Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My trip to Frager's Hardware

The I began writing this photoessay almost two weeks ago, and between capturing March 2007 Spring Fling, the March on the Pentagon, Spring in Washington DC and sending out photo cds of my 2007 Winter Party Festival project I am just now completing it.

A day or so after my return from Fort Lauderdale in November I observed, late one night, that the kitchen light fixture was hanging from the ceiling. Though I don't know exactly when it happened I do recall thinking, at the time, that it was not hanging when I left for Florida on 15 November because, just before leaving the apartment, for my Florida trip, I made sure to turn off all lights and other such things.

It was on that same night, during the first weekend of December, that I remembered that whenever I return to my apartment after a trip to Florida or New York or a weekend out on the town ... that when I turn on the lamps or light switches, in my apartment, it is not uncommon for bulbs to blow.

Similar to when upon returning from a trip, or a night out on the town, that it has been the practice of some to find reasons but more excuses to visit my apartment or telephone me. Almost as if they live vicariously through me.

At the time, I contemplated contacting Arthur, a reputable and an excellent contract worker, but thought it best to wait until I had several things for him to fix. That time would come a few weeks ago when just after just visiting the bathroom, I smelled something that reminded me of an electrical fire. I quickly looked around at the lamp with three bulbs near my computer and then checked the bathroom light which in recent weeks had been acting weird.

It was then that I realized that the dimmer had black smoke around its edges.

Though the damn thing had never before quite worked right, in recent weeks, it had actually turned the 3 light bulbs all the way off as opposed to reducing them to a low dim (which is what it had done since my move to the apartment in November 2001).

After some checking, I realized that if I turned the switch off and unscrewed all three bulbs that it would be ok. But, if I turned it on the smell would resume.

I telephoned Richard to ask if he had Arthur's number which I could not locate in my files. At the time, Richard was "out on the town". So, I was not able to telephone Arthur until a day or so later - which, at the time, I left a message on his voice mail.

Since, after a few days, I had not heard from Arthur, who is a very busy contractor, I contacted the maintenance department downstairs. Upon inspection, they informed me that whoever installed the bathroom light switches as well as the kitchen light fixture had done a very poor job.

A matter that I have had to confront pertaining to several scenarios since my move to this apartment in November 2001.

A day or so before my 01 March 2007 departure for the 2007 Winter Party workman from the building replaced the bathroom dimmer with a regular switch. Which was fine with me. And began the process of reinstalling the light fixture in the kitchen. Which had never before been properly installed but, had, simply, been nailed into the sheet rock.

Which explains why I found it hanging from the ceiling in early December and, perhaps, why, over the years it often dimmed or blinked on its on accord. Like the bathroom light, and so many other things associated with this apartment, it just never seemed to 'work right'.

When the workmen began their work, at the end of February, I was in the process of gearing up for Florida. During which time I, literally, had to prepare myself for the racism that I may would experience, as a black man, at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and on the flight down. And, then, while in South Florida. Which would be even more intense at the airport in Fort Lauderdale and on the flight back. And, over the next few months, in my apartment and in my community, once I had returned home.

I say this because it is not unlike how I felt when on Monday afternoon, 12 March that I had decided to take a subway ride to SE WDC to Frager's Hardware to pick up a halogen bulb.

I began my trip to Fort Lauderdale on 1 March 2007 with an incident at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport which I am still in the process of writing "I Will Not Be Silent!". To make a long story short the essay expresses that "people expect for me, a black male, to always explain to them exactly what I am doing and where I am going and why!".

I expressed further, in the essay, that it has never been my nature to walk around "being too concerned" about what white people nor house negroes or law enforcement folks project in their minds about me - or black males.

When entering the airport, I inquired of the nice white lady behind the information booth "what are the restrictions pertaining to photographing" at their airport. She said that photography was permitted throughout the airport, except at or of the secuity gates. Which I suspected.

So, I took a few photos of the artwork in the lobby. Which, I, also understood would attract attention. But, not allowing racism to affect my interests I took pictures, in accordance with the information that had been provided to me. Cognitive, of the fact, that my every move was being watched.

Once through the security check point and at the Spirit gate I inquired of several security staff what where the restrictions for photographing. I was told by two TSA that I could photograph 'whatever my heart desired' as long as I stayed clear of the security gate.

Which is what I did. So, when a black policeman walked up to me and demanded 'let me see your ID ..." and said further, "I had a complaint from someone that you made them feel uncomfortable."

I said, "Sir, if you are referring to the white man who I asked to 'stop overseeing me' and to those who I said "I'm not your nigger ..." if truth be told "they made me feel uncomfortable by interferring with me and my photography." I said, further, "their reaction and your behavior is the exact same that I encounter everywhere that I go. And at museums from white tourists and black security guards and black staff.

I explained to the black policeman that as a 53 year black man who, over the years, practiced integration "I ain't got the time to be concerned about what people think or project about me!".

Because, in the past, it has been my experience "what ever it is that they have conjured up in their heads and minds - about black males - has absolutely nothing to do with me. Nor, the truth". And, yet, but ultimately, has always resulted in not only the negation of and racist discrimination against me but when you consider that my relationships, historically, have often been entwined with whites the institutionalized racism and blatant discrimination that I have experienced at each moment in time and throughout any given relationship - and by design - has resulted in a disparities between my white friends and I.

And, though I was often told to "just be silent" and that "it will be ok" the negative reinforcement was contrived to condition black males to walk around 'feeling that his every move is being watched' . And, indeed it is.

I first visited Fragers as well as District Lock & Hardware, in November 1978, which was when I joined forces with Herb Lehner Enterprises, a real estate development firm on Captiol Hill. And, while I understood, then, the racism that I may have experienced from businesses on Captiol Hill the fact that I am still experiencing the exact same racism from businesses that I have frequented for almost 30 years is not unlike the exact same racism that I've had to confront each and every day throughout each and every relationship that I have experienced, over the years.

During my 12 March 2007 Trip to Fragers Hardware, on Capitol Hill I could not help but reflect on "Then and Now". And that, as a 53 year old black man who practiced integration, I have less freedoms now than I had then.

As I walked along Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, ... taking pictures ... I reflected on the day before when photographing the WDC St. Patrick's Day Parade that I saw several groups celebrating with shooters.

If I were to drink on the National Mall, in a bar or at home or, if I sold or did drugs the way the white people that I have known did and do ... it would be 'against the law'.

My trip to Frager's Hardware was not unlike to my trips to Staples. Or to Fort Lauderdale, NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Fire Island, Baltimore, Southern Maryland. Or, anywhere that I go.

This photoessay was completed on Monday, 26 March 2006.

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