once there was a boy who had a vibrant glow

sad.jpgborn to lose, i live my life in vain
all my dreams have only caused me pain
all my life i’ve always been so bluuuuuuuuuuuue
born to lose and now i’m losing yooouuuuuuuuuuu
–The Bouncing Souls

The world is so full of stories of happily-ever-after. Our current culture really doesn’t tolerate stories of despair; Shakespeare would never get into the Writer’s Guild of America if he was alive today. I was listening to Radiolab the other day (I’ve been re-listening to a lot of old episodes, in my general efforts to keep myself around things quiet and nurturing), the episode on Space, which includes the story of the sound recording sent up on the Voyager spacecraft and (tangentially) a story that Ann Druyan tells about falling in love with Carl Sagan and marrying him during that process of putting the Voyager together. They got married practically before they ever even kissed each other. How bewitching, how enticing is a story like this? Everyone wants to have that, and it’s so easy to convince yourself that this is what you have. You don’t want to be the person that drives across the southeastern United States in adult diapers to chase after someone who doesn’t love you, no, you want to be the person who professes her love and accepts a marriage proposal all in one breath. We tell ourselves all of these stories, and because we know that they are true, we forget that they are not the only stories out there. You craft fairy tales out of nothing. You forget that most of the time, it doesn’t work like that, that the world is littered with the dust of billions of broken hearts. The world doesn’t owe you any fairy tales.

I’ve been struggling with this, lately. I’ve wanted to move to New York since I was 14, and I think I thought that when I move here, I’d be happy. I thought that if I got a boyfriend, I’d be happy. It’s been hard on several levels, to move here and be so unhappy. I forgot that New York doesn’t owe me happy (not that I expected happy to show up at my apartment door with a welcome gift basket, I know that you have to create your own happiness, or at least create opportunities for happiness to happen, but you know what I mean). Having this idyll of New York in my head doesn’t obligate New York to adhere to that conception. And having the drought of romance that I had doesn’t mean that the universe owes me a boyfriend. Just because I really liked this guy doesn’t mean he’s under any sort of karmic obligation to like me back.

I know all these things, and yet I don’t know them. I have to keep learning them.

My Year in a List

Since August of 2010, I have (in no particular order):

-spent $80,000+ (school and living expenses)
-gotten a boyfriend
-lost a boyfriend
-went to get diagnosed with ADD
-received a diagnosis of depression
-moved twice
-got an essay published
-wrote two newspaper articles
-failed to write as much as I wanted
-ate Pinkberry
-ate Chipotle
-ate Shake Shack
-saw the Mighty Mighty Bosstones four times
-saw Strike Anywhere once
-saw the Bouncing Souls six times
-stopped checking Facebook
-started this blog
-lost touch with Robin
-learned Spanish
-went to the Met 3 times
-read Harriet the Spy
-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
-rode the subway
-rode the Metro North
-rode the LIRR all the way to east LI by accident
-got in a fight on the subway
-got a job
-ate pizza
-walked in Central Park
-watched Dr. Who
-grew out my hair
-cried myself to sleep
-ate cupcakes
-saw Purim celebration
-went kayaking
-went hiking in the White Mountains
-drove to the top of Mt. Washington
-protested in favor of the Park51 center, Sept 11th, 2010
-took lots of photos
-started antidepressants
-stopped antidepressants
-drove to Boston
-took the bus to Boston
-bought pants
-went to the Strand bookstore twice
-bought amazing chocolate in Union Square
-downloaded Lady Gaga songs
-saw Neil Gaiman speak
-lost three coffee cups
-eaten Nutella with a fork
-visited Occupy Wall Street
-cried in front of a professor
-saw Brooklyn’s Afro-Caribbean parade thing
-went to Brooklyn Art Museum
-been driven off 3 subway cars by smelly homeless drunks

…and more, probably.

stories on top of stories on top of stories on top of a rock off the coast of a continent

I have wanted to live in New York since I was 14. I don’t know why, really, something about the busyness and the skyscrapers, the fact that so many people here have character and story, its landmarks and fame and history. The music scene and Broadway and the museums and the thrift stores and music shops all over. The never-ending exploring.

