Thursday, May 31, 2012

SM Johnson ~Thursday Morning Coffee ~ NYC part 2

**What do you think of the new tiled homepage? Love it, hate it? It would be fantastic to hear from you! I really loved the dramatic look of the blog the way it's been, but I fear the white-on-black is difficult to read. Thoughts?**

Welcome to Thursday Morning Coffee! Here's part 2 of my trip to NYC. Toward the end I'll list some "insider tricks" either I figured out, or that people told me about.

Let's see... I think I was talking about Saturday when I hit the moment wherein which it became impossible for me to stay awake for one more minute.

We took the subway to Chinatown for some shopping. Whoa. That was crowded. The story that thieves will cut your purse strap right off your shoulder, and make off with your money, probably originated in Chinatown, because the street was so packed it was difficult to even move. Impossible to really shop, but we managed to buy a few things anyway. There was something going on down there that involved a parade and some dragon heads and such. We didn't stay for the parade, but I took pictures of the dragon heads. We did stop at a Chines bakery and ate a chocolate cake thingy that was mmmm, yummy. It looked like rich chocolate mousse, although it turned out to be lightly sweetened cake, but the frosting that glued thick chocolate curls to the edges was to die for.

Leaving Chinatown - we got on the subway going totally the wrong way. We needed to go to Midtown, but instead were heading for Brooklyn. Oops. But sort of like missing your exit in Minneapolis, all we had to do was get off at the next stop, turn our backs on the train, and catch the next one going in the right direction.

Get this - that was my ONLY navigation error. Do I rock, or what?

I was SO looking forward to Saturday evening's Speak Up! reading at El Museo del Barrio. I mean, honestly, the whole trip became much more exciting for me the moment I realized I would get to hang out with writerly friends - my peeps!

But here's the tricky part - I was traveling with my mom, and my peeps are not her peeps. She found herself way outside her comfort zone at El Museo, which was pretty unfortunate. Here's the thing - when I'm with my mom, somehow I stop being 40 and go back to being 14. Mostly this is tolerable. This time, it was a bummer. I probably should have insisted upon going alone so I could relax, stay all the way through to the end, and have a chance to take some photos.

I did one thing wisely - I asked my friend Emanuel Xavier to sign my copies of his books before the reading started. I didn't make the moment a photo op because Manny was the host of the event, and I didn't want to get him hung up while was getting organized. (I've blogged about Emanuel before, here)

So anyway. I was able to listen to a few open mike readers, Emanuel, and someone I hadn't heard before called Simply Rob.

Somewhere in the midst of that, I lost my mom.

El Barrio basically means The Neighborhood in Spanish. Most of the attendees were Hispanic. Probably most of them were gay, as well. Some of the poetry was in Spanish, or partially in Spanish (my 8th and 9th grade Spanish is pretty dang rudimentary, but I was able to catch a word or two here and there). The words rape, cock, fuck, AIDS, etc. were present and accounted for - in English. A lot of the poetry detailed experiences that were tragic and sad.

Poetry is like that. Even mine.

My mom was in New York for a fun, light-hearted vacation. The reading was more intense of an experience than she was looking for. So we ended up leaving before it was over. Sad for me, but it's hard to relax when your companion isn't having a good time, you know?

We cabbed it back to Times Square and went to Carve for pizza. And there we saw the most astonishing show of our trip.

It was a day party - in our neck of the woods, we call it a "pub crawl" - a bunch of friends crawling from bar to bar, drinking and dancing and having a great time. A New Yorker told me these are actually illegal. This one was hysterical. There were, I don't know, 25 - 30 black women, all dressed as if they'd come straight out of a whore house. The skirts were short, the shirts were tight, and the heels were high. And they were having a ball. The pic at the left is the LEAST shocking - the gal at the far left with the mesh dress? The front was mesh too, except for built-in nipple pasties...

Honestly, we have never seen such a group of skimpily, tackily dressed women. And without intending to be mean, I have to say that we laughed so hard there were moments we were pretty much doubled over. It was quite a sight for a couple of mid-western girls, let me tell you. We desperately wanted to take pictures, but it was hard to figure out how to do that without insulting people.

