He walked into a kiosk. The Turkish proprietor lowered the radio so he could give the Maestro his full attention. He knew he was American, but, more importantly, he knew he was on the prowl, in search of a common dialogue. The Maestro purchased some cigarettes and a couple of candy bars. The proprietor was excited to hear that he had come from New York City and inquired about Queens, Brooklyn, and Harlem. He explained that all of his favorite musical acts were from those areas and if he knew any of them. The Maestro replied that he did, of course, and the proprietor’s eyes lit up and he reached out to touch his hand. The Maestro was taken back a bit and of course he realized that no, he was not on a horse, had not carried a gun, and his was name was not Cortes. He wondered if this was when he was supposed to turn on the man and destroy him, but then saw that he’d have to destroy himself too and gave it up.
The proprietor kissed his ringed hand and released him. He then smiled and told the Maestro how much he enjoyed listening to music. The Maestro agreed and said that he was angry for not bringing his portable CD player and headphones. The proprietor graciously offered to loan him a set, but he refused. He then asked the Maestro why in the world had he come to Germany of all places (“the asshole of Europe”) and how long would he be staying. The Maestro told him his story and gave him a flyer for his concert.
A tall dark woman hidden behind a fortress of make-up and extremely tight black clothing entered the store. She chewed gum, talked on a phone, and threw Youssef (the proprietor’s name was Youssef) some cash for a couple of packs of cigarettes. Youssef tried engaging her in some lively chatter, but all attempts failed. The woman had cigarettes to smoke, gum to chew, and people to call. Talking with anyone was purely out of the question. Jilted again, Youssef gave her her change and waved goodbye to one more human being too quick, too fast, in a rush to go nowhere.
“They never look me in the eye. They always think I’m
trying to flirt with them. I’m not. I just try to talk…”
The Maestro smiled and nodded. His heart ached and he understood.
“I work here every day and no women will talk to me. It’s not real. I feel not real…That’s why I like to listen to music. I like Hip Hop music. And Blues music. Black music is the original music…It is the soul, no?”
“When the New Orleans happened, when the hurricane in New Orleans–I was very sad. Very very sad…I could feel…like my heart torn from my body. I saw these pictures and I thought it was just terrible. And those people suffered, lost their homes. America will not help these black people? It is racist, no? Like Berlin, here.”
Give me a break, pal, I just got off the plane.
“I want to know something,” Youssef intoned, conspiring with the Maestro, just standing inches away from him whispering in his ear. “Why the black people are not doing something about this? And I don’t understand the black people who always seem happy to be American. What does that mean?”
He understood Youssef’s question, but had no clue to answer and he didn’t want to get into it. “I don’t understand it either,” was all he could seem to muster. It was simply too early for this shit. Racism tomorrow, he thought. Right now let’s deal with the essentials: women, weather, and wisecracks. But of course he realized the essentials were the things you could never escape. Women are necessary to life, they give life. And destroy life. And they can make things difficult for all powerless men at all times if they choose to. Yes, women are always a fine and healthy obsession to discuss and dissect. Like cancer or the journey through the birth canal. But weather? Weather is not important unless you are leading a war on foot. Wisecracks are for the young and insecure. But discussions on Racism always rouse the soul and re-align the spine. It forces you to admit truths about the world and about yourself and the psychosis we have been led to believe in.
— from “The Maestro” a novella by Dennis Leroy Kangalee, (c) 2006