The first place I lived here was an apartment owned by Columbia University. Technically a one bedroom, but really just two rooms. Nice, quiet. Wood floors. Walking distance from campus. Very lonely.

I just moved to a house in Brooklyn, on a street with huge trees. More wood floors. Roommates this time, still quiet, house 100 years old, fluffy dog. The neighborhood has Bangladeshis and Orthodox Jews, along with white folks and black folks and Hispanics and other assorted NYC diversity. I’m an hour away from Manhattan now, which is annoying in some ways, but the trees and the quiet and the roommates will, I think, be good for me.

But I realized last night that what I haven’t done is lived in a place with a fire escape, one that I could grow things in window boxes in, and sit on to read and watch the street below.

I can’t get past the story-ness of this city. The grandness of it. Even while possibilities seem to be closing around me, I blame myself, not the city. Even in all its dirt and poverty and pollution and old angry buildings, this city sings with poetry. There are moments when, looking at buildings silhouetted against the sky, looking down the long urban canyon that is Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue, it’s beautiful enough to take my breath away. Part of me wants to live the poem that is a tiny LES apartment with a cat and a fire escape and bums sleeping on the steps.

And then I remember, me chasing after place is a big part of what’s gotten me so depressed in the first place. Me chasing experience instead of surrounding myself with people. Why do people describe the places they’ve lived? Why don’t they describe the people they live with? Isn’t that a more important part of the environment? Why can’t I remember that?

Status Pending

The following is a collection, mostly of Facebook status updates, that I have made since moving to New York City in August of 2010.

August 12th
8:47 pm
Overheard the following in a Denver coffee shop: “Colorado is like REAL America. Not like New York or some place. New York is like…the world. Colorado is AMERICA.”

August 26th
12:06 pm
I would like to advise folks to not try texting and walking through Times Square at the same time. Life is hard enough as it is.

August 27th
1:36 am
I couldn’t forget just any old box, oh no, I had to forget the one with dishes in it. I have lots of silverware, one plate, four bowls, and a lot of cups. I should be good for the next nine months, right?

August 30th
5:22 am
I apologize for being such an asshole, but the truth is, you’re being kind of an idiot.

August 30th
12:32 pm
I just had lunch with a bunch of seriously hot Israeli boys. I think I like New York.

September 3rd
8:34 am
I am confused by the New York Post. Is this a legitimate enterprise in journalism? A tabloid? Good old fashioned gossip?

September 13th
9:49 am
I can hear everything that the construction workers in the apartment across the way are saying. PleaseletthemsingGagaPleaseletthemsingGagapleasepleaseplease…

September 23rd
3:08 pm
STOP TEXTING AND WALKING. JUST…STOPPIT.

September 25th
1:34 pm
I would like to talk to people who unload other peoples’ clothes out of washing machines and pile them up in random places so they can use the washers. Who are these people? And could you leave my stuff along for, I dunno, omgtenminutes?
6:21 pm
I have gotten an NYPL card, and will never do anything productive ever again.

September 30th
3:44 pm
I have set off the smoke alarm. Don’t worry, everything’s fine.

October 2nd
9:39 am
So the construction crew in the apartment across the way (about twenty feet outside my window) arrives every morning at 8:00 am and fires up the table saw. For the past couple of weeks, this has included Saturday and Sunday. This stops soon, right?

October 4th
1:27 pm
Remember in middle school, when they taught us how to use the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, and then by the time we graduated high school, the Reader’s Guides were all gone and we had to learn Lexis Nexis? So it turns out the Columbia library has shelves upon shelves of Reader’s Guides. And Alternative Press indexes. And a CARD CATALOG. A CARD CATALOG!!!!
4:20 pm
I wonder if singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” loudly will get the construction crew to stop with the table saw, or if it’ll just make the rest of my neighbors kill themselves.

October 6th
8:55 am
I’m watching the work crew across the way. They don’t seem to be using the table saw. It’s too good to be true.

