Jan 26, 2008

Mrs. Martin

Phone canvassing continues. The work is slow. Many of the numbers have changed. Or people don’t answer. Or else we don’t speak the same language. Or some say they support Obama, but you have the sense they’re merely trying to please. Perhaps, they think you're an immigration detective, one of the police tricksters from 850 Bryant Street. Officer Bizzaro calling in a strange voice to see who is there and for how long.

Or a certain kind of woman will answer. She’ll have a name like Sonya or Deirdre. “I understand what you’re doing,” they’ll say abruptly. “But I’m not interested.” As though you were peddling time-shares in Reno. They hang up. I assume they’re leaning toward Billary. Man haters, I’m wondering. But then I’m sometimes short when people call, so perhaps, this has nothing to do with politics at all.

Then once I get this. “Is Ms. Martin there?” I ask.

“Who is calling?”

“I’m a precinct captain with the Obama campaign”. TV gurgle in the background.

“My daughter is not here,” she begins. “I’m Mrs. Martin.

Mrs. Martin is mother of nine, grandmother of 14, a woman of 40 times 2, once a player in city politics, and in bad health in recent years. Heart surgery is at the top of the list. Diabetes, gout, inflammations. She names them all. But tonight for this moment, she is fine, smooth, wise and gracious.

I make my pitch. I don’t mention Billary, although I assume for some reason that Senator Obama is not her choice. She says something to distance herself from him. That seems strange and I want to say, “Mrs. Martin, I assume you are African American by your accent, and I can’t imagine you are not for Barack Obama. For God’s sake this is the time to believe if there ever was…

Of course, this is a white man’s appeal, some might argue this is modern racism. "Oh yea you like this man because he and his wife went to Harvard and she has straight hair and he's part white'." I know that. Still. Finally, I confront her. “What are you afraid of?” I ask, not a little impetuously.

“I am not afraid of anything. Not at this age, I can tell you that. There’s nothing left to be afraid of, although you probably wouldn’t understand that. It’s not that I’m afraid of anything. But you have to remember what I've seen. And they'll take him out. They always do. They won't let him go for a month in the White House. So what you are asking me to do is to choose between voting for this young man, and I like him very much, I do, I think he would make a great president, but you are asking me to choose between helping him become president and signing his death warrant.”

You hear this all the time in the black community, all the time. And what can you say..

“I’ve lived through too much she went on,” and described her first husband who came home from World War II, practically in a box he was so shot up. She stayed with him to the end, a bad end by the sound of her voice. She married again, and that man also had been in the war and was injured although he didn’t tell her until after they were married, and then he died…..

“What is your name again?” she asked. I told her. She broke away for a moment….

“Oh my God, baby. Don’t you look beautiful . I am looking at an angel. Where you goin’ baby. Saturday night I know you goin’ somewhere. You look so good baby. Now, you got any money? I didn’t think so,,,, well you go on over there, and get my purse. Right there under those things. Now bring it here. How much you gonna need? … Okay. Well, here what I got.”

“You still there,” she said to me. I nodded with a word.

“You look so good baby but don’t be home too late. You hear me? I don’t want you runnin’ around so you just come on home and I’ll still be up. Okay, baby?”

Baby said okay and Mrs. Martin came back to me. She launched into another subject and then another after that.

“It sounds like you have a lot to do,” I said.

“I do have a lot to do. And it’s all in my book.” She described it, an autobiography, and everything she knew about this city was going to be in it.

“Don’t you know how life just comes around. But you know, the worst racism I ever experienced has been in the last five years. Yes, right here in this city.”

“This city,” I said shaking my head. “Who does this?

“Samoans, Asians, Whites, Blacks. They call you “b” word. ‘F’ word. I’ve never been called a nigger more times than here. And you know who’s the worst? The worst are the Russians. They just hate black people. I hear it all the time, again and again. ‘Get outta here nigger,’ they’ll say. ‘Get off this bus, nigger.’ “

And that’s about the time she got to Him and how He was keeping her going. “I don’t know why. He must have some plan because he coulda gotten rid a me a long time ago. You know that. But He’s got some desire for me and I’m trying to find that. So I just get outta bed every mornin’ and go on about my business.”

She said she’d had a revelation some years before. “I hear voices, someone is always talkin’ in my head, but you can tell the difference, there’s a special voice that speaks and it’s like nothing else, it’s clear as a bell and once you’ve heard that voice you never doubt again.”

I wanted her to go on, to reassure me, to send me God’s blessing, but she had to go. Baby wasn’t out the door yet. “Baby, you look like the sun just came up,” she said. “What’s your name again?” she asked me. I told her. “Well, I’ve really enjoyed talkin’ to you tonight.” I have too, I said. “I’ll think about what you said, but you think about what I said. Bye bye now.”


Anonymous said...

I'm black, I'm voting for Obama, that lady sounds like my mama a very loving fine lady who is scared about his assassination. I look on your blog and you send your children to private school. Why isolate them from the real world like that? Come join us in the real world, sir or maam.

macnamband said...

You're right. And yet one of my son's friends goes to a public school here in the city, a well known high school, and he tells me outrageous stories of what goes on. Last year my wife was teaching kids with special academic needs, all of these kids in public school, and the stories they told and the lack of learning they had had to endure all suggest that these schools may be in the real world but the don't prepare you to survive in the real world. I don't think that's the argument; the argument may be that most of the public schools in this city offer a promise which for the moment can't be met. But I hear you. I can only tell you, I'm paying for it in many ways.