The Lovebird in the City of "Brotherly Love"
By Theodore T. Hodge
February 4, 2004
This short piece is about Joe Blow, one of the main characters in my last story, "Lovebirds in the Buckeye State." You will recall that as that story ended he was on the bus to Philadelphia and he had the audacity to give me the finger. I laughed because I figured my friend was learning something about the culture and mores of his new society. But it's always amazing how quickly we learn some of the negative expressions while we are slow to pick up some valuable, life-enhancing lessons. Our friend Joe Blow learned how to give someone the finger but failed to learn a simple lesson: 'Don't trust strangers', even if they live in the city of brotherly love - better yet, especially if they live in the city of brotherly love. But instead of getting too far ahead, here's the story: Joe Blow, once again finds himself an object of someone's love, this time though, the other character is not Sheila; this time the story takes place in Philly.
While visiting Philadelphia recently, I called Joe Blow's home several times and got no response. I went to the neighborhood but no one seemed to know him or willing to discuss him for that matter. Understandably, this is Southwest Philly, not New Kru Town or Logan Town, if you catch my drift. Anyway, determined to locate my friend I went to the "Village on Chestnut", a popular local watering hole, and ran into a mutual friend who told me that he had heard that my dude was hospitalized. No details were given, except the name of the hospital. Since I had spent a couple of hours drinking my favorite foreign beverage (the one that comes in a green bottle), I decided the best thing to do was to check on the information the following morning.
Upon locating my friend, he was highly elated and excited to see me. Following a highly emotional exchange of greetings (with him doing most of the talking), I wanted to get to the story. In other words, what the heck are you doing here? But Joe decided to be the dramatist: he was going to create some suspense. As for me, the suspense was slowly killing me. Are you dying too? Bear with me, please.
"What are you doing in the hospital, my man? What happened?" As you will attest, these are pretty direct questions. But do I get a straight answer? Oh, no, not from Joe. His response was, "My man, as soon as I get out of this hospital, I'm leaving this Philadelphia here. As soon as I get back on my feet, I'm gone… Maybe I can find a place in Ohio, near you there… This Philadelphia is a bad city. I think too many bad people live here". He was shaking his head in disgust and sorrow.
Meantime, since I couldn't get him to give me a straight answer, I had to entertain my own thoughts: "Joe Blow wants to move to Ohio, the Buckeye State? I thought he was fed up with old and ugly women, otherwise called senior citizens walking around with their discount cards of the buckeye variety. Does he forget the last time he left he was giving me the finger, the middle finger?" Now you have to realize all these thoughts are bumping around my head, silently, of course.
Again, please accept my apologies for the diversion. You see, I can't tell you the story until Joe Blow gives it to me straight. And he finally did. Here it is in a nutshell:
Joe was on his way to work - standing at a bus stop - when a gentleman pulled up in a private car and asked him if he wanted a lift. A little background information here is necessary for readers who may not know. When you are born and raised in a tropical country like Liberia, one of the toughest adjustments you have to make is dealing with the winter season. Standing at a bus stop for a protracted period on a regular basis is not one of the enjoyable ways to make that transition; although folks will tell you it is highly recommended if you must succeed, after all, that's the way they did it, too. If the season is as harsh as the winter of 2004, it makes the experience that much more challenging.
Let's get back to our story. Joe gleefully approached the stranger and accepted his offer. Joe had been standing outside in temperature below freezing, and it seemed like his brain had been in the refrigerator (ice box if you prefer), now he was able to reflect and thank the Unseen One for his turn of fortune. He thought to himself: "Today must be my lucky day. God is not sleeping. Of course, I can use a free ride in a warm car instead of waiting for that damn bus in this freaking cold."
To demonstrate his gratitude and impress his benefactor that he was a sophisticated cosmopolitan, he extended his hand and introduced himself: "I'm Joe Blow from Liberia. Thanks for stopping", he said. The gentleman returned the handshake and called his name, which Joe didn't catch because his ears were still ringing from the effect of the cold. But Joe did not ask him to repeat his name; it was not necessarily important as long as he was getting that ride, at least so he thought.
Joe told his new friend that he worked near the Philadelphia International Airport, on Industrial Boulevard. "Do you know where it is", he asked. Again to his astonishment and pleasant surprise, his new friend said "Yes, I'll get you there".
In an attempt to get a conversation going the gentleman (as many in these United States tend to do once they hear a black man with a "strange" foreign accent) asked Joe, "Are you from Jamaica?" Of course Joe told him proudly that he was from Liberia, the West Coast of Africa. As a rule, Liberians do not like to be mistaken for Jamaicans or any other nationalities. We are Liberians, plain and simple.
After riding in silence for a while, the gentleman said, "I'm gay, you know? How about you?" The question surprised Joe who had already introduced himself, he said, "Well, nice to meet you again Mr. Gaye, I'm Joe Blow from Liberia".
