comedians at opportune times. (There are moments in everyone's life that call for a good Chris Rock joke.) My timing may be a little off or my punch line a little delayed, but I'll make you chuckle, if only out of pity. And that definitely counts for something.

Last night, as I was brushing my teeth, I watched a syndicated episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show is a classic example of what my father and Spike Lee would call buffoonery--a stain on the reputation of upstanding Negroes such as myself--but it nonetheless served as my comedic inspiration for the night.

In the episode, Will boasted about his sexual prowess, as he often did: "I'm the Man [comedic pause] Dingo!," he said. "Nah meeean?" I laughed at the cleverness of his pun. There was a small eruption of toothpaste from my mouth, which left little minty blue specks on my yellow couch and my favorite threadbare T-shirt. Mandingo. Good one, Will! Think I'll use that myself.

When My Lady entered from the the bedroom, O.F.A (pronounced o-FAY) Negro jumped on the ever-so-fleeting opportunity to recycle a corny joke. With my head tilted back to prevent drippage of the Colgate Total (Plus Whitening) froth, I gargled, "I'm the Man. Dingo." She looked at me quizzically. I repeated, "I'm the Man,"--drip drip slurp--"Dingo!" No response. My Lady retreated to the bedroom. Either O.F.A Negro was having an off night (which seldom, seldom occurs), or he needed to spit out the four fluid ounces of blue liquid from his mouth in order to better e-nun-ci-ate the punch line.

After a good rinse with tasty Houston tap water, I joined My Lady in the bedroom and said, with perfect diction, "I'm the Man. Dingo. Mandingo! Get it? Will said he was the Man and the Mandingo."

"Huh," she said. "What's a Mandingo?"

Dictionary.com defines Mandingo as a member of the peoples inhabiting the area of the upper Niger River valley of Western Africa. Your Average Negro, on the other hand, defines Mandingo as an African spear-chucker with a dick so long it drags in the sand, or perhaps more aptly, the Quintessential African (whose blog is coming soon).

Our miscommunication was due to the fact that My Lady was not raised by Negroes. She and I are what was once commonly referred to as an "interracial couple." I'm a Negro. She is of an ambiguous background--appearing Puerto Rican, Dominican, Asian or Octoroon depending on the light. In many ways she is more Negro than I, but every once in a while I have to break down the Negro lingo. In those rare instances, Etymologist Negro explains the socio-cultural roots of language so that, should she hear the joke again, she'll be ready to laugh until she makes that crackling sound at the back of her throat. O.F.A Negro is convinced that that's what love is all about. If he's wrong, at least My Lady can call him Mandingo when he comes to bed at night.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Birth of a Negro

I live in a luxury apartment complex in Houston, which, most of the time, affords me a considerable amount privacy. Last night around ten there was a knock at my door, an unusual occurence, especially at the late hour. At the time, I was relaxing in my boxer briefs and a wife beater, my evening attire of choice. My Lady was wearing one of her countless night gowns, this one pink with lighter pink stripes. It was baggy, and sometimes her boobs popped out. Neither of us were dressed for company.

Because I was on the phone with a friend discussing my reluctance to apply to law school despite mounting pressure, My Lady went to answer the door in my stead. Through the peep hole, she saw a young, probably harmless white guy who wore a beard and a baseball cap. He was most likely a college student. He mumbled on and on about something or another. After a few of My Lady's attempts to figure out what he wanted, I went to the door to see what was going on.

Just a little bit of background before I continue. I'm an easy going, laid back Negro. I hardly ever raise my voice. Only when I'm on roller coasters, driving my Honda or watching the game do I scream. (One time a white lady accused me of stealing my own car, but I kept my cool. I'm no coon. It just takes a whole lot for me to get angry. Call me Patient Negro.) I might holler when I'm home in Atlanta with my folks, but that's reflective of the strange way that we communicate, not anger or sadness or any other causes/effects of family dysfunction.

But last night, I approached the door a new man: Scary Negro. I yelled through the door, asking the kid who he was looking for. (Never open the door for strangers, especially when wearing your drawers.) He continued to mumble, so I yelled louder. Eventually he managed to communicate that he was a paper boy looking to sell subscriptions to the Houston Chronicle, a terrible paper. I told that fool to keep on moving. I turned around to see My Lady, who was then chopping her veggies on the cutting board.

"That was mean," she said. "That's the new me," I promptly replied. And I meant it. I resumed my telephone conversation about the woes of the legal profession.

My personality transition (from Patient to Scary Negro) was inspired by months and months of public humiliation at my last job at the hands of my former editor. (I'm a journalist.) She would scream at me in front of the other staff writers. She cussed me out. She made me feel as if I didn't belong in the newsroom, which I had only recently joined. I accepted her affronts without challenge, and with the bite of my lip, went on my way. I wanted so badly to gain acceptance, to fit in, to take the next step in my career. But what did it get me? Not a damn thing. I'm unemployed now, a temp worker looking for the next gig. Call me Broke, Unemployed and a Little Bit Depressed Negro.

The newspaper man didn't deserve what he got. Scary Negro flexed his muscles against a powerless kid. What kind of show of fortitude was that? But maybe it was a start. Maybe the next time a supervisor gives me bullshit, Scary Negro will be that much more ready. Back the fuck up and get out of my way. Please.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Quint Chillin' like a Villain

Quint in Zimbabwe

Self Portrait