Friday, March 28, 2014

A study in Urban Communal Living - March 2000 - Brooklyn Series

The people of Brooklyn are humble.  They are cautiously friendly.  Aware of their surroundings at all times but they know where to place their suspicions and when to strike up a friendly conversation.  That’s the environment we live in. One shared by the hard working, the hardly working and the drug dealers.  It’s a study in urban communal living.

The dealers carry on their business in the shadows of the neighborhood.  You learn to overlook them but you know where they are at all times.  And you cross the street with your head down when you have to pass an exchange situation.  Everyone minds their own business. 

Every now and then, when they aren’t looking, I make a study of them.  I try to place their faces.  Two times I’ve recognized them.  I went to junior high school with one.  The other I remember from the projects when I was a kid.  His family were regulars at my favorite pizzeria.  I remember him because he was a cute kid.  But now I saw the gray tone in his skin.  He was skinny.  Lips all cracked.  Dark circles under his doll eyes.  His back all hobbled.  I wondered if it was just the drugs are if they had the “disease” from sharing needles.  

When I pass I put my head to the side slightly so he won’t recognize me.  I don’t want him to feel ashamed.  They never make eye contact anyway.  Always suspicious of everybody.

Once I walked home from school alone and as I entered my block I noticed a group of them hanging out and being loud.  I tried to sneak past with my head down listening to my headphones with one ear.  I kept the other ear open just in case. One of the guys, one who I’ve never seen before, a new guy, tried to call me over.  The others tried to shush him, pulling the arm of his coat but he wouldn’t quit.  He started to walk alongside me.  Then I heard a loud whistle.  It was their boss.  He was in a wheelchair.  

Everyone knew he was the dealers head honcho and nothing moved in this area unless he authorized it.  He was an ex-gang member from the old school.  In the 70’s or 80’s he got into a fight and someone stabbed him in the back.  He was paralyzed thereafter. 

The minute we heard the whistle the guy alongside me stopped and stood at attention looking at the old gang member in the wheel chair.  He was waved to come over.  I kept walking and was about to enter my building but I looked back out of curiosity.  The new guy was getting chewed out by the old gang member.  He never looked in my direction again. 

I think it was because my dad was always respectful to the old gang member.  He always said Good Morning or Afternoon.  And when something went down on the block my dad would go downstairs and get the low down from the old gang member’s brother.  He was civil, neutral, but civil with them.  And when my dad’s car was stolen once, they made sure to figure out who it was and they ran him out of the block.  Although they couldn’t save the car, they found it stripped some blocks away.  They told my dad it would never happen again.  And it didn’t. 

Things were just understood in that way.  You didn’t ask questions.

Another time I was walking back from the L train station.   I walked straight up Lorimer Street everyday after school, mostly without incident.  I liked walking that way because a lot of people get off there and there are a lot of street lights.  But it was in the middle of wintertime and it had gotten dark fast.  It was 5:30 but dark like midnight.  And it was raining a little. 

I got this uneasy feeling.  Usually you feel the people walking behind you and they either trail to the side as they walk away from Lorimer into some side street to get where they are going or they just pass you.  But when you feel someone constantly behind you, you start to get suspicious. 

I tried the guy out.  I knew he was a guy by his steps.  His steps sounded like they were in line with mine.  Not good.  He was paying attention.  

I walked to one side and then the other making believe I was dodging something on the floor.  His steps shuffled.  I noticed that all the people in front of me had branched off.  I could’t look behind me but I could only faintly hear some people in back.   My heart was starting to race a bit but no panicking was allowed. 

I saw a couple walking across the street.  I crossed the street and walked behind them.  They guy crossed the street too.  By dipping my head to one side I could see him as he crossed.  Jeans and a gray sweatshirt with the hood over his head and his hands in his pockets, not tall but medium build.  

I kept paying attention. 

We got to a major intersection and I stopped to wait for the light.  The couple turned right at the intersection.  Not Good.  The stinkin’ guy waits right next to me.  I can’t see his face. It’s dark and he has the hoody over his head but from the movement of his chin I can tell he’s smiling at me.  He says something in Spanish.  I can tell he is Central American from his accent not a Caribbean like most of the people around here. 

I pretend to look through him paying attention to the traffic so I can cross.   I walk quicker.  He is bold and that scares the sock off me.  I pass a gas station which I know for a fact is full of the “Good Ol’Guys” if you know what I mean.  He won’t dare grab me there.  They’ll pound him. 

But the next block is darker and I don’t know what to do.  I start to panic but across the street is a well-lit bodega and a bunch of guys are outside.  They see me everyday.  I don’t think to go in because this isn’t my block.  They don’t know me here.  I can’t be sure.  But I’m thinking of Jonatan’s Bodega just up ahead on the next block.  That is my neighborhood.  If I can just get there.  

