“Hang Out in Another Neighborhood” Day

MLK

I was the opening speaker at the graduation of my Queens elementary school, P.S. 154. I still remember most of the speech. It was a sixth grader’s riff on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”  He was a hero to everyone, including me.

There were three portraits on the wall of my classroom that year– George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.  We were a mixed school of different religions and races, and it was as clear as anything that society was changing fast — and that this was the future. We were heading towards a color-blind society where no one would care about the color of your skin, only about how many baseball cards you had in your pocket.

My father was about as liberal as you can get, donating his time and money to numerous causes, but I would cringe when he would mention the word “Negro” or “Oriental,” but eventually I understood that he was extremely good-hearted, just using words from another generation.

I’m now the person from another generation, with outdated language and ideas.   It’s taken me longer than some of my other friends to understand that being color-blind is racist.  I still grumble about the concept of male privilege.   I still catch myself being sexist.   I never was taught about these structural issues in school. We were more about equal rights under the law. Even Martin Luther King, with his mainstream views on integration and non-violence, seems old-school today.

I bring this all up because I had this weird idea this morning, and it won’t make any sense without first giving it some context. I’ve been reading a lot about Ferguson, racism, and the inequality of our society, but much of it doesn’t inspire me in the way that Dr. King once did.   Sure, we can boycott Black Friday or unfriend racist friends, but so what? I know this might sound overly-sentimental, but I’d love to find a way to fight injustice by creating some goodwill between communities, getting people to learn about each other, much as we did back in P.S. 154, when we went over to each other’s houses to do our homework, and experienced neighborhoods different than our own.   Anger at the America is important, and we should be angry, but we also need to feel as if there is hope.

It seems as if America’s biggest problem is that we remain segregated, sometimes even more than I remember in the past. White and Asian people are irrationally afraid of black and Latino areas because of the fear of crime. Black and Latinos feel uncomfortable in white areas in fear of ethnic stereotyping.

Solution — we need a way to start sabotaging this fear.

We’re always creating days online, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” to “Buy a Donut Day,” so why not create a “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day,” where Americans purposely go out of their comfort zone to connect with those who live in other neighborhoods, particularly those where the residents are different than themselves?

Imagine if hundreds of white folk and their families went into Ferguson for the day — buying burgers at the local McDonald’s, going to the local church, visiting the park, and getting to know how the other half lives. At the same time, black folks and their families, who are intimidated from entering certain well-off white neighborhoods, are invited WITH OPEN ARMS into these neighborhoods to have lattes at some upscale coffee ship or to do some shopping at the local stores.   Even if it is just for one day, it will make everyone less afraid of each other, because we would all cross the invisible red line.

And it is all perfectly legal.   And it might even been fun.  At least it would help demystify each other.

New Yorkers — “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day” — Upper East Siders — go have brunch in the South Bronx. Walk around. Support the stores there. Those who live in South Jamaica — have you ever been to Tiffany’s in Manhattan? Come in and take a look. Even if you can’t afford it now, at least realize that you are free to browse freely at any time.

Los Angeles — Beverly Hills folk — go have a BBQ sandwich in Compton, and then go to some of the small businesses in the area. Folk in Compton — have you ever seen the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel?   Why not?

Some people are going to hate this idea, because it doesn’t really deal with the systematic racism in our society.   That the white people get to go back to their fancy neighborhoods while the others are stuck in a police state.   It is an idea that isn’t angry enough.   Structural inequality will not be solved by gimmicks.    I get it.   But since I am old school, still inspired by my elementary school speech promising Dr. King to further his hopes of a less segregated society, I present this corny but radical little idea to you for your perusal.

Posted in Life in General, News and Politics | Tagged , | 23 Comments

Mom, Are You a Feminist?

mom

I’m eating some chicken soup my mother made (yes, true!) while reading an article online, when I decide to ask my mother the big question that will finally decide the course of Western history.

Me:  Mom, are you a feminist?

Mom:  Uh, what do you mean?

Me:   Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Mom:    Well, I always worked as a woman.

Me:   That doesn’t mean you are a feminist. Do you believe in equal pay for men and women?

Mom:    Yes.

Me:   And do you believe that both a man and a woman can be the boss?

Mom:    Of course. I was an office manager.

Me:   Will you vote for a woman president?

Mom:    Sure. Like Hillary Clinton. But it’s not like I’m going to vote for that Kardashian woman just because she’s a woman.

Me:  Do you think a feminist should look a certain way?  Like not wear lipstick or shave her legs?

