Slogans, Slogans, and More Slogans

January 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket | 5 Comments

I revel in incongruity, and what better place to find it than on English language T-shirts worn by those who don’t speak or understand English. 

There was the girl who studied English where I taught in Cancun with the T-shirt that said “Blondes do it better.”  Sure, we do it better, but this young woman’s hair was as black as a crow’s wing.

And the dimunitive Mayan man with the T-shirt that said, “I’m shy…but I’ve got a big dick.”  I wonder if he knew what he was advertising.

I’m now compiling a list of slogans that I’d like to see on T-shirts.

Number one right now is “Fuck it, I live in the Bucket.”  I adore this slogan, and would want to rock a T-shirt that has it all day, every day.  However, I am wary of the profanity.  But this slogan encapsulates so much about the attitude of the Bucketeers very succintly.

I’m not sure if it was the Pawtucket Arts Council or some other institution, but when they were pushing the dubious arts renaissance, someone came up with the slogan “Pawtucket, the Paris of Blackstone Valley.”  Um, not so much.

I’d prefer something more truthful, like “Come to Pawtucket, We’re Scrappier.”  Unfortunately, when I ran this one by a friend, she heard “Come to Pawtucket, We’re Crappier.”  With the city’s inferiority complex, I hesitate to highlight anything that could be construed as encouraging the generally downtrodden nature of a city who is in the process of defining itself.

This sentiment led me to dismiss the next slogan, “Welcome to Pawtucket! Now Fuck Off!”  This one is unfortunately very close to the truth, what with the city’s schizo approach to alternately pushing for investment and growth and then making the process of setting up shop here utterly frustrating and circuitous.

The last slogan is time-sensitive, what with the funding cycle for Pleasant View Weed & Seed over and only one year left for Woodlawn Weed & Seed.  I hope to make my last Weed & Seed hurrah a limited-edition run of T-shirts that say “Woodlawn Weed & Seed: We Make Less Bad Shit Happen in Your Neighborhood.”

A Convo with Your Highness

January 27, 2008 at 11:26 am | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 3 Comments

In any given week, I have to hassle this one client of mine innumerable ways.  Since I’ve started working with him, I’ve said the following: put your hair in cornrows, nobody hires a kid with a gigantic Afro; take off the do-rag; pull up your pants; don’t say the N-word; stop pissing off the GED teacher; take off your headphones, and on and on.

But last week, I had a conversation that I never thought I’d have.  Your Highness was amped because he was coming to get his taxes done for what he earned at his summer job, and he made me promise I’d be at work to receive him.  We do free taxes for low-income residents of the Bucket and our first night was this Wednesday.  He sauntered in just at 8:30 and there were about ten kids from his high school there just finishing up a meeting. 

Your Highness was incredibly ripped, and the first thing I said to him was, “Dude, open your eyes!!”  He tried to open his bloodshot eyes a little bit, but with the combination of the bright, fluorescent lights and the fact that he probably had half a blunt’s worth of smoke in his lungs, his attempt was half-hearted at best.

I partly found his state hysterically funny, but I was also somewhat annoyed that he chose to get cartoon-high just before showing up where I work.

I presume that my proper “social worker lady” role is to denounce any and all forms of drug use, no matter what my personal take on the matter is.  But I can’t in good conscience take the “Just Say No” stance on pot-smoking, no matter what my professional responsibility is.

So first thing the next day, I went to visit him where he takes his GED classes.  He had ended early, so I offered to drop him off on the way to my office.

My “social worker lady” talk went horribly awry in the first few minutes.  I asked him if he realized that he smelled like he went swimming in bong water before coming to the center, and just before I said bong water, he chimes in with “swimming in a reefer pool?”  Yes, Your Highness…swimming in a reefer pool is an excellent analogy, especially because I don’t if people even use bongs anymore, what with the prevalence of the Dutch Masters. 

I brought up the fact that many employers give drug tests before hiring, and we talked a bit about drug tests.  I asked if he smoked daily, and he told me: “No, not daily, but just about everyday.”  Um, Your Highness, daily means just about every day.  He giggled and said I was right. 

He told me that he’d thought about quitting, but that there’s nothing better to do and pot is everywhere.  I suggested that he perhaps cut down a bit, if only to be able to pass a drug test, rather than stop altogether. 

By now he’s looking at me like I’ve just sprouted horns. 

