A (Pre) Celebrity Sighting

Manhattan is the sort of place where celebrity sightings are commonplace. I once almost ran straight into Isaac Mizrahi when I was hoofing it up 48th Street toward Times Square; Matthew Broderick was averting my quizzical double take when I saw him, on his Vespa, stopped at a light on the Avenue of the Americas and staring straight uptown; I think I shared a subway car with Peter Sarsgaard on the R/W line one evening. He was so unassuming that I almost missed him, with his head down in a book. But he couldn’t hide that clear complexion and sharp nose. When he lifted his head and looked straight at me, I thought: That’s his face, alright.

On Friday evening I saw Kendall Ferguson, or I think I saw her, rounding Bowling Green with her gaggle of girly friends. Kendall is the teenage daughter of Ms. Tracey Ferguson, the editor in chief of Jones magazine. I’ve written about Ms. Ferguson and her magazine on this blog before.

Just before the girl who looked like Kendall and her friends passed me on my way uptown, I saw a camera crew getting a shot of Beaver Street, which heads into the warrens of the Financial District. It’s very “old New York” back there, with its narrow streets and old buildings, so you all should explore the area if the chance ever arises.

It makes sense that Kendall would be in that part of town, because North Star Group, which published Jones and The Source, has an office on the Broadway side of Bowling Green. Maybe her mother was in town to deal with the September issue of Jones, and Kendall tagged along. Also, Kendall is apparently a talented young actress, with an impressive resume for someone her age and a talent rep. Maybe she was in New York City for a gig.

I know this sighting is not even on the same planet as that of Isaac Mizrahi or the other guys earlier in this blog, but it just reinforces how much New York City is brimming with sights and sounds every single day. Maybe the African-American ‘tween crowd will be lighting up Twitter and Facebook and all kinds of things tonight, as Miss Kendall makes her way through town. LOL.

Well, there you have it folks: A pre-celebrity sighting to kick off a weekend of gorgeous summer weather. As for me, I’m keeping a sharp eye out for the Fall edition of Jones when it hits the newsstands. I love the Web site, but I need to have a print copy, too!

Horror Show

I’ve heard of kiddie pageants, baby pageants and some of the extreme, over-the-top measures that mothers take to make their girls competitive. But I’ve never heard of putting a weave into a three-year-old’s hair until this evening, when I found this video.

This is shocking and appalling. How could this woman’s priorities get so severely screwed up that she proceeds to program a toddler to favor something alien, unnatural and debasing over her natural, God-given beauty? This is a blatant case of unfit parenting (and in this case, unfit grand parenting), to spread heavy makeup on a little wee one and perm, braid and weave that baby to an inch of their life. It doesn’t matter if this sort of artifice and PSYCHOTIC MATERNAL VANITY is repeated throughout the pageant circuit or has been for years and years. It is sick.

Come on, my sisters. Wake up! Do not teach our babies that natural black hair is not becoming on a black woman. Fake white hair doesn’t do it, and neither does over perming. If you teach girls how to handle their hair properly, their hair will look healthy and they will feel pretty. They won’t go overboard with the soul-sucking weaves and other crap. And don’t let them wear any makeup or flattering outfits at all until they can clock some Romeo who might try to take these enhancements as permission to be forward with her.

I know I get into a huff when little boys approach Baby and touch her face, hair or try to follow her around. I can’t imagine deliberately putting her through all this nonsense just to put her on display for adults. It’s creepy.

More importantly, someone needs to shut these pageants down and avert creating a generation of lost, confused and self-destructive women. And as African-American women, we don’t need anymore of that stuff. We need these girls to reach their potential as great doctors, teachers, moms and writers or whatever other calling and profession they like. They need to love themselves as God made them. Instead, these girls are being steered toward long lifetimes of disappointments and rude awakenings. They’ll all hit a peak when they are young, probably, and spend the rest of their lives either reliving glory days or pursuing unsustainable hopes of marrying rich and living glamorous, care-free lives.

Hailing Halle

This is how you know it’s a slow news month: World-famous and stunningly beautiful actresses like Halle Berry are photographed and put on the news wires for … looking gorgeous in public. The professional journalist in me says this is not news. Next! But I understand that publicists must continue to work during the summer, as well as agents, paparazzi and entertainment news editors who need to fill space during the summer slump. Therefore, if Ms. Berry is having a particularly good hair, face and body day, then post/publish/broadcast an item about her. That’ll give us everyday folk something to lift our spirits after reading the latest bizarre financial news.

