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Posted on 2005-05-06 09:25:51 by Denver

The Odor

Why do you become obsessed with a particular song? Perhaps because the lyrics speak to you like a premonition while the music captures some deep feeling or emotional eddy under the shadow of some boulder in your soul. Or perhaps it's because there's something about the song, as my friend Forrest says, that brings you to a place of stasis and purgatory, a peace that is exploded by an accumulation of fear or longing. On the latest Outkast album there is a song by R Kelly and Andre 3000 called 'Pink and Blue' that fits this description. A high falsetto voice, belonging to Andre 3000, begins to explain a kinky communion he has with an older lady- it's about the primitive nature of their sexual relations.

Pretty pink, baby blue
Why don't (why don't) you teach me something new
We're all (we're all) just babies in my view
So crawl baby
Crawl baby

You're sophisticated
Just me and miss lady
You've got me talkin like a baby
You make me talk baby talk
She's so sophisticated
You make me talk baby talk
Just me and miss lady
She makes me talk baby talk
Got me talkin like a baby
Like ga ga and goo goo

This ode to a primal communion reverberated strongly when, a few weeks ago, I came across the profile of a twenty four year old, six foot tall, black woman from Long Island (LI) named Nikkia on the Intimate Encounters section of LavaLife. She responded to my "wink" and thus began a frantic email communication in which she emailed her phone number, resulting in a frank conversation about the medical industry (she was in college working toward some sort of degree in the emergency medical field) and her expectations of physical handsomeness in a romantic partner. She lived with her mother and worked at a hospital. She had five pictures on her profile - in four of them she had her head tossed back and her hands on her hips in a prominent display of defiance. The fifth picture was a close-up of her posterior region.
On a Monday evening in late March she drove into the city from LI and met me at a restaurant near my place in Brooklyn. We had dinner at Bodegas (the mussels were sub-par) and white wine (pinot grigio- her choice) and she gave me the once over- speaking in a thick long island accent (it's related to the Brooklyn/queens/bronx accent where you would say "pitcha" instead of "picture" or "axe" instead of "ask") After we had established that neither of us were four hundred pounds or fish headed freaks that didn't resemble our posted online portraits- we began interviewing each other, covering the basics.
"Do you go to church?" I asked.
"Yes, I go with my mother every Sunday." she said, "She's an assistant to the pastor. It's her whole life, really. She's trying to help our community."
"Does she know you're doing online dating?"
"Oh no. I would never tell her that. She'd die."
"Yeah, well, I tell my mom everything. Even more than she wants to know sometimes."
"What church do you go to?"
"I don't have a regular church yet. I'm still looking around. I haven't found a pastor I like in Brooklyn."
"I don't mean to insult you" she said, "But do you like guys at all?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You know, do you ever...have you ever...had...a thing...with a guy?"
"You mean, have I had sexual intercourse with a guy? No."
"Why?" I asked. But I knew why. She was worried about me being on the down low, which is when a man cheats on his woman with another man - a whole phenomenon I had not even been aware of until I had dated a black woman last year. This phenomenon was sparked by the publication of the book- "On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men.
"Just wondering." she said.
"But" I added, "I did go on a date with a guy."
"You did?!!" she asked.
"Yeah. In grad school. But I'm straight." (now was not the time for a discussion of the nuances of sexuality).
"Well, how would you rate yourself on a scale of one to ten with one being totally straight and ten being gay?"
"I'd say....three."
"Yeah. Most men are threes. The ones you're thinking of that are ones are actually repressed homosexuals who played on the high school football team and work in homophobic environments like firehouses, police stations, and banks."
"No, I don't think so."
"I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that one."
"Let me ask you another question," she leaned over the table, "Are you one
of those guys that only dates black women?"
I thought about this one for a few seconds. Would it really be wise to start a discussion about fetishes - white, black, otherwise? My experience was that no one was very honest with themselves about these things - sure I had a fetish for black women as she probably did for white men.
"No, I date all kinds of women - white, black, Chinese, Indian..."
Later we went to my house - She wanted to watch TV but I told her we didn't get any stations (which wasn't exactly true - we get three with our antenna-most of the major networks.) I offered to put in a dvd of an early seventies Stevie Wonder concert. She declined.
"Do you have any horror movies?" she asked, "I love horror movies." No, I said. I realized I hadn't been to a horror movie in years. In fact, the last time I had seen a horror film with a female by my side was on my cousin's couch in Huntington Beach during the summer of 1986 almost twenty years ago.

