photo by Alex Lear









         SCENE ONE.


         —Places, everybody.


              A somber, chartreuse funk deftly settles expectantly into the cushions of the wicker sofa right between John and Angela.  Scooting its ass back deep into the throw pillows with the oriental scenes embroidered on them, looking from left to right, back and forth, checking out first the woman and then the man, the woman, the man, and greedily anticipating a rousing good fight, funk's emerald eyes were shinning with a scintillating brilliance.




              (If you were John right now you would be wondering why this woman was being so hard on you, calling your cards marked, your dealing cheat, throwing her hand to the floor, turning the table over and screaming about the sins of gambling.

              (If you were Angela right now you would be wondering why do men make you treat them so hard, why do they take a woman who sleeps by herself for some kind of rainbow trout to be caught with hook words, split open, gutted, fried, seasoned with dollops of hot sauce, and eaten with relish leaving only bones and a shriveled head on the otherwise bare plate.

         (If you were John you would be tired of this shit.)

              (If you were Angela you would be tired of this shit.)




              Funk knows that the fun part about this prime time drama is that an argument doesn't have to be about anything real to make a good show, it just has to be emotional.


              Once (a year to the day after their first date—she reminded him she had to remind him!) Angela wanted to talk about their future in the third quarter of a close game. 

Another time (about six months after he moved in) she wanted to discuss bills, 11:38 at night. 

Then there was the time they had just finished eating (at that time they hadn't even discussed living together) and John had even volunteered to wash dishes and Angela wanted to stand next to him rinsing the dishes and asking him questions about what he did with his dick.  With suds half way up to his elbows, John couldn't care less about what she put between her legs when he wasn't there so why, as he washed dirty dishes, did she care about who all he saw or why he wanted to sleep with a woman who wasn't her, shit, maybe the bitch was fine.  He even wiped the beige enamel top of the stove clean and wrung out the well used (three holes and frayed edges) dishrag.

              But though he cleaned the kitchen well, John had neither clue nor key to unlocking the deep concern he had for Angela which was incarcerated inside his size 47 1/2" expanded chest.  John's maturity, but a seed yearning for spring, was winter blocked by acquired emotions and ignorantly assumed stances that always seemed to missile guide the first words out his mouth -- maximum overkill syllables designed to destroy all vestiges of life.  John sincerely believed you had to be finger quick on the button push or else the other person's ICBMs would blow you away.

              Angela, on the other hand was visibly shaken, quietly close to crying.  Though she knew without a doubt when she was being fucked with, Angela was completely ignorant of what was happening inside of John, and, based on her ignorance and the stupid things John said and seemed to do with periodic regularity, Angela assumed the worst.  When the ground moves rapidly you don't have to be a seismologist to know it's an earthquake.

              It wasn't personal, there were many different Angelas and Johns tussling with this same bear.  Is there something in the air that makes it so hard now a days?

              "I don't know, maybe we, maybe I should be alone." Self-rejection didn't even sound like her voice. John was well enough equipped to interpret the no trespass termination inherent in the dangerous-colored, slicing sharp, concertina barbed wire gradually unraveling out of the cotton softness of her sound.

              "I don't understand what you want out of this." A torrent of cold, quick darting lizards fell into his lap. Well, he didn't want to always be on trial, that was for sure. She was smelling up the air. Wasn't she woman enough to say it straight out if she really didn't want him anymore? Every inch of her body was covered. After loosening the reptiles, Angela looked like she was headed underground. John flinched and moved back an inch or two in distaste, although he didn't know he was moving back.

              Angela saw the small movements of his flesh which portended major emotional shifts. She foresaw his big feet walking out the door. His green shirt turning sundown forest dark as he slammed the door behind him without speaking or saying any kind of goodbye other than the finality of his olive drab silence.

Angela saw John's muscular back hovering over Crystal's nakedness and sensed his delight in being inside of Crystal. He had someone else (even though he swore that "it" was over, Angela had seen:

(how Crystal eyed John when they had gone to the mayor's inaugural reception and Crystal was allegedly working the room for the mayor and had shook John's hand two beats too long and had barely, limp-wrist offered Angela only the top half of her fingers in a half-hearted gesture that was supposed to pass for a sisterly greeting,

(and, besides, Angela was neither blind nor vain, there was no way Angela's lanky leanness could even come close to any one of Crystal's eye-popping curves—not that John ever publicly gave Angela any reason to feel jealous but still every woman knows when a former girlfriend and potential lifetime rival is the kind of fine that every man wants to fuck,

