My mother flew to Seattle this morning, en route to her Alaskan cruise. Today, I had the house to myself. I slept and went on Facebook.
Luckily, I left a message on Facebook telling anyone to scold me if they saw me online, and luckily Miguelina told me to get my ass off Facebook. She must be one good mother, because I listened. Thanks, Miguelina. I don’t want to use the internet as a crutch for real life. I do have friends in town and was going “to the city” tonight, but it started to rain and thunder like crazy, so I stayed home. I ran to the window to watch, like a cat jumping on the window ledge, because the weather is so rarely dramatic in Los Angeles.
The Queens neighborhood where my mother lives is a hodgepodge of every ethnic group imaginable. My apartment building has a large Jewish population. Our terrace looks out over a mosque, where some religious imman broadcasts his prayers. Guys speaking in Arabic ignore the guys speaking in Hebrew who ignore the guys speaking Chinese. When I mentioned this melting pot on Twitter, I naturally got the obvious response from the NPR crowd, “Oh, what lovely diversity!” It made me chuckle. I mean it is is cool, but hey — WHY aren’t you moving to this neighborhood?!” The place is overly chaotic, and small ethnic cafes are not the types of places you sit for two hours with your laptop and write your screenplay. This isn’t Starbucks country. I already showed you last time I was home how half of the stores on the street have been shut down by some greedy developer.
On the other hand, being in this neighborhood is great for story-telling. I do not have to go anywhere to find amusing stories to tell. I just have to go into the elevator. Now I know why New Yorkers seem funnier than Angelenos. The suburban atmosphere of Los Angeles allows you to get the hell away from other annoying people. In a dense urban area, you are stuck, especially if you live in an apartment building. You can’t hide in the car all the time. At some point, you have to get into the elevator with another person.
I rarely run into old friends in Los Angeles. It is too spread out. Yesterday, I went downstairs to the supermarket (which by chance, is the most unorganized and poorly run supermarket ever created), to buy some ice cream. Some woman in her sixties came over to me and said, “Hello, Neil.” I recognized her, but from where… I wasn’t sure.
“Holy shit,” I said to myself. “It is Mrs. Weisselfeiffer, my KINDERGARTEN teacher!”
How the hell did she recognize me? Do all schoolteachers have memories that go back… decades? She is retired now and volunteers at a gift shop where the profits go to Cerebral Palsy.
“How are you doing” she asked.
“OK,” I lied.
Two days ago, I went into McDonald’s to “write.” There is one right across the street. I remember when they first built the McDonald’s, years ago when I was a child. There was a big outcry, much like people complain when Walmart comes to town. My apartment building and McDonald’s have an especially bad relationship. Our building even tried to stop them, saying it would bring a “bad element” into the neighborhood. I remember this being an uncomfortable conversation because this “bad element” was code for the black gang members from a nearby “welfare” housing project. The more liberal members of the apartment building’s “board of directors” did not want to be considered “racist,” even though they probably knew that the worrywarts were right — crime WOULD rise by having a 24-hour McDonald’s across the stree. In the past, Jews who lived in the outer boroughs were always put in an awkward position. They tended to be the more liberal than the other “white” ethnic groups in the city, so when the city wanted to find a place for low-income housing, they built in a Jewish neighborhood. The city would never do this in a Irish or Italian neighborhood, because then there would ethnic warfare. The Jews kvetched and then moved to Florida.
Eventually, McDonald’s was built. Corporations always win. Sadly, crime did get worse, but never as bad as imagined. Even gang members just want to have their Big Macs when they come to McDonald’s. Or maybe they just get too tired to mug people after eating all those carbs.
The bigger problem was the traffic. Cars were whizzing all over the place and the annoying drive-in speakers were keeping people up at night. Our apartment building complained again. Finally Ronald McDonald sent a nice message back to us: “Fuck You.” McDonald’s did block their traffic from going onto our street, but they went much further in a passive-aggressive manner that even I was shocked about. They put a gate up around the whole block, only allowing access from the other side of the street, without even leaving an opening. Of course, the bus stop was outside McDonald’s, so residents of my apartment building now had to walk an extra block, completely around the fence, just to get to the bus stop.
