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Heartily, Pops laughed. “You ain’t said nothing slick to a can of oil, Freddy. Nothing at all. He strolled

over to the newsstand and picked up a Daily News. Dropping two shiny quarters into Freddy’s tarnished

tin tray, Pops strolled back inside.



Such Sweet Thunder

Short Story by Michael Gonzales


Pops from the barbershop knew the end of an era had arrived the moment he heard those dreadful diesels slithering down 7th Avenue. Lighting his first Marlboro that chilly April morning, his usually steady fingers trembled. Exhaling a whiff of smoke through thin lips, he sullenly glared out of the Shalimar’s dusty plate-glass window on its final day of business.

Two dirty fans swiftly whirled overhead, and the sweet scent of sizzling bacon drifted from Sara’s Luncheonette next door. Dressed in his usual uniform of a starched white shirt and black tie partially covered by a freshly laundered blue barber smock, Pops cracked his stiff neck.

In all of Pops’ years of looking out of that window, he had witnessed many neighborhood transformations: from ranting revolutionaries roaring about Malcolm X to soapbox preachers screaming about the souls of sinners; from nodding heroin junkies, their bugged eyes transfixed on the ground, to the panicky behavior of crack heads; from pretty little girls with Shirley Temple curls who would soon be mamas themselves to hard rock bad boys who grew up to be either pimps, punks, or proper men.

A year ago, the neighborhood folks noticed a crew of white interlopers wearing yellow hard hats and carrying clipboards. The surveyors performed their jobs smugly, silently. Pointing at the storefronts, the men studied blueprints and jotted jumbled notes with sharpened pencils. With colored chalk, they scribbled peculiar symbols on the soiled sidewalks.

A few months later, much to their disdainful surprise, every merchant on the block received a formal letter from a newly formed city agency. Printed on raised lettered stationery, the memo informed the six store owners of plans to convert their aged shops into a sprawling shopping complex and luxury high-rises. In other words, as of April 29, 1999, Freddy’s Newsstand, Sara’s Luncheonette, Chino’s Sneakers, Fleishman’s Liquors, Vanessa’s number spot and the Shalimar Barbershop were to be closed forever.

Although Pops had lived in Harlem since he was twelve, one could still hear his Jamaican accent when he was angry. “God forbid we should try to take over one of their neighborhoods,” Pops protested the morning the official-looking letter arrived. “How many black boys done been beat down just walking through parts of Brooklyn or Staten Island? Harlem is my home. How they just gonna chase me out my home?”

As far as Pops could remember, he hadn’t been this vexed since M.L.K. had taken a bullet a year before the Shalimar opened. “At least then black folks were angry enough to riot,” he ranted. “These days we just take whatever slop we’re served.”

Black exhaust swirled from the hulking fleet of seven demolition vehicles skulking down the boulevard. Under an overcast sky the creeping convoy resembled a gloomy funeral procession. After months about anxious speculation of what would become of his friends and neighbors, the beast now roared outside their door.

The clamorous commotion of the Mack trucks caused the entire block to rumble. A few doors down, a demolition crew stridently demolished the two abandoned buildings on the corner. As ancient bricks crashed to the asphalt, Pops spotted a scraggly rat scurry beneath an emerald-hued El Dorado.

“Thirty years building a business and for what?” he huffed, extinguishing his cigarette. “Just to be kicked aside like trash in the name of progress.”

Pops slammed down his coffee mug on the stained Formica cabinet cluttered with sharpened scissors, sterile clippers, and plastic combs; on a shelf inside the cabinet was a white box overflowing with the multicolored candies he kept for kids. In the corner next to a chrome coat rack, Pops leaned his pure mahogany walking stick with its solid-gold handle. Handcrafted by an African dude down the block, Pops used the stick whenever his right leg cramped from standing too much.

Thirty years before, after Pops had served his adopted country in the Army, he had secured a veteran’s loan to open the Shalimar. The shop’s two other barber chairs were leased to his long time friends, a short spic named Carmelo and a former local soul singer everybody called Smokey.

The Shalimar had a splintered window seat that was stacked with countless magazines while a multihued poster of Muhammad Ali painted by LeRoy Neiman hung on the urine yellow wall next to the green and gold Jamaican flag.

Underfoot, the cracked paisley patterned linoleum, with years of loose hairs trapped in its crevices, needed replacing, as did the dark blue hard plastic chairs that the customers used. While Carmelo and Smokey decorated their space between the mirrors with Jet magazine centerfolds, Pops had taped a radiant picture of his late wife Beverly to his section of the wall.

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Opening the front door, a plump horsefly buzzed inside the barbershop and landed on the sugary rim of Pops’ coffee mug. He stepped onto the soiled sidewalk shaking his gray haired head in disbelief as a crazy lady with dirty fingernails fed the foul pigeons stale bread; she cooed along with the birds as though they shared a secret language.

“Here comes our new renaissance,” Freddy barked from his newsstand shed.

“This tearing down shit isn’t a renaissance,” Pops replied. He winced when a sharp pain shot up his leg. “More like a plague if you ask me. You seen how many rats been on this street since they started ripping down that building on the corner the other day?”