I pray the guys are there. If I can’t shake this stinkin’ dude… I can’t just walk him home with me.  Then he’ll know where I live and I’ll never be safe.

I am walking slash running at this point.  Dripping sweat and I must have had a panicked look on my face because when I get through the bodega doors Jonatan knows I’m in trouble.  I nod in the direction behind me to let him know and walk all the way in.  Jonatan sees the shadow of the guy through the plexus-glass. He is making his way toward the door.  The guy looks around suspiciously before pushing the door to enter the bodega. 

Jonatan had already whistled over to the guys in the back. They were playing dominos for money in the back room.  As I walk towards the back they rush past me making sure they are between me and the door.  Jonatan grabs my arm and rushes me towards the back.  Out of curiousity I look back.  

The stinkin stalker is walking in and when he lifts up his head, you should have seen this guys face.  The guys were just standing there staring at him.  

Jonatan tells me to hurry up and pushes me out the back door that leads to the street.  He walks me half way up the block to my building and tells me to run.  He waits for me to get through the first locked door to my building then he runs back to his bodega. 

The next day I pass by to buy a gallon of milk.  He smiles and starts up the usual casual conversation.  I wonder if he is really gonna act like nothing happened.  I come out with it. 

“Jonatan, what happened to the guy from yesterday, the one that was following me?”

“Eso no es tu problema Princesa, we took care of it.  You don’t have to worry.  Buen dia, Princesa.”  (That’s not your problem anymore, Princess. You don’t have to worry about that.  Have a good day Princess. ) 

He told me just like that with a wink and a sly smile across his face.  I went cold.  He wasn’t going to tell me.  This must be bad. 

I imagined the guys from the bodega dumping the body in the East River… all because of me. Ok.  It’s unlikely that’s what happened.  But I have a feeling the guy didn’t make it out of my block without a busted face.   I reminded myself not to tell my parents about this.  They would lock me up for good.  And I had an active social life to consider. 

Needless to say, nothing was ever said and that was that.  Neither Jonatan nor I ever brought it up.  But boy was I glad for those few people in my neighborhood who had my back when I needed them.

Now that is a study in urban communal living.

Early Morning in Williamsburg, November 1999 - Brooklyn Series

As I do every morning at 6 am, I get out of bed and put myself together and get myself to school.  Outside everything’s quiet unlike it was the night before.  Mornings in the city are good for thinking.  

At 7:10 I walk to the train with the sun at my side.  The block is deserted.  Except for a group of Mexicans who are loading their carts with flowers down the street.  They have large families to feed and the flowers and peeled oranges they sell at the intersections is their only way to make a living. 

I see a young mother in her tights and matching Reeboks Classics, her hair in a tight bun. She yells for the two kids who are running out in front of her to wait while she ties a scarf around a third.  She is not yet twenty-five it seems.  She will drop them off at school, run some errands, cook, clean and watch a bad novella before going out to pick them up in the afternoon.  This is what most mothers who wear their hair in a bun do.  She has no outside career but her kids always look happy when I pass.

There is a man sitting by his window.  He is smoking a Marlboro.  He looks around eighty.  Maybe he is younger but, you know, the Marlboro’s.  He is retired and watches as everyone else does what he used to, walk to the train.  I wonder if he feels left behind.  He’s probably thinking of an afternoon game of Domino’s.

A group of women also walk to the train.  They are Dominican and they talk really fast.  There are two men walking behind them.  They talk slower and sing-songy because they are Mexican.  They have oversized Paco Jeans, half dragging on the floor.  The crotch of the pants are hanging between their knees and they shuffle like penguins as they walk.  The older man laughs as he smokes.  He’s waiting to see if they try to run for the train. 

I stand on the platform of the Hewes Street station waiting for the M train.  The elevated platform gives you a view straight down Hooper Street.  The rows of cars and buildings spread like a sunray from Broadway to Grand Street. Despite the movement I see from up here everything is quiet.  Then the J train comes barreling down the express track. 

The man in the bodega stand is catching money as people grab their coffee and newspaper in a mad dash to catch the M train that is just getting to the station before Hewes.  You learn to time these things perfectly after a while.  Yes you can hear the train from that far off.  Just like you can fall asleep on the train and always wake up just in time for your stop.  It becomes second nature. 

On the platform a group of Puerto Rican men are waiting and talking heatedly.  It’s about baseball. They are mad about some bad play and are acting it out and laughing.  One plays the pitcher, the announcer in the middle and the other is the batter.  They all cheer as the batter mimes a home run and then stumbles on his foot and tumbles.  “Alcohol must’ve been involved”, claims the “announcer”.  Then they get into another subject.  One of them claims he doesn’t understand why his wife has been so hostile lately.  They all shake their heads and say, “eso de la mujeres, mijo” (that thing with women, man.) And they tell him not to give it much thought.  “She’ll love you by tomorrow again, who understands them?”  They turn their attention to the approaching train.  I put on my headphones and tune out. 

