Gettin’ Racial on Little Rodeo Drive (uh, Bleecker Street)

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11/02/2008

Bleecker Street, 10012

Neighborhood: West Village

If you have a gloriously Afro’d, insanely talented, sleek sapling of a former student who has given herself a single syllable moniker and released her first hip-hop CD, you want to walk her around your neighborhood like a princess. You want a red carpet to roll out in front of her as she shyly hunts for a smoothie which she has asked for all afternoon in her funny, wayward, intense, slightly uneasy, slouch-of-the-shoulder way. You want a long reflective limo to linger and move slowly with you both as she decides, in her diphthong-festooned Brooklynese, what kind of pizza to order as those who listen are dazzled by her velvety edgy smile. What you do not want is everyone to fall apart and say really weird things about her hair. You also don’t want security at Marc Jacobs to be so unhip as to shadow her with great heavy boots as her languorous fingers nibble on the bling thrown on the counter by the Hilton homeys who are chilling alongside her. But this is, alas, just what happens in America, in the Village, in the heart of liberal New York.

The first warning of the grim hours we faced was the approach of a toney couple who stopped, as we did, to peruse the wonderfully artificial, sparkling white frou frou (saved by crisp tailoring) in the docile twin windows of Ralph Lauren, Women. Because, as everyone knows, there is no longer one home for any given designer but at least two, for gender, and often three: Tots. Marc Jacob Tots. Gucci Tots. Juicey Couture Tots. Well, maybe not. The woman, whose honey hair leapt upward into a Grace Kelly chignon, smiled wanly. However, her gent was more expressive, warmer, and well, a lot touchy-feelier. His hand went right to my student’s hair. The hair her mother had combed when she was four and five and six. That whacky Jamaal had pulled in the seventh grade. That she herself had turned into a burst of magnetic softness. It was only after she issued an icy smile, stumbling backwards in a sort of civilized form of naked terror that he said, “May I touch it?”

What could she say? He already had.

“Well, that was weird,” I offered as we evaded his wandering hands by lurching towards Olive Bette’s. “Oh yeah,” she answered, with the emphasis laying slightly on the second word. But she didn’t really seem offended. I thought, “Of course, she’s learning to be famous!” and took some solace from that inward monologue. So I smiled again at her, up into her hazel eyes, and realized she was bored with all the striped rain boots in the window, a carnival of nauseating pinks and greens, which should have been a “Tots” but was, sadly, nots. It was then that I fatefully suggested we go to Marc Jacobs.

Now, Mr. Jacobs not only has innumerable stores (men’s, women’s, tots, pets, slave/master’s, Singapore hotties’, mothers, father’s with strollers’s, hipster’s, lollapalooza veteran’s, recovering drunk’s) but also, he uses the display windows as bully pulpits. When Hillary’s campaign began, a riot of famous female faces appeared on t-shirts worn by male manikins who showed their love. When AIDs was losing its fashionista status, the good fight was re-ignited in a wall of support up and down Bleecker. More to the point, when our sista Lil’ Kim was arrested, she pouted disdain for The Man in several different appealing poses on t-shirts that were one hundred percent pima cotton. I myself have had only one Marc Jacobs t-shirt, bought on sale. It said: “Where’s the Outrage?” but I had to give it away to another former student since no one could read the rubric on my shallow poet’s breast. But I still had the seven dollar flip-flops—in fact, I was wearing them. My starry idol wanted a pair.

It became painfully clear, after only a few moments, that the dark face, the great wand of hair, the non-brand t-shirt that read: “I was raised on hip-hop and I’m STILL ALRIGHT” was not doing it for the security guard. When we moved, he moved. When my girl’s hand moved, his eyes moved. We laughed, he frowned. We looked away, he looked harder at her. And that’s the way it went until we just caved and slunk out. Minus the flip-flops. Which had quadrupled in price anyway.

“I want to go back to Ralph Lauren,” she said with a faintly militant look as we stood on the sidewalk studying the ever-lengthening line for sugary indistinguishably-flavored cup-cakes from Magnolia Bakery, purchased by the dozen by hairless guides catering to the needs of the flocks of girls and women waiting to be photographed on the doorstep of Carrie Bradshaw’s digs, with flecks of vanilla icing still on their lips, tottering on Manolo Blahnik stilettos paid for with endless overtime, fired by this, their dream of being bused into the Village to buy a “Rabbit” at the sex shop, to come to Bleecker Street, to be bused back to Port Authority dreamily remembering their Sex in the City tour. As they munched, we meandered back toward the ermine-doused leggings and salty white berets of Ralph Lauren, Women (Summer Season).

We entered. “Oh, hi!” said a slight transsexual salesperson, “Just yell if you need anything.” It seemed unlikely we would be yelling at such a sweet individual. We wandered through the heaps of rustic belts, burnished alligator bags, weathered mini-motorcycle jackets, fringed shrunken sweaters, ivory-topped canes with little birds traced in silver, cowboy hats, frangi-pangi, lassoes, old kettles, and things for which the argot would be “objets.” Our eyes laughed at the little fake mice eating the woodwork. We swooned trying on the huge cashmere coats woven by monks from some place other than Tibet. We tossed on this, we tossed back that. “Want that in blue?” queried a bright blond thing. “Oh yes,” I sighed. Whatever it was. I think it was in fact a jacket although I never quite got it buttoned because the fastenings were made of Yak-hair which is very hard to handle. “Want a coffee?” a third helper asked and we both said yes. After a few hours we left having bought nothing—which did nothing to dampen the smiles of our new best friends who in fact gave us each a memento, a dear little fake mouse.

“Creepy” commented my hip-hop legend. But that was about the mouse, which she tossed in the nearest garbage can. “But they were nice in there,” I ventured. “Oh very,” she agreed. “And now I want another slice of pizza.” This was easily done, and not too much later, we parted ways, she to a party, me to my moss-lined rooms in which I have long written my impossible poems and hibernated. As I fixed a cup of tea my dachshund Pushkin came toddling into the kitchen. “Who would have guessed,” I mused aloud, “that Marc Jacobs would be so lame, and Ralph Lauren so haimisch?” He sort of shrugged and waited for me to sit somewhere so that he could bundle into me, snatch the fake mouse from my pocket, and tear it apart mercilessly.

 

Cynthia Kraman’s new book of poetry The Touch is coming out soon from Bowery Books. To get on the mailing list email .

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