Also, I could never resent Ms. Berry for all the overwhelming advantages she has racked up in life. She has obviously worked very diligently over the last 20 years or so to secure her place among Hollywood’s glitterati. To keep generating headlines at an age when Tinseltown likes to put women out to pasture just shows that she knows what to do with her show-biz savvy! And be honest: Wouldn’t we all like to have a figure as lovely as that?

But just in case you have not been paying attention, there are a couple of other major news flashes circulating the globe about one of our favorites here at the Latte Cafe. Ms. Berry has landed a cameo role on the long-running hit comedy series “The Simpsons”. She also recently arrived in South Africa for a 90-day stint to work on the film “Dark Tide“. It seems like that work itinerary will keep her in the region during her birthday, August 14, when she turns 44.

Ms. Berry will also be the cover model for the September issue of Vogue. Now that is a very big deal! This one caught my eye, as magazines will always be a favorite source of refinement, information and entertainment for me. As you know, Vogue‘s September issue kicks off the fall fashion season in New York, and effectively the world. It’s books are famously huge, and hit a gargantuan 840 pages in September 2007! The book has slimmed considerably in recent years, of course, but there is some reason to hope that its page count will bulge once again in 2010. Conde Nast must think pretty highly of her, hoping that she’ll quite carry away their September newsstand sales.

Taming the Leppard

Phil Collen, lead guitarist for the legendard rock band Def Leppard, got married (again) recently. The New York Times has the skinny on how he met and became enchanted with Helen Simmons. I’d like to think he searched the world until he found the one woman to spend the rest of his life with. Helen seemed to be smitten, too.

Mr. Collen, a follower of Sant Mat, an Eastern philosophy, said his attraction to Ms. Simmons was instant and undeniable. “Sant Mat teaches that we are all connected by the same energy,” he said. “It was like we had known each other for years, but had to wait until that time to meet.” He added, “You don’t question what was meant to be.”

Their communication is effortless, Mr. Collen said. “I haven’t talked to anybody that easily since Steve.” He was referring to the Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, who died in 1991 from alcoholism and drug addiction and who had been Mr. Collen’s other half when they were known as the Terror Twins.

Ms. Simmons, too, finds something mystical in their match. “When I was younger, I imagined the kind of man I could love,” she said. “I couldn’t see his face or hear his voice, but I felt his essence.

“I’ve never been in love, but I always knew how it would feel,” she said. “And this is how it feels.”

Ms. Simmons said something in the Times’ story that was very interesting and which will make a topic for a future post. She adopted a vegetarian diet and abandoned alcohol, so her lifestyle would align closely with her future husband’s. She said: “I believe a wife should be a true complement to her husband, that their lifestyles should be as close to each other’s as possible.” Black women marry men outside their race because they have enough in common to make an attempt at building a life and raising a family together. It is simple and complicated at the same time, but it is the truth.

Meanwhile, wish them all the best!

Interracial Family Album

Someone put together this creative musical slide show of interracial families. All of the women are Black, and are shown with their white, Latino and Asian husbands and boyfriends. Enjoy. Unless I compile a new batch of emails concerning Duncan and Paulette, this will be the last post this weekend.

I don’t know about conditions where you are, gentle readers, but the Northeast is expecting temperatures to get neat a sizzling 100 Fahrenheit on Saturday!  Wooo!  If those temperatures are going to sweep through your area, then crank up the AC, or set yourself up near a pool with your Wi-Fi and enjoy. And don’t forget to leave a comment!

Underground in Memphis

This year’s Broadway season blew past me and left me coughing in a plume of smoke. It was only after the Tony Awards, the New York City theater community’s highest honor, had been handed out in June that I noticed a vibrant new production that I should share with you all. The show, Memphis, is about an ambitious young black singer who makes her way through underground clubs in Memphis in the 1950s, and who falls for a white DJ. Here is a preview clip from the show’s own Web site.

I only realized what a big impact this musical was having on Broadway after I read a business article in The New York Times about how productions with black casts, producers and investors were helping prop up ticket sales in the district. I went to a fine and performing arts high school, a magnet school, so I’m used to visiting major and minor artistic venues, and I knew Phylicia Rashad was a seasoned a regal stage actress way before the all black revival “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” for the 2008-2009 season. Hubby and I (and Baby in the womb, kicking) had the pleasure of watching Ms. Rashad, James Earl Jones and Terrence Howard in that production. Anika Noni Rose, who played Maggie, did not perform the night we saw it. I was disappointed, because the critics said she pretty much ran the show whenever she took the stage. Marja Harmon, her understudy, performed instead. Harmon was amazing in her Broadway debut and more than held up her part of the stage considering who her cast mates were!

