Saturday, April 30, 2011

Street Shock

As we approach the small intersection where we will turn right, Scott and I pass a tall skinny white man with a long dark ponytail. From the sidewalk, the sullen stranger looks at me; lifts his right hand and adjusts his long fingers into the shape of a pistol. As we pass him, rolling toward the red light, he pulls the trigger of his middle finger and says, "yeah, ya freak." The yeah stretches between us as if he expects me to agree with him. Ya is plain and painfully general. Freak sticks into the air like a real bullet might. I stare at the man from inside a voiceless shock. I want to yell out my window that he is the freak. That he needs a haircut. That he can go fuck himself. But I can't. I am nauseous, numb and dumb. I look to Scott. He laughs. He probably mistook us for someone else, he says, but the gunman looked right at me for four or five full seconds, I tell him. Later, Scott retells the story to our roommates. "The guy was clearly crazy." He says and I laugh along while sharp shrapnel sinks into my flimsy skin. I am free of physical harm, but this particular brand of verbal violence lingers like a wet scab. 

It reminds me of a day in the year we lived in New York City.  I went to cross a street in midtown. I didn't have the walk signal, but there were no cars coming so I did what I always did and began to cross. When I reached a quarter of the way to the other side of this massive street, I noticed a yellow taxi driving toward me. It'll slow down, I thought to myself, but it didn't and after two more timid steps, I began to retreat, turning and running back to the curb. Once safely on the sidewalk, I watched the cab speed by. There was no time to give the driver my favorite finger gesture, only fleeting eye contact. As he passed by, the driver glared at me, grimaced even. He wanted to strike me dead in the middle of the street, I knew. He wanted hit me and drive away, aiming his wheels to squish my skin and crunch my bones into the hot mid-afternoon city cement. As my body laid flat and bloodied, my guts torn out by black rubber tires and plastic windshield wipers, the driver would successfully flee the scene (for a yellow taxi in New York City is like a blond in Los Angeles: they are everywhere and they all look the same.) Shame on me. Such unessessary judgement against a particularly pretty demographic. But my shallow aggression toward blonds derives entirely from dull, imature insecurities where big boobied blond Barbies stand on the tip toes of my childhood bedrooms anxiously waiting for their next costume change, haircut, or private make-out session with Ken. It is nothing compared to the contageous hatred that festers in the puckered eyes of these grown men. 

Was the driver's day so bad, filled with so many mindless jaywalkers that he just wanted to hit one of them to revenge himself against every person who had ever caused him to tap his break pedal since the day he started driving the New York City's streets for tips? Was he caught inside the enchanting thrill of a death threat? At the time, I couldn't help but think the dark skinned taxi driver wanted to hit me because he saw me as a self-entitled white girl tramping across the street like a glutonous Goldilocks, trespassing and stealing the property of strangers, but that's racist to think and embarrassing to admit. Besides, my locks, as I have previously implied, are not gold. Was the man with the imaginary gun angry because we were driving an old beige Toyota Camry? Was he jealous of how openly we flaunt our fortune?  I knew we never should have gotten those spinning diamond rims, gold leafed license plates or that slammin' sound system. 

Perhaps the problem is that most of us fill our bellies with 20 ounce bottles of carbonated anger and any one little thing can tip them over, causing enormous amounts of emotion to spew out of us in unexpecteded explosions. I think that probably was the case of the cab driver. Yet when it comes to the man on the side of the road, I am still somewhat speechless. I have decided that he is crazy. Yet the real scary thing is that this man might be eligible to purchase a real weapon one day. Actually, he might already own one. The cab driver had a weapon, his yellow taxi. When his bottles tipped and broke, he tried to kill me with his car, or at least that's what it felt like. What if the man with the ponytail is packing a real pistol one day and I pass him again and for some reason my eye contact causes some kind of chemical reaction in his body and he draws a real gun on me and all I can do is stare back at him in a silent shock? 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Corned Beef, Cabbage and The Apocalypse

Corned beef and cabbage sits simmering on the stove. The smell wraps us in warm beefy blankets as we set the table and talk. Around 8:00 p.m., Amy's two friends, Tyler and Katie, arrive with beer and a garden salad. By 9:30, six of us sit for a late night Irish feast.

By midnight, our bellies brim over our buckled belts. I sit slightly slumped as the dining room spins from the beer I've drunk. In the kitchen, Mark mixes, bakes, and slices brownies. I stay seated, picking out chunks of cold soft carrots to eat with my fingers from the nearly naked serving bowl before me. Then the conversation turns from light cordial chatter to a discussion about current international news. Japan's earthquake shakes and sinks onto the chests of our newly leaden bodies and our voices shift into new tones. We trade what we know about the tsunami damage and ongoing fires at the nuclear power plant. Radiation levels are rising, I learn, spreading like the cancer it will cause.  Tyler says she's read about world wide radiation levels taken during different times of nuclear testing. It spreads, she tells us. It cannot truly be contained. She then tells us about a memoir she's read about a tragic town where nearly every citizen, except for the lactose intolerant author, is diagnosed with cancer. Radiation from a nearby nuclear plant seeped into the water and into the grass that the local dairy cows ate. Because nearly everyone in the town drank the milk, they all, cows included, digested radiation regularly.