McDonald’s takes no prisoners.
Twenty years later, the fence is still there, but residents have accepted McDonald’s as a member of the community. At least, at McDonald’s, the signs are in English, and not in Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, or Arabic. In a funny way, the recent immigrants have helped bond the ethnic groups of my childhood. When I was a child, the fighting was always between whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans. Jews were afraid of blacks. Blacks were pissed at Jews.
Now, these same three ethnic groups sit around McDonald’s together and talk about the old neighborhood — like old friends. They make fun of the real outsiders: the weirdly-dressed Indians and the Pakistanis.
“I bet you they are hiding Bin Ladin at the taxi service!” said the middle-aged black guy to the middle-aged Jewish guy, referring to the local “car service” located under the mosque.
My mother used this mysterious car service just this morning to go to Kennedy airport. A brand new limo pulled up, driven by a tall Arabic man with a long beard, wearing what looked like a white Nehru jacket. But they drive fast.
The only reason I go to this McDonald’s is because it is air-conditioned. It is the worst run fast-food restaurant I have ever seen. (Are you seeing a common threat about the local establishments here?) Has anyone learned customer service in the outer boroughs?
The staff is extremely show and uncaring. The manager, a short Indian woman, seems completely over her head. Even ordering a cup of coffee takes twenty minutes.
On Wednesday, I went into McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. It was my first time out of the house since coming here. I waited in line for ten minutes. The customers, mostly blue-collar workers, were getting angry. Some were even shouting.
“Let’s get this fucking line moving!” said one.
The guy in front of me was a thirty-something black man wearing a janitor’s outfit. He ordered a double cheeseburger, and gave the cashier, a gorgeous black high school student, a five dollar bill. You could tell that this girl thought Mickey D’s was beneath her, and that she would rather be modeling on TV. She gave the janitor twenty nickels for one of the dollars in his change.
“What the hell is this?” he asked.
“I have no more bills.”
“I don’t want twenty nickels.”
“Sorry? That’s not good enough. I’m the customer.”
“Please sir. People are waiting. Next!”
I was next, but I wasn’t sure what to do. This customer was looking so angry, I was concerned he might take out a gun.
“Hold on, my friend,” he said to me, addressing me like we were long-time buddies. “You know I’m right, don’t you? I worked in Burger King for three years. I know I was only doing maintenance at the time, but I knew more than anyone who worked there. I know the policy. The customer is always right. Tell her!”
“Uh… he does have a point.” I muttered to the student/future model behind the counter. “Maybe someone else can give you a dollar bill.”
She scowled at me. I was regretting leaving the house.
“Let me speak to the manager!” shouted my new janitor friend. A hundred “fucks” and “shits” could be heard from everyone on line.
The short Indian manager woman came over. She looked scared and angry, but mostly resentful from being taken away from her job of running back and forth doing nothing.
“I would like to have a dollar bill and not twenty nickels,” demanded the janitor.
The manager did not like how she was being spoken to. She ignored him, turning to the cashier/model.
“What seems to be the problem, Nadine?”
“I don’t have any more bills.”
She looked directly at the janitor.
“I’m sorry. She doesn’t have any more bills. Next!”
I’ve seen where bosses try to support their employees, but this was insane. Why was she being so stubborn? Couldn’t she get some bills from another cashier? What type of McDonald’s was this? Did she not want to be seen as “giving in” to her customers? Is this the policy in Queens? No wonder why customer service is so lousy around her.
Soon, the janitor gave up.
“Bitch!” he screamed at the manager.
As I finally ordered my coffee, I saw him sitting at a table with two strangers, both women, telling them the story of the twenty nickels. He tried to ask them out on dates, and the women promply left to go to another table.
I began to wonder if I was missing the full story here. As if, I had just started to watch “Lost” at episode six.
