***I am lucky to live in Boulder, CO, but I am and have been a political loud mouth about our local xenophobic zoning and land-use policies. While most of the country was celebrating the off-year election results in Virginia, New Jersey, Seattle and other places, Boulder elected an anti-housing, protectionist slate of conservative zealots. My heart hurts.
When I woke up yesterday morning, the scent of Boulder’s white privilege stunk differently.
The first time I smelled overt racism was the fall of 1970. I rode my gold Schwinn Stingray with flaked banana seat, 3’ sissy bar and orange safety flag down 152nd Street, pedaling faster after the canal at 77th Ave and the field of dank tall weeds that became the park years later. I was on my way to Coral Reef Elementary School, 1st day of 1st grade.
That was the 1st year Miami integrated public schools.
I came from NYC, and Earl the Pearl & Clyde Frasier were two of my sporting heroes. One of my favorite early childhood memories was going to the Garden with my dad to see the Knicks in the playoffs the spring of 70, the year they beat the Lakers for the NBA championship in 7 games. Willis Reed hobbled out onto the court, the hero. My hero.
Howard Cosell saying to him on live national television: "You exemplify the very best that the human spirit can offer.”
And that’s how I felt about black people in my mind and heart when I rode up to school and a bunch of angry white housewives had signs that read “No Niggers Here!” “Niggers Go Home!” and other crazy shit, none of which I could really understand. At least not the words themselves.
This hate smelled much different than the kind slinking around 21st century Boulder, CO. It had an acrid scent like too much Folgers instant, Magic City humidity and crushed blue crabs on hot asphalt.
It was a powerful smell you could feel like the breath of Hurricane Gerda, one that lingered long after it went - a sad and soggy destruction that mosquitoes thrived on. I wondered whose parents would make those signs and hold them, scream at kids like that. I wondered where all the anger came from.
Didn’t yet understand that rage or the history. It was a year and half later before my mother first got diagnosed with breast cancer, and even longer until I had studied slavery.
I just remember seeing Curtis Jackson for the first time through the window of the yellow school bus, the bus blocking some of the foul-mouthed anger and hate. Curtis had a big smile and even bigger fro. I smiled at him and waved. He nodded back at me.
Wealthy white privileged racism in Boulder has a more distinct and subtle odor.
In Boulder it smells like a mixture of gluten free zucchini bread with a cashew milk latte, $2.50 per hour to park near Indian Peaks Foothills fresh air, a 2018 Lynskey Pro titanium cross frame, new Lululemons, a freshly Palo Santo good vibes wood smudged Kundalini yoga studio, some hispanic people in a trailer park we want to landmark over there somewhere, and a green & white compostable bag full of dog shit propped on a rock halfway up Sanitas Trail.
All passers by wondering who the damn hell left it there - yeah right, he’s going to pick it up on the way down.
The smell is in the la di dah la di dah, re-uptake inhibitor happiest place in the nation we all recently read about. That more PhDs per sq foot - that history of sales tax for open space liberalism, the Next Door American Bistro crowded on a Wednesday afternoon, did you know Elon Musk’s brother owns this place, get me some garlic smashers - that Niwot curse irony of me not in the picture referring to it.
As if my coming has nothing to do with the undoing even though none of Niwot’s ancestors seem to be around anymore. It’s always the people who came after me. As if me being the 76,242nd person doesn’t contribute to the scent.
The integration and school busing system implemented in Miami reeked of white privilege. From 1st to 5th grades, black kids were uprooted from neighborhood schools and distributed to white elementaries on the east side of South Dixie Highway. Frank C. Martin Elementary in the heart of the Richmond Heights neighborhood - a solidly black middle class neighborhood became a 6th grade only school.
Frank C. Martin Elementary was founded in 1952 by Captain Frank Crawford Martin, a World War II veteran pilot. Captain Martin initially purchased the land that became Richmond Heights in an effort to provide affordable housing for Black veterans. I imagined he knew something akin to the way I knew Earl the Pearl Monroe.
And one year of elementary school, white kids from four feeder schools east of South Dixie Highway got bussed to Richmond Heights. Kids from neighborhoods named Gables Estates, Gables by the Sea, Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, and Deering Estates catching the bus.
