Thursday, July 20, 2006

Alonzo's Story, Part I

In 1958, Alonzo was born on Roosevelt Island, a narrow two-mile long island situated between Manhattan and Queens. Shortly, thereafter, he moved with his family to Harlem where they found residence in New York City subsidized housing. At the time Harlem was predominately African American and Puerto Rican. The only white people Alonzo encountered were his teachers at school, who failed to teach him about the civil rights movement, racism, slavery or anything related to the dark history between whites and blacks in America. People just didn't talk about race. “There was a running joke in Harlem that said, don’t talk about the white man in Harlem because you let him in the house through TV everyday”, he explains.

When Alonzo was fifteen, his father found a higher paying job and the family was required to move to a different housing unit in the Bronx called Marble Hill, which had a large population of white residents from various European backgrounds. At first, Alonzo naturally gravitated to the black teenagers in his new neighborhood, but soon met his first white friend, Irwin, a Jew. “I had no idea that Irwin was Jewish, but then I noticed that he was hanging out with all these white teenagers, so I shifted away from my black group of friends towards his friends who I found very interesting and different.” The white teenagers loved Alonzo, especially his wild personality and most treated him like he was famous. He was the only black person in their group, and Alonzo found the extra attention they gave him flattering.

After one year of living in the Bronx, Alonzo faced the harsh reality of becoming an adult. At the age of sixteen he had never known the real meaning behind the "N" word. His parents had always tried to protect him from racism and socially the word was not mentioned. "As a child it was not like it is today. People where not saying “Yo nigga' this and that”, explains Alonzo. Television shows at that time were highly censored too, and it never occurred to him that there were so few African Americans on the air. “Occasionally on Ed Sullivan, Smokey Robinson or someone black would be on and I can remember thinking it was really special, but I did not understand why at the time”, says Alonzo.

Then one summer day while Alonzo was hanging out with a group of white teenage girls in Marble Hill, listening to funk on the radio, and teaching them dance moves, a pale, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy nicknamed Pee-wee walked up to him and said, “No, we’re not going to put that 'nigger' music on”. “Pee-wee was a real asshole”, says Alonzo, “and it never dawned on me that I was the Negro kid showing these white teenagers, who were demanding my attention, Negro moves. But I guess if you were on the outside looking in, that’s what was going on there.” When Pee Wee uttered the expletive that day, the meaning and power of the word suddenly hit Alonzo like a ton of bricks.   “Oh I get this...this is what they have been hiding me from, and this is what that word means. It means a black person and nobody told me; my mother never told me; my father never told me.” The realization made Alonzo so distraught that he began to cry and his white girlfriends came rushing to his side, grabbing and embracing him. The girls scorned Pee Wee by shouting that he was disgusting while demanding that he leave. But it was too late, the experience had left a lasting impression, and while walking home that day Alonzo remembers looking at people differently. “ I would walk past people and began to classify them saying I am black, he’s white, and he’s Puerto Rican, because I was struck with this new awful awareness and for about two days I couldn’t shake it”, says Alonzo. In hindsight, it was one of those earth-shattering realizations Alonzo needed to deal with, but he was so surprised that no one had taught him this crucial lesson at home or in school. “I finally understood what Martin Luther King was about,” explains Alonzo. He was different. Black.

After a week of contemplating the situation, Alonzo decided to return to the park in Marble Hill where all his white friends gathered, night after night, doing drugs and consuming large amounts of alcohol. His friends, unaware of the questions going through his mind, asked him to roll a joint because they could not do it as well as he. “All of the sudden I saw these white teenagers as Martians, and said to myself 'You’re the only black one'. They didn’t know that I was head tripping”, says Alonzo. He remembers also taking the subway down to midtown Manhattan, stepping outside, and feeling awestruck by the dissimilarity of environments--as if he were on the moon--and would then promptly return to the Bronx and compare the differences. For example, the white ladies on the subway in midtown would sit cross-legged reading the New York Times, as opposed to minorities in Harlem and the Bronx reading The Daily News, consisting of mostly pictures and the winning numbers for horses and lotto.

