On #stfu

20 February, 2011

I‘m convinced more than ever that the more you complain, the less you actually have to complain about. The correlation is uncanny.

This morning, I actually heard someone bemoan the fact that “Everyone thinks I get 3 months of vacation. But I don’t. I only get six weeks of vacation.*”

Six weeks? Is that all? Pobrecita. (NB: no, she was not being ironic in the least. She was actually self-piteous.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this relationship, mind you. It’s just the most succinctly I’ve been able to articulate it — and maybe the most egregious abuse of people’s capacity for empathy.

Perhaps it’s also striking a chord  because I could paint a pretty vivid sob-story of recent events in my life lately, if I wanted to. But not only do I have no desire to make my life that public, I do not want to ask for pity that you may or may not think I deserve. Sympathy is relative. I may not get six weeks’ vacation, but it could always be worse. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I’ve decided I’d much rather rely on the sincerity of a few close friends than the faux-concern of whoever happens to be in earshot when I feel like opening up my pie-hole.

I’m thinking of spearheading a public awareness campaign to rid the world of whining, one whinger at a time. Won’t you join me?

* – So yeah, this woman is a teacher. And I know how incredibly hard most teachers work. I appreciate it thoroughly. But I don’t know any other teachers who would, while lazily eating brunch, bother complaining to a bunch of non-teachers and people who were working on a Saturday that six weeks’ worth of vacation is insufficient. Maybe she should move to Sweden and look for compassion there.

x

Advertisements

On to Brooklyn

21 January, 2011

After a fund-raising party on the Lower East Side, I tromped down the stairs of the Delancy St subway station just as an F train was pulling out of the station. That’s been my luck these days.

A group of girls – most of them a little heavy but wearing skin tight jeans regardless, all wearing too much make-up – approached me. The seeming leader of the pack called to me from down the platform. “Excuse me,” she said. “How can we get to Brooklyn, Bay Ridge?” She named it as though it was roll-call, or she was reading an entry in the phonebook.

“I’m not sure which train goes there, actually,” I replied, as there’s a good-sized blindspot in my mental map of Brooklyn between Kensington and Coney Island.

“But could you tell us,” another girl insisted, “like, how to just get to Brooklyn?”

I began to tell them that they were on a Brooklyn-bound platform, and that they had just gotten off a Brooklyn-bound train, when the first girl interrupted, addressing her mate. “No, there’s, like, two different Brooklyns.”

“Actually,” I said, unable to hide a smirk. “There are a lot of different Brooklyns.”

Blank stares from the Lost Girls.

Silence.

“I think there’s a map over there,” I offered. They were walking away, issuing half-assed “Thanks” over their shoulders before my sentence had even left my lips.

Three minutes later, they joined me again on the platform, en route, hopefully, to Brooklyn-comma-Bay Ridge.

God-speed, girls. Good luck.

x

It’s no secret that a large part of my delight with my neighborhood is the dominance of locally owned shops and stores.  The nearest Starbucks is a lengthy 1/2 mile away, which, in this urban landscape, is unheard of.  There isn’t even a chain supermarket within a 10 block radius, and there only chain restaurant in the ‘hood – the abominable Pita Grill – thankfully shut its doors last year, and a charming new bar and restaurant (which are in no short supply in fair Carroll Gardens) arose in its place.

There are a few shops and boutiques that line the main avenues of my beloved neighborhood and surrounding territories, all of which carry the most amazingly cute/sophisticated/beautiful/well-made/trendy/stylish clothing/shoes/housewares/stationery/accessories – and all of which I cannot afford.  It’s the tragedy that afflicts folks like me who are struggling to pay our rent, because living in the place we love is of utmost importance to our precious happiness (having lived in places that I did not love, this imperative cannot be underestimated).  So I traipse around (and impress my neighbors) in my Daffys/Loehmanns/TJ Maxx attire and try to fool everyone, while drooling over the overpriced goods for sale in the ‘hood.

