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The Lexington Avenue Crunch isn’t just a gym, it’s a vat of eye candy. This is the joint that invented “Cardio Striptease.” All the personal trainers are out-of-work models or actresses—this is Manhattan, after all—and even the members look like they got a discount for doling out a head shot. There are lots of pretty people here. I’m not one of them. But being in their company fools me into thinking I could be, and that’s all the difference I need for that last set of squats.
Today, though, after six months of Crunch, I’m finding the normal scenery suddenly monotonous and unmoving. I’m sucking wind on the treadmill, needing some inspiration for that final stretch. Jane Sixpack hitting the pull-up bar usually suffices, but today I’m literally calling on a higher power. I look up (no, not that far) to a set of flashing monitors and spot a press conference on CNN. OK, so it’s only another White House stiff ruminating on yellowcake, aluminum tubes, and bombs over Baghdad. But it’s also my latest crush, and when I see her there I find everything that halters and spandex could never give. Suddenly those tortured laps are a stroll through mountain meadows, and I owe it all to my muse, my one, my Condoleezza Rice.
As always, Rice is sporting meticulous hair and makeup. As always, she’s bulldogging through the press corps in a way that belies her dainty veneer. Not that I can make out a damn word she’s saying (the volume’s off), or follow the swiftly scrolling captions while finishing up. Still, I’ve seen this act play out so many times, I know how the script goes. My treadmill session ends before the press conference. But I’m left standing there, quite silent, quite smitten.
And smitten by what? No one confuses Rice with Beyoncé Knowles, and she’s a little thin for me anyway. Furthermore, she’s Lex Luthor evil, man. How else to explain doing the bidding of a mental paralytic like George Bush? Or being the adopted daughter of the clan that brought us Willie Horton, “read my lips,” and the slur “evildoers”? Meanwhile, I’m one part lefty, one part race-man. If you cut me I’d bleed green—then red and black, too. What could a Black Panther-sired, Malcolm X-worshiping, People’s History of America-toting idealist see in a battle-ax like Condi Rice? Simply put, Rice, with her commanding presence and steely confidence, is the ultimate black woman.
Power has always been a defining feature for black women. African Americans didn’t need Gloria Steinem to acquaint us with strong women. Sojourner Truth invented black feminism. Ida B. Wells rode through the South with a pistol in her lap. Hell, my mother regularly jacked me up, well into my high school days. Wells, Truth, and my moms employed their inner strength for the good of mankind—or maybe just for the good of a stupid kid. But their power always captivated me more than their benevolence. And no black woman—maybe in all of history—has wielded more power than Rice.
When Condoleezza Rice struts high-heeled into the Oval Office and dispenses advice, dictators seek plastic surgery, bombs float down over cities, and radicals turn up Jimmy Hoffa. OK, so my infatuation isn’t very noble. Neither is pornography. But I’d swear off Heather Hunter in a minute if I could get Condi Rice’s press conferences on demand.
To paraphrase Walter Mosley, it’s her smile that lays me low. You see it often when she’s jousting with, say, Tim Russert. She’ll flash it just as he’s cornered her with a pointed query. Her eyes light up and her lips part as she reveals an answer that shows Russert has her exactly where she wants him. That smile is written in Ebonics. A loose translation: “I’m here sparring with the best thing white folks have to offer, and I’m creaming him.”
That smile is the reason Rice can work for a president who got the lowest percentage of the black vote since Barry Goldwater, and yet still pick up a President’s Award from the NAACP. Think Clarence Thomas could do that? It’s also why Democrats—who are utterly tied to the black vote—should pray she never runs for office. And lastly, it’s the reason why, when Rice is on TV, butterflies catch in my throat like it’s a summer net. When she smiles, a special light descends on men like me who detest Rice’s morals but still understand her story. Then a voice flashes in our heads, saying, “Condi Rice is not to be fucked with.”
My infatuation began with that voice. The first time I heard it, I was reading an anecdote that exhibited her penchant for ball busting. A few years back, Rice was out shopping for some nice jewelry. But a white sales clerk refused to show her the high end, instead steering her to the costume gear. When Rice insisted on seeing the good stuff, the sales clerk mumbled “black trash,” under her breath. Rice told her, “Let’s get one thing clear. If you could afford anything in here, you wouldn’t be behind this counter. So I strongly suggest you do your job.”
