There are so many great reasons to stake a residential claim in Washington, DC. One: during his time in office, President Obama proved that while the city may be known for legislation, the residents of the White House could be some of the best neighbors and throw some of the most fabulous parties. Of course, that’s no longer a selling point… But hey, we still know how to have a good time here.
Two: the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910. No building in the city exceeds 13 stories; therefore, it’s one of the few major cities where you can see the sky from your bed.
And three: you will most certainly have at least one friend who’s from a place you can’t find on a map or who doesn’t speak the same language at work as they do at home.
Which is why J had been spending an obscene amount of her spare time with real estate agent and friend, Laird Ross. She desperately wanted to buy and he was doing everything he could to try and find her a house inside DC’s boarders.
Already onto house number four on the day, Laird watched J as she slowly walked around a vacant Federal style, semi-detached townhouse in Congress Heights. She could tell that the seller had made an attempt to renovate the place—perhaps in an effort just to flip it—but she was less than impressed. They’d picked laminate floors. She preferred hardwood. They picked white appliances instead of stainless steel. And they hadn’t touched the basement, which looked and smelled like it needed to be waterproofed.
“You know… there’s an abundance of really nice condos in your price range in much more desirable neighborhoods that—”
“I told you, no condos,” she said. “No condos. I need land.”
Two hours later and three more houses down, even though Laird was talking to her in English, it was almost as if they were speaking two different languages.
As he watched her furrow her brow in distaste while inside a recently foreclosed fixer-upper, he could tell exactly what she was thinking.
“J,” he said with slight exasperation, “You should see some other types of properties now. I’m telling you, you’ll get modern amenities, spacious floor plans…”
“I’m not interested in a condo, Laird.”
And with that she turned and left, as he sighed and followed.
By the end of the day, they’d seen nine houses, none of which would even come close to making a shortlist for a potential offer. So, as they stood inside the last one preparing to part ways, he had to ask one more time before they schedule another day of fruitless searching: “You don’t want to at least see one condo and what it has to offer?”
She shook her head, no.
So he took a breath before saying, “Fine. But I’m gonna have to expand the search area.”
“Do what you gotta do,” she said, as she looked around this two bedroom, one bath, 1945 so-called “well-kept” dump one last time before walking out.
J simply couldn’t seem to find anything of interest to her. At least… not in real estate anyway.
And then, for the first time in weeks—while at work of all places—she finally laid eyes on something she could really see herself investing in.
She stood staring across the room lustfully, while softly biting her finger, as she made no attempts to control her thoughts. Salon, who was the photo editor and one of her favorite co-workers, was walking by—although some might accurately describe his walk as a sashay—when she quickly grabbed him by the arm and pulled him in on her action.
“Hey. Hey. Who is that?” she whispered.
Salon turned and spotted a small crowd of their fellow co-workers—about four or five people—gathered around the person J and Salon were trying to actually see.
He finally was able to catch a glimpse. “Oh, Shaundra is interviewing him for Lifestyles,” he said excitedly, referring to the lifestyles section of the magazine. “He’s one of the features for the young humanitarians piece we’re doing. And guess what,” he added, even more excitedly. “I’m overseeing his photoshoot!”
J couldn’t help herself from saying, “My goodness. He’s fucking gorgeous!”
“I know,” Salon added. “And he plays for your team, if you know what I mean. Inquiring minds already checked.”
J and Salon had both started at the magazine the same time as interns, so they had grown together, both as colleagues and as friends.
I hate that it goes without saying, but it actually goes without saying: Salon was incredibly stylish, and not only knew what looked good on himself, but also what worked for other people, especially women.
“I can ask him for some pictures with his shirt off, just for you,” he said, only half joking.
But J responded, “Fuck that. I have to meet him. Getting his shirt off won’t be a problem, and trust me, I won’t have to ask.”
When the people around him moved, she was able to make eye contact with him for a brief moment, and that’s when she knew—she had seen enough, and she was prepared to make a very generous offer.
+ + +
+ + +
Later on that day, as we sat in Bus Boys sharing a rather early dinner, I avoided filling Ty and J in on my and Derek’s new status. And instead of detailing exactly what had gone down after the needle drop party, I gave them the abridged version.