Yet, I would be the first to bemoan, like most who have chosen to live in this idyllic corner of Brooklyn, the closing of any such shop, as the character of our piece of the world would be significantly diminished.

One of the industries hit hard by the Big Box Store and Online Takeover is that of the small, independent bookstore.  Between Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, there are at least four such stores, each serving a slightly different part of the population with what and how they stock their shelves.  I linger in these bookshops, building lists in my head of the volumes that I want to devour, and taking in the smell of paper – sometimes fresh and clean, sometimes distinct with well-worn histories.  I find titles I never knew existed, and am reminded of all of the tomes I’d meant to read at one point or another.  I smile when I see a copy of a book I liked, glad that someone else has the chance to enjoy the experience.

Last night, I began another new class at the School of Visual Arts, not an inexpensive endeavor, but one that I consider entirely worthwhile.  Just like in my college days, the first class brought a thick syllabus and a list of required reading.  And, as in college, I’ve embarked on the quest to find the best deal available to buy these books that will guide me on my potential new career path.

But now, I am torn–do I concede to Amazon.com’s low prices (as the magical $25 minimum for free shipping has blissfully been reached), or do I shell out more money from my eternally tight checkbook in order to buy the books from one of my local bookstores?  The savings seem minimal:  I devised an approach that by purchasing two out of the three books from the local store, I spend only $10 more than if I bought them all online.  Surely, supporting neighborhood stores is $10 well-spent.  But I was raised in discount stores and membership clubs, where “retail” was a four-letter word and “clearance” was a religious experience.

How, then, to reconcile this dissonance that is making my head hurt?!  I know what I want to do; I know what I think I will do–but the sting of paying full-price (curse the very concept!) is still acutely felt.  I wonder if I’m a bad person because it seems I’m willing to pay an extra $10 to buy 2 out of 3 books locally, but the “additional” $18.31 of buying all 3 books locally seems somewhat outrageous.

The Cheapskate Urbanite’s Dilemma.  Recall my delight at discovering a 20 oz. Diet Coke for $1.25 – in Chelsea, no less!  If I get so worked up over saving 50¢, which decision will let me sleep better at night:  saving the neighborhood, or saving $18.31?

*

On formalities

15 May, 2010

Wherein politeness sinks to new depths.

The other day, riding my beloved bicycle Clark Gable home from work, I took the rather slow-moving traffic into consideration and proceeded to make a smooth, swift left turn from one one-way street onto another, always moving in the direction of traffic.  The light was about to change (admittedly, I don’t know for which street), so I caught the magic lull of 2 red lights and no cars.  As I sailed through the intersection, a nice lean into the turn, I heard a voice from a car shout out “It was a fucking red-light, Miss!”

I can only assume he was talking to me, or at least my guilty-enough conscience was aware of the red light that I had run.  But there was little time to waste thinking about the legality of my turn, as I realized that the end of the admonition was followed by an awfully formal title.

“Miss.”

These being the mean streets of New York City, there are many names that I would have expected to follow the motorist’s exclamation.  None of them are ones you’d expect to see on an envelope.  I laughed as I wondered what possessed this outraged citizen – who felt some wrong had been done to him when I sped through the light he had to wait for – to qualify his outburst with such a formal title.  Had his speech not have included the F-bomb, I could have chalked it up to his own sense of manners, politeness, and righteous approach to do-gooding.  Instead, I am left with the absurd, amusing memory of  a perfect Brooklyn – and perhaps more specifically Cobble Hill – moment of gentrified moral conflict.

I’m glad he didn’t call me “Ma’am.”  Or “Missy.”  Or any word beginning with A, B or C.

However, I wouldn’t have minded a well-executed “Lady!”

Neighborhood Karma.

18 August, 2009

Walking home from the only mildly overpriced grocery store a few blocks away, I was lost in the evening clouds’ brilliant pink, white and blue when a somewhat scraggly woman’s voice pulls me out of my day-dream.

“Excuse me honey!”