Surrounded by pulpy tabloids and slick magazines, Freddy stuck his bald dome out of the weather beaten stall. An unlit cigar dangled from his juicy lips. “Had to chase one out of my box this morning. Scared the hell out of me.” Looking closely at Pops, a concerned Freddy asked,

“How you holding up?”

“What can I say,” Pops’ said. “No matter how I feel it’s not gonna change nothing. Nothing at all.”

Violently coughing, Freddy spat into the dirty street. “Harlem is just another Plymouth Rock for these folks. Now I know how the damn Indians felt.”

Heartily, Pops laughed. “You ain’t said nothing slick to a can of oil, Freddy. Nothing at all. He strolled over to the newsstand and picked up a Daily News. Dropping two shiny quarters into Freddy’s tarnished tin tray, Pops strolled back inside.

Switching on the radio, Pops stopped turning the dial when he heard Duke Ellington’s melancholy music. “And that was ‘Star Crossed Lovers’, playing on the maestro’s 100th birthday,” the smoky voiced disc jockey said. “Next up comes Duke’s celestial ‘Come Sunday,’ featuring Mahalia Jackson.”

Still feeling an ache in his leg, Pop glanced at the walking stick. Carefully, he lowered the barber chair and plopped in the black leather seat. Opening his newspaper, he silently waited for the end to begin.

At dusk thunderclouds still hovered in the sky, but rain had yet to fall. Glancing at his tired face in the mirror, Pops touched his wrinkled forehead; a feverish heat rose beneath his fingers. Like brown sugar, the babel of the barbershop bubbled: in the corner a rowdy quartet of regular hangout cats played a never ending game of spades. Turning up the radio a little bit, burly Smokey quietly hummed along to “Take the A Train” while sweeping hair from the floor.

“This gentrification jazz ain’t got a damn thing to do with race,” Carmelo proclaimed, his spic accent thick as stew. He was a short Rican, standing about five foot six in his colorful gators and black dress slacks. Sipping from a chilled bottle of Heineken as he cut a customer’s frizzy ‘fro. “This jazz is all about class.”

“Class?” Smokey replied. With his jungle of jeri curls, black velour sweatsuit, and thick gold chain, he looked like a broke down Barry White. “What a mida mida like you know about class.” Although they had been homeboys for years, Carmelo and Smokey loved to verbally spar.

“All I know is you’re like an old school house,” Carmelo said. “No class and no principles.” With the exception of Pops, the entire shop roared with laughter.

Pops opened the door and waited for a cool breeze to caress his warm face. Like floating quicksand, a murky mixture of dust and fumes hung in the air. Choking on the stale air, Pops felt a sudden tightness in his chest.

Taking a deep breath, the roar of the city sounded like a raucous big band grating on his nerves. Closing his eyes, Pops listened to the wail of the jittery jackhammers, the clank of cement mixers, the boom of bellowing voices. and the roar of restless machines.

“You all right over there, Pops,” Smokey asked. “You want some water or something?”

“I’ll be all right, just give me a minute. I need to get some air.” Reaching down, Pops shoved a plastic jam beneath the chrome-and-glass door.

“No disrespect, Pops,” Lester, one of the dudes playing cards in the back, said. At twenty-three, he was the youngest member of the barbershop crew. “But maybe you should look at this as a kind of blessing. Take some of that loot you done squirreled away and hop a flight to Miami Beach. Find yourself a big booty Cuban girl who keep you company.”

After Lester slapped five with his card playing cronies, Smokey barked, “Don’t go there, youngblood. Pops might not play the dozens, but I can get down.”

“I’m not trying to battle you, Smoke, I’m just sayin’. . . the ways of white folks is as old as the slave ships,” Lester snapped. “But, when the white man gets enough dough he spreads his wings and flies south. Chill in some condo, listen to Billie Holiday, sip some lemonade. Hell, who cares if they tear down every block in Harlem.”

Pops glared at Lester as though youngblood had just spat in his face.

“I care,” Pops hissed, his accent thick as fog.

“No disrespect Pops, but . . . ”

“What do you know about Harlem anyway, boy?” Pops interrupted.

“What do you know about being a stranger in this city and making it home? What you know about Billy Eckstine crooning on stage at The Apollo on Saturday evening, drinking at Sugar Ray's that night or hearing Adam Clayton Powell Jr. preaching at Abyssinian on Sunday morning? What you know about Bumpy Johnson or James Baldwin or Sammy Davis Jr. getting his hair clipped in my chair? Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m ready to lounge on the beach waiting for death.”

“Chill Pops,” Lester said, smiling uncomfortably. “Ain’t nobody say nothing ‘bout dying. I’m just don’t have to work forever.”

“There’s nothing wrong with working,” Pops hissed. “It’s what men do.” A frigid wind blew through the open door; for a frozen minute, Pops’ words hung in the air. On the radio, the jazz jock cued-up Ellington’s “Such Sweet Thunder.”