(and besides Crystal looked like she always got her man, plus anybody else's man she wanted,

(and Angela, even though she hated herself for hating Crystal, well not really hating Crystal but rather hating Crystal's body, hating that Crystal had that kind of body that other women can't help hating because it made a woman feel, well, feel inadeq… ah, uncomfortable, especially if one was a little overweight, or a lot, or a little underweight, or a lot, or just a little skinny—like Angela was—or whatever,

(Angela really didn't want to dwell on how thin her thighs were,

(Angela must have been the only woman in the world who "loss" weight after having a baby,

(and Angela never could find a really pretty hairstyle to complement the long oval shape of her face—what shade of lipstick was that Crystal was wearing?—shit,

(Angela could understand why former-collegiate-all star quarterback John was attracted to Crystal who, even at thirty something, looked preppy as a goddamn college cheerleader,

(well, at least I'm taller—not quite up to John's 6'3" but at least 6" taller—than she is, is what Angela rationalized to console herself when Crystal brushed pass John for the third time in less than two hours,

(Angela was tired, if John wanted that—and there was no doubt in Angela's mind that "that" was waiting by the phone to call John the minute John walked out of Angela's door and was fully able to avail himself of the various female options lined up waiting for a chance to do what Angela had not been able to do,

(oh la-dee-da if it was going to be all this then let him go to Crystal, men always had someone else…) to be inside of and she had no one else she wanted inside of her.

Angela wanted to want John, but considering how everything was turning out, at that moment she didn't want him inside of her again ever, no matter how good it felt and it did feel good most of the time, but, so what, no matter, she could handle missing him, missing it. It would be hard but the way to deal with a snake is to cut its head off, don't delay, don't play, don't hesitate.

              "John, please leave."




         Funk lay back exhausted but utterly thrilled, marveling at the depth of Angela's self-depreciating workout. Even thought that thing with Crystal had been over two years ago, Angela made that stale episode live again. God, she was good. The crying bit in the next scene was going to be a snap.

         Angela was glumly biting her lower lip, which she always did when the stress became a bit much. And John had just dummied all the way down, had not said a word as he did a mental inventory of what were the downsides to cutting his losses and booking up soon as this next scene was through—damn, she had said "please leave" just like she meant it, all soft and shit and with just enough resolve to make it razor sharp, soft but sharp, how did she do that?

         Funk could hardly wait for scene two.



         SCENE TWO.


         —Take it from the dialogue. Speed?






"John, please leave."        

              John had his directions backwards.  When he should have been moving forward he had backed up, now he was reaching out for her with his snakes outstretched. Like he was trying to capture something.

              He noticed that she was wearing the silver earrings he had bought her. She could keep them. He wouldn't ask her for them back.  Nor the red suede shoes or the orangish Kenyan woven handbag. Or the three hundred twenty-five he had "loaned" her. "This is a loan, not a gift," spouting mixed signals. He knew when he wrote that check that he wasn't going to see that money again. He never meant to see it. John only meant for Angela to be in his debt.

              She stood up.

Vultures were on the roof. Patient.

Angela knew nothing stays fresh forever but must all flesh rot so quickly? Was this cancer or murder? 

She looked up and the jury was glumly filing in.

Wes had beat her twice. The first time he just knocked her down

and if they had not been living in Houston

and if she had not had a baby who was five months old

and if she had not been so young

and if she hadn't just made up her mind to make it work

and if her Honda didn't have thirty-seven more payments

and if Wes hadn't been tearfully pleading, his knees scraping the mauve, stain-resistant Dupont carpet on the floor of their three bedroom dream/nightmare house, his pale blue linen-shirted arms encircling her thighs, not caring about how he must have looked, singing an Al Green beg about how sorry he was

and we're going to make it

and I'll never ever hit you again,

and if her mother had not just gone back home after staying five weeks helping with the baby,

and if she were not up for a promotion at Xerox,

maybe she would have left then and there,

and thus, never would have gotten slapped a second time and ended up going off on his ass, pouring a whole pot of just cooked spaghetti down his back and grabbing a long, long kitchen knife when he started to move at her, remembering the way her jaw had hurt for five and a half days after he had knocked her down that first time and then promising herself, like a Jew viewing relics of the holocaust for the first time, "Never again. Never again."

She had told John this story. He knew not to hit her.


              Look at her she thinks I'm going to hit her. John couldn't help his thought process; his Negro male ego, having successfully gnawed through the rope holding the door, was now fully uncaged and roaming the streets of John's emotions. A well chewed human dove's feathers warmly covered the bellicose, blood stained jowls of John's unfettered ego.

