Several days ago, the word “shithole” was spewed from our nation’s capital and rocketed around the world. This was in reference to certain countries, certain populations, certain kinds of people. While this latest insult to humankind has been ricocheting through the world’s consciousness, I have been working on my annual love stories concert to be performed next month at the Provincetown Playhouse in NYC. The Heart of the Matter, which I am creating with poet/bassist Larry Roland, is an hour of stories and poetry about the human capacity for love. Not romance, but the fierce love that creates connection, holds life sacred, and preserves the world.
I’ve the good fortune to be staying this month in a small condo on Florida’s Gulf coast. At around 2 PM yesterday, while working on the love stories program (and fending off thoughts of shitholes and such), I was suddenly compelled to get up and leave the computer. Without changing my clothes, not even putting on lipstick, which I generally do to face the world, I grabbed my wallet and my keys and headed out. I walked down Gulf Boulevard to JD’s, my favorite bar and restaurant and there I lived “the heart of the matter.”
JD’s sits on a narrow stretch of barrier beach between the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s Inter-Coastal Waterway. On the front veranda of the old wooden building perches a ten-foot high, blue and pink wooden octopus with a smiling mermaid hanging out on one of its tentacles. When you enter JD’s, you are in a world of free-form funk with a slight buzzy edge to it. The restaurant is festooned with permanent Christmas lights, fishing nets and tons of seashore kitsch.
There are three rooms: the piano bar up front, a laid back dining room in the middle, and the Back Porch, a bar which rocks, even at 10 in the morning. What Happens on the Porch Stays on the Porch proclaims the sign next to the list of all-day happy hour drinks. The Back Porch is where I hang out when I go to JD’s. There is something magical about the place, which attracts a community of fun loving and pretty open odd balls. It is a safe space to go and listen to great live music, dance with or without a partner, and to meet some good folks. I always feel better about human beings when I go there.
So yesterday I walked over to the street behind JD’s to check out what kind of music was coming from the Back Porch that afternoon. Drums. Not a drum set, but Congas. Heart music, masterfully played. All right! I stood outside, watching the drummer through the window. Yeah, some fine music being offered up by a big man, his voice, his hands and his drums sending sweet sounds into the air. I went in and stood against the door to get my bearings, to get a sense of who he was and who was hanging out on the Back Porch that afternoon. It felt really good.
I looked to see where I might sit down as there were no empty tables. An African-American couple was perched on wooden stools at a high, narrow table. On the other side of the table, there were three empty stools. I walked over and asked if I could join them. Warm vibes and welcoming smiles greeted me. We were joined about an hour later by two Puerto Rican sisters recently moved to Largo from the Bronx. With them was their colleague, an Irish-American, Special-Ed. teacher. So there we were, the five of us, talking, dancing, sharing food and drink, sharing laughter.
When Red, the drummer, launched in to “Sweet Home, Alabama,” I kicked off my shoes, got up and began to dance. No one was on the dance floor but me. No one joined me. It was me and Red and the music. When the song was over, there was applause from around the room. I bowed to Red, turned around and bowed to the assembled Back Porch regulars and sat back down with my new best friends. The waitress came over and told me a man wanted to buy me a drink. I hesitated, then accepted and went over to talk to him. He was in a motorized wheel chair but said that when he is in his manual wheelchair, he dances. I said, “Well, maybe we can do that next time.” A young woman at the bar grabbed my hand and said, “You dance so fucking good!” She and her boy friend and I danced together a bit later. I told her that she danced “fucking good” too.
Now here’s the thing: we were all kinds of people-different ages, different backgrounds, different “colors.” We were a rainbow perched on our wooden bar stools, sharing stories, photos, even a few minutes of on line conversation with one of the Perez sister’s children and their new puppy up on the Quantico marine base in Virginia. I write all this because the instant community formed in that Back Porch safe space gives lie to the “shithole” image of America smacking us around at the moment.
So what’s this got to do with the “heart of the matter?” I like to quote Anne Frank. She wrote in that precious diary of hers that she believed that human beings, in their hearts, are really good….that “in the end it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end.” At the heart of the matter is love.
I say amen to that. And I also say, if you start to lose hope, head for the Back Porch. And if you can’t find one in your neighborhood, create it.
P.S.: As I didn’t take any photos yesterday, here is one I took in Salvador, Brazil at a festival in the Pelourinho. Drums, dancing, people gathered to celebrate life.