The Brooklyn Renaissance (Part 2)
The four of us arrived at the shelter in downtown Brooklyn, taking turns getting to prepare the bags of food, do some cooking, and prepare the tables.
“Dante, help me move this table closer to the front,” Mike motioned his head over as he adjusted the table and got his hands under it.
“Sure,” I said, helping him carry it from the opposite side. Princess put on some hairnets and aprons and started helping one of the minister’s workers cook up some food. She called us over to come help too.
“You two know anything about cooking?” the worker raised an eyebrow.
“I’m actually a pretty good cook,” Mike answered and raised his hand.
“I’m not but I can just follow instructions,” I raised my hand.
“Okay, make these green peas,” she told us. She slid us a pot and tossed us some of the cans. “Get working.” So we did.
After a little while of cooking and preparing up some quick meals, we got some food bags ready that we could hang from outside for a little while, and followed it up with preparing trays and serving the food we managed to cook onto people’s plates as they came in and sat. Princess managed to cook beef meatballs and pasta together with the ministry, and Mike and I put together veggies. We worked as a team.
“Thank you, God bless you,” a ruffled older black man said to us, graciously taking whatever food we had to offer and shaking our hands.
“Anytime, my man,” we told him.
Some of the guys in the ministry were on their phones during their freetime. They were reading new reports of masked men robbing big-time companies of hardware and interfaces in Philadelphia. I happened to overhear, but shook my head and left back into the kitchen, where I started helping Mike, Princess, and the others clean shop. We washed for a decent amount of time, and afterwards we thanked the ministry graciously for giving us this opportunity. We drove back afterwards. Night was coming pretty soon anyway.
“You three have such big hearts for serving, it’s greater than anything I’ve seen in a long time,” Rebecca praised it, but we brushed it off.
“It’s what we’re meant to do, don’t worry about it. What’s great is your heart, cause you invited us here, so thanks a bunch, Rebecca,” I smiled to her, offering a fist bump. She chuckled a little, and bumped back. That's when we called it a day, and the three of us designated some spots for us to make ourselves comfortable and adjust for a night's sleep.
The next morning, we woke up to some INCREDIBLE aroma of something from the downstairs kitchen. Mike and I, having the fatass appetites that we had, rushed down the stairs extravagantly while Princess slept in. Me and Mike found Rebecca cooking some delicious New York-style pancakes and fell head over heels that she started cooking this without us even asking for it. She was a wondrous woman.
We noticed her fiancé Mitch was already sitting at the table, gazing at us in some pleasant astonishment of his. He moved from the table to greet us, shaking our hands and pleased to welcome 'The Revolutionaries' to his home, like all of a sudden he went from our host to our fan. We told him thanks for the hospitality, and discussed about how delightful his wife had been to us this whole time.
“I’m Mitchell, Rebecca’s fiancé. You guys are welcome to stay here as many times as you want,” he said, overly friendly.
“Where’s the girl, Princess?” Rebecca asked, flipping pancakes.
“Sleeping still,” I said, rubbing my head.
“Well she wants to eat, doesn’t she? Wake her up,” Rebecca said, putting the pancakes on plates now.
“You’re doing it, Dante. I’m eating!” Mike said, clasping both his hands together and sliding them over one another, showing how hungry he was. “Besides, dealing with women in the morning might as well be like cranking a broken lawn mower. It might explode.”
“Whatever, I’ll just tell her Rebecca’s making apricot macaroons, and she'll be right down,” I left up the stairs.
“Hey Princess, Zach Galifianakis is at the front doorstep handing out copies of 'The Hangover'. You might want to come down, wake up,” I said, walking into the room and shaking her body. She slowly came awake.
“...What about fractal cactus...?” she was in REM sleep or some shit.
“Get up, hurry up. Rebecca was gracious enough to make us breakfast this morning,” I told her still trying the shaking method that just barely worked.
Mike turned on the TV and noticed incited riots in places like Baltimore and Cleveland, the number of public shootings has risen again as a result of divided media. Mike watched as the world burned, but the feeling passed away when Rebecca started setting the plates onto the table and the rumbling of Mike’s stomach completely broke his concentration.
