Pick and Mix

We have a serious package theft problem in my building. So many things have been stolen in the last two years. Deliveries went missing before the pandemic, yes, but these two years of financial hardship have amped up the stealing. I understand being desperate, but no one in this building has much money, and stealing isn’t cool any time.

As terrible as it is to say, I was actually glad when I learned that other people were being robbed. For a while, the thefts felt targeted. No one was talking about it, and I thought I was the only person losing packages.

Whoever is stealing my things must have such an interesting sense of who I am. One thing they for-sure know about me is that I’m a fat woman. They have stolen package after package of clothing orders. I am the fattest person I’ve ever seen in this building. By a significant degree. Why the fuck do the thieves keep taking clothes they can’t wear?!

So they know I’m “a person of size.” Here’s a shortlist of other things they’ve taken that maybe round out their picture of me:

  1. A DVD of The Godfather, Part II
  2. A pair of semiprecious pendulums, one onyx, one tourmaline
  3. A set of cookie cutters
  4. Fingering and laceweight yarn and some silk roving
  5. Vitamins and body lotion
  6. A set of markers and a couple of coloring books

Now, for all of these thefts but one, the shipper has either refunded or reshipped. So I have just about all of my purchases. It still sucks.

The gem store that I bought the pendulums from refused to reship or refund. We had a lengthy email exchange, but they wouldn’t budge. Their reasons? First, they were so sorry, but I couldn’t prove I didn’t receive the package, and I could easily be lying to them. And while that’s true, it’s pretty ugly. Also, how am I supposed to prove to you that I didn’t receive a package? Send you photos of my empty hands? What? Second, they asked me to understand their position as a small business. Those products were expensive, and it would be a hardship for them to refund my purchase. Excuse me? Yes, those pendulums were expensive. The thief had them. The shop had my money. The only person who got nothing in that exchange was me, and losing that money was no small thing for me, either. Obviously, I won’t be shopping there again.

Twice, the thieves have expressed their judgment of me and my shopping choices. Right before lockdown, I came home and found a bag on my doorknob. Inside was an opened package and a note saying the package had been delivered to another apartment by accident … um … except, packages don’t get delivered to our doors. And, even if they did, you’d figure out the error by looking at the label, right? You wouldn’t need to open the package — and open the inner packaging — to discover it wasn’t for you. I guess the slipcovers I bought for my chairs were particularly unappealing, so completely unappealing that the thief decided to give them to me. I’m guessing they wanted me to know how undesirable those slipcovers were so I’d step up my game and start buying more attractive and steal-worthy items.

During a weird moment of early Covid, I bought not one, not two, but … FOUR manual typewriters. (I’m not kidding. Let’s not even try to understand why.) It should only have been three. I fell in love with and bought a blue Royal Safari. Then I bought two similar blue typewriters because I thought the three would look so nice side by side displayed across the top of my bookcases.

But the Royal was stolen. Super-quickly, too. I got the delivery notification when I was on my way home from work, and the box was gone by the time I got home 30 minutes later. I was so mad about the theft, I went to eBay the second I got in the house, found and purchased another Safari. (Seriously. I am ridiculous, but I stay totally on-brand. It’s a really lovely typewriter … makes me think of Eero Saarinen and the TWA terminal, which does and doesn’t make sense.)

The next day, I opened my door and found the box on the threshold, open, all the packing materials spilling out, and my Royal sitting there, waiting for me.

That thief must have been so angry. They must have thought they’d really scored with such a nice, heavy box. I would have loved to see the look on their face when they got through the packaging and found a MANUAL TYPEWRITER!

I’m sure they cursed my name. I just wish that failed theft had inspired them to not steal from me, had put the fear of ugly slipcovers and typewriters into them. Alas.

On my floor — and I imagine this is happening on other floors, too — we’ve taken to bringing one another’s packages upstairs when we see them. I love this about my floor neighbors. It’s a little comical that, like the thieves, I am developing a clear sense of my neighbors’ shopping habits … and they’re learning about mine.

