Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

"I think I'll go shopping tomorrow," I told Greg over our Thanksgiving meal. The meal, btw, was actually just some take-out in plastic containers, but it'd been given to us for free by the chef, so no complaints.

"Don't," Greg replied immediately. "You're not that type of person. You'll have a terrible time, then you'll find some way to blame me for it."

"I won't blame you. Why would I blame you? I'm making a conscious choice, and I'll be fine."

Greg chewed his turkey, thinking. Then he said, "You can't stand going shopping under the best of conditions. Really. Remember two weeks ago when you went to Barnes and Noble?"

"That wasn't my fault. I just have bad experiences. Bad shopper's luck."

"You yelled at a four year old over a Harry Potter book."

"The kid was hogging the whole section. I couldn't... see around him."

Greg stared blankly at me, chewing. "Okay. All right. Just... don't blame me when you have a terrible time."

"We need a new rug. I can probably get one for cheap. And you mentioned that game that's gonna be on sale. What's it called?"

"Brutal Legend."

"Right." I jotted the name down on a piece of paper, knowing I'd never remember. Folded the paper and shoved it into my back pocket.

We fell asleep early, a dreamless sleep as heavy as anvils, and then woke up at 4.30. Greg dressed and left for work--he was working the front lines of Black Friday--and I combed my hair, kissed the dog goodbye, shoved earbuds into my ears, and set off to buy a rug and a game while listening to the cast album of 'West Side Story.'

I don't blame Greg for what happened next. But he should've been more persuasive in his argument: "You're not that type of person," he said, but I thought he was being amusing. What he should've said was, "You are an insane person, and have no right being around others. Stay home or I will take the dog and move into a hotel." Maybe that would've gotten his point across a bit better.

So I take the train across the river into the Bronx. I take the train, and it's mostly empty, and the sky is an iron color because it's not quite day, but it's no longer night. The sky is kinda 'eh, whatever.' A man is sitting across from me, looking as if he had one hell of a Thanksgiving. He's hunched over, one large hand covering his face, and the one eye I can see is bloodshot and droopy, and with each jerk of the train he slips a little bit further down in his seat so that by the time we pull into the next station his head is about the only thing in the seat--the rest of his body has slipped down into the aisle.

Right. So. I get off the train, go down the station stairs to the sidewalk, and am suddenly in the middle of a throng (I think that's the right word--sounds threatening, right?) of people screaming in three different languages. Stores along the street are open, doors thrown wide, and all of the stores are blasting chipper, bouncy Spanish music that I can hear over Maria singing about how pretty she feels. And everyone is dressed as if they're going to war in the Arctic, even though it's only 50 degrees.

I push my way thru this crowd towards Namesless Box Store, my goal. I was already doing "that thing" with my jaw that Greg says I do far too often--I was grinding my teeth, which makes my chin jut out. Also, I was clenching and unclenching one hand as if massaging a hamster.

"There's a place for us..."

Nameless Box Store looked like Saigon during the American evacuation. Complete chaos. People pouring in, coming out with giant flat-screen tvs in boxes featuring a grinning blond chick. Seriously, that must've been the main sale because I saw that grinning chick everywhere, in every aisle, shoved haphazardly into shopping carts or balanced on the shoulders of brave men. As I pushed--literally--my way into Nameless Box Store, past the armed guards stationed at every door, the blond chick grinned at me from every side.

"Hold my hand and you're half-way there..."

I somehow managed to make it to the electronics section, at the back of the store. I was thinking about picking up a few DVDs, considering a clothes purchase, and anxious to get a new rug for the living room.

I didn't see the enormous group of people behind a rope. Just didn't see them. The combo of West Side Story in my ears and thoughts of purchases to be made distracted me. Plus, really, once you're inside a store, you're INSIDE THE STORE--the only lines you expect are the ones at the check-out. Who the hell lines up to browse? But apparently the grinning blond chick had made necessary a line, as if she were the popular whore in a whorehouse.

The first sign of trouble was a group of Nameless Box Store employees yelling at me. I ignored them because I'm often shouted at, for various reasons, and I've discovered that if I simply ignore the shouting, I'm left alone.

"Somewhere..."