Mom:  She could do what she wants.   I mean, eventually, she’ll probably have to shave her legs at least once.  If she wants to date.  Or before her wedding.

Me:   And what do you think about the different roles of mothers and fathers?

Mom:    Well, I do believe that a parent should stay at home with a young child.

Me:   Aha!  Gotcha!  So, you think a mother should stay at home?

Mom:    No, it could be the father.

Me:  Interesting.   So it doesn’t matter?

Mom:  I think women tend to have a better touch with young kids, but if the woman makes more money than her husband, what’s the difference?  As long as one of them stays home.

Me:   Hmm… so, isn’t it a bit hypocritical considering that you didn’t follow your own rule.  You and dad both worked.  You weren’t always home for me.   Is this why I’m in therapy?

Mom:    No, you’re in therapy because you’re crazy. I DID stayed at home until you went to first grade. Don’t you remember?

Me:   Not really.

Mom:  And then when I worked in the city, you always had your Grandma Annette to go to after school in case I had to work late.

Me:   Still sounds like I was a latch-key child without a home.   I’m blaming feminism for giving me social anxiety.

Mom:    Maybe, but remember this, with both of us working, at least we were able to afford to send you to an expensive college.  Where you ended up studying poetry.

Me:   OK, well, thank you for that.   And talking about college.  Here’s a big issue today.  Do you think both men and women are equipped to study in fields such as math, science, and engineering?

Mom:    I wish YOU had studied in math, science, and engineering rather than being an English major who spends time taking photos on his iPhone.  Maybe that’s why you’re in therapy!

Me:   So you believe women belong in technology?

Mom:   Mrs. Kubota’s daughter, Grace, works in Silicon Valley and sends her mother on a cruise every year. So, yes, women can work in match, science, and engineering.

My mother goes into the kitchen.

Mom:  Would you like some more soup?

Me:   No, thanks.

Mom:    Are you sure? There’s only a little left.

Me:   Mom, we are talking feminism here.

Mom:    So, you can’t be a Jewish mother and a feminist?

Me:   OK, I’ll have some more soup.

My mother pours me some more soup.

Me:  And while we’re at it, let’s discuss cooking at home? Do you think that is more a job for a wife than a husband?

Mom:   Ha Ha, no.

Me:   So why didn’t Dad ever cook? You did all the cooking. That wasn’t fair.

Mom:    Well, that’s me marrying wrong. Or the fault of Grandma Annette for never showing your father how to make anything other than a peanut butter sandwich. That’s how it was back then. But today, men love to cook. When you watch Top Chef, half of the best chefs are men, so I sure hope they are also making dinner at home for their wives.  In fact, this weekend, I’m showing you how to make a brisket.

Me:   What about cleaning? Why do women do more of the cleaning at home? That’s also not fair.

Mom:    Now THAT has to change. The biggest scam ever created.  By men.

Me:   So you ARE a feminist?

Mom:    Yes. And I think cleaning the house equally should be the top priority.

Case Closed.   My mother is a feminist.

Posted in Life with My Parents, News and Politics | Tagged , | 31 Comments

The Ninth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert

holiday concert

It is time for the announcement of the Ninth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, all new, all exciting for 2014!

Nine years!  Can you believe it?

Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013

This year’s concert will take place on December 18, 2014 right here on this blog.

It is time to hear YOU PERFORM!   YOU are the CONCERT.  That gives you about a month to work your magic.

Sign up in the comments today.

Concert FAQ:

1.  Create a video (or audio) file of you performing a holiday song.  If you need technical help, ask me.

2.  You must be performing in the audio or video.   Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.

3.  You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or write a symphony.

4.  Once completed, post the video on a place like YouTube and send me the link.   Or just send me the file via Dropbox or email, and I will post it on YouTube.   Try to get me all files and links by Tuesday, December 16, 2014, two days before the concert!  That gives you plenty of time to be creative.

5.  If you are too wimpy to sing a song, send me a holiday photo for concert decoration.  It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.

6.  The comment section is the sign-up sheet.    By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Let it Go.”

7.  Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing.    We like to laugh at you.

Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, now in it’s ninth season!

Posted in Blogging and the Internet, Music | Tagged | 49 Comments

Waiting and Acting

walk

In therapy this week, I felt something deep,like a voice from childhood.  Someone telling me to wait.   Study and prepare.   Or risk the humiliation.   And all of a sudden I wasn’t there for humorous fodder for Facebook but because I needed it.   Two years since my divorce, my going to New Zealand, and my coming back to New York, and I’m still in retreat, waiting, studying and preparing.