October 29th
10:14 pm
I have a very strong urge to ask the man in front of my building, “Are you a good vampire…or an eeeeeevil vampire?”

October 30th
11:14 pm
I spotted the morally ambiguous vampire again, this time in the lobby of my building. And I was nearly run down by the Joker on a bicycle. New York sure is a wacky place.

November 4th
9:16 am
9:00 class: cancelled. Doorman of my building: playing air guitar. Nice.

November 8th
7:30 pm
I kind of love that the deli on my block blatantly just goes to the little grocery store up the street, buys their candy, marks up the price by 30%, and sells it themselves. That gross smell in the gutters, that’s capitalism, right?

November 11th
5:37 pm
I can’t get over how cute Connecticut is. I just want to pinch its fat little cheeks!

December 1st
2:41 pm
I did not know that New York is apparently below the flood plain.

December 4th
5:24 pm
Why am I sitting in the MOMA lobby?

December 5th
10:05 am
I take issue with the fact that you can’t even place holds with your NYPL card if you have fines. I understand them not letting me check shit out, but not even being able to request materials? That I need for school? And if I have to pay the fines before I can request materials, the library should a) be open on Sundays and/or b) allow me to pay my fine via the website. Not make me take a special fine-paying trip.

December 30th
11:38 pm
I will apparently fall for just about anyone trying to sell anything in Times Square as long as the conversation begins with a fist bump.

January 16th
9:16 pm
I think one of my favorite things about New York state is the water pressure. I can’t get enough of the showers out here.

January 18th
11:50 pm
I am really not a fan of this whole “freezing rain” thing the East Coast can do…

January 25th
9:14 am
The weather outside my window is not the same as the weather down on the street.

January 26th
12:50 pm
I’m having a snowgasm.

January 26th
6:23 pm
Quote of the day, from one of my classmates: “…Boy George is a man?”

January 28th
10:08 am
I would like more snow plz kthankxbai. If we’re going to break records, I want us to break em like we mean it.

January 31st
7:38 pm
I would like snow and not ice-rain-sleet (slain?), please.

February 9th
8:15 am
I understand why the Con Ed meter reader comes around at 8:00 in the morning, but I still wish I wasn’t in my pajamas when it happened.

February 9th
9:35 am
Melting snow means finding all the garbage and poo that was buried beneath it.

February 25th
At the Hungarian Pastry Shop, sharing a table with strangers and trying to take up as little space as possible.

March 2nd
8:11 am
Customer: I gotta go, got toilets to unclog, or my boss’ll write me up or something.
Coffee shop worker: Your boss is the one that clogs up the toilets with all that crap that comes out of his mouth.

March 4th
I walk faster than rush hour traffic drives.

March 5th
8:44 am
I thought that at 8:00 AM, the Saturday morning fight for the washing machines would not yet have begun. This was incorrect.

March 10th
2:35 pm
I would very much like to steal that unattended scissor lift.

March 12th
Dear NYC, It’s not yet 9:00pm. It’s far too early to be this drunk. Let’s tone it down a bit. Love, Becca.

March 15th
Dear sir, You smell like pee. Love, Becca.

April 18th
2:32 pm
I just got in my very first fight with a subway crazy. I feel so New York.

April 22nd
I paid $2 and received a bucket of coffee. Holy caffeine nation, batman. Also, a random rock band in Tompkins Square Park is doing a funk cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” and The Strand bookstore is far too big for me.

April 26th
7:00 pm
Just got called out for her “Colorado accent” for the first time. Colorado accent? Really?

April 29th
Blind man wearing Vibram 5 finger shows in NYC is very brave.

May 5th
It’s decided. New York busses smell worse than Denver busses.

May 10th
8:13 pm
My confusion is several levels deeper than I thought it was.

May 12th
6:39 pm
Could everyone in New York City please check to make sure that the car alarm that’s been going off for the past five minutes isn’t theirs? Thanks.
6:46 pm
Now there’s a smoke alarm going off as well. Awesome.
7:06 pm
26 minutes later…car alarm has finally stopped.