Plus, yes, I was grooving on the showtunes. Seriously, I hadn't listened to West Side Story in a while, and had forgotten how great the score is. So I was in a zone, and simply wanted to get Greg's game, a rug, and a few other things, and didn't realize there was a complicated system in place to prevent me from doing those simple things.

Also, I was beginning to find the blond chick kind of distracting because she was everywhere, grinning at me.

The group of Nameless Box Store employees were shouting at me as I wandered down an aisle of DVDs. While ignoring them, I checked out a special edition of The Wizard of Oz, and thought it'd be nice to own but not something I'd ever actually watch, dismissed it, and took in a Deadwood box set. Weighed my options: I might watch Deadwood once, because I really liked the first season and have always wanted to see the second and third, but did it really have replay value? Then I pushed on, surprised at the lack of crowds in the DVD section, toward the game aisle.

That's when I couldn't ignore the shouts anymore, because the shouts were coming from a teenaged girl with a complicated hair design. She was suddenly in my face.

"We'll find a new way of living..."

The young woman's voice cut through Bernstein's kinda-treacly music. "Do you not see the line?" she demanded. I popped the earbuds out. The young woman was gesturing, in a very vague way and with a hand bearing the longest fingernails I'd ever seen, toward a few hundred people. The people were behind a rope. They were all looking at me as if I were the last helicopter out of Saigon.

"I'm just looking," I said. Confused.

"You ain't looking, you're shopping. Why the fuck else would you be here at 5 AM."

"What?"

"Get in the line."

See. I have a thing about being told to line up. I don't know why, but I do--I resent lines. I understand lines exist mostly to give some semblance of order to a chaotic world, in that you can't just wander up to a McDonald's counter whenever you want but instead must wait your turn. But shopping IS chaos. Purchasing is orderly. Know what I mean? You don't line up to shop, you line up to purchase.

So I said to the young woman who was shouting at me to get in a goddamn line in order to look at potential purchases, "You're a fucking idiot." Sure, not really called for. She was just following orders, etc. Doing her job.

The young woman changed her fingernailed vague gesture into a 'aw hell no' swipe, and said, "What did you say?"

"I said you're a fucking idiot. I'm just browsing. Can't I browse without being attacked?"

Again, I'm not defending my actions. But I can't defend the concept of lining people up in a store just to look at merchandise, either.

"That's it," the young woman said. She whipped her head and its complicated architecture of hair toward the group of Nameless Big Box employees standing a few feet away. "Call Carl."

One of the employees pulled out a walkie-talkie and mumbled into it.

"Carl?" I asked. "You're gonna call Carl because I want to look at a Wizard of Oz DVD?"

"Security," she told me.

"You're making people stand in a goddamn line to look at shit, and you're calling security on me?" Yes, I really said that. Again, not justifying, but... come on.

So Carl was contacted, and he dispatched his minions, and suddenly I was surrounded by four or five rent-a-cops--ARMED rent-a-cops, as if I was a threat to the safety of others. Guns. Seriously. Fucking sidearms in Nameless Box Store. I don't care if it was the Bronx, there's no reason to shoot people over merchandise.

The rent-a-cops surrounded me. One asked, "Is there a problem?" He was looking at me, but the young woman answered.

"Yes. He didn't stand in line."

"I didn't see the fucking line," I said. "Who looks for a line to get to the DVDs?"

"Sir, there is clearly a line right there," one rent-a-cop said. "See those people?" Yes, I saw those people. They were now almost impossible to miss, since they were all staring at me. "They're standing in line, waiting for their chance."

Chance to what? I thought. But I said, "I've been here a million times and there's never been a line just to walk from there--" I pointed to a spot a few feet away where there were shelves of shoes and socks "--and here." I pointed to where I was standing, which happened to be by a display of Twilight books.

"It's not a usual day," the rent-a-cop said. He had a hand on my arm. I suspected one of the other rent-a-cops was fingering the handle of his gun.

"You're all nuts."

"You gonna get in line?" the cop asked.

I considered it. Considered getting in line. "No. I'll leave, though."

"He called me an idiot," the young woman said. I bit my tongue. Ground my teeth.

