Tag Archives: roland kirk

Home

HomeHome. For me that’s been a house, an apartment, maybe even a neighborhood, and, at certain points in my life, a bar. But it has never been a term I associate with any monolithic ideal of a country, especially not the United States, even though I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not one to go around waving the flag screaming “USA! USA!—I actually find that sort of behavior rather scary. This observation angers a lot of people and usually elicits a response like, “Well, then, if you don’t feel at home here, why don’t you go back to your own damn country?”

It’s similar to the reaction you’ll often get if you tell someone you don’t believe in God. I actually do believe in some sort of God, but not the one that requires that you bow down before him and praise him (and this God is, invariably, always a he). But when someone automatically assumes that I share his or her vision of God, I’ll more often than not say something shocking to get that person to change the subject or, better yet, leave me alone.

The difference is that although you can conceal what you believe or don’t believe, if someone thinks you look like you’re from another country, there’s nothing you can do to conceal this. I remember riding a Greyhound bus through the southwestern United States in the 80s. Every now and then state troopers would hop on  at rest stops, right before we thought we’d be moving on again. The troopers would go down the aisle of the bus, looking at the passengers. When they got to me, they’d have questions, such as, “Do you have your passport?” or “Do you have your papers?” One time, a trooper even asked me if I had my birth certificate.

“No, I don’t have my birth certificate,” I answered. “I’m a citizen. I have a driver’s license if you want to see it.”

After I offered my driver’s license, the trooper would then move down the aisle to see if there was anyone else who looked like an illegal alien.

Sometimes I’m able to laugh, as when the parents of the bride at a wedding I attended asked (when I introduced myself to them in English, the only language I speak) what language I was speaking (they’d had a few drinks). Then, there was another time at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Washington, DC, when a drunken woman demanded I tell her what country I’m from.

“I’m from here,” I told her.

She then started to speak more loudly, and more slowly, as if that would make me understand her question, “I. SAID. WHERE. ARE. YOU. FROM?”

That’s when I usually walk away from a conversation that’s obviously going nowhere.

I don’t get the question about my origin much, here in Front Royal. What I do get is that look, as one time when I went into the South Street Diner with Heather and Maggie and a middle aged woman suddenly lifted her head up when I entered and gawked. Then there was that time Heather and I took a break during the day and ate at L-Dee’s on Main Street and a man sitting across from us practically stared at me the entire time. Leaving the diner, we saw a car with a bumper sticker saying “If You Can Read This Thank A Teacher. If You Can Read This In English Thank A Soldier!”

I think the odds were at least even that that car belonged to the guy who stared at me.

This past week, though, when I picked Maggie up from her summer camp, one of her friends asked me, “Are you from China?” I wasn’t quite sure how she felt about my looking like I’m from somewhere else.

“Well,” I answered, “I was born here. But my parents are from the Philippines.”

“The Philippines?” she said. “Wow! That’s awesome!”

It’s not often that I get such an enthusiastic response regarding my heritage. And when I was her age I wasn’t enthusiastic about it either. I wanted to be an American, a real American, and it took me years to realize that I already was a real American, despite what some people may think. Because my America includes people who can trace their heritage to South America, Africa, and Asia, not just Europe. It also includes people who just stepped off a plane as recently as yesterday. And people who somehow walked, or swam here.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t still feel like a visitor here much of the time, like someone who was passing through but whose car broke down on Main Street.

Main Street—it’s not where I wanted to be stranded, but then I couldn’t afford to be stranded on Park Avenue in New York or even M Street in DC. Now, Main Street is where I go whenever I feel like stepping out of the house for a walk. No more leisurely strolls up Broadway toward Times Square for me, no promenading across the Duke Ellington Bridge over Rock Creek Park. It’s Main Street for me, where I sit at one of the iron tables outside the Daily Grind on nice days, sipping my coffee.

The last time I sat there I had a song going through my head. It didn’t seem like the right place for me to think about this song, but there I was, hearing Rahsaan Roland Kirk doing his version of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”:

He put all of his soul
into a tenor saxophone
He had his way of talking,
’twas a language all his own

Life’s story – Love and Glory
If you listen
While he plays it for you
now listen
and listen
and dig it

Can’t you dig it?
Lester Young is playing
what he’s feeling
Dealing and dancing on home.

But was he really saying “home” at the end? I was never quite sure about that last line, whether he actually sang the word “home” or had just stopped the words and began to hum, like someone on a long, long walk who has to do something to pass the time until he gets wherever he’s going.

-Jose Padua

Driving with My Daughter

Driving3Music was the first line of defense for me in battling the strangeness I felt when we moved here. Our new house here was no problem (I actually felt at home in it much more quickly than at the house we had in a neighborhood called Hollin Hall in Alexandria, near Mt. Vernon). It was when I stepped out of the house that was the problem—this feeling I had that I was lost inside this dream that was so strange I didn’t know if I should laugh or run away in fear.

