Tuesday, 3 April 2012

About Me, Part 52: Let Me In

September 2008 was birthday month. Birthday toasts all around. One of my bi friends and I had birthdays a few days apart and as we had in the past we co-hosted a restaurant get-together for our friends. It was at East is East restaurant in Kitsilano the weekend after I got back to Vancouver. Afterwards, I went to the Saturday dance at the Legion and got one of the regular birthday dances. What an honour it was to be in the spotlight and danced with. Still, I longed to dance as a follow.

Meanwhile, as I was busy turning thirty-eight, the economy was busy plummeting. Suddenly, the economic skies darkened. We all felt a tension in the pit of our stomachs, realizing how little a buffer there was between ourselves and a financial abyss. In Vancouver, one could not help but think of losing one's home through renoviction, rising rents, redevelopment, job loss, fires from homes that had decayed beyond repair. There were the many substandard homes in neighbourhoods that seemed to have grown much more foreboding overnight. I remembered walking home at all hours of the night in my earliest years in the city. Now, I would get a cab or a lift, even in the quieter parts of town. My own neighbourhood had quickly deteriorated with the closing of many social services through the decade. The evidence in wandering at-risk people was obvious.

I had often gone back and forth between being social conscious and aware and being more self-focussed. This time, when the pendulum moved in a social direction, the issues came to me instead of me going to them. The truth was no longer out there: it was here, at our doorsteps.


My show celebrated its second anniversary in mid-September. I invited the hosts of Sweet & Hot and African Rhythms Radio to co-host with me and we each featured our top ten favourites. The following show, I featured a couple of CDs I have bought in Montreal, at my longtime favourite music shop Cheap Thrills: Sweet Soul Music 1961 and 1962. I got a phone call from a fan who was at a bonfire on Wreck Beach. Phone calls were rare, but they were a treat when I got them.

Tributes to those passed in the soul music world were, and are, a tradition on the show. In October, Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops and Dee Dee Warwick both died. I played their music as I had played that of the late Isaac Hayes over the summer.

CITR hosted its third annual funding drive in November. The energy and enthusiasm around that one was huge. The previous ones had been lackluster, but the 2008 "fundrive" had community spirit. I volunteered for phone shifts, taking pledges, and spent both of my shows during those two, shilling along with my guest hosts.
In the end we surpassed our goal and the finale party at the Biltmore was packed with radio folks, musicians and their fans.

DJ'ing Shake a Tail Feather was an amazing experience, but, ever since I had been going to dances at the Legion, I had longed to "spin" there as well. In mid-November, I finally got the chance, guest DJ'ing a spot in between two regulars. The response from the dance floor was overwhelming positive. I had been collecting swing jazz CDs over the summer. I mixed in some 40s and 50s rhythm and blues; the audience went for it, big time. I had branched out.


I did a little more work around my suite towards the latter part of the year. In July, I had finished painting the kitchen in the Provence style that I and my ex had intended. I found a deep golden yellow to compliment the perriwinkle cupboard doors. I also painted the former bedroom, now just a big empty room, covering the lavender walls and cream coloured wainscotting with a light, airy white eggshell. I also bought a Crosley replica of a 1932 Art Deco style floor radio and phonograph. This updated model had a CD player in it. I used to play my vintage jazz CDs and the few 78s I had bought. Mostly, I hung out in my dining room, listening to the retro radio/player atop the larder.

My look had become vintage noir-ish with a growing collection of fedoras, vests, buttoned down shirts and stripped ties. I know, in retrospect that it was just a facade, because inside, I had lost any sense of direction. I needed something and the vintage thing was, if not a new home, a way station on the route there.

For Halloween, I wore the previous year's knight costume promising myself that it would be the last time I would put it on.


On the night of the historic US election, I gathered with my bi friends at the Fountainhead pub to watch the results and victory speech. On that night when Barack Obama won, I felt that we had all won. The emotion I felt caught even me off guard. I thought of how much struggle had taken place among those of African descent, especially those of us in the US, to get to this point. I thought of my West Indian grandfather's perfectionism and upward mobility, my uncles' ambitions, my mother's personal growth: all small parts of this western hemisphere success. Of course, I cried. It was a win we all needed.