“We… agreed to just be friends. For now.”
“What?!” Ty exclaimed, a tad louder than I think she expected.
The truth was: Derek had uncovered a shameful insecurity that even I didn’t quite know had existed. So saying out loud for the first time that our relationship had been demoted to friendship status because of it? I felt a pain that I couldn’t articulate. Not even to my closest friends.
“Why?” she followed up, since I was taking too long to give more details.
And I searched for the words…
“Well. I guess it appears that I am not ready for a serious relationship with him, so…”
Ty and J looked at each other, obviously confused by my admission.
“What do you mean, ‘not ready?’” Ty asked.
“If you’re not ready to be in a relationship with him, who the hell are you ready to be in one with?” J followed.
“I guess… I’m not ready to be in one with anybody, okay? So let’s just… change the subject,” I said.
My candor took both of them by surprise, which was evident by the long silence that followed. I guess I still wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.
I know you’d think that after almost three months knowing Derek that I would’ve been giving my two favorite people everything I had on him. But I hadn’t done that. Ty and J knew who Derek was, but they didn’t know much of anything about him. They hadn’t met him. They didn’t know where he was from or what he did for a living. They didn’t know that everyone called him “D” except me; I preferred “Derek,” perhaps because I thought of him as my “McDreamy,” like the character, Derek Shepherd, from Grey’s Anatomy. And they didn’t know his last name.
As I thought about it now, my blind effort to keep my relationship with him on the low was clearly part of the issue I was having—I didn’t expect such a guy to even be around this long, so on some subconscious level, I was thinking, why even bother bombarding my friends with useless information?
So I tried to talk about something else. “Ah. So… how’s your house search going?”
And J took her time, perhaps trying to find a way to stop thinking about Derek and me, and transition her mind to focus on this new topic.
She shrugged, “Eh. It’s going,” she said, very unenthusiastically. “You never realize how fucking expensive this city is until you find out that everything you like is out of your price range. I have been out there looking at houses for what feels like forever, but it’s only been three days, and not a single piece of property has caught my eye.”
She looked disheartened while telling us this. But then in the snap of a finger, her whole demeanor changed when she said, “But I’ll tell you what has caught my eye though…”
They probably didn’t notice, but I took yet another very deep, very exasperated breath. I’d lost count of how many times I had done this since Derek’s and my conversation a few days ago.
They were practically finished their meals and I had barely touched mine. But as J talked, I just stared distantly into my bowl of soup, still thinking about—and perhaps even regretting—why I told Derek, “Maybe we should just be friends for now.”
At first, he just continued to stare at me, somehow knowing that I didn’t mean what I was saying to him. I couldn’t find it in me to look him in the eyes anymore. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was heartbroken; I had broken my own heart, actually.
And it was as if he could see all of this, which made it worse. He even said, “You don’t mean that. I know that’s not what you want.”
“No,” I told him. “I think… we should…”
But he was right. I didn’t mean it, so I didn’t even want to say it again.
“You’re right,” I conceded. “But I think that’s all I can be to you right now.”
He nodded slowly. And then he came to me and wrapped his arms around my body, and I reciprocated by wrapping my arms around his neck, burying my face into his shoulder as he stood there holding me.
He was so right. I didn’t want to just be his friend. But I had been a friend before. I was good at being a friend. That’s all I really knew how to be.
I finally tuned back into J talking. I looked over at Ty who had noticed me check out and then check back in.
“My god, that guy was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “I actually think… I might be in love.”
I was waiting for the other part of the story. You know—the punchline to this obvious joke.
Apparently, not taking J seriously either, Ty ignored her, looked at me and asked, “Are you really going to just be friends with him or are you just saying that?”
I sighed, not wanting to be back on this topic again.
“I mean… I can’t imagine just being friends with somebody I’m that attracted to,” Ty added.
And J said to her, “You mean to tell me that with all of the male friends you have, you aren’t attracted to any of them?”
Ty took a moment to think, even looking up to help jog her memory. And then she began to shake her head, no.
“I find that hard to believe,” J said in disbelief.
“I’m not,” Ty said. “And they’re not attracted to me. We’re… friends.”
“Let me ask you this: how many of your former boyfriends started out as just friends?”
And again, Ty started to think about it.