"Why would anyone want to have children these days?" I ask.  "The world is probably going to end soon, right? Isn't it really only a matter of time?" Katie needs another drink. I feel doll size and lifeless. Scott says he thinks it'd be cool to have kids who are among the last humans. I suppose there were probably pregnancies during the Cuban Missile Crisis, World War I and II, The Great Depression, The American Civil War and even during the times of Small Pox and the Plague. I must remember perspective. There is, has always been and will always be threat.

This is when we all notice how visibly exhilarated Mark is by the prospect of living in a world much like his post-apocalyptic video games where every moment stands on a wobbly balance beam between life and death. Where every character carries massive machetes and stolen rations, stalking the barren wastelands of Earth, killing to survive.

Katie says she'd rather everyone died at once, like in a flash. Taken by surprise, she says. It would be much too terrifying to hear about different parts of the world blowing up or melting or evaporating, she says. She doesn't want to sit around waiting for death. Scott disagrees. He would prefer a heads up. To know he only had a week, day, or hour to live. It'd give him time to tie up loose ends, he explains, say good bye to people, eat some really good food.

I can't decide what I'd prefer. I guess if everything went dark, if the electricity we so depend on suddenly went dead one day and we heard rumors that throughout the world communities were being targeted and eaten up by radiation, cannibalistic terrorists or a vengeful God's wrath, I'd want to see how long I could survive. Perhaps I would go find my family. Bike the hundred miles of back roads between my apartment and my parents' front door. Along the way, I could stay out of sight, hoping, praying and wishing that the authorities I have voted for and the armed forces I have hid behind will step up and save me. I could paint my face with green and brown stage makeup and sleep under leaves in the woods. Hunt down abandoned grocery marts and liquor stores. Stitch blankets out of found roadkill fur. Get really good at climbing trees. Finally lose those stubborn seven pounds. Really, it does sound like quite the adventure, certainly something to write about, but it does not give me the glee that it gives Mark. The end of the world and/or the end of humanity would devastate me. For as much as I criticize people's ways, I do agree with what Anne Frank wrote. "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

We, civilized humans, have done an incredible amount of development. This history we have made and the relics we use to preserve the old: books, films, newspapers, libraries and museums. When stretched before you in an organized fashion, it's inspiring to see our progression. From candles to light bulbs. Caves to huts to houses. From feather pens to letter presses to typewriters and to laptop computers. From airplanes to rocket ships. From corn to pop corn to corn syrup. It is the result of uninhibited determination for the development of science, societal progression, and individual betterment.

This celebratory boiled feast we have just enjoyed in a warm, furnished apartment is all thanks to history, to years of infamous potato famines, long boat rides across the Atlantic Ocean, oppression. And the preservation of this history is thanks to years of corn beef and cabbage dinners and drunken parades of Irish pride, hand waving girl scouts, leprechauns and tacky paper mache

Maybe we will have the opportunity to join as humans and fight for the future of people on this planet. If that's the case, I wonder how humans will do.  It has been a very long time since we developed our instincts for fight or flight. We aren't cavemen anymore, most of us. Back then, the weak died quickly. Today we have them hooked up to heart monitors, feeding tubes and on prescriptions of permanent bed rest. We no longer need to be healthy to survive. We just need to sign the right waver and have decent health insurance. We no longer need to run from dinosaurs, cheetahs or woolly mammoths. We don't need to hunt buffalo or farm fields. We can sit in wide rolly chairs all day every day, typing numbers, sending emails, and talking our way through meetings. We have a new way of hunting. Instead of spears, fishing poles or guns, we have credit cards to gather food from grocery stores, restaurants, donut shops and pizza parlors. We've developed so far intellectually that we no longer need to have bodies that are physically strong. As long as we're breathing and drugged up enough to not feel the pain of our neglect, everything is fine. Perhaps this is the downfall of our development.

Currently fighting the war on fat is a widespread revolution in fitness and health. Folks everywhere are joining gyms; running on sidewalks; hiking mountain trails; taking yoga classes and seeking out organic produce and meat. Quite conceivably the fitness gurus and healthy eaters will be the ones to survive, starting the human race over again with the fittest men and women alive. My brother works in fitness now and is big. Muscly, I mean. He and his workout buddies pick up tires and put them back down again. They run with parachutes and friends strapped to their backs. They jump over wooden boxes and can clap between push ups. It is an intense club of muscled meat eaters. One day I asked my big big brother what he and his friends were all doing with their muscles. What good were they? One can be healthy without bulging biceps and thick necks, I told him. He didn't really have an answer, but now I do. If the day comes that the human race has been threatened with extinction, these buff babes will stop lifting tires and start ripping trees from their roots to rebuild houses and bridges. They will tackle deer, ducks and cows when they are hungry. They will dive into oceans, gathering lobsters and salmon to eat and whales to turn into peppermint scented candles for the newly built toilet huts. And while they are grunting, swearing and sweating through their labor, my yoga friends and I will be meditating in the nearest meadow. When we're done with our sun salutations, gentle back bends and peaceful warrior poses, we'll gather wild berries, nuts and edible leaves for the evening's salad. Then I'd ask my brother to pass the bear meat.

Tonight, when we all decide we're too tired to go on discussing such sad and enormous matters, Katie and Tyler say goodnight. After they leave, my roommates and I go into the kitchen. There we see that the sink is clogged. We'll fix it in the morning, we say, leaving plates in piles and pots in stacks. It can all wait until morning.