And then, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.


In October, I went to meet with the SFU School of Communication graduate program coordinator. The meeting was a very enjoyable and, fortified with more information about the program requirements, I felt ready to start writing my academic samples for my application package. I set to work on it in late November. One paper would be on library stereotypes in popular culture; the other on the role of nostalgia in popular culture. By the time the holidays rolled around, I had all the notes and sources I needed to start writing.

Also, by that time, I had decorated my suite for Christmas. The tree was in the old bedroom, the music room now. Lights hung around the living room window, over the futon where I slept. I had a wreath on both sides of my entrance door. My first single Christmas in a while. To mitigate that, I decided to have a holiday potluck on the middle Saturday of December, just before the Christmas swing dance at the Legion.

I invited several of my new swing pals, , my landladies, my bi friends and a friend that I had once dated before I met my ex. We had gotten back in touch and she showed up with a friend of hers from out of town. Altogether, there were about a dozen of us. I had swing and rhythm and blues playing on the Crosley, the Christmas lights were on, the food included dolmaties, sushi, a noodle dish, multicoloured Turkish delight and Dutch apple cake. The company was warm and playful.

I put on my new striped 40s style three-piece suit and piano key suspenders, showing it off in a way that felt like I was actually showing off a new dress. I simply did not catch on at the time. When we left to go to the dance, it had begun to snow. While we were at the dance, it continued to snow, and snow, and snow. By 1:00 am, when the dance was finished, the snow had covered the streets and the sounds of tires and foot falls were hushed. I instantly felt a nostalgia for the winters of old, the ones I remembered from back east.


A week later, at the last Legion dance of the year, I guest DJ'ed once again. There were far fewer people this time as most had left town for the holidays. It snowed once again that night, more so than it had the previous week. By the next day the temperature had fallen to several below zero. It continued to snow throughout the day, getting even colder on Monday. I was glad that I was off work for the holidays as transportation was very haphazard for a couple of weeks.

I stayed at home with Tatum for a few days at a time and worked on my graduate school application. At night, I would listen to the weather and traffic reports. I would take walks through the winter wonderland outside in the afternoon. One night, I joined a couple of my fellow urban gardeners in singing carols to the residents of the neighbourhood south of Trout Lake Park. Afterwards, we warmed up with apple cider at one of their houses. Simple things meant everything to me that holiday. A snowy Christmas brought me back to childhood. New friendships were charming, music was soothing. The food, on Christmas Day upstairs at my landladies was deeply nourishing. After a rough year, I needed these things. That holiday, the way station became home.


I had dinner on New Year's Eve with the host of Queer FM (one of my bi friends) at a Vietnamese restaurant on Commercial Drive. Afterwards, while it continued to snow, we went to a New Year's Eve burlesque party at the WISE Hall. It was a short, fun evening; we left immediately after the countdown.
The New Year began with a cold snap. The cold snap lasted for all of January. The snow melted very gradually.

While one of the library branches at work was closed for renovations, most of us were crammed into the smaller branch. In the meantime, there were further management changes. Things were no less stressful at work, in fact, they began to get more so. I had become distracted from work, especially, after I submitted my graduate school application, hoping for an escape route soon. My plan was to continue to work part time and go to school part time. Seemed straight forward enough. For the time being, I waited.


The weekend after the US Presidential Inauguration, I signed up for a swing dancing workshop. I learned many new steps, the learning becoming ever steeper. My confidence became shakier, but I persevered. The third Saturday of February, I debuted as a regular DJ at the Legion dances. That night, with the music selections, some of my friends in attendance, the hall packed with dancers, was one of my favourites ever.
At CITR, I had debuted two series on my program: one for the fiftieth anniversary of Motown and the other for the sixtieth anniversary of the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Chart. Both series would take the rest of the year to complete.

That same month, I became part of my community garden's recently established membership committee. Community work and play abound. Mid-winter 2009. Things were looking up again.

To be continued ...


No comments:

Post a Comment