“So, you’re one of Dante’s friends, right?” Rebecca bothered to ask him. Mike was getting his utensils ready.
“I’m a co-worker, but yeah we do consider ourselves good friends,” Mike answered.
“You’ve got yourself a wonderful friend,” Rebecca brushed her hair. Mike didn’t really consider it.
“Heh, well I think he considers that of me,” he smirked.
Princess and I arrived down the steps and ate together with Mike, Rebecca, and Mitch after saying grace.
After it was over, Rebecca wiped her face off a bit and gave us a little notice. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. She’s also family. Her names Leanne and she lives on this block too with my aunt. Okay? I’ll go get her,” Rebecca got up from her seat and left outside, we remained where we were.
Over on the other side of the Brooklyn streets, Leanne’s boyfriend DeAndre ended up running for his life. The street gangs finally managed to pinpoint him, and ambushed him at twilight, but he dashed away on legs like a gazelle, sprinting and bending his knees, curling his body, and managing to out-maneuver whoever was after him, even in his work uniform.
Turning corner after corner, he even risks getting himself lost in the Brooklyn streets just so long as one man does not so much as touch him, or else that’s game over.
Finally reaching his apartment, he barrels in stealthily enough that he isn’t caught, and trudges up his steps, hoping to crawl up into his room and stay there, awaiting his enemy to pass...
Fuck this and everything else, I just wish it was over... DeAndre kept thinking to himself, dreading the ones who sought out his life.
Around this time, Princess, Mike, and I waited outside as Rebecca got her cousin out from their apartment.
“Way too long ago. Lonniedos.”
“Also way too long ago. CinemaSins.”
“No way. Jared Dines.”
“Okay... Timothy DeLaGhetto.”
“Whatever, just go.”
“You win. You fucking win.”
Mike and I were having a discussion over YouTubers to pass time; as Princess watched some men in suits and dress clothes walking by while kids with holes in their shoes passed along with scruffy-haired parents beside the men in suits on the walkway. That was New York for you. Princess has been here before, but she’s never gotten to know the Brooklyn experience quite for what it was. There was a stark difference between each person walking these streets, but most glaringly the wealth class distribution.
Autumn made itself apparent that morning. The wind was howling past us. We had out jackets, but our ears got red and our faces puffy while we waited.
Rebecca finally brought Leanne outside before our asses froze off into Dante Alighieri’s 9th circle of hell...
“Didn’t realize I’d be coming to Brooklyn as Robert Walton,” I said, buried in my coat.
“Haha funny, well this is Leanne everyone,” Rebecca caressed her arm around Leanne motioning her forward to us. Princess shook her hand, then Mike, then me, and we each introduced each other.
“These are ‘The Revolutionaries,’” Rebecca introduced us altogether to Leanne. She seemed disinterested in meeting us.
“Hey,” was all she pretty much said.
“They served our community last night in the pantry. They’re good guys,” Rebecca kept trying to assure her.
“I think this was bad timing,” Leanne muttered.
“I do too, it’s cold,” I said starting to shiver.
“That’s because you’re skinny, Dante,” Mike shook his head.
“Princess is skinny too but she ain’t shivering,” I remarked.
“Princess is too hot for that,” he whispered to me. I just nodded like, “Trueee.”
“Becca tells me you guys are musicians, right?” Leanne asked us. We nodded.
“Well I wanna set up some romantic date with my boyfriend. He tells me we don’t have nuff of that,” Leanne shrugged. “Think you can play us a song?”
We exchanged glances. Honestly, I thought, why not?
“A cover?” Princess asked me, half-whispering.
“Uh, sure. What did you want to do?” I asked, wondering what she had in mind.
“Something R&B that fits. Y’know, those romance-types you always like despite never having a girlfriend-”
“-Shh shh Princess, you said enough. Got a song in mind?”
“Uhm, maybe...Something Chris Brown?”
“Why not Usher?” Mike wondered.
“I’m liking the 2000′s suggestions here, but we haven’t narrowed a song,” I mentioned. "Why not Alicia Keys since we're in New York?"
