Friday, November 27, 2015

Fiction Series: Jentrified, Part 1












1: black men, brooklyn, and mélange

Black boys don't love us.
I mean, black men.
Black men that I refer to as black boys, when I realize they haven't come to fruition.
...refer to as black boys, when I fathom that they're missing pieces.
Jigsaw puzzle, be-broken-sometimes, black men always need me to replace something or someone.

Replace:
Ex girl,
momma,
the woman next door who used to be sweet to them,
caretaker,
daddy's love,
maid,
more.

But I still love them.
Even though my momma warned me.
Sistah Souljah warned me.
Mcmillan warned me.
Every book on my momma's bookshelf warned me.

Even though the back-in-the-day African-American section in the Barnes and Noble, the one that never seemed to know what we're made of, warned me.

I knew it was only some of them. After all, my daddy was a good man and my uncles seemed to have it together. I knew there were good men. I still know there are good men.

I curled up into good stories, whether the male protagonist were revered or repulsive, and promised myself an inner city and a brotha. I was going to find one of the good ones.


I'm a suburban girl.

I'd grown up taking trips back and forth to Brooklyn to spoon my grandparents and cousins. They'd travel out to see us on holidays, where my parents would open up their home for unwrapping gifts and dining inside. The boys were fascinating, considering the ones on my block stayed inside.

Borough boys seemed to cluster in the sun, throw blue handballs against concrete walls and sling curse words during streetball. Their skin sprawled, they wanted everyone to see their regality, especially during the warmer months. They had a fire about them, a flame that suburbia tried to douse from brown boys in Abercrombie and Fitch and silver spoons in their mouths.

They'd sometimes ask, "What's so fascinating about Brooklyn? Why are you there every weekend?"

I'd smiled and ignored them, knowing that even if I answered the question something blonde or ambiguous would trump me. I was never good enough for the suburban boys.

Growing up in the suburbs was an amalgamation of prep school, a black clique, and feeling outcasted at all school functions. We assimilated or we were left behind. I'd learned to live on the line, the boundary that kept me laughing with the yearbook crew and still finding my way to Newark to party at places my parents would rather I didn't frequent.

But Brooklyn was where I belonged.
Silver spoon,
kinky curls,
both parents,
still targeted,
single,
smarts,
and all.
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I knew I'd spend the day pasting the URLs of our latest work on to the website of my design firm. I was hired, but I hadn't spent much time using Adobe. I hadn't spent much time coding either.

During my interview, the CEO and diversity recruiter nodded their heads in approval as I listed all of my accolades. They perused my resume and smiled, as I imagined myself in a cubicle in their pristine, all white, and I ain't talking about the walls, office adding my final touch to nationwide campaigns.

"Would you consider yourself an expert in CSS and Javascript?"

I was half Sheryl Sandberg and whole double negative, woman and black: I nodded without speaking, so they could never say I truly confirmed, but I wasn't backing down either. I'd taken transition courses, using what little HTML I'd learned trying to make my Blackpanet, Myspace, and eventually my portfolio website fly. I spent six months studying with the best of the best, at a continuing education company. I was proficient, but the doubt still resided.

The diversity recruiter and the CEO jumped up at the end of the interview, "Well, we'd like to offer you the job! You seem like a great fit for Carey Design."

John Carey, the CEO, was a laid back guy or so it seemed. He'd started the company with his wife a few years back, but she was on what seemed like a permanent maternity leave. Pictures of the couple were dispersed throughout the office, sitting on glass shelves, in perfect Feng Shui. A shrine really, to his "perfect" family. John was a stickler for good energy and vibes. He shook my hand, as I left, "I feel good energy coming from you. You're going to be a good fit here."

I imagined my melanin sitting at the conference table, as we walked past the conference room, pouring my influence and diaspora into the work. I waved to the workers that clicked with a fury in Photoshop and Illustrator. As soon as my feet hit the sidewalk, it hit me. I was going to be a junior designer at Carey Design. It wasn't the incredible offer I'd received after graduating from MIT, but it would work if it meant being a Brooklynite.

Two months later, I'd passed the orientation phase, and I was still doing small edits on the website. I hadn't seen a staff meeting, and I was still waiting to be put on a team that was working on a nationwide campaign or any designs for that matter.



