I was nervous, and shifting my body weight from left to right while I stood in front of a packed auditorium at Germantown High School in Philadelphia. I hadn't been back to G-Town since I graduated from the school in 1989. I made sure that I looked good that morning too. I was dressed in a tan Victoria's Secret suit with brown leather Enzo shoes, skin-tone stockings, French manicured nails, newly plucked eyebrows, and my hair was wrapped shoulder length and flipped at the edges. I wore the seductive G perfume, and looked simply ravishing! However, this was Philadelphia, a city where they brought you back down to earth, especially high school students. So after I was introduced to them as Tracy Ellison Grant, a Germantown grad with a master's degree in English from Hampton, a Philadelphia schoolteacher, a scriptwriter for several television shows, and finally the screenwriter, associate producer, and star of the Hollywood feature film Led Astray, I took the stage and was visibly nervous about what they would ask me about my life and my business. Since I was a new American star, my business was no longer mine.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to step up to the microphone at the wooden podium. I looked out at five hundred students and faculty members. Like Tupac Shakur, all eyes were on me. I didn't know where to begin.
I said, "Wow! Germantown High School. It's good to be back."
The microphone was loud and clear. The auditorium had been renovated with dark brown wooden chairs, and the floor was shiny and clean. For a second, I had flashbacks of Diana Ross in Mahogany. I could feel it. I was no longer with the people. I was somewhere up...there, and trying to get back down, but they were not helping me. All they did was stare at me in hushed silence, waiting for me to say something that would validate their preconceptions of stardom. I felt like a tightrope walker in the circus, fifty feet up in the air. My audience was filled with many who prayed for me to make it to the other side in style, while others jinxed me for a big, sloppy fall, so they could walk out and talk about me.
I told you she ain't shit! She ain't no better than none of us!
I told myself, You're thinking too much, Tracy. Calm down and just...talk! You're stronger than this. Much stronger! I just had to convince them that I was still cool like that, and down-to-earth. The stardom hadn't changed me. Or did it?
I held my head up high and said, "It's been a long road for me." I smiled and continued, "If you read Flyy Girl, then I guess you know half of it. But I went through a lot more to make it to where I am today, and a lot of people didn't think that I could do it. A lot of people were jealous, and a lot of them are still jealous.
"But I had some good friends and some good breaks along the way, and I just had to keep my head strong to make it," I told them. "You have to set out to do what you want to do in order to become who you want to become, regardless of what everyone else is doing.
"So I held on to my goals and kept moving forward." I said, "I just had confidence in myself, and I had friends who supported me, as well as the haters who didn't. And if you want to be successful in whatever it is you want to do in your life, then you can use mine as an example of how to go for it, by learning from all of my mistakes and taking from all of my strengths."
That was the gist of my short speech that morning before Stephanie Lletas, the veteran schoolteacher who had invited me back to Germantown High, stood up to address their questions to me. My short speech was just the tip of the iceberg.
"For those of you who have questions, we have two microphones set up in both aisles. We'll need you all to stand in single-file lines," she addressed them. The students all called her Mrs. Let. Mrs. Let was all business even when I was a student there, and before me. She dressed sharp every day, knew her stuff, and didn't take no stuff! I admired her. I couldn't stomach being a schoolteacher in Philadelphia for two years, let alone teach for twenty. She even offered to pay me a honorarium, but I told her to keep it. I wasn't so big that I couldn't speak at my old high school without a fee.
The lines behind the microphones backed up with mostly girls, then the questions began:
A tall girl grinned in her jeans and short-sleeved pink shirt. She was as nervous as I was.
"In your book Flyy Girl, you were waiting for Victor Hinson to get out of jail at the end, and I just wanted to know what ever happened between you two."
I smiled. Everyone who read my book wanted an answer to that question.
I said, "By the time he got out of jail, he had legally changed his name, found himself a new woman, married her and had children. And I had to get over it."
They were all in shock, or at least the students who had read my book. No microphone was needed.
"He up and dropped you just like that?" another girl shouted toward the stage. A few boys in the background began to snicker. I guess that a lot of the young studs considered it a norm for a man to play a woman.
The sisters, however, were outraged and hanging on my every word. If only I could film the pain in their faces and record their collective moan. They really wanted their love story to remain a reality, but life was not that simple. Especially in the nineties with so many failed relationships. Hopefully, the new millennium would bring brighter days for black love.