I think about the day.  High School is challenging, full of drama, I can’t wait to get out.  It’s mid-November.  The days are shorter and getting colder but it’s still not cold enough to keep the people off the streets.

By the time I get home it will be dark and full of sound all over Brooklyn.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Louisa Taught Me - Brooklyn Series

I was remembering Louisa.

Louisa is my other “grandma”.  She’s not my blood, but she is my other “grandma”.  As I grew up people would ask me if she was my mothers mother or my fathers mother.  I would then have to explain. 

You see she fit into our family so well, or maybe we fit into hers, till people couldn’t separate us.  But we weren’t the only ones drawn to her that way.  She entered rooms of people and had no trouble flowing through them.  She was social, to say the least.

She was lightning fast about it too.  She got to know people in their first meeting.  I mean she even knew how many shoes they owned within the hour.  She knew things before anybody.  She was well connected.  She was my social mentor you could say.  And more informative and timely than El Diario La Prensa. 

Louisa had that kind of confidence and jovial personality.  There was always a gathering, always a party somewhere when she was around.  She was always kind and generous even though she lived on a budget and worked like a horse for everything she had.  There was always food and an invitation at her table.  And her apartment would never empty out.  It was like Grand Central station, with people coming and going.

People liked talking to her because she was truthful.  Even when it was hard to hear, she would let you know the truth.  Although she would always keep things light, laid back and comfortable.  You felt good around her.

Part of what made her so exciting to be around where her colorful stories.  Colorful is an understatement.  Roll on the floor funny is more like it.  She was so good at it that she had her audience and herself practically peeing on themselves before she could finish.  It was contagious laughing on extraordinary and dangerous levels.   People hobbling, clutching their knees together, trying to drag themselves to the bathroom, etc.

And that sneaky smile when she was up to something.  I always felt I was going on an adventure with her, whether she was telling me her recollections of growing up in Puerto Rico and Brooklyn or if we were just going on an errand around the neighborhood.   It was great fun to grow up with her.

Being spontaneous and energetic had its disadvantages.  She was always in a frenzy. Always loosing something.  Always had a million things to do, at once.

Once she was bouncing around the apartment talking a mile a minute about not being able to remember where she left those keys.  She passed by me about five times.  I was sitting at the table with the keys on top of my head.  I eventually pointed them out.  Then she started babbling again, this time about her coin purse.  Organized she was not.

The way she became our “grandma” is simple.  My mom and her daughter went to school together.  My mom spent a lot of time over at their house. My mom even went to live with her for a time when my real grandmother moved to Puerto Rico.  And when her own daughter and sons got married and moved away, my mom always stayed close by.  In fact, we lived a floor up from her.

We lived in a four-story walk up on Scholes Street right in front of the Williamsburg Houses.  We were up on the fourth floor and Louisa, her husband, Orlando and her son, Tony lived on the second floor.  These were railroad apartments so we had a view of both the front and back of the building.  If someone came to visit, they would yell up at your window and you would stick your head out and throw them the “out-the-window” keys so they could enter the building.  This was before Inter-com systems.

Louisa would call us to eat by sticking her head out the window and yelling for us to come down.  That or she would bang on the pipe.  But you had to be careful about that cause the neighbor in between used to hit that pipe to tell us to stop jumping around.

Louisa was my date night babysitter.  I had a babysitter for the weekdays when my mom worked but every couple of weekends or so I would spend a night at her apartment.  We watched movies.  I saw E.T. for the first time at her house. When I started to cry as E.T. slowly slipped away in the last part, she assured me that he was going to live.  I wondered how she knew.  And low and behold E.T. was back at it wobbling around in no time and he didn’t even miss his ride back to outer space.  I thought we had willed him to live because Louisa was so positive and that made me positive.   I learned about Stephen Spielberg later.  What a way to burst a girl’s bubble.

Another time when I was maybe four years old maybe less, she left me sitting on the dining room table eating and went to use the bathroom.  She left the door open just in case.  I got thirsty so I went to get some orange juice from the fridge.  As I went to close the door a twinge of terror came over me.  Like a lightning bolt hit me on the head and zapped me to the core.  It was just like that I remember.  I lost it. I dropped the OJ and was screaming bloody murder.  I dove into the couch with my head between the cushions that were wrapped in plastic.  By this time Louisa had jumped off the can and was running through the kitchen while she tried to hold up her underwear with one hand. 

“Que Paso?!?, Que Paso?!?”, (What happened?  What happened?), she was turning me over to see if I was hurt, looking everywhere.  I was yelling and pointing at the fridge where there was a puddle of orange juice.  They didn’t get it.

“Pero que viste mija?”, (But what did you see?), asked Orlando, all worried. 

“Fue un raton? Dime donde.”, (Was it a mouse? Tell me where?), he kept asking.  He thought I had seen a mouse. 