I sped out of the door on my lunch break, destined for a latte and a panini from the cafe next door. This wasn't the Brooklyn I loved. On the trips to the city, from suburban New Jersey, visiting my family that lived in the boroughs was the highlight. My grandmother's block's aroma was the smell of jerk chicken and pork, being made right outside the restaurants, Korean groceries with authentic Caribbean foods you couldn't find anywhere else, and accents from all of the islands. In September, the sounds of the West Indian Labor Day Parade could be heard through her window, flags hanging from fire escapes. Steel pan melodies and holiday concoctions would drift through the air. It was always a bittersweet time of year; the parade was incredible, but it also meant that I would have to pack my things and head back home.

Red Hook, the home of Carey Design, used to be filled with warehouses and housing projects. These were all replaced by cafes, restaurants, and curated bookstores. What the hell is a curated bookstore? Although the latter sounds nice, the folks who once resided here were being displaced. The rent was too damn high. I lived in a small studio on the cusp of Bedstuy gentrification, the only place you could find something affordable, in a smidgen of a studio. It might as well have been a closet.

The cafe was full, the line almost out of the door. Chipotle, super packed. Clearly. Several groups of hipsters, or whatever they were calling themselves these days, sat in groups drinking and conversing. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, imagine they were on their lunch break, but I knew they'd been there for a while. I'd seen a few of them in the morning on my way to work. I finally made my way to the register and asked for a pumpkin latte. I said it quietly, knowing it was the suburban drink of choice and trying to maintain my gangsta.

This became an epic fail when the barista yelled it to a co-worker across the room, "Pumpkin Latte!"

Damn.

She turned back to me, "What's your name?"

"Jennifer."

The brunette scrawled a version of my name on the white cup and pushed it down the counter to another barista. I made my way to the other side of the cafe and waited for my order. The place was quaint, given an intentional rustic feel although there was nothing old about it. It popped up a few weeks before I started the job.

"Jenifah?"

"Huh?"

"Pumpkin latte for Jenifah!"

"That's me!"

I grabbed the latte, and it had my name scrawled in black sharpie, as J-E-N-I-F-A-H.

Bruh.

I suppressed the urge that it had anything to do with a stereotype lodged in the back of their minds.

I sipped my pumpkin latte, because of the lack of tea, and walked back towards work. When I'd almost arrived, I spotted the diversity recruiter for Carey Design. He was walking across the street, and I realized that I hadn't seen him since my interview. He must've been under contract, a part-time cultural effort.

He was fine; Jewish and African-American, Drake before the glow-up. He waved, and I waved back. I went for the door handle, and he seemed to pick up his pace to catch the door before it closed.

"Hey, how are you?"

"I'm good! You? Jennifer, right?"

"Yeah, Jennifer. I'm great, settling into the job."

I wanted to make a smart remark, print my job description and highlight all the things I hadn't begun to do and tape it to his back, but I decided to chill. Carey Design might just be a pit stop.

"That's good to hear. I'm proud of you, sista girl."

-2 points. He was trying too hard.

He patted me on the back, as he said it. He was awkward and not in a good way. He must've grown up in the suburbs too, but without parents that kept his culture everywhere, even if it meant painting white dollar store Santas black on Christmas. We had to buy the whole pack, just to get a brown Sharpie.

"Thanks."

We got into the elevator together. I looked over at him, as he pressed our floor. He was a #DEB887, a Burlywood complexion. He wore a plaid shirt, with a solid tie. He was fashionable. If I were to crop him against a solid background, instead of the checkered elevator wall, he'd pop. He was a walking advertisement. 

"So, what do you have planned for this weekend?"

I shrugged, "Not much. I'm thinking of getting some writing done. I'm working on a book about my mother's culture. I'll probably look through a few more resumes, too."

We didn't have much more time on the elevator together. I didn't want to pry. The Caribbean, perhaps?

+2, if he was. 

"Making it more diverse, huh?"

God, I was a horrible flirt.

"Yeah."

The elevator opened, and he stuck out his hand, "It's Samuel, by the way. We should grab drinks and chat sometime."

I sipped my coffee to emphasize, while I nodded, but ended up burning my lip. Sh-t.

I shook his hand, "Nice to meet you, Samuel. We should."

He walked out and headed towards the CEO's office, while I walked to my cubicle. I turned back to watch him grow smaller down the hallway, noticing his ample buttock in his slightly tight slacks. I smiled, "He's got some Caribbean in him, alright."




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