It lightened my mom's mood, which was a good thing.

Sunday we went to a street fair in Hell's Kitchen, which was a lot of fun. I drank a watermelon/strawberry smoothie thing that was refreshing and cold. The weather was beautiful - as it had been every day. I bought an iPhone case that has a picture of Steve Jobs on the back. I don't know why, but it seemed like the right thing to do, considering Steve Jobs changed our world.

We also walked down to the permanent flea market, also in Hell's Kitchen. Took an awesome picture of my mom with a transvestite. (See? Gay poetry reading on Saturday, smiling next to a tranny on Sunday - I'm definitely broadening my mom's world).

Saturday night we wandered out of Times Square and landed, ultimately, in the lobby of the Trump Building, where I took pictures of the Trump Bike, built by Paul Teutul Sr. of Orange County Choppers.  Pretty damn cool.

I also took pictures of the storefronts of Versaci, Prada, and Armani. Because I am a little bit strange that way. But hey, some of my characters are label queens, so it was fun.

Ended up walking our feet off.

Monday it rained. I was just shocked to walk outside and discover rain. I felt mad at myself for not packing an umbrella, but one second later, a guy came walking down the street carrying an umbrella and a garbage bag full of umbrellas, yelling "Umbrellas!"

Man, New York is freaking cool.

We had an appointment at the 9/11 Memorial site at 4 pm, so once again I got out my subway map, and we made our way to Daffy's and then Macy's. Had coffee and a burger at Macy's basement cafe. I bought some chocolate for my husband's grandmother, who has been watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade for years.

The walk to the Memorial site was pretty long, even though I took the recommended subway train to the recommended stop. We had to go through security measures similar to TSA, but I guess you do what you have to do.

When I was there in 2007, the site as still considered Ground Zero, a couple of holes in the ground surrounded by construction fencing. The 9/11 timeline was hung up along the fence, and it was an acutely painful experience.

This time was a bit different. The museum isn't completed yet, and the Freedom Tower is still under construction, but the holes in the ground have been turned into these beautiful pools with waterfalls on all four sides, with the names of the people etched into the ledges surrounding the pools. The experience wasn't as painful this time - it was melancholy, but also incredibly peaceful. I think the memorial pools are a very fitting tribute to the many lives lost, both on 9/11, and also the terrorist attack on the WTC in 1993.

Last, but certainly not least, we called our Expedia concierge to see if she could get us theater tickets for Monday night. And guess what? She could! We landed 5 rows behind the orchestra pit for Phantom of the Opera.

Whoa. And by that, I mean WHOA! Pretty amazing stuff!

Getting to the airport on Tuesday sucked, same as getting from the airport to the hotel on Thursday. We thought we were smart this time around and signed up for a shuttle. Hahahahahaha. Joke on us. We boarded the shuttle at 1:05, expecting to head to the airport. What actually happened is that we drove around Times Square from hotel to hotel for over an hour. Then the driver promised to get us to the airport by 4 pm.  4pm! We passengers revolted and demanded transport to the airport immediately, and arrived at JFK at 2:30. Plenty of time for our 4:20 flight, yes?

Um. No. We stood in line for TSA screening for 90 minutes, until a Delta employee pulled to the head of the line, basically because our airplane was waiting for us. JFK is apparently the Keystone equivalent of TSA - 2 agents checking IDs, and 3 lanes open for "stuff" and person screening - all serving THIRTY-ONE departure gates. Truly, truly ludicrous. I filed an official complaint/suggestion. No, my civil liberties were not violated (that was a previous trip), but the inefficiency of their system at JFK was shocking. I don't even know how they can do a good job when the people they are screened are exhausted and pissed off from standing in line, not to mention stressed that they're about to miss their plane.

Okay, I promised some insider tips. I'll try to make this quick.