              This was a strange ass woman.

              This was an ordinary male.

              Nothing prepared him for living with something he couldn't control. All his examples were wrong. He had never seen any of his peers treat a woman like their new car and really take care of her. From what all he knew about women John would bet the farm that if you didn't watch out they had a secret way to make a man cry, and what man wanted to cry?


              "John, please leave."

              "John, please leave."

              "John, please leave."

              If she didn't stop saying that he was going to have to punch her out.

              "John, please leave."


              Regardless of what John thought he was hearing, after saying it the first time, Angela had not said another word.

              At a moment when it would have taken a whole lot of understanding or at least the image of some man John respected advising John on the manliness of admitting confused emotions and admitting to being lost on the relationships frontier, John pushed on confident as Custer that he could cope with whatever Angela had in mind. On the wide screen Eddie Murphy (whom John mistook for an experienced navigator/scout) was acting the fool, his manic guffaws misdirecting John. It made sense to John.

              John had watched tv football.  He knew what was happening. A fatal loop of instant replay was stuck in John's head. Angela was standing over John's quarterback, pointing an outstretched finger into the poor boy's face. Actually she was standing astraddle him doing the Cabbage Patch over his prostrate body. How did that look on Monday night television, a sack on his fifteen, and she jumping up, standing one foot on each side of his hip, "take that motherfucker, take that motherfucker!"?

              "On who?  On you!" that finger with the blood red fingernail kept saying.  About thirty-six million people was watching her knock him flat on his ass and then gloating with a long red finger in his face!

              "John, please leave."

              Where were his blockers?

              "John, please leave."

              Five minutes passed like that.

             "John, please leave."

              Although there was always another game, who wanted to lose like this?

              Angela didn't want to repeat herself. Once was enough. What she really wanted was to disappear. She also wanted her little girl Harriet to grow up in another kind of country where she wouldn't be expected to be some man's woman. If there was such a country, Angela's daughter Harriet could be happy. She could have children if she wanted to. Could have a lover, if she found one she wanted, but she wouldn't have to be "his" woman. That's what she wanted.

              John was leaning against the podium wondering what he was supposed to be doing. He didn't know how to talk his way out of this one. Worse than that, he didn't even know he was not trapped in something that he had to escape. The microphone was on, the tape recorders were documenting, the reporters had their pens ready to scribble down every word of the post-game, wrap up.

              John was almost forty. He had seen a lot of shit. He had been with a lot of women -- well, without really counting closely, he had been with seven, uh eight women in some kind of serious, well, almost serious, well like he had lived with (more or less) four different women in the last seven years and almost got married twice. He was tired.

              He was also unreconstructed. He didn't know how to disarm. How to divest of the need to own. John was afraid to let go and afraid to hold on to a woman's inquiry into his guts. John's EWAD (Early Warning Defensive Radar System) went bonkers -- Angela was set to launch fifty questions. His ego was asking him why did it have to go back in the cage. There was no logical answer.

              And Angela, his sweet, sweet angel, had her own pack of troubles to tote, she couldn't help him with his. Besides she was no expert on safe cracking, there was no way for her to reach into his head or even if she could, how could she know his head was not what most needed reprogramming.

              How does it happen that you can get to someplace but you can't go back to where you came from? How does it happen that you long for something you ain't never had? Something dim but very valuable was in the distance and they both were reaching for it, but it was far off, far off. Very far off.

              John decided he was too tired to talk but really his problem was he couldn't read the script. All he knew was English, albeit at a first year college reading level, thank you; English, a language severly limited in conjunctions and in nouns denoting inner realities. John had fifty-seven ways to express anger and only two words that he knew of that seemed to fit this puzzle. He didn't even know sign language. He had his arms folded.

              Angela was deeply hurt by John's refusal to unknot himself, but she was determined. She had journeyed to the crossroads at midnight many times before. Sometimes confused, perplexed and in a quandary, Angela had simply sat on her rump and stoically greeted the dawn. He never met her there; one usual lie was that you had to go to the crossroads alone, but if two was one then being together was alone, right? Sometimes, just marching on down the highway, she would catch a reflection of her moon-shadow on the roadside and realize how doofus she was being by courting the devil behind the particular simpleton in whose hands she was considering placing her life, and invariably on such occasions when even a little sliver of a moon would throw a sharply defined shadow sprawling across the gravel, invariably those would be the times when she knew that the particular man was not worth the particular effort, so even before getting to the crossroads she would back down and return home, would tell Alfred, or whatever his name happened to be in this particular incarnation, "This is not going to make it."