She wasn't interested in my music collection, either.
I scrolled through I-tunes and put some R&B music on the stereo.
"I don't like this slow stuff. I like something upbeat."
I clicked on some electronica.
"You got a lot of books." she said.
"I like to read."
She pinched my stomach.
"You got a belly."
I wasn't sure how to respond to this.
"That's alright," she said, "I got one too."
She ran her hands through my hair.
"You got hair on your back?" she asked.
"I got some. What's it to you?"
"Just curious." she said, adding, "You smell like chicken curry."
"I have a hard time interpreting that as a compliment."
"It's not." she said, "Don't you ever wear cologne?"
"Not really."
Still, our hands continued to grope. She was six feet tall. Did I mention that?
"Can I kiss you?" I asked.
"No" she said and made some playful but unflattering comments about my genital region. She was like a kid playing with a new doll - probing, pinching, pulling. There was no shame, just the plain simple joy of discovery. . She spent the night and in the morning she wanted to take a shower together.
Under the drizzle of the nozzle we spoke baby talk and made other indecipherable noises. That morning she drove back to Long Island and I couldn't get her out of my mind. Could people really relate to each other like this? Like we were babies and had nothing to hide and everything was fascinating and we weren't handling each other clumsily or self consciously - it was like every other lover had been touching me with oven mitts.

Got me talkin like a baby
Like ga ga and goo goo

My friends Gina and Saul were visiting from Chico and we had a party to celebrate their visit and because Chicoans love to cook and drink together. We invited many of Gina's friends from her past existence in Manhattan. I invited Nikkia and she socialized with my friends and Gina's friends and my roommate Dana and her boyfriend Josh and she spent the night. When we woke up in the morning she didn't want to have sex, she wanted to take another shower.
Two dates. Two showers. Two sleepovers. I wasn't as excited about showering with her again, for some reason. I don't like to get wet in the morning. I'd rather take a shower after I've done physical exertion but she was insistent and I obliged. After we cleansed each other she asked me if I would go to church with her family the next day in Long Island. She said I could come to Easter dinner afterwards. I made a quick deliberation that involved calculating her own efforts to meet me on my turf and decided to spend Easter with her family.

When I woke up that Sunday morning it felt like someone was squeezing all of my vertebrae together. I had felt this discomfort before; after months of weightlifting and being seated in an office chair nine hours a day. Two years ago a chiropractor had told me to take Omega 3 vitamins and had done some "adjustments" that mollified the skeletal pain I was enduring. I had acupuncture done as well. The pain subsided. Now it had returned. The phone rang. It was Nikkia, at 8:30am on a Sunday morning.
"Are you coming to church with me? I need to know when to pick you up at the train station."
"I'm having a hard time standing up Nikkia."
"What do you mean?"
"I got up and made it to the living room and then I collapsed on the couch. Something's wrong with my back."
"I don't know if I believe that."
"Well, I don't know.I'm not sure what to say to that. But in any case, that's the situation. I'll call you in fifteen minutes. I'm resting. I'm going to try and get up in a few minutes and we'll see how it goes."

How could she be wondering whether I was telling her the truth? She had to be expressing her own skepticism that anyone would make the effort to get their ass out of bed at 8:30am on a Sunday morning to go on a third date that involves taking an hour long train ride to Long Island to attend a church they didn't belong to in a town they'd never been to while going through the intimidating procedure of meeting their date's family at church (who would undoubtedly be inspecting me for flaws because I was her new "beau").