"He had his reasons," I told them. I really didn't want to get into it. There had been many nights of pain regarding that chocolate-coated man named Victor, but the sweetness had faded away. I had to move on from him. I even wrote a poem about it: "When the Sweet Turns Sour."
After I answered the Victor Hinson question, it seemed like half of the line reclaimed their seats. I wished that I could create some beautiful love fantasy to offer them instead, but I couldn't. Fantasies were for Hollywood.
The next question came from a short girl wearing glasses.
"Do you still write your poetry?"
"Yes I do," I answered. "I used to perform a lot of my poetry right here in Philadelphia before I moved out to Los Angeles."
"Are you thinking about publishing any of it?" she asked. She looked like an aspiring poet herself, studious and introspective.
"Yes I am. So keep your eyes open for it in the future," I told her. "I just don't know what I want to call it yet. I thought about calling it Griot Sistah, but I haven't decided on it," I added with a smile.
The first guy in line asked me, "How hard was it to break into Hollywood?" He even had a tape recorder in his hand.
I grinned at him. "Why, are you planning to be the next Spike Lee or Robert Townsend?" He looked like a do-it-yourselfer, too strong-willed to wait. Hollywood would make you wait until you couldn't stand it anymore, but everyone wanted to be lucky, "Lucky Like Me," another one of my many poems. Poetry was what kept me sane, during my insane years of dreaming about fame and fortune.
The young brother said, "Yeah, I want to make movies one day," and cracked a smile. He was being modest. You had to be modest in a predominately black high school in Philadelphia. They forced you to be modest: the snickering, the eye-rolling, and the doubting. It was what made me so nervous about returning that morning, and so hard headed when I was a teenager. To hell with the crowd! I'm going to be me! This young guy was smarter than that, and his modesty protected him from the wolves.
I said, "It can be hard to make it in Hollywood if you're not prepared for it. Very hard. But that's with anything that you do. You have to learn as much as you can, always ask questions, and keep your dream alive until you make it," I advised him. "Some people get their break early, some people get their break late. And I was just fortunate because I never stopped working."
Another guy was ready to ask me a question, and he could not even stand at the microphone without acting silly. I could tell that he wasn't about anything before he even opened his mouth. He had that slick-ass,
I-know-it-all look, the kind of guy I learned to curse out in a heartbeat.
"In your movie Led Astray, when you were naked, was that your body, or was that a body double?"
That was just the kind of question those immature guys were waiting for. A roar of laughter launched through the entire auditorium while the teachers shouted and scrambled to maintain order. The girls hissed at the boys for acting stupid, just like I would have done, but that only added to the noise. Mrs. Let motioned to have the student removed from the auditorium, but I stopped her.
"No, he has a legitimate question," I responded. "I'll answer him." First I had to wait for everyone to settle back down.
I composed myself and asked, "Has anyone seen Spike Lee's movie
Girl 6?" A few hands went up, but far less than I expected. Philadelphia teenagers were mostly too damned cool to raise their hands unless you spoke to an advanced class, or at an advanced school. Some students needed extra motivation for everything.
"Well, in the movie Girl 6, the main character was repetitively asked to take her clothes off, and she wouldn't do it, and so she didn't get the role. But the moral of the story was that there are many immature and oversexed men who run Hollywood, who have never grown up. And actresses end up having to cater to that immaturity," I said. "Just like with these rap videos; they just have to see some ass and some tit, even though it's not in the song. So I'm glad that he asked me that question, because now I can tell everybody here that men need to grow the hell up!
"Why does the woman have to get butt naked and raw just for you to like the damn movie?"
The crowd went wild behind my frank explanation. I turned and had to apologize to Mrs. Let for my candor. She waved it off and told me to keep going. However, it wasn't as if all of the girls in the audience agreed with me. When the crowd settled down, a girl wearing a Muslim head wrap begged to differ. She stepped to the microphone and said, "I'm saying though, you could have told them no. We have to learn to respect ourselves like that. We can't just tell guys to grow up and mature if we're still gonna shake our behinds and whatnot in front of the camera, and be the hoochie mommas in the videos and movies. We have to start saying no to that!"
"THAT'S RIGHT! TELL HER!" a number of the guys shouted in her support.
