One Last Night

This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

What’d you get done in the last 14 1/3 weeks?

Author’s note: I’m cleaning house today and found this post lying around in my “Draft” folder.  It’s from April 30th, so it’s the 14 1/3 weeks before April 30th that this post refers to.  Not sure why I never hit “Publish” when this is pretty much whole and says what I wanted to say.  WordPress tells me it was last edited at 11:49pm, so did I fall asleep and just forget about it?  Weird.  In any case, step into my time machine and go back six months to see what I was thinking on a Thursday night in April …

My students and I talked about this last night, about how much we thought we could accomplish in a few months … about how much of that stuff would have real import, about how much might have a positive impact on anyone other than ourselves.  We had an interesting list as our brainstorming continued:

  • get a job
  • unpack in my new apartment
  • do community service
  • get together with other people to work on some big project
  • do a lot of reading
  • write a lot of essays
  • start to learn something new
  • maybe watch the news more
  • travel

We talked about it for a while.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  Fourteen and a third weeks.  They had some wacky, not-quite-reality-based ideas, too, but they kept cycling back around to getting stuff done in their houses or with their families and friends.

And then I asked: “About how many days is 14 1/3 weeks?”  (And, after the mad scramble to do some math …)

“It’s like 100 days.”

“A hundred days?  I heard something about that on TV.”

“Why, what’s 100 days?”

“Isn’t it something about the president?”

And there we were.  One hundred days.  About three and a half months.

I know the first 100 days is supposed to be a big deal, supposed to tell us what a new administration is going to be like, tell us whether we made the right or wrong choice at the polls months earlier … but can it ever actually to any of that?  It is, after all, only three and a half months.  What is the real point of putting this kind of pressure on our politicians?  Are we really so hungry for instant gratification that we can’t sit back and give our pols half a minute to get things moving?  At the same time, I understand wanting to see some movement in the first couple of months, but this still feels like an empty milestone.

So, what’d you get done in the last 14 and 1/3 weeks?

SOL: Hanging at the mall with Barry …

… you know, and about two million of our closest friends …

Here was my day on the 20th:

Up early-early, trek out to the Shady Grove metro to get the train into DC.

Met a gang of very enthusiastic young black people from New Jersey on the metro.  They were down in DC to sell their beautifully silk-screened Obama hoodies and tote bags.  (“Come on, sis, you got to support us enterprising black folk!” — And, to whoever bought the white hoodie with the brown and gold Obama print: wear it well, that thing had my name all over it!)

Changed trains at Metro Center, red line to orange.  Met an older man from Georgia on the train with his son.  They were on their way home, having gone out to the mall already and been turned away.  They insisted none of us would get in, but I was determined.  I told them to come with me because there was no way I wasn’t getting in.  But they resisted my lure and headed on their way.

Off at Federal Center Southwest where I had my back-of-the-line encounter with the angry man.  Upstairs where I found myself in a sea of people who all turn out to be ticket holders … which was when I started to worry that I really might not get in.

Walked from Federal Center back to the mall entrance at L’Enfant Plaza.  On the way, I passed dozens of tour buses.   One bus was completely decked out in Obama and DC images.  It had “USA Three-Fifths” on the side, which made me wonder if there was an organization somehow connected to the compromise. But I’ve searched online and not found anything. If any of you know about it, please clue me in.

The closer I got to the mall, the more people I saw who’d been turned away.  They insisted that none of us would get in because was no one being allowed to enter so close to the Capitol because all of the sections were full.  But I didn’t turn back.  I decided to believe it would not be true that I would go all that way and not get exactly what I wanted.  Cocky, yes, but I just felt sure.

Reached the entrance, where I saw a big LED sign announcing that the section was full and police officers in front of metal barriers closing off the entrance to the mall.  They were sending people down to the 21st Street entrance … down nearly all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, which is something like two miles away, but also telling them there was no guarantee they’d get in at that point, either.  (Ok, here I had a moment of panic.)