Angela had become strong enough to resist jumping in the water just because a swimming pool was conveniently near, clean and available. Once she had gone right, got married to Westley Richardson, II, Esquire. Blood turned out to be an excellent lawyer, the natural profession of liars. And once she had gone left and not married Julius James Johnson, the man all his friends and acquaintances affectionately called J.J., even though returning the rings and canceling everything damn near broke his heart, Angela knew that was better than going through with getting hooked up to a plow she was not prepared to pull. By then Angela had learned to listen to her stomach which invariably got upset at the way J.J. treated women, and Angela didn't take it personally because the fool was even hard on his mama which was a sign clearer than that storm God dropped on Noah that things wasn't going to work out. Yes Lord, Angela had been to the crossroads.

              At the crossroads anything you did had its ups and downs but, based on the lessons life had smacked hard into her head, for sure it was better to walk than wait, "Let's just end this now before one of us hurts the other."




         Of the three, predictably, Funk was the only one not hurting: Don't stop now. Keep the action going while it's flowing. (You know Funk is a midget and likes to drag everybody down to its level.)

         Angela was so into the scene she didn't hear the director yell "cut." Even though there was this tremble in her voice, somehow, she was still holding her head up and keeping her face dry, even though a floodtide was raging just behind the brown damn of her determined-not-to-cry eyes.

         Funk knew it would be a waste of tears if Angela didn't cry until after John booked up. Funk decided to take matters in hand and started whispering the name of every man who had ever fucked and left Angela. Wait a minute, Funk thought, that's a redundancy of the first order. Everybody Angela ever slept with was gone—well, of course, she had put a couple of them out, but they were gone, and hence, had left. It wouldn't be long now before she jumped to the grand conclusion that going to bed with a dude wasn't nothing but a prelude to the man leaving her. Funk liked the symmetry of that: getting laid was a prelude to getting left—how they said it? Wham, bam…





         (Do a slow-mo, three sixty shot.)




              John stood up. Turned slowly to walk out the room. And then, inexplicably paused. His back was to Angela. She wasn't looking. His voice stopped his feet from moving. He was shaken by what he heard himself uttering. He couldn't even look at her and say it. The words had thorns and ripped his lips as they poured out. Deep inside him he faintly heard something cursing at him. The mumble was the muffled indignation of his ego protesting confinement.

              But there was also a warm light beckoning through the fog. John could hear its slow blinking, an E major seventh chord with a husky Ben Webster whisper, only John didn't consciously know Ben Webster's sound so he could only recognize it in his subconscious having stored it deep in his memory cells when he was a child and his parents were playing Duke Ellington's "In A Mellowtone" RCA album with the 1940 Ellington orchestra's rendition of "All Too Soon" or the 1942 "What Am I Here For," both of which featured Ben in all his majestic glory. Although John could not have called Ben Webster's name to save his life, Ben Webster's sound was the singular touchstone that kept John from making a total fool out of himself and walking out the door.

         When John had first heard Ben Webster his mama and daddy were dancing in the front room and he was hanging over the side of a tub they had put him in to keep him from crawling around, and they were speaking some funny language that John did not remember sounding like the language he later learned to speak by mimicking them. That sound that was blinking like a beacon inside of him. He wanted to be his daddy dancing. He wanted Angela in his arms. He wanted to hear Ben Webster again. But he felt awful stupid. He had hugged a lot of women before. But none of the others made music in him and suddenly like a baby, all he wanted was what he wanted, nothing more, nothing less, don't give him no other arms, he wanted his mama, he wanted Angela to be his mama and he wanted to be his daddy.

              But just like John didn't consciously know Ben Webster, he also didn't consciously know what he wanted. Which didn't make John feel better; actually, not knowing what he wanted made him feel worse. Meanwhile John's feet stayed rooted to the carpet. E major 7th. He could hear it but he couldn't think it. John didn't think his inability to leave was right, in fact he felt down right weak. If Angela had been hugging him at that moment and had had her head resting on his chest, she would have heard a faint grunt, an involuntary exclamation that acknowledged that at least John knew exactly what Stevie Wonder meant when he sang "There's something 'bout your love..." da-da-da something "...that makes me weak, and knocks me off (pause) my feet."  Even though Stevie was blind, Stevie had peeped this, so maybe, John having all his faculties of sight intact, just maybe, this was the right thing to do. Or something. Maybe being weak was right. John was barely passing his first lesson in submission to human love.

