Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When Ducks Attack

The other day I was walking out of my building and I saw a man carrying a Bible in one hand and a watermelon on his shoulder. As he walked, one of the rather corpulent ducks who have made the grounds of our high rise their home, approached and began to hiss at him.

I gave him and the duck a wide berth and we met up farther down the path.

"You scared?" he asked, smiling.

"Yes!" I said, and he laughed.

Perhaps carrying a Bible and a watermelon makes you invincible.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Missed Networking Opportunity?

I was in the parking lot of a shopping plaza, getting ready to get into my car, when I saw a woman I knew. I have done some contract work with her company.

In the few seconds between my seeing her and thinking I should go say hello, she began tongue wrestling with her husband. I was a little surprised, and glad that she did not see me. I decided to get into my car and let that networking moment pass me by.

Her divorce from a previous husband was finalized while I was working there, and I remember that she came in with a cake to celebrate.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The eyes have it

Spouting pithy sayings is one of those adult pastimes that children adopt quite readily. I remember one saying in particular that we used to throw around as if we had learned it sitting at some great philosopher's feet.

When you assume, you make an ass out of "u" and me.

Now, it never really made any sense to me, but it was part of the prevailing wisdom so I didn't question it aloud. But I wondered, aside from the cleverness associated with picking the word apart, what value did this philosophical gem have? Why was I an ass because "u" made an assumption?

All of this came to mind because the other day someone mistook me for another person.

As I walked past her, a woman at the office where I am freelancing congratulated me on my new job and called me by someone else's name. I had no new job, and the name she used wasn't mine. But, still, I was curious.

Who was this person I asked, and why was she to be congratulated. The congratulating woman and her co-worker froze, realizing their mistake. They'd thought I was someone else. Not quite an assumption, but it was an error of a sort.

"Oh, but you look just like her." " She's taller than you, but she's very pretty," they assured me. As if it mattered. I am not her, no matter what she looks like. But we all assuage our guilt however we can.

People can only make an ass out of you if you let them. They assumed the person they saw was not me, but someone else, but why should I feel silly or insulted? I knew very well that this other woman was black and that to the unobservant Caucasian eye, I resembled her as I briskly walked past. I also know how many times I have confused on white person for another.

Still, it was amusing to see them get flustered.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A chapter entitled mountain=molehole
or 'This too shall pass'

The other day I ran into someone I had not seen in about a year. That person reminded me of a "dilemma" I'd had when they'd seen me last. When asked, "What did you decide do about XYZ?", I thought "XYZ?"


In less than a year's time I'd forgotten about that all important issue.

And really, I couldn't see why I had manufactured such a quandary.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Price of Parking

I do not live or go to church in DC, but I have visited enough churches in various cities to know that parking is a serious matter on Sunday morning. It has gotten so serious in DC that 1) the mayor wanted to fine church attendees for double parking and 2) churchgoers and church leaders staged a protest.

At first I thought, if we can stage a protest about parking, then maybe we could go on to protest other, more pressing issues.

Then I started listening more to what people were saying, and saw that the streets of DC on Sunday morning are yet another place where race, class, and religion intersect. Churchgoers feel they are being pushed out in favor of the newly-gentrified DC. When the 'hood was rundown, no one cared who parked where, but now that it is
up-and- coming, recent transplants resent the traditional Sunday morning parking arrangements. The city saw an opportunity to appease newcomers, who presumably have money, and make some ca$h at the same time.

Mayor Postpones Church Parking Crackdown:

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Food and Fellowship Really Do Transcend Boundaries

Case in point: For the last 2 years my brother and his wife have had a Muslim, Jews, and Christians over for Easter brunch.

I do not have any naive hopes of replicating this on a large, global scale. I'm just saying that there are some basic things that we all enjoy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Never Enough

Being ungrateful is part of the human condition, although at times, I get a jolt of recognition that takes me away from griping long enough for me to see just how much I really do have.

Reminders of this are often more potent when they come from other people because it is easier to point to someone else's ingratitude than to reflect on my own.

The other day I gave my niece some stickers--not anything that she needed, but something I knew that she enjoyed, and as I handed them to her she said,

"Is that all?"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Falling for the Flu

At a literary reading, I paused to think when the speaker said something about outside events reflecting inside struggles, and as the evening progressed, I wondered if he knew just how meaningful those words were.

