Race Mess

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Alright, let me just try to get this straight.  In recent months, we've been beset by building collapses, cranes overhead falling to earth, from great heights, and window washers, plunging to their deaths. Someone, must take responsibility, yes?  Well, the City building commissioner did resign; didn't she?

Only, now in response to calamities of a department in disarray, where it has started to seem, that no one has any idea as to either what they are doing or how to do it, here comes Mayor Bloomberg's latest brilliant idea. He wants the interim, former deputy commissioner to take over.


So what if this guy hasn't got a valid engineering or architect's license. It doesn't matter, not now at any rate. Because our illustrious New York City Council, instead of strengthening standards to meet the crisis, has just agreed to relax them.


Thanks to their vote, the building commissioner, need no longer bother to obtain a license, as either a civil engineer or a professional accredited architect. Great, right? It's so much easier this way to reward a supporter, someone like Amanda Mortimer Burden maybe, instead of hiring the most highly qualified and knowledgeable person available.

And, you still doubt that Bloomberg is anything more than a heedless, heartless, shameless Republican?

The Hamptons, is there any more iconic example of all-American architecture, than the pale gray shingled houses, with black-green shutters and ever so precisely clipped privet, silhouetted against the impossibly blue sky found out here? Younger, with more stamina, of both the social and physical variety, coming here for the first time, treated to an endless succession of parties of every type, I felt I'd found heaven on earth. Now, it's more about lolling on the beach and splashing in the surf. It's so, so, cold! But, oh so refreshing.

Well, I didn't say I'd joined a monastery, 3 quiet nice parties were attended this weekend in fact.  Jordan Tamagni and Michael Schlein's Amagansette Stomp was the biggest. The e-vite already tells one a lot:" Backyard BBQ, R&B, margarita machine and mussels.


Kids welcome, life guard on duty."  But it can't begin to convey the exhilarating joy of these annual festivities, that have come to feel like a family reunion, only it's the family of humankind, since there's every kind of person included there. Best of all? Smack in the middle of the enchanted and manicured garden, there's a dance floor, to go with the band!

Lunch beforehand, at Peggy Hammond's unpretentious farmhouse was utterly trouble free. Eating local, lusciously ripe, figs, raspberries and golden peaches, shaded by an arbor of fruited grapes, it felt like one had momentarily been transported to Tuscany. And, as for the poolside Sunday lunch hosted by Phyllis Briley and Rocky Boler, what can one say, except, may I, please, have a second piece of pie?

Anyway, what was truly wonderful besides such nice interesting and interested people or all the varied superior and plentiful food and drink, is that everywhere I wandered, everyone had said, how they were backing Obama! 

Returned home to Harlem I got to wondering: am I being naive, to feel so pleased at this news? Will the President, Putin's and Senator McCain's bellicose blustering drive us headlong into World War III, or will it be some lesser disaster, like our nation's un-reconciled and unacknowledged obsession with race, that wrecks our chance for a real change? 

Race!, Race!, Race!, man it's such a heavy load and it always has been. Sometimes, after the fact, it can be highly comical however. For instance , one time, I had thrown a big dinner party and guest were spread out everywhere so that everyone could fit.


There were a group of college educated "soul sistas" of that certain age in my bedroom and when a friend who's White and European went in and joined them, I thought nothing of it. It's my party after all and everyone I know is cool.  Only, somehow, anyway I got a real sense of foreboding. All too soon it turned into a realization of impending disaster as well.

What causes one to marvel, to envy and almost admire White privilege, is the unbearable sense of excessive confidence it affords.  How can anyone, feel so certain, about anything?, one thinks. What, for example gave my friend the assurance to take on these particular, long single women, already resentful about her smart attractive Black husband and their elegant Harlem townhouse? Why had she insisted, conceding no cover for their pain, that attending an elite school in Switzerland, as a detested German, that she had had a harder time, than they, could possibly begin to imagine. 

Trust me, I'm not totally a fool, I had realized that the wise thing to do was to stay out of this one, to move on, into the next room with the excuse that Martha Dolly needed a fresh drink. Except, one tries hard to be a good host, so ever so tactfully, I had attempted to rescue this imperiled soul. 

It was of no use trying to coax her into qualifying her assertion that belittled the Black women's more dire experiences. "I hate this race shit!", my friend screamed to her husband outside as they left. I guess she does, only now that they have had a child, she's sure to learn to hate it even more.

More typically, there's nothing funny at all, about the issue of race in America. "Who were they?", is the question many ask encountering diminutive Collyer Brother's Park, at 128th Street on 5th Avenue. The answer is a pair of reclusive, well-to-do men, Homer and Langley Collyer, who remaining Uptown long after most other Whites of their class had fled, went a little mad.  Once their parents died, both their boys and the family's house, today the site of the park, had started to slowly come undone. 

In 1933, Homer Collyer went blind. A little more than a decade latter, he was all but crippled with ailments and completely dependent on his dutiful sibling. The stress of dependence for the one and the burden of loyalty for the other, took a toll.  Terrified that the neighborhoods masses of poverty stricken Blacks, might be tempted to break in and rob them, Langley Collyer gradually barricaded the house.


He also created an intricate honey comb of internal passages, from tons of saved newspapers and a wide assortment of odd refuse.  Strategically set booby traps, were designed to crush any intruders.  Difficult even for Langley to maneuver safely, his newspaper tunnels were certainly not able to be discerned by the "bad people" outside.  

The perverse outcome is hardly a surprise; racism often has as negative an impact on its proponents, as it has on its victims. Returning home late one night, Langley Collyer was to make a misstep.  Caught off guard, he'd been vanquished in an instant, crushed under the weight of a nightmare of unfounded fear, in a booby trap of his own making. Fond, by the police only a few feet away, Homer had slowly starved. Both, had been gnawed by enormous rats. 

We all of us need an alternative to this race mess, and we need it now. Let's hope that electing Obama becomes at least a good start towards our salvation.

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