But I was going. I wanted to try and give one of these internet dating relationships a chance. There was sexual chemistry. We didn't have a lot of common interests or similar backgrounds but I had convinced myself that this was a good thing; there would be that much more to learn and appreciate. Besides, it was Easter Sunday; I wanted to pray and be around prayerful people and attend some kind of ritual remembrance of Jesus Christ's passage on this planet. I wanted to hear a rousing version of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, stories of the gospel brought to life. I also wanted to see this church that she was so involved in with her mother. I had never been to a storefront church. They have a singles ministry meeting every week where they discuss the sins of the flesh. I imagined some Evangelical fury, musical eruptions and fiery sermonizing to a tight, very small congregation of black people.

She had also told me her aunt and uncle cooked a big Sunday dinner and someone made chicken feet. I hadn't had this delicacy since I had been to dim sum in Chinatown a few years ago. I wanted to try them again as they were the last remaining food item on my mental rolodex of unsavory culinary dishes and I thought maybe the soul food version might be more appetizing than the Chinese preparation.

I staggered ten blocks to the Flatbush station in Fort Green and caught the 10:15am Rockaway train to Jamaica Queens, transferred to the Babylon line and arrived at the Baldwin station in Long Island at 11:20am. Nikkia zoomed into the parking lot in her Honda Accura and as I got into the car the first words out of her mouth were -