Diran Adebayo gave a reading at George Washington University and began by saying he was a little "flu-y", but it didn't really seem to be a problem. At least not at first. He talked about and around his writing and read a lengthy passage from his first novel.

At one point he stopped and asked for a chair and then added water to that request. Or maybe it was the other way around. After the second request, he bowed his head and his forehead glistened with sweat.

Slowly, but quickly, he crumpled, fell into the lectern, and then collasped onto the floor. He didn't hit the floor hard, but at the very end his head bounced like a gentle rubber ball. His hands twisted inward and they shook. Then they stopped. His eyes were closed.

He looked like a corpse.

The audience was stunned. It was terrifying. No one could have reached him in time to prevent the fall. A university professor who was in the front row had gone to get the requested chair. If he hadn't, he may have been able to catch the man before he fell.

Things really do change in an instant. The author reading from his work became a corpse-like being on the floor and then just as quickly, the corpse became a man who said he was fine. He insisted on continuing the reading, refusing to even sit in a chair. One woman in the audience said we'd all feel better if he did, but to no avail. (Later, as he continued the reading, he exhibited a manic energy that belied the collapse we had witnessed earlier.)

Someone called campus services, and to the author's annoyance they insisted that he get checked out. The audience murmured about the fact that a man whose head has just ping-ponged on the floor now had to climb stairs and go to where campus medical services could check him out. Why couldn't they come to him?

Just this week I have been listening to the audio version of Wickett's Remedy, a book that centers on Boston and the effects of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. This was back when the flu was referred to by its full name, influnenza. Influenza is serious business; a grown-up version of the flu. Watching in horror as someone who claimed to have a touch of the flu fainted, reminded me of this. I could go on and mention that dreaded flu that we hear so much about, but I won't.

The girl sitting next to me wore Ugg-like boots and had a styrofoam carton that I had presumed held something like french fries. When she opened it, I saw that it actually held edamame.

We were all a little shell-shocked. Unguarded, she said something about him being a "big, black man". (He was on the tallish side, rather thin, and not at all big.)
She was talking more to herself that to me and I think she uttered this phrase to indicate her disbelief that this type of thing could happen to such a a person.
I decided not to challenge this particular view, nor the years of stereotypes that lay underneath it.

She went on to talk about how he had visited her class earlier in the day, and she chirped about what a great writer he was.

A Brit with Nigerian heritage,he spoke of how black authors always have to deal with race and how he tries to get away from that. Later during the Q&A (fainting or not, the man was not leaving before he finished) someone asked about the seeming contradiction between his saying that it is not right that black authors always have to deal with race and the fact that his writing deals so much with that very topic.

Being no stranger to the SBW (Strong Black Woman) syndrome, I know what it is to insist that you are alright. Although his insistence may have had more to do with some macho pride than race. Whatever it was, those of us who stayed remained nervous throughout the rest of the program, still shaken by what we saw.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Just Say No

Back in the 80s when Nancy Reagan came out with that "Just Say No" campaign, people laughed and lampooned the idea that all it takes is a "no".

But even now pop pscychology will tell you to simply say "No, I cannot.", "No thank you.", and "No, I am not available." in a clear, firm voice. Just say no and do not offer any explanations or excuses, they say. People will respect that, they say.

Just who are these people exactly? Sure, if you say no to a free newspaper as you are coming out of the subway, someone may respect that.

But if it is someone with whom you have a more than slight acquaintance, they are not having it. I am sure I have done my fair share of cajoling myself.

A "no" is usually followed by reasonings, accusations, and all-expense-paid guilt trips.

So if I have told you no recently, then yes this is for you.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Countdown to Impact

A friend called me while driving into DC from Richmond, and asked what was up with our speed limits because the numbers on the signs keep changing.

She could have been talking about those signs where your speed is broadcasted as you drive past, but from her description and location, I knew that she was not talking about those.

I realized that she was referring to the countdown signs for pedestrians.

"You don't have those in Richmond?" I asked.

"No," she said. It sounded a little like an accusation.

"Welcome to life in the big city," I replied.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sweet Irony

Someone left a message on my answering machine saying they'd lost my number, and that is why they hadn't called before, but that they wanted to talk to me about XYZ...