Before moving here, I’d lived only in big cities like Washington, DC and New York, where there’s a diverse population. Being an Asian-American, I tend to stand out here in Warren County. Disappearing into the crowd, such as it is here, is not an option for me.

One might consider it an exaggeration to say that whenever I leave our house here that I leave prepared to do battle. I know it doesn’t compare to when a soldier steps into the middle of some kill or be-killed situation. And, most of the time, things are fine. But I feel I always have to be ready for that moment when, with my status as a human being called into question, I have to be ready for battle.

I don’t drink the way I used to—and besides, I was never one to mix that with driving. But I needed something to keep me focused on the task at hand whenever I left the house: driving to the Martin’s for groceries, to the Lowe’s for house supplies, and most importantly, taking our daughter Maggie to and from school. I needed something to keep me strong, fearless, and alert, and the one thing I knew would work for sure was Parliament Funkadelic. P-Funk.

Whenever I took Maggie to or from school, to the doctor—or anywhere else I took her while Heather did the day job back in DC—I played P-Funk’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome:

On guard!
Defend yourself!
We shall overcome
Where did you get that funk from?

Soon, I added One Nation Under a Groove, Hardcore Jollies, and Maggot Brain to the P-Funk playlist. It seemed to work, and I felt, somehow, at home riding around the streets of Front Royal. And although Maggie may not have needed this music the way I did, she, at the very least, seemed to want it. “Always play P-Funk,” she advised me whenever we went for a drive. She was, at the time, just a little over four years old.

After a while, though, it was time to move on to other music, so I began playing Sun Ra during our drives through town. I played a wide range of his music, from his early—and more conventional—albums like Jazz in Silhouette to his wilder avant garde sessions like The Magic City. I was surprised that Maggie usually wanted me to play Sun Ra’s “weirder stuff.”

As we went along, the music kept changing. When I first played one of the discs from The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, Maggie was hooked. This was also the music that first moved her to try to sing along, as on a drive to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, when she sang,

You can’t use a bulldozer
To study orchids, he said
We don’t know anything
You don’t know anything
I don’t know anything about love

Among the other music I’ve played for Maggie in the car since we moved here are The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson, The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane, plus miscellaneous songs by King Sunny Ade, Pizzicato Five, and Serge Gainsbourg.

Then, this past summer, her favorite songs were from a mix-CD I made for our trip to the beach, and when we got back to town, that was still all she wanted to hear for the next three weeks. So I played songs like LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” and The Smiths’ “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over again as Maggie sang along:

Sheila take a
Sheila take a bow
Boot the grime of this world
In the crotch dear.

Of course, as one friend pointed out, she has no idea what she is singing about. But then, she always asks questions. And although I know she can’t fully understand the explanations Heather or I try to give her, she gets a start, an inkling, an idea—and perhaps even a certain well of strength from which she may draw when the need arises.

And that’s what I try to give her in the music I play while we’re driving. Maybe, somehow, it can help her deal with those unpleasant situations we’ll find ourselves in from time to time, like last week when, after picking her up from her summer arts camp, I took her to the new ice cream shop that had opened up downtown.

As soon as we walked in, I felt it—that tension in the air and the feeling that silence has suddenly swallowed up whatever conversation had been taking place in the room. When the young woman behind the counter looked at us it wasn’t a look that said she was just tired, mean, all business, or just had an attitude. I’d seen plenty of attitude, plenty of tired, cranky people on the other side of the counter when I lived in New York. This was a different look, a look I’d come to recognize and differentiate from simple attitude.

It’s a way of looking at someone without seeing him, without recognizing him. It’s a way of saying, ultimately, “you’re not one of us.” Sometimes it’s said politely, with perhaps a touch of genuine curiosity, as a couple of weekends ago when a man waiting in line at the McDonald’s on South Street asked my older brother Tony, who was here with the rest of my family for a visit from DC, “I don’t mean to be rude, but what country are you from?”

At the ice cream shop the young woman behind the counter and her co-worker, who was sitting at one of the tables, expressed no such curiosity. To them, it didn’t much matter where I was from. She simply asked, with a blank expression on her face and in a voice that was barely audible, for my order. When she gave us our ice cream and I said “thank you” she said nothing, and turned, as if she couldn’t wait to get away from me and my daughter.

Walking out the door I told Maggie we wouldn’t be going back to this ice cream shop again—it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, there were plenty of other places in town where the people were fine. I tried to say it calmly. But, knowing right away that I was angry about something, she started crying.

I held her hand and we walked back to the mini-van. Maggie stepped inside and buckled her seat belt. When I turned on the ignition, the music came on automatically, but softly. As we drove back to the house, I turned the volume up, hoping that what she remembers most from this day is the music, and not this place.

-Jose Padua