Maybe Hubby and I will check out Memphis, because I love a musical as much as a play. And if you all ever find yourselves on vacation in New York City, pop in and see what the fuss is about.

Weekend Wedding Extravaganza

I have loads of wedding news to tell you about, good readers. Let’s start with the couples that are on our wavelength, from listings in The New York Times:

Uchenna Hicks & Steven McFarland

These two are in the communications business. Hicks is a media and community relations manager for the New York Times and he is a systems analyst handling internal communications for a financial services firm in New York. Hmmm. Ordinarily, the cynic in my would raise eyebrows at two people uniting troubled industries—financial services and newspapers—into one marriage. But they are both good communicators, presumably, so they might already have one huge relationship building block in place. Good luck on your new lives together!

Gyna Villard & Micah Uhrlass.

I had a difficult time grabbing a photo of them for the listing last week, but I’ve succeeded this time. It seems like they had a preacher from the Christian Brethren Assemblies officiate at their church wedding. I was nowhere near Gyna and Micah’s wedding, but if they are a pious as they are happy looking, one can safely guess that their wedding included a reading of this popular nuptials passage from Proverbs 31:10 “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her price is far above rubies?” Have a rich and highly favored life, kids!

Also, I want to start a new practice of posting wedding announcements on the home page, and re-posting them on the “Here Come the Brides” page, which you can access from the links in the left column.

*****

And speaking of nuptials, we have neighbors of Indian descent who are on the fourth day of a colorful, exuberant wedding extravaganza. When you are in an interracial marriage, the chances are good that your husband is socially progressive and would enjoy living in an ethnically and socially diverse neighborhood. That is the case with us. Our neighbors managed to pull off an elaborate setup on their sliver of a backyard. They squeezed seven tents, scores of chairs and a DJ table into their L-shaped backyard, which is no bigger than a roomy dog run. They festooned the fences and other structures with red and white decorations. The festivities began on Thursday evening. They staged two processions with drummers and other percussionists, which added to my headache that had started in the office that day. As the evening ground toward 11 o’clock, I tried to write a boring story about mutual funds, but the drumming aggravated the pain in my head, so I went outside to ask them to keep it down. They were wrapping up anyway, and apologized for the ruckus. As I walked back home, I glanced up at the light on in our home office, the only one burning in our house, and one of the few lit on our block. I wondered: Hubby and I might be educated professionals and be on higher ground than those neighbors are financially, but who is enjoying a better quality of life right now?

Since Thursday evening, their band has been jamming to the sounds of traditional Indian music (Hubby thought one song sounded Muslim), soca and reggae. It amazed me that the guests—there had to have been at least 80 of them—felt comfortable milling around in that cramped space on a hot summer weekend. But they didn’t care. They partied the whole time. Baby got into the wedding spirit too. On Thursday evening, she twirled and squealed as the Thursday evening procession passed her nursery window. At lunchtime today during one lively song, Baby developed a cute little dance where she held her arms up to her side, chubby fists at shoulder level, and swiveled from side to side. Hubby suggested that we bring Baby over there and crash the party, and that once we held her out to them, they would be smitten by the cute little thing and forgive our imprudence.

As we downed glasses of cold homemade smoothies to polish off lunch, we saw the bride and groom—at last. Little Sister had resorted to spying on them with binoculars to get a glimpse of the happy couple. The bride was resplendent in her white halter-top gown and he looked earnest and handsome in his traditional tux. As I blog, our Indian-Caribbean neighbors seemed to be setting up for the final wedding dinner. My headache from the other day is long gone, but if they give me another one with their raucous joie de vivre, I won’t complain. When cultures come together and a wedding is involved, it’s time to pop the champagne and put the DJ to work!

Venus: A Natural Phenomenon

Whenever a gangly teenage girl develops into an arresting and grounded young woman literally before the entire world, you have to give that woman credit for doing so with grace and integrity. That’s why it made perfect sense to learn that the YWCA of Greater L.A. recently named Venus Williams a phenomenal woman. She is featured here because her fiance Henry “Hank” Kuehne, a pro golfer on the PGA tour, is white. Here they are in a photo at her college graduation party, or so the credits say. 

Ms. Williams holds the world’s #3 ranking in singles and the #1 for doubles. You can read all about her impressive achievements here, and it’s safe to say they put her abreast with the late Althea Gibson, the first AA to join the LPGA tour; the first AA to win a Grand Slam (Wimbledon, 1957) and the late Arthur Ashe, the most successful AA man to play the game. She is super close with her sister and doubles partner, Serena. If you’ve ever watched them trudge onto the court at a Wimbledon or French Open final to play each other for a championship, you can appreciate how much resilience it takes to live their lives.