Yeah, so, I stalked out of Nameless Big Box store, and... yeah. The less said about the whole thing, the better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 'paying attention' experiement

So over the weekend, a shocking story popped up in the news: a guy got stabbed to death (repeatedly, in the face and neck) for not removing his bag from a seat on the D train. Apparently the stabber wanted to sit down, and the stabee was reluctant to put his bag on the train floor.

At first, I was sure the stabee kinda had it coming. I've been on crowded trains before, been exhausted or otherwise impaired, and really in need of a good sit. And there's always some person taking up two seats, with a bag, a dog in a bag, an excess of ass-cheek, or with shoes as they treat the cramped benches of the MTA transit system as their own mobile lounging unit. Usually my first instinct isn't to lunge at these persons with a steak knife, but I've had violent impulses.

Turns out the stabee was homeless, had serious mental issues, and was a germophobe. The stabee used his bag as a buffer to keep himself protected from other germ-carrying people of crowded NYC. Essentially, the stabber, when he told the stabee to remove his bag from the seat, was committing an act of violence even before he whipped out the steak knife and started jabbing the stabee in the face and neck. To the stabee, that bag was the only thing between himself and the germ-covered world.

The stabee, btw, removed the bag. He complied. He obeyed. It's been revealed that there were plenty of seats on the train, but the stabber zeroed in on that particular bag-occupied seat, for whatever reasons. Power-play, I guess. And after he stabbed the guy (severing carotid), the stabber moved to a train door, forced it open enough to slip the bloody knife out of the moving train car, let the doors shut, and said to himself, "I just want to go home," over and over. Meanwhile, the stabee was sitting in a seat that lacked a bag but filled with blood, and was wheezing, "I'm dying! Help me!"

And two dozen terrified passengers, probably exhausted or impaired (it was 2AM, after all, on a Friday night) were going thru their own confused, panicked paces, pressed in a clump at the end of the train farthest from the bloody, dying man and the man who wanted to just go home.

Those people, btw, were eventually locked into the car, trapped with the stabber and the stabee. When the D train pulled into 50th St, the conductor locked the doors of the car until the police arrived. Imagine being in that car, the blood, the murderer, the dead body, the windows, the passengers waiting to get on.

Anyway so today, Tuesday, I decided I'd take the train without using my iPod. Just to see, you know, just to experience what it is like to have your surroundings coming at you without the buffer of a podcast or a Beatles album. It's been--no shit--four or five years since I've just cold walked around the city without a soundtrack or an NPR podcast in my ears. Half the time, I have no idea what anyone is saying to me, and they have no idea what I'm saying back since we all have our ears plugged with our own personally-selected playlist.

So I left for work this morning. iPod Touch-less. No earbuds. Just sounds. My footsteps on the marble stairs. The squeal of the door in the lobby as I buzzed myself out. The insect hum of the traffic as I exited to the sidewalk. Construction. A guy in front of me calling to a girl behind me, in Spanish.

Then the train ride. Jesus. There was a clacking sound, of course, which I always hear even through my Gilbert and Sullivan, even through my 'Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me.' I read--even though I was willing to finally listen to the ride to work, I wasn't about to look at it.

And what I heard were mostly the sounds of other people listening to the music blasting from headphones. The car, except for the clack-clack of the train wheels on the rails, was silent. The only thing breaking the clack-clack silence was the tinny, distant mosquito-like cacophony of other people's music. And the occasional wisp of a turned page, since everyone was reading something.

I didn't get a seat (and didn't try to stab my way into one), but was able to take a position against a left-side door. The left-door position is better than the aisle position, because this far up in Manhattan, the doors only open on the right side of the car. If you're stationed at a left-side door, you're out of the way of passengers pushing up and down the aisle to get to a right-hand door for entrances and exits. Left-hand door positions mean you can just hang out, do your thing, ride along without worry of jostling or molestation.

The guy beside me was listening to his magic portable music-delivery device. Loudly. I could hear it as I read. And I was standing next to a seated person, a middle-aged woman. She was watching 'Lost'--season 3 I think--and I could hear that as well. And clack-clack.

