I found myself feeling merry the other day and thought I should tell you about it. Hell, I owe you, having put you through much morose musing.
Here’s what happened.
I was walking across 125th Street, Harlem’s Main Drag, on some other business. It’s a very great street, by the way, with more warmth on it than any other street I can think of. On every block, I’d see and hear the same thing, many times: Two people, coming at one another from opposite directions, would have this interchange…
Hey, how you doon?
Doon good. How YOU doon?
And this from people who, sorry to say, very visibly weren’t doon good at all. They were just bucking themselves, and one another, up a little.
Anyway, on the sidewalks of this lively street, there are vendors at stands selling all sorts of things you simply don’t see anywhere else: long shelves of mysterious little bottles full of gold-colored liquids marked with the names of exotic scents, hair-braiding tools, Harriet Tubman pillows. (Don’t rush me. I’m getting to the point.)
I have to tell you first that I still have most of my hair. Was expecting to lose it as a result of chemotherapy (and may yet, I suppose) but so far, as I say, that hasn’t happened. Even so, in anticipation, I have been laying in a supply of hats. (Approaching the point now.)
So, at one of these sidewalk stands, I see several stacks of something I have always wanted. You know that felt thing Sidney Greenstreet wears on his head in Casablanca? Yeah, you do: It’s pretty much the same silly business you see on any picture of an organ-grinder’s monkey. I know, I know. Why would anyone want one of those? But I have.
I walk up to the vendor, an African to judge by his accent when I come to hear it, with the hood of his parka up. I ask how much these are (fifteen bucks), are they one-size-fits-all (no), tell him I have a big head, and he points me toward a 56, which is the biggest he’s got. I’ve got a choice, in that size, of white or gray. I try on both. The vendor tells me, unleashing a dazzling smile, that the gray one looks terrific on me.
Bear in mind, please, that this whole time, I am feeling just a wee bit foolish. Here I am, as pale as you can get, on the Main Street of the reccognized capital of Black America, trying on the kind of hat Malcolm X wore. But, damn it, I’ve always wanted one, as I keep telling you, and never mind whether I ever have the nerve to wear it in public or not. I had my heart set on a red one, hoping that would put people more in mind of Sidney Greenstreet than of Jomo Kenyatta, but there wasn’t a red one in my fat-head size. (By the way, the label says: Made in China. Czech Style.)
Anyway, I buy the gray one and say to the vendor, “Now that we’re done, what are these things called?”
He says: “I call it a hat.”
I think I explained recently that there really is no leaving Cancerland, that it goes with you wherever you are.
But there on that sidewalk, for a good long minute, wafted on convulsive laughter (mine and the vendor’s) I did leave Cancerland.