On the day of Halloween – in the year 2003, which qualifies as modern times -- I was out with my friend who I will call Rhet since he insists on remaining nameless. We were dashing up to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to get tickets for a performance later that night. Much Halloween Hoopla: Giant Puppets, costumes of course, music, and classic silent films.
We were in ordinary clothes and it wasn't even dark when we stood on the corner of 100th and Amsterdam to get a taxi up to the Cathedral. I am not a wealthy woman by any means, but I am well accessorized and as fair-skinned as a person of European descent can be unless s/he's completely Nordic. It has always been my job to hail taxis when I’m out with my Brown-skinned friends because it is well known that in New York City, no matter what neighborhood you are in, most taxi drivers see WHITE WOMAN LOOKING FOR A TAXI and cut across lanes of traffic. Viola, there they are – unless it’s 4:00 on a weekday then I’m as screwed as everyone else.
Rhet is a big black man – any way you look at it. His head was shaved bald at the time, too, I’m nearly certain. He doesn’t look a thing like a drug dealer or a pimp. As it happens, he's gay as a Christmas Picnic. A veritable Big Black Poofda. He waited on the side walk while I stood in the oncoming traffic with my arm at the appropriate angle. A few minutes later, a taxi glided to a stop right in front of me. I could perfectly reach the door handle, and had even started to open the door when the driver saw a big, black man coming to get in the car and damn near took my hand off as he sped away like Smokey and the Bandit.
I was shocked and insulted. I stood gaping at the vanishing taxi. Rhet said casually, “What? You thought it was a legend?”
I had heard about the bit on Letterman showing a black actor and a white ex-con getting taxis. It was like Denzel Washington gets ditched and Ted Bundy gets a ride. The story was all over town when it first appeared. Naturally, I was aware that my friends and neighbors of color were discriminated against by taxi drivers -- it's why I always hailed the taxis in the first place. But, in addition to being a white woman, I was even a blonde in 2003. No one had ever left me standing on the curb; it went against the laws of nature. I was stunned.
Rhet and I walked up to the Cathedral. He was very pleasant and didn’t say, “Welcome to my world, darling,” but I couldn’t help remembering the stories he’d told me about the looks he received when antiquing on the East Side and one particularly distressing episode with a shop clerk back when he was a kid.
It's 2007 now, and we still read about inequities in the Times. We go see Hairspray on Broadway and are satisfied at being enlightened and civilized - but racism is alive and thriving. Loving Gay and Lesbian couples can be together for years but don't have the same rights under the law as millions of tacky married couples - fill in the blank with your own awful relatives or any number of despicable celebrities.
Let's not forget the people who have gone to jail and lost their voting rights just for selling marijuana. Or those countless kids in the military getting shot at in Iraq while Halliburton employees drive by in better equipped vehicles.
No wonder I smoke dope and watch Pee Wee's Playhouse.
As much as I hate to get off the couch, I suspect it's time to fire up that protesting spirit while I'm firing up the bong. For the moment, I'm telling anyone who will listen that the world would be a kinder, gentler place if more people smoked a little weed. We all need equality under the law, and we need to stop this war.
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