A Bittersweet Day

January 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 4 Comments

I’ve known of this kid for almost three years.  For the first two and a half, he would just barrel by me, head down, hands in his pockets, and his hood up.  Then he got shot in the back.  After he got out of the hospital, he got serious about completing his community service for an old charge and getting into Job Corps to move out of state. 

I’m not sure at what point I realized that he came to see us literally every day.  Maybe in the summer.  But the weeks when we didn’t see him that much, he’d come in only three times.  He’d get another hospital bill and bring it directly to me.  He’d get a phone call from the Job Corps lady and come right over.  He once told me that he would never read out loud in front of anyone because he was too embarrassed when he stumbled over words.  Then it hit me that he’d read things in front of my coworker and I with no problem. 

In the fall, he got more and more stressed out over hospital bills and not hearing from Job Corps, so there were lots of days when he’d just sit silently in my office and I started panicking that they would’t accept him.  I started calling the Job Corps lady.  One day he came in happy because she had called him to say that Maine looked good for him.  And could he please tell me to stop leaving messages for her.

He finally got the call from Maine to say that he’d been accepted and he’d leave in January.  For the next month, my coworker and I spent at least an hour with him a day.  We’d Google the campus and “bother” him with reminders to buy woolies.  I made him pinky swear that there would be no Job Corps babies but we amended that Job Corps hoes would be okay.

Monday we loaded him up with presents (practical things like phone cards, lip balm, a mini pack of Rhode Island playing cards), went over his packing list, and made sure he had his bus info.  Of course, we decided to show up at the bus station Tuesday morning with breakfast sandwiches. 

In dealing with him, I seem to be channeling my own mother, neurotically asking the same questions over and over and generally acting like a mother hen.  As we stood outside getting ready to see him off, I started in on my litany of reminders.  My coworker asked him how annoying it was that he had to deal with his own birth mother as well as us, his two adopted mommies.  He said “I only wish youz (mumble, mumble) been there my whole life.”

This comment, coupled with the general feeling of empty space after his frequent presence, made both of us burst into tears periodically through the day. 

I can’t believe that, after so much work and patience, he’s finally gotten to go.  And I hope he doesn’t get too lonely and if he does, that he manages to work through it.  And I hope that his body heals and detoxes and appreciates the wild beauty of Maine without being frightened by so much open space.  I hope that he endears himself to everyone there as he has endeared himself to us.  And that he gets as fiercely protective of new people as he had gotten of me.  And that he takes advantage of this time investing in himself and come back to a welcoming job market. 

Who knew that I’d get a taste of the sadness and joy of sending my own child off on a new adventure without me from an incredibly tall, pissed off kid whose face is transformed by his dimpled smile.  Even if that smile comes from making fun of me.

Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus!

December 26, 2008 at 3:29 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Self | 3 Comments

There’s nothing like celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus by going home and pretending you’re 16 again. 

This time I brought Homeboy to my oldest friend’s parents’ house for Christmas Eve.  I drank a lot of wine with her various family members and traipsed down memory lane talking about people from high school I haven’t seen or thought about for over ten years.  This time, we were helped along by Facebook.

The evening culminated as it always does, with her parents yelling at her and her siblings to shut up so they can go to sleep.  Then off to the driveway for the ritual smoking of the Christmas joint.

All the old questions from my adolescence resurfaced in my pot-addled brain: will my mom be awake still?  will she know I’m high? did she leave food for us to reheat and eat?

The answers were: no, no, and yes. Score!

Before chowing down on what we found in my mom’s doggie bags, we partook in yet another comforting ritual from my adolescence: the smoking of the bowl in mom’s driveway.  But this time Homeboy joined in.

Thank you, Baby Jesus, for letting me relive my youthful rituals.  And to all 3 of my regular readers, some of whom may be surprised by my posting about illegal activity: yes, I do have other, more wholesome memories from my teenage years.  But none quite so bittersweet as sneaking into mom’s house ripping high and digging into baked macaroni and cheese with lobster.

That Special Christmas Feeling

November 29, 2008 at 7:39 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 5 Comments

I’m the type of person who keeps her feelings closely guarded.  My true feelings often come out in a stream of invective and swears and very rarely comes out in tears.  When I’m actually ready to share my feelings, it’s when I’ve managed to attain a level of removal.  Recounting events that made me feel deeply and sharing my emotions about such events becomes almost clinical.  In my evasion of all things real, I am truly at my WASPiest.