Louisa was opening the fridge, looking around it, over and under it all puzzled. Then she opened it again and held her forehead finally understanding.

“Ya se. Ya se.”, (I know, I know.)

“Que?”.  Orlando walked over and she pulled out the teeth in a cup that was in the refrigerator door.  I dove into the couch cushions again.  It was horrifying.

You see her husband, Orlando, had a habit of putting his dentures in the fridge.  He would float them in a glass of water.  I guess it kept them fresh.  But was it ugly. They were just in there bobbing up and down.

They were cracking up.  I mean using the table and walls for support and everything.   Then my parents came and the party started all over.  I still get reminded.

But what really crossed my mind, besides the obviously traumatic site of fake teeth, was that her son had put them there.

You see I always thought Tony was a psycho.  I was four, I didn’t know what a psycho was, but I knew he was weird.  I didn’t like him.  Maybe I didn’t trust him.  He had an evil streak and was always watching horror movies, which were almost like comedies to him.  I wouldn’t be in the room but I could hear.  I heard screaming followed by him cracking up. WHAT?!  Even a four year old knows that’s creepy. 

Well I thought he put those teeth in there.  Louisa told me the teeth were Orlando’s.  He even showed me.  He took them out, shook’em off and put them in his mouth.  I was still not buying it.  Needless to say I would hug myself as I passed Tony after that. Didn’t want to loose any body parts. 

Tony gave her problems and that is a story in itself.  But it’s not mine to tell.  Louisa had dealt with issues, that was no secret.  She came from what white people would call a “quirky” family.  They were a bit nuts. 

We would sometimes go to Puerto Rico on vacation.  She would shudder at the thought of going.  She hated that island.  I never understood why till later when I researched the history of the island myself.  Not the history that they tell the tourists, mind you but the real history. 

As a child I felt it was a wonderful place.  So different from how we were growing up in Brooklyn.  But to her it was the setting of all the horrors of her life.  She grew up poor. No poor isn’t the word.  They had less.  They were broke down poor.  Never having enough to eat.  Living in squalor.  You know you are poor when you have to use the latitas de tomate for rolos.  Those are the little tomato paste cans.  They took off the labels and cleaned them out to use as hair rollers.

The most of her family was uneducated and apparently suffered from some mental malady that made them violent.  I can’t make a professional assessment not being a doctor and all.  I would make an educated guess and say they suffered from blinding poverty – the kind that stripped you of your dignity and left you shameless.  This isn’t really a mental malady.  It’s more like being a victim of the circumstances. 

She made jokes about her family’s escapades.   Which made you roll out laughing but kind of made you sad.  But then Puerto Rican’s make everything sound funny.  It’s the trademark.  The “Don’t take yourself seriously it can kill you”, kind of thing. 

There was the time one of her sisters found out her husband was cheating on her and she kicked him out.  Well he went to live with his mistress and in time he had a heart attack and died.  During the funeral everybody was there to see the man and pay their respects.  You know the standard crying and carrying on about what a good guy he was.  The mistress in front throwing herself on the ground saying she wanted to go with him.  I’m sure someone in the room was asking themselves if she was waiting for an invitation or what.  Well, in comes his wife, the woman scorned, in her bata, chancletas and rolos (housecoat, sandals and hair rollers) on her head.  She had heard the idiot had died and came right over.

Well she walks straight down between all the mourners over to the coffin with Don Juan’s body inside looking all innocent and grabs the thing from the bottom and heaves it right over.  Dead guy rolling on the floor.  And she nonchalantly walks out with her fists up in the air like Muhammed Ali. 

I love that story.  I don’t know why.  It really is horrible but it makes me chuckle every time.

Then there was the time she went over to her sister’s apartment building to ask her something or other.  She was standing on the sidewalk and yelling up.  “Lolaaaaa!” This was before cell phones.  

“Quuueee?”, (Whaaaat?). 

Lola sticks her head out the window with her hand holding up one side of her head.  She was in the process of taking off her rolos. 

“Que necesita?”, (What you need?), she screamed back then she grabbed her mouth and yelled, “Hea rallo, ten cuidao!!!” (Oh junk, be careful!)

Something had fallen out of her mouth.  Louisa ducked out of the way and yelled back, “Que rallo e eso?!” (What in the world was that?)

“Los diente se me calleron.”  (My teeth fell out.), she yelled back.

They laughed so hard Lola almost fell out the window.  Of course, everybody on the block was laughing, too.  Telling her to buy some teeth that fit and cracking up all over the place.  Back then if you were on the government health plan, meaning Medicaid, or Mericay, as we called it, it was hard to get quality dental work done.  It’s not accurate of me to say was but that is a whole other issue for another time.  Apparently they either gave Lola someone else’s teeth or they just measured wrong because they were too big for her mouth and she looked like a donkey with frizzy hair.  (Louisa’s description not mine.)

I would ask Louisa to tell that story all the time, you know, after I got over my trauma about the floating fake teeth. 

