Category Archives: Life

“Tell me what’s a black life worth / A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts”

You might think I’m only going to write about race, and many of you might roll your eyes.  You’re right–not about rolling your eyes, but about the first part.

Some of you probably might even delete me because you’ve had it with me by this point, since everything I have been posting over the last couple weeks has been related to race and the current state of things.

However, I haven’t posted any blatantly anti-Trump things. I am normally pro-choice–the women’s rights stance, yes, but also the you-being-entitled-to-vote-for-whomever-you-want-stance, and I like to not get into politics on social media.

That being said, I can’t say that I particularly trust anybody who doesn’t believe that Trump is racist and out of his mind. He is harmful, hateful, and volatile. He is a 100-year-step-back for our country. Support expressed for him and his views causes me to narrow my eyes in the same way that a subtly racist or sexist comment one might make, however much in passing, makes me wary. I might appear to have ignored this comment in the moment, but for the rest of the time I know the person who has made said comment, I will always remember it. I will always wonder what this person thinks about me.

In another time (in another political climate) I would apologize for this rant, or for being so black-and-white, so quick to cut someone off because of what he or she believes. In fact, an urge compels me to do so right now. I’m notorious for saying sorry for things that aren’t my fault, so much so that people often make fun of me.

I apologize especially when I’m at work–if I reach for your money too quickly; if you accidentally drop your quarter when I’m reaching for your money; if I feel I’ve left you waiting too long at the counter. A couple of days ago, I had a hand in screwing up a customer’s order at work–the wrong food got put in the oven and the customer had to wait ten more minutes for the right food to come out–and I gave him a piece of pie to make up for it. I felt terrible, apologizing throughout the entire interaction, even when he was on his way out and didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. After all, I didn’t need to apologize that much; homeboy got a free piece of blueberry gooseberry crumble pie as a result, and he gladly accepted it. Even still, I felt guilty.

I’ve heard the rhetoric about apologizing: women are conditioned to do it so often for things they hardly need to apologize for. For things that many men won’t even think about apologizing for. I think this is true to an extent. But I also think that it depends on the person.

For me personally, “sorry” is often a social lubricant. When I say it, I want you to know that I am empathizing with you, or at least trying. I want you to know that I genuinely care about not making you feel awkward or uncomfortable. I know plenty of males who have the same problem with apology vomit–they “sorry” everywhere, all over the living room rug, and suddenly you’re knee deep in it and you’re vaguely annoyed because it’s irritating. But bad habits die hard. I should know.

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“Man, can’t they see the world’s on fire?”

Reactions to my desire for a record player have brought about a variety of responses.

My parents are thrilled, but no, I can’t get Mom’s first U.S.-released Beatles album just yet. I’ll have to wait.

Many are curious: “You can find records still nowadays? Where?”

Most are ecstatic, are even intent on helping me build my collection.

And some have commented on how “Brooklyn hipster” it is of me to want a record player in the first place. These are the people who know me the least.

I can’t listen to top 40 painlessly unless I’m driving or drinking (not at the same time, of course, because that’s illegal and dangerous). And even those rare moments while I do belt out “Call Me Maybe” while flying down Dixwell Avenue are  rife with small shreds of guilt. I blame those brilliant marketing people.

I’ve been an oldies gal since I graduated from high school (this.). My heart belongs to ’50s, ’60s and ’70s music. Oh, there have been brief love affairs with current artists–Lady Gaga, pre-1989-Taylor Swift, HAIM, Michael Bublé. But I always find a way to justify these infatuations. Some of Lady Gaga’s songs remind me of early Madonna (because yes, ’80s music is now considered “oldies”). Taylor Swift’s music, particularly on Fearless and Speak Now, tell stories the same way many great old songs used to do. HAIM sounds like a revamp of Fleetwood Mac, and Michael Bublé…I don’t even have to explain that one.

I can’t listen to most current music again and again the way I do with oldies. I could listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors every day if I wanted to. Same goes for the Temptations and Diana and Curtis and Otis. When I listen to Isaac Hayes’s “Walk on By” I find myself wagging a 23 year-old fist at the cosmos and asking, “Why don’t you create music like you used to? As though the cosmos decide that kind of stuff. I mean, they might as well.

What will I do when I’m my parents’ age and I’m mourning  music that’s 100 years old? I pity the thought.

Anyway, since this is going down a dark path, I will continue.