I couldn't really argue with the sister, but I was embarrassed and my ego made me argue my point anyway.
"You know what? The irony is that if we don't get in the film at all, and someone else does the role who may not necessarily care about voicing their concerns, then we never get to change anything. So we have to learn to transform the imagery into something more than just naked sex."
I guess my argument sounded weak because the Muslim girl jumped all over it.
She frowned, shook her head, and said, "No! You change the imagery by walking off of the stage and not doing it." she walked away from the microphone and left me steaming.
I said, "That was the same argument we had in the thirties and forties about playing maids and Aunt Jemimas. But you know what? We were maids and Aunt Jemimas in real life, and we didn't make a tenth of what they did portraying one in a movie. So don't just focus on the image, try to change the reality. That's what real art is supposed to inspire us to do: change our realities."
That ruined the entire event for me. I was on the defensive for the rest of the lecture. There were a few questions about my friends Raheema and Mercedes, which they had read about, and I gave them half-assed answers without much feeling. I was a damn wreck. All of my doubts that morning were consuming me.
I couldn't wait to get the hell out of Germantown High School that morning. I felt so damned small! A mouse hole was too big for me. I knew better before I ever agreed to do the sex scenes in the movie, and it was my original screenplay. Artists have to be brave and stand up for their work. Maybe I wasn't as brave as I thought I was. Was I still the too-fast Tracy of my younger years, chasing Hollywood fame for my own personal high and fortunes? Or was I really the artist that I claimed to be, with something original to offer to the people? I was still confused about that. Was I doing it for the love of the art, or for the high of the money?
When the lecture was finally over, after signing autographs, Mrs. Let walked me out the door and tried her best to console me. "We all have our crosses to bear, young sister. The more you try to do, the heavier your cross becomes. That's why so many people decide to do so little, but that doesn't change the size of your cross. God will find ways to test you anyway."
Ain't it the truth, I thought to myself. I thanked Mrs. Let for having me and thought about how hard I fought to get to the big screen. I wondered if it was all worth it. I walked off by myself to climb into my rental car and slip away before anyone else could notice me.
My mother told me how much my young cousin Vanessa admired me. She was a sophomore at Engineering & Science High School in North Philadelphia, where my brother Jason graduated a year earlier. She had read my book Flyy Girl six times and memorized it. She was my first cousin Patricia's oldest daughter. Trish and I had never been close, going all the way back to my sixth birthday party, but can you believe she named her first daughter Vanessa Tracy Smith? The girl even had the nerve to look like me, subtract my light eyes. Vanessa had brown eyes so dark they looked black. She was a shade or two lighter than me, with dyed light hair to accentuate her allure. The family had all been telling her for years how much she favored me. I was flattered and looking forward to seeing Vanessa again, but the visit to my old high school had dulled my excitement a bit. I was no longer in a good mood. To make matters worse, since North Philadelphia was not exactly my cup of tea, I got lost trying to find E&S High School and ended up running late.
When I arrived, Vanessa was still waiting for me out on the front steps of the school with two friends in tow, just like I would have been. I smiled and wondered how long she would have made her friends wait had I run even later.
"Oh my God!" one of her friends shouted. The other girl was more reserved, but they were both ready with their notepads and pens in hand for my autograph. I signed them immediately and told them to stay smart.
Vanessa played it cool. She cracked a smile and asked me if I had gotten lost again. I had told her previously that I could not find E&S to save my life, even when my brother was there.
"Well, I'll see y'all in school tomorrow," Vanessa told her two friends. They looked like your typical girl power clique, all pretty and knowing it. They were various shades of brown like a box of chocolates, but they were nowhere near as flyy as my crew would have been back in the eighties. They were just...plain. The nineties generation was more flyy in attitude, and were much more reserved about it, like in a secretly snobbish sort of way. In the eighties, we were flyy physically, mentally, and with our attitudes. We were all out in the open with it, wearing all of our gold, designer glasses, silk shirts, Gucci gear, expensive coats, and plenty of fancy hairdos. We rubbed it all in people's faces: I'm flyy, and you're not! Which of course resulted in many of us getting flat-out robbed by the jealous haters.
I was figuring on giving Vanessa's friends a ride home before she quickly dismissed them. However, since E&S was an academic high school, many of the students who went there lived nowhere near North Philadelphia, but Vanessa did. She lived right off of Girard Avenue, across the bridge from the Philadelphia Zoo. Although, I didn't imagine that she hung around there much. Vanessa was more of a traveler.