I turn around and see a Carroll Gardens staple – the faux-tanned, saggy, fried straight black haired middle-aged woman with a few blurred tattoos sticking out from various spots of ill-fitting clothing.

“Can I ask you a ridiculous question, a really retarded one?”

“Sure,” I reply, trying to hide my hesitance.

“I lost 149 pounds in four years,” she begins, and I think “Hurrah!  It’s the guy-roh lady! (A few months ago, I awoke to this conversation taking place on the sidwalk outside of my apartment:  “Have you ever heard of a gyro? A guy-roh? Oh my god, it’s like sex.”  I immediately know its the same woman, who had proceeded to tout the 140 pounds she had lost in 4 years.)

Before I can get “Congratulations!” out of my mouth, she says “I’m 49.  That’s not bad right?  I’m seeing a guy tonight who I haven’t seen in four years.  He’s so hot.  So hot.  Do I look fat or skinny in this outfit?  Tell me the truth?”  She’s talking a million miles a minute, her Brooklyn accent spilling out of her mouth.

“I think you look grea-” I begin.

“No, tell me serious.  I’ve been fat all my life, look a’ this, I got shoulders now, see ’em?  I was in the shower, after I lost all the weight, and I felt my shoulders and I was like, “What’s this?”  I swear on my mother, honey, I’ve been fat all my life.”

“You look good,” I tell her.  She doesn’t cut me off.  “You look thin.  Your pants -”

“He’s 34,” she tells me.  “He’s in love with me.”

“The white pants work really well for you.”

“Yeah, 149 pounds in four years, Mami, I’m not lying.”

“Congratulations.  You look great.”

“You’re an angel, Mami.  What’s your name?  I’m going now to the salon to get hair extensions. I’m crazy.  It’s so hot, gimme a hug, it’s so hot.”

I hug her.  Her musky perfume clings to me like a film.  I shudder.

“What’s your name, Angel?”

I tell her as she shuffles in her too-high-heels to the street.  She lifts her designer sunglasses and looks at me for the first time.  She repeats my name, then asks how old I am.  When I tell her, she says, “I’m 49. Not bad, right?  You tell one woman she’s beautiful, someone will do the same to you, Mami.”

I wish her luck.

Wall Street.  The Film Industry.  The Auto Industry.  Manufacturing.  Retail Sales.  

Declining, destroyed, suffering, beleaguered sectors of the commercial American dream.  Surely, the depressed financial state is affecting everyone.

Walking around my neighborhood offers a sight that speaks to another lagging industry, and I realize:

This recession must surely be affecting condom sales; either that, or COBRA doesn’t cover birth control.

It is the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for why there are so many pregnant women.  On any given day, on any given block, signs of the Obama Baby Boom (Oba-bies, of course) are everywhere – bellies about to burst, pink, wrinkled newborn faces snuggly slung in a designer sling, nestled close to their gleaming mothers.  How terribly sad to not be able to afford condoms.  

I like children, I like babies, and hope to have one or some someday.  But recently, it’s begun to feel like an infestation – granted, a cute one.  Working in the bakery brings them out as well (I believe we’re a popular post-Lamaze class spot) – as harried husbands ask for as many Red Velvet cupcakes as they can hold while their wives ask for Whoopie Pies to be deposited directly into their mouths.  This is not a problem – until the communities of pregnant women, occasionally laden with another small child, join together and the place begins to feel like the La Leche League Headquarters, with buzz words like “episiotomy” and “placenta preservation” being as casually thrown about as baseball scores.

What’s interesting to me, and makes this an economically relevant blog, is that I’ve begun to see this Family Planning (planning for a family, that is) as a sign of Economic Stability – a showing-off of sorts that, even though times are tough, we’ve got enough to bring this new soul in to the world, and care for it for the next 18 years.  I don’t doubt that I’m seeing the world this way because lately I’ve been forced to budget the 50¢/day for cat food out from my daily tips, and spending any more on another creature these days seems downright absurd to me.  

