Living “The Dream”? How I spent MLK Day

Yesterday, after talking to Mom for a while about miscellaneous topics, I scolded her for going to a casino instead of seeing Selma on MLK Day.

“Ma! You’re a terrible black person,” I joked, taking a bite out of my hotdog. I had stopped into Five Guys because I had just had a nice meeting with an advisor and was feeling good about myself. “And casinos, no less. How could you?!”

We laughed—of course I didn’t actually believe she was a terrible black person—and then I admitted that I hadn’t spent my MLK day any better. Upon waking up that Monday morning, I derped around on my computer for a bit. I ended up on YouTube.

I’m perfectly sure that I’d intended to search for the “I Have a Dream” speech; instead, I was distracted by the “Epic Rap Battles in History” in my suggested videos and suddenly I found myself watching Cleopatra vs. Marilyn Monroe (I still think Cleo went too far by dissing Marilyn’s failed battle with barbiturates). Then Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe, and then the first rap battle I ever saw and the one that will always be my personal favorite, William Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss (Seuss definitely won, even if the Cat in the Hat did the dirty work for him).

I considered clicking on the Martin Luther King vs. Gandhi ERB, but decided against it. For some reason, that just didn’t feel right, especially on MLK day.

Then, I watched a few minutes of “My Wife and Kids.” I haven’t had the guts to watch “The Cosby Show,” like I used to from time to time online. But “My Wife and Kids” didn’t do much for me either, so I turned it off and decided to order Mexican food.

The whole walk to Café Los Arcos, I felt a nagging sense of guilt tugging at my wallet. As the man handed me my food and I thanked him, telling him to have a great day, I couldn’t help but feel like he was judging me.

Shouldn’t you be eating soul food or something? I heard him say. It was in my head, of course, but the fact that I had ordered quesadillas, not fried chicken, on MLK day—which I enjoyed while watching a full episode of “Gilmore Girls,” not “Girlfriends”—troubled me.

(The quesadilla was delicious, and I will probably order from there again.)

After swallowing half of my order I caught a train to work. Apparently, Monday kicked off Oops—You Chose the Wrong Subway Car! Week, because as soon as I stepped on the train I found myself serenaded by an old man who was singing and chatting and having a lovely himself. Unshaken, I pulled out my book (Soundman) and started reading.

The singing, which I believe was in Spanish, grew louder. Unfazed, I read on.

It wasn’t until I heard the sound of metal rubbing against metal and then smelled gas that I realized this man was playing with a lighter. Startled from my book, I looked at the woman and her young child sitting across from me. They didn’t move. They looked like they hadn’t even noticed. I shrugged and kept reading.

A few seconds later I smelled smoke. When I felt the coast was clear I stole a glance at the man to get an update on his movements. There he sat on the G-train, legs crossed like he was in an old black and white movie, smoking a cigarette and jabbering incoherently. Every few seconds he would casually tap his cigarette the way that sophisticated cigarette smokers tend to do and the ashes would flutter to his feet.

I briefly wondered if ashes are still hot enough to light subway cars on fire once they’ve detached themselves from cigarettes; I recalled that ashes in fireplaces can, in fact, still be flammable even if it seems like the fire is completely dead. I wondered what would happen if this guy’s cigarette ashes lit the car on fire, and then I wondered why I was still sitting there.

At the next stop, I mustered the courage to jet out of that car and hop into the next one. A girl behind me, who’d seemed unfazed too, was literally right behind me in the move.

I got to work safely.

To my glee, whomever had been barista-ing before had picked Wanda Jackson radio on Pandora. I didn’t know who Wanda Jackson was prior to that day, but I soon discovered she was one of the pioneers of rockabilly music. Having just watched Walk the Line for the first time only two days earlier and falling in love with the soundtrack, I was ecstatic. I hummed along with Johnny Cash & June Carter as I steamed milk and plated pie.

Every now and then I felt guilty again. I should switch the station to Motown, I thought, but the shop was so busy and the Wanda Jackson station was so upbeat that I didn’t have the heart to change it. Besides, Chuck Berry was on there every now and then.

I relayed nearly all of this to my mother on the phone, and we giggled about how neither of us were particularly “good” on MLK day. I goaded her about the harms that casinos have had on Native Americans throughout the years. “Yeah, okay, but hey, look at it this way—back in the day, black people wouldn’t have even been allowed to go in there at all!” Mom protested.

I did her one better. “And when I was working at the pie shop, I was working with a Cuban guy, and a black guy, and a white girl…that was Martin’s dream, right?”

We laughed, but we were both a little bit serious. The movie Selma has stayed with me even after a week of seeing it in theaters; consciously or not it probably always will stay with me. It was one of the best Civil Rights movies I have ever seen. The fact that I have the freedom to go where I want when I want, do what I want…be friends with whom I choose, love whom I choose, work where I choose, switch subway cars when I choose, is a pretty big deal.

Just to be safe, I did go to the free screening of A Raisin in the Sun that the Brooklyn Public Library was showing last night.

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