Monday, October 26, 2009

The Toasts To The Sportin' Life

Howard is a teacher. He is in his mid thirties and has spent many of those years in prison. He is forceful, direct, and people listen to him. I think that it is the sound of his voice that makes him so attractive. He said that he was from North Carolina but it has been years since he has been back. There is something about the south that remains. Howard told me that he has a fifth grade education and that his writing and spelling aren't very good. His memory is very good.

Howard can recall "Toasts" and he can recite them for hours. "Toasts" are folk tales that have been told for many, many years. They are most likely to be told in prison. Some of the most famous ones are "The Titanic", "Signifying Monkey", and "King Heroin". Howard knows them and a great may more. Many of the residents, especially the younger ones who have not been upstate have never heard of the Toasts. The young residents know rap songs but they soon recognize that Toasts are an earlier, more sophisticated part of the oral tradition. Many of the residents are so young that they don't even know "Dozens". No matter how bad these young residents think they are, no matter how much power they think they have in or out of jail, in gangs, on the street, or how they outwardly disdain anyone over twenty-five, they come to listen to Howard, the older gentleman. They gather around when he begins to recite. The TV is turned off, the phones are silent. They gather around to hear, not to miss a single word. They try to remember the words. Howard is good. His voice is rich and he makes his characters come alive. He is passing on a rich tradition to a new generation. It is easy to see Howard as a teacher, passing on information from the elders to the young.

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