Maribel down the hall is an Amazon fanatic! The elderly couple next door to her buys paper goods in bulk (at a rate that I struggle to fathom). K across the hall reads a lot of uber-cool art and culture magazines that are too long to fit in the mailbox. And Yana at the other end of the hall has had several plant deliveries (it’s from bringing up her packages that I learned about the online plant store from which I’ve now acquired several new plants).

I appreciate this new way my floor neighbors and I are taking care of each other, but things still go missing. We can’t all be home all the time to catch deliveries before the thieves go shopping in the mailroom like at pick-and-mix.

When I cut my hair, I came home from the barber and had a moment of freak-out because I didn’t have a pick. I hadn’t owned a pick for decades, and I hadn’t thought at all about needing new tools. Naturally, I went right online to order something (yes, I have a shopping problem). I bought a very basic, cheesy one — metal teeth with a Black power fist on the handle. Of course. (Let me pause here to say how annoyed I was to find it called a “pik” or a “pic.” Are you kidding? Why would it make sense to drop a letter?)

I got the delivery notification mid-day yesterday, got home from work and found … nothing.

Great. It’s the first theft in a while. And it’s not earth-shattering. It just pisses m off. I wanted that pick. Obviously, I’ve been doing my hair for almost two wee sand have realized that I don’t really need the pick. But I wanted it. And now I don’t have it.

I am sympathetic about people having a rough time financially, especially during the last two years. But we’re neighbors. We’re supposed to be a community of some sort, and you’re so comfortable stealing from people you probably have the audacity to smile at in the elevator or hold the door for? Ugh.

Also, I know my sense of my building as a community is super naive. I know it.

But I’m right too. I had the ability to live with that belief for the ten years in my old apartment. Packages were left outside the house — sometimes half-hidden behind the trash cans, sometimes left in plain view — and I never lost a single one.

Yes, we were much more of a community there, but anyone and everyone could and did walk by the house. And somehow everyone managed not to steal anything. And yes, that wasn’t during the pandemic, but it was during the Great Recession.

Sigh. I have no cause and effect here. No real point, either. I just want people to stop stealing my stuff. Full stop. (And now Thieves in the Temple is in my head … a Prince earworm is never a bad thing, but I don’t want to associate that song with this mess.)


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Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Serendipity or Divine Intervention?

At the last adult education program I ran, the program assistant used to smile and shake her head at me when she’d see my heart melting over some of our more in-need-of-a-hug students. My “benditos” she called them. (Don’t misunderstand: quiet as it was kept, her heart was just as squishy as mine. In fact, all of my benditos were hers, too.)

Admittedly, I was then and I continue to be a pushover, especially for young people who’ve been thrown away by the system — education, justice, employment, legislative. My heart yearns to adopt every last one of them. In that years-ago job, I had the opportunity to offer them kindness and acceptance, to give them a little bit of a soft place to land. And every time I bent a rule or gave one of those young people yet another chance, our program assistant would shake her head and smile. Because I was being my usual bleeding-heart self … and because she expected no less of me.

Some of my beloveds were able to find strong foot- and hand-holds and fight their way up from whatever was holding them down. Some weren’t. Or, were only able to go so far. All of them deserved so very much better than the hands they were dealt.

I left work tonight and walked a subway stop so I could get some more steps in. When I got to the train, I saw that I’d missed a call from the coworker I’d left in the office. Turned out, she’d locked herself out of the suite, so I walked back, went upstairs, and let her in.

When I left the build the second time, I contemplated getting on the train but decided to walk the stop again, get some more steps. (All told, I added about 1500 to my daily total with this unexpected extra to-ing and fro-ing.) I thought this story would be my story for tonight, short, kindly, done.

As I went down into the train, a deep voice called behind me, “Excuse me, miss, ma’am?” 

There was no way I wasn’t going to turn around at the landing. Unsure if I’m a miss or a ma’am? Yeah, that sounds like someone I’d have bent the rules for at my old job. That probably sounds silly, but I have a good gut instinct most days, and I trust it. I turned around.