By the time I came to know her she was already in her fifties.  Although she wasn’t slowing down I could tell that sometimes she longed for a quieter life.  She had lived in Brooklyn since she was a teenager and was growing tired of the hectic life of the city.  She always had always worked hard, long hours and kept everything going at home too.  Plus she was diabetic and Orlando had real bad asthma.  They started to think about moving to Seattle where her daughter lived.  I knew it was better for them.  But I did not want them to go.

It was the end of an era.  Everyone felt her leaving.  There are people that have a unifying effect on a community and they provide a place of security where you aren’t judged and you can be yourself and have fun just being around others.  She created that and it was hard to replicate.

Yes she has her faults.  But she never dwelled much on the faults of others and took things for what they were.  You weren’t defined by your errors.  I think we can show her the same courtesy.

She left when I was thirteen.  It worried me because I was at the beginning of my teenage years and they were already taking chunks out of me.  I was growing more and more of what the child psychologist call self-aware.  I hated so many things about myself and was giving myself some nasty mental beatings.  Ok.  There were individuals who I will not name who were unknowingly egging on the voices in my head.  These individuals should have been looking into their own shortcomings mind you. 

At least I was aware of mine.  I had no clue what to do with them but I always tried to go head to head, wrestling around and keeping them in check. Well mostly.  There was that time I got in trouble for writing something disrespectful but funny about our social studies teacher on the chalkboard, but that is a story for another time.  He was an idiot.  It was totally wrong and immature of me but my older self doesn’t beat up my younger self about it.

So I guess my mom knew from my gloomy mood and on a call to Louisa one day, she was living in Seattle during this time, she passes me the phone and we have a chat about what was going on.   That helped a lot with my anxiety because she made light of it and told me it wasn’t a reflection on who I was and so on.  Later I got a letter from her.  We used to exchange letters on a regular basis.  I kept a lot of them. 

In it she quoted this Bible text that I have worn thin in my head to this day.  It is what I always refer to when I feel incapable or inadequate.  It was 1 Samuel 16:7.  It reads, “But God said to Samuel: “Do not pay attention to his appearance and how tall he is, for I have rejected him. For the way man sees is not the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but God sees into the heart.”

With time I lost touch with her.  Life kept us both busy and the letters became less and less frequent.  She would come to visit around the time my mom was taking care of Louisa’s mother, Letty.  She was very old and living in the Williamsburg Houses. 

By this time Letty couldn’t get around by herself and the government gave her home attendants first during the day only and then during the night.  Tony was living with her and at first would help out by keeping an eye on her during the night but his social life was more important than taking care of her and eventually my mom’s involvement became more and more frequent. 

During the last years of Letty’s life my mom was the acting caretaker in place of her own kids who lived in Puerto Rico and other parts of the country.  She would look after her during gaps in the home attendants schedules, bathing her and keeping the house in order, making sure she was as comfortable as possible and paying her bills.  When Letty died my mom helped with the arrangements.  She had meticulously kept tabs on Letty’s savings account, making sure that in the event of her death, the funeral would be covered.  Louisa appreciated this but she wasn’t able to come to the funeral.

Since then I haven’t heard from her.  I really don’t even know if she lives in the same place.  Postcards I sent years ago were never responded to.  Whatever may be holding her back from connecting with us, I just want her to know that we don’t judge because no one ever knows the whole story of what is in our hearts and why we choose what we choose in life.  She taught me that.

She taught me about separating our and other people’s dumb actions from who they really where and not judging.  Yes, talking about our stupid actions was allowed but judging was not.  As long as it was roll over funny.  After all, if we took life or ourselves too seriously it could kill us.  And she taught me about hospitality and how important it was to others to have safe place to hang out and be themselves. 

More than anything she taught me about defiance and perseverance in the face of obstacles, confidence, resilience, the power of the positive and how to put a fun spin on any story no matter how heavy the subject matter.  All qualities that have helped me immensely through time.

So thank you Louisa, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Decluttering Your Mind

I like to sort closets.  Maybe it's a symptom of having grown up in a tiny New York City apartment.  I also should absolutely be feared when I play Tetris.  And I am a tad OCD.

So I learned to apply my closet sorting tendencies to the mess I have going on in my ever spinning noggin.  Does your head still spin while you are asleep?  Mine does.  No. I have not seen the Doc about it.  Should I worry?

Well the rules of decluttering apply in life as well.

#1.  If you haven't used it in a year, GET RID OF IT.
I have things rummaging in my head that have no use. Worries that have no foundation and negative thoughts that appeared out of no where, and misunderstandings that I came to when reading too far between the lines.  These things surface at weird times.  Like when I'm having a bad day.  I have learned to say, "To the Garbage Pile with that!"

