A Chicken Box and a Hug aka when uppity Yankees can’t swallow a Baltimore delicacy

I wrote A Chicken Box and a Hug awhile ago but after reading Brittany Britto’s recent piece, Unpacking the chicken box: The story behind Baltimore’s carryout staple, I had to repost. Plus my girl Nicole, the villian in this story,  will be starting a new jobbie and so—in honor of her moving on—I thought a little flashback to our lunch breaks was in order.

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It’s 1 pm sharp, time for lunch at the 9-5. I’m posted up at my favorite table in the cafeteria second back from the main thoroughfare facing the elevators. From that perch I can indulge my nosiness and have just enough distance not to be eyeballed or hovered over by every passerby. While dining on an overpriced turkey sandwich from Whole Foods, my partners, Keisha and Nicole sit down and we get into a discussion about chicken boxes.

What is a chicken box you may ask? It is a fried delicacy that is legend in Baltimore. It is also cheap. This box is comprised of fried hard chicken wings (two for me) and french fries tucked in a box if you’re being literal, or styrofoam if you’re not. It can be found in a hood near you. Typically there’s Plexiglas involved, so you gotta shout your order through the mouth level circle of holes punched in the glass, Can I get a chicken box? Salt, pepper, ketchup! …and a half-n- half! I always decline ketchup because whoever’s serving up the grub is always heavy handed, to the point that ketchup covers the wings. I’m a salt and pepper girl, hold the ketchup.

While Keisha and I wax poetic about our various chicken box experiences, Nicole twists up her face, “Chicken box,” she says with disgust, nostrils flaring indignantly. We look at her like she just shook a can of soda and sprayed it on us.

“What’s wrong with you?” I ask, “Why do you hate chicken boxes? I mean its chicken and fries, what’s not to like?”

“I know, with a good half-n-half too” says Keisha adrift with the memory of a particularly tasty batch.

“It’s the words, chicken box, it makes me think about a box made of chicken,” retorts Nicole.

This comment is met with a round of laughter at her expense. We taunt her Yankee by way of Rhode Island snobbery, especially her inability to make peace with our Baltimore vernacular.

We ask if she even knows what half-n-half is, we’re met with a glare. For those not in the know, a half-n-half is a wonderful, tooth disintegrating, sweet drink that is a mix of lemonade and iced tea. Done well it can be a magical thing. The suburban term for this drink would be the Arnold Palmer, named after the golf legend. None of this moves her, though she seems more open to the half-n-half.

Just as Keisha and I are pinpointing the best places to get a stellar half-n-half a new character enters the scene, Los. He saunters over to the fridge grabs his lunch, and then regards us warily as he preps his food at the counter. As usual, he shakes his head the whole time, not saying a word just waiting for the onslaught. He already knows the routine and expects harassment but today I decide to do things a little differently. Instead of turning on Los, Nicole becomes the target. I reveal her disdain for the chicken box.

“What,” exclaims Los, “You can’t be serious?” She tries to look at him defiantly but he’s having none of it. “Come on, you’ve been in Baltimore, for what…” Then he stops and just shakes his head again, “that’s what I thought, if a number doesn’t come to mind, it’s been long enough.” Nicole feigns hurt feelings but quickly recovers standing firm in her anti-chicken box sentiment. “We’re gonna work on that,” said Los.

We all cackled and somehow the conversation wended its way to Tupac and Biggie. In fact I think I’m the one that took us there. I can’t recall how we transitioned from chicken box to Tupac and Biggie but we did. Some random stream of consciousness trickled into my brain and next thing I know I’m spewing fury that their killers still haven’t been brought to justice. Any hip hop head in the 30 and up club has had this same conversation. While I’m rhapsodizing about the whole thing Los points to me and says, “You need a hug,” and then turning to Nicole, “and you need a chicken box.”