"You didn't shave?"
I didn't say anything. Not a kiss. Not a hello. Not a 'nice to see you.' I paused, then said -
"Thanks for picking me up."
"You're going to meet my parents. And you're going to look like that?"
"You can come to my house first. I have a razor."
"I'm not going to your house. Hasn't church already started?"
"Yeah, it started at eleven, but.."
"Listen, this is how I look on the weekends. I don't shave. I wear two-day stubble. I like it. This is how I want God to see me on Sunday mornings."
"I just."
I took off my silver knit cap. My hair was a little messy.
"Your hair!!"
"Calm down! I just need a little water. It'll be fine. Do you have a comb?"
"No. Omigod! It looks terrible. Are you sure you don't' want to go to my house?"
"It's eleven fifteen!"
At least she was driving the car at this point. I couldn't tell if she was really upset or just nervous or if this was her natural state of being whenever she was dealing with her family.
"Listen," I said, "I told you before I'm not some Long Island guy who wears cologne and spikes his hair up with gel. I thought you were sick of those guys."
"I just thought you'd look presentable to my parents. And to my church."
"Why? I'm not your boyfriend, right? Anyway, you told me not to hold your hand or touch you around your parents. And I'm wearing a suit."
She wouldn't even look at me.
"It's so windy" she said. And then she growled, quickly and angrily, - "It's so cold out. This stupid light takes forever. This skirt is too tight!"
After a five-minute drive through an ugly blacktop/industrial area we arrived at "The Dawning of A New Day" church on Nassau Avenue - located on a busy four lane thru road- the kind you see in front of strip malls across America.
"What town is this?" I asked.
'Roosevelt' This name struck a chord. Only later was I to realize that Chuck D and Flavor Flav were born here. This was the birthplace of Public Enemy - perhaps the most influential hip hop group in the history of the world.
There were two other small churches across the street.
"Do you ever go to those?" I asked.
"No I don't ever go to those" she mocked my voice. "I don't go church hopping."
I thought about it - it was a pretty stupid question.
Inside the church people were muttering 'hallelujah' and standing in the plastic folding pews. Due to space configurations, one half of the congregation (twenty or so people) was seated around the other side of a protruding corner wall in the low ceilinged room.
"We have white visitors sometimes so don't be nervous." Nikkia whispered in my ear as we shuffled to our seats.
"That's my dad" she was pointing to an elderly man who was sitting at the end of our pew.
I plopped down next to her, took off my overcoat and tried to adjust my hair.
The pastor, a fifty-something year old woman with thick bouffant hair-do, was standing at the altar (a clear plastic podium) shouting instructions into the microphone.
"Who needs us to pray for them today? Who needs to feel the power of the Lord's prayer? Please come up here. I know there are some of you here who need our prayers."
Nikkia's dad shuffled past us and walked up to the altar.
"Ugh." Nikkia whispered, "you can see his pick."
He had a big white pick sticking out of the back pocket of his khakis. He raised his hands to the Lord and the pastor slapped them, praised Jesus, and mumbled a prayer.
Half a dozen other people walked up to the altar. The church organist, a middle aged woman, sat in the corner- playing alternating chords on an old synthesizer.
"I want us all to say a prayer for Roger." Said the pastor.
"That's my brother" Nikkia whispered. Roger was her older brother. She had mentioned him before. He was retarded and paralyzed and could only make facial expressions. He sat strapped into a wheelchair on the other side of the wall and I could just barely see him and his Uncle Bobby who was attending to him during the service.
"Roger is person too. He needs your prayers like everyone else." The Pastor intoned.
A woman sitting behind me walked up to the altar with her daughter in tow and proceeded right past the Pastor straight to the bathroom behind the altar.
"I want to introduce a friend of mine, Cheryl, Cheryl is from Haiti, and she has traveled far to be here, and I have had many conversations with her about Jesus and her faith and my own, and she has always been a knowledgeable and compassionate and tireless worker for the Lord."
The Pastor handed the mic off to Cheryl - a woman in her sixties with straightened gray hair that shot down off her head diagonally to her shoulders. She wore an all white dress suit.
Cheryl began a long, speech that touched on five or six sections of the Bible - I couldn't flip through my book fast enough to catch up with her - and she spoke with a thick dialect that was unintelligible to my ears. She was talking about the Resurrection, but of what in particular I couldn't be sure. Nikkia was flipping through her Bible like she was reading the paper. Was she getting more of the story than me? Could she actually understand this woman's accent? Did she go to church to hear this? Or was it just the fellowship? She had told me she hadn't been to church in a few weeks and her mother was getting on her case.
After she was done the Pastor sang along with the synthesizer to a tune I wasn't familiar with - a simple gospel hymn. Her voice was not melodic, at least not to my ears. She invited everyone to come out from behind the walls and greet each other and stay for bagels and coffee. We did. As the congregations mixed I watched Nikkia confront her mother and arch her back like she was hearing something incredibly offensive. I realized that this was her natural mode of being around her family - defensive indignation. She introduced me to her Mom - Carol, a tall woman in a turquoise two piece dress suit - who shook my hand, and then, judging me to be either a pansy or in need of some lesson in greeting protocol - grabbed my wrist, squeezed my fingers and shook my hand vigorously again, for a few, awkward, extended seconds. This took me aback and I wheeled around and tried to make conversation with her father.
"Hi, I'm Denver, a friend of your daughter."
"Nice to meet you Denver, I'm Eddie."
We spoke about his move to Delaware - he was sixty eight, retired, but working part time for Wal Mart to keep himself active. He told me he was getting ready to have a big cookout for Nikkia when she graduated from Stonybrook College in May. He had all kinds of meat in the freezer that was ready to be thawed - deer, steak, chicken - but no pork as this was prohibited by his doctor due to his high blood pressure. The conversation drifted to films, television and ultimately, to Red Foxx, one of my favorite performers.
"He never made the money he shoulda." said Eddie.
"Not like what these guys are making today. You ready to go Nikkia?" He asked her. He seemed anxious to leave his ex-wife's church, though he had been one of the louder, more vocal participants during the service.
Nikkia was anxious to leave. We got in her car (myself in the back seat) and drove through a poor residential neighborhood while her father narrated the real estate - "This place is going to hell.What are they doing to that place?" Nikkia would fill him in on certain facts - That tenant or landlord was neglecting their property or this or that building was being torn down.
"The Spanish know how to fix their property up themselves. They don't need to hire no contractors. I'm glad I got outta here when I did." He sighed.
"You hungry?" he asked his daughter.
"No. Are you?" she asked him.
"Yeah. I thought maybe we could get some chicken."
"Well we're gonna eat later at Willie's and Erthea's."
"Yeah but I wanna get something now."
"Alright, we can go to Crown."
"Whatabout KFC?"
"That's slimy chicken. They don't wash it right."
"What's this Crown?"
"It's good. It's Arabs. But they know what they're doing."
We pulled into Crown Fried Chicken and Eddie walked in and out with a ten-dollar bucket of chicken, fries and biscuits.

