Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lemme Holla!

Ay! Ay, girl!! Com'ere lemme holla at you! 
Come on, girl! Aw wit yo fine ass! Lemme holla atchu!
Aww, girl why you gon' do me like that! I jus' wanna holla at you....

I can't say exactly when it began. I don't know how long it's gone on, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say....all my life.

Somedays it feels as if all my life I've been listening to the boys on the corner call in twos and threes, or just lone individuals, raising their voices as one to call out to me.

Oh how sexy it is! Oh how it makes my heart thunder! If only Juliet had been the one wandering beneath her own balcony to hear her beloved Romeo call to her "HEY GIRL! LEMME HOLLA AT YOU!" then and only then could she have know what it is like to be me.

Well I'm not Juliet and I'm not Gwen Stefani either, time is short so I can't perform the entire "Ain't No Holla Back Girl" routine in order to get my point across. But even if I could, I wouldn't. God, no!! That would only give the more tenacious Holla Back Boyz encouragement! (This shit's bananas....)

Ah yes the boyz in the hood will holla now. They will do it. For they must. At least that's the only thing I can figure is that were they not to holla out, then surely they would wither away and die. To cease to exist but for the urge to release such grand joy and declare on high to all who would hear them: Let Me Holla.

Now the hard boys on my GrandPoppy's corner never did holla at me (or my mother or my grandmother , for that matter) when we were down visiting  After all, everyone is a spy you must understand and even an innocent suggestive comment overheard directed at any of us carried the danger of misinterpretation if intercepted by GrandPoppy. So the wise ones and the unwise alike held their piece whenever I flitted about shopping among the sort of makeshift market outside his gambling joints and taverns. But I wasn't always so lucky to have such unspoken yet entirely powerful protection.

When I lived in New York City my best male friend Travis looked at outings with me as something of a trial or a gauntlet, knowing that even though I was fully capable of taking care of myself but still a little cautious intervention was sometimes necessary. Whether it was something about my manner or clothes or some unspoken signal particular to my manner that caused Holla Boyz to speak out to me I never have known. But they always did holla and still do.

"Look, bitch, I'm not feeling like guarding your honor all night," was the plainspoken look in his eyes many a night. He never actually said in those words but I knew the  weariness in the set of his shoulders and his eyes as we tramped to the subway. That said, he never let anything happen to me either no matter how alarming the routine became. But it's not that I need male protection. Over the years I've learned how to be safe with the more aggressive hollas.

A typical example: I was on a solo outing to the subway, walking uphill from Fordham University's Bronx campus to the D train which was always a wild and singular experience.

"Hey! Hey, girl" I heard someone calling insistently but it wasn't until he actually stepped foot into my path that I stopped. He smacked his lips loudly and made a great show of checking me out, eyeing me head to foot and then again.

"Awww girl! Aw damn you fine! What is you girl? You look like the ghetto Naomi Campbell. Aw dayum! Come on over here and step into my office," he motioned me away from the huge crowd on the Fordham Road sidewalk. But there wasn't anywhere for me to follow him even if I had any intention of doing so, which I did not. The fact of the matter was that the crowd was so thick that I did have to follow him partially just in order to make my way on up.

He was gesturing to the side of a brick building: his "office".

"Um, nah! It's cool. Thanks," I said trying to walk faster.

"Aw you just gon' do me like that, girl! Why you gonna do me that way, girl! It's me and you-- I'm saying--" his shouts followed me like the voice of God persecuting the damned. I was alone luckily so there was no one to witness my shame. Unfortunately I shared this not at all unusual occurrence when I returned to campus and thereby became ever known as the Ghetto Naomi Campbell among my friends and neighbors.

(What did that even mean?? Did it mean I was looking good like a model, just that I was located in the ghetto?? Was he saying that I, myself, was ghetto - implying that something about my style was tacky?? Did it mean that I was blasting the ghetto with my high minded style and looks?? It haunts me still, I tell you...)