She followed me over to my rented Ford in the parking lot and looked around as if I was driving something else. I was used to that. Hollywood was full of car watchers.
"It's a rental car," I told my cousin. "All I need to do is get around in it. I'd rather not have all of the extra attention of driving a nice car while I'm home anyway."
Vanessa smiled off her disappointment and shrugged. "I guess you can get tired of so many people watching you," she said.
I nodded and opened the car doors. "You know I don't have to answer that."
She said, "But you got a lot of attention before you moved to Hollywood."
"And you don't?" I asked her as we climbed inside.
She shrugged again. "I have other things to do."
Like what? I thought of asking, but we had plenty of time for that. I would be in town visiting for two weeks.
"What kind of car do you drive out in Los Angeles?" she asked me.
I was afraid to even answer, but I answered her anyway. "A Mercedes."
Vanessa grinned. "What color?"
She nodded. "I like the dark blue ones."r
Have you been in one? I thought. Why was I holding back with her? I forced myself to ask her anyway. "Are you into cars or something?"
She nodded. "I'm into a little bit of everything."
How about teenage sex and fast men? Are you into that?
I was assuming everything and I couldn't help myself. I just started to laugh.
"You're not trying to play out all of the things I did in my life are you? Because that's not the way to succeed," I told her. I felt hypocritical as soon as the sentence left my mouth.
"No, I haven't done any of those things," she said. "But I do want to live nice."
She did live in North Philadelphia. I was a Germantown girl in my days. That made a big difference in perception and in lifestyle.
I was hungry so I decided to stop off at a steak shop for that nationally known Philadelphian treat: a cheese steak with fried onions, salt, pepper, and ketchup. Vanessa ordered a fish sandwich with cheese fries.
"You don't eat steaks?" I asked her.
She frowned. "Mmm, sometimes, but not a whole one."
I looked over her body size. She was not my five foot eight height. Vanessa was closer to five foot six, and she did not have a body like I did at her age.
"How much do you weigh?" I asked her.
She grinned. "Why, I look skinny? I weigh a hundred and ten."
At five foot five and a half, one hundred and ten pounds was thin.
"You better eat some of this steak, girl," I teased her. "You're not Calista Flockhart."
"The girl who plays Ally McBeal," I told her.
"Oh. I'm not that skinny. I just don't want to be like my mom."
I didn't know how to respond to that. Her grandmother, my Aunt Marsha, was big, and my cousin Trish had followed in her mother's footsteps. They both chose men who didn't stick around. Vanessa had every reason in the world to want more. I just didn't want to encourage her in the wrong way.
"Well, just don't overdo it," I told her. "Good exercise will take care of any extra pounds before you even let it get that far."
By the time we finished our food, it was close to four o'clock. I had an appointment in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, at six. I didn't want to be caught in rush-hour traffic trying to make it, but I couldn't take Vanessa, and I didn't want to rush away from her either.
"You know, I have an appointment I need to get to soon, but let's say I pick you up from your school again on Thursday and we hang out then. I'll try and see you all this weekend too."
I wanted to butter up the pot, but Thursday was my only promise.
Vanessa nodded. "I have an assignment to finish today anyway," she said.
I couldn't tell if she was brushing me off or if she felt slighted in some way. I was sure that she could get along without me though. She struck me as a big girl, and big girls don't cry.
I stood up and tossed our food in the trash bin. "Well, let me drive you home then, and I'll pick you up again on Thursday on time," I emphasized with a smile.
Vanessa hesitated. "Can you drop me off at the main library on Vine Street? I have to look up a few things."
Was she really going there for homework? I would have it bad if I ever had a daughter. I had too many recollections on my mind from my own reckless days as a teen. I mean, Vanessa did go to Engineering & Science, one of the top public high schools in Philadelphia. She had good grades at that. How could I doubt her?
"Yeah, that's no problem," I told her.
We were less than five minutes away from Vine. I dropped her off at the front steps of the main library and made sure she was okay. She didn't talk to me much on the short ride there.
"Are you okay?" I asked her before we parted.
"Yeah, I'm okay. I just have a lot of things to do."
"You're introverted, aren't you?" I asked her.
