Say What?

So I was coming back from the gym at just a little after noon on a Sunday morning, when I was walking down one of the side streets and a middle-aged white lady was approaching me from the opposite direction. I am always very aware of my surroundings, so I noticed her as we drew nearer, but she surprised me just as we were about to walk past one another.

She said, “Good morning” to me.

Say what?

Good morning?

Good morning!

Buenos dias?

Talk about catching your boy off-guard. Yet, it was almost as if I was taken back to another time and place, because almost immediately, I responded with a “Good morning” of my own, and a smile crossed both of our faces.

Now call me crazy, but I don’t think this lady was hitting on me. For starters, it’s not as if I was dressed as Uzo the writer. I was coming from the gym, after a Sunday morning workout and a long night out the day before. I looked half-groggy and half sweaty, nevermind that my baggy jeans and oversized sweatshirt probably made me look like public enemy #1. So throw out any ill-conceived notion that this lady said Good morning and flashed a smile at me because she was interested in me—even though I know that’s hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t be.

But why then?

Why would a middle-aged, white woman living in Harlem say good morning to a hood-looking, young, black man walking past her on a street void of any other sets of eyes?

Actually…Throw away the fact that she’s even white!

Nobody in Harlem says good morning!

Nobody in New York City says good morning!

Okay, maybe church members (on Sundays at least) and the hospitality industry pass out greetings like packs of Splenda. However, your average New Yorker, you know, the thousands of people you pass by every day on the Subway and sidewalks, doesn’t say Good morning; especially in situations when nobody can see what happens to them.

Or maybe that’s just my experience.

But I doubt that.

New York City’s nature is what it is. People are trying to get where they’re going, and they don’t really have the time for pleasantries that people share in the South, Midwest and other parts of the country where people aren’t always concerned about getting from one place to the next.

But why is that?

Is New York so different, that a simple good morning damn near scared me and compelled me to actually sit down and relive the experience on paper?

Say what you will, but New York gets a bad wrap for being a city full of rude people.

Yes, the city has more than its fair share of disgruntled, mass transit users that no longer have the patience to put up with time-wasting out-of-towners, tourists and other slow walkers and novice Subway riders.

And yes, even the riders that aren’t jaded seem to keep to themselves.

But you have to realize that New Yorkers have seen and heard a lot of things that cause them to act the way they do. I have actually seen a guy sit down next to woman, start a very polite, small-talk conversation, before he unforeseeably lashed out at her and started cursing her out. Those types of things, even when you’re not involved, can change how you act in this city forever.

While New Yorkers may skip the “Hellos” and the “How are you doings,” when stuff hits the fan, they are always there.

If it weren’t for the kindness of New Yorkers, there would be a whole lot more disgruntled, pregnant women standing on the Subway.

If it weren’t for the kindness of New Yorkers, how would mothers taking strollers on the Subway ever get their babies up the stairs?

And if it weren’t the kindness of New Yorkers, how can you explain this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi4ClspNrNs

Unfortunately, when you’re riding the Subway for 45 minutes to go to some job you don’t like, at some time early in the morning that you don’t want to be there, just to pay the $2,000 a month for your sub-par apartment with rodent problem, you really don’t feel like talking in the midst of a crowd—even if you are genuinely a nice person.

So perhaps this lady who told me good morning yesterday was just putting her genuinely, nice persona on display. Perhaps she was having a good Sunday, a nice walk, and was actually one of the few white people who aren’t living in Harlem purely for monetary reasons.

Or maybe she was just trying to show a display kindness to ward off a potential attack from a guy walking the streets looking like the epitome of thuggish-ruggish bone. Either way, it was nice to hear “Good Morning” from a stranger for the first time in a long time.

Gentrification Gets Personal: Best Yet Market Moves to Harlem

Gentrification is something most black people look down on—at least publicly, anyway. But how about when gentrification hits close to home?

Then it’s a different story.

Obviously, McDonald’s and Starbucks don’t move into neighborhoods where they don’t think they will make money off the people that live there. So while many of us rant and rave about the ugliness of gentrification and the consequences of it, many of us, myself included, fail to stand up against it with our wallets when buying our cheeseburgers and sipping on our lattes.

Of course, I’m not a big fan of lattes, and McDonald’s cheeseburgers don’t exactly appeal to these glorified taste buds of mine that I call a palette. However, food is my calling, so the grocery store is like a second home to me. While, I tend to eat out as often as possible, my interest in not dying of a heart attack requires that I go to the store to balance out my diet. I don’t tend to stack up the fridge, so I wind up going to the store more often than I probably should.