Back at her mother's home Nikkia left me in the living room while she went upstairs to organize something in her room. Her father sat in the kitchen and started on the chicken.
"It's good huh?" she yelled down.
"I don't like it." He yelled.
I studied one of her graduation pictures from high school that had been taped to a mirror in the living room. In the photo she was glaring at the camera. Her mother's shallow living room was dominated by an enormous, padded, lazy-boy with a foot pedal and a huge brown couch with thick padding. Her mother collected elephants of all sizes, mostly porcelain. Over the mantle was a painting of a young black man in a saintly outfit surrounded by lions.
"This couch. It's amazingly.soft" I said to Nikkia as she came downstairs. She frowned and asked me to come upstairs. Her room was in the attic - dominated by her four poster bed with pink linen. Pink light streamed through the thin fuchsia curtains fluttering in the breeze of the open windows.
"Where are your books?" I asked.
"I don't read books."
"Here's one." I said, picking a slim volume off the floor. It was a book on anger management written by a Tibetan monk.
"A friend of mine gave that to me."
I removed a huge pile of clothes off of a hamper and sat down on the lid in her cramped bedroom walkway.
"You got a lot of shoes."
"Yeah. Shoes and clothes. I need to get rid of some of this stuff. What do you wanna do?" she asked.
"I wanna do whatever you wanna do. I'm on your turf. I'm here to see where you live. What you do. How you live. Take me wherever you go."
"Well we're gonna go to my aunt's house for dinner."
"Great. For the chicken feet?"
"No, that's my friend's dad who cooks those and he's not feeling well. So we're not gonna have chicken feet today. You wanna go for a ride around the area?"
We drove through the streets of Roosevelt and then Uniondale, the demarcation line between the two towns was a stoplight and a small road sign. The sprawl of Long Island was like that of Connecticut, the Bay Area and every other suburban cluster in the hinterland of a major metropolis. Except these towns were poor; the dilapidation of the architecture, the ruts in the roads, the proliferation of fast food franchises and liquor stores indicated the average income of the area.
"A lot of Hispanics here." she noted.
"Blacks too?" I asked.
"What do you think?" she said in her mocking voice again, "It's where they can afford to live."
"I thought they might live in different neighborhoods."
"Wait'll you see this, you see the holes in the road? You see how trashed this street is? We're gonna get to Hempstead, that's the next town, and we'll cross this intersection and be in that town and you won't believe how the road changes."
"But first," she said, "I wanna show you where my aunt lives."
We took a right off the main road and drove one block north and suddenly we were dwarfed by six story apartment buildings, tenements.
"People just stacked on top of each other." she muttered.
There were black men standing idly on both corners of the block and in doorways, staring at our car as we drove past the buildings.
"They're waiting for you to make any kind of signal or slow down, they'll sell you drugs."
We reached the end of the block and turned back toward the main road.
"Easy pickings." she said.
"What do you mean?"
"It's so easy to catch these guys and throw 'em in jail. But you got these white guys in their Mercedes doing the same thing at parties, and no one ever lays a finger on them."
We drove toward the Hempstead and sure enough, as we passed under the stoplight the geography underwent a transformation to rolling lawns, grassy knolls, and mansions set back a hundred yards from the street. The juxtaposition and proximity of the cement lined ghettoes of Roosevelt and Uniondale and the lush topiaries of the Hempstead township was bizarre and unsettling.
"I'll show you the house I like."
We carved a path through one of the lush neighborhood and gazed at the parade of wealth. We stopped in front of a wooden two story house with arched windows and green shutters that sat atop a lawn raised five foot above the street.
"I want a big house, not like this, not so big as this, I don't know what these people are thinking. I know they're rich and they're white. You don't' see any black people getting into their cars around here. But I wanna have a mediums sized place. A big backyard. And a front yard."
"You got a nice backyard at your mom's place."
"I hate that house."