Maybe this is just a latent jealousy – of romantic and financial solidity.  Maybe it’s just more fun to posit this jealousy as an Economic Recession Indicator, and thus pass it off as social commentary.  Maybe Trojan will be forced to consider a whole different kind of stimulus package…

A few weeks ago, a regular customer at the bakery, more distracted than usual, asked me if I agreed that there is something seriously messed up with the New York dating scene.  Indeed, I agreed, wholeheartedly.  He inquired further – what irked me most about it?  Eeeek.  Where to start?  I immediately spewed out words and sentence fragments that I hoped began to communicate my feelings – “Casual” “Too picky” “Not picky enough.”  “Emotionally unavailable” “Expectations” “Too many people” “No one worthwhile” “Double standards” “He never even asked for my number!” “$*&@^÷¡*(@)!!!!!!!”

I mused on the topic for weeks, until a frustrating blip of an incident last week brought the true number one answer of that question to light:  These days, there is absolutely no precedence for closure.

No matter if the relationship lasts for one night or four months, not only do we covet that strange, innocuous zone of “seeing each other,” (which is singles-speak for “not serious enough that we ever have to discuss what we’re doing together”), but we also rely on the safety of the widespread societal acceptance that when we want things to end, we’ll just disappear and hope the other party gets the hint.  There is no explanation, no faux-apology, no “it’s not you, it’s me” – it’s just a slow death of a flame that had barely grown up from a spark.

I’ll be the first one to admit that – as early as 7th grade and as recently as six months ago – I’ve been guilty of occasionally avoiding closure at any and all costs.  By ending something, we’re forced to address that there was something there to end, and, sometimes, it’s just easier to instead treat our indiscretions as bygones… In fact, it may just be simpler to rename this part of dating “The Ellipsis Phase,” as it’s only a fragment of a relationship that ends without any definitive punctuation.

More often than not, The Ellipsis Phase can only be defined as such once it’s lost beyond repair.  Prior to that, if we’re on the losing side, we hold out hope that what’s a ‘casual relationship’ now actually may turn into something more significant, something more real. Then… nothing.  Then… the slow realization that although the story has seemingly ended, the book is filled with endless blank pages, waiting and waiting and waiting for The End which will never come.

I like to tell myself that this is some kind of Urban Devolution – that the dating game used to be more respectable, even One Night Stands bore more integrity than they do now.  But earlier this week, I watched the movie “John and Mary,” a film from 1969 starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, as strangers who spend the day after their one night stand together.  Back then, it was touted as “Not Your Mother’s Love Story!…,” a scandalous must-see.  In 2009, I watched it with a nostalgic eye, envious of the days when a relationship with real, live feelings could actually evolve from a casual encounter.  (Not that I have proof this ever happened – but between the movie and my own romantic imagination, I like to think it did, once…)  In the film, the pair is headed for the wishy-washy “let’s pretend this never happened” fate that often befalls random one-night encounters, but (spoiler alert!) neither party is content to let their oh-so-short-lived relationship fizzle out.  But it’s the frantic, panicked racing through the streets of New York that Dustin Hoffman’s character John goes through, regretting that he let Mia’s character walk out the door without so much as getting her name, that tells me, here on my couch today, that for decades, men and women have been driven to such frustration because we’re practically conditioned to let these indiscretions fall by the wayside without a second thought.

More difficult than pinpointing this lack of closure as a problematic issue is trying to figure out why it happens, why we allow it to happen, and any possible solutions.  Is it cowardice that keeps us from talking to one another?  Is it shame?  Or is it some twisted form of kindness, wherein we fool ourselves that rather than risk hurting the other person’s feelings, we’ll just let this thing run its course… Of course, that’s just our own veiled fear that it sucks to break it to someone “thanks, but no thanks,” and so we return to ‘cowardice.’  We hide behind that ellipsis, as the relationship trails off into love story never-never-land; banished into romantic purgatory.

