Harlem Blues


and go out for a lark / Just to drive off these mean ole Harlem Blues – Cynda Williams, “Harlem Blues” (Mo Betta Blues soundtrack)

My daughter asked to meet on 125th Street, so I could accompany her to the African hair-braiding place. Although she’s 17 and can go on her own, I feel better being there because a lot of addicts frequent that location–looking to unload high-end cosmetics and toiletries that fell off the back of a CVS truck. I do my damn’dest not to be an enabler or complicit in five-finger-discount purchases, but I struggle with an addiction of my own: let’s make a deal frugality. On occasion I will relapse and buy three 33.9-fluid-ounce bottles of Head & Shoulders shampoo & conditioner blend for $5. (Yes, ALL THREE BIG ASS BOTTLES for $5!)

But I didn’t only accompany my daughter to see what I could score at the Hustleman pop-up; I wanted to discuss the dress she plans to wear to prom–the one with the provocative slits traveling up both sides. I took one look at that dress and concluded that the rent wasn’t the only thing that’s TOO DAMN HIGH. I’ve forbidden her from wearing it, but I don’t think compliance will be forthcoming.

I’m not one to hold grudges or get bitter for the most part (although I’m still mad at Jamel for not sharing a single Funyuns onion ring with me in 1979); as a gesture of goodwill, I pulled some strings and managed to get my daughter an audience with Iron Chef Marcus Samuelsson, at his private table at The Red Rooster restaurant. Chef Samuelsson is one of her favorite culinary celebrities.

I also treated my daughter to Shake Shack (a chicken shack “burger” with fries and complimentary water). She made me proud by successfully acquiring a honey mustard dipping sauce free of charge.

Speaking of charge, I’m exhausted and in need of one. The braiding place was packed and it was 2.5 hours of waiting to get to the chair and then 4 hours spent in the chair. The scent of burning hair–and the African hairdressers trying to set me up on a blind marriage–drove me out of there. But I noticed some things before I headed outside:

If a mothers asks a child what’s wrong and the child wants to hide what’s wrong, the child should never reply, “I’m fine.” That will only arouse suspicion. I recall my own childhood; if I said “Ouch!” or “Ow!” my mom would give me a once-over-cursory-glance and if the need for hospitalization wasn’t readily visible, she’d say, “You’re fine.” But if I had finders keepers money hidden in my sock–lost money that the temple’s religious leaders (over the public address system) requested be returned if found–and all of a sudden mom bends down to fix my pant’s leg, I’m going to panic and protest, “I’m fine! I’ll do it.”

Well, “I’m fine” didn’t work for me and it didn’t work for the little girl in the hair-braiding place, who tried to renegotiate the terms of her mother’s “let me see.” When mom sees you vigorously rubbing your left eyebrow with a beat-up napkin, she’s going to inquire; when she says “let me see” and gets “I’m fine” in return, “GET OVER HERE” is what comes next. That little girl shot out of the room; her mother stopped braiding and went after her. When they came back, instead of mom telling the daughter to come closer, she was now warning her not to get near–or else somebody was getting smacked for putting super glue on their left eyebrow.

Kids say and do the darndest things. After several hours of sitting in that chair mine said, “Can you bring me a snack?”

I said no, as I sipped my 50-ounce spring water that I got from Whole Foods for 79-cents. I’m still upset about that dress.

But wait…

I’m also upset that I saw a drug paraphernalia baggie, labeled “Blue Magic,” discarded on the Harlem sidewalk.

The fictional Frank Lucas won’t be happy either, when he hears that someone else is infringing on his proprietary street pharmaceutical trademark.

Brand names mean something, Nicky. Consumers rely on them to know what they’re getting…. Blue Magic is a brand name; as much a brand name as Pepsi. I own it. I stand behind it. I guarantee it…. – Frank Lucas (portrayed by Denzel Washington), American Gangster

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