If Boy @ The Window Were A Movie…

December 10, 2011

Not So Young Man @ His Window, December 10, 2011. (Donald Earl Collins).

…who would I hire to play the characters in my memoir? Especially if I could reach across space and time to pick actors with the range necessary to play complicated characters, like yours’ truly, for instance. Hmm. I have a few ideas:

Rob Brown, ala Finding Forrester (2000) – He’d been a perfect character to play me during my high school years, between the blank stare and face, his height, and his ability to show awkwardness around Whites in authority.

Rob Brown as Jamal Wallace in Finding Forrester (2000) Screen Shot. (http://filmdope.com).

Khandi Alexander, ala The Corner (2000) – While she isn’t nearly as tall and is a bit chestier than my mother, her affect as the down-and-out West Baltimore mother on the groundbreaking HBO miniseries fits here.

James Avery – He would be in the role of my idiot ex-stepfather, with his bulging eyes and belly, and with his flashes of rage, yeah, he’d been perfect.

Clarke Peters, ala The Wire, Treme – I thought about someone like Sammy Davis, Jr. playing the role of my father, Jimme, but Davis’ acting range wouldn’t have been enough to capture both my father’s drunken rage and the comedy that often served as an overlay to my encounters with my father growing up.

Clarke Peters at Edinburgh Festival 2010, August 6, 2010. (Ausir). Released to public domain via GNU Free Documentation License.

Jesse L. Martin – The man’s acting range is enormous, and would capture the complexities of playing someone like my older brother Darren, a super-shy kid who himself played the role of someone mentally retarded while also having taught himself to read at the age of three. Only, Darren didn’t know how to stop.

Jesse L. Martin at Annual Flea Market and Grand Auction hosted by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, September 26, 2006. (Insomniacpuppy). Released to public domain via Wikipedia.

Harold Perrineau, ala Oz – His face alone captures a lot of emotion, and show does the way he says his lines, something that I’d want from someone playing my best friend from elementary school. Perrineau’s face would also capture duplicity, a necessary ingredient for betraying a friendship. Just like many of the characters in the HBO series Oz.

Thandie Newton – This was a tough one, as I also thought about Rosario Dawson in the role of Crush #1. But Newton has quirkiness as an actor that Dawson lacks at times, and for all of the wonderful traits of the character known as Crush #1, quirkiness is key.

Thandie Newton at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, September 2007. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gdcgraphics/1639139527/in/set-72157602744288487/). Released to public domain via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Ray Liotta – Not nearly as tough, this despite the fact that the real “A” had blondish hair when we were kids. Liotta’s meanness, his laugh, his Italian coldness easily capture what “A” was like as my tormentor in seventh grade.

Nathan Fillion, ala Firefly (2002-03), Serenity(2005) – the near-perfect actor to play the contrarian one, “JD” (see my post “The Contrarian One” from February ’11), his aloofness, his sense of superiority, his maverick affect throughout our years in Humanities together.

Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly (2002-02). (Wikipedia.org).

Alison Arngrim, ala Little House on the Prairie (1974-82) – She played Nellie Olson on the show, a bratty, well-off girl who only knew how to view the world through her own selfish lens. She could play any number of my former White classmates, especially many of the ones who left Humanities between the end of eighth and the beginning of tenth grade.

Little House on the Prairie's Nellie Olson as played by Alison Arngirm, circa 1977. (http://www.flickr.com/3595/3433153010_b5f3cae12a.jpg).

Gabrielle Union – as this actor has done the affect of pissed off and Black preppie well over the years, she’d be great for the role of Crush #2, the one the main character (me) becomes obsessed with in the six months after graduating high school. Like the character, Union can crush hearts.

Rita Moreno – A fixture in the acting business for more than sixty years, one of a handful to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony Award, she could easily slip on the role of a guidance counselor like the chain-smoking, stereotyping bigot Sylvia Fasulo. The only other person who’d fit this role is Callie Thorne from the USA show, Necessary Roughness.