June 2nd
The plan had a layover in MO. The kid next to me, who got on at MO, said (after I told him I was from New York) that his mom had told him NYC was full of terrorists.

June 27th
Dear sir, You cannot stand here. I am already standing here. No really, this is physically impossible. Love, Becca.

July 7th
Why are you taking pictures of yourselves inside a mall? It’s a mall. A MALL. Not a tourist attraction. Oh wait, it’s New York. Everything’s a tourist attraction.

July 13th
I no longer mind bodychecking people who stand and block or drift slowly down the sidewalk. Pedestrian rage, I has it.

July 14th
Dear sir, If you’re trying to tell me that you need 75 cents to feed your 7-year-old son, try not standing so close that I can smell the liquor on your breath.

July 21st
Dude, I admit you’re heavy, but you’re not that big. You’re already taking up two seats on the train. There’s no reason to also be invading my space.

July 22nd
I’ve seen enough people drinking beer on the Metro North Railroad that I’m starting to think it’s allowed. Is this allowed?

July 23rd
Nobody on the train wants to hear you singing to yourself. NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR YOU.

August 16th
3:06 pm
I think I just got propositioned by Cee-lo on the M60 bus.

August 17th
5:11 pm
Dear Everyone in New York City, OH MY GOD FUCKING WALK ALREADY. Love, Becca.

selling the spirit (orig. posted May 15, 2011)

a few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that to celebrate the release of the first season of the HBO series Treme on DVD, HBO had sponsored a New Orleans-themed food truck and brass band to stop at certain areas around the city and give stuff away. cast members were signing autographs. what a perfect reason to not do homework.

i assumed–and my friend who told me about it assumed–that “New Orleans treats” mean, well, New Orleans food. i reached that assumption based on the tradition of NY food trucks and the meals you can get from them; or even the food trucks at the New Orleans Jazz Fest (it’s outside, so everything is moveable, one way or another), or the nuns who sell jambalaya in the church parking lots at mardi gras. new orleans food is street food. it’s community food. you can dress it up and charge $30 a plate for it in some swanky french quarter restaurant if you want, but as far as i’m concerned, new orleans food is meant to feed everybody. at jazz fest, you pay $3 or $4 for a plate full of sloppy deliciousness, a couple of bucks for a cold beer, and you sit on the grass next to whatever stage you feel like, listening to music and eating hot food.

everybody but me can see the disappointment coming from a mile away, right? everybody but me has learned to not trust a corporation to be faithful to idyllic childhood memories, right? i should know that corporate america is not about plates of red beans and rice or foil trays full of fried chicken. corporate america is about flourescent nachos and microwaved pizza. warped tour and baseball parks. but still, i can’t entirely articulate the disappointment i felt upon being handed a single praline cookie and something that was called a king cake but sort of looked and tasted like a frosted pretzel. that is not new orleans food. that’s barely an approximation of new orleans food. a broadway props department could’ve done better than that. i wonder how wendell pierce (wonderful actor who played Bunk in The Wire, and who is also from new orleans) copes with it. he must have found some balance between the actual city he loves, david simon’s portrayal of it, and then HBO’s bastardization of it through the publicity process. publicity has to be the dirtiest part about being any kind of artist who makes things for public consumption (music, movies, TV), something that every artist has to somehow make peace with, but i honestly don’t have the first idea how they pull it off.

i know that no one sees new orleans (or new york or denver, for that matter) as i do. and i know that my conception of new orleans is sort of mythical and incomplete, since so much of it is informed by visiting it regularly, rather than living there. when i was a kid in suburban littleton, having family in new orleans was one of the things that made me different. i think it was one of the cooler differences i had (as opposed to the rest of them, which primarily just served to make me awkward and unpopular). as i’ve gotten older, my family history doesn’t make me unique any more. and often, i’m not the person in the conversation who knows the most about new orleans. there are a lot of people from new orleans, after all.

still, though, i think i’ve got a pretty good handle on the difference between Real new orleans and Tourist new orleans. and seeing a second line band wearing marching uniforms with “HBO” and “Treme” on them suddenly transported me to Bastardized new orleans, the new orleans that i’ve been afraid of ever since katrina, because i dont want new orleans to rebuild its buildings but lose its soul. it’s not just about whether or not the band is there. i don’t know what it IS about, but just having a brass band and king cake isn’t enough.