Since moving to Harlem, my store of choice has been the Fine Fare on the corner of 116th and Lenox Avenue (6th Avenue). However, ten days ago, a “Best Yet Market” opened up a little bit closer to me and with a lot more variety and quality in its offerings.

Naturally, I went there during its first weekend in the neighborhood.

And not only did I go there, but this was one of the few occasions when I got enough groceries to fill the fridge. Have in mind that in prior years, my failure to fill the fridge up was because doing so usually required a very long, cumbersome walk from the store, or additional cab fare. Now with Best Yet Market about a block away, it’s easier to move a ton of groceries.

Not to mention, this store has more vegetables, better vegetables, more overall products, hot food offerings and the lines are staggeringly shorter and less and time consuming than the ones at Fine Fare. That said, the prices at Best Yet Market are a lot higher, too. That means Best Yet Market is catering to the ever more gentrified populace invading Central Harlem, and they expect that the presence of their store will only increase the emerging white population in this area, which in turn will increase the number of customers they have.

This is gentrification at its finest.

Best Yet Market is offering more products, better products, and better service, but at higher prices, hoping that its quality will overcome the price-differential between it and neighboring grocery stores. And it will probably work on most people. While Best Yet Market is no Whole Foods, they are clearly better than Fine Fare, and people are realizing that already. I’ve seen Best Yet Market grocery bags out in front of lower-income residences where there are either few or no white people living in the building. And of course, I’ve already noticed fewer overall shoppers at the Fine Fare I usually go to.

Personally, however, I’m not going to transition into a Best Yet shopper. I’m not big on the fluff of the store, and I certainly won’t pay higher prices for the same things I can get at Fine Fare. Granted, I will go there for the things they have that Fine Fare doesn’t. That’s just obvious. But to go there for the sake of going there and paying more money—well, that’s not going to happen.

Let me be clear though; I don’t have some kind of a revolutionary agenda here. This is a matter of economics for me. I guess the real question is, Would I frequent the Best Yet Market if they were pulling a Wal-Mart like approach, offering cheaper prices and better quality? And to that I say, I would sell out so fast it’s not even funny.

Look, gentrification isn’t really all that bad. Do I like its intended consequences of displacing people, culture and history?

Of course not!

But this is how the world works.

The alternative to gentrification is being stagnant. Harlem is not the budding conurbation it once was in the middle of the 20th century. And while many love the resounding culture, historical architecture and creative people of this area, a lot of that translates into drugs, violence, shoddy buildings and an unemployment rate that is much higher than the rest of the city. And those problems subsist while much of the rest of Manhattan has sprouted new buildings and new business over the past 60 years, and it just continues to grow more and more while increasing the value of the city.

I recognize gentrification won’t fix all of the problems that Harlem inhabitants have, and that many people will just continue to have the same problems in whatever neighborhoods they are forced to migrate to when they are forced out of their homes. But maybe people don’t have to be displaced. If we embrace gentrification for the run away freight train that it is, then perhaps it can be on our side. Much in the same way America embraced immigration early on in its existence, Harlem can grow to be better than it ever was if it takes the proper steps to reel in the economic forces trying to consume Harlem.

So while I won’t become a card-carrying member of Best Yet Market, I do think that the area needs more Best Yet Markets, as well as Starbucks, McDonald’s and many other things. Of course, if we stand in front of the gentrification movement, it doesn’t have to be those exact stores taking this area over. Instead of McDonald’s, we could have another Sylvia’s. Instead of Starbucks, there could be a new YMCA. Whatever it is, gentrification is going to happen. If we as Harlem residents want to fight it, we can. But I would much rather embrace it for what it is, and try to make it something of our own.

On Valentine’s Day, Where Are All the Black Romance Movies?

Today, “Valentine’s Day” the movie is premiering across the nation. Just yet another fine example of how this consumer-driven holiday, that does nothing but line the pockets of those who exploit it, fools people into buying things they wouldn’t normally buy. Not to sound cynical or anything, but no one can sit here and honestly say that Valentine’s Day is all about the love when consumer consumption experiences a significant spike during the week of the 14th each and every year.

Heck, spending on Valentine’s Day isn’t even always the product of love. According to the USA Today, the use of tracking devices and private investigators always surges around Valentine’s Day, proving that love often breeds hatred.

But I’m not really here to speculate on Valentine’s Day, because I really have no problem with it, so long as people recognize it for what it is; a big-business ploy that men use to prey on the emotions of lonely women.