I put on some 70s funk music on  Spotify.   And the music tells me, in this funkiest way possible, that there is no humiliation in acting. There is no humiliation.  There is no humiliation.   Acting only brings joy to the world, not only for you, but for everyone else.   You’re not here on Earth to think.  You’re here to act.

I need to act.  Don’t think.  Just act.  Start small.

 

Posted in Life in General | Tagged | 10 Comments

Fictional Characters of New York #39

wedding

My name is Eduardo Ruzman.   I am a professional wedding photographer, with a studio in Chelsea.  I shoot weddings of the most prominent members of New York society.   I make a very good living.

But my real vocation is that of fortune-teller. When I perform my duties at the church, temple, restaurant, or private mansion, I do not simply look through the viewfinder, and shoot images. I observe, and I listen. And based on the way a marrying couple interacts, their choice of words and gestures, the roll of an eye, a rise of tension in the voice, I can predict, to the exact month, how long their marriage will last.

“Maybe if you didn’t stay out so late last night, you wouldn’t be so tired today,” complained the new bride to her groom.  She was wearing a $10,000 Vera Wang dress.  He was the pampered son of a Wall Street icon.   His father hired me, knowing that I would make the couple look good for the New York Times wedding notice.

In fourteen months, and four days, she will file for divorce.

I was not born with this skill. I nurtured my talent during childhood in the Bronx. My father and mother, Rolando and Estella, argued all the time, about work, about the dishes, about how my mother made the “biggest mistake of her life” by not marrying Frederick, my father’s brother.  My father hated when she said that, especially how it was spoken with venom, and he would slap her in the face. Sometimes, while locked in my bedroom, I would hear the beatings.  It was my first correct forecast.   I knew that my parents would be married forever. Or until 1989, when my father had his mysterious accident, breaking his neck on the bottom of the steps.

Posted in Literary, New York City, Photography | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Gluten-Free Halloween

pumpkin

Andy opens the door to greet a little boy and girl, both dressed as superheros.

Little Boy/Girl: Trick or Treat!

Andy: Hello, there! Ooh, what cool costumes. I recognize you, Batman. I mean Batgirl.

Little Girl: I’m not Batman or Batgirl. Why is it so important for you to identify me when gender is a societal construct? I consider myself a gender neural Bat Individual.

Andy: OK. And how about you, young man. I don’t recognize your superhero costume.

Little Boy: That’s because I’m an anti-hero, Alexander Petterssen.

Andy: I don’t know him.

Little Boy: Jesus. Haven’t you read any of the dystopian graphic novels by the Norwegian artist Gustav Slettemark?

Andy: Uh, no. (calling loudly) Bridget, do we have treats for our young guests?

Bridget comes to the door carrying a large tray with nine different bowls containing a variety of choices of treats for the kids.

Bridget: Here you go. Pick the one that best fits the needs of your dietary and religious restrictions, and political leanings. For the regular kids, we have Snickers with Almonds. But if you have a nut allergy, this second bowl contains nut-free Tootsie Rolls. This third bowl contains gluten-free gummi bears. The fourth bowl contains sugar-free lollypops. Bowls five and six have candy imported from Israel and Egypt, and are kosher and halal. Bowl seven contains organic and fair trade chocolate from a company that we researched online, so we know is supporting sustainable agriculture and worker health and rights. Bowl eight contains candy from a chocolate company with no national or international links to the Nestle Company, the Occupied Territories, or any stockholders who donate to the Republican Party. Finally, in bowl nine, for those kids who have reinterpreted Halloween as a Harvest Festival promoting healthy and natural living, we have individually wrapped leaves of kale.

Andy: So, Bat Person and Alexander Petterssen, which treat do both of you want to take from us?

Little Girl: We both want the kale.

Little Boy: Yeah. Is it pre-washed?

Bridget: I think so.

Little Girl: We’ll wash it again, just to make sure.

Andy drops the kale in their trick or treat bags, and the kids run off. Bridget plops down on the couch, exhausted.

Bridget: You know, the kids in our new neighborhood are kinda assholes, don’t you think?

Note: Despite the joke, I will be giving kids two choices this year — Snickers with nuts, and Skittle for those with nut allergies. Why not?

Posted in humor | Tagged | 2 Comments

“M” or “N”

subway

We talked about goals today in therapy.

“But how do you know which is the right path to take to reach your goals?” I asked my therapist towards the end of the session.

The therapist looked at his watch, indicating that time was up.

I took a long walk to 34th and 6th to take the E train back to Queens.

The E train was jammed with every Human of New York as we screeched from the station. It was not rush hour.  Something was wrong for it to be so crowded.