“The three of you are actually kind of adorable together,” Rebecca chuckled, carefully caressing her stomach, the bulb of life she carried.
A buzz from Leanne’s phone started vibrating from her pocket. She turned around and answered it quickly. It was DeAndre.
“Hey babe, what you up to?” she puckered.
“Listen baby, I know you want to see me soon but, the gang went after me like wild today. I don’t think I can step foot out the door today. I’m too afraid...” DeAndre expressed a lot of worry and conviction for the first time in a while for Leanne, who was so used to seeing him trying to be strong in a sketchy situation.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” she breathed and felt a rush of panic, while trying to hold her palm to her open mouth.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m safe, okay? You just take care of yourself,” DeAndre instructed her.
“No! I want to come where you are!” she insisted.
“There’s murderers here! What are you thinking?! Stay there!”
“They’re all around, DeAndre. Criminals are always in the city! Plus dey ain’t after me, dey after you!”
“Stay inside for the day. I don’t think we can be together this time. Another day.”
“Hang on...There’s a band here with me.”
“There’s a...a what?”
“A band called ‘The Revolutionaries.’ I want them playing for you and me, so we can have a romantic night like we been tryin’. My cousin keeps saying they’re high status, so maybe the gang won’t come for them.”
“Baby I just don’t know if I trust that...”
“Please. How we gon’ keep this relationship goin’ if I can never see you?” Leanne pouted, upset. DeAndre could hear it audibly in her voice.
“Things aren’t going to stay this way. I promise you,” he told her, clasping his phone.
“Just for tonight. Can we make it happen?” Leanne wanted this so bad, DeAndre just gave in.
Leanne smiled and turned herself around, meeting the 3 of us as we sort of discussed the topic of Aunt Jemima syrup for whatever reason(?) and she candidly asked, “Can we do it tonight? The romance thing?” We told her why the hell not.
So the way we figured it, we could spend all day working on some more charity work and then work on preparing a romantic night for Leanne. Thing was, was that Rebecca was tired from the past few days and needed rest. Morning also hit her hard what with the morning sickness that comes with pregnancy. Nevertheless, she still managed to make us breakfast and retrieve Leanne from her dorm. Rebecca was pretty impressive in my eyes.
“Guess we’re on our own. I did get a sponsor for another ministry up here. For the poor and needy family in this area, there’s gift boxes we should be able to prepare. We gotta wrap some stuff up and handed out to the people in the worst regions of the town. Up for it?” I instructed. They were all for it.
“Gotta say, Dante, you treat this like you’re a captain in the military,” Mike commented.
“I think that’s how it should be treated. If we can manage to get people to work to the same grit, integrity, and honor that soldiers do, but for a cause like charity over war, that would be so amazing,” I let him know.
“Peace Corps kind of operates that way,” he said.
“Yeah, well, so will we,” I replied.
We met up by the ministry over near Coney Island. We worked the gift box wrapping like an assembly line, and made nice work out of it. A lot of the guys at the ministry worked their butts off since they were crating off a lot of the boxes onto strollers. So, I figured to inspire the work, I’d get some music on blast.
“You’re asking if we have a speaker?” the one leader from the ministry looked at me curiously.
“Yup, just think some tunes is what we need,” I figured. I put in a track over Pandora. First station I selected was Alicia Keys. “We can’t come to New York City and not play the Harlem Queen Alicia Keys.”
“‘Harlem Queen’. That’s funny,” commented one of the bystanders.
“She’s special, that’s all I’m sayin’. She’s a special kind of musician and I vibe with it,” I shrugged.
“Eh, I fuck with it too,” the bystander agreed.
We continued wrapping up the gifts left over and sent ’em out to families who needed them. They accepted them graciously and thanked us again and again. We embraced all sorts of hugs and warm-hearted greetings.
The boys in the back who played their ghetto games, well, Princess joined them and even showed them a few country tricks she picked up in Virginia.