Then there are the bitter ones who take great offense to my refusal to be "holla'd at": Aw so you just gon' walk on is that it? You just gon' ack like you don't even hear me? Aw, yeah. I know wassup. Aight then-

And the ones who feel like they need to explain it simply to me, as if I have misinterpreted their ever well-meaning attentions: Oh, so you too good or sum'thin'. I'm just tryna holla, baby. That's all.

And the ones who feign to be so shocked by my beauty (or whatever) that they have to get loud: OH! GODDAMN!! This bitch is FOINE. Ay! Ay! Boy check out ya girl over 'ere! Ay, Ay! AY BAYBY LEMME HOLLA! DAMN! WANTS SOMMA DAT!

When I was 15 my mother started to remark that I had inherited the family legs. Both sides of my family possessed notable, shapley legs but it was my grandmother whose face, body,legs and brain were legend. And Mommy had begun to make noises that I was seemingly following in the grand matriarch's footsteps. And truth be told she had her own treasure trove of Lemme Holla horror stories. Even the minister of our church had been in love with her for decades and his goofy, inept attempts at wooing her attention elicited the pity of everyone except for my grandmother (who had the air of  cruel goddess contempt that appears as an affectation with some beautiful women; except it is not affected by any means, it is the emotional culmination of all the weariness, disgust, and frustration of a woman constantly beset by unwanted attentions in public places signalled in the most vulgar and embarrassing fashion. It is the permanent wary air of an "oh my god, not again" reaction that would ultimately become the default of any person repeatedly accosted with a worst public nightmare scenario.)

Dave Chappelle has a skit with a old man who proceeds to mesmerize the viewer with this tongue rolling repetition of "Lemme holla, lemma holla" recited with great speed over and over. It makes you feel dirty just watching it and that slight feeling of pulling away uncertainty, coupled by the desire to laugh at the well wisher's sincerity, topped with a general worried aura of Oh, gross, please don't let him touch me! is perhaps the best and most accurate theatrical take I can recommend as an educational tool to help you understand the complicated feelings this not-so-innocent request causes to swell in a woman's deepest protective instincts.

I used to worry about being polite. I used to actually speak back and say something, anything. "No, baby. Sorry I don't have time."...."Thank you!"...."Sorry I've got a boyfriend." But honestly it became far too much stress and drama to think up a polite reply to these public shamings which I knew I was meant to take as a "compliment". Ummm...no! No thank you. Really. So now I can't even be bothered. Life is too damn short. I rely now on the simple but self explanatory hand-held-palm-up-arm-partially-extended. It exudes the sureness of Bacdafuckup while firmly fusing that direct answer with Don't-even-come-near-me that is clean, quick, easy, and far less likely to cause any kind of misunderstanding.

How many times have I been hounded up the block when my polite "Nah, baby, I have to go" was seen as an opening.

"Oh well then can I get your number? What's your number? I'll call you!! We can talk, girl? Don't you like to talk?"  Well the only truthful answer to such a question is: I don't like to talk to you. But you must understand that in this situation more talking is like blood in the water to a hungry shark! You mustn't prolong the conversation such as it is, nor should you in anyway let the Hollering One think that he has any chance with you, nay any reason or right whatsoever to continue his literal pursuit.

And that of course is its own separate difficulty in situations of being holla'd at: you're being caught out by a stranger on the street. And while nine times out of ten the holla is harmless and sometimes amusing, there's that tenth time when things aren't amusing and He Who Hollas isn't easily put off, and that's when things get scary.

It's been a long, hard winter but in just the past few early spring days of this week I've encountered a whole pack young, eager Holla Back Boys. As a generalized protection measure I strongly recommend carrying a heavy bundle of keys on a bungie cord and openly swinging it about, lacing one's fingers in the keys. Again, just another signal that requires even fewer words than Lemme holla.

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