Which is why I’m so surprised at my talent for getting others who equally bury what they feel to spill their guts.  Especially those who pride themselves on presenting a “Fuck You” front to the whole world.  Kids who show their pit bull exterior to everyone start to roll over and show their puppy soft underbelly the moment my office door is closed.  My coworker and officemate like to play Good Cop, Bad Cop, but when the doors are closed, we suddenly turn into everyone’s Special Mommies.

I have been witness to the most amazing self-disclosures, some ridiculous and some sublime.  Who new that Woodlawn’s residents hard ass wants to become a CNA to “like help old people and slow people”?  I was certainly taken aback when another very masculine kid screamed “Yo, that’s my joint” and starting singing and dancing wildly to “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.”  And I went home and cried after one kid who feels the need to check in daily put his head down and starting crying over what shit he thinks his life is. 

But one of the most recent confessions was part pathos and part pure innocent joy.  We had three dear fellows in our office, all ripping high and quite relaxed.  One was going through the ringtones on his new cell phone and playing them for us.  There was some country and western tune and I asked him how he managed to steal a cell phone from a redneck.  Then he came to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and everyone thought it’d be great if that played every time his phone rang during the Xmas season. 

Another very high young man said, “Aw, I can’t wait until Christmas.  I just love it.” 

And I responded, “G-Black, I am just picturing you wearing footie pajamas and opening your stocking gifts.”

He said, “Naah, dawg, it ain’t even that.  I don’t even get presents like that.  I just love that special Christmas feeling.” 

His friends laughed out loud and half-heartedly tried to make fun for sharing that.  Then they started saying, “Yo, n***, I feel you on that.”  I tried to get them to commit to going carolling but they told me they’d get shot.  Then they launched into their favorite tough guy conversation of which brand of hot cocoa they prefer and whether little marshmellows or Fluff belong in the perfect cup.

So this comment of “that special Christmas feeling” has spurred us into action.  How shall we make Christmas special for this amazing group of people without being totally cheesy?  How can we celebrate this season with no money yet remind these boys that they are loved and honored?  And how do I remain open to new insights and be the receptacle for their relevations while never engaging in self-reflection?

I think that last question is key, and one of the reasons why I very rarely share of myself and therefore post infrequently.  I am only willing to share of myself through the medium of others. 

Regardless, I feel the excitement of Xmas joy and want to share it.  Most want to feel that joy through their small loved ones who still believe in Santa.  Yet for me, I want to bring that sense of abundance and joy to those who feel that this sense of abundance is reserved for others.

A Thought (Or a Couple)

October 17, 2008 at 10:34 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Mayan Culture | 1 Comment

I’m not going to post an actual well-thought out narrative with stats and links, because I’m just too brain-dead.  But the violence in Mexico is picking up and spreading out and affecting those not involved in narcotrafico.  The death toll is probably in the thousands, but I’m not going to go looking for the numbers.  And all those drugs are headed north where the demand is.  Americans are so sincere about supporting those who want to end genocide in Africa and feed little poor cuties in Central America.  But what about if Americans decided to put an end to the deaths in Mexico that come from fighting carteles?  We’re all doing our part to go green, right?  Why don’t we get the coke consumers to band together and just say no to do their part in saving the innocent people dying in Mexico?  And we’re all about Farmers’ Markets and buying local.  Why don’t all the stoners just say no to the cheap Mexican shwag and and start buying the domestic kind?

I swear, if there were any more drama and excitement in my forty-hour work week, it might just give me a stroke.  So I’m going to post one of my favorite pictures from Chichimila, Yucatan.


A little blurry, no?  Any ideas how to fix it?

Being Inspector Gadget

October 16, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 2 Comments

I was walking back from the corner store this evening with my head spinning but enjoying the balmy windiness of fall.  I saw someone dressed all in black, careening down a dark street on a bike, screaming from blocks away.  My residual street smarts caused me to think, “Maybe I should be nervous.”  But then I thought, “Naah…I probably know him.” 

