Saturday, July 30, 2005

Come Hell or High Water

"Negro Dies After Choking on Rainwater While Driving with Mouth Open." That would have been the headline in the Chronicle had fate not spared my life. I've only just gotten to the point where I'm comfortable talking about what happened two weeks ago. Almost drowning inside my car was more traumatic than I guessed.

I was driving the '94 Honda in a thunderstorm that spun off from Hurricane Emily (or Hurricane Ebony, as I prefer to call her). Tropical storms blast Houston almost every summer, but with hardly enough street drains, the city remains ill-equipped to absorb the downpour. When storms like Ebony (and Daekwon and Keondre and Ayesha) blow through town, they blanket most of downtown in knee-deep water. The streets become rivers; the citizens become boat people.

As I drove home that day, a steady stream of brown water flowed downhill toward the front of my car. Initially, the flow was light and navigable, but as I sat there, trapped by traffic on all sides, the water level grew higher and higher and eventually submerged my tires, my bumper and then my car hood.

Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, we darkies are not afraid of water. I braved that flood in the tradition of my ancestors. I turned down the Mike Jones CD and hummed slave spirituals. I became a runaway slave splashing through the water to lose massa's bloodhounds. (Really, I just needed to get to my apartment ASAP so that I could pack some luggage and rush to catch a flight to California. But California is kinda like freedom.)

I should have pulled over to let the car dry and the flood subside, but I would have missed my flight. So when I came to the intersection where the water was deepest (almost up to the windows), I drove on through like a damn fool. Water seeped in through the floor boards. The engine started to skip. White smoke rose from the hood. But I kept going. If a slave could walk a thousand miles, I could drive a few feet.

The car dipped completely below the water. Water leaked in through the windows. In a moment of panic, I forgot the words to all the spirituals. Out of nowhere, I heard a deep voice: "Now's your tiiiiiime, Negro. Now's your tiiiiiiime to goooo." But I wasn't ready. I mashed the gas one last time. The engine gurgled, then sputtered and then revved. The car resurfaced. I saw a guy in a Starbucks drive-through flailing his arms in an attempt to direct me to dry land. I pulled up on the curb, shut off the engine and took a moment to catch my breath.

I made it. I beat the storm. My car, on the other hand, did not. It hasn't run since.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Black People Rejoice

Burger King now offers "Chicken Fries."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Monkey Business as Usual

For whatever reason, there are moments in my life when I temporarily lose my mind. I'll forget my best friend's name or throw my underwear in the toilet or walk outside with no clothes on. "Boy, you done lost your mind," someone invariably says. "Nah, I'm cool. But I don't know what I was thinking." I've grown used to my lapses and learned to regard them with a sense of humor -- they definitely make for good stories -- but the people around me aren't always so forgiving. Lil haters.

One evening not long ago, I was leaving a temporary job and heading home. I worked in a tall office building with several elevator banks and a big lobby. Each day after work a security guard ushered employees and visitors through the lobby toward some velvet ropes that led to three revolving doors, which led out to the twilit street.

The chambers within revolving doors, like public bathroom stalls and phone booths, are not social places. They are places of solitude -- little private fortresses with close walls. When someone joins you in such intimate quarters, it's an egregious invasion of space -- a violation of social code. Just think about the last time someone barged in the bathroom stall when you were taking care of business. Not cool.

As I walked from the elevator that night, a white lady wearing a knee length skirt and high heels walked a few paces ahead of me. She was one of countless others leaving the office after a long day at work. We both waved goodbye to the guard and headed towards the revolving doors. She entered first. In a temporary lapse that I still don't comprehend, I followed into her...personal chamber.

Inches apart, we walked the mini-arc toward the street. My size thirteen shoes nipped at her heels as the revolving doors hummed. "Sorrrrry," I whispered. My apology echoed off the glass walls. "I don't know what I was I thinking." She huffed, pushed her way outside and ended what must have been an eternal one and a half seconds of a black man being a little too close for comfort.

When we reached the street she glared at me. "Stop with all the monkey business, okay?"

"What you say?"

"Enough with all the monkey business."

"You callin me a monkey?"

"I didn't call you a monkey. I said no more monkey business."

"So you saying I conduct business like a monkey?"

"No, I'm not saying that you regularly conduct business in a monkey-like manner. I'm saying that you were just conducting the business of a monkey."

