House Seats


Fire This Time Festival: Panopticon

Outside a bodega in Bed-Stuy, two middle-aged men reflect on the changes they’ve witnessed in their neighborhood. How can they keep their perspective when everything seems to be changing around them? And whatever happened to those 25 cent bags of chips the bodega used to carry? Filmed at The Fire This Time Festival at the Kraine Theater.

AIRED: July 24, 2020 | 0:14:48


Man: Come to stage right.

Man #2: Places, everyone.

My name is Cyrus Aaron,

and the name of the piece is "Panopticon."

"Panopticon" is about the reality of gentrification

and the many stories and perspectives

that are interconnected in a changing environment,

and so it focuses on two main characters

who are the elder statesmen of the neighborhood,

and so as the environment around them is changing,

they're just sharing their perspectives on the change

that they see while also trying to remain

true to who they are and the history that they have.

[ Upbeat music plays ]

[ Bell dings ]

I need a goddamn drink.

Can't believe this job, motherfucker.

I told you.

I told you not to waste your time.

I tried to tell you.

This nigga Emir ain't got no quarter bag chips.

Chips ain't been a quarter for a long time.

No, that ain't the point.

A quarter, two quarter, it don't matter, he don't sell them.

Instead, this nigga got the audacity

to try to sell me some -- what you call them? --

some Kettle brand chips for four damn dollars.

[ Scoffs ]

Talking about they some Himalayan sea salt with vinegar.

Nigga, all I want is some basic-ass,

no-name salt-and-vinegar chips for 50 damn cents.

Those days are over.

You knew that when Emir closed the bodega for renovations.

If you want Utz, you got to tear your ass down to Fulton.

But, Hill, what street is this?


And what street we live on?

C-Come on, man, you know where the hell you live.

Nigga, just answer the damn question.

Is this dementia? How many fingers I got up?

What's your momma name?

It's just stupid I got to answer some shit

you already know the answer to.

And you going to keep looking at me till I answer you, huh?

Hancock, Curt. You live on Hancock.

So what the hell I look like walking five blocks to Fulton

because I got a taste for some damn chips?

The whole point of a bodega

is to be conveniently located on your corner

and sell you the shit that you like!

[ Applause ]

I been coming to this bodega for 20 years,

and now he want to switch it up.

You see what I'm saying?

The motherfucker got automatic sliding doors.

[ Laughter ]

I see them. I hear them, too.

I don't know if I could take

sitting next to that doorbell sound all damn day.

He done forgot where he came from.

That's all it is.

He forgot he a nigga just like us.

But that's the thing, Curt. Emir ain't never been no nigga.

He own too much property to be a nigga.

Brown on the outside, but white on the inside.

Man! Get out of here with that mess.

Joe Hightower owned that laundromat

since we was youngins, and Joe was a nigga.

And they moved his ass out just like one.

That don't look like no laundromat to me.

I don't know what the hell it's supposed to be,

but it ain't what it used to be.

Look at that damn thing.

Who builds a building 10 times the size

of everything else around it and why make it all glass?

How they expect something like that to last?

You can't even see what's happening in there.

That's probably how they want it.

They probably watching us as we speak.

[ Spits ]

I bet you they hold KKK meetings in there.

Probably host fundraisers for Donald Trump in there, too.

Man, nigga, you sound crazy.

You know that Hi-C orange-looking motherfucker

won't be caught dead in the sty,

unless he want to get caught dead in the sty.

You ain't never lie. Shit.

Hey, I do you one better.

I bet you they got that white sensitivity training shit

for the liberal white people.

Like, uh -- uh, uh, uh, like gentrified,

like the end of the gentrifiers.

"Hi, my name is Rachel."

Oh, oh.

Hi, Rachel.

"And I'm a gentrifier."

Oh, you poor colonizing baby.

You's a silly motherfucker.

Hey, but you see what I'm saying, though.

I mean, who builds a building with no signage on it?

Looks like a trap house, but for white people.

And that's some scary shit when you think about it,

because white folks sling the shit out of hate.

Word, the only niggas I see go up in there

is UPS niggas and pseudo-niggas.

Regardless, they don't stay for long.

I think that building is a racist.

[ Laughter ]

Now, Hill, how can a building be racist?

Institutionalized racism, my brother.

Hear what I'm telling you.

Just like these brownstones got good bones,

these developers putting racist bones in these new buildings.


It ain't about family and community no more.

It's about accumulation. Money. Mm!

And when it's all about the almighty dollar,

you can make any amount of square footage

serve your kind of evil.

Now, tell me you ain't never walked inside a building

and felt like you didn't belong.

I felt that way every time I walk into banks, courthouses.

Shit, I felt that way at my job, and them motherfuckers hired me.

Hey. Now, I told you about that new bar down on Jefferson, yeah?

See, I don't feel comfortable sitting up in there.

And you know I ain't never met a bar

that didn't like my black ass.

Oh, they stopped making physical "whites only" signs a long ago,

but we know what's false and what ain't.

It's in the rent, it's in the doorman,

it's even in the kind of chips they sell you!

[ Laughter ]

They ain't kicking us off this block, Hill.

We been on here long before that street even had a name.

Now, nigga, don't try to age me.

Our folks drove Buicks, not horses and buggies.

Nigga, you know what I mean.

I hear what you're saying,

but who's going to change it, Curt?

Ain't going to be us.

You going to sit your old ass down, sip this cognac,

and hope these young niggas do something different.

Um, what are you two handsome young men

expecting the younger generation to do

that you can't do for yourself?

Oh, hey, Miss Tanya.


[ Laughter ]

We want these young niggas...

We would like the men of your generation

to do what we couldn't and take the neighborhood back,

before it all turns to glass and shatters into nothing.