I arrived at my destination, and pushed my way off the train--without stabbing anyone--and there was a new hum. Not an insect hum like when I'd moved onto the sidewalk from my apartment building, but the hum of bodies moving, cloth scraping, shoes against tile. There was a murmur as passengers greeted other passengers and we all moved collectively up narrow stairs, saying our 'Excuse mes' or grumbling our apologies while crashing into one another. It's a ballet, a Merce Cunningham extravaganza, moving through any train station: erratic, yet controlled. Syncopation and chaos.

On the street, more noise. Buses squealed as they passed, taxis honking for attention. Then into Columbia's College Walk, where the noise quieted, half-heard conversations. No stabbings, but it is Columbia--only a matter of time before a grad student loses it and screams about Kant before laying out a blood-bath.

And during the day! I left work a few times to go to a deli, because it was a slow day, a studentless day, and also a sunny day so I wanted to just walk around rather than stare blankly at a computer screen. I went for coffee, felt the sun. I went for a muffin, felt the sun. I went on the pretense of getting another muffin to feel the sun. Just to be out, soaking up the sun before it leaves us and winter settles in. And walking down the sidewalk, I'd hear the jingles of walked dogs. The clack-clack of high-heeled shoes. The random spurts of exasperation from stressed people. The insane mutterings of insane drug addicts. And without an iPod, I had to deal with these mutterings, which were always about getting either change or cigarettes out of me.

With earbuds shoved into my ears, I always had a plausible excuse to ignore, but without those earbuds, I had none. Sure, I could pretend to be deaf, but that seemed like cheating.

A guy I'd seen several times a day for nearly 5 years came up to me. "Quarter," he said. Drug guy. Clearly. I'd often seen him standing on one of the corners between my work and the place where I get coffee. Sometimes he was standing, and other times he was doing Kabuki, moving in slow, precise ways with his eyelids half-closed. I'd often seen him speaking to me, and would instinctively touch my earbuds while staring toward the distant horizon, pretending not to notice. This time, I didn't have a reasonable excuse to ignore him, so when he said, 'Quarter,' I stopped.

"I don't have one," I said. Which was true! I didn't.

"That's a shame, man," he said back. "I don't either, so I feel you."

Yeah, and then on the train going back home? Pretty unpleasant. I tried to read, but couldn't because of all the noise, all the conversations to eavesdrop on, all the tinny earbudded music to decipher. But I wasn't locked up with a madman, and I didn't get stabbed. So I guess it was a successful experiment: I heard the city, and it was saying, "Put the fucking earphones back on."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lou Dobbs: What I'll Do Next

Since I announced my departure from CNN, a lot of individuals, armed with too much free time and too little knowledge, have speculated on my future. Most of the speculation has been tongue-in-ass-cheek, with the suggestion that I will move from CNN to Telemundo, or that I'll enlist in the Minute Men, or join FOX News.

None of these things are true.

I've said all I have to say. I've worked for nearly thirty years at CNN, first as a reliable reporter of money and finance, then as a reliable reporter of the fall of the American empire. I've told you that Mexicans are stealing your jobs. I've told you that Obama will destroy your future. I've told you this, I've told you that. I'm tired, my comb-over is exhausted, and so I'm calling it a day.

I didn't really want to be a news anchor, you know. Five days a week, telling viewers the dreary news about their own lives is a grueling task. Can you imagine what it's like, hating the same race for five years? So I'm leaving that behind. I'm moving on. I'm pursuing my dream... which is to be a lumberjack, leaping from tree to tree, as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia. The giant redwood! The larch! (The LARCH!) The fir! The mighty Scotts pine! The smell of fresh-cut timber. The crash of mighty trees. With my best girly by my side, we'll sing, sing, sing, sing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Brother/Sister Plays


So I have a friend working on a show at the Public, which is a theater started by Joseph Papp, who also started Shakespeare in the Park, which is a series of plays (not always Shakespeare plays) held in Central Park each summer, for free. For free, of course, if you want to stand in line at four in the morning for tickets--otherwise, you either pay a homeless guy to stand for you, or become a patron of the Public.

As a nice gesture, Jon, the friend, offered Greg and I two comp tickets to The Brother/Sister Plays. The plays form a trilogy set in the brackish backwater of Louisiana pre-Katrina. The trilogy is performed in repertory--part one by itself and parts two and three together--and are all more or less self-contained parts, with themes and characters spilling into each other like, I guess, the water of a Louisiana swamp.