I am not above manipulating a situation when it’s really important.  Years ago my left knee was damaged in an accident.  This damage means that I sometimes walk with a cane.  When I travel, I carry the cane, just in case.  When it’s icy out, I carry the cane, just in case.  Well, on Tuesday I was away from home and there was ice on the ground, so I was carrying my cane.  I was carrying it, not walking with it, but that was easily changed.

I approached the barricade, leaning on my cane.  I spoke to the gatekeeper:

“Oh, officer, I’ve already walked quite a long way, and you can see I have some mobility issues.  Are you really going to make me walk all the way down to the next entrance?”  Oh, I know.  Totally shameful.  But in this case, I was totally shameless.

The policeman looked me over.  “Are you alone?”

I was, but I could tell he was going to let me through, so I thought I should share the wealth.  There was a black woman to my left who also looked to be alone.  “Oh, just me and my cousin,” I said.

He looked from me to her and back again, then waved us in.

In!  I kept walking with the cane until I was clear of the area where the police officer could see me, then I made my way forward a bit more quickly.  I was up near the first of the jumbotrons.  The people closest to me were a big gang from California, a family reunion group from Ohio, three carloads of friends from South Carolina, a couple from Holland and a bevy of church ladies from Pennsylvania.

It was C-O-L-D, but not as cold as I’d feared.  The forecast had said the wind would make it feel like 7º but it never felt that cold, thank goodness.  We watched, we cheered, we cried, we sang, we cheered some more, we laughed, we jumped around to keep warm, and then we left.

I walked down to the Lincoln Memorial — couldn’t go all the way to DC and not stop over and see Father Abraham, especially not while I’m in the middle of reading Team of Rivals — and after that I was just too cold to hang out any longer.  I found my way to a train and got myself back to Shady Grove.

Things I loved:

  • Seeing the faces of the older black people standing around me — the proud, happy, fierce faces of all those beautiful people.
  • Seeing people of all ages, colors, and nationalities.
  • Getting to be in a flag-waving crowd and not feeling out of place.
  • The church ladies’ affirmative response to Aretha’s utterly fabulous hat.
  • The way my head felt so light and my heart so overstuffed when The Man took the oath.
  • Meeting so many people from so many places.  In addition to the ones standing closest to me, I met people from New York City, Washington State, Canada, England, Germany, France and Mexico.
  • Feeling as though I was part of one giant, joyous person, laughing and crying and cheering as one.
  • Michelle!
  • The seventeen bazillion different souvenirs on offer everywhere you looked (my favorite was the black t-shirt with Barack ripping open the front of his suit to reveal the Superman “S”).
  • Crying when Aretha sang.
  • Singing The Star Spangled Banner with more heart and enthusiasm than at any other time in my life.
  • Curling up on my mom’s couch to watch the parade for a couple of hours before rushing to get the bus back home.
  • My boss not hesitating even a second when I asked to take Tuesday off.

Oh, I had a day.  And, yes, I’d have enjoyed watching it at school with my students.  That would have been fabulous, too.  But I just had such a need to be there.  It was a little weird to go alone, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that keep me from going.  This was a present I gave myself … and I’m so grateful for it!

Last Minute Plans …

+ one Griot Girl + a crazy dash for Penn Station = I’m going to the inauguration!!

No, seriously.  Pat had asked what I was going to do on Tuesday.  I figured I’d be in New York, watching on the big TV with my students, trying not to cry too hysterically in front of them.  I knew I wanted to be in DC, but didn’t think I could pull it off.

And I’m still not sure I’ll pull it off … but I’m on my way all the same.  About half a dozen of my friends were supposed to be going, but one by one they’ve all decided to stay home.  I know a few other folks who’ll be down here, but have no way of getting in touch with them now that they aren’t in Brooklyn.  Feh.

