But which place is actually which?
There might not have been a black-owned hin the history of this nation less hospitable to the black Israelites and the nation of Islam than my grandparents’ three-bedroom. Built in 1971, on the corner of 15th and Sprague avenue, it was deceptively bottom heavy. It had a basement containing that had a stocked bar, card table, stereo system, and three rows of shelves that held 2000 records. It was my grandfather’s present for my grandmother’s retirement and the loss of the pool hall she ran for 28 years(on account of pistol-whipping a gang member who tried to extort her in the name of Ron Karenga).
To the end of her life, that basement evoked a mouthy bohemianism that would have made upper-crust Hotep figures like Kyrie Irving and Jalen Brown run out of a room. Where Elijah Muhammad’s precepts demanded that dark-skinned black people take extra action to get into the kingdom of heaven, everybody in that basement drank, smoked, cussed, and fucked when and in whatever room they wanted to. If the basement got too crowded, I remember going up the stairs and hearing my rainbow mosaic of adopted aunts get into these great and complex discussions about literature and poetry with my Uncle Moe. At night, if people felt happy, my grandmother made me put on an array of jazz mixes to drown out people having sex( with the requirement they open a window, clean the fuck up, and don’t mix opium with the sugar for my cornflakes). Some of the people who fucked were black and black. Some of them. Most of them weren’t and there were enough black, Jewish, and Hispanic adults fucking in that house to make the minister faint in apoplexy.
In my bluesiest moments, I can turn on my memory and be sustained to this very day. The debates about Ray Charles’ R&B and country career that never abated and never stopped being interesting. The fight nights with black and brown elders she allowed to drink in her pool hall when few people in Tacoma would let them. The party records over card games and the specific drinks I made for my grandmother’s “all star team” of 4: my grandfather who just drank orange juice, My Uncle Milton who would drink anything if you put rum in it, my Uncle Herman who loved a Seagrams and Coke, and my…