Sure enough, he’s one of the little nuggets who was most sympathetic to today’s drama.  I had been all set to buckle down and write a grant that’s due tomorrow when I realize that someone nabbed my laptop yesterday.  Of course, I flipped my lid.  But then I started sleuthing. 

I went over to a patrol car to try to file a report and the crazy neighborhood crack head lady was talking his ear off and then trying to bum smokes from me.  The cop asked me if it was a Gateway and I said that I didn’t actually know because I had just gotten the computer after a virus killed another and hadn’t yet used it.  He gestured to a computer case sitting shotgun but that wasn’t it.  Then he took off because he got called to a “bloody incident” that also factors into my day pretty prominently but I can’t get into it here. 

So I spent the day interrogating teenagers.  I came up with quite a bit of information about this mystery kid that was around during the period of time in question.  One girl said that he stared at her an had a “sinister laugh.”  Another kid’s mom escorted him over to talk to me. 

I then chatted with various older youth who I knew weren’t there at the time and tried to confirm where people will try to get rid of stolen electronics.  I pretty much know that it gets sold on the street (the kid even took the power cord!) and in fact, have turned down offers to buy iPhones outside my work.  Tonight I had a good laugh with the kid who tried to sell one to me a couple of weeks ago.

I was horrified to think my favorite (albeit tremendously sketchy and troubled) kid had taken it when I found out he had been there.  But another kid said that he had come in with just a T-shirt and not his customary ginormous black hoodie.  Plus, he told me when I called him: “How could I do that to you after all you’ve done for me?  Besides, I told you I stopped robbing people.”

Lesson #1 for the day: The Code of Sticky Finger Ethics make even those who frequently jump people for electronics get indignant when I get robbed.

Lesson #2: I really, really want to be a PI.

Lesson #3: Never trust the shady kid with the sinister laugh.

If I have time tomorrow between bouts of frantic grantwriting, I may check out a nearby pawn shop or two.

Knowledge is Power in Payne Park

August 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 3 Comments

What a flippin’ fantastic day!  After only a month of chaotic, hurried planning (for those of you who don’t know about planning events, people usually spend 6 to 8 months planning a block party), we managed to pull it off.  “Knowledge is Power” was to commemorate those who have been killed violently in Pawtucket and CF and bring the neighborhood together in a nonviolent, positive setting. 

There were about 500 people and miraculously enough food to feed them all!  The Cape Verdean ladies ran a kick-butt kitchen and I am still in awe of them.  Spoken word, hip hop music, two dance groups (CV Dream Team and Victorious from Brockton), a frickin’ adorable seven-year-old musician with dreads, and a candlelight vigil for those who are gone.

I am blown away by how peaceful, happy, and helpful everyone was.  No fights, no beef, nothing.  Clean-up was a dream, and I was amazed to see all our kids pitching in.  The same guys who sit in the park, sell drugs, and mouth off to the cops were the ones with trash bags picking up plates and water bottles and moving tables inside. 

Three of the cutest booty-shakers ever

Three of the cutest booty-shakers ever


Food line

Food line


The Grill Master (400 burgers and 400 hotdogs)

The Grill Master (400 burgers and 400 hotdogs)


Hanging Out

Hanging Out


Dakarai Dancing

Dakarai Dancing


Victorious from Brockton

Victorious from Brockton

Alvaro, Paris, Melissa, and Jenny

Alvaro, Paris, Melissa, and Jenny

In Memory (Hell Boi Throwing Signs)

In Memory



You can't look hard while drinking a fruit punch juice box

Trying to look hard with a juice box


Dancing with the lil' one

Dancing with the lil' one


Candlelight Vigil

Candlelight Vigil

The Name’s Dalton

June 9, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Weirdness | 1 Comment

Patrick Swayze is a frickin’ wizard in Road House. 

Who knew that someone with feathered hair could be at once so dangerous and yet so wise?

I wish I had more to say about my experience watching this movie on VH1 last night, but my absolute awe has silenced me.

My Conversational Obsession

May 30, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Weirdness | 6 Comments

All I’ve wanted to do lately is talk about mullets and I get very excited when someone else is engaged in this topic.  After several mullet-related convos yesterday, I attempted to continue this conversational thread with Homeboy.  He was so not having it, and it made me sad.

