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Another Pathetic Attempt to Properly Explain His Profound Impact

“You like him? THAT freak? Why???”

Even though I was in college and technically an adult, I censored my response to my mother’s shock that I was obsessed with a man who seemed to be a homosexual, cross dressing nymphomaniac.

That is precisely why I like him, Ma. That was in my head.

What came out of my mouth were safe statements about his boldness, his indifference to being a black man wearing high heels and posing on album covers naked like women were expected to do no matter how well they played the piano and hit all the notes and danced all the steps in perfect sync. “Do you hear that guitar?” I chided my mother. “How come you spent your income tax sending me to youth retreat? Why didn’t you get me guitar lessons instead?”

She laughed along with me, but her face still registered confusion and a bit of concern. Was I changing into someone other than the upstanding, church going daughter who grew up so committed to the fundamentalist Christian sect our family was a part of that when every member of that family continually flouted the doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventist church she chastised them by saying, “We may as well just be Baptist, then.” Although I would not become a bad person, what did my worship of this raunchy, gender-bending musician mean I was going to become?

She had reasonable cause for concern.

I had heard the song before I saw the movie. I don’t remember how I heard it or who placed their headphones over my ears and demanded, “You have got to check this out.” I do know that somewhere in my mid to late teens, someone told me about this guy who had released this song that was in this movie a few years back. When I heard this song, it made me question further what well-meaning adults at my church and its affiliate school were trying to convince me of: There was something my gender precluded me from deeply desiring in its purest form. With no prettied up side orders. Just this delectable entrée.

Sex.

In this guy’s song a woman wanted sex. She was not nasty about it. She was not ashamed of it. She saw this guy in a hotel. She invited him to her house. She prepared him for what he was about to experience and got his consent. In writing. She had sex with him. Even thanked him for the evening.

This guy did not sing about this experience with any special message on either the shaming side or encouraging side. The same way Anita Baker nonchalantly sang about the sweetness of love this guy sang about this regular woman who took part in the pleasure of the flesh and then left.

As if this was what women did.

As if this were normal.

This guy had no idea how much that simple story blew my mind. Made me have to face the recurring desire I had for a rotating number of boys with whom I was in passionate fantasy relationships.

In my church, the message was: Sex was not necessarily a bad thing. Sexuality was perfectly normal. We just had to control it. It was best explored with a person to whom you were legally married. (Or at the very least, committed enough to that marriage was likely in the near future.) To do otherwise, left you, as a young woman, susceptible to broken heartedness, wasted child bearing years and a continued cycle of “being used up” by men who did not think enough of you to give you more than an orgasm. “But will they give you their last name?,” I remember one of those upstanding church ladies asking the group of girls who were sleeping over at her house after an A.Y. meeting.

This message often left me feeling defeated. Even though I was completely sure I liked boys, I was unsure if I wanted a grown one living up in my house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (And I was leaning towards a won’t-you-just-stay-here-from-Saturday-til- Tuesday compromise even by 10th grade actually.) I was absolutely certain I did not care about wasted child bearing years because the mere premise of changing the diapers of, feeding and trying to rock soothingly to sleep crying, ever-present babies struck me as a ridiculously ill-fitting dress to wear just to show off my womanhood. Even without trying on that lifestyle, I knew it mismatched the adulthood I envisioned for myself.

Where did this leave me and these feelings I was having for the Lorenzos and Johns and Larrys who kept popping up in my fantasies? Was I supposed to not remotely consider exploring this thing that God supposedly made a natural part of me since I would not likely marry them or any other boy?

And here was this guy, winking at girls like me and boys like him behind curly bangs, eyes trimmed with the smoky black lining of a skilled make up artist’s mascara pencil. Saying these things about his body and all the pleasures he treated it to. Lacing the music itself with sounds that would come to mirror, for me, the type of smiling fatigue one experienced post-sex, only to prove his manhood by adding those lyrics to finish off the deal.

