In the West Indies, we love a good story. They reside in everything; our carnival celebration and our music to name a few. Calypso is just commentary set to trotting beat, songs that are true harbingers of our history.
Crick crack is a quick prelude to a fable. It’s like throwing a penny in the proverbial fountain before setting forth on a storied journey. Suspicious and superstitious, that is our way. I grew up hearing stories of Anansi the spider, a trickster arachnid who always got up to mischief. His stories began and ended with; “Crick, Crack monkey break he back for a piece of pomerac…” It was a statement meant to chase away evil spirits from listening to the stories themselves, i guess. Or just chase them away in general. Anyway, i once attended a reading at a NYU-MFA thing where the playwright happened to be of some West Indian descent. She encouraged the audience to proclaim; Crick, Crack before she began her droll, pretentious work. (Hey, i never said i was nice). This filled me with warm, gooey nostalgia, the audience looked at each other humorously, embarrassed by saying this strange coupling of words. Not understanding what they meant, what they meant to the one Caribbean child of tradition, sitting in amongst those aliens, isolated.
I tell stories, of my life so far. Forgive my prologue but i figure why not begin these two stories with a touch of mythos.
This one time, i had coffee with Elvis Costello. No i didn’t fire up iTunes and throw back some brew. He sat across from me in the flesh and we had coffee together. I’d just left my therapist’s office in the West Village. I needed a bit of therapy post-breakup, thanks asshole!
So, there was this cafe across the way from my shrink’s office. I’d drop in often for the free-range, organic fare. On this particular evening i was to meet a close friend at the Crossfire Hurricane premiere, she worked for a Rolling Stone’s manager so it was quite an invite. I dropped in to kill some time before meeting her and also grab a coffee as it was winter in New York and i needed a little heat on the inside. The cafe was bustling with very few seats available, i managed to grab one in the corner and sat down with my steaming mug, letting the vapor envelope my icy face. I noticed a man walk in, he was wrapped in this gorgeous Merlot coat with a fedora tipped to one side atop his head. He screamed rockstar, they just do. They have a way about them, a height even if they’re not that tall. I thought, Elvis Costello? No, couldn’t be. He wouldn’t just walk into a cafe looking like himself. The mystery man ordered and then scanned the room for a place to sit, there was nowhere, save for a seat at my table. Yup, that’s him. Elvis Costello approached me.
“Is this free?” he asked.
“YES, ELVIS COSTELLO, MY MUM’S NAME IS ALISON!” I screamed in my head.
“Yea sure,” I forced out my mouth.
He settled down and we talked, like two normal humans. I told him about the Caribbean, he told me about his fear of flying and how he used to wear a white, lab coat while working with large computers in London as a young man. Then we parted, he got up and walked off and i did the same a short time later. I was late for the Rolling Stones but wouldn’t you be? As far as New York moments go that was one for the books.
Who put these fingerprints on my imagination? Oh, Elvis did, he did.
This one time, i shared a cab with a woman fresh out of prison. True story. I had just moved to NYC and was invited to a party in Brooklyn by a theater school friend. I got off on the wrong train and was now somehow near Wall Street. I plucked up the courage to hail a cab at 11pm on a Friday night. The current me would think; what a rookie, but back then i was a New Yorker in progress. So i waved frantically at yellow cabs for at least an hour, moving further and further down the sidewalk in a short dress and heels desperate for a break to be given. I saw this petite woman surrounded by suitcases nearly as tall as she was. She was struggling and trying to grab a ride herself. She noticed me, shivering in the chill flailing my arms like a crazy person and called out;
“Hey where you headed?”
“Brooklyn!” i shouted back.
“Great, if i get one we can share” she said.
I thought, I’m cold who cares this is America not Trinidad, they actually catch the criminals here. Almost immediately a rare empty cab pulled up, i helped her move her luggage into the trunk and backseat. We talked over a large bag wedged between us. She was so bubbly and full of energy. Speaking in a thick Brooklyn drawl she said,
“It’s so good to speak to someone.”
Why? i asked
Well, i just got out of prison. She said.
HOLY SHIT. I smiled politely and asked as to how she found herself incarcerated. Turns out her ex-boyfriend had planted drugs on her and she was the scapegoat, long story short she’d been locked up for about a year. I listened intently, all the while trying to catch the eye of the cab driver in the rear-view. We’re in this together, cabdriver Ibrahim. He wouldn’t look at me.
It was the longest drive of my life as we crossed the bridge into BK, she directed the cab to her brother’s house and jumped out. He came downstairs to help her. Before walking away, she turned around, forcing a wad of cash in my hand for the fare.
“Oh gosh, you don’t have to pay for me”, i said.
She laughed, “you were so nice and I’m happy to see my kids, don’t worry about it.”
I sat back and waved her off, she’d even helped with directions to my own destination. It was surreal the whole experience and is still foggy now. I paraphrased our conversation a bit. Relying on the essence of the interaction more than anything. When Orange Is The New Black first aired, I thought pfft; been there, done that.
Isn’t life weird?