Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Library Sketches, Part 2

A friend of mine was in Alabama last week, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, ending in a walk with 80,000 others across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I’d been thinking about her a lot while she made her pilgrimage south, so it seemed appropriate then to be at the Central Public library last week to hear Eric Foner on his new book, Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, a mix of black and white faces in the crowd:

Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law Professor and a former student of Foner's, began the program by asking the question, why hidden?

Foner called his book a hidden history because so many of the people who formed the loose network of conductors and footmen that made up the Underground Railroad were unknown to American history. During Foner's research, he came across names he'd never heard before, accounts hidden away in library stacks, unread.

"What interests me about these underground conductors is that it was actually an interracial organization, or set of organizations. It’s an example not that common in American history, of black and white people working together for a common cause. There was tension, there were problems, but they managed to communicate with each other, [to send] people to each other and that’s what strikes me."

Kennedy brings up Louis Napoleon as one of his favorite unknowns.

Napoleon, an illiterate, free black man, worked as a porter for abolitionist and editor, Sidney Howard Gay; Napoleon did the footwork for much of Gay's abolitionist activities in and around New York City, finding fleeing slaves at the docks and train stations. Despite signing his name with an X, Napoleon managed to go to court and get writs of habeus corpus in support of fugitive slaves. In one famous case, a lawyer for a slave owner asked sarcastically, "Who is this Louis Napoleon, the Emperor of France?" and John Jay II, the lawyer representing the slave, said, "No, he’s a much better man." 


After the program I ran into Peggy Powell, Nancy Gilmore and Samuel Foster, docents at LA museums— Powell and Foster at the CA African American Museum, Gilmore at the Science Center and a volunteer archivist at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, which houses a large collection of African American memorabilia. 

They were eager to talk; Gilmore wished the program were twice as long. Foster found it informative. All wanted to see a continuation of the conversation.

Peggy Powell revealed a hidden family history of her own when she talked about her great, great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Lightfoot, and his journey along the Underground Railroad, from Kentucky to Ontario, led by a conductor named Henson, a story she had just discovered.


Which proves a point about the system we call the Underground Railroad. It was a fluid moving river, a many branched tributary, for people to help fugitive slaves along the way to freedom. I would be overly optimistic to think anything might change in the narrative that's told in our history books, due to Foner's Gateway to Freedom, but in the meanwhile, let's continue the conversation.

A podcast of this talk (and all ALOUD programs) can be found at:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Library sketches 1

The other night I plopped myself into a seat at the Central Library to hear, "Who We Be: Race and Image at the Twilight of the Obama Era," with Justin Simien, director of Dear White People, and Jeff Chang, author of Who We Be: The Colorization of America, moderated by journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan. Before everyone took the stage I sat there with my sketch book open and began to draw. But once the program began, forget it! I tried sketching, while writing everything down, which didn't work I later found out. I couldn't focus on the conversation because I was trying to get the scene down and I couldn't get the scene down because I was writing down the conversation. Next time, I'll try one thing at a time.

Waiting for the program to begin

   Erin Aubry Kaplan                                                                  

                                                                                                                       Jeff Chang

Justin Simien

In all honestly, Justin's the one I came to see. I loved his cuttingly funny and satirical film about an American college with all the race, gender and cultural appropriation problems inherent to campuses these days. I'm not going to write a review, you can google it, better yet, see it, but Justin's approach to talking about race spoke to me the most:

"I've often been a black face in a white [crowd] most of my life and navigated btw mostly white dominated spaces, whether that’s a college or an office space. And one thing that I felt uniquely oppressed by, and almost had a paranoia about feeling that way, was color blindness: this idea we are color blind. We don’t see race. In a way it made me feel as if that's just another way of saying, you're blind to the fact that as a person of color I’m having a different experience than you, and I’m not allowed to bring up the things that I see and the things I’m feeling because you are colorblind. And because you are personally beyond racism. That means you're completely blind to the ways in which you may have made me feel when the minute I got in your car you switched it to 50 Cent.

"This idea of micro aggressions, which wasn’t really a word when i first started writing the film, but i quickly appropriated once I saw people giving it a word, a phrase, is a way to describe the fact it may not be lynch-mob style racism, but I feel in some way I'm being kept from a part of the culture. It's underneath these layers of, well, it's a post racial society and I’m personally not racist, so therefore your feelings aren't valid. I wanted the world of the film to take place in that version of America. Really this school is a microcosm of the American experience, you know, there’s plenty of black people on the brochure of the school, but you can’t find them when you get there, and they’re not allowed to live in the same dorm if they want to."

An audience member who asked the first question after the talk, also spoke of colorblindness:
"I work and study race and the law, and the Supreme Court, as you know, has been one of the main propagators of colorblindness; in fact has disciplined state and federal governments who are trying to use race to dislodge these entrenched patterns. Just today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case which may eviscerate the Fair Housing Act. One of the few times the Supreme Court has upheld use of race, like affirmative action, was when it benefited universities and corporations. I think there’s this really interesting corporatizing of diversity and this very milquetoast version of diversity when it benefits American capitalism, and this fascinating way in which colorblindness is being dispersed around legal and cultural spaces."

Amen, lady!


Dear Readers; I would like to know what you think of this page. Do these sketches help your understand better, even in a minimal way, the nature of the event? would you like to see more? less? or more realistic? (knowing that I can't really do verisimilitude), or what works best do you think? Your feedback would be much appreciated. Thank you Readers!

A podcast of this talk (and all ALOUD programs) can be found at:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Hats w/ Style

As much as I enjoy spending time in New York, some things in the city are just plain sad. I'm talking about a segment of humanity you find on the streets: the poor, the lame, the crazies, the drunks, the droolers and the crooks, the shufflers and the stumblers, the homeless, especially the homeless. Let me amend: the homeless who have animals on the street in winter.