At one point, this guy even had the audacity to say to my face, “I know you ain’t getting none. And I know you want to.”

It would be years after I began my obsession with him that I would try to be as bold as the woman in that song. By then, I had left behind the Christian church and was able to at least identify the layers of shame and guilt it wrapped around me even if I were still too young to effectively address the unraveling of those layers.

I called a man who I had been attracted to for what felt like centuries. I was tired of wanting him and not having him. I invited him to my apartment. Much like the guy who sang that song, this man eagerly came over.

We were both in our early 20s. So, of course this man never called me back after our night together.

I distinctly remember waiting for the shame and the sadness that were supposed to follow this experience of “being used.” I do not have memories of either. I do recall feelings of regret. We would never do more of what we had done that night? Had I known, I would have been more like the woman in that guy’s song and suggested we do other things, too. Things a young, inexperienced version of that woman would not have developed the courage to initiate just yet. It would take me another decade to be that kind of bold, but I knew then. I knew that the raw desire I felt and had satiated that night was, indeed, normal. As normal as that guy kept making it out to be in each subsequent song he released. I knew that giving into that desire could be as fulfilling when you had it a la carte as when it was paired with committed partnership.

To say we lost an icon seems trite now.

It hasn’t even been a full week yet and the count of tribute pieces is up to the hundreds…or more.

They all pretty much say the same thing: This is inadequate. I don’t have the right words. The ones I offer you are not even as good as his worst album. I should stop writing now. And you should stop reading. Because it is all insufficient.

Mine is no different.

I am now 40.

He was 57.

I never knew that when I was forced to think about why he had such a profound impact on me, the words you just read would come out.

So, you can stop reading now.

I, too, now admit the 1300 words you just ingested are inadequate, possibly incoherent and not even as good as Kiss.

How to Survive West African Beef

Growing up in New Orleans cultivated unique life skills in ya girl.  My culinary sophistication is so evolved I can sense when food is improperly seasoned from just a half bite. I also hold a deep understanding of the absolute healing power of all things deep fried. The most important skill the N.O. taught me, though, is how to survive. How to not lose my precious life out here in these streets. I know how to not get myself killed by people who don’t necessarily dislike me, but can not allow my disinterest in the New Orleans Saints to go unpunished. To be fair, I do not have (nor have I ever had) anything against the football team; I just have never had any interest in the sports. None of them. However, if you are a New Orleanian, you have to at least feign some excitement when the drunken slurs of slightly insane Saints fans crescendos into unified chants of “WHO DAT!” I half ass who datted! my way through my entire childhood; I continue the faux excitement even as an adult. Every now and again, I am able to make some reference to Breezus “eating dem dirty birds” (a phrase which I am about 57% sure refers to that sportsing team in Atlanta that may be the rivals of the Saints and whose mascot is most likely some sort of fowl).

Who knew that my ability to remain, at the very least, neutral among deranged New Orleanians watching/discussing/preparing for/reading about/remembering a pivotal Saints game would prepare me for all this beef between the major nations of West Africa? And by major nations, I mean the big 3: Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria.

There are many things over which these three countries compete. It seems like jollof rice is one of these things. A very big one. I have listened with practiced neutrality to many conversations about whose jollof rice is the “real” one and whose jollof rice is more “African,” which I assume means which country put jollof on the map.

“Ghana stole it from us.” Joyce Lynn’s statement surprises me because right before she said it, I had asked this question: “Where in Dakar can I go for some good jollof rice?”

“I know you have probably had it before when you were in Accra,” she continues. “But, you should know, it was not the real thing. It was stolen.”

I sense there is more Joyce Lynn needs me to know about Ghana’s thieving ass and its inferior rice. I lean in and raise my eye brows as if to say, “Really? Those bastards stole jollof rice from you?”