The Magical M60 (orig. published May 21, 2011)

The M60 bus goes from LaGuardia airport, in Queens, then across Manhattan on 125th Street (through Harlem), then downtown via Broadway. I’m not actually certain how far south it goes, since I always exit at 119th. But anyway, like all NYC buses, it has a diverse and interesting passenger manifest.

On the particular Thursday in question, I was on my way home, midmorning, minding my own business. We were going crosstown on 125th. And a mentally unbalanced man got on, but he was one of those good-natured crazies, whose craziness chiefly manifests in a remarkable obliviousness to a) social norms and etiquette and b) the fact that nobody wants to talk to him. A harmless guy who thinks everybody is his friend. A little on the slow side, maybe a little drunk, but, you know, whatever.

He started out by informing the bus in general that it was going to snow that night. In late May, in NYC. The weather the past couple days has been rainy, but by no stretch of the imagination has it been cold. I assume that the snow was meant to be an early harbinger of the coming apocalypse. (Speaking of which, I suppose this might be my last ever entry. It’s been nice to know you, LiveJournal.) Eventually, he started addressing individual passengers and, like many crazies of his particular species, managed to address himself almost exclusively to young female passengers.

He started out by picking a young woman, who looked Latina, and asked her if she spoke Spanish. She affirmed that she did (just for context’s sake, the guy in question looked Hispanic to me, so this wasn’t as ignorant and blunt a question as it might sound). Then he asked the girl next to the Latina girl (the two had been talking and were clearly friends) if she spoke Spanish. She also said that she did. “You’re African though, right?” he said. “You look African. I think you’re African.”

Without missing a beat, the girl deadpanned, “No. I’m Chinese.” (This was a patently ridiculous and brilliant statement, as the girl’s dark chocolate skin and cornrows somewhat belied her claim to be East Asian.)

“Ohhhhh you’re Chinese,” said the man, either not realizing or not caring that she was bullshitting him.

“Yup. Chinese.” (A Chinese person who speaks English and Spanish. It just keeps getting better and better.)

He went back to rambling about the upcoming snow and secret messages in the Bible. The girls, who I’m pretty sure were still in high school, were remarkably calm and centered about the whole thing. I caught them giggling at each other a little, but they just kept confirming to the guy that yes, they both spoke Spanish, and yes, the one black girl was actually Chinese.

The guy eventually exited the bus wishing everyone a most excellent and blessed day, and advised us to read our Bibles. And then he turned to a girl at the back of the bus and said, “Miss! Miss, you dropped something! You dropped something, miss! It’s my heart, it’s there on the floor!” And off he went. I cast a glance at the girl who had gone and dropped his heart on a dirty bus floor, she was my age or a little younger, thin and mousey, wearing a cardigan and reading a book and looking like she couldn’t decide if she was amused or terrified.

I love New York City public transportation.

Hey! I’m walkin here! (orig. published Fe. 19, 2011)

I saw a man break down on New Year’s Eve,
Drop to his knees and cry hysterically,
Screaming nonsense you would not believe on the sidewalk right in front of me.
And I asked him, “Mister, what’s the matter?  Calm down, are you all right?
You look like you could use a doctor, and how much have you had to drink tonight?”
–Mighty Mighty Bosstones

 

There’s a certain competitive edge to the sidewalks in Manhattan, or at least, I imagine that there is.  And not just when you’re stuck behind somebody that’s walking slower than you.  And it’s not just when you watch somebody veering toward you as they text and walk, wondering if they’ll see you before they crash into you.  It’s more the undeclared games of chicken.  I’ve been noticing them partly because I play them so often.  Who’s going to be the one to yield, and who’s going to do the “Hey!  I’m walkin’ here!” thing, other than me?  I’ve actually been body checked a couple times, because neither me nor the other guy were willing to change course.  Maybe I do it because I’m so much a doormat in other areas of my life, and this is one area where standing up for yourself and taking up space isn’t that hard to do.  Maybe it’s because New Yorkers spend so much of their time shuffling themselves around and adjusting their business to make space for others.  You get tired of it.  You want to take up space and get some air.  You want to walk in a straight line without anybody bothering you.  and it’s fine for me to be that kind of asshole as long as nobody else is–but it never works out that way, does it?

