East Flatbush Journal: Music in the Key of Life


The bed overhead still scrapes the hardwood floor that is my ceiling in the night. The sounds are almost as intrusive as the gloppy, wet droplets flying out of the air conditioner in the window. Thanks to the heat index resting at a cool 90 degrees, the old machine’s on throughout the night now, blowing what looks like a white cloud of constant, life saving cold air. 

I think about the laundry, the grease spots on the backsplash tiles in the kitchen, the boys that don’t callback.

Illustration by Ariama C. Long

I figure that since I’m clearly not meant to sleep, I’ll listen to music and make a playlist for the morning run. 

I don’t really like streaming. It takes the music out of my hands. Music seals up the gaps in how I feel, and every once in a while, the vehement search for the perfect songs can lull me back to sleep. 

The way I see it, progress is inevitable, violently dashing the past in some ways, but that doesn’t mean we forget. We adapt…or die really.  

I’m of that strange generation that labored over which radio station to awkwardly record their favorite song from and my mom loved her record player and cassette tapes. If I could, I’d go back to running and listening to CD’s I had burned and pirated myself from the wild west of the internet heyday. Instead, I nestle in my blankets and the darkness and take out a tiny iPod I’ve preserved over the years. The screen was crushed once and has tape on it, the poor man’s fix. 

On the silver-back of it is a small inscription from my mother engraved in white underneath the decades of scratches and scuffs.  

My friends and coworkers have all laughed at it, especially with the advent of smartphones, streaming companies, and apps to choose their music for them. The Verizon store salesman on St. Johns Place had screwed up his nose when I came in to see about my phone. “What is that?” he asked. My android Motorola cell phone or the clearly out-of-date iPod touch, I wondered. We talked while he reviewed new, fancier phone options.

Illuststration by Ariama C. Long.

This man with a Jamaican flag face mask lumbered into our conversation. He spoke of how wonderful the old ways were and going home to the island. “Once I’m there I just buy up a new phone,” he said, “And when I come back here I just give it to whoever need it, to hold, until I get back.”

The store clerk revealed from behind his black face mask that he’s Colombian. They laughed and gabbed about this new, fancy America that didn’t taste as good or smell as fresh.     

And me, with my broken toys, had no country but this one. No home but this city to run back to. The alien in the room.

That night, I added 72 songs together that blend the old with the new. Songs that rage over and for my country, that sing of the melancholy of snuffed out Black boys in Brooklyn and the anger of suicidal white boys in Columbus, and shameless brown women that can fight and dance with athletic grace.

Songs in languages I can’t speak to melodies sung softly through my lips in never forgotten memories. Songs of heartbreak and longing.

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