Greg and I went to the second and third plays first. And we enjoyed the hell out of them. I was surprised Greg liked them, frankly--he grouses whenever I come up with tickets for shows, but usually ends up enjoying himself (the two notable exceptions are "Wonderful Town," when we left at intermission because both of us were bored, and "Sweeney Todd," which he'd never before seen and so didn't understand the revival's bare-bones, abstracted take on a story as familiar to theater geeks as Star Wars or The Matrix). After the second and third parts of The Bro/Sis Plays, Greg wanted to see the first.

Jon gave us tickets to the first part, I thanked him, informed Greg (who winced less than usual, and agreed to go, rather than his traditional concession to attend), and we went.

The thing about free tickets is, you must show up to claim your tickets early--in this case, a half-hour before curtain--or they release them for general sale. Which meant I did my usual panic over time and travel, and we showed up nearly an hour early. Claimed the tickets. Then walked around the neighborhood for a while to kill time, played with the Cube, dodged kids on bikes, talked, whatever. Didn't see any NYU students leaping to their deaths, which is their normal state: bodies in motion, then at eternal rest.

Greg and I were really disappointed in the first part, and during the cab back home--we took a cab because Greg had to be at work at 5AM, and didn't feel like negotiating the public transit system so late--we talked it all over, working out our opinions.

Riding in a cab at night along the FDR, along the east side of Manhattan, is both relaxing and terrifying. To your right is the East River, and Roosevelt Island, and Brooklyn or Queens, and there are all the lights despite the persistent darkness. Night in Manhattan, unless you're in Times Square, can be very dark. We don't have stars, but we do have apartment windows, and street lights, and the Chrysler Building, which is sort of the moon over the FDR.

When the cab pulled up to our building, I hopped out to check on Waffles, and Greg remained behind to pay the fare. Josie, the old woman who haunts the lobby, was standing at the door, and buzzed me in though I doubt she recognized me. It was a late hour, and she's not too sharp even at early times.

"Irish Irish night," she said to me, in her voice that sounds like a needle rubbing back and forth across a record.

"Yes," I screamed into her deafness. "It is night!"

"Just getting back?" she asked, still with her indecipherable Irish brogue, but a bit more clearly. I think she's as tired as I am of my not understanding a damn thing she says.

"Yes," I screamed again. "We! Went! Out!"

Josie removed her hands from her pockets, where they usually lived, and clasped them in front of her, waist-level. "Oh Irish! Irish did you do Irish?"

"We! Went! To! A! Play!" My stomach muscles were hurting from shouting, and I'm certain everyone on the first and second floors were happy to hear that I'd gone out to a show.

"Ah, I used to do that," Josie said, with some sadness in her voice. "Irish Irish Irish now. Irish."

So I gathered that Josie once went out, and now doesn't, and misses going out. Now she roams the staircases and lobby of a single building in Inwood, in upper Manhattan, and scares the shit out of all the inhabitants. Never occurred to me before that she'd had a life, let alone a nightlife, before she became a decaying wraith.

I did my usual, awkward, "Well! See! You!" accompanied by a lame wave of one hand and a flick of a smile, then dashed upstairs to see if Waffles had managed to kill himself in some dreadful and dramatic way (I spend way too much time away from home imagining Waffles pulling a speaker over on himself, or jumping out of an open window, or choking on his food), and instead was ankle-attacked by a very spazzed-out Dachshund. A few minutes later, Greg came in, and... whatever.

And Greg and I decided the reason we liked the second and third parts of The Brother/Sister Plays is because they were unexpected. The reason we didn't like the first part is because we knew what to expect.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Obama and the pink menace

During the campaign last year, the gay community was in a tizzy--which is nothing new, really, but it was a positive tiz rather than a panic tiz. Obama, we were told, intended to be a "fierce advocate" of gay rights. In gay-rights speak, that meant he was gonna do away with Don't Ask, Don't Tell, with the ironically-named Defense of Marriage Act, and put forth the necessary legislative tools to bring about full-on, balls-out same-sex marriage.