The conductor spoke over the loudspeakers.

“Because of construction,” he said, “The “E” train will only make stops on the [unintelligible]  line. Again, the “E” train will only make stops on the [unintelligible] train.”

“Did he say the “M” train or the “N” train?” asked the woman standing next to me, a middle-aged Pakistani lugging three shopping bags from TJ Maxx.

“”M” train” I said. “I think.”

“No, he said the “N” train.”” said a dude with an NYU yarmulke.

The confusion quickly spread through the entire train, like a wild fire in California, or viral video on Facebook.

“Let me say this again,” spoke the conductor.  “Because of construction, the “E” train will only make stops on the [unclear if its “M” or “N”] train. As in the word….”

He either said “Mikey” or “Nike.”

“Mikey?” asked an off-duty security guard reading the Daily News. “So it’s the “M” train?”

“I thought he said “Nike,” retorted a mother with a baby stroller. “So the “N” train.”

Like a boomerang tossed into the wind, our cries whipped back to the conductor.

“Because of construction…” he said for the third time, “… the “E” train will only make stops on the [unclear if its “M” or “N”] train.  As in… MICHAEL JORDAN.”

“Michael Jordan,” I said.  “I knew I heard “M.”

“But maybe he means Michael Jordan, as in the Air Jordans made by NIKE, so “N”!” said the security guard, proving Voltaire’s famous maxim that “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

The Pakistani woman was becoming frantic, swinging her shopping bags like a pendulum. She walked over to the side door where the conductor was sitting inside.  None of us had realized that we were in the first car, in close proximity to the oracle himself.  His door was adorned with a poster advertising a sleazy dentist who took all medical plans.

The woman knocked several times, asking, “What stops are we making on this train — “M” or “N?”

The conductor opened the door, revealing his unshaven pale face. There was gasps from the crowd, because his appearance was like seeing the Phantom coming on stage at the Paris Opera.

“We’re making the stops as the “M” train,” he said, as clearly as possible. “The “M” train. “M” as in AUNTIE M.”

The weary travelers sighed in relief. We were making the stops as the “M” train. It was as solid a truth as the existence of gravity.

Except that if he was making a reference to the Wizard of Oz, most people should know that Dorothy’s aunt was named Emily, so her name would be Auntie Em, not Auntie “M,” which would be an “E,” the letter of the train we thought when we first entered the “E” train. But rather than causing any more confusion, I kept this information to myself.

We all have goals in life. But sometimes we need to let life take us to our destination without question.

Posted in New York City | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Fictional Characters of New York — #38

The statues stood silent, dusty and broken in a lonely storage room.

“I told you this was the wrong place,” she said. “Robert’s gallery is on the fourth floor.”

I never liked Robert Altbrook, her pretentious artist friend, the type of guy who talked about books he never read.  But Andrea didn’t want to be late for his opening, so we got here early, but apparently on the wrong floor.

She had planned on this outing for a week, buying a new dress at Bloomingdale’s and making sure the kids were staying with friends.   I even cancelled my tennis game.

“After Robert’s show. After Robert’s show.”  That was my mantra to Lydia, as I kissed her breasts in her bed on Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to ruin Robert’s show for my wife.  I think she is love with him.”

Lydia managed the PR department of the firm. She was ten years older than I was, but younger at heart, and what had started out as a weekly Tuesday afternoon lunchtime fuck had turned into love.  Lydia was pressing me to ask Andrea for a divorce, and I was using Robert’s show as the deadline.

“And why would Andrea care?” I thought to myself.   We haven’t had sex in six years.  We had wasted fifteen years that went nowhere.  I was even convinced that Andrea was having an affair with Robert, but I never brought it up, feeling nausea at the idea.

“I want a divorce,” I will say to her, and we will both be free to follow our hearts.

But I knew that I would not ask her for a divorce. Not before Robert’s show. Not after Robert’s show.  I would not have the courage.  This was my life, and there was no turning back.

“Can we go?” asked Andrea, looking over at the dead stone figures.

“These statues scare me,” she said. “Imagine if they became alive.”

I felt the statues looking right back at us.

“These humans scare me,” they said. “Imagine if they became alive.”

statue1

statue2

statue3

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Posted in Literary, New York City, Photography | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Selfie Stick: The Final Curtain

The New York City of today is not the same New York City of my past. Technology has changed everything. No one reads the newspaper on the subway. Everyone is on their smartphone, living their virtual life.   In fact, you can do anything now from the privacy of your mobile device – ordering food, buying a book, hailing a cab, finding a date. In what was once the most public-oriented city in the country, I’ve seen co-workers sitting together at lunch in a café, silently updating their Facebooks and Twitters, and singles in crowded bars, ignoring each other while sexting with strangers on Tindr. Interaction with strangers, once a social necessity of urban life, has become an antique from the past, like the payphone or Smith-Corona typewriter.