I conclude my half-arsed anti-drug talk by suggesting that he hydrate himself well in the event that someone requests that he pee in a little cup.  I shut myself up before telling him that the people who work at medical clinics that do drug tests tend to find it suspicious when someone’s pee is as clear as tap water, and that one needs to do some fast-talking to explain why. 

I wonder what he took away from this little convo.  I’ve no problem with telling someone that crack is whack or that crystal meth rots your teeth and makes you want to steal car rims, but I can’t do the same for reefer.  Hell, most of my friends piss seeds and stems, to paraphrase my beloved David Sedaris.

How could I have handled this better?

Bad Boys, Bad Boys Whatcha Gonna Do?

January 21, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Quirks | 4 Comments

I’m pretty critical of the United States, and usually have no problem with letting my discontent rip. 

But there are a few things that make me all giddy about living in this country.

The first is Cops.  I love this program more than I can express.  I can watch three hours of back-to-back episodes of Cops and still be hungry for more.  What a great nation I live in, where the issues and transgressions of my depraved countrymen can be broadcast into my living room.  I eat it up. 

I am currently composing a list called “What I’ve Learned from Watching Cops” and am eager to share the results with you once I have more than three items on my list. 

I also adore Triple A. (AAA) and in fact, get choked up whenever I ponder how helpful these people are.

Since I’ve had a car to drive, AAA has come to my rescue numerous times:

  • after Homeboy left the headlights on this Saturday, AAA arrived 2.5 minutes after I put in the call to jump start my car.
  • they towed me from Narragansett to my parents’ house in Seekonk this summer when a belt snapped on my car.  The tow truck driver showed me a grass farm.  Apparently Rhode Island has one of the best grass farms in the country.  Who knew?
  • AAA towed my first car from Connecticut to Massachusetts for free (I swear, if we had traveled any further, the driver would have sparked a joint with me)
  • AAA sent a locksmith to the motel we were stranded at in Belfast, Maine one hungover Sunday after celebrating a friend’s wedding (we did have to wait almost four hours for the locksmith to finish his golf tournament before he came, and my hungover date almost had a breakdown walking down Route 1 between Belfast and Searsport)
  • they got my keys out of a locked trunk during the bluegrass festival in Telluride, Colorado, back in the day when I thought that being a hippie was an acceptable life choice.
  • the time a burly AAA guy arrived with his little pink thing (his word choice) to break into my car when I’d locked my keys inside

I’m sure there have been more, but these were the times when I welled up with emotion at AAA’s unfailing comptetence.

See? I’m adding reasons for being pleased about life in the States to my original ones. 

Elusive Solitude and Minutiae

January 20, 2008 at 11:38 am | Posted in Life in the US, Nonprofit, Quirks, The Bucket, Uncategorized, Working | 7 Comments

If any of you are only children, or know only children, you will understand that many of us can spend long stretches of time alone and be perfectly content.  In fact, it’s almost necessary for our survival.  I can’t remember the last bit of time that I was completely alone for any length of time, and this lack of solitude is making me batty.  I wake up in the morning gritting my teeth, knowing that I will not get a moment to myself. 

People take it as an affront when I express my desire to be alone.  But I’m really my own best friend, and I haven’t spent any quality time with my best friend in some time.  I’ve only seen myself through the lens of others recently, and I’m slowly losing my mind.  When I’m alone, I really don’t do anything substantive or productive, yet I’m the happiest girl alive.  I putter, I write down my thoughts, I reread passages from books I have on my shelves, I daydream, I plan. 

Let’s hope that I can find the space to do these things before I go postal.

On another note, I’m loving my job.  It’s inspiring, ridiculous, hectic, and hysterically funny.  Everyone I come across is wonderful and supportive.  The youth I work with really want to be good people, and I hope that I can help move them towards that despite their past records, challenges, and traumas.  I haven’t laughed so consistently and hard since I taught low-income mothers English.

My most recent bout of hysterical laughter was this Friday, when I spent a few hours doing intake at a group home for boys with behavorial problems.  Most of the kids were younger, but there were a couple of older ones who are living in more independent housing.   They had to fill out reams of paperwork, and some were getting tense and angry, and others confused because they just didn’t have the ability to comprehend some of the questions. 

I often have issues with the ethnicity portion of this god-awful eleven page questionnaire they must complete because some kids just don’t fall into any of the ethnic categories.  Most of my clients are Cape Verdean, and there is no box for African, despite the fact that Pawtucket has a huge population of refugees and immigrants from Africa. 