1) Wear a plain shirt for your flight. I found out last year that "exciting" shirts with vines and rhinestones and little copper doo-dads on them look like bomb wires and connections to the x-ray machine, and will result in a full pat-down and having your hands tested for explosive residue. Trust.

2) Fly into La Guardia, rather than JFK, if at all possible.

3) Someone told me that you can get a shuttle from the airport to Grand Central Station for $12.50, and many hotels offer free shuttle service from there. (I didn't test this out - it's just what I heard).

4) The guy loitering by the Metro-Card machine will try to sell you a "barely used" unlimited ride card. I don't know if he's full of shit or not, but when he swipes the card and urges you through the barrier, he will ultimately separate you from your companion(s), and, I suspect, then give your companion a "hard sell." I didn't fall for it. I recommend you go ahead and buy a 7 day pass for $29. You can use it as much as you want, then give it away, perhaps to employees of your favorite eating establishment or deli/coffee shop.

5) The double-decker buses are cool if you don't know the city. The 48-hour hop-on/hop-off pass was totally worth the money. Try to get on them in the morning, but eat a good breakfast first!

6) When you need a cab, go to the nearest hotel door guy. They are super-awesome-friendly, and will flag you down a taxi in no time (and give him a tip for getting you the cab, even if he's not from your hotel). Also a good resource when you come up out of the subway station and have no idea which direction you need to walk in.

7) Find your mother something else to do if you want to attend a gay Hispanic poetry reading.

8) If you book through Expedia, an Expedia concierge will call you before your trip and offer you their services. Write down that person's phone number and work hours - they are a great resource if you want  to add excursions, tickets, and local attractions to your trip - even at the last minute!

9) You can pay for your NYcity cab with a credit card, even if the driver insists that he would much prefer cash. They are REQUIRED to accept credit/debit cards for payment. They might not want to tell you this, however.

10) In New York City, if you need an umbrella, there will be a guy selling them within 8 feet of you. Same thing if you need sunglasses. In Chinatown, the people mumbling at you are saying either "Buy handbags, ma'am?" or "Watch? You want watch?" I suspect these are the illegal, back-room sort of sales that can get you in trouble. Just saying. OH! And this - compare the prices at your hotel gift shop and other shops before you buy a bunch of stuff - I was shocked that the hotel shop, literally seconds away from my bed, was considerably cheaper than everywhere else.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SM Johnson ~Dinosaur Logic

Because it is Memorial Day, and because I can't remember the title of the book I want to talk about, AND I haven't even been able to find it with a keyword Google search, I am resurrecting a blog post from Gen-X: Parenting without a license.

My father passed in 2007, from cancer that he'd been battling for eight years. He was  sixty-six - and it was awful. I was a genuine Daddy's Girl, and my father was my hero. He was a good man, a fine, upstanding man, and he loved us well. He was a fireman. We didn't always agree, (he was a lot more conservative and I'm a lot more liberal), but we could argue our views, come to a stalemate, then let it go and move on.

So. Here is a tribute to my dad.

Dinosaur Logic

She says, “Mom, I can’t go to sleep because I’m scared.”

I’m more aggravated than sympathetic, because this just has the feel of a ploy to stay up past bedtime.  Or at least get me to snuggle in her bed for awhile longer, even though the alarm signaling the end of cuddle-time just went off.   “What are you afraid of?”

“Bears and dragons and dinosaurs.”

Well, okay, I’m thinking this is easy enough to fix.  “It’s winter time and all the bears are hibernating.”

“Every one of them?” she asks.

“Every one.  So there’s no reason to be afraid of bears.  And there’s no reason to be afraid of dragons because dragons aren’t real.”

“But dinosaurs are real!” she exclaims.

“Ah, well, dinosaurs used to be real.  But dinosaurs are extinct, which means they all died long, long before there were ever people on the earth.  God made the dinosaurs first, and then they all died, and maybe God thought people were a better idea.”

“But Mom, how come dinosaurs and people never lived on earth together?”

“Because the dinosaurs would have eaten all the people, and God wanted people to live on the earth for thousands and thousands of years.”