So far I’ve acquired six records from two different stores. The first two purchases happened somewhat on a whim. On my way home from work, I decided that I would get off my lazy butt a stop earlier and walk the twelve minutes or so from the G-train, rather than transfer from the G to the L (which requires an extra leg of travel but then leaves me with only a sixty second walk home). It wasn’t too cold, and I needed to get some produce from the grocery store that sits right off the G anyway. Why not stop at that vintage store, Olly Oxen Free, that I’d seen a few times and gone into maybe once?

So I did. Clutching my plastic bag filled with an onion, a pepper, garlic, and asparagus tips, I made my way down Montrose Avenue, heart beating ever so slightly, hoping that Olly Oxen Free still had that copy of Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul I’d seen last summer.

I know I haven’t written this in awhile, but I feel like 90% of my posts on this blog revolve around my anxiety about going into new social situations–going up on stage to introduce a poet at a reading or frequenting a new and scary library, for instance. You’d think that with all of my experience behind a counter greeting hundreds and hundreds of strangers at the pie shop and, before that, an ice cream shop would render me confident in the role of “patron.” Yet for some reason I am always worried I am going to say something awkward. Because I usually do. But then it usually ends up being endearing.

My worries manifested themselves into my actual physical coordination when I marched up to what I believed to be the door of Olly Oxen Free. Twasn’t. The door I’d chosen, which obviously led down an entryway, obviously belonged to an apartment building. I backtracked and then fumbled for the right door and entered. Mind you, I’ve been to Olly Oxen Free before.

My worries immediately vanished I was greeted warmly by a completely empty store and a tall guy with a Crest-white smile. A few more steps in and a few lines of admittance from each party (“I just got a record player for Christmas and I’m building a record collection,” I said; “I’m just babysitting this store until my friend comes back,” he said), I was at ease.1

The vintage store, which is mostly really expensive clothing, had about four boxes of records. Many of them were around the range of $5, and many of them were Barbara Streisand. “Why would anyone give any of these away?” I remarked as I sifted through them. I said it half-sarcastically but I kind of meant it. Barbra Streisand is pretty darn awesome.

Then, I stumbled across this:

Yes, that is Liza Minnelli. But that is also Robert De Niro. Pre-Oscar-win for Raging Bull, post-Oscar-win for The Godfather, Pt. II…playing the saxophone. Now, I’m no film connoisseur, but I had no idea they did a film together. Neither did the dude behind the counter.

What’s more, it has a 6.7 rating on IMDb, which in my book puts it right up there with Gone With the Wind and The Godfather, Pt. I.

So we gave it a spin. Continue reading

“Here’s your ticket, pack your bags / Time for jumpin’ overboard”

Until last night, I wasn’t sure about how my next post would go, or when it would be. I was too busy living life at full speed to sit down and write. This summer has been a relatively formulaic one as summers go: Three days out of the week I’ve been watching documentaries and discussing them, all the while frequenting Brooklyn Roasting Company like it’s my job — even though I already have a job, which is already that of an employee at a(n equally hip?) coffee shop that also sells pie. I’ve been at said job for the other four remaining days of the week, educating inquisitive Gowanites about the differences between a crumble and a streusel, lemon chess and chocolate chess. (Simplification: textured oats versus uniform crumbs; lemon bar versus chocolate pudding.) So basically I’ve been working seven days a week.

I know it’s been forever. I’ve felt slightly ashamed of not keeping whomever uses the few spare minutes of their days to catch themselves up on my less-than-riveting life — although I do have a published book review on The Rumpus, a dearth of knowledge about topics ranging from intersex people to J. T. Leroy to OxyContin addiction in West Virginia, and a new found appreciation for peach pie to show for it.

I’ve seen a lot of things, too. A man with a shopping cart full of water bottles who laid his (?) 2 year-old baby down on the seat of an F-train to make room for her in the bottom part of the shopping cart. The cart was chained to one of the subway poles by some questionable wire, but loosely; once he removed the baby from the train seat and set her inside the bottom of the shopping cart the entire thing would rattle around this way and that, causing me to flinch every time the front end of the cart bumped against the pole. With each tap I would peer into the cart along with the rest of the riders to see if the baby was hurt. It was such a bizarre and disturbing sight that I didn’t even wonder how the man had gotten the shopping cart up and down the subway stairs until long after he’d trudged the shopping cart, full of miscellaneous items and a baby, out of the car and onto the platform at the East Broadway station.