Frank C. Martin smelled like no other elementary - a delicious combo of pre-teen freedom and dreams, and homemade hot southern rolls that came out of the cafeteria ovens piping hot everyday.
The only time I remember it snowing in Miami was my year at Frank C. Martin 1977. All these 11 & 12 yr olds running around throwing snowballs. So many of us had never seen it before. I had and Curtis knew I had. We still smiled somewhat innocently when we hucked snowballs at each other.
It snowed in Boulder this election day. It’s interesting the way snow can make the town feel cleaner, even more white than it already is. It’s as though it hides what’s just beneath the surface. But it melts fast here in Boulder, not nearly as fast as it did that morning in 1977 in Miami, but fast enough to know better.
As fast as Borat made the illusion melt, as fast as Donald Trump only a year ago.
The Boulder modern bouquet of racism doesn’t wave rebel flags, isn’t hooded in white Klan outfits like the kind I saw in 1975 where Old Cutler Rd meets South Dixie Highway around 224 St in Goulds, just north of Homestead. My mom and I were coming home from Kerry’s, the importers where my mom purchased bromeliads for her living sculptures.
That day at Kerry’s, Kerry himself used the N-word in front of my mom and me. I forget the exact context, but it was directed at one of the workers there - Michael, a guy who was always nice to me and mom. My mom called Kerry out on the spot. He looked my mom straight in the eye and said something like:
“All you northeastern liberals come down here and think you can tell us how to be. Where do you live? Gables Estates, Deering Bay? How many black families live in your neighborhood? Mike’s family and mine have lived together for 50+ years. Our children go to school together, play together. We eat at each other’s homes. Don’t tell me how to talk. How many black families live in your neighborhood?”
Mike and Kerry and I helped my Mom load her order into the back of her beige Chevy wagon. No one said anything. When my mom and I were in the car, Kerry leaned into the driver’s side open window, his elbows on the door frame. He smelled like horse manure compost and Mint Copenhagen. His teeth were yellow and his face Homestead tomato red.
“Have a nice day. Thanks for your business.”
My mom backed out the dirt road in reverse. Every other time I’d been there with her she pulled forward and turned around by one of the hot houses. Not this time. She didn’t take me to the Amish Farm to get a strawberry shake and sticky bun either. Normally I would have protested real loudly. The strawberry milkshake and sticky buns were my main reason for helping out, but I understood, sort of.
She just drove east to Dixie Highway. Kerry’s was on the edge of the swamp, and I could tell my mom just wanted to get as far as away as quickly as possible - especially because what Kerry said made some weird sense in my 10-yr old head.
So we get to Goulds and we’re stopped at a red light, waiting to turn right onto Old Cutler. I see the Klansmen handing out literature before my mom does, the twenty or so men in hoods. She seemed to be lost in what took place twenty minutes earlier. And before she can roll up the windows, a Klansman hands me a flyer. She yanked it out of my hands and threw it back out the window. Sped off like a swamp monster was chasing her.
I notice how hungry I am. But don’t say anything because I know there’s nothing on Old Cutler Road way out here. I smell an uneaten Whopper and fries coming from the air conditioner, the windows up now, doors locked, how the smell of car air conditioning can tangibly morph with feeling.
And on WIOD the Wings are on:
Oh yes, indeed we know
That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow
That's what the man said
So won't you listen to what the man said
In Boulder the whiff takes names like “neighborhood character” and “quality of life.” It’s a grease stain in the zoning and land use code that enables seemingly “good” liberal minded folks to play pretend with their politics. “I love affordable housing.” “I am all for co-ops.” Not here though. Not now. Always the here & now in their quasi-Buddhist approach except when it comes to housing someone different.
I know I moved next to a pig farm, but why does it smell so bad.
In 1993 on Martin Luther King day, a noted hate group held a rally on Boulder’s iconic Pearl St Mall by the old Courthouse. A couple hundred protesters met the small group of ragtag overt haters. The protesters held signs that said things like: “No Hate Here.” “Haters go home.” “No more importance than the color of his eyes.” Chanted uplifting slogans.