At one point Alonzo attempted to return to hanging out with his black friends, but quickly gravitated back to his white ones who had cars, and would take him to exciting places on the weekends, such as the Hamptons. “My parents were very concerned that I was hanging out with so many white people, but there was no stopping me”, says Alonzo. Every time he ran out of the house his mother would say to him, “Alonzo!, don’t let those white boys go push you up a tree.” Alonzo says he was fortunate and had very few racially charged experiences after old Pee Wee. He was well liked among the African Americas, Caucasians and Puerto Ricans in the neighborhood, who all nicknamed him 'Knox'. “I would take it upon myself to infiltrated each group because I new exactly what I was doing. For this aspect, I really liked myself because, I was really a dynamite liaison, and was able to keep the harmony of this whole block; and I was just so popular.” At that time, Alonzo was beginning to acknowledge and take pride in being a black man, because he inevitably knew that society would always view him as a such, regardless of the peers whose company he chose.

Everything was going great for Alonzo and when he turned eighteen the beautiful, fair-skinned, blond-haired bombshell named Colleen Bray walked into his life, asked him out, and they instantly became boyfriend and girlfriend. "Colleen was Irish and the funkiest female in the neighborhood especially for her age.... and she was my baby!", says Alonzo. This was Alonzo's first experience dating a white woman and he fell in love quickly. "The racial difference was really a trip, and when we walked down the street we would get all sorts of car horns" he says. One afternoon, while walking down the street together, Colleen's mother pulled up to them unexpectedly, rolled down the window, and demanded that she get into the car. Alonzo, struck with terror, thought for sure that this would be the last time he saw his beloved Colleen. But to his surprise, Colleen stood up to her mother and said "No!", refusing to get in the car, and angrily her mother drove away. Alonzo had never quite seen a person be so powerful and resolute as Colleen.  But then again, that's why he liked her...

To be continued.....

"I was born an Aquarius, therefore I am a natural brotherhood promoter and the more different you are from me the more I am probably going to like you, that’s why I am so into interracial dating” Quote by Alonzo "Knox" who has been dating white women for over thirty years.

Alonzo at the Futon Warehouse in Manhattan, where he lives and works.

Me and Alonzo.

Alonzo's Office

Alonzo as we talk.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Alonzo's Story Continued.....

After meeting Colleen's mother for the first time, Alonzo planned on backing off the relationship. Colleen, however, kept calling him, and being that she was his baby, they continued to date. Every night they would hang out, drink and smoke Kool Cigarettes as they watched the sun rise. They lost their virginity to each other. "I just didn't know what I was doing; I was young, dumb and full of cum", says Alonzo.

Alonzo started spending a lot of time with Colleen's friends, who were all into getting high. They introduced him to speed; he tried it, and liked it right away. "Good thing crack wasn't around! I have never tried crack--I never will--but this speed I really liked." For three years, Alonzo continued to shoot amphetamines, which led to numerous acts of immature behavior. He did, however, manage to get a job at the United States Post Office, where he worked for nine months. "Boy, it drove me crazy! It was such a boring job, and wasn't for me. But it was a civil service job, and in the neighborhood it was like,  'Oh, you work the post office? You must be a rock star!" he explains.

Soon thereafter, he became a taxi driver and the money was good, but then both his drivers' and taxis' licenses were taken away for unpaid speeding tickets. As a result, he started stealing cars. Alonzo would go to taxi garages, especially on Saturday nights, and steal a cab from the lot. "I was a nice car crook, because if I stole a car, I would always return it." He drove it all night long, sometimes with Colleen, down to Manhattan or over to Harlem. "It was just so much fun," says Alonzo. Around 5 am, he would park the cab, maybe a half-mile from where he lived, and then call the cab company and say "Yo, a cab was taken and this is where you'll find it!"  Click.

