Monday, May 17, 2010

Racism, Cops, and a man named Flash (Happy Harlem Birthday Party, Brook)

Quote of the Blog:

Somehow I’ve been subscribed to Essence magazine: “A black woman’s guide to what’s hot now!” The first time I thought it was a fluke, I mean, I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t fit the demographic. The second issue arrived last week. I had friends over and we flipped through about twenty pages. Then I hurled the magazine across the room and in a mock rage yelled, “That magazine is racist! Where are all the white people!?”


I like to throw themed-birthday party/dances. It’s a fun excuse to get dressed up and get people together. Three years ago I had a Euro-Trash Disco Dance Birthday Party in my friend Jason’s backyard. We used pallets to make a dance floor and twined Christmas lights below the boards and through the trees. We had so much fun.

Two years ago we had a rooftop 50’s Sock-hop at my friend’s building in Harlem. We hung up lights and records and I bought black and white plastic tiles from the dollar store to make a dance floor. My friend’s apartment was on the 3rd floor and since the roof offered no electricity we bought 50-foot extension cords and slung them over the side of the roof down to her apartment to get electricity.

There was Twister and dancing and cake. We were having a grand time until just before midnight when the cops showed up. Who knew the “No Trespassing” sign on the door to the rooftop (where I blew out the birthday cake) applied even to the building residents and their friends…Oops?

Last year we threw a Clue-themed birthday party in our apartment. We had “chalk-line” outlines all over the apartment and a photo-shoot in the back room. We danced the night away.

This last weekend we threw a 70’s themed dance party to celebrate my 30th birthday. My friend Alexis kindly offered to host the party in the backyard of her brownstone (think the front of the Cosby’s home) in Harlem. She lives on the main floor (the middle level) of the brownstone. The kitchen door opens onto a metal spiral staircase that leads to the backyard. It’s a perfect place to have a party. A large church with grounds overlooks the back fence which is a bonus – no neighbors to disturb back there. We decorated the backyard with lights and mini-glittered-disco balls. We hung beaded curtains inside with a lava lamp and rotating disco light.

Alexis told her housemates about the party as well as the “Block Mayor,” Flash. He’d tell everyone who needed to know about the party. Everything seemed perfect!

Before I get into the rest of my story I have to tell you a bit more about Flash. His name is Jerome, but he goes by Flash. His business cards say, “Talk to me, talk to me.” And he knows everyone’s business on the block. He’s the landlord of the brownstone next to Alexis’s apartment. He keeps track of who in the neighborhood is doing what when and watches out for everyone – especially the women. If he sees Alexis going to the store alone he’ll often make another man go with her – sometimes to Alexis’s embarrassment.

When Alexis’s mom came to visit Flash saw her wedding ring and said, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” Pointing at his ring finger and then at hers, “We can get a new ring, but we can’t get a new you.” Alexis had to reassure her mom that the neighborhood was safe.

I’d heard these stories about Flash before the party so I wasn’t surprised when a man interrupted me as I was hanging a sign on the glass at the front door. “Ma’am! Excuse me ma’am!”

I turned and saw a gentleman standing at the bottom of the stairs near the basement entrance to the building next door.


“Ma’am, you don’t want to stand with your back to the stairs, what if someone comes up behind you? You won’t be able to see them. You need to watch yourself and be safe.”

I smiled a warm smile (I like it when men look out for me) and said, “By any chance are you Flash?”

He smiled back and said, “Yes ma’am, I am.”

“Alexis told me that you live next door. I was hoping to meet you, I hope you’ll come to the party later.”

He smiled and said that he’d come by if he could.

The party started at 8:00 pm and people showed up in their 70’s threads. My cousin Amy even flew in from Texas! It was a great 30th!

The music was loud but not blaring and the speakers were at the far wall near the empty church. We chatted and danced and ate food. We had just over forty people show up – most of them in costume. All was groovy…until about 11:30 pm.

