I used to live in Richmond, Virginia, in a row house that was exactly the color of a bunch of dirty old Band-Aids. My rent was $175 per month, and a schizophrenic street mystic named Willie used to come over several times a week and demand to hear Rick James’ “Ghetto Life.” He and his lady would dance to it, over and over, all day long until we had to kick them out.
I told a story about the experience at The Moth at Housing Works Bookstore in SoHo, NYC back on June 23rd — you can see video of it here:
Willie is one of those rare people who is both a classic archetype and a completely unique individual. I can see how someone might see my story and think I’m reaching for this cartoonish stereotype of an older cracked-out street character, not unlike Chappelle’s Tyrone Biggums or Richard Pryor’s Mudbone. Except I’m white, too, and I worry sometimes that I could be perceived as indulging in a reductive racist stereotype on top of whatever else is going on in that story.
Then I think “fuck that, just because I’m white doesn’t mean I don’t get to have a real, complicated friendship with a black man who is literally too funky to function within mainstream society.” It really happened, you know. You change things around a little to make your memories fit a story arc, but Willie is real as hell.
Possibly too real.
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