I also saw a white man accuse a black female Walgreen’s worker of not trusting white people, call her a “lying bitch,” and then storm out because his EBT wasn’t working. Or something like that.

Finally, I saw the sweat of a tall man on the subway slide down his temple, slip from his collarbone down to his right arm, and then drip onto the shoulder of a poor unsuspecting short girl standing below him (pretty much literally) on a crowded L-train.

Yet none of these things inspired me to write. Not alone, anyway. And then — suddenly — a fire was lit beneath me. Literally.

Well, kind of. In reality, the fire was burning high above my head, roughly six flights, in fact, around a quarter to 1 a.m.

Last night/this morning, just about as I was settling in to my bed to partake in a rerun of Murder, She Wrote (maybe I should lie and say I was watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?) on Netflix, the buzzer in my apartment rang.

It caught my attention, but not enough to get out of bed or do anything about it. Drunk people ring the buzzer pretty often. Non-drunk friends of my roommates ring the doorbell, too. Maybe it was an expected guest? Even though pretty much everyone else in my apartment had seemingly gone to bed for the evening, my reasoning was enough to forge through the opening credits of my show.

Then I heard galloping down the stairs. Yes. Galloping. And I actually thought, “Wow — either Star gained some weight, or the neighbor upstairs replaced his pet dog with a pet horse.”

Suddenly the galloping coming from the hallway turned into a frantic banging on our front door, or maybe it was only on the door downstairs. I’m not sure. I heard one of my roommates shout “What the FUCK–!?” and I realized that this was not a drunken person who was just lost banging on our door. This was something bad.

It was enough to break my attention from Angela Lansbury. I sprung out of bed, flicking on my lights, heart racing as I heard my roommates from downstairs yell to my roommate and myself (whose rooms are upstairs), “Guys! Get up!”

I flung open my door to see the three of them dash by in a blur of pajama-ed, barefoot chaos. “Zee, run! Come on!”

I didn’t know what was going on, so I ran out the door with them. But instead of following them out the front door, I went right, out the back door and into the courtyard.


Well, in those three seconds during which I discovered I needed to flee my apartment, I had deduced that the banging was coming from an angry gun-wielding intruder who had broken in through the door in the basement that led into the hallway, and was chasing my roommates up the stairs (which would explain why they were running so fast). Thinking it best that we split up, because that’s what they do in movies, I ran out the back door, where I thought there would be more places to hide, rather than the front.

I know.

This became problematic within the three seconds after I’d decided to go the different route, all stemming from the fact that once I went out in the courtyard I was stuck there. You need a key to get back into my building from the back, and a key to exit from the gate that fences the backyard of my building in. Had a gunman been chasing me, and had I not scurried behind something soon enough, I would have been toast. The fence was too high to climb.

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My First Celebrity Sighting

Ten months in, and up until a few days ago, I thought I had a vague sense that I was fooling everyone into being a “true” New Yorker. Mostly myself.

And then this happened:

“Are you ready?” my friend asked me calmly, quietly, from across the table. “A piece of your childhood just walked in the door.”

I squinted at her. I was feeling weird. We were at a bar in the Lower East Side (the first reason why I felt weird). I’d been in coffee shops most of the afternoon; I hadn’t really had any human communication with any people that day save for a friendly old stranger at a 29th Street Starbucks who became my please-watch-my-stuff-while-I-use-the-bathroom-and-buy-more-coffee buddy.

Adding to my disoriented nature was the something-something Bastard beer I was drinking, which was roughly 11% alcohol, but actually felt like 20% because we weren’t eating and I thought we would be. Which was why I chose a beer with such high alcohol content. (Don’t worry Mom & Dad, I drink responsibly–or at least try to.)

So when my friend said the thing about the person entering the bar being a part of my childhood I was truly confused. She pointed–well, she was much subtler than I was, so she probably nodded her head in his direction–and, less subtly, I turned around.

Standing a few feet away from us was a light-skinned black man, probably no taller than 5’5″, probably no older than his forties. He was surrounded by a smattering of pretty women who seemed like they were smart. For some reason, in my state, I specifically remember thinking that last part–that he was an attractive black man surrounded by attractive women of various different races, and all of them seemed like very respectable women. None of them seemed trashy or after his goods. I don’t know why I thought about that. Although I probably do.

Anyway, the light-skinned black man hugged someone who was already at the bar, turning just so, so that I could see his face and hear him say, by chance at that very exact time, that his name was Khalil.