After the tour of Hempstead we got onto a highway and drove for twenty minutes until we reached the town of Long Beach. We parked by the beach walked along the boardwalk on the edge of the Island.

"What side of Long Island is this?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Are we on the north shore or the south?"
"I don't know. Why would I know that?"
"Cause you live here."
"I don't know stuff like that. I know where I am."

The beach was deserted. Nikkia shivered and cursed at the wind and cut our walk short.
"This is called Long Beach. We come here to party in the summer. You have to pay to go on this beach."
"That's outrageous."
"Well, I'm just telling you what happens."

As we drove back to Roosevelt I shut my eyes and started to doze off in the passenger seat. Nikkia woke me from a dream.

"Listen, Denver, I hope you don't get offended by this, but I have to tell you something.
"There is a certain smell that you have."
"There's a body odor, we all have one, and yours is your own, and it's not pleasant. To me. Maybe to you. Most people do something about theirs. They wear cologne or deodorant or something. But you don't. I don't know, I guess we have different ideas about this or something."
"I don't think so. I'm wearing deodorant. Does it really smell?"
"Yeah. And I just think the way that you present yourself is a lot different from the way I do. I 'm very careful about my appearance. I like to be neat and clean and I don't like wearing perfume either, but I don't want people to smell my body odor. And, I mean, the way you dress. It seems like you only have two pairs of shoes."
"I have more than two pairs of shoes!"
"Well, I don't know."
"And so what if I do have two pairs of shoes! What's wrong with that?!"
"I'm just saying we don't really think about these things the same way."
"I don't think I smell."
"Denver, I can smell you. I know you shower. But your clothes. Your linen. What do you wash them with?"
"Yeah. But there are other things."
"Like what?"
"Fabric softener. Fragrances. Other stuff."
I could smell something now too. And it wasn't the unscented Ban Roll On I had applied in the bathroom this morning. It wasn't working. Was I so nervous about going to that church and meeting her family that I had just sweated through the layers of anti-perspirant? It was an intense physical anxiety that had overrode my sweat glands and that my mental faculties hadn't even detected.

At her aunt and uncle's house the rooms were small and people were everywhere. Leticia, Nikkia's cousin and goddaughter, three years old, bounced up and down on the couch. The enormous blue couch was comprised of two L shaped units that covered half the floor space of the living room and ran along three of the walls. The cushions were thick and fluffy and I plopped down on them and felt myself disappearing in front of the chaotic scene in front of me. Nikkia's cousins were ignoring the wide screen television set with cartoons blaring classical music and gunshots into the din of the kitchen preparations. Erthea, Nikkia's aunt, wore a black wrap around her head, a black tank top, and a long grey skirt - she wore potholders as she took hot pans in and off the stove and in and out of the oven.
"This couch is so big." I said.
"We have a big family." She said, in a voice hoarse from directing family all day, "And we don't really have a living room. This is the only place where we can all sit down." She was balancing a large, flimsy aluminum tray of macaroni and cheese on the counter top.
She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Her smile radiated peace and love. I could not wait to eat her food.
"Oh, I like it. It's so.comfortable."
"Leticia, stop jumping off the couch."
Erthea's husband Willie strode into the kitchen.
"Willie, I think your chicken's done."
Willie wore jeans, work boots, and a tanktop stretched over his protruding belly. He was working on something outside.
Ayesha, Erthea's other daughter, was talking to Nikkia in the dining nook. Erthea interrupted them.
"Nikkia, get Denver something to drink. What would you like to drink?"
"Water's fine."
Nobody was drinking beer. Or alcohol of any kind. Just soda.
For dinner Erthea had made jerk chicken, macaroni and cheese, collared greens, turkey legs, and stuffing. I had an extra serving of the macaroni. And some banana pudding for dessert.
Willie had apparently taught Erthea how to cook most of the dishes. He was good with his hands. Not only was he a great chef but he could take anything apart and put it back together, according to his wife. He was a carpenter but he had fixed the engine of their car, put up the brick wall in front of their house, and done all the air conditioning work as well. Willie and Erthea had each made their version of jerk chicken. I like hers better - it was covered in a thin layer of turmeric. The flavor was not subtle but the pepper and spice made my tongue come alive.
"Ewww" said Nikkia, "I can't stand this chicken. It's like eating pure seasoning."
Erthea's nephew Bobby Junior stopped by for dinner with his girlfriend and their baby. They sat on the blue couch and Leticia, the three year old, began hovering over the infant.
Nikkia's grandmother called down from the basement requesting some banana pudding.
Nikkia's father Eddie arrived and said he was too full to eat but he had Erthea wrap him up a plate of the chicken, mac n cheese, and stuffing so he could take it home.