The gentleman looked at Joe and slowly said, "I heard you. But I'm saying I'm gay. Are you gay, too?" Then he followed with a question to establish that they understood each other. He asked, "Do you know what being gay is?" As he asked, he slightly turned and touched Joe's hand or was it his thigh? Let's simply say he violated Joe's space.
Well, we've already established that Joe is a lady's man. He comes from a society where the few homosexuals know their place, for their own good. This was strange territory for Joe. Joe had never had such a conversation with another man. Joe freaked out and acted irrationally. He began to yell, "What? Stop! Stop! Stop! Right now! Stop the car right now!"
The driver did not know what to do. He tried to calm Joe down. He said he was sorry he had offended him but he was willing to drop the topic and he was still offering to take Joe to work. He slowed as he approached a traffic light. To the man's utter surprise Joe jumped out of the car but unfortunately landed on other parts of his body instead of his feet. This happened so fast and so unexpectedly, the gentleman panicked and fled the scene.
So there Joe lied with a couple of broken ribs and a very badly bruised hip and a few other insignificant but painful dislocations. I believe he suffered a broken finger, too. Like the proverbial humpty dumpy, Joe had fallen and could not lift himself. Hindsight being the best teacher there is, Joe contemplated the folly of his decision to jump out of a moving vehicle, even if it is going at five miles per hour. People who jump out of moving vehicles are trained to do so professionally, the rest of us are advised not to do so. It's like the commercial says, "don't try this at home" - or anywhere else, for that matter.
Not only was Joe lying by the side of the road, he was lying dangerously close to a train track - you know those things called trolleys that are part of the rapid transit system. His life flashed before his eyes. He thought a train would roll over him anytime and turn him into tiny, unrecognizable particles in the middle of the day, in the city of brotherly love. That's some love for you, baby.
Some good Samaritans spotted him, removed him further from the tracks, and called for help. The Police and ambulance came to his rescue. Although he had suffered some major bodily harm, his mouth was as sharp as ever. He wanted that "damn gay man" to be brought to justice immediately. He had a list of charges he was going to press against this man. But Joe did not know the name of his culprit, not even a good and intelligent description, or even what kind of car he drove. All he knew was that it was a blue sedan; no make, no model, nothing was known by him and nobody else exactly witnessed the incident. Another thing Joe also knew was that "damn gay" was an African American. He also felt reasonably sure he could recognize him, although he could not describe him. And Joe thought (he didn't tell the officers) that if he ran into that dude again, he would show him a thing or two about surviving the war in Liberia. He told me if that guy ever crossed his path again he would castrate him -- I know, that's kind of heavy -- it is generally assumed that you've got to be tough to survive that crazy war in Liberia and Joe was sending a message to me that he was no weakling; he was indeed tough. Okay.
Well, if you are a law enforcement officer you know there is not much to do in such a case. He was told that nothing could be done. As a matter of fact, the police told him they didn't think this man actually committed any crime by making a romantic proposal to another citizen. (Joe felt more humiliated when one of the officers actually laughed when he uttered those words.) The culprit could be charged for leaving the scene of the accident, but nothing could be done until they had an identity. So far, that wasn't the case. Joe was advised to file a formal complaint later if he remembered anymore. The policeman actually put his card in Joe's pocket since his fingers could not grip the card.
As I visited with John and listened to his sad story, I couldn't help but wonder why this man was attracted to so much love. You will remember on his last visit to Ohio, he was shown love by Sheila whom he rejected for reasons already stated. Now a brother in the city of brotherly love was trying to show him some love and he was ready to kill somebody - anybody, even if it meant himself.
I finally told Joe to be cool and make rational decisions in the future if he were to assure himself of survival in this society. I told him as disgusting as the thought of someone of the same sex making a sexual advance toward you may seem, you don't have to kill anybody, especially not yourself. I also told him to watch out for strangers, even if they call themselves "brothers". I told him not all brothers are brothers, some brothers are sisters or they'd like to make you a sister; the trick is to know the difference and stay away from them - assuming that that is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, if it is your cup of tea, go ahead and rock your world; it's your lucky day.
As I left Joe's hospital room, I began to catalogue the chain of events. Why did this dude pick Joe out of the crowd to victimize him? Poor Joe, I thought, the classic victim maybe. But the thought I couldn't explain away was this one: If Joe thought he was such a tough guy and he would be able to castrate this brother the next time they met, why did he get so scared to the point of almost committing suicide just because the brother touched him? Did the thought of this brother rocking his world seem so disgusting that he lost his composure? Was jumping out of the car an act meant to demonstrate cowardice or toughness? I don't know about you, but that's a no-brainer; I don't want to be caught in a tough situation with Joe. And why do they call Philadelphia "the city of brotherly love", anyway? Please stay tuned for the next episode of Joe's travels in the land of the brave, the land of the free...