 

 

On Revision

Tomorrow I head off to enjoy Writers & Words‘ first writing retreat. I’m excited to participate as an editor and on-site staffer and look forward to meeting and/or reconnecting with fellow writers as well. My plan is to continue reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and to begin to revise and delve deeper into “Candy, Lies, & Larceny,” which is the first chapter of my book Sonic Memories.  I’m considering the possibility of expanding my little book. I’m at the beginning of this journey, and while there will be times that I want to tear my hair out at the root, I’m down to see where it takes me. At least there are some words on the page to mix around like the folks that used to solve the word scramble on Soul Train. Good times!

Revision thoughts from the brilliant mind of Michael Eric Dyson

“The Ghost of Cornel West” by Michael Eric Dyson (New Republic: April, 19, 2015) when the following excerpt stood out for me:

The ecstasies of the spoken word, when scholarship is at stake, leave the deep reader and the long listener hungry for more. Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.

Is it harder for you to face the blank page or revise?

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Be Cool by Ben Tanzer

Welcome to Ben Tanzer’s compound, a magical place where there is, “…art, surfing, tacos and drinking, low slung stucco bungalows or ranch houses in Southern California…” Come through and stay if you like. I think you will. Know that Tanzer’s open about what’s important: family and a daily need to run and write. He’s also got a soft spot for Los Angeles, a place where he imagines casting off the shackles of responsible adulthood, for a more bohemian artist’s life. Then there are the many allusions to the story of Icarus—the boy who flew too close to the sun. His cards are face up. Tanzer asks if that’s cool and then opens the door to invite us in. All are welcome…

Check out the rest of the review at Atticus Review 

Thanks to Ben Tanzer for the shout-out and pull-quote!

 

I’m Black!

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Styles P proclaimed it in his 2006 song “I’m Black” and James Brown shouted it out in his  1968 song “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Both clarify how I feel these days. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I wasn’t always proud to be black, much to my parents’ chagrin.

I was probably blackest in my middle school years when I wore my hair in a tilt, rocked gold earrings with my initials—C in the top hole and J in the bottom, donned my black Hammer pants with electric blue bolero jacket and topped it all off with my patent leather pointy shoes with grosgrain ribbon shoelaces. You couldn’t tell me nothin’! I wore my Kwame-inspired blue dress with with black polka dots for my 8th grade school picture, while all the other girls wore white. I was being myself and while there were a few times I tried to assimilate, it was mostly because I wanted to be a popular girl like the ones in a John Hughes movie, like Sixteen Candles.  I can’t think of one teen movie with a cool black girl main character back in the late 80s and I could be wrong but nothing comes to mind…

Anyway I begged  Dolores (Mom) to let me go to Aberdeen high school where I would very likely have a boyfriend—and in her opinion—a baby. I didn’t care. I wanted to be a teenage mother with a cute figure pushing my baby stroller. Now I realize how ridiculous I was. I clung to my blackness freshman year at John Carroll School, a Catholic college prep high school. Dolores got her wish for me to go to private school. Now I can understand the decisions she made. I was a little hot to trot if you get my drift and she was not having it. I maintained my autonomy but my sophomore year it was like I just assimilated into  white culture. Here I felt my blackness but not in a cool way. I stopped rocking my asymmetrical dos and eventually got rid of my gold initial earrings. I started wearing delicate earrings and combing my hair back into a bun and trying to look like the girls around me. Even worse I just straight up lost myself for a few years as I sought to be down with the popular Polo shirt and socks-wearing, bow and ringlet curl-having, Timberland shoe-rocking, field hockey and soccer-playing crew. These chicks had Gucci watches and cars, ski vacations in the winter and beach houses in the summer.

All of a sudden I wasn’t proud to be black. I didn’t share this info with the parentals, I just kept it to myself and dimmed my black shine bit by bit. Nobody asked me to, but nobody was interested in my black self either. I’d party with my all white crew on the weekends frequently worrying if someone’s parents would give me the side eye. Luckily I never had a run-in with any parents. But I noticed that while I always showed up to all of my friends’ events and typically was the only black person, I assumed they would never want to be the only white person in a room full of black folks. I had one friend visit me at work and I could tell that the sight of mostly black people made her feel a little uneasy. I became quietly resentful of always having to be the one to make the sacrifice.

