Race Part 5

Boy oh boy, today was a day full of contact with black people. That’s life in the city. And I’d love to hear credible, sincere advice from white or black people who have found a comfortable way to deal with these dicey issues. If you want to convince me that it isn’t race that’s the issue, that it’s class or something else, don’t think I haven’t investigated that possibility and decided that race is the salient issue in this part of the world. Not because I say it is. On the contrary, it is all the more the issue because we don’t talk about it.

First, I had to go show my rental house, which is 5 blocks North and 5 blocks West of my own home. But it’s a completely different ‘hood, which is somethingI can’t decide if I like about St. Paul or not. The color gradient darkens decidedly when you get North of Summit Avenue. It’s quite segregated, which many black people seem to take great pride in. It’s hard for me to argue against black people having a sense of their own community, on the one hand. On the other, I do think neighborhoods like mine (right on the twilight area where there is still somewhat of a mix) is healthier and better for everybody.

I’ve taken to placing ads on craig’s list, because it’s free and the people who surf the internet tend not to leave poop on the walls, broken windows and big ruts in the back yard when they go.

And while that has the effect of whitening my group of potential tenants (not completely), I believe that qualitative difference to be a matter of class, not race. All my previous tenants were on Section 8 housing assistance, and they were all black. People who use the internet and don’t rely on Section 8 seem much more invested in their home.

So I had Heather and Amber and Ashley and Micah and Abbie and Lakesha and Annie and Megan and Laura and Shanequa walk through the house. I got there a little early. Annie and Megan were already there. I was early, hoping to turn on the lights and make sure the toilets were flushed and stuff.

Oh… And also to make sure the apartment parking lot next door wasn’t awash with boom-boom cars, wads of cash, Newports and Colt 45s (the malt liquor, I mean). The partiers were all various shades of black. When we’ve called the cops or the management company, things calm down for weeks, but it’s hard to get renters to care that much.
So the girls walk in, looking a little uncomfy about the boom-boom conversion van and lawn chairs in the parking lot across the alley from their new potential pad. It isn’t looking good to them, or for me. I excused myself and leaned over the fence and hollered across the alley, “Could you-all turn the music down just a little? I’m going to be showing the house from 7 to 8, and it just doesn’t market well with loud music next door.”

The music went down, one guy elbowed another whose back was to me and nodded him in my direction. Every person gathered around the open van, malt liquor in hand, sat up straight and nodded. Most of them smiled and said, “Sure!” “No problem. Thanks for asking. We really appreciate your saying something.” I was a little befuddled but I got goose-bumps, and asked, “Better than calling the cops, huh?” “Waaay better. Thanks.”

The music died immediately and the crowd began to disperse. While I was talking about the washer and dryer, the doorbell rang. I was expecting quite a few potential renters, so this wasn’t a surprise. But it was one of the boom-boom guys,young, tall and dark, sideways baseball hat, gold tooth, saggy shorts and all. “Y’all showin’ the place. I might as well walk through!I be rentin this place any day.” He pimp-walked in and started talking smack. The kind of jaw flapping that doesn’t come naturally to people who are free of drugs or alcohol.

He was making me uncomfortable, and my potential renters, too. I stopped him in the living room and said, “You know what, get out of my house. Come back when you’re sober.” He was insulted. “I am sober. Woman, whatchyou…”

“You’re acting goofy and fucked up. I don’t like it. I ‘ve got a lot of people wanting to look at this place, and you’re not making it look good. Come back later. ” He was trying to be indignant, but he was too fucked up to really pull it off. I directed him bodily to the door while he sputtered about being able to pay the rent, pulling rolls of 20 dollar bills out of his pockets.

I was in it now. I didn’t think I could really back down. I put my hand on his chest and pushed him gently out the door and onto the porch, saying, “I don’t even want to hear about your cash, get outta here. I’m serious. Go.” My tone was a little conspiratorial, like it was him and me sort of having a little spat and keeping it down for the white girls in the other room.

He left in full form, shaking his head and jabbing his arms around. But when I looked out the window 3 minurtes later, all the cars and all the partyers including my gold-toothed friend were gone. Gone, gone gone.

Now this incident has many angles to it that are troubling to me. Not the least of which is my tendency to assume if I approach people (even black people, even young black men who make their money selling drugs) honestly, they will respect me and I won’t get shot. It isn’t always a safe assumption, and I don’t seem to be able to stop doing it. People do get shot doing this kind of thing. But I think more often, they reach a sort of truce.

I think the reports of some uppity neighborhood woman getting her comeuppance are exceptionally rare, but they scare us into not treating black people (or young people, or Latinos or some combination thereof) like people. We treat them like hand grenades or something else we’re really afraid of. And they notice. It isn’t good for black people and it isn’t good for white people.

It is what causes black kids and black women with kids on their hips to walk out into the middle of traffic, against the light, and dare you to honk your horn, or even make eye-contact. And it spirals right into badness.

Don’t think it escapes my notice that by me asking them to turn the music down while I have renters walking through, I am asking them to (temporarily) eliminate the ghetto appearance. Like when they sweep out the beggars before the pope comes in. The thing about that is, that the renters could do the same thing after they move in. It seems so much more healthy to have people move in and deal with the reality then, than to have them blanch and decide they’d really rather live in the suburbs or Highland Park.

