It must have been back in the late 90s, probably 1998, I’d guess. A group of us from work were dining out. It was Christine, Simone, Don, and me, plus we were joined by Simone’s friend Angel. Simone had picked the restaurant, a Chinese eatery called Mustard Greens in Queen Village just below South Street. She had recently discovered the place and wanted all of us to try it.
A word about Angel whom Simone had introduced to me some time before. Angel’s the sort of person who is totally unpredictable, one moment capable of an incredible act of kindness, the next something so outrageous emerges from her mouth you can hardly believe it’s the same person.
And seemingly she knows everybody.
One time I was dining in a restaurant when I heard a shout from across the room: “Jay Tee-ee!”
As I looked up, Angel was headed my way. She stopped at my table and chatted for a few minutes. When she left, the restaurant’s owner approached me and said, “I didn’t realize you knew Angel.” From that moment on he treated me as a most favored nation, I mean customer, offering free drinks, etc. I got all sorts of street cred, just for knowing Angel.
Alas, it didn’t last long, as that place closed a few months later. Tax problems, I think.
But back to Mustard Greens.
We had a great meal, and then we walked around the corner to the house where Angel was living with her partner just off Penn’s Landing. Her partner at the time, and I’m sorry but I no longer recall her name, had been in a motorcycle accident and had received a huge payout from the insurance company, enough that it enabled her to purchase a lovely townhouse in a very well-to-do neighborhood.
When we got there, we were greeted by a fellow that I’ll call Mike. He apparently was a frequent visitor to their home, and Angel left him in charge of giving us the grand tour of the townhouse, which he did. It was a beautiful house, well appointed with paintings and knickknacks, and Mike turned out to be a friendly and humorous tour guide. Clearly he had done this before.
Tour completed, we all assembled in, I guess, the main living space and were chatting with Angel and Mike. Angel pointed out that the townhouse next door was on the market and suggested that I could probably afford it, which Simone found quite amusing. I think Angel had an inflated idea of the salaries of government civil servants, or perhaps I had an inflated idea of the property values in that neighborhood. I’d bet on the former.
And then out of the blue Mike spewed out some comments that left the rest of us pretty uncomfortable. He began spouting some racist tropes to the effect that Black people have it so much easier than white people these days.
I was completely taken aback, and while I wanted to respond, I didn’t think I’d be able to do so without losing my temper as Mike’s racism had caught me so completely off guard. Don did try to defuse the situation a bit with a “No, I don’t think that’s the case.” Or something to that effect.
But someone changed the subject, we started joking around, and in a short time we told Angel it was time for us to leave. I made a point of telling Angel’s partner, who had been watching television all this time, what a beautiful home she had, for which she thanked me, and then Angel walked us out, while Mike stayed behind.
When we got outside, Angel, perhaps to partly explain Mike’s remarks, mentioned that he had a bad gambling problem. We all said goodnight, and thus ended our evening.
Long afterwards it occurred to me that I might have said something along the lines of “So what you’re saying, Mike, is that you wish you had been born Black, is that right?” If I could have uttered it with just the right lightness, it might have lightened the mood.