That said, I do have a problem with the movie “Valentine’s Day” itself, and it has nothing to do with the holiday. My issue, or question rather, IS:

Where did all of the black love stories go?

No, I’m not going to apologize for making this a racial thing, because it’s not as if I am asking for something that is out the realm of possibility. All I want to know is why did the production of black love movies stop so suddenly at the turn of the century?

Eddie Murphy was as big as black movie stars get back in the early 90’s. In fact, despite the recent success of Will Smith and Denzel Washington, I still think Murphy was a bigger movie star than the both of them, because when people go to see a Denzel or Smith film, it’s because they play good roles in good movies. When people went to an Eddie Murphy movie back in the early 90’s and the 80’s, it was because they wanted to see Eddie Murphy be Eddie Murphy.

But I digress.

Often we think of Murphy as a comedian and a funny actor, but Murphy was the subject of many black movies that incorporated the theme of love, such as “Coming to America.” However, only one of his movies can really be described as a romantic movie and that’s “Boomerang,” where he starred opposite Robin Givens and Halle Berry.

That movie was so successful, it spawned a long line of black romantic movies, including “Love Jones,” “Brown Sugar,” “Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “The Best Man,” “Love & Basketball,” “Jason’s Lyric,” “The Inkwell,” and “The Wood.” However, none of these movies were as successful as “Boomerang,” and none of them produced any money overseas; whereas, Boomerang produced more money overseas alone than any of those movies grossed in total.

Why was “Boomerang” so successful and the other movies weren’t?

Eddie Murphy.

Or to put it in more general terms, “Boomerang” had a star, and the other movies did not.

So why won’t Will Smith and Denzel Washington star in a black romantic flick that involves another black love interest, a black love plot and is devoid of the more general, conforming storylines and plots that are ramped in their typical movies, such as the newly released “Valentine’s Day?”

Money!

As I just mentioned, since “Boomerang,” black romantic movies don’t make money. Heck, black movies in general don’t make money. It’s hard for me to say it, but it’s true.

One of the reasons black movies don’t make any money is because they don’t do well overseas. While I partially agree with the notion that foreigners don’t necessarily understand the plots and meanings of an all-black film, the fact is, most black movies aren’t shot with big black movie stars, and you need movie stars to make money overseas—and that applies to all movies. For example, Napoleon Dynamite isn’t necessarily all that different from Nacho Libre, but Nacho Libre made way more money overseas because they had Jack Black.

Yet the black romantic films of yesteryear don’t even have names as big as Jack Black. With my apologies to Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs and Omar Epps (of which at least one of the 3 always seem to be in every black romantic film ever made), their names don’t register in America or abroad half as much as Jack Black’s does—and yes, somewhere, a professor at Tisch Film School is turning over in his grave.

So why am I writing this?

Because I want to see more black romantic films!

The black love story has to be told. Black love is so fleeting, so rare and so obscure in comparison to the rest of America, that I just feel it’s necessary for these stories to be told on a wide-release basis. And yes, black love is different from the generic love story you see in the theaters. Blacks love differently. In all honestly, all cultures love differently. Love is a cultural thing. A sign of love in one country is not necessarily a sign of love in another country. And while there aren’t glaring differences between a display of love in the black community versus that of the white community, there are differences, and I’d like to see those differences on screen.

There is one way, however, to make black romantic movies that are financially successful:

Bring back Eddie Murphy!

Okay, not really. But we should bring back the idea of putting the biggest black stars in black movies.

Halle Berry! Get off Billy Bob and holler at my man Taye Diggs on screen!

Big Willie! Yeah, you use to call yourself that! I know you like Latina co-stars in your movies, but you did date sisters on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air!

And Denzel! My man! Come on now. Did you forget your roots! Spike Lee made you, man! You can’t do a small budget film for him where the cast comes from Brooklyn, as opposed to Brookshire, just one more time!

Putting those guys/gals in a black movie would breed the success that any financier or studio would be proud of. But it’s hard to get them, because they demand $20 million a flick, and no black producer, or white producer alike is putting together a production that primarily appeals to a black constituency and has a budget north of $25 million.

It just ain’t happening.

And that’s unfortunate, because it could work. You throw Denzel in “Love Jones,” and it would have made four times as much money. Use the new and improved Jamie Foxx in the next black romantic flick, and you’re sure to double your investment.

But no one is willing to take a chance. Tyler Perry is trying to do something with black romantic films here and there, but his movies usually do more comedy and romance. The last real black romantic film was probably Brown Sugar (2004), and it wasn’t all that good. I guess we will have to wait for someone from my generation to make it big in the movie business before we ever get back to seeing blacks in romantic flicks.