She looked squeamish, as if she didn't want to answer. That told me all I needed to know.
"Well...yeah, I guess so."
That was another difference between us. I expressed myself all of the time, with my words, and with my actions. Vanessa was more of the sneaky type. They were more dangerous because you could never quite tell about them. My old next-door neighbor Mercedes was that way, and her story was tragic.
I was still not convinced about my little cousin's library visit, but I had things to do as well, so I had to let it go.
"Okay, I'll see you Thursday," I told her.
She just smiled at me.
I drove off and couldn't get Vanessa off of my mind. Sure, she was my cousin and all, but I thought of her more as a girl who looked up to me, and someone ready to flower, who may just need a little more attention. A lot of girls needed more attention.
I drove all the way to Jenkintown thinking about how hard it was to be a grown-up and a role model. I was a role model whether I liked it or not, because I was an African-American star in a land where too many of us were not given the opportunity to even breathe. It seemed unreal. How in the world did I do it? Everyone was watching and talking about me. That's a lot of pressure on a person.
I returned my rental and caught a short taxi ride to the Jenkintown car dealership. I was more than a half hour early for my appointment. I guess I overestimated travel time in Philadelphia because of all of the traffic jams in Los Angeles that I had become accustomed to. I figured I could get in and get out with the vehicle that I wanted to buy, but my original salesperson (a brother named Byron) was not there. Whenever you deal with two different car salesmen you end up starting all over again. I already liked my price, so I planned on waiting around a few minutes, until I saw the platinum-colored Infiniti SUV I had wanted for my father. Boy was it sexy! I just had to take another look.
"Can I help you with anything?"
I turned and faced a young, eager white guy in a dark suit and tie. He looked straight out of college.
I said, "Has anyone put a bid on this SUV?" I wanted to see if the other salesman had set aside my name and price for that platinum Infiniti like I had asked him to. I was also curious to see if I could even sweeten the deal, or if the new salesman would try and screw me. I had read in a magazine somewhere that African-American women got the worse deals in the country on new cars.
"No, not that I know of," he answered me.
ard"Are you sure? Because I wouldn't want to take someone else's car."
He smiled and said, "It's not someone else's car until they've driven off the lot with it."
"But what if another salesman was already working with it?"
That poor guy had no idea how deep I was about to dig him.
"Well, in that case, we would have a record of it."
Two things crossed my mind. First, if my initial salesman did not take
me seriously, then maybe he didn't record it. Second, if the new guy was a wheeler-dealer, then maybe he would lie about it even if it was recorded, or talk to his boss about unrecording it if the price was right. I thought of a lot of different imaginary plots as a writer. I couldn't help myself. It kept me sharp.
I planned to stir up the plot a little more. I said, "I'll tell you what. What price would you give me if I could buy it today in cash?"
"In cash? Tonight?" He looked hungry enough to eat for four.
I said, "Yes," and allowed him a full view of my style of dress and my purse to entice him.
"Ah, I'll be right back. I'll have to go see." He began to walk away, but then he turned, too quickly, and looked desperately at me. "Ah, would you like to walk inside with me?"
"Why, do you think that I would leave?" I asked him with a grin. "I want to finish looking at it."
He nodded, and realized his own eagerness with a smile.
"Okay, I'll be right back out." He turned to face me once more before he made it inside. "I'll get the keys and let you take her for a ride."
I nodded to him and grinned. "Okay."
Byron, my initial salesman, showed up just in time to make it more interesting. Life was all a game anyway, especially when you have the money to play, so I was enjoying myself.
He said, "Hey, you know what? After I talked to you last night, I wrote your name and number down and said, 'Tracy Ellison Grant? I wonder if that's the one who played in that movie Led Astray?' Then I thought about it and said, 'Damn, she is from Philadelphia. What the hell was I thinking?!'
"I apologize for that, sister. I really do," he said. "Let's go ahead and make this deal."
The brother was raw energy, excited like a new boyfriend on that first private night. He even looked like a winner in his light gray pin-striped suit and burgundy striped tie that jumped out at me. I had gotten Byron's name and number from a friend who had gotten a good deal from him. I didn't make a big deal about my star status. I wanted to use that as my ace in the hole.
Out walked my new salesman with the keys. I didn't even know his name.
I said, "You know, I had talked to Byron last night about this car before I came in. I just wanted to see if he had set it aside for me."