A woman started watching us from a second story window in the brownstone to the right of the backyard - her window was at the same level as the top of the spiral staircase. She opened her window, closed the window, and stood behind the closed curtains then in front of the curtains. She was a larger black woman who looked to be in her 40’s. I don’t know what she was wearing but it wasn’t much. When she leaned out the window it was like two torpedoes ready to launch. If there were children present I would have covered their eyes. She leaned out the window for and started taking pictures. Then she turned her computer monitor facing us out the window and took a few more pictures. At this point I took a couple back. She left the window but stuck her hand and camera through the closed curtains to snap a few more shots.

We couldn’t figure out what she was doing. Was she upset? Was she taking pictures for decoration ideas? Was she sad she wasn’t invited? Was she just bored? We weren’t sure, but Alexis went over to make sure she was fine. She rang the door but no one answered. We kept dancing. You can see her in the fuzzy picture below standing in the window on the right.

About twenty minutes later the neighbor leaned out the window (thankfully with more clothes on) and started belting obscenities. I’ll edit a bit but it went something like this:

“Turn that F*ing music off!!”

We turned it off and turned to look at the window.

“Who the * do you think you are?? All you white people in Harlem! Don’t you know where you are? Who the * do you think you are? Where the * do you think you are? Go back downtown and back to the East Side you Yuppies!” She continued to swear and yell for another few minutes – a stream of obscenities and racist comments. This went on for a few minutes. Then she yelled again, “Turn that music off!”

We glanced at each other. “It’s off.”

She yelled again, “Turn that music off!”

A few people yelled back, “It’s off!”

She shouted again, "Turn that music off!" People were getting tired of getting yelled at. The music was off, we weren’t (and hadn’t) been breaking any sound ordinances – you couldn’t hear the music on the street or even at the front of the house and it was still before midnight.

She started yelling again, “Who the * do you think you are!? And where the * do you think you are??”

Someone yelled back, “New York City!”

She yelled, “Go home! Look at you dancing like yuppies! You don’t belong in Harlem! I’ll call the cops if you don’t turn that music off!”

At this point I realized that she had a case of the crazies. The music had been off for five minutes and her hollering was louder than the music and party combined.

She swore a few more times and threw in some reverse racism. One of my sweet friends listened with her mouth open and then yelled, “There is no call to talk like that!"

Another person yelled, “There is no reason to be racist!” She launched into a new tirade about we East Siders in Harlem and “Look at all you white people?? Where are all your black people?” NB. A lot of the people at the party live in Harlem – and while most of us were white not all of us were. I was getting a little nervous. This isn’t quite what I had in mind for the birthday party.

About this time Flash stepped onto the top of the spiral staircase. He spread his arms to the side. He announced, “Flash has arrived.” And descended.

He walked into the midst of our group and gathered us around. He started apologizing on her behalf. He told us that she couldn’t take care of herself, how she didn’t graduate from high school, and didn’t know how to behave.

About this time Crazy leaned out the window and yelled again. She started swearing and yelled, “Do you know where you are? Where are all the black people at your party?” We pointed towards Flash. He smiled. He gestured for us to come in close. “Let me tell you something about this woman…”

She paused, then started hollering again, “Who is that man?? Who is that black man? Who is that black man over there?” She leaned out further to see. Her voice went up a notch. “Who is that man? Is that the man I pay my rent to? Is that Jerome??”

At this point Flash turned around to look up at her over his shoulder. He smiled and said, “It’s Mr. Jerome Ms. K----- ------. Let’s not make this personal.” He turned back to us. She started yelling again, “What’s he telling you! What’s he saying to you! What’s he saying to you?!”

Flash turned and said calmly, “I’m just telling them how you can’t help yourself. How you can’t take care of yourself.” She didn’t take that very well and started saying some comments that I won’t write - even edited. He smiled at us and turned to her again, “I have a package for you!” He turned to us and smiled, “I got a package for her a few days ago, been trying to drop it off for a while.”

She yelled some more things, including, “I’ll call the cops!” Someone rejoined, “Go ahead!” She continued yelling and we decided it was a good time to go inside to eat cake.

About this time a light on the second floor of the brownstone to the left turned on. A woman in her pajamas leaned out. “Jerome!”

Flash looked up, “Hi Deborah!”

“Jerome! It’s my birthday!”

We all said, “Happy Birthday Deborah.”

She repeated, “Jerome, it’s my birthday and I say…LET THESE PEOPLE PARTY!!"