When I returned home, I noticed that another drama was brewing. There were notices in the lobby and in every elevator. My mother told me the story:
A tenant’s father died in the building. The tenant is Jewish. As is the tradition, after the funeral, the bereaved sits “shiva” for a week. Every religion must have something similar. You go over to the person’s house, bring some food, and give your condolences. When you live in an apartment building, you tend to visit even if you don’t know the person very well, just out of respect.
Anyway, apparently someone visited the bereaved man and notice that he was a bit of a pat rack. He had piles of old newspapers in the corner. This visitor gave her condolences, then promptly went down to the management office and told them that this “tenant’s house was filthy.” A few days later, his apartment was investigated.
Normally, after sitting shiva, the bereaved puts up notices in the lobby and elevators thanking their fellow residents for stopping in. I know when my father died, so many people came over that it made me feel like we were living in a community. We all come together when there is sadness.
This tenant put up his thank you notice. It had a twist.
“I would like to thank all my neighbors who came to visit me during my bereavement period. I appreciate all the kind things that you said, and the food that you brought me. You are very good neighbors. I especially want to thank the nice neighbor who went to the manager and said my apartment was dirty. You’re an asshole.”
I’m beginning to understand myself better by going back to my roots. People are crazy here!
It’s really raining hard now. I just took some photos from my terrace. It is Saturday night. My mood has become more melancholy.
A couple of nights ago, I wrote the following when I was feeling lonely. I didn’t want to publish it, thinking there was really no point to sharing it with you. But I’m actually feeling much better today. I finally spoke to Sophia on the phone. I told her the funny stories about the neighborhood. Tomorrow, I’m visiting a friend. I’m hoping to meet some bloggers while I am here. Maybe I’ll go to Cringe next month. I’ve always wanted to see that.
Oh, and if you are a mommyblogger who is celebrating father’s day with your husband — remember to treat him right tomorrow. You know what I mean.
Here’s what I wrote a few days ago. I’m doing it for Jane, who likes to hear about the soap opera —
My God. It’s going to be difficult to express how much I miss touching a woman. I know this sounds crazy. Of course, I’m talking about Sophia, but I’m also not talking about Sophia. We haven’t been all cuddly for a while, so I’m not sure where this is coming from. Please don’t go “aww” or “hugs.” I’m glad I left the house. I’m doing fine. I like being alone. I just didn’t expect this feeling of yearning to take hold of me in a mere three days of leaving. Are men really this weak? I’ve never had this feeling before. I find it interesting. I’m normally a “cold” personality, more sarcastic than wearing my heart on my sleeve. Lately, I’m experiencing those intense emotions you read about in poems in college — like the poetry of Yeats — the stuff I mocked as old-fashioned and melodramatic.
I can actually feel her arm, the way it is soft, and smell her one-of-a-kind scent from here.
This is not about sex. Even tough I am thinking of sexy things, too. Like feeling a woman’s nipple harden. Or kissing. Jesus. I need to just write this down.
I am having withdrawal symptoms.
Maybe I’ll take a shower. That will help. Or take a walk. Or go have a slice of pizza. On Twitter this morning, I wrote that I felt like a woman on PMS. But that isn’t accurate. My body is shaking inside. Have I always been so anxious? It feels as if I just went cold turkey off of some heavy narcotic I’ve been using for years.
I’m thinking of caressing my mother’s arm. This is creepy.
I know I shouldn’t publish this. There is no purpose to it. It is not entertaining.
If I do publish it, take it with a grain of salt. It is just a passing moment. I will better after my slice of pizza.
Why am I advertising my emotional connection to Sophia? How is this going to help me move on? Or get me a date? I am such an idiot, always doing the wrong thing.
Sigh. Sharing too much again.
Moral of post: Lately, I’ve been feeling such raw, intense emotions, like an internal f**king in the rain-soaked alley way of the soul, that all I can do is just stand back, watch, and admire it. And take notes.
I’m sorry this is such a long post. I’m sure I broke some blogging rule.