#2.  If you don't absolutely love it, Get Rid of It.
Basically, if it's not working for you, be gone with it.  Maybe it worked for someone else, but you clearly have held on to that thought for too long.  Long enough to know it's not you.  Throw it away.

#3. If you don't know what to do with it, give it a trial run.
There are some thoughts we don't know how to classify.  Are they Useful for us or Not?  Allow that thought to be and play around with it.  Examine it closely.  But don't give it a permanent residence yet.  It's OK to not know something right away.  Let it all play out in the calm of your mind.  Put it in the Maybe Pile.

If you come upon something in there that boggles you a bit examine it to find out why it is there. Don't ever be afraid of what you may find because it just might shed some light on the reasons for your inner workings and help you become a better you.

Have fun sorting your marbles.

What is Your Worth?

If I let myself breakdown right now I might never recover.  That's how I feel, broke down.  But it is my own fault.

I can be my own worst enemy when it comes to worth.  Worth is a word I arrived at as I sat down and meditated on my life.

Why do I do and say and think the things I do?  Because some of the people around me treat me and my family unfairly and cause me to react in a way I wouldn't otherwise. They make me feel lower and less.

And why do these toxic people cause me to go against my nature?  Because I don't value myself enough to control the influence they have over me.


What am I worth?  We don't ask ourselves that enough as women.  We know the worth of our husbands if we are lucky enough to have a good one. We protect our children with our lives because they are worth everything to us.  We help our other family members when they are in need because, "If they can't count on us, who can they count on?"  We help others because we appreciate what they have done for us.

But when we need help we try to be as self sufficient as possible so as to not bother anyone with our worries and not to put an extra burden on anyone.  And we bend ever so slightly more under the weight of all we have piled on ourselves so that those we love don't hurt or want or suffer. Our worth is not so much in our eyes because we don't care enough to say, "Hey this is getting unfair. And my back hurts. Will someone take back their issues? I have my own."

Some of the toxic people are easy to cast off as jerks and you can easily separate yourself from them.  It becomes harder when these people are in your family, circle of friends, "adoptive family", or at work. And if this person is really good at heart but just very, very misguided.  What do you do then?  You have to see these people often and it becomes an unpleasant experience, over and over again.

I just try to play nice. And I make a game plan.  One that involves my escape, if that is an option.

But it isn't always an option.  So limited exposure becomes the way.   Limiting the amount of time you allow certain people to be around you will eventually breed suspicion on their part.  They will wonder why, all the sudden, you are no longer putting up with what they dish out.  They get antsy and uncomfortable.  I love this part because it's subtle revenge.  "Why isn't so and so not jumping when I bark?"  Because SHE FOUND HER WORTH.  And they will move on to some other unsuspecting victim.

It takes great patience to live this way. On the positive side, if I can live this way, exercising great patience and being civil, then I would have increased my worth in character.

This is what I tell myself.  I am building Character.  Until I can find that place where no one knows my name.

Then there comes full-on-confrontation.  I hate confrontations, not because I'm a wuss, well... maybe I am a little.  But I usually regret what I say in defending myself in a confrontation.  I can go from calm to cruel in .08 seconds.  It is not something I am proud of... although it can come in handy in some throw downs.  But that part of my life is in the past.




If you forgot how much your worth ask a good friend to tell you or just remember how much you are worth in HIS eyes.

With Love to all my brothers and sisters,


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Voices

Trying to be the perfect suburban housewife is an idealistic, unrealistic, delusional notion.   Here is why it doesn't work for me.

Insight #1:  Easily distracted by the critical voices in my head.

Calling me a housewife would make my friends back home double over in peels of laughter. Don't get me wrong, I've gotten pretty darn good at my home skills. 

Men like to think that because you iron their shirts then, by default, you must 'love' to iron.  No I hate ironing. It just makes me mad to see you walk off and into the world in a wrinkled shirt. And you don't seem to care that you look like a raisin. Then everyone - as in the other women, would be all - "So she lets her man walk around like that.  Poor thing.  Wife needs an ironing lesson."  And I would have to zap them with my laser eyeballs. It creates chaos if I don't iron.

Women in the suburbs have to do all sorts of inhumane things that I was just not prepared for.  How, as a woman, do you hold down a job and take care of a house that size with a yard that size with everyone and everything in it and still make dinner?  I am a simple apartment gal who has more interesting pursuits. I cannot be bothered with all this nonsense.  And yet they say we need to have it all done by 7pm and not look disheveled and smell like garlic.

The voices of those we love, those of other women and the voice of society telling you what you should be doing can drown out your own.  Don't let them distract you.

Hence, we have insight #2 - The voices in your head are sometimes deceitful and manipulative little minions. Don't let them bully you into trying to be something you are not or do things you simply can't do for lack of time.  Learn to say NO.

Which leads me to Insight #3 - Those voices are part a collective conspiracy and Martha Stewart is their leader.  