When I read that story, I dismissed it as Rice’s petit bourgeois classism—at least publicly I did. But a part of me, buried deep inside, was marveling at—and I feel very wrong saying this—Rice’s stones. That was the seed of my fancy, but it bloomed when I found out her dream job was not concert pianist, as I’d heard, but NFL commish. Turns out her dad was expecting a boy, and had plans to raise a linebacker. Instead he got a daughter. But he shrugged it off and decided to teach young Condi everything he knew about the gridiron.
Once I had that knowledge, the calculus of passion began working on me. You mean to tell me this honey spars with Tim Russert, curses out white folks, could initiate a nuclear holocaust, and dreams of being Pete Rozell? Um, tell me again why I hate her guts. Then the math of my heart, so beyond logic, took control of my brain. I could no longer deny the sum, quotient, and dividend: Condi Rice was my goddess.
Conventional thinking holds that, as a man, I should be intimidated by Rice’s power. Roughly, the old logic of attraction is that we men liked our women beautiful, blond, and mute. Any demonstration of assertiveness would threaten our own role as the ambitious go-getter, and thus make a union infeasible. But since second-wave feminism, the gender line has blurred. The ascent of woman is slowly chipping away at the single trait men have used to define themselves for aeons—the ability to dominate women.
My own life is a testament to the new unconvention. I help my girlfriend pick out clothes, make killer Maryland crab cakes, and think of Bridget Jones’s Diary (the movie) as high art. When my son was born, my woman went to work while I stayed home guarding over his first year. For sure, I love a dark Guinness, the Dallas Cowboys, and vintage film of the Tyler Rose. But, for me, the ancient scrolls of manhood are useless, as are many of their attendant rules of mating.
And at the end of the day, the beauty that men have for so long prized in women amounts to power also—the power to produce “beautiful” offspring. When I see Rice holding forth, I don’t imagine the pitter patter of pretty children. But I see us siring a black brood of kingmakers. Any woman who can go from segregated Alabama to White House Svengali in one life has got to be working with some killer genes.
I’ve got a running joke with my girlfriend. It starts in an alternate reality where I’m 20 years older, single, and childless. I’ve also gone all John Hinckley over Condi Rice, and somehow I manage to finagle my way into a social event where she is a guest. When she’s off to herself and no one’s looking, I whisper in her ear, “I hate everything you stand for. You take orders from a tribe of orcs who worship the Stone Age and mistake myopia for morality, and brutality for strength. You are a disgrace to your people and their long history of forcing this country to live up to its lofty ideals. Furthermore, you are the most beautiful woman inside the Beltway. Come away with me to a desert island. We will make beautiful arguments together.”
Of course there is no alternate reality where anything like this could ever happen. Condoleezza Rice serves at the whim of a bizarro president who has pulled off the trifecta of wrecking the economy, waging a war in Afghanistan, and going off on Iraq before the dust settled in Kabul. She has been a willing participant in our isolation from the UN, and has willingly fed the dogs promoting anti-Americanism.
Worst of all, in the service of Bush, she’s proved herself more than willing to obscure the truth. The African uranium hoax was “technically” accurate? But this wasn’t the first or even the worst of Rice’s prevarications. During one of her early appearances on Meet the Press, Russert went right for home base and asked Rice her thoughts on reparations. Her response was a clumsy attempt at historical revision: “I think reparations, given the fact that there’s plenty of blame to go around for slavery, plenty of blame to go around among African and Arab states, plenty of blame to go around among Western states, we’re better to look forward and not point fingers backward.”
I’m not even for reparations, but that answer was equivalent to saying, “Well, there are four people who were involved in this murder, and since there’s plenty of blame to go around, let’s not prosecute it.” Clearly Rice is smarter than that, and her willingness to use her intellect to bend reality pisses me off. It just makes me want to grab her by the arms, shake her, pin her down, and . . . uhh, I have to go now.