I’ve often wondered if there is some kind of karmic balance to the number of times I’ve noncommittally left the door to a relationship open, hoping it will disappear and waste away sooner rather than later versus the number of times I’ve been left, frustrated, wondering “Why, why, what the hell happened there?!  I thought things were going great!” versus then the number of times I’ve sighed with relief that, clearly, neither of us were that willing to put forth the effort to keep the fledgling ‘relationship’ alive.  We are each capable of hurting someone to the same degree that we’ve been hurt, but this seemingly wide-spread acceptance of “who needs closure?” manages to take the sting out of hurting someone else while pouring some nice kosher salt on the wound caused by the disinterested party.

I’d love to bring closure to this entry to embarking on some kind of campaign to make communication acceptable again, to take the stigma out of conversation.  Realistically, though, the best I can hope for is that I’ll be more mindful of whoever I’m trying to let down “easy,” and maybe even go so far as to tell them the truth (gasp!) and end things properly.  And perhaps in cosmic return, there will be men out there who will let me close, once and for all, the stories and chapters of Them + Me.  Or, maybe, there will be  that one story that does not close, but, rather than ending in a hurt and confused …? grows into a profound and lovely !

I was enjoying the Spring sunshine while walking down Clinton Street yesterday, trying to sweep the ickiness of a bad day out of my head. I had my camera in tow and was snapping away at whatever struck my Brooklyn-style fancy.

I happened upon a brownstone’s tiered stoop, on which rested a dusty old turntable.

I promptly picked it up and was suddenly enormously happy to be bringing it home.

my new toy

I still haven’t tested it to know if it works, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t really care.

The Lullaby of Brooklyn

20 April, 2009

“You wanna be a man, yeah, you doin’ a real good job, muthafuckah.”

To my friends who live beyond the five boroughs, Brooklyn is a dangerous place to live, the fodder of nightly news items, Spike Lee’s early films, the Beastie Boys and Crown Heights Riots.  To me, and to most of my friends who live within New York City, my tree-lined Brooklyn block is homey and quiet, as brownstones link arms with brownstones and Italian families with overdone religious paraphernalia in their gardens mix with recent down-to-earth, relatively new imports like me.  My neighborhood bears the character of it’s old school Mafia heritage while boasting the charm of a village within a city.

Enter The Drama: my next-door neighbor, who’s suspicious activities and dealings in angry piece-meal Spanglish intimate that perhaps its not just the Italians who control shady business around here.  Oh, how my poor neighbor longs to be Mafioso! From his backyard (which backs on my kitchen), I hear him spitting out covert instructions in his hybrid language; I know he rarely leaves the house; I hear his dogs howling from within on a daily basis; I see his wife, constantly taking long, sad walks while avoiding eye contact; I hear his son? tenant? daughter’s boyfriend? who lives in his basement thump god-awful music that reverberates through the concrete walls that we share. Sometimes, it seems as though my neighbor goes to greater lengths to make sure everyone around here knows that he’s up to no go, rather than to hide whatever likely-illegal activity he’s participating in.

Last night was no exception to this, as, for the second time in about a year, an expletive-laden, explosive argument burst through his front door and out into the garden at about 3:00 am.  Who he was fighting with I do not know, but given the threats that came spewing from his lips (and the silence of his opponent), I can only guess it was someone who had ‘deeply’ wronged him.  My sleep was delayed further by the banging of garbage cans, the smashing of bottles to be yielded as weapons, more f-bombs than The Sopranos ever cared to use, and threats that “if you don’t get your goddamn face out of my fucking sight, I’m gonna call the fucking cops and you’re gonna be a fucking deadman.”

I was afraid to open my curtains and get a visual on the live show taking place not 20 feet away from where I sleep.  Even after the victim of my neighbor’s wrath had surely fled into the night, said neighbor continued pacing and grumbling in his front  yard.  My favorite moment was when he called the cops (not very Mafia, I know) and reported, in a faux-gentility that The Simpsons‘ Fat Tony would be proud of, that the ‘perpetrator’ had absconded with some trivial piece of personal property and, therefore, should be hunted down, drawn and quartered.