And suddenly it clicked. I was in the same bar as Khalil Kain, the leader of the group of guys in Juice–the first one of the friends that Tupac kills once he starts power tripping.


Khalil Kain is the fine brother in the middle.

I freakin’ flipped out. Suddenly I felt like I was five years old and had just seen Mickey Mouse at Disney World for the first time.

Why? Because once again, he was in Juice and the brother was and still is fine.

But what also made my freak out so legit was the fact that I literally just re-watched Juice two weekends ago–Mother’s Day weekend–on Netflix. It had been at least eight years since I last saw it; the New Jack Swing playlist that I’ve been listening to on repeat has propelled me back into the early nineties as of late. Once in my IMDb stupor that very much resembles a rabbit hole, I looked up Khalil Kain (because he is so fine, especially in Juice) and was reminded that he was also Jabari’s father on “Girlfriends” a few years ago.

I also remembered being amazed at the fact that Khalil Kain is fifty now and was twenty-eight when the movie was made, when Omar Epps was just barely nineteen. I was so amazed by his age that my older sister and I discussed how good he looks for fifty. Black don’t crack. You know.

So yes. I freaked out as I sat on my stool in the corner of the bar a few feet away from this man who had once been “shot” by Tupac…like, the real Tupac, before he himself was shot (too soon?).

My freak out went through many stages:

Stage 1: “Is that really him?” Look him up on IMdB. Look back at him. Look at his picture again. Confirmed.

Stage 2: “This is my first celebrity sighting! Eeeeee!” Ignore patronizing smiles from friends, one of which has seen Leonardo DiCaprio in the flesh, another of which has seen Jake Gyllenhaahl.

Stage 3: “Oh my God. This is so freaky. I literally just watched Juice like ten days ago…” Cover face, babble for two minutes about how the cosmos are so weird, this always happens, what is with my life…

Stage 4: “I need to text all the other people I know who might find this information relevant to their everyday lives.” I.e., black people, i.e., my older sister, with whom I’d chatted about Juice and how good of a movie it was. The second winner was another friend with whom I had already been texting. His response after sending him a screenshot of Khalil’s IMDb page? “Tell him that his performance in Snoop Dogg’s Bones was riveting.” (Yes, Evan, that was you, if you’re reading this.)

Stage 5: “I should totally go up and talk to him.” Come up with something clever to say! First thought? “What was it like to know Tupac?” Or, “My sister and I were talking the other day about how GOOD you look for fifty! So, can I take a picture with you?”No. Neither won’t do.

Stage 6: “…But no one else is going up to him. Does anyone else who isn’t black know who he is?” Give everybody The Eye because no one else is freaking out.

Stage 7: “Fuck it. I’m young. It’s to be expected. I can totally fan-girl right now.” Take big sip of beer. Prepare to get up.

Stage 8: “No…I don’t want to ruin his night. And those women are so intimidating.” Sulk.

Stage 9: “But he’s so close now! He’s at the bar! Now’s my chance. I should just hop off this stool…”

Stage 10: “…Oh, but this stool is so high, and my beer is so strong…”

Stage 11: Vacillate back and forth. Do you or don’t you?

After changing my mind a few times (How many celebrity sightings would I actually have, living and breathing and hanging out mostly in Brooklyn as I have been, lately? And not even in the gentrified parts, so no celebrities are probably going to cross my path there…But do I really want to be ‘that girl’?…But I just watched Juice LAST WEEK, this is a SIGN…But you’ll embarrass yourself…) we left, me feeling somewhat disappointed but also feeling relatively relieved. I had kept my cool in front of Khalil Kain, Jabari’s father, Tupac’s victim.

But I also did not have a picture with him. ‘Twas a bittersweet walk to dinner.

It took me a little while to get over it, but I did. It’s all good. I know, and the universe knows, that something very unique was happening in that half hour me and Khalil Kain were in the same building at the same time.

But I also know now that I have been fooling myself for the last ten months since I moved here. My freak out was totally unexpected to even me. I am still not 100% New Yorker yet, nor will I ever be. I’ve gotten okay at keeping to myself, even when I’m surrounded by a bunch of people. I might look up the moment the doors on a Manhattan-bound L-train shut at Bedford Avenue and the three dancers say “Ladies and gentleman!”; I might acknowledge these dancers briefly before going back to my book as they explain that they’re going to do a little performance for everyone but add, rather alarmingly, that since nobody is perfect you could get kicked in the face. I’ll probably even look up from my book every now and then during the performance to make sure that I am not, in fact, that unlucky girl on the subway who gets kicked in the face.

