Monday, August 28, 2006

Memories of Scarborough

I just watched Dave Chappelle's Block Party. It was the most inspiring movie I've seen in a long time and it reminded me of growing up in Scarborough. I realize I never write about my hometown (yup, it was its own borough back in the day with its own government, long before this megacity shit went through against our wishes and nearly ruined this fair city.)

If we had a PC sauce for Scarberia, or its less flattering monikers of Scarlem and Scompton, it would taste like Jerk, Hoisin, Pesto, Piri Piri, Tandoori, Soya, Habanero and Garlic mixed in. It would be hotter than a mofo. So hot that you would feel like your head was gonna explode. And much like food that's too rich, these people--rich in culture, but not in dollars--would mix in together and the tension of all these flavours would collide, with varying results.

DCBP reminded me of a few things. It reminded me that hard work pays off. That anyone can do alright if they try hard enough and ignore the fact that "the system" is not on their side. My father came into Canada with $25 in his pocket and dreams of becoming a published writer. It reminded me of the struggle of we children of immigrants, to make something of ourselves or face shaming our parents. We were all aware that we were afforded opportunities via the arduous struggle and journey of our parents. This land would never be their home. Even though they've spent more years here than there, back home is a world away.

We didn't have much growing up compared to other North American kids. And in the world of capitalism and celebrities, that creates drive. I was always aware of what we didn't have. But even though we could have lost everything with a downturn of the economy, we were always aware that there was family to lean on if we could swallow our pride. But pride is what drove our immigrant parents to try to succeed.

My father has yet to become a published author, but he has always paid his taxes, helped his neighbours, and worked two jobs if it meant a better future for his family. He doesn't complain, he just moves forward. He is an honourable man, though he can be quite the asshole, and I have much respect for him now as an adult. It's hard to sacrifice your dreams for the sake of your family. But I suppose your family becomes your dream at that point. I hope I've done him proud. I'd like to think I have.

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DCBP, if you haven't seen it, is when the comedian Dave Chappelle organizes his dream concert in Bed-Stuy, NYC and invites everybody, including people from his hometown of Dayton, Ohio (sorry Dave, I was just hatin' on Ohio, but maybe you've made me want to give Dayton a try). He's made it big and wants to give something back to the people. It's directed by Michel Gondry who directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my all time favourite films. How this whitey Frenchman ended up directing this African-American classic, beats me, but it's brilliant. The Roots are the band for the ENTIRE show (every arrangement done by the genius known as ?uestLove) and there's Kanye and John Legend, Common and Talib Kweli and Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, and then The Fugees reunite! OMG! I was up and dancing through most of it. Sometimes I feel like I'm one of those wedding bonbonieres: Ivory on the outside, but chocolate on the inside. But that's the beautiful thing about music. It can transport you, unite you, ignite you, convert you.

There is a brief segment where Big Daddy Kane comes out lookin' like OId Daddy's Cane (though he still MCs like it's 1990!). This brought me back. Picture it: 15-year-old Scarbs and Mel Boogie (sister of Canadian rap legend Maestro Fresh Wes and one of my favourite people) running to the corner store in the mostly Chinese strip mall at Bamburgh Circle, trying to act cool and older so that the Asian shopkeeper wouldn't think we were too young to buy the latest issue of Playgirl with Big Daddy and his Kane in it. It never occured to me back then that this was a big deal. There was a black rapper on the cover of a major magazine (albeit a skanky one)! A sex symbol.

Mel was fiesty, and smart as a whip. I remember the shininess of her skin and her incredible smile. She could me make laugh harder than anyone. I recall that her mother didn't want her to get into the entertainment business like her brother. She was meant to go off to medical school or something like that. Mel would sneak me illicit tapes that her brother brought back from his trips to New York and we would snark about everyone in Drama class who wasn't us.

I can't remember where we were when we opened the mag. Probably my house as I was the latch-key child with the closest house to the school. I remember we were all upet because they covered the Kane with a box of chocolates, an allusion to his 1990 album, A Taste of Chocolate. But I'll remember that day forever.

I have seen Mel a few times since those days. I remember running into her at the HMV in Fairview Mall a few years after high school. She was working there and told me she had a baby and had gotten married. And she shot me this look and said, "I know. I know." Because every girl in our high school got pregnant young. That wasn't supposed to happen to us. To her. I'm pretty sure I judged her fiercely back then. I saw her a few times after that at high school reunions and she seemed happy and we laughed like old times. But how come we didn't stay friends after high school? I changed too much during the last years of high school. My world got whiter.

The last time I saw Melissa Williams was the day of the blackout in 2003. People were frantically pouring out of the subways onto Bloor and Yonge Streets. No one knew what was going on yet, and the idea that it may have been terrorist attacks was in most people's minds. I was desperately trying to get a signal on my cell to reach my husband with no luck. And then I saw her in the crowd. She was on her cell talking to someone when we passed. We looked at each other and laughed. I remember thinking how good it was to see her in that chaos. It was comforting.

I know the chances of you Googling yourself are slim, and you may have changed your name, but Melissa if you're out there, I'm thinking of you and missing you.

Nadine

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