The message ended with the person saying, "Okay, so my number is...oh, well, you have my number. Bye."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Riddle

For once I was actually early in getting to a town council meeting that I had to cover for a local newspaper, and lo and behold, I was able to see a musical performance.

The mayor stood at the microphone to say how pleased he was to have 8th grade members of a school orchestra there to perform for Black History Month. As I sat in anticipation, I thought for certain that they would play a song by a black composer or a song that has somehow been recognized as being related to Black History. But they didn't. They did, however, play a lovely Ukranian folk song.

The kids were very excited to be performing and their teacher/conductor seemed like a very caring educator. But you know I had to sit there and puzzle over what it all had to do with Black History Month. (Skip to the end if you want the answer.)

There were black kids in the group, along with white, Asian, and Latino kids. Was that it? The kids were from a school that is in an area where a lot of black people live...that could have been it. I thought their teacher was African American, until he spoke, and then I knew he was Latino.

Do you give up yet?
Answer: In reality, as far as I could see there was no obvious link between the performance and Black History Month. The month was coming to a close, and the mayor had asked someone he knew to help put together some kind of program for Black History Month. At first that seems a little half-hearted, but in listening to his comments, I could see what lay beneath. He mentioned how the town had a new mayor and a new council and that this was the first time that they'd had something for Black History Month. So basically there was a new climate in the government of this tiny Maryland town that was open to acknowledging Black History Month in a tangible way. Even if it took a Ukranian folk song to do it.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Proceed with Caution

Every language has those polite little oddities--
expressions that can mean nothing or signify danger ahead.

Phrases such as:

"If you don't mind I'll..."

"Do you/Would you mind if I..."

Let's say, for instance, you are working in an open office and someone says,

"Do you mind if I take off my shoes?"

As is often the case in these situations, the person will engage in the aforementioned act without waiting for a reply. Asking is merely a formality.

Then, let us suppose, there is a second person present, who seeing the action of the first, decides to follow suit. This second person need not bother with asking rhetorical questions, seeing as how their predecessor did not meet with any objection.

Now, if you were to add the consumption of foods such as sardines and pork rinds to the equation, the situation could become very dangerous indeed.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Danish By Any Other Name

First it was "freedom fries", "freedom toast", and perhaps even the "freedom kiss".
Now we have "Roses of the Prophet Muhammed".

I read that in Iranians must no longer ask for a "danish", but they must refer to the pastries by the aforementioned name.

Yeah, I kinda rolled my eyes when I heard the outcry against the French allegedly resulted in an end to french manicures and that the streets of DC were flowing with french wines out of protest.

If only it was just about renaming baked goods...people are dying and in the streets and it is blood, not wine being spilt.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Peas in a pod

My Valentines Day surprise came 25 minutes after Valentines Day when my NYC cop cousin called at 12:25 am (from the squad car) to say, "Hey, I forgot to call you on Valentines Day. Are you asleep?" Uh...yeah.

It really is the thought that counts.

And some thoughts make more sense than others.

When I read that some couples in China are getting matching plastic surgery, I wondered what they were thinking. A woman quoted in the article said that her boyfriend thought it was a great idea and now they have matching noses.

Tattoos are one thing, and those who have had to go in and get a name turned into a rose or a teddy bear can tell you that they paid dearly for thinking they wanted to preserve someone's name on their skin...but actual matching body parts?
I have no problem with the way I look, but this look is not for everyone, and most certainly not for my significant other. When they say that the people in your life are a reflection of you it means their personality, the person on the inside.
This does not mean you need to make that evident on the outside, too.

Then I read another article that said that people who are together a long time start to look alike. We needed a scientific study for that? I used to hear people say that all the time. So why get butchered, when you can just hold out until it happens naturally?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Who Gets Top Prize?

As a movie I was attending began, the audience heard a familiar sound--a ringtone.
(And it was not that cutesy pre-movie public service announcement where the phone rings as Native Americans hunt buffalo.)

The next sound, however, was not familiar. One of our comrades in the audience yelled out, " Turn off your f%^&*ing phone!!!"

We all laughed.

I thought about this later...was anything really funny? But what I forgot was that there a thing called nervous laughter. The man who yelled sounded so hostile, that collectively, the rest of us probably decided to break the tension by laughing.

I get as annoyed with cell phone use as the next person. And I don't like to hear cell phones ring at movies, funerals, weddings, or any of the many other occasions that usually require you to focus on the people/events present, rather than entities that are absent.

