Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Just as I thought the New Year was off to a decidedly joyous start, a strange thing happened on the way from Whole Foods. There I was walking along posh Fifth Avenue in New York City after having braved the elements on one of the coldest nights to date. I was feeling quite pleased with myself after taking the long trek through Central Park to the Whole Food's Wine Store which is inconveniently located on the other side of town. With my impending journey in mind, I bundled up chicly and warmly for the occasion as well as selected the appropriate catwalk playlist for my adventure. All seemed to be right in the universe. I must say there is still something within most of us that leaves one with some strange sense of accomplishment whenever we chose to meet Mother Nature on our own terms. On this adventurous evening, I was feeling much less like Holly Golightly and channeling a more modern-day John Wayne meets Annie Oakley kind of vibe. However, these feelings of accomplishment and transformation would be short lived. As I returned from my shopping expedition and began making my way out of the park along Fifth Avenue towards the old homestead, there they were. Flashing lights, pomp and circumstance, the whole nine yards -- New York's finest waiting to greet yours truly.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Manhattan, Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side is perhaps the most expensive strip of land in the entire United States -- if not the world. And no, I don't live on Fifth Avenue (yet), but I often take this route home to my humble abode located on Park Avenue in East Harlem dreaming of the day.
But on this particular evening all my day dreaming came to a screeching halt. For some strange and unapparent reason, I was being blinded by flashing red, blue and hot white lights. It was all a little surreal as I had never realized before this moment how bright the lights are on top of police cars. I must admit, there is something quite intoxicating about them until one realizes they are pointed in your direction.
Before I had a chance to adjust the volume on Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" which, by the way, is the perfect beat for a Naomi Campbell meets Gisele Bündchen style saunter, I realized the officer was gesturing towards my broken shopping bag. Did I fail to mention that on my walk home through the treacherous terrain of Central Park and while attempting to carry my Whole Foods' bag as if I were carrying a classic Louis Vuitton Tote, the paper handles betrayed me and ripped? (Note to self: invest in one of those Feed Me burlap sacks from the Bush girl.) So like any fashionista worth his or her salt, my imaginary LV tote was transformed into an oversized Fendi Baguette and securely clutched under my armpit for the remainder of my strut, I mean walk, home.
Feed Bag Totes @wholefoods.com / Louis Vuitton Sac Plat Tote
So there I was -- "strut interrupted" and being pulled over by the NYPD's Fashion Police. Luckily I've seen enough marathons of COPS to know exactly what was going on here. Therefore in order to avoid making any sudden moves, I slowly pulled out my earplugs without reaching for my shiny silver iPod. As I did this, the officer proceeded to walk cautiously towards me, and I could now clearly hear him ask in a somewhat aggressive tone, "What's inside the bag?" I must say there was something about the way he began scanning and examining my complete ensemble as he walked in my direction that I could tell he was reluctantly beginning to reassess the situation at hand. However, before my mouth could catch up with my brain, which is usually the case with yours truly, the following words came pouring out (verbatim). "Why are you stopping me? Oh no, let me guess. You have a strange fetish for Tom Ford's Yves Saint Laurent collection circa 2001?"
The offending fashion violation / Tom Ford (photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Please do not ask me why these choice words came out but this was the only thing I could think of to diffuse the situation. And apparently it was working. I immediately noticed the male Caucasian officer as well as his female partner begin to smile. But of course, the male officer was now intrigued as well as invested in his interrogation. "We got a report and are looking for a..." Before he could finish his sentence my inner John Wayne coupled with the ancestral rumblings of Sojourner Truth decided to possess my tongue. "Officer, unless you are looking for a black man wearing a leather trench coat and a maxi-skirt, carrying a broken Whole Foods' bag containing two bottles of organic cabernet sauvignon, I suggest you leave me at my peace." Where were these words coming from? "If not, I am sure this would make for a great article in my Huffington Post column captioned, Fashionista Arrested -- Strutting While Black." To which he replied, "Have a nice evening sir." Of course, I could not resist putting a proper period on our encounter, "You do the same Officer Friendly." As I kicked the train of my cascading frock and turned to make my dramatic exit, I tried my very best not to give the young officer the satisfaction of noticing the sense of terror that had silently crept between each line of my sarcasm and biting wit.
As I made my way closer and closer to home and further away from the now tainted Fifth Avenue, I could feel every fiber of my being wanting to run. But I didn't run. Instead, I decided to gather my nerves, cinch my waist and continue my strut. However, this time it was much more Giselle and a lot less Naomi -- as we all know where Ms. Campbell's hot temper has often landed her.
Once I reached the confines of my sanctuary and the experience started to turn around in my head as well as stir in my heart, I could feel myself becoming a bit verklempt. I began to think of all the young black men across this fair land of ours that are stopped every single day for no apparent reason other than for simply being black. Imagine if I did not have my gay-wit and engaging sense of humor to diffuse the situation. Imagine if this wit and humor were replaced with justified frustration and angry words. Imagine a slip of the tongue being misconstrued as insubordination or defiance. Imagine if my Rive-Gauche couture had been swapped for sagging and oversized hip-hop swag. Imagine if I didn't have the threat of the free press and instead promised to sue or retaliate. Imagine if a sudden move to adjust the volume on an iPod had been mistaken for reaching for a knife or gun. Imagine.