I take it you don't like the changes

Emir made to the bodega?

Tanya, the damn thing got automatic sliding doors.

Well, did you consider it's now wheelchair accessible?

She got your ass with that one.

Negro, hush.

You know the disabled folk in this neighborhood

ain't rolling down to no bodega

for no damn bacon, egg and cheese.

Now how you know Miss Glenda over on Macon

don't want no bacon, egg and cheese?

Now, come on, Tanya, tell me you see it, too?

It's about as subtle as this bench

where we used to sit our chairs

and as blatant as this building over there.

Now, see, they've been working on this block for a minute now,

and now, without announcement or warning, it's up and running.

But we ain't invited.

Mr. Curtis, it's not -- -Tanya.

They don't sell quarter bags of chips no more.

No more Lays, Doritos or Utz?


I'll take a sip for you.


Now, see here, they move on in the territory

until where you were ain't where you are.

First, they move your neighbor out,

then they raise the rent on Joe's storefront.


Then they stop Moe from renewing his liquor license.

Then they take the staple chips right out your corner bodega.

-Mm! -Tactical with it.

You make change sound like war.

Ain't that what it is?

Haves versus have-nots.

-Right. -White versus black.

-Damn right. -Okay.

So how come you two didn't fight back?

You make it sound like we had an easy choice

or saw other ways to resist.

See, we ain't had many options, Tanya.

See, black folk can only be but so creative

when it come to their survival.

A syrup sandwich will feed you,

but don't mean you going to be full nor fed right.

Now, when you got resources, you can move as you like.

You can plan, you can strategize.

But when you too busy trying to survive most days,

you ain't got time for plans.

You got to take care of right now,

in the moment, even if it ain't much,

and that's all you gots to be responsible for.

I hear that, but isn't there something you could've done?

Yeah, he just told you. Survive.

I get that.

But what about pooling your money together

and buying back the block?

With what? 1st and 15th money? Denied, denied, denied.

This is America. Money is money.

But white money is long and approved.

Black money is limited and suspect.

If they look at us funny,

how you think they look at our money?

Emir ain't never looked at us like he do these white folks

because he's seen too many of us survive.

Survival is a means of exploitation, not exchange.

It's hard to respect people you can take advantage of,

but when you want someone to respect you,

you get all dolled up and do things to accommodate them,

even if it means raising your prices

and keeping the niggas out your shop!

But I'm a customer, too.

I'm paying my money just like anyone else.

But black dollar has value, and I can do more

than just sit outside and complain.

No offense, Mr. Curtis.

This new generation. No respect for the old folks.

Well, you see baby girl, tomorrow

ain't our responsibility, that's yours.

See, we done did all we could and all it got us was this --

The choice to remain, to sit in the shade

and talk a bunch of trash and if God is in a good mood,

we can get a good game of bones or spades

happening without any trouble,

or any bad news finding us before we count our books.

Mm-hmm. Mr. Curtis, if you think

I'm in a position to buy the block as a freelance writer,

I hate to disappoint you, but I ain't got --

But you're in the best position because you got vision.

See, you got an opportunity

to imagine what we ain't had time to fathom.

Now, see, I'm proud to say

I paid the cost so you could be a freelance writer.

Me and mine before me, we worked the fields and the plants

and the not-for-nothing jobs

so you could use your mind and see beyond what's at hand.

Now, check this out.

Why you think they so keen on blocking our vision, hmm?

Because they don't want us to see.

Now, see, vision articulates a future that you want deeply.

Now look around here and tell me what future you think

these white folks is chasing after?

What's the future look like for Emir's bodega?

What's a community full of future blind black people?

And now see, you can't talk about hope,

because hope don't mean vision.

Hope is just used as an excuse to get you out of the trouble,

because you can't see no other way out.


you a freelance writer?


I ain't never met a nigga proud to say

they do something for free.

Now, Hill, come on.

Now, I'm trying to have a moment with a sister.

Oh damn, my bad.

I'mma go get an Arizona. Y'all want something?

If you don't mind, I was on my way inside

to grab a bag of Popchips.

Well, what you want, gal? Pop or chips?

Never mind.

Fine then, you the one ain't making no sense.

I mean, who ask for pop and chips

and don't know what kind of pop and chips they want?

See, that's how I know you ain't from Brooklyn.

-Pshh. -Hey, you straight, Curt?

Mm-hmm, I'm straight.

[ Bell dings ]

Emir, man, turn this goddamn doorbell off!

This shit is annoying!

Mm-hmm. Come on now, Tanya.

You see what I'm saying?

Don't be confused by all the new and shiny.

Just 'cause the sty is trending

doesn't mean everything is looking up for everybody.

Now, some of us only had the choiceto remain,

and there's value in that choice to stay,

to hold on, carrying it till you take it further.

Now see, you need my history of this neighborhood

so you can see its future.

And you know what, you can't stop with the money.


See, money ain't saved Joe Hightower's laundromat,

or the money I spent in this bodega

didn't save my favorite chips.

But you know what? You got more money then we ever did,

but most importantly, what you need is some perspective.

See, money is just for maintenance.

[ Bell dings ] But perspective, see,

now that's how you sustain.

Curt, you ain't going to believe this.

They don't sell Arizona no more neither!

This dry motherfucker Emir

tried to sell me some, um, kombuchakawaka shit.

[ Laughter ]

Telling me it's better for me.

That shit ain't better for my pockets,

but these Kettle chips, though?

They all right.

Oh, nigga, you paid $4 for them damn chips?

Oh, hell, no, Curt. I grabbed them and walked out.

[ Laughs ]

Told that nigga to put it on my tab.


Perspective. Perspective.

[ Laughs ]

Nigga, you're crazy.

[ Laughs ]

[ Applause ]






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