“We serve it better than they do.” Joyce Lynn then describes the “special presentation” that the Senegalese do when they serve jollof rice. There are lots of details as she talks about the different colors and the placement of chicken along side the rice so it is not so plain looking. With each tedious detail, I nod and go “OOOO?” Joyce Lynn also needs me to know that, in addition to being non-creative thieves, Ghanaians also use inferior ingredients in their ill-gotten recipe. “The rice they use. It is no good. No good at all.”

I listen to Joyce Lynn explain why the grain of rice is important and am careful not to bring up a recent thread I followed in an online travel group where a psychotic gang of Nigerians challenged an aggressive mob of Ghanaians to some sort of jollof rice cook off. Many taunts were thrown back and forth. I left the room (out of fear for my virtual safety) when the leader of the Ghanaian jollof mafia mocked the Nigerians by suggesting that when their rice was inevitably deemed substandard, he would line all the Nigerians up against the wall and have his other aggressively crazy friends throw banku at them. The thread had begun with someone asking why Ghana’s jollof got such a bad rep from other West Africans. Almost 50 comments later, no one had even mentioned Senegalese jollof rice. Not one person. I knew better than to say this to Joyce Lynn.

During our dinner that exposed me to more than I really needed to know about the complexity of rice, Joyce Lynn’s father introduced me to even more things that Senegal did better than the rest of every other country on the entire continent.

“Do you like this place we have taken you to?”

I look around the nicely decorated restaurant with a lovely view of the monument he and his daughter will arrange for someone to take me to see.

“Yes,” I nod enthusiastically. “It is very nice and the food is good.”

“Well, you must not come here alone at night. Ever. At a certain time of night, this turns into a place where lots of men come. They will maul you. If you must come back, call my daughter here to come with you.”

I am touched that this papa is extending his fatherly protection to me, just some nondescript American woman who is renting his flat for a week. “Chrys, that is very sweet of you. But, how you gon’ send a 24 year old to protect me from boys who are probably only a few years older than her?” We all chuckle, but Chrys adds: “My dear, you must know the difference between Senegalese men and other African men.”

Apparently, Senegalese men are much more clever than their Nigerian counterparts. “Let’s say you are in Lagos, a man will just grab you and tell you to come sit down and then he will put lots of alcohol in front of you. Those Nigerians – they are very direct. Very bold. They sometimes tell us we use too many words. They say: ‘Why are you still talking…oooo?’ So, they grab women when they are in these bars and then make them drink alcohol.”

According to Chrys, Senegalese men are much better at wooing women than Nigerians. They have lots of sweet talk stored in their minds for “just the right moment.” And they also dance well. They will say all these sweet things, “impress you with all those clever moves and before you realize it, you will be pregnant.”

So, although they are bitter that Ghana has put their signature dish on the map, Senegal takes solace in the fact that their men’s game is so much tighter than the men of Nigeria they can not only impregnate unsuspecting women, they can plant their seed with only a “Baby, you are so beautiful” and some superior foot work.

The competition (already won by “the obviously better country” in the mind of the Nigerian, Ghanaian and Senegalese) extends far beyond the actual western side of Africa. When I met a Nigerian at a party in Rwanda, one of the first questions he asked me was: “Have you been to Nigeria yet?” When I said that I had not, but was planning to visit West Africa soon, he quickly perked up. “You will go to Nigeria?” I told him that it was not the first country on my list.

“But, where will you go then?”

“Probably Ghana…”

Then, he got that look I knew well. When I was a teenager, I saw that same look on my pastor’s face when he looped an entire sermon about salvation around a Saints metaphor, in which their victory on the following Sunday would be analogous to the celebration all we saints sitting in the pews would feel on judgment day.

“Ghana is a nice country,” The Nigerian began. “But, how can you go there first? You can not say you have been to Africa until you have been to Nigeria.”

All the visitors on that Sabbath day gave their lives to Christ by the time Pastor Francois had finished describing the joy, the ultimate testament of the power of our prayers, the depth of our faith that the Saints’ victory would show.

“Who dat!” I yelled at the confused Nigerian.

“I do not understand.”

“Neither do I, Homie.”

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