Archive | July, 2010

You Can’t Go Home Again.

28 Jul

Bathroom graffiti from a bar in DC.

The other night at the Green Mill slam, I was sitting at the bar with Adam Smith (not the economist) and a couple of older gentlemen from Chi. After a little preliminary chat, Adam offered up this gem: “This whole city’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s a pussy city now… It was all junkies, and whores.”

DC made me. I was born there, and my nuclear family lives there. I went to DCPS for eleven years. I remember my hometown as it raised me. I remember:

wandering around the Smithsonian boiling hot days as a kid

smashing Atlantic Blue crabs with hammers to get at the sweet meat inside

prettyboys in dukes rollerblading down P Street

the passing scent of Drakkar and Coolwater from not-quite-men in my junior high

walking down 14th Street in the middle of the night in a hoodie and steel-toed Docs and never feeling afraid.

Many of my most painful memories live there, too.

DC as I knew it at sixteen or so wasn’t all junkies and whores. It was rastas, musicians, poets, couriers, hardcore kids, corner boys, gutter punks… But yeah, I knew addicts and people who sold themselves, too. Altogether, it made for quite the symphony, dangerous, ecstatic and strange.

My hometown used to always be pretty invisible to people who don’t know folks there. People think of it as the place where the monuments and the government are, a place where maybe they went once on a school trip, but would never go again without a reason.

Some still think of it as the murder capital of the world, although it lost that title many years ago. Some still remember Marion Barry, who held the dubious honor of being our crackhead mayor.

Fairly few seem to know or care that DC has never had a vote in the House or the Senate. Very few know that DC’s HIV infection rate is currently at epidemic status. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all that changed very soon.

As an artist with a firmly middle-class background, I’ve been a part of the amorphous, often nasty phenomenon of gentrification, both in Oakland and Chicago. It’s uncomfortable feeling you’re invading someone else’s neighborhood, but, well, I go where other artists are, and where I can afford the rent.

It’s another feeling altogether watching my own city transform.

DC’s always been among the cities outsiders felt entitled to claim. DC doesn’t belong to a state; it was meant to be a city that represented the Union as a whole. That well-intentioned fuckery has led to unfortunate abuses on all levels, from folks who work for the government commuting in, taking jobs but not paying taxes, to the suburban kids who’ve claimed DC for years (to the point of coining the ugly, but more-accurate-than-ever term “DMV” for the District/Maryland/Virginia region).

I love the folks who are from DC. We have a nice balance of Southern mellowness and East Coast fang. And I verymuch love some of the folks who’ve moved to DC from other places. But most of these fuckers can swallow my knuckles.

The White Return Flight that’s happening in so many cities has simply engulfed my hometown; the population’s projected to be mostly white in the next fifteen years or so. DC invaders typically originate in places deemed smaller or less important, but DC is tiny itself. It’s less than seventy square miles, with dramatic height restrictions (not actually having to do with the Washington Monument). There isn’t a lot of room.

DC’s also not a terribly cosmopolitan place, let’s face it. The food is generally terrible, and best believe you’ll get funny looks if you try to wear anything but very conservative clothes. But starry-eyed twenty-somethings swarm into the city from little towns all over the South and the Midwest with the misguided impression that reaching DC makes them big fish, that they’re suddenly very wise and urbane simply by virtue of their being there.

I know I sound bitter. Maybe I am. The last few times I hung out in DC I had to deal with some ignoramus shit every time I left the house. It made me angry, with a reflexive feeling of, goddamnit, that’s my town, colonizers.

But the demographics of the place have totally changed. And really, just because property values have skyrocketed in the last ten years and I can’t afford to live there, is that really the worst-case scenario? Recently I posted this map to my Facebook profile, and my friend Jamaal, who lives in Detroit, said, “Detroit looks like it’s bleeding.” I’ve been to places that felt like ghost towns, and DC is very far from that. Maybe I don’t personally like the way the city’s changed, but does that matter? I guess I should be grateful she’s being taken care of at all, like an ex-lover who marries an asshole with a good job.

And maybe it’s just the passing of time that makes me sad. Even though there’s a part of me that still feels like that toddler or adolescent who pattered around Independence Avenue and Chestnut Street when I was growing up, the world’s stayed moving, and so have I.

The Good, the Bad, and the Chappie.

15 Jul

Hey Darlings,

Due to an unfortunate scheduling mishap, my Wisconsin shows are canceled for the indefinite future. Happily, this means I can actually spend some quality time at home in Chicago this summer!

In even happier news, my new chapbook is finished. I’m sending copies to the first wave of buyers tomorrow. If you want one, you can send $6 via PayPal (upendedurn@gmail.com) with your address. Or comment here and I’ll give you an address where you can send a money order or something. Get ’em while they’re hot, chickadees!

Chapbook! Whee!