Saturday, March 8, 2014

More Gray Matters

It’s the time of year when I can’t get up in the mornings and I don’t want to go to bed at night until sleep finally finds me which is often well after midnight. I’m restless and glum. Not that winters down here in NC are anything close to what they are in NY where I spent the first 50 years of my life. This winter in upstate NY is a constant barrage of sub-zero temperatures and blustery snowstorms. We had our storm in NC, sure. A few inches of snow and everything was shut down for days. The trash was not picked up, the mail was not delivered, and the snowplows didn’t arrive until the sun had done most of their job of clearing the streets.
I didn’t mind the time spent indoors. I like my solitude. It’s the short days and the reminder that mortality comes to all living things that has walloped my resoluteness.
I suppose that should make me hopeful because some of the crazy ideologies circulating the media these days have taken on a life of their own. Their impending demise should be cause for a premature celebration. Yet I can’t arouse the energy for even one “hoorah.”
I feel anger brewing beneath the surface when I think about recent deaths, like the murder of Jordan Davis because one drunk guy carrying a gun decided he and his friends were playing their music too loudly, and how certain people continue to get away with murder because gun companies want to sell more guns and they don’t care what they are used for. They know what they are used for. They convince legislatures to pass vague “stand your ground” and “shoot first” laws as if owning a gun is a more important freedom than the freedoms of safety and place. Every American has the right to go to the store, wear a hoodie, play music, sit in an SUV, buy Skittles at a convenience store, and walk home in the rain. Not just white Americans. Not just wealthy Americans.
That includes being confident of being served if one goes to a restaurant to eat dinner or to a dry cleaner to drop off clothes. Why should one be turned away if one has the money to purchase the service? Oh, excuse me, religious freedom. Did I forget that one? Religious freedom is the freedom to worship as one chooses, not the freedom to force one’s beliefs on another or choose not to serve those you believe don’t share your religious beliefs. Your service to someone who is gay or a different ethnicity or race is not considered abetment if that’s how you see it. Conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, but that hasn’t stopped other states from considering a similar law.
I feel the burden of mankind on my shoulders.  I can’t shake it this time of year. It’s the feeling that some things never change. Like the “isms” will never truly go away and that mankind can’t help but be corrupted by power and wealth. It’s depressing.
I sought diversion and turned on TCM in time to catch the 1940 movie Hullabaloo, about a has-been radio actor who turns to his three daughters, children of three different wives, to revive his career. It starred two actors from the Wizard of Oz: Frank Morgan and Billie Burke, so it captured my attention. A black actor playing the role of bellhop sang two beautifully rendered songs: Carry Me Back to Old Virginny and Vesti la Giubba from I Pagliacci.
I searched the cast listing to see who the man was as I couldn’t recall ever seeing him in a movie before, and I’ve seen many, many movies from the 1940s and 1950s, two of my favorite movie eras.
His name was Charles Holland. He had roles in just three movies, one role minor enough where it was not credited. My search for more information resulted in no photos, no wiki page, and no full bio on him. The only other tidbit was that he died at age 77 in Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands.
That news made me sad, too. Despite my love of movies from that era, I acknowledge that the lives portrayed in Hollywood were, and mostly still are, white lives. The movies were in black and white, but the actors, with the exception of certain roles like maid, slave, butler, or bellhop, were white, and the stories were based in white cultural mores.
That started to change in the late 1950s when America’s social conscience awakened and movies like Sidney Poitier’s The Defiant Ones came out in 1958. Of course, it was one more push toward equality that never truly came to fruition. I just read about the “hullabaloo” caused by the casting of Michael B. Jordan as one of the Fantastic Four in the next sequel of the franchise. The movie remake of Annie awakened a few racists. One tweeted: They're redoing the Annie movie and making the little girl black. The fuck gonna be going on next? A black snow white????
Some fans can’t picture the characters Annie and Johnny Storm as African Americans so, in alignment with what white privilege affords to those who have it, they have made their dissatisfaction known with great trumpeting and fanfare. I am sorry their imaginations are stunted.
Yes, it’s exhausting, maddening, and outrageous, but I can’t give it up. Instead, after dwelling on it until I can’t any longer, I allow myself those diversions, another one being obsessing about my hair, a symptom of another ism.
I’ve been growing out my dyed hair since October 2013. It’s a slow process, even for my quickly growing hair, and one that is becoming more painful, though I retain my excitement of reaching the goal of accepting myself just as I am. You can read my first two installments at: Gray Matters and Matters: Gray and Otherwise.
Though I am resolute in my decision, I still feel the sting of envy as my friends continue to dye and cover their gray hairs. There is an invisible, self-imposed pressure to conform to the standard of beauty that frowns upon natural hair.
One day in the car, I turned down the visor and stared at myself in the mirror. “My hair looks terrible,” I lamented as I ran my fingers through it. The stripe is growing larger but, as the demi-permanent dye fades, it is not the defined stripe I originally imagined and that permanent hair color makes.
“Yeah, it does,” Ronald responded with the truthfulness I appreciate even when it hurts. “I liked your hair short before,” he continued, “and then you grew it long.”
I smiled because a few months ago he had put forth the argument that I shouldn’t go short. “Well, I guess I would have been almost bald if I had cut it when I first started to grow it out. Maybe it would work now.”
“Yes,” he replied.
Not quite yet, though. I think I need to go a little longer before I chop.
Here I am with my boy Ru. We will share similar hair color when I am all done.
Now I am sitting in our dark and unheated living room typing the rest of this post before the battery on my Mac dies. Another polar vortex hit NC yesterday. We woke up this morning to no electricity and no heat. The trees were bending to the ground by the weight of the ice coating their branches, and the window screens on the eastern side of the house were frozen over. It didn’t seem so bad in the daylight while my Nook and Mac still had battery power.
When I realized my Nook would not last too much longer, I picked up a trade paperback I’ve been meaning to read titled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. After a few pages I got that excitement I get when I want to share with Ronald, so I started reading aloud, as I often did in college, either to him or into a tape recorder for Ray, who was visually handicapped. I read from the Harriet Tubman book for almost two hours, until my voice began to give way.
We ended up at the movies, because they had power. Then we went to dinner. We relaxed at the table until we saw lots of people crowding the lobby. We drove toward home through this block that had lights and that block that didn’t. We arrived to the still darkened neighborhood, our house cloaked in darkness. Ronald has wandered into the bedroom, and here I sit finishing up this post before the Mac goes dead.

It’s another diversion in a world of gray matters.

This is what it looked like off my front porch.

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