From Mix Tapes to Mix CD's--The Brother I missed at the Doughnut Shop on 7th and Market

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 25 October 2012

I ran into a brother the other day at the bus stop.  I’d just gotten off work and was heading home.  I heard a voice call out, Hey Tony!  I flinched, thinking I’d been recognized by someone I didn’t want to talk to.  It is part of what my dad calls the duck and dodge, a strategy whose main purpose is to avoid getting into other people’s shit.  I didn’t want to get into a useless conversation that would strain not only my nerves but my ears.  I looked to see who called out my name.  It was a brother in a baseball cap and dark shades.  I looked for a moment and recognized the brother as a cat named Terry.  Terry used to be part of a work training program at a non-profit organization that I had worked at a couple years ago.  Hey, what’s happening brother, I said, shaking his hand.  The cool air seemed to warm as we talked—catching up:  how you doin’ man…how’s your mother?  We were glad to see the story in other’s faces.


Seeing his face was refreshing given the faces I have to endure on the busses, coffee shops and worse—on TV.  All those stale, sterile faces walking along Market, Valencia and Divisadero Streets—minds stuffed with self-satisfaction from years of being told how wonderful they are—their thoughts, their poses—as hipsters, parading around as if they were real San Franciscans.  Can smell ‘em a mile away.  Terry was born and raised in San Francisco, the real deal straight outta Fillmore.  Real nice guy and there’s something royal about that velvet jogging suit he wears.  It’s for lounging, not jogging.  I am in the presence of real class, a guy just being himself without the need to cover insecurities with tattoos or gimmicks—physical, verbal or otherwise.


In short, Terry is a beautiful brother. I always thought he was too good for that job program.  His job was piecing and assembling mosaic tile kits for an organization that serves people with developmental disabilities.  The tiles were made into kits that were later sold at retail outlets.  I’d sit and watch Terry count and weigh those little tiles that looked like crackers.  You were paid according to how much you assembled, bagged and sealed.  All that fun for so little pay; all those folks in the program, some dropping off only to return to that stack of heat sensitive, see-thru bags.  The welcome mat was always nice and tidy.


One thing I remember vividly about Terry was his love for music.  He'd devote his spare time to producing mixtapes at home—on cassettes.  He’d sell ‘em for 5 dollars a pop.  I bought one although I didn’t own a cassette player anymore.  I asked him what kind of music he had on it and his face lit up as he ran off names of musical groups I’d grown up with, had love, whose lyrics held meaning for me.


Sideshow by Blue Magic

Mind Blowing Decisions by Heatwave

People Make the World Go round by The Stylistics

Fire and Desire by Rick James and Teena Marie


I remember Terry performing during the job program's Christmas party.  He came decked out in a powder blue suit with wide lapels.  He got on the mic and sang an old song by the Manhattans. 


There's no me...without you


He was smooth, gliding across the floor, his bad leg no longer bad but providing him a leg up on whatever barriers he had to face, now or in the future.  It was poetry, beautiful to watch—a brother doing what he was intended to do without shame, without apology…just free to do it.


I bought one of his mix tapes but couldn’t listen to it. I then found an old tape player at a garage sale and no sooner did I put the tape in the deck than the player chewed and mangled the tape.  The tape spilled to the floor like an out of control tapeworm.  But I thought about those songs.  They were in my mind and couldn’t be erased.


The bus headed towards Fillmore while we talked.  Terry spoke slowly. He told me that a long time ago he had gotten into a car accident that had affected his mobility and speech--that he had to attend a special school.  Then he stops and there is a pause.  What fills the pause is life, the sound of birds, wind, laughter, gunshots, cries, birth and…


Terry told me he was now making music CD’s, that he was selling them for 5 bucks a piece.  He said his girlfriend was helping him produce the tapes since she has a computer.  Girlfriend? I said, you didn't say nothing about no girlfriend.  "Shit man...i can't tell you everything, now" he replied, laughing.  He told me he didn’t have one of his CD's on hand but that, if I wanted one, to meet him tomorrow night at 10 at the doughnut shop on 7th and Market.  Ok, I’ll meet you there” I said. We shook hands and he got off the bus.


The next day came, busy at work.  I went home.  945 pm rolled around.  Then I remembered…the doughnut shop!  It was too late…I fell asleep.  The next night I went to the doughnut shop.  I looked around.  Every kind of doughnut you can imagine was looking back at me.  Terry wasn’t there.  I looked outside thinking he might be out front.  My eyes met the night and its eyes melted into mine.  I saw Terry everywhere.  His music was in the street and it pulled me closer to the city that we were both raised in, the city that knocked us down and raised us up over and over again.


Terry, if you’re reading this, I'm sorry we didn’t connect. It was good seeing you, talking to you, my beautiful brother.  The music of your voice is in my ears.


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