One public exchange that remains intact, despite the infiltration of technology into our daily life, is the age-old interplay between tourist and local.   New York City is a tourist city, and despite the reputation of New Yorkers as rude, most residents are glad to help the visitor navigate the five boroughs.  After all, New York is an international city, the home of the United Nations, where dialogue between different cultures is essential to the survival of the world.

Just today, I was on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art eating a hot dog when I noticed a young Japanese couple taking photos of each other with an iPhone.   The man snapped a photo of his girlfriend posing with a black hat and dark sunglasses, as if she was a movie star, then the woman took a photo of her boyfriend pointing up the stairs to the entrance way, as if he was a Greek sculpture.

This was the time for me to jump into action, doing what was expected of me as a resident of New York. I was about to do something that I had seen done by both my father and my grandfather, a social gesture passed down from generation to generation,  a symbol of  the interconnectivity of all people.

“Would you like me to take a photo of you together?” I asked, trying to look as confident and trustworthy as possible.

“No. No. No need.” said the woman.   She reached into her purse and  pulled out what looked like a retractable fishing rod, but later found out was called “a selfie stick.” She placed the iPhone at the tip of the metal stick, like bait, and then held it out so the phone was now several feet away, facing them, with the museum in the background.   The couple made kissy-poo faces at the camera, and she pressed a button on the stick to take the photo.  Snap.

The selfie stick. One more tradition dead – the asking of tourists to take their photo.   Once a noble gesture, now as old-fashioned as wearing a girdle.

Finally, the last reason to talk to strangers in the city.   Gone.

selfie

Posted in New York City | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Fictional Characters of New York — #37

move

After we spent all afternoon moving his equipment across the street, Gideon took a wad of money from his pocket and handed $100 bucks to each of the other guys in the crew. They promptly headed to the Fiddler to blow their money on liquor, leaving Gideon and I alone in the new studio with the boxes, furniture, and music equipment.

Gideon licked his thumb and swiped $300 from his still substantial ball of dough.

“And these three bills are for you, Danny.” he said.

“No, Gideon. I can’t take money from you.”

“Sure you can. You worked hard. You spent all Sunday doing this for me.”

“You know me. I didn’t have anything better to do today.”

“Listen, I wouldn’t have asked you if I thought you wouldn’t take the money.”

“I was just helping you… as a friend.”

“Did you see any other friends here?”

“So, I’m just like these other guys you hired.  Are you saying I’m not a friend?”

“Of course you are a friend. And that’s why I asked you.  I know you’ve been out of work. So when Jill suggested…”

“So, Jill told you to call me to give me a job.  Like a charity case.”

“She’s worried about you.”

“I would have rather you just called me as a friend.”

“Just take the money,” he said, as he tried to shove the $300 into my shirt pocket. “I know you need it.”

I slapped his hand away.

“Just take the fucking money,” he yelled.

“I don’t want your fucking money.”

Gideon grew red-faced.  He was not the type of man who liked no for an answer.  He grabbed me in a stranglehold, tightening his arm against my throat.

“You’re going to take the money,” he said, as he pushed the money down the front of my pants, into my underwear.   I pulled away, removed the bills, and ripped them into shreds, spilling it on the floor like confetti.

“No wonder you can’t find a job,” said Gideon.  “You’re an idiot.”

“I should have been the one who married Jill, not you.”

“Well she chose me. That’s life in New York City. Winners win, loser lose.”

“Good. Well, tell her I’m not fucking her anymore when you’re in LA for months on end.”

Gideon jumped me like a hungry lion smelling meat, and I elbowed him in the face, breaking his nose. Gideon tripped me and I fell, my head slamming against the edge of a synthesizer.  My vision grew dark and I needed to vomit.   I grabbed Gideon’s leg and he fell on a pile of framed photos stacked on his desk.  Portraits of rock icons destined to decorate the studio walls.  Crash!  The glass pieces flew through the air like tiny knives.

For the next twenty minutes we beat the shit out of each other, until we were too bloody and exhausted to continue. Using my last ounce of strength, I rallied myself to stand, and limped over to the front door.

“I have to go,” I said as I entered the gray day outside. “I have to look for a job tomorrow.”

Posted in Literary, New York City, Photography | Tagged , , | 2 Comments