Dreadlocks and the Three Rednecks
Shaniqua was only 13, but she took the A train uptown every Saturday to visit her grandmother, an invalid who depended on help from neighbors for everything from groceries to doctor visits. Her grandma loved these visits for the sheer joy of her granddaughter’s sense of humor and her growing knowledge of old jazz records. This was the day Shaniqua would be introduced to “Ma” Rainey on 78s.
Today, the A was hopping with Yankee fans, headed up to watch Steinbrenner’s investment pay off once again as they chugged warm beer and scattered the bleachers with peanut shells. Shaniqua noticed the predominantly white ridership, so she pulled up her hoodie and gazed obliquely out the greasy subway window. Three rednecks were harassing a gay guy when they turned their attention to someone they assumed would be more intimidated by them.
“Hey, little girl, you ain’t related to Rosa Parks, are ya?” drawled an out-of-towner, sitting pretty even though several older women were forced to stand, strap-hanging. His buddy caught on, got up from his seat (a senior widow slipped in fast as a New York minute, smiling smugly about getting off her tired feet). The second guy: “Why’re you wearin’ that hoodie? You a gangsta type? Member of a gang? We hear tell there’s all sorts of you people on these trains, stealing wallets and such.”
Finally, Number Three, cracking his knuckles, bellowed, “ARE YOU DEAF, LITTLE GIRL?” They surrounded her now. Sweat on her brow, dripping into her basket of homemade muffins. (C’mon, Mr. Ellington, make the A Train go faster.)
They ripped down the top of her hoodie to reveal her spectacular dreadlocks, woven by her mother since age five. “Looky here, boys, we got us a real Jamaican girl. Say, why don’t you teach us to dance? Do you know any Bob Marley?”
Her stop was coming. “Well, I can’t dance with you,” she said to the first cracker, “because I don’t like guys in flannel shirts. And you,” she pointed to Number Two, “are racist and just plain mean. I don’t think you like yourself much.” By this time, the grannies had all surrounded the group, ready to take action with purses and canes if the men got too close to Shaniqua. She was somebody’s granddaughter, after all.
“And you,” she said to Knuckle Cracker as the train pulled into her stop at 171 and Fort Washington. “You are so pathetic you’re wearing a Mets cap to Yankee Stadium, you have a mullet, and your pants are hanging so low my pastor would kick you out of the church. You’re a wannabe with bad underwear and a butt-crack.”
As they stood slack-mouthed, she hopped off the train. “And you don’t pay attention, because you missed your stop. Go back to 161st Street and catch the B over east.” Then the grandmas smiled knowingly at each other. It was going to be a long trip to the stadium for the non-residents of Harlem.