I am light years away from being that teenage girl who dimmed her blackness to make others feel comfortable. The change occurred in college when I finally had access to black history classes. It was my first time in a classroom reading about W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance, Stokley Carmichael, and Assata Shakurto name a few. I drank up the information and felt pride in my peoples’ colorful history. My parents definitely provided a black history foundation for us, with my Mom telling us kids about her youth writing revolutionary poetry and rocking her Free Angela Davis pin.  Meanwhile my Dad believed in book reports and presentations. The Autobiography of  Malcolm X  was required reading and in middle school he even made me write a book report on George Washington Carver—a scientist and an inventor who found mad ways to put peanuts to use. Fast forward to President Obama in the White House which was truly something I never believed I’d see in my lifetime.

The world is shifting on its axis once again with the election of a reality star to the highest office in the land. In this current post-election D.T. president-elect environment, I feel strongly that I need to plant my  bare feet in the dirt,  raise my face to the moon and call upon my ancestors to lead me through this next phase of my life. Like John Oliver said on his final show of this season’s Last Week Tonight, “This [D.T.’s presidency] is NOT normal…” He followed this by reminding his viewers to be vigilant and never accept that this man in office is just another day. So wtf does this have to do with me being proud to be black? Easy, as a people we have truly overcome so much and are rooted in the foundation of America, from helping to build the White House to being enslaved, to adding to the cultural enrichment of this country. So when someone like D.T. and his cabinet threaten that, I need to summon my inner James Brown, or in this case Styles P and be vigilant about letting people know, I’m happy to be me and I hope whatever culture, race, whatevs, that you represent that you feel the same way too without disrespecting the culture, race or p.o.v. of someone different from you.

Check out  Styles P’s song “I’m Black”. It gets me amped and reminds me how happy I am to be black…I just wish I hadn’t wasted my younger years wanting to be something I wasn’t.

 

 

Behind a Window: Summers at Mom-Mom’s

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nowme takes the pics & i write the words*

Ellie looked up from her phone when Mom exited the George Washington Bridge. Maryland and fifth grade a distant memory. Mom-Mom’s apartment was in the Bronx. She liked this part: ridin’ in the heart of the city, music blaring from bodegas, people covering the block. Mom-Mom’s building had the green window shades.

She was named after her grandmother Eleanor. For the next few months Ellie would sit at her feet and ask about her mother while Mom-Mom cornrowed her hair. She’d ride the subway and make up dance routines with her cousins under the buzzing streetlights. Summers she belonged.

*Behind a Window: NYC windows, 100-word micro-stories

Behind a Window: Stairway to Heaven

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nowme takes the pics; i write the stories*

Sunday drives are tradition in the Hernandez household. “Audrey, Eddie, Luis! Vamos!” I grab my favorite book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and dart out the door. Mom tugs a pigtail and giggles as I run past.

When we pull off, I look up at our building. “Look Daddy,” I say, “doesn’t it look like a giant’s ladder?”

“Baby girl, that’s the stairway to heaven.”

Today the sky is a murky aquamarine, the clouds pregnant with rain. I wonder if God is hidden above, watching me. Daddy’s plastic rosary swings from the rearview mirror. We begin today’s adventure.

*Behind a Window: NYC windows, 100-word micro-stories

I’m reading for ‘Hey You, Come Back!’ Thursday @ The Crown

Come out and hear me read an excerpt from my story Candy, Lies, & Larceny about being a bad little roach whom my mother (mercifully) did not stomp out for being such a pain in her ass. Writers Naré Navasardyan and Rachael Clifford will be representing as well! Hope to see you there.

  • What: Hey You, Come Back!, a Baltimore reading series.
  • When: Thursday 11/3/16 @ 8pm
  • Where: The Crown in Station North | 1910 N Charles St. 2nd Fl Baltimore, MD