I’ve gotten the whole subway dancer thing down, but not the celebrity sighting thing, and I’m okay with that. Living in the city brings pleasant surprises every day. Like $13 tattoos on Friday the 13th, or random pigeon traditions on Brooklyn rooftops, or Khalil Kain in a Lower East Side bar. And I am looking forward to seeing just how much I don’t know about myself, this city, or celebrities…and what happens when all three of those things overlap.

(Now if Tupac had entered the bar, I’d probably be singing a different tune.)

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The Park Avenue MacBook Blues

(Note: This was started a loooong time ago, after my computer crashed in March.)

Within the first twelve hours that I was reunited with my computer, I watched one episode of the new season of House of Cards, the first two episodes of Black Mirror (if you have any inclinations whatsoever toward The Twilight Zone, find Black Mirror on Netflix NOW), and four YouTube videos. I downloaded five songs and sent six emails.

Despite overworking my computer’s RAM–that’s a thing, right?–I’ve been treating my computer as though it is a loved one who has just returned from an intensive care unit, showering it with excessive care, coddling it in such a way that I haven’t cared for it since…well, spring of 2010, when I first received it as a graduation gift. I am aware that in a couple of weeks I will probably forget that my computer was ever in danger of being gone forever, and take it for granted as I’d grown accustomed to doing before our separation that fateful Wednesday morning at Grand Central Station.

As promised, I will recount the details of that trip.

I woke up bright and early so I could make my early morning Genius Bar appointment. I got on one crowded subway to Manhattan, then transferred onto an even more crowded uptown subway to Grand Central. Straddled between my legs was my bag, in order to make room for the other less patient individuals who couldn’t wait for the next 4 or 5 train that was undoubtedly coming right behind that one. Someone’s face was in my armpit, and a man in a business seat was squinting at me a little more than I would have liked, but none of it really mattered because I had a writing submission due in a few days and I had no idea what the fate of my laptop would be.

A few minutes later I found myself in Grand Central. It was weird being surrounded by people hustling and bustling to go someplace else while I was already at my final destination. I pushed my way past indecisive walkers, oblivious tourists taking pictures, and a lot of men in suits who didn’t have time to squint at me because they were rushing to their respective skyscraper offices. I climbed the (marble?) stairs up to, then past, the glowing fruit that sits on every MacBook computer–a low-hanging sun in the sky of unknown possibility that is the Apple Store.

“I have an appointment,” I mumbled to the greeter in the blue shirt waiting at the top of the stairs.

He cheerfully gave me some directions, complete with some helpful pointing. He looked content.

I wanted to be that content.

Minutes later I found myself sitting at the Genius Bar, heart pounding. On my right, a couple of stools down, sat an older gentleman whose tech dude was schooling him on all things iCloud. I could have used that tutorial session, but I zoned out most of the specifics of their discussion–except for the fact that this older gentleman had a working computer and I did not.

Their conversation was painfully jovial, but listening to it did leave me feeling rather hopeful. The enthusiastic tech dude, whose name was something common like Andrew or William, promised the man that if he ever needed to come back he could just ask for him because he was the only tech dude named Andrew/William in the entire Grand Central Apple Store. Wow, right? You’da thunk we were at a bar, they were so friendly.

I waited a few moments longer for my own appointment to begin. Finally, a young guy behind the bar came up to me. He looked at me expectantly. I blinked back.

“Hi,” I finally said. “How are you?” This confused me. It wasn’t my job to make him feel comfortable, but our staring contest was super awkward and I wanted to get the ball rolling.

The silent tech dude muttered something, then asked how he could help me. He wasn’t as friendly as Andrew/William. I felt swindled. After a few more exchanges he disappeared with my laptop.

I felt even more swindled when another giant tech dude came up and called out his own interpretation of my name. “How can I help you today?” Tall Tech Dude asked once I made my presence known. He was equally cheerily–even more so–than Andrew/William, and a thousand times more cheery than Silent Tech Dude. I wished I’d had him from the start.

“Actually, someone already–”

Andrew/William excused himself from his cocktail conversation beside us conversation long enough to tell Tall Tech Dude that Silent Tech Dude had already taken my computer. Tall Tech Dude looked as baffled as I did, then disappeared in the direction of my laptop.