A very young, slight man, grown-ish, but still more baby than brother, not nearly grown enough that he couldn’t have been my grandson.

He handed me a paper and asked if I could help him find the precinct noted in the upper right corner. “They just let me out and I’m trying to go get my stuff.” He took a step back from me. “I don’t need to touch your phone or nothing. I know how that goes. But maybe you could look it up?”

I did, found that the precinct he needed was nearly an hour away.

Let’s think about that. This kid was arrested for something. Was arrested in the neighborhood where that precinct is. They brought him downtown, I have to assume, for court. And they just released him because, I’m going to assume, whatever they’d arrested him for didn’t stick (or they had no good reason to arrest him in the first place but could so did). They brought him downtown to go to court and were so certain they’d get to keep him locked up they didn’t bother to bring his things downtown with him. It’s winter. This baby had on a t-shirt and a wisp-thin hoodie. They didn’t even let him put on a damn coat. And then, when they didn’t get to put him back in jail, they just put him on the street all the way downtown, no money, no anything, just a piece of paper telling him where he could go to pick up his things.

We are, more often than not, a pretty hideously cruel species. What the actual fuck?

I told him the precinct wasn’t close, showed him what train he’d need to take to get there. We kept going down the stairs. I asked if he had money for the fare. He said no, that he figured he’d show the paper at the token booth and hope the agent was nice. I’m not saying that wouldn’t be possible, but we were going into an entrance that didn’t have a token booth. I told him I’d swipe him in. But then it turned out I didn’t even have enough money on my fare card to swipe myself in. I asked him to wait, so I could load up my card. Again, he stepped away from me, clearly wanting me to be aware that he wasn’t a threat to me, wasn’t going to try grabbing my wallet when I went to the machine. As if I would have been afraid of this kid. My gut had already passed judgment. I knew I was safe.

I put money on my card and swiped him in. He thanked me very sincerely. I told him I was happy to help. We heard his train coming. He put his hands over his heart, bowed a little, and ran down to the platform.

Obviously, my evening went exactly as it was supposed to. I was supposed to walk the subway stop rather than get immediately on the train so that I was above ground to get the message from my coworker so I could walk back and let her into the suite. I was supposed to walk the subway stop again so that I’d be the person heading into the station in front of that sweetheart of a boy who needed a little kindness to send him on his way.

I accept that, the serendipity of all of that.

What I don’t accept is the casual lack of care with which that boy — and far too many boys and girls like him — was treated. For him to be turned out onto the street after his trip to court is ugly. You know you’ve taken him far from home, far from an area that is familiar to him, far from his belongings. And yet you throw him out like so much chaff. Into a winter night when he has no coat. As if you hope he jumps a turnstile to get himself home so that you can arrest him again. As if you don’t want him to have a chance. As if he is worth not the briefest nanosecond of thought.

How could you not see his soft eyes? How could you not hear his warm voice? How could you not notice the way he moved his body so carefully to make sure you would know he was not a threat? How could you not feel the knife in your heart when he hunched into himself, ready for sharp rejection when he asked for help?

If Linda had been with me tonight, she would have shaken her head and smiled. She would also have put that boy in the backseat of her car and driven him to the precinct and then home. And not because she and I are the world’s biggest softies (though we might be) but because that boy was a boy, a child, a young person who deserved better than what he’d been handed. He was someone’s baby. And, for those few minutes we spent together at the Jay Street station tonight, he was my baby.


It’s the 15th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Better than a message from our sponsors …

My city has been producing an evolving series of PSAs starring the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. And now, the Deputy Commissioner as well. They’re all about Covid and how to protect and care for ourselves and others, how to take on this fight together as one big family in this city.