I relaxed into slumber knowing that surely it’s not the last time an altercation like this is bound to happen, but at least tonight’s drama had ended without a bodybag, and with nary a police siren’s flashing lights in sight.

“F” stands for …

25 March, 2009

Brooklyn’s beloved old F Train means a lot of things to a lot of people.   For several years, while I was living at the 15th Street/Prospect Park stop, near Bartel Pritchard Square (which is really a circle), “F” stood for “FUCKING F TRAIN!!!” commonly overheard – and grumbled – as I would walk home 6 blocks and 2 avenues whenever the train felt like running local, which was fairly often.

My subsequent move to Carroll Gardens and, I believe, a ramped up effort on the part of the Metropoloitan Transit Authority, led me to have a kinder opinion of the dear old F train, which, like a friend you’ve known too long to fight with, holds a sentimental and almost-warm place in my heart.

Imagine the overwhelming mess of feelings, then, when, last night, a brand-spankin’ shiny new F train came rolling in to the Carroll Street station, it’s red LCD “F” shining like a beacon into the age of modernity.  The yellow fluorescent lights of yesterday’s F train was replaced by the white/blue glow of technology, complimented by a multicolored LCD map of where we are going and how long it will take us to get there.  Our derrières took in the smooth gray plastic seats.  The lack of screeching wheels was nearly deafening. Sensory overload.  New F train, I thought.  I feel like I do not know you at all.

Today, though, I can’t shake the old adage of If it ain’t broke… out of my head, despite all of my angry head-shaking.  The timing of the MTA this morning to vote for an absolutely obscene fare-hike, arriving as early as June 1, couldn’t be more insulting.

Like a pusher to a new junkie, a bully to a weakling, a boss to an underling:

“You liked that new train, didn’t you,” the MTA barks to F train riders.  “It made you feel comfortable, informed, safe and secure, didn’t it?”

“Well…” we hesitantly mutter, huddled masses in nervous unison.

“You were riding the train of the future; who wouldn’t like that?”

“I didn’t really mind the old -“

“HUSH!” the MTA growls.  “The future comes at a PRICE.  You must PAY for the LUXURY of an LCD display.  Those doors don’t close by themselves, you know.”

“BUT THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE OLD F TRAIN!” we courageously shout.  “Sure the colors were outmoded and the ride was noisy.  But what of scratched, graffitied windows?  The yellow and orange seats held our tushes securely in place everytime the train pitched forward or back, the yellowed, dirtied lights brought a strange comfort once you got used to them.  The garbled conductor’s announcements provided challenges and required keen observation skills.  AND WE LOVED IT FOR WHAT IT WAS!  Your new trains and your fare-hike won’t get rid of the raspy-voiced electric guitarist who only appears on the days you have a headache, nor will it make the journey up from the center of the earth at 63rd & Lexington any more bearable.”

“I DEMAND $2.50 JUST FOR THE MENTION OF MY BEAUTIFUL LEXINGTON AVENUE STATION!” is all the MTA can reply.

“IF WE HAD ENOUGH MONEY TO STOMACH YOUR FARE-HIKES, MTA, WE WOULD TAKE AN F’ING CAB!!!” the angry horde hurls back.

‘F’ may now stand for new-Fangled and Fancy, but MTA means only one thing:

Making Transportation an Abomination*.

Spring is coming; I got a bicycle and two good legs.  Boycotts don’t get sweeter than the feel of wind through your helmet and a strong body ready to kick ass.

* = other “one things” that MTA could stand for include  Making Transit unAffordable.  Messing up Trains At any cost.  Any other acronym ideas?  Please comment!

What was so wrong with the old F trains?
What was so wrong with the old F trains?

vs.

The New F Train Glides Into the Station - my camera phone tries to keep up.
The New F Train Glides Into the Station – my camera phone tries to keep up.