"What? You callin' me a monkey 'cause I'm black? Get one thing straight lady. I ain't no damn monkey. And I sure as hell don't conduct no monkey business!" She walked off into a sea of pedestrians. I turned around, temporarily unaware of my surroundings, and walked back into the revolving door toward the lobby.

"Everything alright," the guard asked as I re-entered the building.

"Yeah man. Business as usual with these white folks."

"I heard that brother. Business as usual."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cheese and Crackers

Last weekend, I received the second best compliment I've ever received (and you know I've gotten my fair share). But before I bask in the glory of that Great Moment in Negro History, allow me to explain my admittedly superficial philosophy on flattery. A compliment isn't a compliment unless the complimenter possesses the qualities which he or she admires in the complimentee. In other words, it counts more when the person that praises your intelligence is intelligent herself, just as it counts less when she is a little bit retarded. Makes sense, right? Of course it does.

Last weekend, I got a great compliment when I went to see the Negro comedian Paul Mooney perform his stand-up routine at the Houston Improv. The Improv is one of the nicer comedy clubs in the city, with a decent amount of space and a well-decorated interior. When the big name comedians come through Houston, this is where they play.

As you might guess, Mooney's set was mostly about race relations in America. His delivery consisted of long rants on one injustice or another punctuated by quick punch lines. More often than not, his routine was more about the message than the joke. (That message, simply stated, was to kill whitey.) Mooney did his best to make the white folks in the audience uncomfortable in their skin, which a Sometimes Funny Negro like myself found inspiring. He did things his way.

"I wish this nigger would stop being mean, and start dancing and singing," Mooney said in the nasal voice that Negro comedians use when they're mocking white folks. Of course, there would be no dancing and singing. Or shuckin' and jivin'. "I do whatever the hell I want to do," Mooney said. "That's why I scare y'all." If the white folks weren't scared, they were probably offended.

After the show, Mooney went to the lobby bar just outside of the club's main hall. From a tall bar table, he sold (or attempted to sell) his CDs and DVDs to whomever was interested. A handful of Negroes from the audience crowded around him as they exited the hall. As a Fellow Negro, I joined them. (I'm usually not one for celebrity worship, or in this case, minor-celebrity worship, but I was excited to be in the presence of a Real Negro Comedian.) For about an hour, we listened to Mooney and a Negro from St. Croix discuss the definitive Negro origins of world civilization. It was the kind of conversation that, depending on your political persuasion, sounded like conspiracy theory or revelation. Or maybe something in between.

After talking for a while, it became clear to me that we Negroes risked overstaying our welcome -- Mooney looked like he was ready to leave. Coincidentally, his cell phone, which he wore on his wrist, rang at that moment and gave him the chance to slip away. His conversation was brief, however, and when I noticed that he was free and away from the other Negroes, I asked to take a picture with him. My Lady, who never leaves the apartment without her camera, jumped into position to take the shot.

And now we come to the aforementioned Great Moment in Negro History: my second best compliment in life. I put my arm around Mooney and smiled for the camera. Just as My Lady was about to take the picture, I exclaimed loudly enough for Mooney and a few others to hear, "Cracker Ass cracker," (which, if you think about it, makes about as much sense as saying, "Cheese"). Paul Mooney looked at me. "Ha. You're funny."

Me? Funny? Ha.

Mooney's Jokes are My Jokes

Genie in a Bottle

A white man was walking along the beach when he stumbled on a genie in a lamp. He rubbed the lamp and summoned the genie.

"You have three wishes," the genie said, "but you must never say them aloud. "Think them to yourself, and I will grant them."

The next thing the white man knew, he was in a giant mansion with marble floors, twisting staircases and a sprawling kitchen. You see, all white men want mansions.

Then suddenly, gorgeous blue-eyed, big-tittied women appeared out of nowhere. They frolicked in the great mansion. All they wanted to do was give head. All white men love women, you see.

Then there was a knock at the door. Wham wham wham! When the white man opened the door, he saw several klansmen in their gruesome regalia. They grabbed the white man, strung him up and lynched him from a great oak tree. You know why? All white men want to be hung like a nigger.

A black woman comes across the genie on the beach. "Tell me your two wishes," the genie said.

"I want you to build a great bridge from here to Africa so that when these white folks get on my nerves, I can walk on home," the black woman said.

"You must be crazy," the genie said. "I can't do that. What's your next wish?"

"I wish that one day in the United States there would be equality among black people and white people," the black woman said. "Maybe for my children. Or my children's children."