So after a brief argument in which three kids yelled about what continent Cape Verde was on which ended in a “fuck you, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” one small white child asked what Indian meant.  He was just acting up and being silly, but being my teacherly self, I asked if he meant Indian as in Native American or Indian as in from India. 

He looked bewildered, and I realized I missed the boat with this explanation.

So an older kid translated for me: “She means are they feather-in-the-hair Indian or dot-on-the-forehead Indian?” 

I can’t think of any response more un-PC or more on point than this little gem, and I think a little pee came out I was laughing so hard. 

The ethnicity portion of our convo ended with someone screaming “Are you a mother fucking Eskimo?” to a query about whether one kid was an Alaskan Native and then moved on to a rousing debate on whether you had to check yes to the any arrests or convictions box if your charges had been expunged.

I can’t think of any better way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Of course, even the most perfect job has its challenges and mine (and all my other co-workers’) is my boss.  This ain’t just your run-of-the-mill “I hate my boss” talk, this man is truly incompetent and out of touch.  He will surely drive our organization to the ground if someone doesn’t step in and stop him.  Perhaps I’ll find a way to rant about the situation here without being too descriptive and having it come back to bite me in the ass.

Quisiera Ser Alcohol

January 13, 2008 at 10:44 am | Posted in Mayan Culture, Village Life | 6 Comments

Despite my love for the Yucatan, the Mayan culture of drinking has long been an uncomfortable backdrop to my adoration of the culture.  Reading Heather’s Lost Weekend post and Yucatan Living’s editorial, The Dark Side of Yucatan, reminded me of my first experience with the devastation that drinking brings to village life.  Below is an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote about life in Chichimila.

Pardon the length, and be thankful I didn’t post the entire eleven page essay!

It was Don Isadoro, Doña Sevita’s husband.  He was in the middle of a drunk that lasted forty days.  He woke up with a bottle of Chac Po’ol (in Maya this means hot-head) and wandered around town all day until he passed out at night.  That first night, when I didn’t know who to welcome with an anthropologist’s eager face or a young women’s distrustful distaste for sloppy men who stand too close, he came into my room to introduce himself.  I sat on my hammock (it’s like getting your sea legs on a boat-with time you find your center) and he stood, holding on to the hammock strings to steady his swaying.  He spoke slowly and clearly to me with a thick Yucatecan campesino accent.  He swayed toward me and then away, his lips moving thickly and his lids drooping over red eyes.  I was nervous, but he only came to welcome me.  He swept his arm across the room, telling me that this small, poor house of his was mine to enjoy as well.  He lost his balance and caught himself again on my hammock strings and continued talking.  The people in this village are tranquilo, he slurred, not like those from Chiapas who would kill any stranger they saw.  As soon as his son came back from work, he would get the key to the back door so I could access the kitchen and spend time talking to his wife.  He finally wandered away to rejoin his friends and their bottles of clear alcohol on the stoop outside their door. 

Isadoro had been drifting deeper into his drunk, and was less the genial, if inebriated host and more a wandering, silent ghost.  Sometimes he acknowledged me with a nod, and other times floated by without seeing me.  Sevita was becoming more silent too.  We gestured and laughed less.   She didn’t come to sit in my room with me to converse in smiling silences and isolated words.  She came to me crying, and asked me for three pesos to buy tortillas for lunch because her husband was spending the money on alcohol.  

The crash woke me up in the middle of the night, which I later learned was a plate which fell to the floor after leaving Isadoro’s hand and making contact with his wife’s forehead.  Screams in Maya followed, a door slammed, and I lay there listening to the crickets’ noise which overlaid the sudden silence.  No sleep came and the next human noise I heard was a car pulling up to my door.  Sevita came in, walked to the glass front cabinet, opened it and rustled around, taking what I later learned was money from her son that she had stashed out of her husband’s reach.  She came and stood over me and obliquely said “Tak i wini?” (Are you tired?) and showed me the blood stains on her once pristine white embroidered dress.  I couldn’t say anything that she’d understand so I put a sympathetic look on my face and touched her hand before she turned to leave.  She went to stay at her mother’s for a week and didn’t come back until they put Doro in the town jail for whacking at his elderly, speechless uncle with a stick. 

It’s That Non Part of the Nonprofit I Don’t Like

January 8, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Nonprofit, The Bucket, Working | 2 Comments

I spend a good portion of each workday whirling like a dervish on meth, collecting paperwork, making copies, and prying into my clients’ lives.  But the part of working with youth and helping them to get their lives together that I love best is when I can just sit down and chat with them. 

