The New York Urban League Black & White Champagne Brunch participants raise a glass on Sept. 16, 2017. (Malik Yusef Cumbo/MYC Photographics)
 

Three weeks. That is how long I’ve been sick with an unknown virus (the thing doctors tell you when they don’t know what it is but know it won’t kill you). It’s not the flu. It’s not a cold. But it is one thing—a jerk. Just the biggest jerk of a disease ruining my social life by forcing me to be actually antisocial, much like the name of this column.

Antisocial is the events-and-society column for people allergic to society, aka those with social anxiety disorder, so it’s not as if I needed an actual disease to give me a reason to stay home. I come up with plenty of excuses to stay in the house—it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too “outside”—whatever works. But I had actually been looking forward to the spate of events I had lined up over the last two weeks to crash. Page Six TV’s party. A YouTube-Elle Magazine function. So many Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference panels and events in Washington, D.C. All missed because I was too busy hacking and coughing in my prison of used Kleenex.

My only friend as I was trapped in the house sick—a Maxine Waters mug, lots of medicine and hot tea (Danielle Belton/The Root)

This is my first time being ill in more than two years, ruining my pristine streak of good health, all of which was fueled (mostly) by a flu shot I took back in 2015 and some really good luck, considering that New York City is a germophobe’s nightmare fuel. I’m supposed to travel back to D.C. later this week for my 40th birthday, but the way this sickness is going, who knows what will happen come Friday? Can I even travel? I could’ve almost died in my hotel room during CBC week because I choked on a cold tablet that got lodged in my throat.


In the middle of my more than 18 days of sinus infection, I decided to take a break from being sick and pretended to be well because I didn’t want to miss the Black & White Champagne Brunch with the New York Urban League at La Marina in New York City on Sept. 16.

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About 200 people gathered for the brunch, which was hosted by actress and body-positive advocate RaVal Davis. Charter Communications Vice President of State Government Affairs Camile Joseph Goldman was being honored with the David N. Dinkins Award for Service, Leadership and Social Justice at the event, which also featured performances by NAACP Theater Award-winning actress and singer Sha’Leah Nikole.

Sha’Leah Nikole and performers (Malik Yusef Cumbo/MYC Photographics)

She performed Roberta Flack’s classic by way of the Fugees, “Killing Me Softly,” as I ate eggs and bacon, feeling proud of my ability to actually throw together a halfway decent outfit that didn’t make me feel that I unnecessarily stood out in a bad way, but still blended in with the overall theme of everyone in black and white.

Me (Danielle Belton/The Root)

Remarks were made by NYUL President and CEO Arva R. Rice and Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), as well as Goldman, who gave a spirited and impassioned speech.

Camille Joseph Goldman (center), vice president of state government affairs at Charter Communications and recipient of the David N. Dinkins Award for Service, Leadership and Social Justice, with New York Urban League Summer STEAM participants (Malik Yusef Cumbo/MYC Photographics.com)

I was mostly thankful that it wasn’t a dreaded “white party” (black people love white parties, where you dress in all white, get turnt and look like drunken angels), because I hate wearing all white with a passion. The absence of color does nothing for my complexion and is almost as dreaded as wearing all black, which makes me look like I (still) work at Macy’s.

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Per usual, I had no business cards on me because they were still in the mail at the time and my old cards were lost more than a year ago in my move to New York City. (They did show up in time for CBC week, meaning that a bunch of people now have my work number, filling me with a special kind of anxiety.)

This made me garner a look from New York society columnist Audrey J. Bernard, whom I’d watched chastise a young woman who approached me a few weeks ago at a New York Fashion Week event wanting to write for The Root and had no business cards. To be honest, I find that when I receive business cards, I never do absolutely anything with them unless the person is someone I’m desperately, constantly forgetting the name of. Then I hold on to the card as if I’m hoping the name will be absorbed into my porous brain.

I’m notoriously bad with names. Chances are, if you know me and I know you but we’re not close enough to be besties, I don’t actually know your name even though I’ve met you several times, seen you at multiple events and recognize you easily. I used to have a publisher, Virginia Moorhouse—whose family owns the Bakersfield Californian newspaper, where I worked for five years—who was fantastic at remembering everyone’s name, an incredible, enviable skill.

I try all the tricks, repeating the name back to them, introducing them to friends so they have to say their name—nothing really works except for this one time when I ran into a guy (who also probably didn’t know my name, either, to be honest) in the airport and I remembered his entire life story but not his name, so I went home and furiously Googled his job and searched for his name and picture until it popped up, then just kept walking around my apartment, repeating the name back to myself like a lunatic.


Which brings me to CBC in Washington, where I was talking to Very Smart Brothas’ Panama Jackson, a senior editor here at The Root, and he was also complaining about how he knew no one’s name. How he would know people, kick it with people at parties and still have no idea what they’re called. He wondered if something was wrong with him or if he was just self-centered.