“But Papa didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” I retrace my words in my head trying to figure out what she’s telling me. It’s funny how we get to know our children so well that we can do that, isn’t it?  Like she’ll start telling me a story that started silently in her head a few sentences back, and after a couple more sentences I’ll have caught on to her logic, or realized what movie she’s talking about. We have conversations that would sound so random to a passerby they might think we’re speaking in code.

So after rethinking how I’d just explained God and people and dinosaurs, I figured it out. “No, Papa didn’t live for thousands of years. Maybe God needed Papa more than we did.”

“But we need our Papa!” She’s very definite on this point. 

I had no idea my dinosaur explanation would lead to a discussion on why people have to die. But I’ve been expecting these questions, so I’ve had some time to think of answers. And I know my daughter will never settle for just one answer.  “I guess we had our turn with Papa and now it’s God’s turn.”  

That sounds pretty good – she does a lot of taking turns in preschool.

“Do we get another turn?”

I was doing fairly well until this point, but the answer to this question slays me.   I feel that squeezing cringe in my nose and behind my eyes, and here come the sniffles.  “No,” I tell her, hardly able to speak, “we don’t.”

“That’s not fair!” she says in her angry, little-girl voice.

I have to agree.  It doesn’t feel fair, not one little bit. I’m not talking anymore because trying not to sob out loud. Partly I’m crying for me, and I know that. But mostly I’m crying for her. I have thirty-six years of memories of my father in my head. Thirty-six years of lessons in right and wrong and honesty and dignity and humor and goodness. She only has four. How much will she remember for herself?

And then I think of my nieces and how they got less time with my dad than I did. And my great niece.  She lost her great-grandpa who she knew and loved -  how do you explain that to a  two year old?  I cry some more.

And my mom, oh, my mom, who’s lived every marriage vow written. Who’s been strong, and scared, and sad, and hopeful and everything in between. She’s been his nurse and his cheerleader, his sweetheart, and his partner. And here she is, cut loose to find a new life. It surely isn’t fair.

I’m really on a crying roll now.

But then I realize that we’re lucky, in a way. My dad was only one half of a great set of parents. We still have one half of greatness here on earth to love. I feel a little better when I remind myself of that.

Now that my crying jag is under control, I still need to get my daughter to sleep. “Hey,” I tell her, “we’ll get another turn when we see Papa in Heaven, okay? And we’ll see Grandma tomorrow, so that’s all right.”

She was still awake a few minutes later when I was talking to my mom on the phone. One “good-night, sleep tight” from Grandma, and she snuggled right in.

Yeah, we’ll be okay.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

SM Johnson ~A Year of Sundays ch 11 pt 5

Chapter 11
Part 5 of 5

Elizabeth and Melanie, it seemed, had reached an impasse. Each had said what needed to be said, and they certainly weren't agreeing to disagree.

"What do you think?" Silas asked Joe, the therapist. "What if she was your sister?"

Joe seemed to think for a few seconds before answering. "I wouldn't like it," he finally said, and I could see a sort of raw honesty in his face that not everyone can project. "I mean, we do ECT every weekday, so it's pretty routine around here. But it's not a treatment option that should be considered lightly."

"Would you stop your sister?" Elizabeth asked. "Can we, as her family, stop her from doing this?"

Joe flashed us an exaggerated frown, almost a wince, and then he shrugged his shoulders. "None of you are living inside Melanie's skin, so you can't know the weight of her depression. You don't have to live with it, Melanie does. And if she trusts her doctor, and this is what he's recommending, well…" he spread his hands wide, palms up, and raised his eyebrows.

"See?" Melanie said. "He knows where I'm coming from. I told Jessie yesterday, I can't wrap my head around going through a dozen med adjustments right now. I'm grieving mom, I'm practically losing Caleb, and I feel like I've already lost myself. 

"Dr. B says that sometimes ECT works really fast. I think it's worth a try. He's always known how to help me." She looked at Joe. "Hey, you know that video, the one about ECT? Can they watch it?"

