Sunday, March 19, 2006
She stood there, watching the wind lift her long skirt, playing with it. She spoke to the wind softly with caresses. She had red hair and blue eyes. She was quite alone by the shore, watching the storm heaving, as though it had spent the night drinking and could hold no more. She stood still allowing the wind to caress her hair.
Even at this distance her smile could be clearly seen. The stranger stood by the glass windows of the cafe and watched her move gracefully along the beach shore. An incredible sadness washed over him. His eyes were fastened on her red hair swirling into the oncoming gloom. The gloom of despair.
Great pellets began to beat down upon her. Still she remained unmoved. She may as well have been a picture, she stood untouched and alone. At this point the stranger saw the man come out from one of the bungalows. The man stood under the awning and yelled but his voice seemed drowned by the storm. All he could decipher was the howling of a wounded animal.
The girl raised her face upwards and closed her eyes, as though she were in prayer. She turned towards the cafe. The stranger felt naked, exposed, although, his eyes plainly saw the red gauze cloth clinging to her erect, rose colored nipples. The man by the bungalows had disappeared. She walked towards the stranger.
She entered the cafe. She moved her hips enticingly through the door, her eyes cast down. She knew there wasn't one person who could keep their eyes from following her as she undulated though the seated guests, looking for a table. Her red hair and Mediterranean azure eyes resembled a lit green emergency flare. She spotted a small table at the room’s rear, with only two chairs. She strode there purposefully.
The table may well have been in the room's center, for she reigned over the room. Her hair hung heavily against her as though it were another layer of clothes. When she sat, some of her hair fell to the floor. She picked it up and wrung it as though it were a piece of clothing. Drops fell glistening on the floor.
Every eye in that cafe, whether willingly or by force, belonged to her. She began sobbing, long deep wails that shook her body. She lay her head on the table and sobbed. People returned to their food and conversation.
The stranger approached her table and sat opposite. His eyes burned and melted, as though feverish. His tears fell silently aside hers.
She raised her head. Their eyes met. In sorrow they were introduced. "Please," he begged, "I only want to share your sorrow."
Sunday, March 12, 2006
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS IS HOME
You found my online photo album and you saw the photos I’d posted of 1 Sickle Street both inside and out of the building. You wrote me and told me you grew up in Washington Heights where I grew up. You said, things look different yet the same. You recognized the building on Sickle Street where you had grown up and which now has been renovated. You commented on its revived beauty and said you should visit. You told me you often think of visiting that building and surrounding area.
“Yes,” I wrote you back, “you should before it's too late and you wont be able to. You know how life is, it passes by so fast; there’s never enough time to count up our regrets.” Think of all the times we say we’ll do something and that something never comes to pass.
I still live in the area where I was born in Washington Heights. I wonder if it's like at the end of the galaxy where the further away you live from where you were born, the more chaos you create in the universe. If that’s true, why have I been through so much? It seems as though I’ve survived an unending mass of crises always waiting to be resolved.
Maybe it’s just like my old social work professor said, Problems are proof of life, and so they ought to be celebrated.” I’ll go along with that.
It's strange to leave the neighborhood where you’ve always lived, especially when you only live in another section of the same neighborhood or even another borough of the same city. Then like you, although you’re still very close to where you grew up, you feel as though you’re a million miles away. Nostalgia sets in and then we desire what we perceive as lost. Even when what was lost was never that great - maybe even painful - when we had it back then.
I’m like the female counterpart to Jim Carroll, who wrote Basketball Diaries - having also grown up in Washington Heights - and also writing from an early age. I’ve been writing since I’m 4 years old. I did that for love. My life actually became a parody of looking for love in all the wrong places - obviously because I wasn’t getting enough in the right places. I had a very hard life as a youngster growing up in Washington Heights and then when I became a parody of looking for love in all the wrong places - and of all places -in Washington Heights, it sure didn’t make living any easier.