After the meal I joined Erthea in the kitchen. We started talking about her job.
"I'm back in school, at my age, (she was in her mid to late forties, I would guess) and getting my telecommunications degree so I can get a better job and a better pension. I'm two years into it but I don't know if I'm gonna make it. A lot of math, a lot of studying."
"Well I'm going back to school too. I guess it's never too late. Do you like what you do?"
"I want to be an interior decorator. I really like doing it- I don't have any more room to do it in this house, it's so small."
The walls were filled with tchotchkes, bric a brac, dried flowers, and other ornaments. She had done each wall in a different texture and color. The house, though cramped, was filled with soft warm colors, vases, figurines, and swaths of beautiful cloth.
"I used to have a job at verizon where I had to go into buildings late at night and check on telecommunications emergencies. I didn't feel safe. And they made me wear pants. I don't like wearing pants."
She had a big, beautiful African ass. Making her wear a pair of constricting khakis was akin to forcing Barshynikov to dance with hip waders.
Leticia was climbing down the stair railing to the front door, her legs dangling precariously over a five foot drop to the entrance way.
"Leticia!" Nikkia yelled and scooped her out of harm's way.
"You want to move to a bigger house around here?" I asked Erthea.
"No. I want to move to the south. The Atlanta area. It's slower. More routine. I know you're from the city. It's exciting. But I don't like changes."
When it was time to leave Nikkia and I said goodbye to her father and the cousins and her aunt and uncle. Her grandmother had not surfaced from the basement.
"Come back again anytime." Erthea and Willie both said to me.
Three young black boys were shooting baskets on a portable hoop they had pulled into the middle of the street.
I lingered on the steps saying goodbye to Erthea. She motioned to the boys in the street.
"Willie offered to pour them a cement court in their yard if the neighbors all pitched in to pay for the materials. But they're just renters. No one knows how long they'll be there."

As we drove away from the house Nikkia asked me what else I wanted to do.
"I'm here to spend time with you. I don't care what we do."
"We could go to the movies."
"Is there anything you want to see?"
"Whatever you want."
"I want to see The Ring part two."
"Okay. Have you seen any of the Academy Award winners? Like Million Dollar Baby?"
"I don't like to watch those kind of films at the movies. If I'm gonna watch one of those I'd rather see it at home on the VCR so I can rewind and fast forward the parts that I don't understand. When I go to the movies I only want to see horror movies or big action pictures."
We passed a bar called "Effin Gruven" on the highway.
"That's the big hangout here. We go there all the time"
"Why is it so popular?"
"Because it's just a cool place to hang out."
At the movie theater, ten people joined us in the auditorium to watch Naomi Watts fight an evil young woman who lived in the bottom of a deep well that existed in a world that could only be seen on television. The evil young woman had spider-like crawling abilities and was able to move between reality and the television world and also take possession of Naomi Watts's son. Nikkia clung to me during the suspenseful moments and studied my face to see if I was bored or engaged by the narrative onscreen. She put her head on my shoulder and squeamed in her seat when the evil girl crawled up the well on spider-like legs chasing Naomi Watts.
As she drove me to the train station she began recounting the entire storyline of the prequel to the film we had just seen. She was something of an expert on the subgenres of contemporary horror cinema.
"During the first movie you think the mother is evil and has trapped her little girl in the well.but then the mother rescues her and it turns out, no, her mother's not the problem. It's the girl."

