Sunday, July 25, 2004
Every Other Corner...
Figueroa and 106th Street
"How you doing? The food pretty good in there?" I asked a brotha standing on a corner near Florence and Figueroa.
"Never tried it, man..." He responded.
The moment I asked the question, I had a few others pop inside my mind but I didn't dare ask. I wondered why he was even standing there and why he couldn't find something better to do in almost ninety degree weather? When he was growing up, was this something he aspired to do? Run to the corner and just stand there? Did he come from generations of family that passed down this tradition of corner standing?
After I got my food, I decided to take a drive down Figueroa Blvd. The street hadn't changed much and I've watched over a few decades its transition of bad to worse, to a couple new stores here and there but no real progress. I've seen motels closed or shutdown and re-opened. I've seen buildings and homes turned into small prisons because of all the bars and security doors. Everything is a fortress designed to keep the next door neighbor out because that's probably who robbed them the first time after they figured out when and what time someone would go and come back home from work. And once again, every other corner there was somebody standing, watching, waiting... Selling drugs? Maybe so... Selling themselves? Yeah, a few of those corners had a lost looking soul trying to entice someone to pullover.
Figueroa is a tough street. It's an old street and if it could talk, the stories would probably be pretty interesting. I'd personally like to discover a story filled with happiness and success rather than death and sadness.
I knew someone that lived about a block from Figueroa on 106th Street. Her name was Linda. She was half black and asian, originally from Hawaii. She was one gorgeous lady when I first met her back in 1992. Her english was broken but she'd try all the time. She said she enjoyed the way I spoke because she could feel my heart inside every word I'd choose. I didn't understand fully at the time what she'd mean't but I figured she'd found a cool way to say that I was a nice guy. I was taken by not only her beauty but also by the fact that she had this big afro at a time when you just didn't see it that often, not even in the hood but it looked good, on her.
After the first time we met and after an hour of gaining her confidence, I asked her for her phone number. I promised her that I would take her to a movie. She didn't believe me but she did give me her number. I delivered on my promise and she was stunning that day. Her afro was perfect and she had a little jean outfit on, looking good and smelling fresh like body lotion.
I took her to Westwood Village, which to her was a whole nother country. She was looking at the sky, at the tall buildings, and at some of the students she'd seen walking around in UCLA clothes. I remember her smiling and moving in close to me as we walked from the theatre to the car.
She asked "why come you do this for me?"
At first I shrugged my shoulders. I wasn't sure how to respond but then I figured I'd better, so I did. I told her, "I wanted to do something for you and I knew that taking you somewhere different might light up that smile I saw when we first said hello."
She thanked me and then I took her back home. I watched as her curious eyes basked in new discoveries the whole time I was driving. But then as we hit the Harbor Freeway and begun approaching familiar areas to Linda, her eyes retreated inside the car and she never took them off of me until we reached her front door. I could sense how she felt about where she lived or perhaps, existed. Her whole spirit had lost it's shine as we drove down Figueroa, passing all the very same things that I still passed today, many years later. Funny thing, back in 92, a month after I'd taken Linda to the movies, I drove down Figueroa and I saw her, standing on the corner. She didn't look like the same Linda.
I pulled over and called out to her "hey Linda!"
She started to smile but before she could say anything, a voice whose face I couldn't see stopped her from greeting me. It was a male voice sounding dark and cold like it had authority over Linda's soul.
"Yo Nina!" The voice said.
Linda's smile fell from her face and she walked away. I watched as she disappeared into the same darkness where the voice came from. It was pretty easy for me to recognize that Figueroa had claimed her and she'd become one of those lost souls who'd believe a certain corner to be theirs.
I bumped into Linda again about about eleven months later. She was again, different though she had more time to smile. We talked in a parking lot about a block away from her corner. She said she'd been to jail for shooting someone. She'd shot a female for trying to attack her with a knife. She said the female was jealous.
"She say I pretty so she want to make me look like her..." Linda said.
I told her she should think about leaving the area; maybe even going back to Hawaii where her family lived. She'd turn her head when I said that. She'd look out at the traffic and when I called her by who she'd become, she gave me her full attention.
"Yo Nina..." I said.
Today I drove down Figueroa and passed right by that corner of 106th Street. The corner was empty but my memories were still there. I kept driving. I stopped to get some gas on Century Boulevard. Then I hopped on the freeway and headed back home. The memories traveled with me and I figured I'd just place them right here...