Now as an adult, I’ve been able to fulfill many desires I had as a child. And I’ve been able to do this in my birthplace, right here in Washington Heights. I literally live 2 blocks from where I was born, in Jewish Memorial Hospital, which is now JH 218.
I never had a childhood because as a child I had to deal with adult concerns. The good part of this is that my past made me who I am; a social worker devoted to helping people move ahead and also to get benefits they’re entitled to. I’ve devoted over 21 professional years helping people attain their goals, and many more years as just a citizen and human being.
I've gone from being a high school dropout to now being an Ivy League drop-in; I’m a double alumna of Columbia University. My undergraduate BA is in Anthropology and my Masters in Social Work. I’m living proof of someone who has pulled themselves up through the system by my boot straps. It was very difficult. One of the major pluses was how I capitalized on being poor and undereducated and got my undergrad BA for free. You’ll have to read my stories on how that came to be. Now I hold 2 master’s degrees, one in social work and the other in Creative Writing from CCNY. See, now that I’ve made it into middle class life, I can’t afford the best and Ivy League anymore. I have to pay for everything; sometimes more than others. Like in the Mitchel-Lama cooperative where I live; we pay a 50% surcharge.
I have a clear message to anyone else who feels like they’ve been through it all and had enough. After all is said and done, I’ll repeat what Irving Miller told me, after he called me “a mitzvah to humanity.” Mitzvah means gift and he called me this because I have an inherent understanding of people's needs and how to help them move ahead. He also said that my self awareness and acceptance of my own eccentricities and flaws make it easier for me to accept others. I agree with this; you must learn to accept who you are. The most important thing I learned from Irving Miller, my honored social work professor is this, "Celebrate your problems, it means you're alive."
My message to you remains the same; "Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Attack your problems with vigor as new ones crop up to replace the ones that have been resolved. Most importantly, always have a goal in sight and make certain it is an attainable one."
Buy my book, 'A Spot of Bleach' at Amazon.com and read more about being a social worker, growing up poor and making it in Washington Heights. Surviving and succeeding took hard work and courage and reading about my life will give you the strength to do what you need to do to get where you want to go.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Walking through Harlem on a dusty spring morning, the ground is slowly drying on one side of the street while the other side remains dark with the wetness of early morning drizzle. City sounds surround me. Horns blaring, people yelling, the sounds of cars and trucks whooshing by intermingled with the call of a crow just settled in a nearby tree. I make a strange sight in Harlem and some people stare while we wait for our bus. I hear their silence loudly, “What’s this white lady doing in the middle of Harlem waiting for a bus.” No one speaks yet their eyes say more or is this just my imagination?
Right now all I want to think about is when will the right bus pick me up? My fellow waiters give up staring at me and it is as though, by default, I finally fit into the scene. I become one with it. We are all just passengers waiting for a new life or waiting for our own demise. Well, o.k., I'm being dramatic, we're only waiting for the bus. It's taking a long time today. I'm waiting for the crosstown. I count four M100's and three M101's before the bus I need comes by.
When I finally board the bus, no one sees me anymore. I may as well be invisible and then a young pedestrian strides by dressed in a red plaid mini-skirt and thigh high stockings. The two ladies seated in front of me comment on her style.
The first lady says, "Oh, she thinks she looks cute, but she doesn't!"
"No," I cut in, "She don't look cute, she looks sexy!"
Both of them crack up. We're talking about overweight, middle-aged women.
I say, "If I were small and skinny, I wouldn't mind wearing that."
They giggle in embarrassment at my spoken words. I continue, "But I'm not. so I can't."
They laugh harder. "You're too much," one of them replies.
At that moment, I'm not white or black, just another woman who knows and sees what they see.
This makes some sense, fits the cliche. But what I really want to say is that there are all types of prejudice. Color is only one of them. Prejudice is an excuse to treat someone mean and put them down. People find all kinds of reasons to put each other down. Just examine history and you'll see. I don't even need to get into it.