I’m glad the YWCA has given her this award, because it burns me up the way the media treats this wonderful young woman. No matter how many trash-talking nobodies from Europe try to rip her down or sloppy obnoxious sports fans—who, by the way, would need a respirator to survive one of her routine workouts—savages her publicly, she finds a way to walk through it with her shoulders squared. God bless her, because I would attack back with my most repugnant ‘yo momma’ insults I could dredge up. And these piggish sports writers or “commentators.” Who are they to knock her appearance? If it weren’t for the FIVE pounds of pancake makeup they wear before showing their faces, they would scare children in the streets and cause camera lenses and computer screens everywhere to rupture into millions of teeny shards of glass and whatever poly-chemical coating they have on them. (See what I mean? I blame the Jersey in me.)

One of the reasons she comes under such scrutiny is her fiance. He is white, divorce, has a 5-year-old son and people are just all in a tizzy over that. Who cares? I like the fact that there is scant information about their wedding plans, because it shows restraint and modesty on their part, even though it makes my Latte Cafe hobby a little trickier.  In one Web-based thread, a particularly ignorant soul criticized Venus’ decision as some misdirected form of spite against black men. Others took it in stride and said her handful of a father, Richard, probably did a background check on the guy anyway, so she’s probably in good hands. That made me smile, because it’s probably true!

Well, Venus has nothing but my utmost respect and admiration for giving Americans one of two main reasons to watch tennis, along with her sister Serena. Andy Roddick is another draw, but he has yet to break through Nadal or Federer for a Slam championship. You would think this country would thank the Williams sisters properly for giving us such graceful displays of athleticism, years and years of global dominance in the sport, showing us how to respect other people’s cultures—by speaking French when accepting a French Open trophy, for instance—and for growing up as celebrities with no greater scandals than wearing questionable outfits while they pummel some loudmouth from someplace with an inferior game. Well, that last part is not entirely true. Venus was eliminated from the last Wimbledon tourney, after wearing some odd corset creation. It didn’t suit my personal taste, but I can only congratulate the young woman for having the figure to pull it off and the creativity to see it through. Usually, though, they take about an hour to whup their opponents.

And they are role models for young black women in many respects, including the fact that they don’t acknowledge ignorant comments about their love lives. Yes, they are role models for this. Allowing a decent guy to love you and enhance your life is a good thing, if you are mature enough to handle it. His race, ethnicity and nationality are completely irrelevant. Any brother who is not personally interested in them as marriage partners ought to pipe down and go back to doing whatever it is that mean losers like them do other than criticize black women for finding guys who make them happy. Or they might consider erasing mean comments on blog boards, shutting down their computers and doing something meaningful with their lives, like these young women have done.

A Burning Issue

As my train pulled away from the platform this morning, I kept thinking about pepper. Not cayenne, scotch bonnet or any other variety to season foods, the sort to go on a grocery list. I wanted the kind delivered from a hand-held canister to stop menacing, belligerent men from harassing me and setting my morning commute on the wrong foot.

If I had brought some pepper spray with me this morning, I might have put a swift end to an argument that a hostile older man had picked with me. Maybe he would have understood that he had, indeed, crossed the line of decency. I would have let at least one badly brought up guy know that just because we are both black, it doesn’t give him the license to accost me, and then when I rebuff him, act like a pig.

After I had stamped my ticket in the validator, I stood on the platform, adjusting my tote bag and handbag, awaiting the train. The older guy who would offended me minutes later came up to me, leaned far in and started gesturing, asking me to operate the ticket machine for him and buy his ticket.  He didn’t say good morning, he didn’t take off the baseball hat pulled low over his brow, and he didn’t remove his dark glasses. Typical of a lot of black men with less education and polish, regardless of their age, he was pushy and acted like he was entitled to my time and goodwill. He asked a second time, and I shrugged, saying the machine was easy to use.

He got offended and walked off. I walked away, too, only half expecting him to drop it. He had more success with a young girl, who bought his ticket for him. Just like I figured he would, he emphatically thanked the young girl, his gratitude little more than a showy rebuke of my refusal to pay him any mind. But yahoos like him are easily set off, and don’t know how to stop the verbal incontinence after it starts, even after they get what they want and even after they sound foolish. He set on me again, berating me for not helping him and calling me names. Gentle readers, I don’t put up with that garbage from anyone. So after a short rant, I told him to stop raising his voice at me.