Public Transportation (orig. published Jan. 13, 2011)

Just before Christmas, I was taking the bus back to my house.  The only seat on the bus was next to a woman who had put a shopping bag next to her, but I asked if I could sit down, and she said sure.

Turns out that me sitting next to her was a big deal, at least for her.  To clarify: she was thin (painfully so), and hollow-eyed, and drooling (not all over.  But her spit was definitely not all in her mouth).  Turns out she has HIV, and she’s actively using crack, but more than either of those things it seems she’s bothered by the fact that she’s a social pariah and she knows it.  Nobody wants to sit next to her on the bus, nobody wants to talk to her.  I guess I’ve ridden the bus enough that I have a pretty high bar for weirdness, and as long as you don’t smell bad and you’re not hostile, I don’t mind sitting next to you, and I don’t mind talking to you.  She was on her way home from Boston Market (the shopping bag she had was actually her dinner, which she was going to share with her boyfriend [I had a little jealousy moment, wondering how an HIV-positive crack addict had managed to find a boyfriend and I hadn’t]), and I’m thinking that the cheap mashed potatoes, cornbread, and chicken breast were more food than she was used to eating.  And she was excited to be getting on the bus in the morning to visit her sister in Ohio, who she hadn’t seen for years (because she was busy scoring crack and getting HIV).  I didn’t ask how she was going to keep from going into withdrawal during the 18 hour bus ride.  I didn’t ask if she’d told her sister how sick she was.  I took a moment to congratulate her on finding a group therapy program where she felt safe and where she said she might try getting off that crack stuff.  It’s interesting, talking to invisible people.  It’s hardly ever a bad thing.

Horizons (orginally published Nov. 13, 2010)

I lived in New Orleans for six months awhile back (and actually, I was born there, but we moved away before I developed any substantial memories of the place).  In Colorado, the primary trees on the Front Range and the plains are lodgepole pines and cottonwoods, tall skinny trees that reach upward.  In New Orleans, the dominant trees are oaks, which grow more or less at right angles–straight out and sprawling.  I love New Orleans for a lot of things, but the city really doesn’t have a horizon to speak of, unless you get to the rim of the bowl (on the shores of the Mississippi or Lake Pontchartrain, or to the top of the Industrial Canal bridge or the Huey Long).  It started to make me claustrophobic after awhile, to always have these trees looming over me.  The fact that this was six months after Katrina didn’t help at all.  It aggravated the feeling that there was no way to get out from under in case of disaster.

Colorado has the same wide horizons and big sky that Montana is famous for.  It has 350 days of sunshine a year.  It has, as the Dixie Chicks say, “wide open spaces.”  You can take deep breaths there.

I was worried about moving to New York.  New York doesn’t have trees, but it has buildings.  Buildings that block out the sun.  Buildings that form wind canyons.  Would I go crazy from never seeing a horizon?  From vitamin D deficiency?  Where would I go if I needed to see some sky?

One of my classes is in the Union Theological Seminary on Broadway and 122nd; to get there I walk by the northern end of the Columbia campus on 120th.  They’re building a new building at the corner of 120th and Broadway, since I’ve gotten here, there’s been scaffolding up over the sidewalk, and cranes and trucks and dozens of men in hardhats milling around, and those portable construction offices, and the noise of construction.  It’s a pretty congested pedestrian area.

And then one day, I’m walking down 120th to class, and I realize something is different.  I look around.