We cheered. Someone yelled to her that she should come over and have cake! She smiled and waved and said, "ok!" We sang her happy birthday as she leaned out her window.

We walked inside to get the cake. Flash said how nice it was to meet us all and left. A few minutes later the front door buzzer rang. Now most New York apartments don’t have doorbells – we have buzzers that will ring as long as you hold down the button and whoever was at the front door wasn’t letting up. I walked with Alexis and we peered through the glass at the front door. Sure enough it was the Crazy from the next brownstone.

Alexis, always calm and kind, said, “Ma’am, I’m not opening the door, you need to go home.”

The woman yelled, “Open this door!” “I’m not leaving!” and “You all need to go home!”

She kept ringing the buzzer so we took the cake and went back to the backyard. Alexis went to the door again and the woman yelled, “Open this door! I’ll call the cops on you!”

Alexis held up her cell phone, “That’s ok, we already called them on you.” And she had.

We took the cake to the backyard, lit the candles, sang happy birthday and I made a wish. About that time Deborah, who had changed out of her pajamas showed up. We relit the cake, sang happy birthday to Deborah, and she blew out the candles. She told us this one was one of the best birthdays she’d had in 57 years – but we can’t take all the credit, an ex-boyfriend had sent her flowers earlier in the day. She said, “You just all seem like the nicest people. I was in my room dancing. It’s a lovely party.”

In the meantime, the Crazy from next door had turned her computer screen around and started playing Malcolm X speeches on Youtube.

We turned the music on low and kept dancing in the backyard, mingling, talking and eating food. Malcom X’s voice floated on the Harlem breeze.

She came back over and rang the doorbell, to the annoyance of the people warming up inside, and Deborah who sat inside while the Crazy was at the front door. She heaved a sigh, “I don’t want to get involved with that.” It was also inconvenient for a group of people that wanted to leave but didn’t want to open the door while she was channeling frustration through the buzzer.We're a non-confrontational group. It was kind funny that all of these people didn’t want to leave because of one woman standing at the front door.

It had been about a half-hour since Alexis called the cops but they finally showed up. The Crazy told her story with arms flailing and voice booming. The group that had waited to leave walked passed her and the cops. As they exited she yelled, “That’s all I wanted, for them to leave!” How much sooner they would have left if she let them!

After the neighbor told her story the police asked Alexis to share her side. Every time Alexis started speaking the woman interrupted. In the end the Crazy was escorted back to her apartment, told to calm down and stop disturbing the peace. They talked to a few neighbors, including Flash – all said we seemed like lovely people. The cops told us we could turn on our music and enjoy the rest of our party and offered Alexis the option of a restraining order.

We finished a few more songs. The Crazy started laughing hysterically (I’d say like a crazy lady but…) and “Ah ha ha ha! You call that dancing! Hahaha.” We danced a while longer and then turned off the music. The Crazy came to the window and yelled one last parting, “Idiots!!” before slamming her window and pulling curtains shut.

I think that my parties might be getting a reputation, but not in a good way! The next day at church someone behind me tapped my shoulder and leaned in with her friend, “We heard people were trapped at your party by a crazy woman!” I don’t know if it’s just the parties in Harlem (very possible) but I might be on a cops-every-other-year trend. I guess depending on how much excitement you like at birthday parties you can choose between 2011 and 2012. While you make up your mind I have an Essence magazine to flip through.


  1. I was so happy to be there and experience a true Brook party! I think I'll come out every two years for the exciting ones where the cops show up! ;)

  2. I love the harmless crazies the ones that would put on a loin cloth and play with giant scarves. How come they never show up to the parties?

  3. Wow, this one should be published. It's that good. And it would only happen to Brook Mecham on her 30th. Happy $#@! Birthday!

  4. I know the post is great & is all about this year's party, but since I am a stickler for details...that first picture is actually my going away party, not the Euro trash. Sorry, but I can't help myself :)

  5. You sure know how to party

  6. Oh my gosh Brook, that is awesome!!! I may have to come to one of your parties...they sound amazing and eventful!

  7. That is Hard to the Core.

    Say hi to Flash for me. He sounds like awesome sauce.

  8. I love this account :) Brook, your parties are some of the highlights of my life :)