              But Angela wasn't looking. When John had stood up, she thought that was it, blood was about to do the famous fifty yard dash right on out of the danger of relating to a female other than his mama.

Angela was deeply hurt by what she interpreted as John's refusal to speak in the mother tongue rather than growl in the colonial language. His silence handcuffed her, and him. She started to nickname him Cortez. Made love with his boots on. Saw her indigenous femininity as virgin territory to be mounted, surmounted, claimed and controlled, a phallic flag stuck into with its nuts waving in the wind. Thinking of love like a business: what he could gain, what he stood to lose. Angela was really tired, at that moment, so she didn't hear him stop, desert the armed forces, and of course she didn't hear that E major 7th, nor the Ben Webster buzz. But what she did hear, she didn't believe at first, even though she had been wanting to believe.

              "Angela. I don't know what to do. I'm scared of you. But, I love you."




         Funk was furious. What a revolting development this was. Funk was sure that shit wasn't in the script.

After checking the newly revised script, Funk was even further dismayed to find out that Funk was eliminated entirely from the last scene.

Don't tell me you're going to shoot some lame-ass, happily-ever-after bullcrap Hollywood ending. Naw, couldn't be. This stuff just doesn't happen in real life. Not to Negroes; and weren't we supposed to be keeping this one real?

         Funk's bad breath was all up in Kalamu's face, but you know how  Big Mu can get when his mind is made up. Funk and Kalamu stood toe to toe for a minute, psychically parrying and thrusting retorts back and forth. Just looking at them, it didn't look like nothing was going on, but Kalamu was arguing with Funk the way authors do with their fictional characters, telling Funk, you don't like it you can just go head and write and direct your own story. But this is my project.

Funk, of course, shot back, naw, this ain't your story, this some bullshit trying to appeal to the women by putting men down cause a brother wasn't going to put up with somebody telling him it was wrong to feel the way he felt. Besides, Kalamu, you know good and well there ain't no happy endings for 99 out of a 100 Black couples.

Well, Funk, just call this: the one after ninety-nine. And with that Kalamu turned his back on Funk and called out: Make sure everybody has the revised script. The one with the Black ending.

         Kalamu knew that no matter how consistently acquainted with sadness this society forced our people to be, love and laughter was what we intimately craved and would risk everything to achieve. Fourth and inches. The safe play was to punt. But without a second thought, they lined up with two wide receivers and everybody else blocking.

         Funk reluctantly split behind the cameras, but staying nearby just in case one of them muffed it and Funk would be able to slip back in and put a real-ass ending on this bad boy.




         SCENE FOUR.


         —Is the crane ready for the overhead? This is the last scene, let's do it in one take. One smooth take. Tilt down as the crane goes up, zooming in as you rise. And Funk, back up, we're catching a bit of your shadow in the shot and we don't need that.




              Angela jumps up quickly but very quietly, she doesn't want to frighten him. Angela takes John's hand. Turns him around. He isn't crying. But his hand is shaking. She doesn't have to look in his eyes. She doesn't have to look period. Everything is bright, red bright, makes her close her eyes. She glances furtively at him before shutting her eyes.

              John's eyes are open but he isn't observing anything outside of himself. During this brief moment, John's eyes are a double mirror: he is looking inward at himself (even though he appears to be standing with his eyes wide open staring straight ahead at the hanging ivy in the ceramic pot with the macramé tie that Angela had labored on during the four and three quarter month period the last time she wasn't "seeing" anybody) and at the same time, Angela catches her own reflection in the opaque blankness of John's stare.

              Angela knows, with the unprovable certainty that those who believe in god possess, she just knows that at last, and also for the first time, somehow, John is deeply inspecting himself instead of questioning her motives when there is something he can't figure out. A pheasant, feathered the most dazzling green, flies across Angela's line of vision. She knows it has sprung from John's chest, free to fly the friendly skyways of her dream visions.

              Angela instinctively starts chanting prayers of thanksgiving. Cognizant that she is near a threshold and wanting to remain on the path, Angela humbly and silently asks the creator for guidance. There is no sound and she thinks the silence is the answer.

              "Don't do anything. Don't say anything. Just hold me."

              After he held her, they talk for thirty-nine straight minutes. It is a start.




          Today, it's one thousand, two hundred and forty-five days later. John and Angela are still together.

              They laugh about this now.


         —Cut! Ok, that's a wrap!


         By then Funk, in a truly foul mood, had angrily put on his wrap-around shades and silently slithered off the set into the urban shadows.



—kalamu ya salaam