Insight # 4 - I speak in tangents, deal with it.  When I was younger my grammar teacher would have frowned upon this tendency.  I am not in school anymore and I don't care.  I'm 30 people. This is what I sound like and I love it.  My life is one big tangent.  Professional housewives frown at tangents.  They swat at them with wooden spoons. 

Insight #5 - Don't buy into other people's interpretations of YOU.  They don't know all about you and your life, so how can they tell you what you need to be doing.  And if you must, tell them so.  Take care of what YOU need to take care of.  Hold as valuable the opinions of a small group of close friends and family but remember they are opinions.

Insight #6 - The life expectancy for women is 70 which means I'm almost halfway there and I don't have time for triflin' people. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Insight #7 - Celebrate your good traits and your 'truth'.  Don't criticize yourself and add to the nasty voices in your head.  Your truth is yours and you will know it when you see it.  Stand by it. 

10 months, 10 days and Rocco

It has been 10 months and 10 days since my last post. But I am better now.

So lets just say I took the time off to write a book, won a Nobel Peace Prize for literature and decided to celebrate by moving to Fiji for a while.  That would make me look less irresponsible.

And I became a Hipster.  For anyone who doesn't know what a Hipster is go down to the nearest coffee shop.  They will be pretending to write their memoirs.  But they are really reading Page Six of the Post. And another may be having a phone conversation with his mother promising that his book will make him a  millionaire so he doesn't need a real job.  Hipsters will accept anyone who acts talented and confident, wears something avant-garde, and they don't do background checks to find out if your a hack.  That's why there are so many so called "bands" and "artist" in Williamsburg.  I could  stand on a street corner blowing some notes into a flute, bopping my head to a beat while wearing black horn-rimmed glasses, pay someone random to stand around looking enthralled at my talent and - boom-chicks - I have a Hipster following.


Some months back we adopted a cute little puppy.  And named him Rocco.  For the past 5 months I've been training this little guy.   Actually he's has trained me.   I can poop scoop like a fool.

Rocco's arrival caused some unforeseen disturbances.  If someone tells you having a dog is like adding a child to your family - BELIEVE THEM, for the love of....

The first thing to go was my sanity.  He pooped and pee'ed to his little hearts content.  Used my cabinets, stools, chairs, tables, banisters, walls and shoes as chew toys. Chased the rabbits till we had pity on them and found them new homes.  Terrorized the parakeets till we had to give them up too. I had to barricade my plants so he would stop digging and eating them. I did such a good job that I can't get into the vegetable garden myself and now have wild tomatoes growing in between the peppers and the melon vines have invaded the banana plant so it looks like a weird hybrid of banana melon.  He vomited everywhere - even in those little spaces between the chairs in the car.  Pooped some more.  Toilet papered my husbands office, etc.

Apparently my husband didn't do as much research as he let on because I now know through my own reading that Welsh Terrier equals hyper hunting dog who digs and destroys.

He's a cute lil terror idn't he?
He can get away with anything.

- Rocco's Mommy

Friday, June 3, 2011

Left our manners at home, did we?

Has anyone else ever had to deal with a person who brings up money at the dinner table?  He doesn't just bring it up, he actually gets snippy about it.  

This is one of my pet peeves.  But this one makes me feel especially peevish.  As in - I start to squirm and my eye twitches.  I may suddenly lunge out in anger.  

This is why.

When the waitress asks how we are going to pay the tab at the restaurant - don't emphatically volunteer someone to pay the whole tab.  As if you knew their financial situation was the same as say, Donald Trump.  Then they say "well you never pay the tab for everyone".  Maybe because we can't and that is why we always go dutch.  Not nice. 

Also realize that the person you just volunteered is now, understandably, mortified, embarrassed and about to crawl under the table.  Thank you for that. 

Let us not forget the other people at the table.  All who have now, in a state of panic, proceeded to look down aimlessly at something in the same way a drowning person looks for a float.  And then...

Everyone looses their appetite.  

This is when I order a big plate of barbecue ribs - which I may or may not be able to fully digest. I make an effort to control myself.  From jumping across the table and planting this person headfirst in the first pot I find.  

In reality we stayed put and ate despite the urge to leave.  There was a family guest at the table and we didn't want to seem as bad mannered as the obnoxious guy.  We asked to go dutch and pay for ourselves and the guest, like was originally intended.  

But I have a regret.

My husband and I should have said that we were going to powder our noses and quietly ditch them all.

What irritates me more is that this person thinks of himself as a sophisticated individual.  

Bloomingdales doesn't sell manners. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Connecting in Retrospect

We are all guilty in some way or other of being a bad friend.  It happens.  Especially in adulthood when so many things get in the way and daily life is a challenging maze.

Our American culture has a little to do with it.  We live fast lives where we work and work towards... really nothing.  

You probably love your family and friends very much.  But you ignore them and regularly forget to call.  Confusing right?

And the answer to your dilemma is probably: simplify and make time.  Because it is important to keep the connections.  