But before she could answer, J answered for her, “All of them. Every guy you’ve ever dated seriously started out as just one of your so-called friends.”
“So,” Ty said.
“So. That means that the ones sticking around, still calling themselves your friends are probably just… waiting for their turn.”
“You’re crazy,” Ty dismissed.
“Am I, Ty? Am I?”
They both began to laugh, but I was barely paying attention anymore.
“What about you and all of your… companions?” Ty asked her.
And J said, “Well… I tend to compartmentalize the people I know. I have associates, acquaintances, colleagues, buddies, friends… Men,” she explained, “generally fall into one of two categories: companions, as you’ve so elegantly stated, or conquests. Others, like my real estate agent for instance, are like your friends—guys who’ll do whatever I tell them to because they’re hoping they’ll get a chance.”
Ty shook her head, but she was probably impressed, yet again, by J’s well-thought-out examination of her own life.
J went on to add, “You two are probably the only people I really call ‘friends’ and mean it.”
Facetiously, Ty said, “Aww… I’m honored.”
“And you should be,” J said, as they shared a laugh.
And then they both looked at me. I could feel the expectation for me to join in looming. But when I didn’t add anything, Ty decided to probe…
“So Kenya, how is this friendship thing with Derek going to work?”
Letting my frustration show, I said, “Jesus, Ty, I don’t know.”
“Well, it’s not like you were sleeping with him anyway. I don’t see what would be any different.”
Ignoring J, Ty said, “You know what? Maybe it would make things easier if you connected him with your other friends. Us!” she added, more excited about this idea than anybody else involved. “Maybe it would make things feel more… platonic.”
Again, I took a deep breath. I didn’t see how that would work, but to put an end to this conversation, I chose to compromise:
“Alright. I’ll… see what his schedule looks like.”
Smiling now, she looked back and forth from me to J, and back to me, happy about this new development.
+ + +
+ + +
For the last year or so, Tk and I had been looking for a manager for him, albeit not very actively. With everything that had been going on, this had become less of a priority. But things were starting to look up; with the new project releasing soon, we were getting a little bit of buzz and a little anticipation behind us, so we figured now was as a good a time as ever to start actively entertaining the idea of getting some help, namely for me.
Running your own company can often times require a level of bootstrapping that surpasses realistic expectations for success. Again, as I often had to explain to people on the outside, I am the head of a record label; not an artist manager. I’ve never wanted to be an artist manager; however, as bootstrapping goes, you do what you gotta do. So, in addition to running the label, I also performed duties typical of a manager, for both Tk and Lucas. But as we were slowly starting to grow and more was required, I knew that if I continued like this—allowing myself to pulled in a hundred different directions—I would begin to hurt Tk, Lucas, the company, and myself.
So, that evening, I sat in Tk’s homemade studio talking to a guy he’d just introduced me to, named Hakim.
Hakim was a very experienced restaurant manager and had most recently held the regional position for a pizza chain that went out of business. So since interviewing for jobs now became his new full-time job in itself, he continued his other job moonlighting as a party promoter. He and Tk had known each other for years and played basketball together for a local recreational team.
I was meeting him because Tk was considering choosing him as his new manager.
“A record company is an organization that manufactures music careers and creates music products. There are a lot of steps between the making of a song… and then the purchasing of that song by consumers,” I explained. “A big, successful company has people on staff to help make that happen. But as someone who runs a very small company that does this, I play a lot of roles in order for us to survive. I’m involved in every step. The entire process. And for the first time, we’re not just surviving, we’re actually succeeding,” I said with pride, as we all shared a smile. “So I need help. I can’t continue to build this company and try to build Taj Kamal at the same time.”
Hakim smiled and nodded, as he twisted—perhaps nervously—in the computer chair. He was a big guy. Not very tall, necessarily, but thick, like maybe he had played football at some point. But he had a gentle face, free of facial hair, and he was very well groomed. He was wearing a nice gray suit, but given that it was almost dinnertime, his tie was loosened and the first few buttons had been undone, in an effort to create as much comfort as possible.
After a moment of nodding, he said, “You know, when Taj said he needed a manager, I thought that meant he was firing you—”
“Oh no. Never that,” Tk interrupted, assuredly. “It’s just, Kenya is spread thin enough as it is. What I need is somebody in addition to her that can strictly focus on me as an artist, while she does the other stuff.”