Even more stressed–Apple needs to get their s*** together, I was thinking–I looked over at another situation occurring on my left.The guy who was on my side of the Genius Bar was having problems with his hard drive. His tech dude (who was very attractive, I might add) didn’t sound cheery. His voice was grim. The computer’s data might all be lost. It would cost xxx amount of money. They’d have to hold on to his computer for an x amount of time.

It didn’t hit me until then that I, too, might be in that same position. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was at the Genius Bar but was instead in a hospital waiting room. The idea that my laptop would be held on to had never crossed my mind; suddenly, I realized that that could be me–computer-less–in a few minutes.

Prior to my computer dying on me, I’d already been having issues with the charging equipment (read: part of the cord was frayed to the wire, and that gray rectangle metal piece that inserts into the charging port would often stay in the charging port even when I pulled the rest of the cord out. In short, my cord was one big ball of plastic packing tape). So when I arrived to my workshop that evening and my computer refused to charge whatsoever, I was mildly miffed but not totally surprised. We’d made it through five years of stormy weather so far–surely, the problem would work itself out.

Apparently, though, the literal stormy weather that was occurring outside the night my laptop died had managed to find itself into my charger port. Alas, my MacBook had reached its (temporary) end.

Tall Tech Dude came back. Five minutes later I was walking out of Grand Central Station, both my physical load and my head much lighter.

As childish as it sounds, I felt like I was about to cry. Tears brimmed my eyes as I wondered how much money I could afford to spend on my laptop should the problem be deemed something more serious once it had been sent out. I wondered how many hours I would have to spend in the blasted New School library, how much time it would take me to finish my writing submission that I’d already started and hadn’t backed up recently. Stupid. Everything was just stupid.

I was about to exit the doors onto 42nd Street, reaching for my phone so I could call my mom and cry it out, when a Brooklyn-accented man said beside me, “Age before beauty!”

I mustered the best smile I could muster. “Thanks,” I said, sniffing. He was an old man, maybe in his late sixties, nearly my height, stout. He was red-faced, an aspect even more prominent due to the fact that the little hair he did have was snow white. He was dressed in a business suit and carried a briefcase that knocked against my right leg.

“I like your hat,” he said to me, a big grin on his face.

“Oh, thank you,” I said through tears.

“What’s your name? Let’s be friends! Where are you headed?” He linked his arm in mine.

Normally, in situations such as these, I will fabricate some kind of name and some kind of location that is conveniently a few feet away, so I will not have to talk to a stranger very long. But by this point, on this sunny Wednesday morning in Manhattan, all of my mental energy had gone toward realizing how screwed I would be if my computer decided to die on me then. For forever.

I told the old man my name, and that I was heading to the Starbucks on 29th and Park.

What a coincidence! He was walking to 32nd and Park. We might as well be walking partners.

He was a bit weird at first–he kissed my hand in that charming way that suitors tend to do when they intend to be charming–and I eventually did end up un-linking my arm from his, because I didn’t want to look like one of those sugar babies you see shamelessly walking down Park Avenue with an older dude who is filthy rich. (At least, I feel like that’s something one would see. I can’t say I ever have.) But we discovered that we had odd things in common–his wife lived right outside Hamden, and she had studied at The New School many, many years ago.

The walk might have lasted ten minutes or so, but the man and I chatted for roughly half of it. The other half we tread in silence, one of us speaking every now and then to make a comment or an observation.

After I “dropped him off” at his no-doubt fancy shmancy office, he gave me a farewell hug. I felt as though everyone was staring at us because we were an odd couple, me in my jeans and my Keds and my scarf, him in his business suit and old age. But I also didn’t care. I appreciated not having had to spend that walk downtown on my cell phone but instead enjoying the city around me, in all of its wonderful, random glory.

The man wished me luck with my computer. “Everything will work out,” he promised me with a smile. “You seem like a very intelligent young lady. Good things will come your way.” I couldn’t help but think of my library friend when he gave me a wink and headed into his building.

Once I arrived at my own destination of Starbucks, I did end up calling my mother. But the first thing that came out of my mouth wasn’t about my laptop or my writing assignment or how terrible I thought my life was at the moment. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “You will not believe what just happened…”

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Ginger Candy

Last week I made a new friend at the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was my first time visiting the library in my own neighborhood. (I’m surprised it took so long–it’s rather convenient, and there are outlets at every single table, and it’s very neat, and relatively quiet. And a seven minute walk away as opposed to a nearly hour-long subway ride to the main Brooklyn Library. But I digress.)