Alonzo did this for a year until finally he and Colleen got caught. Colleen's father was a New York City Detective in Manhattan. Quite naturally, with Colleen being brought up on grand theft auto charges, her father finagled a pardon, which indirectly absolved Alonzo, as if it had never happened. Alonzo had met him a month before the arrest and things were good between them. After the arrest, however, Colleens' father made it very clear for Alonzo to stay away from his daughter. He had really screwed up, but they were in love, so they snuck around him.

In October of 1981, Alonzo's older brother, whom he had not seen in thirteen years, and lived in Vancouver, sent him a one-way ticket to Seattle. He decided to go, promising Colleen that he would be back by his birthday in February. As he got off the plane in Seattle, he was greeted by a fine, white blond, who approached him and said,  "Lonnie" (that's what his brother called him), "I am Susan". "I was like, 'Oh my God!,' I didn't know this about my brother, he likes Caucasian women too!"  Susan directed Alonzo to his brothers' car, a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a diamond on the back. His brother, lighting a joint, proceeded to take him to a tavern in Seattle's Capital Hill. Alonzo was shocked when he walked in and saw there were all of these black men hanging out with all these gorgeous white women.  "I was like 'Holy Toledo!' Here I was coming out of the Bronx, thinking I was the only black guy with this Caucasian love. I mean, I thought I was the one who invented this damn interracial dating!," explained Alonzo. But in Seattle, this seemed to be the norm, or so it appeared. It turns out these Caucasian women were really all prostitutes. "This wasn't the drug, alley, crack-smoking, I'll-do-anything-so-I-can-get-me-another-hit-of-drugs kind; these were beautiful women! Women that could very well be in Vogue Magazine; and I am not kidding."

Alonzo's brother, along with some friends from the Air Force, were pimping white Canadian prostitutes in British Columbia. Alonzo was dumfounded that these women wanted to be with these pimps. "I mean they knew that these men had more than one woman!," he says. Looking back he assumes they where attracted to the "pimp character". "I have met some monster pimps, who were making money and doing it right. These women would come up to the pimp and say, "Hey I want to be with you". These more successful pimps had luxurious apartments and lifestyles in Vancouver, with maybe a second house somewhere else.  Their girls only worked at night.  "It was just like the movies," Alonzo says. "The women would sit around the pimps' house, painting their finger and toenails, getting ready to go out at night to pick up tricks".

Alonzo witnessed this all firsthand but had no aspirations for becoming a pimp himself.  Instead, his role was official "baby-sitter".  Susan, his brother's girlfriend, had two small children. "I loved those little kids and they called me Uncle Lonnie.... I miss them even today," he says.  On Monday nights Alonzo's brother would have his buddies over to play Penuckle, as they snorted cocaine, smoked weed and drank Johnny Walker Black. "Once they got a little intoxicated, they would start talking a lot of shit about their women. I felt really dumb, listening to these guys -- I mean, I didn't even know how to spell 'fuck'!"  Alonzo and his brother, who wanted him to stay home and baby-sit on the weekends, began to argue and disagree on issues related to his role as sitter.  "I was like, 'Yo! I have been here all week baby-sitting, and I am getting out of here, because I got to go dance; get women!" Sometimes, his brother would bring him along to go "catching", which means 'to pick up'. On Friday and Saturday nights, Alonzo would get all dressed up—his brother never let him leave the house unless he looked sharp--and he would learn how to pick up women. "I was clean, from New York City, and you couldn't tell me anything! Because I could dance and dance well -- always have.  I was raised on James Brown...!"

Alonzo began dating various white women in the scene, if you will, but he still loved Colleen, even though they had only spoken on the phone from time to time. He had suggested she come out west, but it never did materialize. It was not until 1989, though, when Alonzo came back to visit New York, that he saw Colleen again. She was with a white guy at the time, who was a 'joke,' apparently. "This guy would go all the way to Harlem to get his dope and then come back the Bronx. I was like, Oh my God, Alonzo, what did you expect, you have been away for years, and she wasn't going to wait for you, but anybody but this guy!," he lamented.

