Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Shabba!

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I had to be about twelve years old.  Give or take a few months.  It was summer in the early nineties so I was probably wearing an oversized t-shirt and colored shorts of the TLC/Mary J. Blige variety.  My relaxed hair was likely brushed into a ponytail, with a blue bubble clip holding together my thick strands (because blue was my favorite color) and Let's Jam caked around my edges to keep stray hairs from escaping.  I stood at the threshold of the front door of my house, barely making out my mother through the cracks in our red steel security door.  She had a book in her hand, because back then, she was working on getting her bachelor's degree at Queens College.


"Ma, I just want to go to the store for a beef patty and soda.  I'll be right back," I pleaded again.

It was a block and a half away and I could handle it.  I had my eye-rolling-mean-mug down and I knew to save my smiles... for cute boys.  ALL my friends were going and they waited impatiently on the sidewalk in front of my small cape cod styled house, stomachs growling and sneakers tapping.  It would be my first time going with just my friends.  Up until then, my trips to the corner store were spent trailing at the feet of one of my big brothers, likely still holding hands when I crossed the street and suffering the inevitable pat on the head by Muhammed, the store owner, who would also give me a free Swedish fish for being such a good little girl. 
I wasn't a little girl.
I stood tall and waited.  Trying my best to look like the type of girl who went to the store with her friends: relaxed, confident, cool in the face of crackheads (it was NYC in the early 90s)... 
She sighed, opened the door and handed me a five dollar bill.  "Come right back," she warned.
"I will."
I could barely contain my excitement.  If life were a musical, I would have performed a fifteen minute number on the significance of that five dollar bill in my hand, dancing from stoop to stoop, doing the wop in my neighbor's grass and finishing it off with the Hammer dance up and down my block.  It was crunchy and valued with possibilities.  I would spend it.  I would get the change.  I would say thank you, and I would be above a pat on the head.
"And bring me back eggs," she added. 
I nodded. 
I could feel my mother's eyes on me as we made our way up the block.  I looked back one more time before rounding the corner, my little red house was small in the distance but still close enough to run to if I got scared. My heart sped up a bit as we moved out of her sight.  I was nervous, but I needed to be ready.  I looked over at my friend, Toya who was yapping about a cute boy who lived nearby.  I took a breath rounded the corner and looked straight ahead.   

We made it to the store, still chatting as we picked our items.  I walked to the counter with my head high like a grown up.  I handed Muhammed my eggs and asked for a beef patty with coco bread, trying to hide the recognition from my face and look nothing like the little girl he thought he knew.
"Where are your brothers?" His voice was rich with a heavy Pakistani accent.
I shrugged.  I had my own fancy life now.  I didn't keep track of those guys.
He smirked and handed me my change. "Say hi to your mother."
I nodded. My friends laughed.  My mother was pretty.  Men were always using me to say hi to my mother.
We walked out giggling, chomping on Now and Laters and chugging down quarter-waters, parched from the summer sun.
"Oh my Gawd." My friend, Cherise stopped in her tracks.
I looked up, my heart pounding, mentally preparing myself for all the worst case scenarios my big brothers had warned me about and ready to run screaming back home... if necessary.
"Is that Shabba Ranks?" she barely managed.
 



In a black t-shirt, pressed dress pants, Gumby with a side part and face coated in vasoline (or sweat) was SHABBA Ranks, the reggae crooner who soundtracked my twelve-year old life.  He sat on the porch of the house beside the store with his feet up as if he had been there all along.
We screamed.  We wailed.  We jumped up and down like we had won something and bolted to where he sat.  Now understand, this was at the height of his career.  He was singing songs with Johnny Gill, being spoofed by the Wayans.  Sitting on a porch in Queens was the last place we expected him. 
Either way, we stood at the gate to the house and professed our love, ripping pieces of our paper bags off and giving them to him for autographs.  He laughed and walked to the gate, signing each one and mumbling things none of us understood.  It didn't matter.  He signed my autograph, "Mr. Loverman" and called me a "Lovergirl" which in retrospect was probably inappropriate but at the time, it was EVERYTHING.

We floated back home, holding our autographs and retelling the story to each other again and again, deeming it, hands down, the best day of the summer.  I held my autograph tight to my chest and smiled, taking one last look towards where he sat feeling all my previous fear dissolving into the air around me.  I remember thinking, if my first trip off my block could hold that much excitement, imagine what other adventures the future would hold.  I just needed to remind myself to be brave.
Sometimes risks bring rewards even bigger than you can imagine.
Like Shabba Ranks on a porch in Queens.

I get inspiration wherever I can find it, folks.

Love and Light,
Faye

1 comment:

  1. Love this post! And yes it's true the greater the risks, the greater the rewards! Hope you still have the autograph :-)

    ReplyDelete

 
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