Hakim said with enthusiasm, “I can do that! I mean, my experience is in restaurants, but I have a degree in management.”
“That’s good and all,” I said. “But managing an artist is not exactly textbook type of work. It’s more like something you learn by doing, honestly. Sometimes the best manager is just someone who knows the artist well on a personal level, who’s invested in making decisions based on his best interest, and can map out a plan for the direction of his career,” I detailed, summing up the most important role in an artist’s life using just one run-on sentence. “If you take this job, your life revolves around him now.”
Hakim took a moment to digest this, even taking a deep breath and nodding.
To calm his nerves with a bit of inspiration, I told him, “I think you’ll do fine. The best manager in the world, Scooter Braun, also started out as a party promoter.”
And this made him smile.
He looked at Tk, almost as if to make sure he was worth the commitment he was about to make, and then he looked back at me and smiled. “Taj is my boy. I’m always looking out for him. Matta fact, I already have something set up—a show. I know it’s kinda last minute, but I emailed you the details this afternoon.”
I smiled. Tk smiled.
Hakim added, “I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Ultimately, it was Tk’s decision who his manager would be, but he just wanted my blessing before moving forward with anyone. But if he was fine with Hakim, so was I.
Like most people his age, Lucas’ primary method of cultivating friendships happened via social media. So, on this perfect spring weekday night, instead of engaging people in the physical, he sat Taylor-style in front of his Macbook Air, while holding his iPhone in one hand, switching back and forth between platforms—checking DMs, responding to comments, getting a slow high as the number of “likes” and hearts crept up on the last selfie he had posted.
On Facebook, he had almost 100k likes on his fan page and had somehow made exactly 3000 actual friends, right before he gladly hit the “accept” button to confirm number 3001: Consuela Ruiz.
Consuela proudly wore the crown as DC’s favorite radio personality and the most popular voice in the morning, since Donnie Simpson‘s departure from that station some years ago.
Call me cynical, but when Lucas couldn’t explain to me why a local celebrity, who he never met, was suddenly interested in a friendship with him, albeit online, I admit, I was a bit… disconcerted.
“Normally, you would say, ‘it’s just Facebook, Lucas,’” he said, mocking me. “Why all of a sudden you’re asking about it?”
He stood in front of me sipping an energy drink from a tall, skinny can. As if he needed energy 8 o’clock at night. He had come over so that we could discuss some business regarding upcoming performances and his recently completed first album. But as soon as he came in, he hit me with, “Guess what?” Although, he wasn’t actually expecting me to guess. That’s when he told me that Consuela Ruiz and he were friends now.
“I just wanna know… what does she want?” I asked.
He shrugged. “She likes my music. Just wanted to connect. Sure it doesn’t mean anything,” he said, trying to play it cool now. But he had already exposed himself.
So I said, “It means nothing and yet… you’re excited about it.”
“It’s Consuela Ruiz!” he exclaimed, beaming with joy again. “She’s on the radio. Who wouldn’t be excited that she knows who they are?”
I wasn’t excited. In fact, I was anything but.
“Why are you being so… like negative and stuff?” he asked.
And I took a very deep, very long, very pregnant breath, before I answered, “Because… I know Consuela.”
“Oh my god! You know her!”
I had to clarify: “She and I used to be really close. When I was 17, she was the program manager at a much smaller station. She took me under her wing, taught me everything I know about DJing and the radio business… I started getting a lot of gigs around the city, sometimes even at places that would normally hire her to spin.”
Just telling this abridged version of this story brought back memories of that time of my life. It was the most fun, most carefree, as I’d ever been. It was a time when I didn’t worry about anything—just a kid who loved music and loved playing it for people, getting the opportunity of a lifetime.
“And then, for reasons I still don’t know the answers to, she stopped looking at me as a friend and started seeing me as just a young threat to her throne as DC’s favorite female DJ. She fired me from that radio station. After that, I never worked in radio again. And those gigs I was once getting? All that slowly started to dry up.”
I stared at the floor remembering how everything changed after that.
“So,” I said, looking back up at Lucas. “Needless to say, she and I… are no longer friends.”
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