People are wrong when they say things like, "You didn't actually think a politician would follow through on campaign promises?" because that isn't where the current bitterness towards Obama is coming from. Certainly not. Most of us in the gay community assumed Obama was making these promises, and ahead in the polls, because our fellow Americans were open and supportive of these promises, wanted them to be made reality. The bitterness isn't that Obama failed (so far); the bitterness is mostly over the betrayal of the rest of America to our basic rights.

Now then. John Aravosis, who has a blog. Americablog.com.

I've met John, once, at a coffee klatch thing in a Starbucks in midtown a few years ago. I'd been a reader of his blog for a while, and he'd expressed an interest in pushing his content a bit harder, making it a bit more relevant. He wanted input from readers, so he visited several cities, inviting readers to meet up with him for coffee and a chat. He did this in the darker days of the Bush administration, just before Katrina and Terri Schiavo blew the wheels off the Neo-Con juggernaut, so the midtown Starbucks was full of gay progressive activist blogger-readers, which is to say the Tizzy-meter was very high.

Then, as (sad to say) now, the main theme passing thru the conversations we had that night, over our lattes, was that it was maddening how straight Americans seem so apathetic to our community's lack of rights. I'm certain our conversations were an echo of the conversations women suffrage advocates once had, and African-American civil rights advocates once had. Well, not the advocates, really, but the actual women and the actual African-Americans. People sitting around in a state of mild shock over the indifference shown to their cause by people who enjoyed the full benefits of being an American citizen, a sense of 'how dare you.'

At the time, Bush was actively working against the gay community, and we were being used in political campaigns as a wedge issue to divide "real" America, rile them up, and get them to the voting booths. John was of the impression that change was on the horizon, and he wanted to know how we, his readers, felt. He listened to us, asked questions, we drained our coffees, went off into the night.

During the campaign, John's blog was a vicious supporter of Obama--even during the primary, he pushed Obama over Clinton because, let's face it, it'd been her husband who'd dropped us into the position the gay community found itself in. DOMA and DADT happened on his watch, and he'd agreed to them, and... whatever. Obama over Clinton, and Obama over McCain.

It wasn't the positions of Barack Obama, I think, that made him the natural choice of the gay community as a whole. It was what he represented. If an African-American man, on the stump, declares that he will fight for gay rights, and his poll numbers INcrease rather than DEcrease, perhaps change truly has come to straight America. Perhaps there's enough momentum to get what we deserve. The gay community threw itself very much into the Obama campaign--people who'd never done anything political in their lives were volunteering for him; Greg and I gave a lot of money and time to him; gay bloggers covered him non-stop. It wasn't that we thought he was the gay Jesus, as has been suggested by more cynical and bitter pundits. It was that he seemed to prove the American people were finally comprehending the terrible things they were doing to some segments of their own population.

A politician is a politician. He goes where the people tell him, because in the end he's voted in or out at their capricious will. Unless he's George W. Bush, but that's another blog post.

There's a quote by Mark Twain about voting. "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it." It's a funny quote, and has some truth in it, but I don't think it's right, otherwise pundits and politicians and strategists wouldn't spend so much time poring over poll data. And the polling data suggests that most Americans are fine with same-sex marriage, but the voting record suggests otherwise. California and Maine, dead in the water.

Anyway, all of the above was to make this point: John Aravosis IS stirring up anger at Obama. A few days back, the treasurer of the DNC, Andy Tobias, commented on John's blog. I don't know why Andy Tobias did this--perhaps he'd had one too many cocktails, or too much blow, or suffered a stroke, but it was a very dumb thing for a DNC official to do. Here's what Americablog--John's blog--had to say about it:

DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias joined in the comments section last night of John's latest post about the DNC's, and White House's, growing gay problem. And he wasn't very happy. He actually blamed John for the increasingly strained relationship between the gay community and the Democratic party, and then suggested that John was helping the Republicans by asking President Obama and the Democratic party to keep their promises to the gay community. I'm not sure a senior Democratic party official has ever started a bar brawl in the comments section of a blog before. Well, they have now.

And indeed they have. I'll concede that John sometimes is a bit histrionic and angry. He's got good reason to be, but, yes, he's a blogger who goes on TV and has a lot of readers so when he has a tizzy, it's a bit more influential than when I have one. And I'll concede that since he puts his ideas out there, and invites feedback, anyone is welcome to criticize him. But to have a DNC official do so this soon after the debacle in Maine is really just asking for a war.