Maybe that person is you?

Snow Day: Go to Work as Usual

One of the best things about New York City is its snow. Not because it’s fun to go out in Central Park and go sledding (although, that’s not a knock against it either), but because most New Yorkers probably don’t have time to do that.

It’s amazing how this city refuses to shut down because of some trivial weather. I find it remarkable that the workman’s ethic of this city is so strong that the idea of shutting it down because of a mere foot to foot-and-a-half of snow is borderline ridiculous.

But why is that? Why is it that in a city where most people work so hard, for so very little, that the idea of shutting down the city and giving worker’s a paid vacation day is out of the question?

Why else?

Money!

We can celebrate that New Yorker work ethic all we want to, but don’t tell me that a security guard at any one of the federal offices downtown doesn’t want a paid day off of work. Why wouldn’t he?

I understand that there are services in this city that must go on, such as television stations, restaurants and strip clubs, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should be expected to show up for work just because some people HAVE to.

But let’s be real. The reason there will never be a formal announcement of a city-wide, government shutdown is because of the stock market. If the government shuts down, essentially the stock market would be paralyzed by a slew of people not coming to work; thereby, prohibiting Wall Street mainstays from making their daily dimes on the backs of those working for fractions of a penny.

It is completely unconscionable that we allow this to happen, and is further proof that the banking system in this country controls our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely aware of the severity of shutting down the market because of a snow blizzard, but that only reveals just how crazy it is that the citizens of New York City and the United States rely on this contrived money-driven entity to the detriment of their own peril. Forget about recessionary economics, what about emotional instability? This idea that some guy making eight dollars an hour has to travel from East New York to Wall Street, through 18 inches of snow, just to clean up after traders at the NYSE because the market must stay open is fanatical.

Damn the stock market, and the white horse it rode in on!

I know I seem crazy and idiotic for taking a stance against this, especially when I’m touting something that could very well bring this country’s economic system to a temporary halt. However, there’s a reason why Americans work harder than other nations, work longer than other nations, and die sooner than the citizens of other nations. It’s because we work when everybody else is enjoying the fruits of their labor. Sure, we may be a rich nation, but just like an aging senior citizen, there comes a point and time when enjoying life outweighs being productive. And if today’s snowfall is any example, a foot of snow just doesn’t appear to be that point and time.

OTW: “The Gym”

Yes!

February is finally here!

For many of you, the only thing the start of February means is that you have 2 weeks to plan something for Valentine’s Day or you’re about to begin celebrating Black History Month.

But I’m not excited about either of those things! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Black History Month, but I’m 25 now, and I don’t get excited for Christmas anymore either. Call me cynical, but it is what it is.

That being said, I’m extremely excited about the prospects of the gym. The end of January means that all of the “new members” that joined gyms in January as a part of the their New Year’s Resolutions have been “at it” for 30 days, and are now resigned to resuming their 11-month hiatus from any remote form of strenuous and/or mild exercise.

Any regular gym-goer knows what I’m talking about. At the beginning of the year, everybody is promising themselves and others that they are going to lose weight “this year,” and they crowd the Gyms at the out start of January, leaving you waiting for treadmills and bench presses far longer than you ever did not so long ago in December. Not to mention, 99% of these people don’t workout on the regular, so they don’t follow simple protocols like wiping down the machine, using the treadmill for 30 minutes or less, or only doing one-set of exercises on the machines specifically used for circuit training.

Of course, it’s not just the fault of those infrequent gym-goers. These gym companies, especially in New York City, are to blame, as well. They complicity register more people than the gym can handle, knowing that January will be entirely overcrowded, and that the majority of the other 11 months will have sustainable attendance, leaving the complaints from their regulars at a minimum. That leaves gyms with a whole lot of extra monthly payments, but it leaves us regular gym-goers rationalizing skipping the gym because I know I’m going to have to wait 45 minutes for a bench press if I try to work out anytime after 4 o’clock—for the entire month of February!

Oh, well. It’s all good. February is here, which means I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I’ve already seen the decline in regular gym-goers this past week, including yesterday, when there were significantly less people at my gym than there was the Sunday before.

While I’m happy to have my gym back, I still can’t help but wonder why so many New Yorkers pay these exorbitant monthly gym prices, and don’t go to the gym but for that 1 month out of the year in January. Seems like a huge waste of money to satisfy a meaningless New Year’s Resolution. I wish people would get smarter with their money. And if for nothing else, ladies, if you’re only going to work out 1 month a year, pick June so that your primary weight loss coincides with bikini season!