A dog with the most beautiful, sad eyes was sitting outside a Walgreens, keeping watch over her master. Her master was a white guy, dread-locked and drunk, who had blankets and cardboard piled high, with a half-written sign in front of the dog: "If you can help in any way...." The dog wore a vest, designating it as a service dog.

I slid a dollar into one of the bags and noticed a big bottle of pink vodka resting at the bottom. I said to the guy, "The dollar goes to the dog, she looks hungry." 

Maybe not the most diplomatic thing to say. The guy turned red with rage and marched over to the cart vendor on the corner, yelling, "Tell her, Tony, tell her I'm good to my dog. Tell her— grumble grumble fuck you bitch what do you know grumble— I feed my dog before I feed myself!" He stumbled around getting madder and madder while the cheery vendor tried to make things better with an apologetic smile, "Yes," he said. "He's very good to his dog!"

The dog just stood there, looking out with those sad eyes, wishing she were somewhere warm. I could almost hear her thinking: "Get your shit together, fuckhead! No matter how much you feed me, you're still gonna kill yourself, and then what do I do?"


When it's cold, everyone in New York wears the same coat: A Land's End, black, down, 3/4 length jacket that reaches below the knees. (If you're short it goes to your ankles.)

I personally discovered there's a reason for this— the coat keeps you toasty warm. The hood snaps under the chin, saving that most vulnerable part of your neck from blustery winds; the arms have cuffs around the wrists, like the ones you wore in kindergarten; the down is evenly spaced by impeccable stitching and the pockets can actually make an almost frostbitten hand warm again.

Although everyone wears the same coat, I observed there were no two hats alike. I looked. Sure, I wasn't everywhere in the city, but I covered a lot of ground, from uptown to downtown to Brooklyn, from east to west; I can (almost) confidently state in just one week, I figured out the unspoken rule of NY winter style: same black coat, but never twain hats shall duplicate!


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Living with Kitty

Remember my sweet little kitty,

I thought she loved me.
She sleeps between my legs. 
She purrs when I'm near.
She needs me!
Who is this strange cat?

Next time I see her, she's sleeping under the table. I reach out to pet her; she acts as though nothing has happened between us. She purrs louder than ever. 


Tzipi's eye settings:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bad Kitty! Part 2

(For the next few months, I'll be posting my comic blog,, in this space. Apologies in advance!)

I wish this was about climate change, or the NSA, or immigration reform... 

but it's not, it's about something really stupid.

I had been walking my new kitty for about a week when I decided to let go of her leash and let her explore. 

As soon as I did, she took off like a cat out of hell and ran up a tree with her leash dangling behind her. I thought I could get her down, but she kept climbing higher and higher.

Bad Kitty! Come back!

Before I knew it she was perched over the canyon, about 30 ft up, with her leash wrapped around a branch. She couldn't climb further, but she couldn't get down.  

She meowed pitifully, falling off the branch, then wriggling back up.   

She was stuck!                  

I had no choice: I had to call the LAFD.

They said they'd be right over!

Finally, after 45 minutes, they arrived. Five hunky guys with bright hopeful faces spilled out of the fire truck.

I told the men to follow me to the back where kitty was stuck. I also mentioned they might need a really long ladder to retrieve her.

I turned to show them were she was, but she wasn't there. I craned my neck to find her, looking higher—there must be some mistake!—but no kitty. 

After a minute, one of the guys pointed to the ground, and said, "Is that your cat?"

Somehow she'd gotten down, leash and all. Boy, was I embarrassed.


Later that day, I delivered freshly baked cookies to the firehouse. I could hardly look the Chief in the eye.

I don’t know if it was my imagination, or not, but I think he was expecting me.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Walking the Cat, Part 1

(For the next few months I will be posting my comic blog,, in this space. A little experiment I'm trying. Apologies in advance!)

First time I took Kitty for a walk, I put her in a little harness. Much to my surprise she didn't freak out, but she didn't walk like a dog. Actually she didn't walk at all. She took off scurrying up and down hills and over and under bushes, as I held tight to her leash, terrified she'd run away.

up and down

over and under 

hanging on

When we got to where Kitty was headed, at the bottom of the hill, we sat under a tree and took a rest. After a few seconds, we heard rustling in the bushes. Soon the bushes parted and five coyotes popped out and looked around, oblivious to us staring at them from across the canyon. 


Kitty sat there, calmly, watching them, but after a minute I could hear the wheels churning. When what she was looking at sunk into her catebellum, she jumped up and took off up the hill, running like hell, with me hanging onto her leash by a fingernail. 

What a good kitty!

Next week, part 2: Bad Kitty!

Friday, August 22, 2014

We're on

I said I would leave a note here about Good Eggs participation in the Frogtown Art Walk. Well, it's happening. Jeffrey Hutchinson, the floor manager and the one who commissioned my mural, has been working hard to see this come to fruition...and yesterday, the word came. We're on. 

There will be more art than you can shake a stick at, local and close-to-local artists will fill the space with dance, music, and art. Please come by and check out Good Eggs

Where: Good Eggs Warehouse, 2760 Clearwater St. 

When: Sept 13, 2014

Time: not sure, but check the website, I see that some things start at 5 and the walk will probably go until 10 or 11. The action is usually along Blake St. but this year Clearwater will have a pedi-cab to ferry passengers to Marsh Park.

Here's the fb page:
and the website:

And here's a shot of the finished mural, at the entrance to Good Eggs. It doesn't have an official title, but I'm calling it "The Frogtown Bird Walk." 

See you there!

 (photo by Tom Harjo)