Still...which pollutes more: the cell phone ring or someone's angry, expletive-laced reaction to it?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Physician Heal Thyself

I was standing at an intersection, along with a fellow pedestrian, waiting for the light to change, when a woman pulled up to ask for directons. She had just named a street I'd never heard of, when another car appeared behind her and honked loudly.

She moved on, probably fearing the fierceness of the horn and the hulking size of the SUV. The man next to me turned and said, "I have no patience for people who are not patient."

Then he paused, smiled, and said that his previous statement didn't make at whole lot of sense.

Sometimes the problem and the cure are the same.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

All Things Antiquated

This week has been a blast from the past. Without going into any detail, I will tell you that I used a typewriter (okay so it was electronic, but still a typewriter). Someone who saw me using it referred to it as a "chicken clucker".

And I drove down the street, finding myself marveling at an incredible sight: a man talking on a pay phone. I don't know which was more incredible--that the pay phone was still there and being used or the fact that I was really intrigued by this strange custom. As if I didn't grow up seeing and using pay phones. It really hasn't been that long since pay phones were everywhere. There are fewer now, of course, but it is not as if they have all been wiped off the planet.

It really does not take a lot of time for us to become unaccustomed to things that were once quite routine.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Spaced Out

People are crazy.

We all know it and say it. Of course, we can hardly be objective, since we are people too.

The other day I was backing into a parking space, when I paused because I saw someone running towards my car, on the driver's side. I panicked for a moment: Did I run over something? Or someone?

The woman who appeared at my window, knocked and demanded that I roll the window down. By now I knew that I had not killed anyone or anything. I refused to roll down the window. She insisted, and was rather nasty.

"Just roll down the window!!!"

I said no, and told her I could hear her fine from inside the car. Wait a minute...is this a carjacking, I wondered. Is a middle-aged white woman trying to jack my car on Wisconsion Avenue?

She looked at me with disgust, and finally backed away. As she left, she yelled,

"I want your parking space!"

Puzzled, I finished easing my car into the space. This woman, stopped her car at an odd angle, left it almost in traffic at a busy intersection, put the hazard lights on, and came to knock on the car window of a stranger--all for a parking space. A space that was not even available because I was backing in and not out.

Out of concern for my own safety, I did not roll the window down. But obviously the woman was not interested in her own safety. She left her car almost hanging out in traffic. And she wanted me to roll my window down, not knowing who I was or what I may have had in my car. Plus, she was very close to my car, never thinking for a moment that if I put my foot to the gas and turned the steering wheel, she could be injured. And yet in this very precarious situation, she thought it was a good idea to yell at me, a person that she did not know. Good thing for her, I have no interest in violence, be it senseless or even somewhat provoked.

The quest for a good parking space is just a part of urban life. And like an oasis in the desert, you are likely to see many that are just mirages. But whatever you do, don't go crazy and start banging on people's windows.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Absorbed into the [main]stream?

Yesterday the Washington Post reviewed a new downtown DC bowling hotspot and the reviewer complained that although the place said it wanted to attact an "ethnic" crowd, he mostly saw African Americans. Adjectives/categories like "ethnic" are annoying, but I was still suprised to read that black folks are no longer fit into this subset. According to the article we are no longer "ethnic" and (at least in the establishment mentioned) are allowed to break the rules.

A main talking point so far has been Lucky Strike's dress code, which bans skull caps, athletic wear, baggy white T-shirts, "excessively baggy" clothing and "excessively long" jackets and shirts. Despite all the talk of targeting ethnic groups, I have to say that most of the crowd last weekend -- and much of it on previous weekends -- was African American, including a number of guys wearing baggy sweatshirts and jeans.
-Washington Post, Weekend section,

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sibling Revelry

I was informed that something I wrote was not quite accurate. So although there are no corporate sponsors for this blog, there are guest artists. Today's featured performer is my brother.

In response to the the entry Shared Memory (December 15, 2005) he wrote:

For the record I did see that food at the Econo Lodge and there was one stairwel that smelled like funky feet boiled in liquidified Haggis.

We really don't have the same mind, however. Despite the fact that in a recent game of Scattergories when pressed to think of a fruit that began with the letter "H", one of us wrote "hot apple" while the other wrote "hot pear".

And before you ask, it is supposed to be revelry (not rivalry).