So we watched an educational video about ECT that didn't make any of us feel any better about it whatsoever. Liz didn't melt, Josie didn't say a word.

I wasn't sure what Melanie expected, if she thought it would help or what. And then she said, "I just want you guys to know what I know. I'm scared, too."

Ultimately, what we figured out, with Joe's help really, was that Mel was going to do what she would do, and the rest of us had very little control over it.

Liz asked me to go to her car and get a pair of slippers and a robe she'd brought for Melanie. I could see she was still pissed as hell that this "treatment" could go on without her approval, but she didn't want to fight about it with Melanie to the point where their relationship was damaged.

Silas said goodbye to Mel and walked out with me, collecting Jeremy along the way, and holding his hand all the way to our cars.

He caught me looking at their joined hands in the elevator, and mouthed "perv," only to receive a soft-knuckled punch from Jeremy.
At their car, I pressed my arms around Silas' neck in a hug, and he let go of Jeremy to hug me back, briefly. Then he pulled away, firmly, and said, "All right, Sissie, no need to get clingy and emotional."

I laughed. "You're getting different, Si, softer. I like it."

His head jerked back and slightly to the side, like he was offended.

"Gayer, you mean? Light in the loafers?" His tone stung like a needle-tipped dart.

"No, that's not what I meant at all. Just… kinder. More rational. It's a good change. Mom would be proud."

Jeremy rolled his eyes at us. "Ugh, such a sappy family," he said, but he was grinning as he opened his car door. "Can we go home now?" he asked Si, just before pulling the door closed.

"Cohabitating, are we? I thought you didn't have room."

"I'm pretty sure I said there was no room on the couch. I never mentioned my bed." He gave me a wide-eyed innocent look. "Mostly he stays with Josie. He only stays with me a couple nights a week."

I bit back a giggle. "Almost sounds like shared custody."

"Ha-ha, not funny, Jessamine."

I thought it was funny. He was still being offended that I said he was soft – maybe I chose the wrong word, what I meant was more that he seemed settled, relaxed, as if his sharp edges had been worn smooth.

Happiness can to that for a person, I guess. I got the bag of stuff for Melanie out of Liz's car and headed back into the hospital. When I walked in the door, there was Alex.

Before I could even be startled, she had her arms around me. "It's so good to see you, Jessie! How's Sam?"

A good feeling rushed into me like liquid sunshine, making this whole difficult day better.

"He's good. We're good," I said and hugged her back. She rocked me back and forth, hard, until I lost my balance and started giggling.

"It's great to see you, I've missed you!" I said. then wondered immediately where that came from. Had I missed her? And if I had, why, exactly?

"I'm visiting Mel," I blurted without thinking, and immediately regretted those words. Mel might not want people to know she was in trouble.

"Oh, no, is she in psych? I haven't seen her at any meetings, so I was wondering. Ah, man, I'm sorry." And, indeed, she looked quite crestfallen.

I shrugged and tried to do some damage control. "Yeah, well, med changes, I guess."

"That's too bad," Alex said. "I’d chat with you more, but my meeting starts in about five minutes. Hey, give me your phone number. I'll call you later."

She programmed my number into her phone, gave me another tight hug, and left me for her AA meeting.

Back on the psych floor nothing much had changed. Josie's cheeks were slightly red and her eyes huge in her face, and I could tell she was working hard to keep her emotions under control.

Liz's lips were still a tight line across her face, set in angry disapproval, and Melanie's silences were punctuated by the long, drawn-out sighs of the misunderstood.

I handed her the robe and slippers, and sat down on her bed.

The silence was deadly.

Again, I was transported back to my teenage years, feeling now the same heavy stone settling into the pit of my stomach when my sisters had fought about something neither could win, and had stopped speaking to one another.

I figured I'd give them three minutes, and then I was out of there.

I waited. The silence stretched until the room felt as tense as a balloon about to pop.

Two minutes was all I could stand. I wanted to say something really profound, something that would fix this whole mess.

But of course, instead of saying something profound, I said something completely stupid.