After I boarded the train to Brooklyn I closed me eyes and began to think about a criminal case my father had just finished working on in Chico in which a mother had killed her baby. My phone rang. It was Nikkia.
"Denver, I just got home. I spoke to my mother. She asked me who you were."
"She asked me who you were. 'Who was that guy you brought to church this morning?' She asked me. And she said she could smell you."
"She said you smelled."
"I don't want you to get offended. But that's what I told you. I wouldn't say it except she asked me. And my family asked me at dinner."
"They did?!!"
"Your aunt?"
"Yeah. My family!"
I felt as if I had slipped on a ledge and was falling down the shaft of the deepest, darkest well.
"Yeah.I don't know what to say. I.do appreciate you saying what's on your mind. I do. I'm not sure how to respond to this, actually. I mean. I can only say that I... wore... antiperspirant. But I don't know why this has become such an issue for us. But it definitely has. Wouldn't you say?"

The line was dead. The train had entered a tunnel.

I knew she was telling the truth. And I knew her mother was difficult. She didn't trust men, especially around her daughter, that much I had been told already. I didn't smell that bad, did I? But I was sweating more than usual. And I knew in my rational mind that I should have taken a shower that morning, but the fiercely selfish bachelor inside me did not want to. And that part of me was not willing to compromise. It was a mistake. It was a sign of disrespect in an unforeseen way. Over the past fifteen years I had slowly inserted a long hard stick up my ass - and it was time to remove it. Or was it? Who was dissing who here? Did she really treat me with any respect when she greeted me in the car? Or was not shaving another sign of disrespect to her and her family?

I got off the train and dialed my voicemail. There was a message from Nikkia.

"Hey this is like my fifth or sixth time calling you. I don't know if you hung up the phone on me or if your phone went out. I don't know if you're mad at me or what. Um, please don't be mad at me. I like you and I think you're a great guy. I want to talk to you about this. So call me back."

I couldn't. I just didn't know what to say to her. I didn't know how I would ever approach her family again. I was the smelly white guy. The uncouth, unshaved guy from Brooklyn. I thought about all of cultural differences between us - the different preferences and interests, the tedious, repetitive way she had of expressing her needs (she had told me she was tired a half dozen times on Friday evening during the party). I didn't really know how to relate to her. I wasn't angry with her but I didn't know what to say so I didn't call her back. Two days went by. She called again and left a message.

"Okay, I realize you probably don't want to talk to me anymore and that's perfectly fine. But what bothers me is, the fact that you weren't mature enough, like I was being honest with you about what was going on, I didn't really say anything except for what my mother said, and I guess you took very much offense to that and I can understand why, but I would expect you to be a little bit more mature enough to just tell me that you didn't appreciate that and you'd rather not speak to me again opposed to basically just not speaking to me and just letting me just call you and call you and leave you messages. So I guess this is goodbye and that's fine. Goodbye."

Guilt surged through me. I thought about her anger, and my own lack of patience in relationships. I called her and left a long message trying to describe my feelings of humiliation and hinting at the misgivings I had about our compatibility. And then I thought about the showers. Those weren't erotic experiences for her; they were cleansing sessions. I was dirty and she needed to clean off my dirt, my smell. I was under the misguided impression that we were meeting at some kind of erotic destination beyond the mundane expressions of desire that my imagination normally inhabited. Tasting the water running down the length of her thigh. Resting my mouth on her shoulder blade with my hands on her breasts, between the cheeks of her ass. These were the sensual memories that had been tarnished. Had she been sexually aroused by me at all? What was the criteria for this? And I thought about her mother. That woman clearly did not like me. My smell might have indicated something to her. I thought she probably had something against men in general. I remembered her daughter's comment about her being dried up. I thought about the film we'd seen about the evil girl who lives in the well. About Sissy Spacek's character (a wise madwoman) who advises the heroine to kill her child if it is possessed. Why were they making a film about killing your child?
They shouldn't make films like that. People could get the wrong idea.

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