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RUDE AWAKENINGS : Roused From Our Harmonious Dreams, We Are Left Bereft by Reality

June 27, 1993|WANDA COLEMAN

You barely maintain sanity when your survival behind the Orange Curtain is dictated by cruelties camouflaged by the sunny, sumptuous, palm-lined veneer of swimming pools, private stables, tennis courts and smiling, tawny-skinned maids. You're weary of the day-to-day insults and slights generated by your blackness. The disbelievers are the first to accuse you of whining, bitterness or paranoia. The Freud you can live without.

As you pull up at the checkpoint, the surfer-buff armed guard rises from his perch and glowers. He asks to see your driver's license. Dutifully, he reaches for his clipboard and asks where you're going, runs his pencil down the roster, scrawls something, then releases the crossing gate. When you glance into the rearview, he's jotting down your license plate number.

You enjoy the peaceful drive along winding avenues. You enjoy your business luncheon. But hours later, when you return to your car, you discover someone has scrawled "maggot" all over your paint job, bumper to bumper.


Inside the warmly lit oceanside trattoria, a maroon-haired beauty steps into the aisle clutching two large menus. You feel her eyes scorch your dreadlocks. "Yipes!" her eyes say, but she gracefully escorts you to a table. You have a ringside view of the busy chefs. Feldman sees your frown and asks what's wrong.

"Did you notice?" you smirk. "They sat us in the kitchen ."

Her eyes get big. " Where would you rather sit?" She follows your glance to the half-vacant area of cozy booths and blushes.

"That's OK," you demur. You remember the time you were denied seating at a popular Hollywood diner. Some day, you promise yourself, you're going to get in on a class-action suit.

"No, goddamn it!" Her dander is up. You smile as Feldman marches across the room and demands another table. The reluctant hostess seats you in one of the cozy booths. Savoring victory, you order drinks and appetizers. Then you notice she's put you right next to the exit.


It's been 15 years since Inga was in L.A. You're touring her old stomping grounds, from Westwood to South-Central. She can't believe how eerie everything's become. The Village is virtually deserted. You walk past the site where a crazed young black man drove his car down the sidewalk, killing a visiting female athlete during the 1984 Olympics. After that, you say, they closed off The Village, routine now following gang violence.

As you drive, you pass the husks of burned-out buildings. There's so much graffiti, she says, "and why are the houses so dark?" You explain how the city has gotten meaner. Everyone's into their own little ethnocosms, behind razor wire, bars, floodlights and double deadbolts. Rather than solve the city's problems, they've retreated from them. You give her the crash course on gangs and drive-bys--how the late-night glow from a TV screen can make the viewer a target.

At that moment, a passing car backfires. Inga ducks down, shudders against the floor, her back to the dashboard.


Cliff sits on the passenger's side, shoulders hunched. He stayed late for the Westside performance-art show and buses back to The Jungle have quit running. He needs a ride. You're sitting in the back seat, next to your son. Your husband is behind the wheel. After a brief discussion, you decide to cut through Beverly Hills.

"Uh-oh," your husband disrupts the chitchat. "It's the cops!"

"Oh, shittt!" hisses Cliff.

"We didn't do anything," my son says, turning to look as a bright light illuminates his face. You can't tell him that this is only the beginning of life under surveillance and demeaning suspicion. You don't want his spirit crushed. Not yet. "Don't look at them," you caution.

The black-and-white patrol car falls back, then speeds up to flank the passenger's side. Cliff's dark complexion reddens in the light as the officers study his face. You all sit silent, waiting for the blast of sirens. At the intersection ahead, the light turns green. You pray.

Suddenly the patrol car veers right, turns south and disappears. You've crossed the border. Everyone starts breathing again.

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