A Negro and A Hot-Tub
The Hollywood YMCA is a venerable old building listed on the National Registry of Historical Places. Constructed in the early 1920’s, the architectural motif is Spanish Colonial Revival. Boasting a magnificent courtyard of red clay tiles and delightful queen palms, the exterior oozes with the charm and character of a Spanish Villa. Being in Hollywood, the doors have witnessed a steady parade of human characters. The infamous Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, when he wasn’t busy killing people, used to go there to pound the heavy bag. A fit hitman. There are a handful of men who’ve been members for longer than I have been alive. It is not unusual to see a muscular, ninety-plus year-old-man swaggering naked through the locker room.
Which I happen to find totally awe–inspiring. Not the naked part, necessarily, but the idea of being in the gym at ninety-plus. I pay homage to the old dudes by engaging in their favorite pastime, storytelling. They tell. I listen. My hope is one day the secret of longevity will slip. In the interim, however, I am happy to hear their stories. And man, I’ve heard some doozies.
I arrived at the Y a tad after 2:00. The parking lot was promisingly empty and after making my way through the courtyard, past the check-in desk, I settled in a nearly empty, almost silent, locker room. Thank God, I whispered to myself, all the old dudes are gone. I slipped on my trunks and headed for the Natatorium prepared to soak my glutes in relative quiet. But it was not to be.
Natatoriums are noisy by nature. The walls are hard. I expected the ricochet splashing of languid afternoon lap swimmers. What I did not expect was the abrasive, bombastic voice that attacked my ears. The voice was emanating from the hot tub across the room. I looked and what I saw swept me into the fairy tale orbit of alternative facts.
It was just before Christmas 2016. Mainstream media had been bombarding me with images of vajayjay grabbing, white men. Said images landed on me, a Negro, as somewhat nightmarish. So, it made sense that my mind could have been playing tricks on me. For standing in the middle of the hot-tub, was the aforementioned, vajayjay grabbing archetype. Perhaps it was the combination of sun and skylights, but his loose, tumbling down skin looked as if it had been lightly dusted with turmeric. as did his hair, which, incidentally, remained stiff as cement despite the humidity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered how that was even possible. But I didn’t take it any further because I saw his hands. The teeniest-tiniest little things I’d ever saw. He was using them, in a way that seemed familiar, to accessorize his pompous bloviating.
I had entered a strange new world where truth and make believe are one in the same. I was in a hot-tub predicament. Mainstream media, for years, had bombarded me with stereotypical images about myself. Propaganda, yes, but still, I sometimes get confused. For instance, whenever I wear hoodies, I find myself suspicious of my right hand, wondering if it might steal the money from my left pocket. With that in mind, who knew what stereotype would be triggered if Tiny Hands started using foul-mouthed locker room talk? I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be Sambo, Coon or good ole’ Stepin Fetchit, who was television’s favorite Negro, back when America was Great. Lately, I’d noticed Nat Turner, Huey Newton and Malcolm X rumbling in my bones. Philando Castile’s murder did it. I’d finally had enough. With all that in mind, I thought I better head out.
Tiny Hands was standing in the middle of the hot-tub blocking the path to my favorite jet, the strong one on the end that massages good. I stepped in, waded right past his eyes, though apparently unnoticed. And I wasn’t being sneaky, he just couldn’t see me. As soon as I sat down–exhaling a long, relaxing breath, I heard Tiny Hands say with a confident grin, “I just finished my book. I talked it over with a guy in publishing last night. He thinks I’m on to something big–gonna sell millions of copies.”
Well, well, well I thought, isn’t this a pleasant turn of events? I saw that Tiny Hands was talking to a big, hard-bellied Russian I’d seen around the gym before. The Russian, I’d always suspected, was one Bad Hombre. Some kind of Hollywood mob king or internet pirate. I know because I’d seen him and two other guys speaking Russian, whispering and looking over their shoulders. The Russian smells a deal and was listening carefully. But now so am I–sheepishly ear hustling the conversation while chastising myself for being so goddamn judgmental.
You are disgraceful, I say to myself, Tiny Hands is a writer just like you. He’s probably a very nice person. Give the man a chance. Shameful, you are very shameful. I opened my heart to Tiny Hands story.
He began raking my nerves talking about how smart he was. “Just brilliant,” he said, “everybody tells me my ideas are sensational.” Bad Hombre nodded then cut a glance at me. By then I had slid along the hot tub’s great wall, and they were positioned right in front of me in waist high water. It was obvious I was listening, not yearning to talk story. But Tiny Hands did not appear to see me. I am an Invisible Man.
“I’ve built a massive company, okay. Incredibly massive,” he continues. “Now I’m going to use my business smarts to make lots of money selling books. It’s hard to believe as brilliant as I am that I never thought of this before.” He did a quick fist pump, “It’s the most incredible idea ever. Revolutionary.”
Oh, my God, these idiots must have scripts.