I’m glad I spoke to the group of people playing the boom-boom music. Glad I pushed the tall black guy out of my rental house. But I wish I could shake the feeling that speaking to people who misbehave directly will maybe get me shot. That’s the racism I fight. I try to behave like I don’t care, like I haven’t heard the stories. But I have. What to do?

I did my showing and came back home. Before bedtime I decided to do a little DDR (Dance Dance Revolution, the only video game I have ever loved). At 10pm the doorbell rings. As I went to the door, I said to myself, “If it’s someone I don’t know, I’m, not answering it.” But it was. And I did. It was a black guy my age (maybe 35 or so). Clean shaven, roundfaced and attractive. And drunk.

He had a story about getting my name from the neighbors (thanks a lot neighbors) and that he needed 9 dollars. His daughter had a reaction to her insulin and she was down at regions. She had a bad kidney and he was just coming back from his job at the Toro plant in (I don’t know where) putting together snow-blowers and lawn-mowers. He showed me his slippers as evidence of I don’t know what.

I can honestly say that i didn’t have 9 dollars. “Maybe your husband…” he motioned to Andy who was lurking, like a good guardian, in the dark behind me. As Andy searched his pockets and came up with 8 dollars and 12 cents I asked the guy what good 9 dollars was going to do him for his daughter. He wasn’t going anywhere until he got the 9 bucks, by the way, so Andy went to gather change.

“Well I got to pay the co-pay. It’s nine dollars. Actually, it cost 148 dollars, but I just got to pay the 9. She got all sorts a problems, my daughter does. I come back tomorrow morning before 10 and I get you your nine dollars back.” I told him to just stick it in the mailbox. Why I said that I don’t know, because I’d bet nine dollars that he won’t be coming back with the cash.

He got a little huffy at the idea that I didn’t want him to ring the doorbell and hand me the cash directly. But when he got the rest of the 9 dollars he was profuse with his thanks. “Oh thanks, mister and miss, thank you. My son thanks you.”

Wait a minute. Did you notice that?

Dude never came back. I hope his hermaphrodite child made it through the night.

Oh Yeah. Twenty Years.

I’m glad I went to my 20 year reunion. I think I was the first person to leave, But then again, I was one of the first to arrive.

Other than a previously bitchy girl totally bonding with me because I asked her how she was (and meant it), everyone was more or less as I left them 5 years ago. Some were balder, many were heavier. And I’ll just admit it up front that some of the fat-ass-ability made me smile to myself. Mea culpa

I have to agree with my friend, Dave, who frequently haunts my blog, that I wished I could just watch from above and not be seen or have to interact with people. Although when a grade-school mate came up to me, I was pretty tickled. I saw him and remembered him fondly, but for some reason I was paralyzed and couldn’t go over and give him a hug. I think it was that he always passed muster with the trendy kids, and was surrounded by them at the time. Isn’t that so goofy?

I’m still intimidated by the fact that I didn’t quite fit in in high school. Even though it has become aparent to me that firstly, highschool standards don’t really exist outside highschool. I easily associate and enjoy the company of people who wouldn’t have given me the time of day back then. Secondly, many of those people who had expensive haircuts and Girbaud jeans were at their peak in 1987. I like to thinkI’m still on my way up. Lastly, I like myself better now. I may still have post traumatic clique syndrome, but I’ve befriended or battled many of my demons, and I don’t much care who knows about those I’m still struggling with.

But it got me thinking about people I knew back then. All the ex-boyfriends who no longer see fit to associate with me (and a few who do), the girlfriends who just fell off the face of the map, the people I pushed away while I figured myself out. So I started to look them up. Only one has gotten back to me, but I can’t wait to get together with her. It’s like a little treasure hunt to re-connect with people and find out what you still have in common.

Here I Go Again: England

Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve comitted myself to travel. What is wrong with me?

It should be a fabulous trip. I mean that. The activity is right up my alley (archeological dig with Earthwatch International). The climate is temperate (72 for a high and 50ish for lows), the language is one I speak fluently (English, albeit a British variety), the company couldn’t be better (my very own Dad). I even know one person in the nearest big town, Newcastle upon-Tyne.

The food promises to be familiar, yet strange. I have a feeling lots of the experience will be like that. What with BBC in the evenings, Good Neighbors, Fawlty Towers, The Full Monty and my own son’s penchant for appearing British… it will probably seem like being in a movie. I’ll let you know once I’m there.

I have lots to do before I leave on Tuesday night (7pm). This trip has been in the works for months. Actually, it was another trip that was in the works. We were going to go to Peru. The Peruvian crew tried twice to get their act together and twice had to cancel. Both times it was cancelled just a week before we were supposed to leave. The English trip already had the permits together and was actually less expensive than the Peruvian one.

We can drink the water (so I’m told) in England. Bathroom facilities seem to be available (not so much in the Peruvian trip). No Scorpions or Black Widow Spiders (affirmative on both counts in Peru). We get to fly out overnight, business class. Seems like an upgrade, doesn’t it? Yeah, well.