I talked with R., one of my favorites, for a while last week about the type of work he was looking for.  He’s smart, funny, and driven to get a job, but he applies everywhere and gets no response. 

I asked him what he thought of doing work for nonprofits, as I could see him working as an overnight group home staff member.  He then asked me what exactly I meant by nonprofit and wanted to know to whom or what the non part of the nonprofit applied to. 

I think his two questions where: does one actually make money working for a nonprofit? and why the hell do people spend their entire workday helping others?

Both valid questions in my mind. 

I almost swore off nonprofit work during my four-month long stretch of looking for work.  No benefits for Homeboy, and most positions I applied for wouldn’t have even covered my modest living expenses. 

But a fin de cuentas, I am incredibly ill-equipped for working in an office setting or in a corporate environment.  I’d really rather learn to install dry wall.  I don’t even know how to present myself to for profit companies.  I don’t know the language, the mores, the culture. 

And I can’t imagine having a job in which I don’t get emotionally invested in the work and those served by my work.

Which reminds me, this R. I mentioned…he spaced on a meeting that we had yesterday and his cell phone got shut off.  I’m trying to hook him up with free classes towards a skilled trade that excites him, so I think some stalking is in order. 

Quote of the Day from another kid: Ain’t no honeys in Cumberland to hook up with, so I’m fixin’ to find a place to play b-ball.

Bizarre Elevator Interlude

January 4, 2008 at 6:56 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Weirdness | 8 Comments

Yesterday I got on the elevator at the Pawtucket Visitor Center to go up to my office. 

A slight middle-aged woman was already on the elevator, and greeted me with a Happy New Year.

After the doors closed, she softly said “Jesus is coming.”  I didn’t know quite how to respond to that, so I just plastered a big grin on my face as I normally do when flummoxed.

She asked if I had heard her, and I said that I had.

Jesus lady then repeated that Jesus was coming, and I replied, “Um, great!!,” silly grin still in place. 

She then told me: “Be prepared.”  Um, okey dokey.  No prob.  Luckily I only had to go up one floor, so this line of chat didn’t continue.

I never know how to respond to the Jesus pushers, especially when it comes out of nowhere, fast and furious.

If they try to engage me in a long discussion of my soul’s salvation, I can generally head it off.  It’s just fine with me that Jesus pushers go off feeling that I’m destined to burn in hell because I’m not born again.  

And on a similar note, I’ve noticed that Pawtucket and CF are swarming with freshly scrubbed young Mormon boys lately.  Everywhere I go I see another pair.  Or it could be the same pair of kids who cover a lot of ground.  They all look the same to me, so I’m not sure.

Cleaning Out My Wallet

January 2, 2008 at 10:22 am | Posted in Weirdness | 1 Comment

When I’m imbibing with friends, I will sometimes hear a comment that strikes me as worthy of writing down, usually on the back of business cards I’ve collected in my wallet.  I’m never sure afterwards exactly what motivated me to write the comment down.  I imagine that in my altered state I found it witty or hysterical or bizarre.  As I clean out my wallet for the start of the new year, I’m left a bit mystified by my state of mind at the time I jotted down these bon mottes.

Here’s a sampling….

On the back of a business card from the city’s Substance Abuse Task Force:

“You always get hit on by old, dirty, creepy men.  That’s why you go after young boys.”

One of my best friends directed this one at me on Cinco de Mayo, and I had her initial it after I recorded it.  This one is true, up to a point.  After all, Homeboy is a full five years younger than me.

On a scrap of cardstock:

K: Are you going to puke?

C: Hit me in the chest.

I like non sequiturs, and must have felt this was one.  Now I don’t see the significance, other than that my friends are kind of gross.

A: I love sluts.

This dude does indeed love sluts, but I think this one struck me as we were talking about something entirely different, most likely something about UFC or kung fu.

On a piece of paper:

“Gonna call my peeps cuz of all of youz who ain’t gonna call cuz youz stupid, all you light-skinned pus heads.”

I was sober and on a bus to NYC when I heard this one.  The bus driver had had a bit of a meltdown and pulled over on the highway somewhere near New Rochelle because he was convinced that someone was smoking on the bus.  We sat there for almost an hour while he fumed, and a young Jamaican woman was royally pissed.  This above quote is just a selection of her long, long monologue.  I like the light-skinned pus head part.

On the back of a card from the District Court’s Pretrial Services Unit:

A haiku about how disgusting I think golden showers are.

You don’t need to read that.  That’s weird.

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