When you have a great group of friends life seems different.  Lots of bad things can happen to you but you don't allow yourself to BE your situation.  Your job may stink but after work you have plans and by then the 9 to 5 was like a nightmare you forgot about come morning.  And your friends know that things will get better for you so you believe them and, eventually, they do because they 'believed' it to happen.  That is the power of having a support system.

Maybe like me you left all your childhood friends 1800 miles behind and slowly this one got married and moved there and the other one got a job and moved here and the other had a baby and you don't hear from them anymore.  Or maybe you had a fight with one of them years back and they made you feel like a bad influence, so you retreated from your group of friends.

It happens gradually.  You lose touch.  And then one day you hear from a family member who knows someone close to your friend that she did indeed give birth two weeks ago.  Two weeks and not even a picture.  Then you get an email string from one of them and in reading down the trail you realize just how much your long lost group of friends email each other and don't include your name in the address bar.  But you aren't mad about it.  Just sad because you finally realized, acknowledged the deterioration of a friendship.  

Or maybe a good friend of yours, one who you looked up to, suddenly had a midlife crisis... in her twenties, and took off without a word to her family or you.  First you feel guilty that you couldn't do more to change her mind.  With time and experience you realize you could've done something but , at that time, you wouldn't have known what to do if it hit you in the face.  Then you go on with life and try to ignore that she is no longer around.  This can work for years.  Everything is seemingly normal.  But then every friend you make along the way is somehow temporary.  Mostly it's your fault because you made a point of not letting them get that close.  You know, just in case they decide to have a midlife crisis in close proximity to you and you end up with - schrapnel.  

But when you finally wake up from that little dream world you've been living in - pick up the phone, send an email, visit if they are close but don't let your friends go.  Especially those you met when you were a geeky kid with eccentricities and going thru a weird growth spurt where your nose was bigger than your face and you didn't know the importance of deodorant.  'Cause if they stuck with you then, they'll forgive you for anything.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

And Yes, I Quit

In this horrid economy where the nightmares of unemployment are all too traumatic, I decided to quit my job.  Any sane person would have stayed till something better came along, giving a splendid example of the long-suffering martyr.  Not I.

When was the last time I waited for anything?   I blame it on being raised by pushy city people.

Well I did. I quit.  And not because I was mistreated or underpaid.  I mostly liked my job.  But it was just too far from my house.  On average I would spend 9 hours at work and 2-3 hours a day commuting.  And I rarely had time for anything else.  Worth it?  I think not.

Today I spent half of my day calmly scanning the clothes racks at Macy's and casing the clearance racks.  I used to find deals in Manhattan like a superhero.  And I had gorgeous shoes.  My current collection is made up of hasty choices.  I basically picked them in a fit of crazyness because I had a wedding to run to and here I was, stuck in rural Texas without a single decent shoe that would say "pretty", "intelligent", "Urban".  So I picked out of desperation.  My closet if now full of second rate shoes.  Nightmare.

I've had the time to calmly look into every nook of my house.  I've cleaned and organized and pulled out things I had forgotten about.  I found tons of pictures here and there.  Funny ones. Sad ones.  I found my collection of greeting cards given to me by my friends and family over the years.  I never throw any out. Ever. 

It's amazing how many things you forget you had.  Especially if you've moved and sort of piled a closet up with stuff you were to organize later.  I love organizing.  I do, it's true and yes, I am crazy.  The thing is that I am good at it and I do it fast.  Yesterday, I tackled my mom's house while she went shopping.  I must've unloaded thirty moving boxes at least.  She has been here more than 6 months!  

My mom has what she calls an organized mess.  The office supplies are piled in  a drawer with household odds and ends like curtain pulls and screws about two rooms removed from the office but that makes sense to her.  There are books and papers piled all over the house.  It makes me crazy.  

She has a collection of encyclopedias from 1991 in English and Spanish,  a VHS collection of 100 or so movies,  80 cassette tapes and telephone books for the past three years.  You know about DVD's and the Internet, don't you?  I found about 15 blizzard worthy coats.  We live in Houston.  We don't even get a winter.  WHY MA, WHY?   

But you never know.  Yes, you never know when a freak Noreaster is gonna come barreling down to Texas.  When a wayward blizzard will dump 3 feet of snow right on Houston, palm trees will be buried and all.  Then we can break out those 15 Alaska coats and pull on those Thermo gloves and wool sweaters.  And roll right out the door with nothing but our eyeballs showing.  Makes tons of sense.

But I ask, who in Houston wants to buy 15 winter coats?

I give up. You can keep your junk where it is and one day when we come to visit you and we have to dig for two days to rescue you from your hoarding collection, I will rent you a storage container, park it in the backyard and you can live in it. At least you'll never have to give anything up.

By the way thanks for the box of goodies I snagged from you. That vase will look great once I find an available surface to put it on.

Love, Jo