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I told him I was the same way and that he was likely just self-centered, since I’m sure that is my issue. I’m often too busy thinking about whatever the personal malady of the day is to know what anyone’s name is, lost in my own head. I may be present with you in the moment, talking, smiling, laughing, but am I really there? Or am I lost in my own head, wondering about this and that? It’s annoying and probably one of my least favorite things about myself. I want to be in the moment, but I’m easily distracted by my own internal drama.

Every year for the past 47 years, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has thrown a conference in D.C. that attracts thousands of black people from across the nation to talk policy and community issues, then fight to get into many of the exclusive parties going on around the main event. I was too sick for most of the conference, barely making it through panels—faring poorly with a panel The Root’s Jason Johnson and Panama were on about the importance of the black press, but faring a bit better during a panel on the film Black Panther that featured director Ryan Coogler and an exclusive five-minute clip from the film.

I spent most of the conference just trying not to die, but managed to pull it together for a discussion between St. Louis’ own, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) (she’s from Kinloch, Mo., to be precise), and BET’s newest late-night talk show host, Robin Thede, soon to be starring in The Rundown With Robin Thede.

Robin Thede with Rep. Maxine Waters (Danielle Belton/The Root)

I was excited to attend this event and to meet Robin because we have something in common: We were both black-lady head writers for late-night talk shows—she is formerly of Larry Wilmore’s show on Comedy Central, and I am formerly of BET’s previous late-night outing Don’t Sleep Hosted by T.J. Holmes. 

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My foray into late-night TV was very (very!) short-lived. The show lasted only four months back in 2012. T.J. has since moved on to Good Morning America on ABC, and I’m obviously here at The Root, holding it down. I wished Robin all the best with her show (and told her I’d love to do a feature on her for The Root), and judging by how well she handled her interview with Waters—it was funny and insightful—I have a feeling she might last much, much longer than our four months of ratings-based struggle! (But we did get this sweet write-up in the New York Times!)

As for all the other activities that happened during CBC, I left all of those for everyone else to enjoy, since I spent nearly every night in my hotel room quietly wondering why I traveled to D.C. while sick on a germ-filled Amtrak train, resickening myself and making my illness worse. I left all the real partying to my friend Jason, who did all the things I would have done had I been well—like be bold enough to crash parties I wasn’t invited to in order to see T.I. and Babyface perform at separate galas. I ended up giving away my ticket to the coveted Black Party (hosted by La La Anthony and featuring Doug E. Fresh) to my best friend, Jada Prather, so I could go back to my hotel and die.

Speaking of dying, I almost did! The following morning, I attempted to take some cold medication and choked on the pill. It got caught up in my throat and would NOT dislodge despite all the coughing, hacking and vomiting I did. Fearing that I would die, I called the front desk and attempted to tell them, “Send help, I’m choking!” For some reason, they misinterpreted this but did send up a gentleman who, upon looking at me hacking and coughing with mucus running from my nose, took off running in the other direction, shouting on his walkie-talkie to the front desk. I was hoping he’d help me out with a Heimlich or something, but no.

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So I was left gagging and contemplating whether this was the end. That the sum of my life would conclude with me asphyxiating on a very large DayQuil gel cap, in a T-shirt and underwear, in a hotel room in D.C. All I kept thinking was, “This is a stupid, stupid way to die.” I also thought a lot about the HBO show Six Feet Under, which had an episode once in which a woman choked to death on food in her apartment, and how I always feared this happening to me.

So I thought about dying, my father, Six Feet Under and how dumb this was. A dumb way to die. I couldn’t die like this. I had to calm down and attempt to breath through all the coughing and heaving so I wouldn’t black out.

After what felt like forever, the pill started to break down and dissolve in my throat, probably from all the vomiting of stomach acid (it was very early in the morning and I hadn’t eaten yet). The hotel sent several more people up to my room to check on me, including the paramedics, who had been told that someone “fell.” I was like, “Nah, I was choking.” So the paramedics cracked a few jokes and left.

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After everyone determined that no one had died at the Hyatt Place in “NoMa” (lol at that name), I was left to my own devices, whereupon I sat in my room and cried until Jason called me and invited me to breakfast, where I recounted to him my brush with death in a hoarse voice that could barely get out words.

There, I ate this Breakfast Bandit bagel sandwich at Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market.

The Breakfast Bandit at Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market in Washington, D.C. (Danielle Belton/The Root)

It was delicious, but I was still teary and miserable, and I wanted to document the first thing I attempted to eat after almost dying.

Seemed important.

Thankfully, I am not dead, but still on the mend from my illness. I have a whole spate of events lined up in October that I will hopefully be much more healthy and present for. Hopefully. Maybe. Perhaps. Ideally.

But for now, just trying not to die while taking this cold medication.