That's all I gotta say.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Neighborly

So there's an elderly, mostly-deaf, fragile old woman who lives in the apartment below us. She's a relic, really: one of the few Irish-American citizens left in Inwood (Inwood was, until the '80s, mostly peopled by Irish immigrants or whatever--I know this because of Wikipedia, which also helpfully informs me that the Irish evacuated to the suburbs when the Dominicans moved in. The Dominicans are still here, so I guess the Irish are biding their time, waiting to return).

The elderly woman's name is Josie O'Something. She's got brittle, spider-webby dark hair, and is around 5 foot two or so, thin as glass, with large dark eyes buried inside of pale melting flesh. She has a heavy, mumbley Irish brogue, so it's almost impossible to understand her when she speaks, but that's fine because she can't really hear anything you shout at her anyway.

Josie O'Something often positions herself just inside the front door of the building, where she acts as an ersatz gatekeeper. If she recognizes you, she'll press the little red button beside the door which unlocks it. If she doesn't recognize you, she'll simply stand there looking at you as you fumble for keys or press various apartment buttons hoping someone else will buzz you in. Greg's first encounter with her, just after we moved in, was as he was hauling home several bags of laundry--she didn't recognize him, so just stared her cold stare where you're not quite sure she sees you as he balanced the laundry and slid his hands into various pockets in search of keys.

ANYway, I've often come home to find Josie standing inside the lobby (she now opens the door for me). Sometimes she's standing there, hands in the pockets of her very small and narrow pants, talking to the neighbors (they speak only Spanish, she speaks only unintelligible English, and yet somehow they work out a conversation), and sometimes she's alone, hands still in pockets, staring into the space between her face and the building's door. I wonder what she's thinking, why she stands there, for hours.

When she's there, alone, I know I'll be forced to speak. I anticipate this, and, while approaching the door, try to psyche myself up: this time, I will concentrate very hard, and finally understand what she's saying to me, and resist the urge to ask her about Lucky Charms.

Josie is constantly annoyed with something in the building. The few times I've managed to work out what she was saying, the subject has been about the low-lifes hanging outside the building, or about the "renovation fee" incorporated into our rent, or about the time our former super was caught by the landlord secretly renting out apartments to illegal aliens, who then set up a sweat-shop (complete with industrial-sized sewing machines!) on the fifth floor.

I usually smile, nod, coo, make exaggerated facial expressions, roll my eyes in a kind understanding way--anything to show I sympathize, which I age-istly assume is all any old person wants: sympathy for the various gripes and grimaces of being an old person in a unrecognizable, changing world . Once she went off on a tangent, then pointed to a brief note taped next to the mailboxes announcing a 'Neighborhood Meeting Hosted by Representative Whats-his-face,' so I was able to work out that she was asking me if I was attending; another time she pointed to the stoop stairs and spouted off a string of curse-sounding words so I managed to work out that she was, I don't know, unhappy with the cracks in the stair cement. Last night, though, when I came up to the door, and she unlocked it, she rambled on and on about "teabags."

Seriously. Out of all the words coming out of her mouth, the only word I caught, quite clearly, was teabags.

Since she's an old lady, I assumed she was out of tea, which I am certain old ladies quite like. Tea for the elderly is like sex toys for the young, I'm sure.

"I have some tea, Josie, if you want some," I shrieked at her.

"Irish Irish Irish teabag Irish IRISH IRISH." There was a lot of ire in her Irish, and she was putting some english on it. I tried harder to understand.

I plucked out my earbuds. This, for me, is a high compliment. It means you have my full attention. "I'm sorry?" I exploded, smiling. "I didn't get that." I put one finger up to my ear, to I suppose make it more clear that it was I, and not she, who was hard of hearing.

"Irish Irish vote tomorrow because Irish teabag people Irish fuckers."

Fuckers. She said fuckers.

And I understood. I think.

"I am voting tomorrow," I screamed at the old woman. "Those teabaggers ARE fuckers."

She smiled, which I'd never seen Josie do before. Wince, yes. Pinch her lips together, yes. But smiling was new to her, and an odd thing to see her do.

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