Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You the Man

The time is always right to do what is right. ~ MLK

Seemed like the right thing to do tonight was to walk over to the VCU Depot for a candlelight vigil for Martin Luther King.

When Mac and I got there, there couldn't have been more than a dozen people there, but within no time, the number had grown to many dozens and we'd all been handed white candles to carry. A VCU student sang a song and we were instructed by an organizer to walk two abreast in an orderly line as we made our way to the Student Commons for remarks.

His next instruction was couched in the usual millennial manner. "This is a silent vigil, so please refrain from talking...if you can." As if to say, if you just can't shut up for five blocks, we understand.


As we proceeded in an orderly manner, complete with a VCU police escort along side us, it was in a mostly silent manner (a few people just couldn't resist talking to a friend), our breath visible as we moved slowly through campus.

After the first couple of blocks, the silence became so enveloping that the conversations of passersby seemed unnaturally loud and intrusive while in some cases, people would notice the silence hanging over the march and lower their voices,although not quite sure why.

There was a stirring solemnity to the vigil - it was tempting to get lost in watching the small flame flickering in your own hand - that was frequently overshadowed by the sound of shutters closing as hordes of cameramen walked and ran alongside us, shooting our faces, our marching feet, our candles.

It must be what being a model on a runway feels like, except we weren't there to be looked at or photographed.

Walking into the ballroom at VCU to find few seats available beyond the first row (we took them), we heard, appropriately enough, Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" right up until a student in a fraternity jacket got up and gave what sounded like a poorly-delivered book report on King and his accomplishments, leaving out most of the highlights.

He was also extremely careful about his word choices, using "African-American" and studiously avoiding using "black" as if it were the n-word. Fortunately, he was just the prelude to a slide show of mostly old black and white photographs while we listened to King's stirring "I Have a Dream" speech.

When it concluded, we agreed that we were both glad we'd come.

After a quick dinner of chicken and lamb shawarmas at Doner Kebab while listening to middle-eastern dance music and admiring sunny posters of Syrian landscapes and buildings that probably don't exist any longer, we headed to the Byrd.

Standing at the front of the line for the late show, a young mixed race couple came walking down the sidewalk and inquired what we were waiting for.

I didn't just tell them that we were waiting to see Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," I wondered out loud why they weren't planning to see a classic black film and one of the top movies of the '80s as well.

He was black, had seen it with his parents when he was 12 and been underwhelmed at its lack of CGI effects and high-definition production values. So old fashioned.

As you might guess, this was catnip to me since the notion of style winning out over substance is not one that holds any water for me. Before long, he was explaining how his generation needs to be entertained (she said they all have attention deficit) constantly, so why risk the uncertainty of human interaction when you've got the reliability of Reddit?

I'm not kidding, he said that.

We went on to spend enough time talking about race relations, millennial malaise, sexual exploitation and the value of old movies to the point that she eventually admitted she'd never seen the film and was a little curious. Next thing we knew, she was in the line to buy a ticket, so of course he joined her, despite having dissed the film repeatedly.

Come on, he was 20 years old and she was pretty. He's going to go where she wants to go.

As luck would have it, they wound up in the row right in front of us so we could further the conversation. He was still leery about having to sit through the film (which I assured him would resonate differently now from how it had at 12), so I leaned forward to reassure him that his parents would approve, that this is where he should be on this holiday.

"I'm doing the right thing," he said, cracking himself and me up at his humor.

It had been so many years since I'd seen "Do the Right Thing" that there were some surprises along the way. The trio of men sitting by the wall and constantly commenting on the street theater played as completely real, especially the deeply dimpled Sweet Dick Willy who insists it's never too hot for sex and made me laugh out loud when he saw a pretty girl and said, "Oh,, Lord, I better not see her on payday!"

I hadn't remembered Samuel L. Jackson as the DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy, dropping gems such as, "Today's temperature's gonna rise up over 100 degrees, so there's a Jheri Curl alert. If you have a Jheri curl, stay in the house or you'll end up with a permanent black helmet on your head fo-evah!"

And I certainly didn't recall derogatory references to Trump and his hotel.

But the final scene had been burned into my brain, or perhaps the believable violence just seemed too current and real even then not to make a lasting impression, but after 28 years, it still left me pondering and us discussing what the right thing was.

When the lights came up, we reconvened our discussion group about the production and content value of the film, diving so far into it that it was only an usher calling to us from the doors, "Hey, it's time to leave!" that got us moving.

On the other hand, Mac and I had been the sole reason two 20-somethings not only talked to strangers, but sat through a classic piece of black cinema tonight and, for that reason, I have no doubt we did the right thing.

In the words of Mister Senor Love Daddy, that's the double truth, Ruth.

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