A gaggle of teenage boys who were crowded on a bench, themselves with very little home training, obviously, guffawed at all of this. Who knows what they were thinking, but in an instant I pitied my younger sister and daughter, who will probably face the same public harassment from a generation of inadequately raised ‘men’ like them, some of whom will stand by without a clue as to what to do except laugh.

The exchange went back and forth briefly until he started acting like a baboon, with the chest beating: “I’m 51 years old!”

“Then act like it. Grow up, stop talking and leave me alone.”

“B*tch!” At that point, everyone on the platform, even the little pups on the bench, fell quiet.

“My name is not B*tch,” I said loudly, and looked him square in his ridiculous sunshades.

Taking a dig at my regular glasses, he said, “well, blind then.” Oh, we’re in the 5th grade now, are we? That’s a different story altogether.

“Stupid-assed, 51-year-old loser. That’s you!”

That seemed to take the wind out of him a bit. Shut him up long enough for everyone to notice that the train had come. As everyone boarded the train, I didn’t flinch. I went straight to the spot where I usually like to sit, without trying to scurry out of his way or anything. Why should I? He didn’t go out of his way to approach me in any halfway decent way. For a guy born in 1959, he should have had the upbringing to know that when you approach a woman standing by herself anywhere, you make yourself pleasant before you ask her to do something for you. That might have induced me to help him. The young girl who did help him was probably in her late teens and is still naive enough to believe that everyone who asks a favor should be indulged, even coarse, pushy men who run up on you in public. I used to buy into the thinking that says always give every wanderer some change or a helping hand, because they might be an angel in disguise.

But time and common sense have taught me that simple-looking black men sometimes will lash out the hardest at black women in public and in demonic ways. I think I’ve said it before on this blog, that I doubt if any of the yahoos who have behaved toward me the way that they have would have done the same to a white woman. There is a deeply ingrained sense, and I don’t know where it comes from, that says they need to be treated differently. Perhaps black men think the weight and power of society is more on their side than ours. Maybe a white woman is resourceful and connected enough, either by way of a boyfriend, husband or father, to marshal forces to ‘whup’ his @ass and make his life miserable if he gets out of line with her.

But black women, apparently, can be abused with impunity. This sort of thing happened to a cousin of mine, but the ending was different, and I think there is a lesson to be learned. She was on her way to work in Manhattan. An unbalanced guy accosted her and let loose with a stream of profanities. A passerby, a white man, came to her aid. He stood sentry between my cousin and this fool, telling him to leave her alone, and the attacker quickly simmered down and went about his foolish way. After it was safe, my cousin thanked the Samaritan and kept making her way to her office. How interesting, that the abuser lost his marbles just long enough to pester someone he thought was defenseless, but when he was confronted with the force of a man, he backed down.

It’s too bad that morons like the guy on the train platform this morning and the one who rushed up on my cousin don’t read blogs. Otherwise, I’d let them know that black women in this country have been undergoing an awakening for quite some time. For years, our mothers, aunts, decent stepfathers, uncles and brothers have been telling us, training us, not to accept being treated like trash. We’ve been told to push back, speak up and stick up for ourselves. Tragically, it is because everyday heroic black men—men period—are scarce. But I’m noticing that when guys are on hand to speak up and not let a black woman be treated poorly, they are white. I’m not going to pander to a brother’s sensibilities and get into all of the soci-economic reasons for this, the subtleties on account of geography or any other circumstance, and the stories about hot-tempered white actors like Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe.

We need to confront the serious problem that there are two lost generations of black men in this country. They are represented by the leathery old fool on the platform, and the pups on the bench. My public humiliation, and the other macro ways in which black men let black women down, should not be a ritual for one, and entertainment for the other.

Black women are noticing that on an everyday level, there are not enough brothers treating them with basic decency and respect. As much as I love and regard the solid, upstanding, accomplished black men that I know, there are not enough of them to go around. There are others outside our race who value us as people, and think we deserve better than what our ‘own kind’ has to offer all too often. It’s only a matter of time before black women let go of the dream of the Ideal Black Man and think of themselves as valuable women who deserve equally good men.

Show Biz Chops & Gimme Them Shoes!

Hubby and I are a Mo’Nique loving couple, so it was a special treat to stumble across episode from her show on the Web. A few months ago she hosted Tracey Ferguson, EIC of Jones magazine and the rapper Plies, among other guests. She has a hi-larious segment with Plies, from Florida, and the second segment featured Ferguson. Check out Ferguson’s fierce shoes. I can’t wait for the Fall issue of Jones to hit newsstands! In the meantime,  here is the video.