Academic journal article African American Review

The Chocolate Man

Academic journal article African American Review

The Chocolate Man

Article excerpt

A man, standing high above a toilet peeing, stares in the wall-to-wall bathroom mirror of his new, upscale apartment. The image in the mirror is over six feet tall, not quite thirty, athletic and energetic, well-educated, well-paid, single, and proud. The man smiles at the image faintly and says, "You're okay." The image points at the man and replies, "No, brother, you're okay."

It's noon Sunday and I have slummed away whole sheets of morning on my twentieth-floor terrace, trying to make sense of what happened to me yesterday ... or, depending on how you look at it, what did not happen. My maiden jaunt through my new community, Bay View, was either a carpeted introduction or a stinging slap in the face. I can't decide which, and it matters dearly. It's the difference between inclusion and exclusion, night and day, stop and go, sanity and schizophrenia.

My loose-fitting navy blue sweat shorts and pineapple tank top flap in the breeze. Dark shades and a tinted acrylic terrace wall shield my eyes from the sun. Arms crossed, legs crossed, I sway in a giving chaise lounge in meter with the elegant ripples of glossy blue waves that comb the bay, oblivious to the din of the pedestrians way down below. Occasionally I pat my sandaled feet on the carpeted terrace floor to the straight-ahead, post-bop jazz streaming from a carousel of compact disks through stereophonic speakers in the living room.

I peer at the bay and the thought comes and goes that Bay View needs a lot more trees, shrubbery, and wildly growing things. Unfortunately, the idea is twisted with hypocrisy. My old Queens neighborhood had hardly any public plant life to speak of--a tree here, another there, reeds of grass squeezing through cracks in the sidewalk slabs that dominated the streets. On the other hand, Bay View is generously peppered with all sorts of flora--conifers, bloated shrubbery, ivy galore. The first time I gaped at Bay View from my terrace, I exclaimed to my girlfriend Fifi, "Why so many trees?" But now that I have been secularly baptized in my new surroundings, I no longer feel this community has enough plant life. I would prefer that Bay View be thatched densely enough to quench my newfound thirst for privacy. Toward that end, I have contemplated foresting my terrace.

However, I must be considerate of my shapely, tangerine-breasted next-door neighbor Susan Bayer. The verdant blotting of the translucent acrylic partition separating our contiguous terraces might be taken as a vile reenactment of Jim Crow cowardly hiding behind nature's dress. My built-in historical baggage would not allow me to brook the devilish fellow, so how could I expect my neighbor to accept him? But, who knows, perhaps she would applaud whatever initiative I took to buttress our division.

I suspect Dr. Bayer will come out, as usual, at six on the dot, to bask, too, but separately, in an ebbing sun--her own shrubs, her chaise, her flowers in their bulging pots, her sun-shades resting securely on the huge braid of hair running laterally across the top of her head. I would not be surprised if she did not say "Hello" today. Though not unpopular in this swirling city, the naked proximity of our contrasting skin complexions fosters uneasiness.

On the ground, the earth level, it is safe to say "Hi," smile broadly, and chat, but briefly. But height creates social distance, no matter how near the chocolate and cream-colored fingers. The higher the floor, the greater the uneasiness. Black and white. Beige and more beige. The wall dividing our terraces symbolizes the madness. I have lived here now for two weeks. The first time we met, we looked, smiled, exchanged identification, backed away from the wall, and thereafter each of us has assumed the other does not exist.

Perhaps her glass door will slide open a bit before or after six. If it does, I will ask if she's had dinner. If she is receptive, I will invite her over for baked chicken. …

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