So I’m on my own … with millions of people.  A person who hates crowds crammed into what will surely be the biggest crowd I’ll ever be in.  Six thousand to a porta-john.  Oh, this should be interesting.

But really, how could I not come?  I’d talked myself out of it, told myself it wasn’t necessary for me to actually be in the same place as The Man on The Day.  But the closer Tuesday got …

I will not be ‘liveblogging’ this event.  I will be too busy laughing, crying, taking pictures and keeping warm.  I’m back in Brooklyn Wednesday morning at 3am, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say then.  Happy inauguration, everybody!

Domino Effect

I have a student I’m going to call “Benny.”  He’s a young-ish Puerto Rican guy who has taken classes at my day job off and on for three years.  Mostly off.  He’s always been a bit of a screw up: in trouble, smoking too much pot, disappearing for days, weeks, whole semesters.  He’s one of the students you know needs the help, needs the services, needs the grounding that thinking he’s working toward his GED can give.  At the same time, he’s one of the ones who makes us wonder if he’s being well served by the program.

He drives Lena, my assistant, crazy.  She finds him utterly annoying and would be only to happy to see him expelled … not that we actually ever ‘expel’ students, but still.  He’s always driven me a little crazy, too, but there’s a soft place in my heart for him, no matter what he does.  (Yes, I have a lot of soft places in my heart.  Yes, I am the word ‘pushover’ made flesh.  What’s your point?)

He is what Lena calls one of my ‘benditos,’ the ones who I make excuses and allowances for because it’s so obvious that no one else does and they could use a little kindness and forgiveness and understanding.  (She has her benditos, too.  I’m not the only soft-touch in town.) So, because of Lena’s name for him, I’m calling him Benny.

When I walked into orientation for my night class in September, there was Benny, enrolled in that other program, enrolled in my class.  I asked if he was leaving the day class, and he said no.  And that ‘no’ meant that he would be my student day and evening.  Because yes, I am now teaching in the morning and at night.

(This is another gift from our funding loss: if we wanted the Pre-GED class to go on, I needed to teach it because we have no more funding for it.  And, while I am absolutely loving my day class, teaching nine hours in the morning makes it very hard for me to do my full-time program director job.  Just saying.)

Now that Benny is my student, I am seeing more every day just how right I’ve been to have faith in him.  He’s had consistent attendance and he’s an active participant.  What’s more, he knows so. much. stuff.  About world history, about politics.  It’s very impressive.  And he’s been loving the conversations we’ve had in class about the elections.    And I’ve really enjoyed having him in both of my classes.

Last Thursday night when he came to class was the first time he was seeing me since Obama had become our president [sigh of relief and joy!], and he wanted to talk.  At first I tried to get him settled into the writing activity, but I gave that up.  Why?  Because Benny asked what a person needed to be to be president, you know, legally-speaking.  And before I could start to answer, he got a look of amazement on his face and said:

“You see what this man has done?  He even has me thinking about what could be possible!”

Yeah.  Exactly.  I don’t really have words to say how much that moved me.

So we talked about rules like the one about having to be 35 … and suddenly Manny (a young Mexican man who almost never speaks) says, “I’ve got two out of three.  I’m just not 35 yet.”  And I suggested that it would be hard for him to wake up on his 35th birthday and suddenly become president, that there were things he should maybe be doing during the next 15 years to get himself ready.

Things?  Like what?  Turns out the idea of local politics has never really occurred to them.  The idea of any kind of activism has never really occurred to them.   We talked about the fact that a job like Benny’s — working for a small, way-left grassroots organization in the neighborhood — can be a good first step toward a career in politics.  After all, our new president was a community organizer once … We talked about the Community Board (which they are looking up for homework) and the City Council (more homework), about mayors and governors and state legislators … and Jorge (another young Mexican man who is even more silent than Manny) says, “So I could decide to run for one of these local offices?”  And Benny says, “Can’t you see it?  All of us in politics, all of us becoming politicians?  I never even thought about something like this.”

You see what this man has done?