The white guy looked crushed, but he tried to play it off.
"Oh, well, okay. Byron, you talked to her yesterday?" He had to make sure I wasn't pulling a fast one on him just to give a brother a sale.
Byron had betrayal written all over his face. He quickly played that off too.
"Yeah, I talked to her. She wasn't supposed to be here until six."
"I was running early," I explained.
Byron snatched those keys away as if he had to feed a greedy wife and eight kids.
"Yeah, man, I got it."
The manager walked out and said, "Excuse me. You say you're interested in this Infiniti?" He was a tall white man with gray edges invading his thick, dark hair. He wore a dark suit and tie himself. I guess Byron wanted to stand out and look a little jazzy at work with the light-colored suit.
The manager moved toward the keys as if he wanted to give me a personal look through, but Byron beat him to the driver's-side door with them instead.
He said, "I talked to her about this SUV last night. She's an actress. Tracy Ellison Grant. She has a book out too. Flyy Girl, right?" he asked me. He damn sure wasn't giving up those keys. I mean, if you want to see some real acting you should visit one of these hungry car dealerships.
The manager got the picture and said, "An actress? Oh." He gave me a long stare. I knew what was coming next. "So, what have you starred in?"
The first young white guy stuck around just to be nosy. I guess his feelings were hurt at losing a golden sale. I was sure that he would talk about me. He would probably call me all kinds of names, but I was used to that. Some people just had to grow up.
Byron jumped back in and answered, "Led Astray. It was about this black woman who was trying to make it out in Hollywood, and how she got all caught up in the game, and decided to play her own game."
All of a sudden, the brother was my public relations rep.
His manager and coworker were still nodding, both dying to have those keys in hand.
"Well, you ready to take it for a ride?" Byron asked me. He was as eager to get away from them and secure his sale as they were to try and take it from him.
First the boss had to chat me up with the usual: How long had I been acting? How does it feel to be a star? He apologized for not knowing any of my work, and then he promised to look out for me in the future. He thanked me for doing business with them, asked me how I found out about the dealership, and just went on and on.
I was so happy to climb inside of that beautiful Infiniti that I didn't know what to do with myself. People will outright talk your ear off sometimes. I only listened to all of his jabber because I wanted to sweeten my final sale price at the end of the night. You can't expect to do that with a nasty attitude.
When we pulled off, Byron got real on me and started talking that black talk.
"You see that?" he asked me, shaking his head with a grin. "They were scheming to take this damn sale. I'm glad you looked out for me like that, sister. I didn't know you could make it out here early. If I would have known that, I wouldn't have taken my break until after you came."
I smiled back at him and toyed with all of the gadgets in the car.
"Oh, she's nice, ain't she? This is top of the line here," he told me.
"Why do men refer to cars as 'she'?" I asked just for the hell of it.
"Because we're men," Byron answered. He laughed, a strong hearty laugh. Maybe it was too hearty. He was really pleased with his sale. In fact, he seemed to think more about the sale than explaining to me the features on the car. I wanted it anyway so I let it ride.
"They didn't know who you were," he said. "They don't even watch black TV shows, let alone go to see black films. I get so tired of telling white folks about black culture around here that I just don't feel like commenting on it sometimes. But I have to because we're Americans too. You know what I mean, sister? We're Americans too.
"I know that they think that we're not, but we are," he continued. "Hell, the only black stars they know around here is Bill Cosby, Will Smith, and Allen Iverson."
After a while, I just blocked the brother out and listened to the sound system. He caught on to my deaf ears and got back to telling me about the car. Brothers can drive themselves crazy about race sometimes. Not that Idon't ever think about it, but damn!
I said, "Byron, actually, a lot of white people do pay attention to our culture, but they do so on their own time. They're coming around. Just have a little patience."
He laughed more civilly and said, "Just have a little more patience, hunh? It's just like a sister to say that. I guess we need to give them another four hundred years."
I grinned and changed the subject. He didn't understand me, and I didn't understand him. That was exactly why I wasn't married, because I didn't have time for man-woman misunderstandings every damn day of my life!
We drove back to the dealership, and they gave me a six-thousand-
dollar deal. They took the initial price of thirty-nine thousand dollars down to thirty-three, all because I was paying it off in cash. In fact, since I was not planning to finance it, I probably saved more like twelve thousand in the long run. Money talks, but then they tried to sell me everything else to knock the price back up, maintenance plans, additional packages, extended warranties, car phones, anything to make an extra buck.