"Hmmph," the genie said. "So should I make that bridge out of steel or concrete?"

Wesley Snipes is so black...

When black folks finally get reparations, Wesley Snipes is gonna be a rich muthafucka. Ain't nobody black as that nigga. Sorry, Halle Berry. You only get a dollar.

Indian Democracy

During election season, a commercial played in some parts of the country, which lobbied against Indian casinos. A white stentorian voice proclaimed, "The Indians have their own casinos. They don't have to pay taxes on the millions of dollars in casino revenue that they earn each year. I didn't vote for that."

The Indians should make their own commercial. "You came here and stole our land. You gave us blankets riddled with disease. You destroyed our people and our way of life. I didn't vote for that."

Michael Jackson, You Went Too Far

Michael Jackson had it coming. He offended too many white people. Sooner or later, they were going to try to take him down.

First Michael married Elvis Presley's daughter. White folks knew that if Elvis didn't come back after that, he must really be dead.

Then he went and bought the Beatles catalog. And you know that pissed white folks off.

But his greatest crime was when he dangled his precious, defenseless white baby from that balcony in Germany. "How could he do such a thing! He should be arrested and the baby should be taken from him," the world demanded.

But it would have been different had that baby been black. "Oh, don't worry if Michael drops that nigger. The black monkey will climb right back up to daddy."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

At the Studio

Based on A Qualified Negro's own independent research, nine out of 10 Negro males between the ages of zero and 49 have rapped or beatboxed in the last 24 hours. Of those, approximately 80% are pursuing rap careers in their spare time. These percentages, based on a randomly selected Negro sample, are obviously higher at historically black colleges, housing projects, street corners, basketball courts, black barber shops, county jails, check cashing locations, Kentucky Fried Chicken locations, black churches and hip-hop clubs. In those places, Almost Every Single Negro wants to be a rapper.

A few weeks ago, while conducting research for this study (which will be published in the journal Quintessential), I visited the local public radio station's underground rap show. In a bathroom-sized studio, host Matt Sonzala interviews local rappers and wannabes and plays their new music on the air. Anyone who wants to rap can stop by. Matt's policy is not to discriminate among his guests; every aspiring rapper will get on the air if he waits his turn. This means that the show, which is called Damage Control and airs on KPFT, is usually the first to play the hottest hip-hop coming out of Houston. It also means that a fair share of Talentless Negroes get their chance to clutch the mic.

Most remarkable is the sheer volume and variety of Negroes who patiently wait to rap. On Wednesday nights when the show airs, Negroes line up around the block to get into the show. It's like Six Flags on Negro night. It's quite the spectacle given the station's location in a white residential neighborhood. Among the hopeful, you'll find an Old, Cross-Eyed Negro who has clearly been to prison and had that booty licked more than once. Or a set of Giant Nigerian Negro twins that rap in Ibo. Or a College Negro wearing his Jansport backpack full of books he hasn't read. There are Little Negroes and Big Negroes, and Smart Negroes and Dumb Negroes and Rich Negroes and Poor Negroes. They all rap. You'd be surprised to discover which Negroes are talented and which aren't.

What's it all for? Superficially, it's about bitches and bank. (That's why I rap.) But it's also about fulfilling the Negro Dream -- making it out of the hood, buying your mama a new house and telling the whole world about it over a tight beat. White folks have Horatio Alger; Negroes have Mike Jones. When he performed at the BET Awards, Every Rapping Negro in Houston shed a tear.

Back then, hoes didn't want me
Now I'm hot, hoes all on me
I'm Mike Jones!

He bared his gold and diamond capped teeth. He brought 50 of His Closest Negroes on stage, some carrying pimp cups, others still wearing their backstage passes. He threw wads of cash to wealthy audience members. It was a Negro's Dream fulfilled. That is why Negroes line up every Wednesday at the radio station. That's why nine out of 10 male Negroes raps at least once a day.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Is the name of Jermaine Jackson's child. Please take a moment to pray for that Greasy Negro. And his poor little girl.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Ask a Negro (All I's on Me)

Dear Quintessental Negro:
I try my best to stay on top of the latest slang, but every once in a while I hear a word or phrase that I don't know how to use properly. Please define and use the contraction "I's" in a sentence. I would like to start using it right away.

Language Lover

Dear Language Lover:
Who the hell have you been hanging out with? The contraction "I's" is an old, old Negro idiom that dates back to the 19th century. Negro slaves used the contraction in the same way that one would use the contraction "I'm", which of course means "I am". Possible usages include:

"I's goin' to da sto'."