One of the last times Alonzo saw Colleen, she had been supposedly going 'down hill'. Her boyfriend had been beating her, and Alonzo tried calming her by saying,  "Colleen, sweetheart, baby, I got to go back to Seattle, and then I will come back for you. You're my baby."  Unfortunately, at that moment her boyfriend, who had been buying cigarettes, came out of the corner store. Alonzo felt completely powerless to do anything. A year or so later Colleen died. Alonzo heard a couple stories; that she had caught the "monster'--what they called 'AIDS' back then--or that her liver went out due to excessive drinking. "I don't know if I kind of messed her up or not? I don't know if the interracial dating got to be too much for her, especially since I left? I kind of will never know until I die. She came to me and I went to her and I thank God right now for the experience."

Eventually, Alonzo left British Columbia. Susan, suddenly finding herself unhappy with the idea of being involved in the sex business, packed up the kids and left. Alonzo and his brother made haste back to the border for Seattle just before the whole prostitution ring was uncovered. Alonzo himself, feeling lost, decided to stay in Seattle. While there, he earned his high school diploma and started working in the telemarketing department at Sears and Roebuck, while simultaneously getting involved with one woman to another. Not going anywhere, he eventually moved back home to New York.

Today, Alonzo, who has never been married, lives in Manhattan above the Futon Warehouse, where he also works and manages. Alonzo says that white women have been his biggest motivation in life and the reason he desires success. He recently started a Judgment Recovery business that he hopes will finally bring him the money and the connections he needs. "I went around the back way instead of going the front way, but I am qualified and it's on", he says.  He is very proud of the fact that he has been dating interracially for years, long before it was socially accepted.  "I learned this interracial dating thing on my own and no one is more qualified to talk about it, well maybe Richard Pryor, than me," he believes. When he was five years old his mother would sit him in front of the TV, while she cooked dinner for his father, and everyday around five-thirty, the cartoon 'Popeye, The Sailor Man' would come on. He loved Popeye, his muscles and how he was always protecting his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, from Pluto. It has only been the last eight years that he finally put it all together. He thought to himself, "How come you are so fascinated with these long-legged Caucasian women? Where is this coming from?" And then it dawned on him.  "'You fool, you got programmed at five years old!' I swear to God, I really know that to be the truth," he reasons.

Alonzo often refers to himself as Alonzoman, which comes from a combination of Superman, Zorro, the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger and especially Popeye.  His motto is, "I'm Alonzoman and I am always doing the best I can, sometimes I do better, because I have always wanted to make the impossible, possible."  With Alonzo, anything is possible. 

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Meet Jack

Seventy-seven year old Jack Owen sells boiled peanuts, cold drinks, live fishing bait, raccoon tail hats, rustic furniture, hand-made gourd birdhouses, walking sticks and old-fashioned toys among other things at the Toxaway Falls Stand, a small roadside shack in the mountains of Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. Lake Toxaway was the first artificial lake to be built in the Appalachian Mountains in 1902. Jack's father Victor, who was partially blind and could not work a conventional job, built the stand next to the falls in 1947 as a way of supporting himself. "Back then in this area there wasn't much going on and my daddy placed a stand on the other side of the bridge over the falls selling birdhouse, drinks and not much of nothing to tell you the truth," explains Jack. In the 1960's a real estate development team arrived in Toxaway, set up a sales office and moved his fathers stand using a logging truck down the street to its current location along U.S 64. Over the years the stand has become a reoccurring stop for visitors who when asked can remember exactly what they bought the first time when they came as a kid.