The hate group leader got up and spoke directly to the crowd, and he smelled of Dairy Queen soft serve subversive and cigarette tobacco. “Why are you so mad at me, Boulder? I came here because you’ve created what we want - a rich, white city. We came here to learn from you. We want to know how you did it. You’re the model for us.”
The discomfort in the crowd of protesters had this weird odor like a covered-up burp from a fast food restaurant burger, one snuck on the way home from a night drinking - like damn - you found me out.
“If you love diversity so much,” he continued, “why don’t you live in Cleveland, Chicago or Detroit? It’s MLK day, and I don’t see one negro in this crowd. Do any black people live in Boulder? Again, have your people get in touch with mine. We love Boulder. We want to emulate what you’ve done so effectively.”
As the protesters slinked away, I thought about Curtis Jackson, about my second grade birthday party at the Bowl-O-Mat. I remember when Curtis’ mom dropped him off, how excited I was that he was coming to my birthday. The rented bowling shoes always smelled like pesticides to me, that weird spray between uses disinfected the way the grown-ups in Boulder pretend about inclusivity.
Curtis and I bowled on the same team, high fived when we won. My mom had gotten pizza from Papa Rico’s on 144th and an ice cream cake from Carvel. The little chocolate crunchies in the ice cream cake reminded me of Tom Carvel’s gravelly voice when he said, “Wednesday is always Sundae at Carvel” on the commercials.
But after bowling his mom picked him up, and I was sad because he was supposed to sleep over that night, and I didn’t understand why he wasn’t. Was mad at my mom for not telling me beforehand. Kevin Love and Brooke and a couple other kids did sleep over, but Curtis was my best friend at school.
That was around the time my parents found out my mom had breast cancer. It was the year the Dolphins went undefeated and won the Super Bowl too. Even though my parents never directly told me she had cancer, as a teenager, when I fell asleep on the couch and she would wake me up, turn off the TV, and tell me to go to my bedroom, I could see through her nightgown that her left breast was missing.
I never said anything or asked. Not until way later when she was on the couch dying - in and out of her morphine drip those final days. She told me that Curtis couldn’t sleep over that night because some of the other white parents said their kids wouldn’t be allowed to if “that nigger kid” did. Some weren’t even allowed to go bowling, she told me.
“You remember that day at Kerry’s,” she asked. “When he said the N-word?” I nodded yes and held her bony hand tighter. “What he said to me that day was true. It’s easy to be liberal and equal and have a voice when there aren’t any real consequences.”
“Why are you remembering this now,” I asked?
“Because I didn’t have the guts to let Curtis sleep over at your 2nd birthday, to tell those ignorant women to fuck off like I should have.” I always loved when my mom cursed uninhibited like a Jean Genet character. “It was my fault, and that day at Kerry’s raised my guilt. He was right. I should have taken you to the Amish Farm that day for a strawberry shake. I’m sorry. I could go for one right now.”
“Really mom,” I said through tears.
“Really,” she said. And I got up and told her I’d get her one as fast as I could. The putrid aroma of death on a relatively young human can also smell delightful.
When I got back, she had zonked out and my coming in woke her up. She asked where I had been. I handed her the bag. Nothing in my youth smelled quite as delicious as those buns and strawberry shakes. Nothing. But she had forgotten her earlier desire.
So I drank the shake and ate a few of the sticky rolls, but they tasted metallic, the way it feels when a fork hits the tooth and tongue the wrong way.
And here and now in Boulder, only patches of snow linger the Thursday post election day, but almost 25 years since that MLK day not much has changed, and it seems to have gotten much worse. Boulder is richer and whiter and just elected a bunch of Gables Estates type crackers - the ones Kerry dressed down, the everyone-is-equal just not here & now kind.
And the zoning and land-use rules used to prevent housing, create token ghettos and protect “neighborhood character” smell much less subtle than the privileged new age mixture that seems so intoxicating on the surface.
It’s the Greeley upslope, the Weld County slaughterhouse rotting stench pushing up against the foothills, singing, in a beat like the Gourds redoing Gin & Juice, something like: I know you like to think that your shit don’t stink, but lean a little bit closer…