I don’t know this woman’s name or where she lives, but I do know she is quite old, very little, and walks with a cane. She is Asian, but I am not sure where she is from. When I first met her she was bundled from head to foot and her glistening, smooth cheeks were touched with cold.

“Aren’t you hot?” she asked as she plopped down in the seat diagonal from mine, catching me off guard before I understood. I was still wearing my fuzzy brown head wrap–a wrap that I have convinced myself, due to the icy wind that has essentially worn me down to the core for the past few weeks, also doubles as a fashionable headband. Very rarely do I take it off. I think I have even started basing my outfits around this one fuzzy brown head wrap, consciously or not. The winter struggle is real.

I shook my head no, that I wasn’t too hot, then smiled, trying to get back into what I was working on. She giggled and began to unwrap herself, muttering brightly to no one in particular.

Feeling I hadn’t said enough in my reply, I added: “Just wait–you come in feeling very hot, but after sitting for a while, it gets very cold.” I gestured “hot” and “cold” with my hands, partly because I was trying to keep my voice low, and partly because I wasn’t sure if she understood what I meant.

A few seconds later she popped open one of the library’s loaner laptops that a lanky high school kid (if he was maybe fifteen years-old, am I old enough to call him a kid?) with a hi-top fade had carried over for her. She’d thanked him profusely, bowing her head as if he’d carried her across the library.

The high-schooler had simply grinned at her bashfully. It was nothing at all, I’m six feet tall, he seemed to say, but she’d kept thanking him even after he had already returned to wherever he had been when this little woman had voiced her concern about transporting her laptop to a table.

After this first interaction about being cold, part of me wondered if she would be a chatty person. And I will admit that I was somewhat frustrated–in the nicest way possible–that I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do because she would keep speaking to me.

I was partly right about the chatty part, but the frustration part quickly faded away. The woman spoke to me a few times. Once was about the Love Chapel Hill sticker on my laptop (she liked the way the word LOVE looked, but I don’t know if she knew of the place in particular). Another time, she spoke to me for assistance.

“Can you help me?” she half-whispered, half-sang. In rough English she explained she was trying to figure out how long it would take her to walk to a particular address in Brooklyn. She turned her loaner laptop around to face me.

Google Maps filled the screen, but that was all about all I could decipher. The rest was freckled with what I was 90% sure were Korean characters. I hesitated, then told her I would look the addresses up in my own computer.

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Living “The Dream”? How I spent MLK Day

Yesterday, after talking to Mom for a while about miscellaneous topics, I scolded her for going to a casino instead of seeing Selma on MLK Day.

“Ma! You’re a terrible black person,” I joked, taking a bite out of my hotdog. I had stopped into Five Guys because I had just had a nice meeting with an advisor and was feeling good about myself. “And casinos, no less. How could you?!”

We laughed—of course I didn’t actually believe she was a terrible black person—and then I admitted that I hadn’t spent my MLK day any better. Upon waking up that Monday morning, I derped around on my computer for a bit. I ended up on YouTube.

I’m perfectly sure that I’d intended to search for the “I Have a Dream” speech; instead, I was distracted by the “Epic Rap Battles in History” in my suggested videos and suddenly I found myself watching Cleopatra vs. Marilyn Monroe (I still think Cleo went too far by dissing Marilyn’s failed battle with barbiturates). Then Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe, and then the first rap battle I ever saw and the one that will always be my personal favorite, William Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss (Seuss definitely won, even if the Cat in the Hat did the dirty work for him).

I considered clicking on the Martin Luther King vs. Gandhi ERB, but decided against it. For some reason, that just didn’t feel right, especially on MLK day.

Then, I watched a few minutes of “My Wife and Kids.” I haven’t had the guts to watch “The Cosby Show,” like I used to from time to time online. But “My Wife and Kids” didn’t do much for me either, so I turned it off and decided to order Mexican food.

The whole walk to Café Los Arcos, I felt a nagging sense of guilt tugging at my wallet. As the man handed me my food and I thanked him, telling him to have a great day, I couldn’t help but feel like he was judging me.

Shouldn’t you be eating soul food or something? I heard him say. It was in my head, of course, but the fact that I had ordered quesadillas, not fried chicken, on MLK day—which I enjoyed while watching a full episode of “Gilmore Girls,” not “Girlfriends”—troubled me. Continue reading

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