I finally said, "Look, this car is a gift for my father's fifty-first birthday. If he wants to get anything extra put in it, then he can come back and get it himself."
"If you get it included today, it'll be a lot cheaper than as a separate package," the manager told me.
I said, "It won't mean a thing to him if he knows he didn't pay the thirty-three thousand dollars for the car. What's another thousand for toys?"
They were starting to get on my damn nerves! The next thing I knew it was close to nine o'clock at night, and I still hadn't signed all of the paperwork yet. Damn car salesmen! They need to be shot!
The manager noticed my agitation and finally decided to close the deal. Byron was smiling his brown behind off, but he didn't look so handsome to me anymore. He had ruined my short-lived fantasy. They all do. Maybe my standards were too high.
"Would you mind if we took a picture of you while you stand next to the car?" the manager asked me before I pulled off. He had a camera in hand already and they were all smiles at the dealership.
I snapped, "For what? So you can show me off with the car and talk about it?" I was tripping because I was pissed off already! Why the hell would I want to take a picture after being there for nearly four hours?! I was tired of their faces and breath, smelling of coffee and cigarettes.
The manager looked at me and said, "Well...yeah, I guess so. It isn't every day that we have an actress in town."
I told him, "All right, well, can you make it fast? I have to get home already."
He snapped their damn picture and I drove the hell out of there, a happy camper at last!
I drove back home with that Infiniti, riding high, windows down, and was loving it! I imagined that my father would love it too, and so would Vanessa. That's why I couldn't take her with me. I didn't want her eyes to get too big. I thought that I could take her shopping on Thursday, but then I would have to buy both of her younger sisters something. That would lead to me treating all of my cousins to gifts, first and second generation, as if it was Christmas. Damn! Money is a pain in the ass! However, since Vanessa was introverted, I thought that maybe she wouldn't tell anyone.
I laughed at myself for being so petty. I could afford to buy everyone a gift. As long as they weren't all forty-thousand-dollar cars. My father deserved it. He had been pampering my mother for the past ten years. I guess he still had a guilty conscience for walking out on us like he did. Once I had made it to college at Hampton, my parents were traveling to the Bahamas, Florida, the Pocono Mountains, Ontario, and just having a good old time!
I said to myself, Damn, how come that couldn't happen when I was still at home? I went straight through school during the summertime to finish college early while working year-round as an RA at the dorms. I just wanted to get college over with. Then my girl Raheema started talking about grad school, and my behind did two more years for a master's degree. Can you believe that? I never said that I didn't like school. It was better than sitting at home and doing nothing.
I was so busy thinking about my life that I barely paid attention to
traffic. I almost cut off a delivery truck and wrecked my father's gift in an accident before I could even surprise him with it. I made it back to Germantown on Chelten Avenue and stopped off for a raspberry-flavored iced tea. I climbed back in the Infiniti, buzzed the windows back down, and cruised for home.
When I stopped at the stop sign of this small, dark street on the way to my parents' house, two dingy brothers ran up to me from separate sides of the street. The one on the driver's side stuck a damn gun in my face.
"Get the fuck out the car and leave the keys in!"
I'll be damned! A carjack just five blocks away from home! I thought to myself.
I sat there like a zombie and said, "This is a brand-new gift for my father." I couldn't even move for some reason, and I was saying the wrong thing, but I couldn't help it. I was in shock.
"I don't give a fuck! Just get the fuck out!"
The gun barrel had me frozen. Would I be shot right there and die over a damn CAR? I decided to open the door slowly to climb out. I was near tears already.
The brother on the passenger side said, "Wait a minute, man. She look like, um...Tracy Ellison Grant from the movies."
"I AM!" I pleaded to him. I sounded like a big baby, but so what if he could get me out of it.
"Who?" the guy with the gun asked.
"Tracy Ellison Grant, man, from that movie Led Astray."
They just stared at each other for a second.
"I AM, I AM!" I kept pleading to them.
The guy with the gun shook it off and said, "She can afford to lose this motherfucka then. Are we gonna do this shit or what, man? We ain't got all fuckin' day!"
"Naw, family, let her go. I ain't goin' out like that, man."