When I first started seeing the PSAs a couple of months ago (interrupting my very important binge-watching on ParamountPlus), I thought they were silly. Did I really need messages from the amiable and nerdy, soft-spoken Dr. Chokshi? Turns out, yes. Yes, I did. Not because I was learning new information but because Chokshi and now his Deputy Commissioner, Dr. Morse, are so grounding and reassuring. There is something gentle and confident and comforting about both of them.

And, too, I did learn something from Dr. Dave (he calls himself this, I’m not being overly casual). In one of his newer PSAs, he reviews the three kinds of masks recommended to keep us Omicron-safe … which is how I learned (FINALLY!) the name of the mask I’ve been wanting to try: the Kf94. I’ve been seeing people wearing these masks (they’re quite common), but every time I ask someone what it’s called, they’ve told me it’s a KN95 … which is a totally different mask.

So, I’ve just ordered a batch of these “fish mouth” masks (does anyone really call them that?!), and I’m hopeful that they’ll work better for me than the N95s and KN95s I’ve struggled with.

I will now acknowledge that I love these tiny PSAs, these quick hits of health info. Love them. Dr. Dave and Dr. Michelle are pleasing the mess out of me. I would love to know whose idea these spots were. Who looked at Dr. Chokshi and said: yes, this guy is exactly who the city needs to hear from during commercial breaks. I’d like to shake that person’s hand and commend their cleverness. Dr. Chokshi is a hit, and now so is Dr. Morse. They’re a one-two punch of public health help.

*

And yes, there’s more to the fabulousness of these PSAs than the Covid messages that are being given. Both the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner are BIPOC. Both appear on camera in lab coats with their names embroidered over the breast pocket. And I can’t help but think about the power of that image, the power of seeing this brown man and Black woman standing and delivering, representing the formal administration of health and safety for this city full of brown and Black people.

There’s always someone who questions how much representation matters, who questions whether it matters at all. I’m not here to argue nonsensical questions. It matters. Full stop. These PSAs are plentiful, and they’re quick, tossed into the sea of ads that fill in the spaces between segments of our chosen programming. Seeing Doctors Chokshi and Morse over and over in their quiet minute-long spots is sending an even quieter message, one that I am definitely here for.

*

I am making myself laugh, seeing how into these PSAs I am … and now I’m even more into them because I’ve just seen a new one that features the First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer at DOHMH, Dr. Torian Easterling. Dr. Easterling is a big, Black man with a resonant, calmingly authoritative voice. He’s also someone I met back when I worked in the Mayor’s Office and whom I’ve liked and admired for years.

These PSAs are exactly what I needed right now. I wish I could also believe they will be the magic bullet that will help turn the tide here, bump up our vax percentage and get the unmasked to straighten up and fly right. I don’t see that happening as a result of gentle PSAs, but a girl can dream.

In the meantime, I’m just enjoying seeing “the city’s doctor” encourage sanity and compassion. Thanks, Dr. Dave!


It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
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Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Getting by with a little help from our friends.

Rearranging my position
On this friend of mine who had
A little bit of a breakdown.
I said breakdowns come
And breakdowns go.
What are you gonna do about it,
That’s what I’d like to know … *
The all-important question that I won’t be asking anyone any time soon.
Had a troubling conversation earlier with a friend who is definitely entering cabin-fever-freak-out territory. She’s been home longer than I have and called me today to discuss some catastrophe options she has been debating with herself.
Let me just say here that discussing — in a level of painful detail — catastrophe options is not a thing I want to be spending my time doing out loud. It’s bad enough that I have these thoughts from time to time. I don’t need to say them into the cosmos.
My friend is really scared, and I feel for her. We are scared. Most of us, maybe especially here in New York City, are scared. That’s real. And the reality of it makes it hard to take on someone else’s fears along with our own.
I said this to my friend, and she laughed. She acknowledged that she’d had “a stress explosion” all over me. “But,” she said, “didn’t I also give you today’s blog post?”
And look at that. She did.
I don’t want my friend to be so scared. She’s having trouble being home alone for such an extended period of time. That’s a problem I’m not having, so I tried to help her think of ways to fill her time more effectively. What she really needs, of course, is not to be on lockdown. I can’t do that for her. I offered to spend time with her virtually, as long as that time wasn’t spent thinking of all the terrible things that could become realities. I definitely can’t do that for her. We’re going to try streaming movies together. I hope something about that experience helps her.
It’s hard to take care of people from a distance. But this is what we have. We have each other long distance. We have whatever ways we can reach out, whatever ways we can offer calm, whatever ways we can be a listening ear, whatever ways we can offer a welcome distraction. Whatever ways.
__________
* Paul Simon, “Gumboots” (Graceland)