Brian Dennehy – There aren’t many actors who could play my late AP US History teacher Harold Meltzer. You see, you’d need to be able to spit, to tell long and strange stories, to have moment of macabre laughter and moments of bitter rage. Dennehy, though, has experience doing all of those things, though not in one role. Plus, he’s tall and rotund enough for the part.

Brad Dourif, ala Dune (1984), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – He’s weird enough to play the role of Regis, one of my older friends from my undergraduate days at the University of Pittsburgh, someone who was there for me the semester I went through homeless and three months without money.

Brad Dourif at the Lord of the Rings-Convention Ring*Con in Bonn, Germany, November 23, 2002. (Diane Krauss). Released to public domain via GNU Free Documentation.

I could go on and on. But that’s unnecessary here. This ensemble cast, with the right script — and a time machine — would make Boy @ The Window come alive, and have me blushing and crying over and over again.

When I See Me Smile

May 30, 2010

Sometimes people say the most brilliant of things, so much so that they make you stand at attention. On Thursday, former MTV Real World star, Vibe magazine writer and editor, author and political activist Kevin Powell (not to mention a 2010 candidate for Congress from Brooklyn) wrote the following on Facebook:

“Often people put you in a box, relate to a you that no longer exists, a you they may have met, seen, or heard about, rightly or wrongly, years back, a you that was trying to figure out who you are. But if those kinds of people insist on not seeing you now, smile, be polite, and keep it moving as far from them as you can. They are imprisoned by their own minds. Do not become an inmate in their prison.”

Powell’s pearl of wisdom said as much in eighty-two words as I’ve been saying off and on for the past three years on this blog. That despite all we may have accomplished in our lives, many folks tend to see us only in the ways in which they decide to see us. That’s too bad, more for those folk than for us, but too bad anyway.

In my case, the past five years of working on Boy @ The Window have revealed much of what Powell expressed in his short yet wonderfully well-written statement. During one of my interviews for the book, a former classmate said that one of her first images of me after we’d reconnected was my “great smile.” A good number of my former teachers and classmates, in fact, remembered me as someone who smiled a lot, as if I had much to smile about. I don’t recall smiling very much during the Humanities years.

I was deliberate with my facial expressions, like Rob Brown’s character Jamal Wallace in the movie Finding Forrester. I was so deliberate that they were second nature by the time I reached Mount Vernon High School. I had a sarcastic “No shit!” look when I sniffed bullshit. I cracked a smile when others were in a cheerful or unhappy mood, either in admiration or to help them smile as well. If anyone had cared to notice, the only times I truly smiled were the times I laughed out loud, or the times I couldn’t help but act goofy, or when something I had heard on radio had momentarily put me in a good mood. Otherwise, the “smile” I had on my face was an almost perpetual facial expression, a smirk really by the time we’d reached eleventh grade.

I needed to express as little emotion as possible back then, between my classmates — who I saw as self-absorbed and uncaring — and my family — where a flash of my anger could lead to a fist connecting with my face. So I wore a permanent weak smile on my face. I wanted no questions about my home life, no arguments or strife, no incidents with my now ex-stepfather to run away from. My true smiles were rare, and were reserved for private moments, for me and only me.

That may well be my loss as much as anyone’s. After all, it’s not as if anyone outside of myself would’ve known the difference between my moments of true emotional expression and my blank slate face, right? Well, my late teacher Harold Meltzer did notice. He told me once, whenever his lessons had caught my full attention, that I was fascinated, that “even though [I] never moved a muscle in [my] face, [my] eyes used to flash.”  “I could see that, ” Meltzer continued, “no one else could see but I could see . . . .”  He was right, as usual, that when I smiled, I smiled on the inside.

Now when I smile or express any other emotion, I think I’m pretty obvious about it. That much has changed. But in looking at myself through the eyes of others, especially others from my growing-up years, I see so much that they couldn’t see, and some who still can’t see me, the past or present me. It may be easier to remember me smiling above anything else, if only because my smiles were so rare, for them and for me.


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