She took some popsicle sticks and stuck them together into an X-like shape, with another driving down the middle. She wrapped them in rope and used some cotton balls stuck to them, making several and treating them like spider webs which she hung on with the slack of the string, twirling them. “Ain’t this neat?” We were passed Halloween and spooky stuff, but those kids sure loved it and enjoyed the ones she made, tried making their own, and one even tried forming a snowflake. Mike and I saw her interaction and looked to each other, thinking ”Eh, what the hell." We interacted ourselves, finding a group of kids and trying some Philadelphia tricks.
“Yo, anybody got seashells?” Mike called, asking parents if they had the odd objects.
“Seashells?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Figured we could do a little seashell scramble,” Mike thought.
“Heh, who knew you were the Ghetto King of Bel Air,” I laughed.
“I’m surprised you even knew it existed. We’re both just Philly boys you know.”
“I always did man hunt, or cops and robbers.”
We reminisced of the times, but after a bit we were just standing together talking and the kids lost interest and just talked among each other, yelling and being obnoxious as they liked to.
“You two suck at this,” Princess told us bluntly. I mean, she was right..
She twirled around then looked at everybody, and her appealing nature just drew their eyes to her. Then she out-of-nowhere got up on one of the tables, shouting, “Watch out! The floor is lava!” jokingly, and all the kids ran and screamed, jumping on top of different chairs, tables, ledges, carpets, anything.
I looked over at Mike. “I guess we do suck at this,” I joked.
Leanne was in her room, waiting for the night to come. She was excited that she’d get a romantic opportunity she really couldn’t miss, with a person so strong and mature and whole, but yet because of that they could barely we with each other. Perhaps it was the chase that really got her excited, but her mind flashed to the times they spent together.
“Oop! I’m sorry!” Leanne said, carrying some books around clumsily.
“No, it’s alright. Let me get that for you,” DeAndre bent down and picked them up for her. They hardly knew each other outside of class, but they were leaving one of their high school classes together and Leanne was, well, coming off a hard day after arguing with her mother (again) and well, just felt so unmotivated.
“Thanks,” Leanne said. Just looking down. DeAndre, had muscle, a face that could intimidate you, but a posture that just seemed so...polite. And it attracted Leanne a good amount. “How’d you think of that test?” she bothered asking.
“The English test?” he asked. “From Monday?” It was Friday.
“Yeah...I don’t know. I thought it was hard.”
“Didn’t seem like it.”
“Ah...” first attempt at conversation failed. “Well, where are you off to?”
“A banquet,” he replied. That answer caught Leanne’s attention.
“R-Really?” she sounded surprised since banquets really weren’t common for their school district or town in general. It was poor, and typically unorganized.
“With my mom. She’s with the community board that’s trying to limit childhood abuse,” he explained for her. That piqued Leanne’s interest for sure.
“Wow! My aunt’s in that organization!” she said, referring to Rebecca’s mom. Deep down Leanne respected Rebecca and her family. They were just so much better at the things they did than Leanne’s side was capable of.
“That’s cool. My mother’s passionate about it,” DeAndre said, now seemingly interested about it. Second attempt at conversation succeeded.
“I wish my mom was like that. She just...Well it’s...we’re not...” Leanne’s voice faded a bit. She wanted to talk to DeAndre so bad but the last thing she ever wanted to mention was her mom.
DeAndre understood her feelings though, and perhaps did the one thing that gave Leanne’s heart the final push. “I understand, you don’t have to say anymore. But if you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.”
Leanne now seriously respected this guy. “Did you want to eat somewhere?” she sort of blurted.
DeAndre looked at the time through his phone, and thought about it. Then he answered, “Sure.”
They ate at one of the nicer pizza shops down in Brooklyn, and ate, talked more, and bonded.
They went out together a few more times, sometimes to eat, sometimes even just for something like a study partner, and a few times Leanne went to DeAndre’s house.
Eventually they went to nighttime carnival at Yonkers and sort of forgot about the world for a while. They kissed for the first time that day, and they played some of Leanne’s favorite songs on the speaker there, since they were pop hits at the time. It was a special night for Leanne and sealed her heart for more of this man, like a craving but also a kindred type of connection.
Leanne scrolled through her phone, staring at pictures they took together, the smiles, memories, and times passed. She dressed herself a bit better and got herself ready as girls often did, and hope that just this time, she’d get the night she always wanted.