Three mullet themes and questions that I could go on about forever are:

  • sharing stories of exceptional mullets (Gheri-curled, long and glossy, feathered, etc) that people have seen.
  • wondering what the thought process is for someone to arrive at the decision to rock a mullet.
  • wondering what it’s like to live life wearing the “business in the front, party in the back.”

The only reason I wish I had a camera phone is to capture examples of extraordinary mulletry that I see out and about. 

Past Lives and Past Friends

March 30, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Life in the US, Self | 3 Comments

It makes me sad to think about all of the people that I’ve cared for in the past that are no longer in my life.  I’ve got an address book full of people who have meant a lot to me, but who I haven’t spoken to in years.  People from my time at Wesleyan, summer camp while in high school, my summer in Utah, and from Mexico.  All of these people I was extremely close to for at least a while, but now I wouldn’t know how to find them even if I tried. 

I wonder what it takes for a relationship to transcend a particular set of circumstances and become one that exists no matter where we find ourselves.  I think that those friendships that have petered out mainly did so because they existed at a time in our lives where we were mobile and in the process of defining ourselves. 

What has triggered these thoughts for me?  Well, I brought my life history in pictures to our apartment from my mom’s house and spent some time looking at photos taken over the course of ten years or so.  I had a bunch from my first (and only) year at Wesleyan…pictures of people with whom I shared intense times, conversations, laughs, and drinking binges.  There were dozens of pictures of one friend in particular, the guy who lived across the hall from me.  We were extremely close for that year, then when I left Wesleyan, we stayed in touch and saw each other occasionally.  Of course, communication died shortly thereafter. 

What was so strange was that the very next day, I checked my email and found that he had invited me to be his “friend” on Facebook.  What an odd coincidence…the very day after I had been reminiscing about our friendship, he has located me on Facebook.  So I shoot him a message, sharing this oddity of synchronicity with him.  His response?

Nothing.  Absolute silence.  What I take from this is that some, if not most, of my friendships from my late teens and early twenties are meant to stay in the past. 

And I also wonder what it takes to make a friendship endure.  I really believe that had I stayed in Cancun, I would have felt like I was a part of a circle of people with whom I’d continue to share experiences and love.  But here in the US, we’re all so damn busy.  This, coupled with the fact that most people from Rhode Island still have the same circle of friends and family that they grew up with, can make life fairly isolating and lonely.  And those who have relocated here may very well not stay for long. 

There’s something to be said for a small, tight social circle, but how do you make that circle expand? 

Overcast, Overwhelmed, and Weepy

March 27, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket | 7 Comments

This afternoon, one of my clients got out of jail (both juvie and adult) after a couple of days because of a warrant stemming from a Failure to Appear.  He came directly to see me upon release, admitted in very veiled but unmistakable terms that he was a gang member, and called me both dawg and n****.  I hope that being in with the adult population (they put the seventeen year olds in high security for some mystifying reason) for a couple of days was enough of a wake up call.  But judging from those who’ve gone before, it may not be enough. 

It seriously sucks balls to be poor. 

I did learn a new slang term though, one that I like very much.  He said his PO was “cool as the other side of the pillow.”  I was like, huh? What the hell does that mean?  You know…when you turn your pillow over and the other side is all cool and refreshing.  He said I could use it if I want.

I’ve never seen so many instances of pain masked as anger, and it’s breaking my heart. 

This feeling kind of dovetails with my feelings about the privilege meme that some lovely bloggers have been doing (here, here, and here) lately.  I think what we all have in common is that we all grew up loved, cared for, and respected (even as children, our voices were respected).  We grew up believing that we were good enough, and even more than that…that we were truly special and deserved all the good things that came our way and would surely continue to come our way.  We understood that any adversity would be battled with our loved ones fighting right alongside of us.  For me, that’s true privilege, not cruises or classes or original art over the fireplace. 

Wow, this little rant is certainly all over the place.  But whatever, I can say what I want, no? Screw bad grammar.  Screw being made to feel that you’re not special.  Screw never being given hope.  Screw never being taught to be kind.  Screw being treated as a burden and not a blessing.  Screw the hurt and sadness these guys carry around every day and express in pummeling fists and rapping about guns and being mouthy to everyone around them. 

We’re all as cool as the other side of the pillow, even if no one ever makes us believe that this is so.

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