Pops caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. Glaring at his gray hair and wrinkled forehead, Pops wondered when he’d gotten so old. His flustered gaze fell to the floor the very moment a swollen sewer rat scampered through the open door.

“Jesus Christ!” Smokey screamed, dropping the broom.

Startled, the wide-eyed men stood up from their chairs as the long-tailed rat crashed into an overflowing wastebasket. Cigarette butts, used tissue, and various textures of hair tumbled to the floor. Pops stared at the repulsive rat scurrying across the soiled linoleum and slammed the front door. For a moment, the Shalimar was frozen in time.

Stiffly, Pops walked over to the corner and picked up the walking stick. In his fragile hands, the shellacked smoothness of the heavy mahogany contained the strength of a thousand tribes that once roamed the fertile motherlands of Ghana and Kenya and the Ivory Coast. In Pops’ perspiring hands, he felt the sweat of the mud colored men who had cultivated their kingdoms with callused fingers, sweaty brows and bloody feet, only to be eradicated by pale faces with loud machines.

Pops listened to the lush jazz streaming from the speakers, his tired eyes fixed on the vile vermin. He imagined himself as a swaggering young man coming of age in Harlem. Pops struggled to remember the first time he saw a buxom Beverly sitting on the stoop of her building. He pictured them, stylish young lovers in the summer of ‘65, sauntering through Sugar Hill.

A black prince on those once-vibrant streets, Pops walked the boulevards with an arrogance that everything he cherished in this world would last forever.

“Damn you,” Pops mumbled. “Damn you.” Outside, thunder crashed in the gloomy sky.

Afraid and confused, the rat stood on its hind legs and prepared to strike. Yet before it could leap, Pop savagely swung the walking stick and smashed the rodent’s skull. Blood and brains stained the yellow wall.

As he stared at the slaughtered rodent, Pops leg buckled and he collapsed to the cold floor. For the first time since the death of his beloved wife, tears fell from his eyes like rain.

Image (above): Barber Shop by Jacob Lawerence

©  2010, Michael A. Gonzales

Source: BlackadelicPop

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Ellington—Such Sweet Thunder

Such Sweet Thunder Ellington Duke 1959 The Duke in 1959 in Zurich Switzerland. Duke announces Sweet Thunder featuring trumpet players Ray Nance and Clark Terry

Duke Ellington featuring Mahalia Jackson "Come Sunday" (Live)

A live recording of Mahalia singing "Come Sunday." This was recorded on July 3, 1958, during Duke Ellington's portion of the Newport Jazz Fest concert. This happens to be the night before Mahalia's big concert, which can be found on CD.

Duke Ellington, "Take the A Train"

This is a segment from the film Reveille with Beverly from 1943; the song was composed in 1939.

Duke Ellington—The Star Crossed Lovers

The Star Crossed Lovers, Original Duke Ellington version. This song appears in Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World .

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michael a. gonzales--Harlem native -- has written cover stories for Essence, Giant, Latina, XXL and Stop Smiling. A former writer-at-large for Vibe magazine, Gonzales has also been a staff writer for The Source, columnist for New York Press and a frequent contributor to the New York Daily News, the New York Post and NY Metro. He has also contributed articles to Spin, the Village Voice, Ego Trip, Trace and Entertainment Weekly.

Gonzales co-wrote the book Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture (Random House, 1991). Praised by writer/director Nelson George as “evidencing the mastery of detail required of a subject that is all about mastery of detail,” the book was a groundbreaking text in hip-hop literature. Currently Michael A. Gonzales writes a regular music column called “On the Corner” for  and has written liner-notes for reissue collections including The Hip-Hop Box Set, the O’Jays, the Gap Band, the Crusaders and Al Green.

Having written for MTV and BET, he also served as a consultant to the Experience Music Project’s (Seattle) inaugural Hip-Hop/Rap exhibit. He also contributed the essay “From Rockin’ the House to Planet Rock” to their catalogue Crossroads (2000).

In addition, Gonzales’ essays have appeared in Best Sex Writing 2005 edited by Violet Blue (Cleis Press), Beats, Rhymes & Life edited by Kenji Jasper (Harlem Moon, 2007) and Best Sex Writing 2006 edited Felice Neaman and Frederique Delacoste (Cleis Press). A 1999 Code magazine feature on Prince was reprinted the following year in the landmark music criticism collection Rock and Roll is Here to Stay edited by William McKeen (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000). “My Father Named Me Prince” appeared alongside pop culture pieces by Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Lester Bangs.

Gonzales has published fiction in Brown Sugar 2: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction edited by Carol Taylor (Simon & Shuster, 2001), Bronx Biannual 2 edited by Miles Marshall Lewis (Akashic Books, 2007), Uptown magazine, Brown Sugar 3: When Opposites Attract edited by Carol Taylor (Simon & Shuster, 2003) and the upcoming superheroes collection Darker Mask edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers (Tor, 2008).

Gonzales’ short stories have also been published in France and England. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, Norman Mailer and Spike Lee before him, he lives in Brooklyn. 

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Generation Soul: Can Dru Hill Revive The Vocal Group?

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading "My Story, My Song"

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 20 June 2010 




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