Jack took over the family business when his father passed away twelve years ago. "I enjoy doing it- I am too old to do anything, but I still enjoy it, it gives me a chance to shoot a lot of bull," Jack says. People often stop by just to talk and he is always willing to tell anybody what they want to hear. Today his daughter and granddaughter are helping him work. His wife, who is into real estate, also stops by most mornings to help set up. They live four miles away from the stand. The Owen family was among the first pioneers to reach North Carolina, or what was then the Hogback Valley, in the 1800’s. Attempting to pull my leg, his daughter nodding her head, Jack tells me, "See this mountain behind me, I remember when that thing wasn't bigger than a potato." 

Nowadays Jack tells me that it is hard to say what his favorite thing is about North Carolina because it's become too expensive to live there. Taxes and real estate prices have exceedingly increased as outsiders have come in and built huge summer homes. "If you want to buy something you can't find it or afford it," Jack explains. He considers himself lucky because the stand has no overhead and he can afford to sell his merchandise cheaper than anybody in town. Most of the items he sells come from local artisans and farmers. He also purchases his furniture from Amish families in Pennsylvania and sells a lot of Cyprus from Georgia. I asked Jack if he made anything in the store and he answered, "Sugar, it keeps me busy just being here." Jack says people really love his boiled peanuts and just last weekend a lady came by and bought six bags that she shipped back to California.  Financially the stand does pretty well. Jack thought this year would be slow with the heat,  "But you know I've done better this year than I have ever done!" The Toxaway Falls Stand is open during the spring, summer, and fall.  Little has change about it's appearance. Once Jack thought about putting a little paint on it to make it look fancier, but people kept telling him not to, so he left it alone.

"I guess you would consider me an old timer, but I didn't used to be," says Jack who will turn 78 in November.

Jack with his daughter and granddaughter

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Meet Kamila and Sylvia

Kamila and Sylvia, 25 year-old identical twin foreign exchange students from Poland, are enjoying pint size beers together as they wait for friends at The Smokey Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The twins, who are computer science majors, have come to Tennessee for the second summer in a row to improve their English skills. This summer they have rented a cabin in the mountains and are working as hostesses at two different restaurants, as well as serving ice cream at a soda shop. Although they work most of the time, Kamila and Sylvia love the Smokey Mountains and have many Polish and American friends. So far they have not met any cute guys, but it has only been two weeks, and perhaps jokingly, Kamila tells me they are looking for male American twins. Both agree that they find American men more friendly and handsome than Polish men, however unlike Polish men they have found that American men often cheat. They are modest when asked if they get hit on a lot, saying “Oh, no not really” as they look at each other and giggle.
As twins, people always ask Kamila and Sylvia how they differ from each other. They both have a hard time answering that question and think their friends always have better answers. Kamila does mention that she is five minutes older than Sylvia, while Sylvia adds that she is a little bit taller than Kamila. They do not always hang out together and often have different friends and hobbies. However, both really enjoy the outdoors and sports, having both played soccer in Poland for six years.
Kamila and Sylvia say that the biggest difference between Poland and Tennessee are the people and food. They have found that Tennesseans are friendlier, always smiling and saying, “Hello, how are you?” In Poland Kamila says, "The people are always poor, so they are always upset”. The twins find food in America gross, especially the bread, and they don’t understand why people eat so much fast food. “I know that it is because it is really cheap, but it’s not good for your health”, says Kamila. She says that most people in Poland would not consider eating at a fast food restaurant. She has noticed that fresh healthy foods in America are very expensive. Both consider the music in America very different then that in Poland. Techno music is huge in Poland while country music is the most popular in Tennessee. In Poland country music is non-existent, but Kamila and Sylvia have grown to like many of the country music songs they listen too in Tennessee. Although Kamila and Sylvia like spending time in America, they admit that they would much rather prefer to keep their permanent home in Poland. 

Kamila on the left and Sylvia on the right

Scott and Blake would both like to meet Kamila and Sylvia

The bar area


The brewery

Famous American Twins