"I's sorry for snatchin' dem taters massa."

"By golly, I's free!"

This usage fell from fashion many decades ago, and it certainly never qualified as slang. I advise that you refrain from such language, except for the occasional Kunta Kinte imitation, which is okay if you are a Negro. I's happy to help.
-The Quintessential Negro

The Quintessential Negro loves giving advice. Send questions about Negro Life and Culture to 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.

The French Negro Part Deux

Wednesday in Singapore, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2012 Games to the city of London, nixing gay Paris, which was the presumed front-runner among bidding cities. Like most bidders, Paris sent a delegation of dignitaries to court the voting members of the Committee. French President Jaques Chirac and Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoƫ joined a group of French athletes, most of them Negroes. Of course, Tony Parker, The French Negro, was among the athletes.

When the Paris delegation approached the stage to present to the Committe, The French Negro took the mic and busted a muthafuckin' flow. It was broadcast to the world on CNN. An American Negro has no idea what he was rapping about, but the venerable Olympic Committee members were aghast. No wonder they chose London. British Negroes know when and when not to rap.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Jouvert (that's JOO-vay) the Great

Your Average American Negro enjoys holidays like anyone else. On Thanksgiving he eats turkey and falls asleep. At the stroke of midnight each New Year, he shoots a pistol into the sky. On Labor Day he stops wearing white. And on the Fourth of July, just last Monday, he barbecued lots and lots (and lots) of chicken.

Despite it all, he lacks a special occassion on which to revel in his American Negritude. Martin Luther King Day is a celebration of history, which is important, but different. And Kwanzaa, an American Negro's only cultural celebration, is a joke. Have you ever met a Negro that celebrates Kwanzaa? I know some white folks that celebrate Kwanzaa, but nary a Negro.

Maybe you can understand why I sometimes envy those Caribbean Negroes with all their parades and multicolored costumes and carnivals and dances. Like them, sometimes a Regular Old American Negro wants to offically celebrate his Negritude with a bunch of other Regular Old American Negroes, all in full costume. I guess that's too much to ask.

Last weekend in Houston, Caribbeans celebrated Jouvert, a late night bash which precedes Carnival. The party was at a large parking lot on the Southwest edge of the city. On one side of the lot was a little Caribbean night club, where, some Negroes say, a man was shot and killed at last year's celebration. On the other side of the lot was the Blue Flame, a nice little Negro strip club where, I'm guessing, the strippers are either really, really skinny or really, really fat and have keloidal bullet and/or stabs wounds in their midsections. (A celebration is nothing without ambience.) The parking lot was fenced off and had a police patrol. The celebration started at midnight.

There's a reason that Jouvert is held outside. The defining characterstic of the celebration is that at some point in the night, people start to sling mud, paint and powder at each other, almost like a giant food fight, only with more dancing and singing and less mashed potatoes, Jell-O and glazed ham. It is quite the primal pleasure.

This Jouvert started off slowly. There were several large box speakers stacked one on top of the other that blasted soca music across the parking lot and out to the adjacent highway junction, but no one danced. The big space in the middle of the parking lot reminded Your Average Negro of his first middle school social. But as the night wore on, excitement and anticipation grew.

If A Regular Old American Negro knew more about soca music, he would tell you the exact song at which the crowd went bananas. From his uninformed persective, it appeared as if the DJ flicked a switch. First it was Off: Caribbean Negroes sauntering about in the nighttime heat. Then it was On: Every Caribbean elatedly jumping up and down and frantically waving his or her country's flag. Drummers and flame throwers came out of nowhere.

The Trini, Jamaican, Guyanese, Bajan, St. Lucian, Granadan and Bahamian flags blended into a flurry of colors. A Regular Old American Negro could have waved the Red, White and Blue, but that would have been somehow out of place. I opted instead to take my shirt off and wave it around my head just like a helicopter. I happened to be wearing my black American Apparel T-shirt, which, in the end, represented Regular Old American Negroes just fine.

The jubilation climaxed when two half-naked men worked their way to the middle of the crowd carrying a porcelain bathtub full of mud. Before long there was mud all over A Regular Old American Negro -- in his mouth, his ears, his pants, all over his clothes. It was enough for A Regular Old American Negro to yearn for his own day to wallow in the mud. Your Average American Negro deserves as much.