Autobiographical Essay


by Garland Jeffreys (from his MySpace Profile at

Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, in the Fifties and Sixties, the embodiment of the urban melting pot. I surely was melted, a mix of black, white, Puerto Rican with a faint trace of Cherokee. My grandfather was head waiter at Lundy’s, the world-famous Brooklyn seafood restaurant. Those were the days when it was honorable for a black man to be a waiter, an elevator operator, a soldier or a porter, like my father was at one time. I used to ride along with him on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the New York to DC line, and there was nothing more exciting than sleeping in the double deckers and watching the towns roll by. My mother had me when she was sixteen and she named me after seeing the word on a fancy box of cards. She was just a kid, and music was the soundtrack of her life, just like rap is today–only her music was Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and even Benny Goodman. I soaked it up. It was background to the forty eight hour card games that floated from one apartment to another, when they would put little Garland to sleep in the bottom dresser drawer. The adults were cool. They talked jive. Daddy-o and doojie, hep and hipster and, “Man, I was with that cat when he flipped out.” There were characters all around…Davey Nichols, Stetson, Spook, Sister, Shorty Bolden…people I knew and heard about who hinted at dangerous things. In truth, I didn’t need to look far for influences, not when my uncle was living downstairs and up to no good. To balance that out, there were families like the Haynes, a few blocks over, who came from the West Indies. They built houses, bought real estate, and lived a clean, sober life. Mr. Haynes lived to be one hundred, with eight of his children gathered around him on his birthday. Most of the kids in my public school were Jewish or Italian. Starting in kindergarten, I used to have crushes on the white girls. Once I got called into the principal’s office for slipping one a love note. They called my father in and he defended me. “From this note, it seems to me Garland likes this girl. I don’t see anything wrong here. My father was raised an orphan in Harlem. Later in life he told me how at four years old he used to scamper across rooftops early in the morning, then drop down to steal milk from the stoops. I never went hungry. But when I was little I would cut across the yard to Sweetie Pie, the neighbor lady’s house and ring the bell. She would call me Frankie Boy and give me pickles and a biscuit. Today my six year old daughter walks down the street and rings the doorbell to get a cookie from our neighbor. I’m sure I never told her the story about Frankie Boy.
Hard wired…

– Garland Jeffreys

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