The sky!  The sky!  The scaffolding is gone, I can see the sky.  The blue construction walls are gone, I can see the building they built.  The dump trucks are gone, I can see the street they were parked on.  But the sky!  Check out that sky!

how did this could this come to this? (orig. published Nov. 12, 2010)

Heartless–had a heart just yesterday.
Homeless–didn’t used to be this way.
Hopeless–that’s the worst part of it all.
Fuck this–what I scream at every wall.
Are my screams being ignored?
I’m screaming Can you help me, oh lord,
But no one hears a man like me.
It’s easier if they don’t see.
So let’s all just pretend to feel,
And make believe that I’m not real.
Help is what I’m screaming for,
Help me please, don’t just ignore.
–Mighty Mighty Bosstones

 

I was stopped by a man at the corner of 114th and Amsterdam one night.  It was a little after 11:00 and I was walking home with my headphones in.  You know how when somebody is asking you for money or clearly about to ask you for something, and you have to make a split second choice to either admit that you see the person, or pretend that you don’t?

He said he was needing baby formula for his infant son.  Figures that the one person who admits that she’s seen him and stops to talk is the one who moved here just a month ago and has no idea where anything is (much less baby formula).  (Turns out he just moved here too, from Jamaica.)  He sounded tired and frustrated and scared, and who wouldn’t be?  Figures that the one person who stops is a person who’s not real good at getting herself off of the tracks she runs on, and diverts course to help a person who pops up out of the sidewalk.

My friend Xtine has pointed out that it is not my job to apologize because White America, or America in General, or New York City in particular, can be an unforgiving and unwelcoming place to live.  It’s not my fault that other people ignore the shabby looking black man begging for baby formula, if I stop to talk to him.  And she’s right.  But I still feel bad–why should I feel good about stopping to give this guy the time of day when I didn’t stop to give him anything else?  I probably could have bought him a can of baby formula, lord knows I’ve done things with my money that are far more stupid and wasteful.  I talked my way out of it, like I do, and went on my way–then I felt guilty and actually turned back to try and find him.  Didn’t work, of course.  Hopefully he found what he needed–hopefully my most minimal of favors was enough.

Another incident happened at the Hungarian Pastry Shop.  A homeless woman, who was delusional/off her meds/self-medicating was blocking the front counter.  She was convinced that the staff had stolen her suitcase, and was demanding that they return it.  (I’m guessing she passed out on the steps of St. John the Divine, which is across the street, and somebody stole her suitcase out from under her while she slept.  I don’t think she made up the suitcase entirely.)  The staff, of course, could not return something they didn’t have, and demanded that she leave.  She declined to leave without her suitcase.  They told her they were calling the cops; she declared that this was a fortunate turn of events as the cops would surely arrest all of them for stealing her suitcase.  A patron tried to help, which led to the staff begging the patron to not buy her food or give her money–which sounds heartless, and what I’m about to say isn’t much better, but homeless folks are kinda like stray dogs.  If you feed them, or let them beg inside the store, or if they otherwise realize that you store is a place where they can get resources, it’s really hard to get them to stop, and ultimately it’s bad for business to have homeless folks panhandling inside the store.

Eventually the woman was herded outside, but she didn’t go very far–she took to blocking the door to the shop.  I couldn’t tell if she was trying to start a boycott, or if she was charging admission to the store.  The staff chased her as far as the corner, where she stayed for awhile, ranting to herself.

I don’t know why I tell these stories, really.  Sometimes, when people are interacting or having a conversation, they’re on the same page–even if they’re in active disagreement about something, they at least agree on what they’re talking about.  Then there are times when the participants in a conversation aren’t even having the same conversation.  The barista at the HPS and the homeless lady weren’t really having a disagreement, it was that they couldn’t acknowledge the other person’s needs to begin with.  They weren’t even having a conversation, really, they were just talking at each other in separate monologues.  Me and the Jamaican dad had a less confrontational version of the same problem.  That the lady lost her suitcase is immaterial to the barista who wants his workplace safe for his patrons; that she is bothering people is immaterial to the woman looking for her suitcase.  How does that confrontation possibly work out for either of them?  It doesn’t.