Here are the drawbacks: Since they speak English, how am I going to impress my dad? Speaking Spanish was my only real qualification for the last trip. And it was the only thing I would be better at than my dad. Dang.

Plus, in Peru, I would stick out. Period. No amount of dressing like the locals would help me blend in. So my trip clothes were mostly light, layerable and disposable. No worries about fashion sense or looking like a clod. I would have always been excused as a Gringa. But in England? Well, I’m sure I’ll stick out. But it might be because I look like a crazy person. Dressing just close enough to normal that I don’t look like a foreigner, but far enough away that I don’t blend in at all.

I seem to recal the in Europe people wear much quieter colors than we do here. I think I’ll be OK, because I usually dress in more neutral colors. But what if only lunatics wear ankle socks? What if the layered look is a subtle signal to people that you’re a prostitute? Oh my god, what if people in the UK iron their clothes? What if zippered pockets is a shibboleth for the lesbian underground?

Also, in London, where we’ll spend the night and one dayI think, hmmm. Let me explain something here– I can’t memorize or study my schedule for reasons which are unclear to me, but have to do with my general mental health. And as an aside to the aside– in many instance I pass for a perfectly normal person. I’m serious. Lots of people don’t understand the precariousness of my mental health. But this is between us, right?

About the schedule. I can’t memorize it, cant study it, can’t ponder it much. My dad explained it to me in quite a detailed way. He was excited about the trains running right on time, and some hotel being right upstairs at the train station. I took notes, and I will refer to them if I need them. But picturing the actual journey in any detail makes my stomach hurt. So I don’t do it.

But in London there are drawbacks. Things like red double-deckered busses, or red shiny phone booths, things which are iconic to London. Like those one fuzzy-hatted guys who don’t smile. Like Big Ben and the Queen. Those things have two aspects about them which make me very nervous. First, at this moment they are mere figments of my mind. Things I have seen pictures of, heard about; but might not, in fact exist. Are you with me? There is something about me being in that place, with those things, that seems very wrong. Partially because I know for sure I exist. And putting me in a picture of London seems quite wrong.

More seriously and concretely, I am terrified of dying on foreign soil. I don’t know why, it is inexplicable, but I am afraid of dying on a trip. I’m pretty sure (and please bear with me here) that if I get on the tube, or in a red phone booth or a double-decker bus, that I’ll die in a tragic accident or terrorist attack. I don’t watch TV news, don’t generally read the paper or news magazines. So it isn’t news overload.
Maybe if I heard about some other people’s irrational fears I wouldn’t be so frozen. And I don’t mean someone’s uncle Edgar who’s afraid of his own toes. I mean people who pass for normal until you run into their particular phobia. I like to think of mine as pretty normal phobias. They are:

Anything with more than 4 legs, the more legs, the worse the phobic reaction, except for a few exceptions.

Crowds of people. I hate crowds. Even in my own house, crowds make me nervous, but crowds in public places make me very certain I am going to die.

Public spaces such as the Mall of America. I am very afraid of dying in a place like the Mall. It has something to do with dying in a stupid place, and being associated with it for my eternity. I think it’s a coping mechanism. If I hear of some building collapse at a discotec, I immediately tell myself why those poor people are not like me. Well, first of all, I don’t go to the disco…

And I know if I die at the mall, some person like me will be saying, “I hate the mall, I hardly ever go there. Poor bastards, shouldn’t have gone to the mall.” But I will be dead and unable to defend myself by saying, “But I had to meet my relatives there. It’s not my kind of place.” The short answer to that phobia is to say not to distance myself from the victims of tragedy. But in doing that, my heart breaks wide open. That’s why I stopped reading the paper.

Flying. Flying is not right, it’s not cool, it’s terrifying. That ‘s my most paralyzing phobia. I get stomach aches about a week before I fly. The exit to the airport makes me feel sick, even if I’m just picking someone up or dropping them off. From the time I get on the plane until I get off the plane I am certain I am going to die.

And if dying weren’t bad enough, I am going to fall a very long way or burn alive before I die. It kind of goes hand in hand with my last phobia.

Heights. I know of people who are afraid of heights because they think they’re going to jump. Can’t understand it. I am afraid of falling. Whether I jump or am pushed or slip or my plane malfunctions, doesn’t matter. Falling is very bad. And don’t even start with the whole, “falling is easy, it’s landing that sucks.” Because I disagree. The falling makes it way worse.

So the next three weeks will almost certainly involve me worrying and fretting. It’s fun to watch. I’ll share. I’m happy to take advice. But I’ve found that taking drugs is more effective. So I fly in a drugged state. I am told by my husband that the drug is Ativan, but it tends to give people amnesia, so I’m not all that sure.


Here is what we have so far:

headstone front

headstone back

It’s hard to imagine in granite, and in three dimensions. The letters look a little funky to me, but they only have two fonts and one is arial-ish and this is the other one. It looks classic in real life. Even if it looks like college football team lettering in the sketch.

I guess it’s hard to go wrong with tombstones. It will feel good to have it done. AS soon as I get the OK from all my siblings, it’s a go.