James Brown tribute concert. Hollywood Bowl. Classic LA summer evening: bring a picnic, there’s too many people, pollution in the sky from all those cars. It’s hot. My husband and I are running late to meet our dear friends because we dared travel eleven miles. We sweat through our shirts as we hoof it up a hill with our Whole Foods bags.
We can barely tell which olives are which because the bleacher seats are so tight. Four people around us smoke pot and it’s skunky. We accidentally brought only one bottle of wine. I think about how bored my dogs must be at home and worry that I only checked the burners nine times and I really should have written more yesterday. It’s hard to put life down and pick up a good time. It’s hard to Be Here because Back Then and Coming Soon are such heavy loads.
Suddenly the badass Angélique Kidjo takes the stage and we jump to our feet. Her voice is a threat and a blessing. It rips through the night and grabs 17,376 people by the neck. She makes us all stand up and say it loud: "I’m Black and I’m Proud.“ The guy in front of me is especially feeling it. He waves his arms over his head but his body does not cooperate with the movement. It juts out the other way. He is wiggling, he is writhing, he is a rhythm murderer. He throws his head every which way. His shoulders pop up and down aggressively. He is near hurting his neighbors. There is nowhere else to look. He’s right in front of me.
The band starts jamming. The drumbeat thumps away my annoyance at city life and at life in general. All that’s left underneath is lastima for this man who moves like a broken slinky. Now I can’t take my eyes off him and now I am in tears and now I am really HERE. I take my husband’s hand and it’s lovely out. There’s a spotlight in the sky. There are stars. There’s a breeze. I am with friends. I am with thousands of people who feel black and proud no matter what color we are or how much shame we carry. And we’re dancing.
p.s. FYI, eating a tub of olives is not the best coping mechanism for lastima.