"Yeah, listen to him," I said. "Don't treat your sister like this. I love my people."
I actually said that to them.
"Well, pull over and give me forty fuckin' dollars before the cops come, and I'll let you go. A nigga need somethin' to eat, since you love your people so much."
I had running boards on each side of the Infiniti, so they both held on to the car as I pulled over and into the next block. I pulled out exactly forty-three dollars and some change. That was all I had on me. That damn crook had called out the right number. Forty. If I believed in the lottery I would have played it straight, 4-3-0.
"This all you got?" he asked me.
"That's it. That's all I have on me," I told him, teary eyed.
He looked to his friend and frowned. "Come on, man, let's bounce."
The one who saved my car had one last thing to say to me.
"Hey, sis', keep this to yourself, aw'ight? Or put it in your next movie or something, 'cause remember, I didn't have to say nothin'." He even smiled when he said that, wearing a black and silver FUBU jacket of all things. I heard that FUBU stood for For Us By Us. If it did, then I guess the positive message got lost somewhere.
Talk about a damn plot! The best ones jump up and smack you right in your face. I could barely hold on to the wheel when I drove home. Once I arrived, I parked in front of the house and calmed myself. My block was much safer and better lit than parts of Chelten Avenue. Germantown was a damn schizophrenic neighborhood!
I had to get myself together before I walked inside to face my parents. I didn't want them to panic and bug me all night about it. I just needed time to calm myself down. I came up with the wildest idea to call my agent in California from my cell phone. She usually worked late, and it was only after six in Hollywood, so I called her at her office.
"Hello," she answered.
"Hey, this is Tracy."
"Hey, how are things going back in Philly? Did you have a good day? What time is it back there now? It's dark already, isn't it?" she teased me. "Remember, you have that radio interview tomorrow morning. So make sure you get plenty of z's tonight."
I took a deep breath to stop myself from breaking down and crying again.
"I was almost carjacked," I told her.
She stopped breathing while waiting for the punch line.
"Wait, you're kidding me right?"
A carjack wasn't my kind of a joke.
I said, "I want you to get in contact with Omar Tyree about writing that part two to Flyy Girl. I think it's time for us to really sit down and talk about it."
"Tracy, you're serious."
"Yes, I'm fuckin' serious!" I shouted at her. We were cool like that. My agent was my girl. I could vent to her when I needed to and she could give it back to me, but this was not the night for it.
"Okay, okay. I'll call his agent first thing tomorrow morning. Now in the meantime, tell me what happened. Did you call the police?"
I said, "Really, I just don't even feel like talking about it right now. A lot has happened to me today, as well in the past few years, and I just want to put the shit in a book or something and forget about it. I don't know." I was babbling, but I was serious too. I had a lot more shit to talk about, and those fucking piss-ass Hollywood interviews were nothing but sound bites: "So how did you make it? What's it like to finally be a star? What are you working on next? Who is your other half, by the way? Are your parents proud of you?"
What the fuck did they know?! They didn't know shit, nor did they care. Another damn interview would follow mine next week, next month, or whatever. After a while, celebrities all sounded the same. I needed a new tell-all book. I thought that maybe I would call it Shit Happens, Good and Bad, and Then You Die.
My agent was screaming, "Tracy! Tracy, are you there?! What's happening?!"
I'm losing my fucking mind, that's what's happening! I was thinking to myself. I heard my girl loud and clear, I just couldn't respond to her. I was in a daze. It was surreal, like I was on a witch ride, watching myself be tortured and was powerless to stop it. I hovered over the car from the outside and screamed at myself through the windshield, "What are you doing?! Don't just sit there! Do something! Dooo something!..."
Copyright © 2000 by Omar Tyree
For the Love of Money
From hard-knocks Philly to glamorous Hollywood, Tracy Ellison has truly walked the walk. Now twenty-eight years old and a major movie star, the original Flyy Girl is returning to her East Coast roots. As Tracy reconnects with friends, she seems on the brink of a happily-ever-after existence. But as she begins to address the uncertainties of her youth, Tracy stirs up a string of difficult questions about past loves, ambivalent family ties, and her artistic ambitions. Can attaining success and happiness really be as simple as Tracy makes it look?
Crackling with honesty and passion, For the Love of Money is a triumphant continuation of the adventures of one of contemporary fiction's most outrageous young heroines.
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