Sunday, April 15, 2007

Joy Time

My friend, Joy Holland, died Tuesday, April 3 and we said our goodbyes Friday, April 13. It didn't hit me until nightfall, and then I had to find something to do to take my mind off the grief.

Perhaps it was too soon for us, but there must be some sort of clock ticking which rings when one's time here is up and when it rings we have to go. Can't say good bye, pack a bag, or even delay it.
The film, Heaven Can Wait is just that a film. The reality is one day you lie down for a nap like Joy and never open one's eyes again. This is no consolation, at least not for me. I can't even imagine what Joy's family and best friends must be feeling or will begin to feel when they pick up the phone to call her and then realize she's not home and will not be returning. So anyway, this is where I was Friday afternoon, after the repast was over and I was at a loose end and didn't want to think about Joy and what the world would be like now that she'd departed.

I drove over to Marcus Books to see Nikki Giovanni, but I was a day early, so I hopped on BART and went to a play: After the War at ACT in San Francisco. I enjoyed the play. It captured the era between the end of WW2 in San Francisco, a time in the Fillmore where African Americans owned property, had businesses and Japanese returning from the internment camps and veterans returning from the war were trying to regain the stability lost during those years.

In San Francisco, the Fillmore was the only place black people could own property. It was also the only place where there were no strict race policies, so the area was more ethnically diverse than other parts of the city. It was also the site at the time of the play, 1948 where development was being planned which would vastly shift or change the culture of the place forever.

Called Urban Renewal, it was actually a plan which removed at minimum 30,000 African American residents and with them 200 businesses in the Fillmore neighborhood. The play takes place in a boarding house owned by Chester, a Japanese conscientious objector before his time. He's a frustrated or retired jazz artist--trumpeter, who played with Lionel Hampton in Chicago but he never felt accepted because though he paid dues, maybe his dues weren't enough. Chester's best friend is Earl, a black man from Mississippi.

Other boarders are Earl's sister-in-law, Leona, Lillian who keeps books, Mr. Oji who is really smart but shy, Benji and his sister, a show girl: Mary-Louise, Olga from Russia by way of Japan, and Mr. Goto, the man who owns the house note and Olga when we meet him. The plot is complicated by the lives and how they intersect. No one has enough money, some less than others but Chester lets them ride, even though he really can't afford to.

Secrets add even another layer to the drama which grows even more intense when two men find out they have slept with the same woman and she becomes pregnant. It gets intense after that revelation and I think someone is going to die, especially when Benji shows up with a rifle to protect his sister. Hiro Kanagwa's Chester is very good. There are times when one can hear tears in his throat. His voice takes on a hoarse or raspy sound.

Okay, so I'm doing fine until the play ends and I'm on BART coming home. Saturday morning I couldn't get out the house. It was pouring rain, then when the sun came out I still couldn't get out the house. But I did get by to see Nikki Giovanni at Marcus. Then I went to Majeedah Rahman's 60th birthday party. It was the rare invitation that made me feel obligated, and then again it was Majeedah too.

I'm really happy I went.

I didn't know what to get Majeedah Rahman for her 60th birthday but I thought, everyone loves poetry and after the classic Ego-tripping, nothing says it better than a Giovanni poem, so I bought her the Collected Works and had it autographed.

Majeedah has done so much for the black community to save black babies and their mothers with her organization Healthy Babies, I had to be there. More a mission or a calling than a job, for the past twenty years Healthy Babies has been graduating each year 20 clean and sober women from her program, with jobs and custody of their children.

After centuries of enslavement and the rending asunder of our institutions, no one knows better than a black woman how important it is to keep black families together, especially a mother and her child.

Majeedah's mother was there and all her cousins, some from as far away as Missouri and Sacramento. Her older cousin played the drums and sang with a smokin' band. We had fun dancing. Some guests were doing handstands and back flips. The food was great and when I left the calm I felt lasted into the next day.

Photos: Joy is in the center. Her great-granddaughter stands next to "The Goddess," her two surviving children: Ava and Taj pose at the repast.