It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

The Wild Unknown

Since August of last year, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting a monthly storytelling event at an art gallery in Brooklyn. This is the show’s sixth season. It was started by a poet who has a love of the oral tradition, of the magic of stories around the campfire. Every year, he selects a pair of hosts, and every month the hosts bring two storytellers in to share 15-minute tales with the always-appreciative audience.

Three years ago, a friend of mine was hosting and he invited me to come tell a story. OMG, but that was fun! I was crazy-nervous, but it was also great to get to share some of myself in that way.

When I was asked to host, I was excited to give it a try. I had, however, no idea what I was getting myself into. Finding storytellers is hard. But really hard. Sometimes people say “Yes!” right away, but sometimes I ask one person after another and come up empty again and again. And even once I have people, I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t asked people who are storytellers, and everyone is super nervous about having to tell a story — not read something they’ve written, but stand in front of people and tell. I’ve asked people who are interesting to me, people who I know have a lot of interesting things about them. These things don’t mean they’ll tell a good story, but I am lucky: they always do tell good stories! The challenge of coming to be a storyteller unlocks a new door for them, I think. I mean, many of the people I’ve invited are writers, so they definitely understand a lot about how stories work. But writing a story isn’t really as much like telling one as you might think.

One pure joy of this hosting journey has been my completely delightful co-host, a young woman who is an artist and an actor and who creates in so many amazing ways, and who is full of energy and light. We connected as soon as we were introduced, and are already planning future projects to work on after our hosting year has ended. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!

We’ve been having a lot of fun on this ride … and then COVID-19 hit. Our little Park Slope gallery with barely enough space for five people to distance themselves socially wasn’t going to be open for this month’s event. So … we did what half the world has done lately: we went on Zoom!

I was nervous: what if no one showed up, what if my computer froze (it’s done that in a few of my meetings this week), what if someone noticed that my house is a mess?! You know, all the worries.

But … all the worries were over nothing. Tonight was so much fun!

A — People came. As we approached start time, my computer screen started to do that intro-to-the-Brady-Bunch thing with all the squares popping up to show who’s joining the meeting. Not only did people come, but they came from places they wouldn’t normally be able to join from! We had folks joining from Long Island and Colorado. My cohost is Australian, and her mom zoomed in from outside Melbourne! So tonight was our first international showcase!*

B — People were so nice. This is one of the things I love about our in-person event, the way the audience is always ready to embrace the storytellers. And that was definitely true tonight.

C — The storytellers were sweet and open and wonderful. It’s such a gift to have people give you their stories, to trust you to hear them. I feel so lucky every time.

Every month, we have a theme for the evening. We’ve tried to have our themes connect to whatever show is up in the gallery. And we pick them well in advance. This month’s theme was “The Wild Unknown,” picked when we had no idea we were about to be plunged into the wildest of unknowns. Couldn’t have had a better theme for tonight.

COVID-19 didn’t beat us, couldn’t keep us down! We laughed and cried and laughed together. Which is maybe a good thing to remember as we shelter in place and pray for safe passage through this unsettling and straight-up terrifying time.

Storytelling can move us. Storytelling can connect us. Storytelling can make magic even when we’re not in the same physical space together. Storytelling is how we weave ourselves and our worlds together. I am so lucky to be a part of this. And I can’t wait to do it again in April!

__________
* I really just want to say, “Wicked cool!” when I’m this happy and excited. I’m trying to rein it in …


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot