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Roar.

Katy Perry.

She’s performing at half-time during Super Bowl XLIX. She’s broken Billboard records, won music awards, been named “Woman of the Year” and a “Top-Earning Woman in Music” various years, and appeared on the cover of major publications worldwide.

Big deal.

I roared first. My post: published 2011. “Roar,” the single: released 2013.

So there.

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Crosswalk or crosshairs?

P1020632There’s been another hit-and-run at the intersection of St. Paul’s and Liberty Avenues. It’s the third this week. I saw the victim this morning as I approached the intersection, crossing myself before crossing St. Paul’s Avenue during the morning rush. The victim was twisted into an unnatural angle, marked with tire tread prints, and leaned against the side of the multifamily house on the corner. I didn’t witness the accident but I knew the victim had been in the exact center of the pedestrian crosswalk at the moment of impact. I didn’t know if the force of the impact had thrown the victim against the side of the house or if the driver had moved the victim to that location.

The victim at this intersection is always the same: the pedestrian crosswalk sign. The sign is three feet high (the height of an average three- or four-year-old), bright yellow for high visibility in all weather, and states on both sides “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk.” Its body is crash-tested and approved, and the base is made of recycled materials so it’s environmentally friendly and sturdy enough to withstand wind gusts. The city’s Division of Engineering, Traffic and Transportation had painted crosswalk crosshatches and placed the sign at the busy intersection in early 2014, which had been the site of a fatal hit-and-run in 2012. A pedestrian was struck at night and died later in the hospital of the crash-related injuries. As far as I know, the driver never came forward nor was apprehended.

The sign and painted crosswalk are supposed to decrease the hazards of being an urban pedestrian. However, I’m more afraid of crossing that intersection than I was before the safety “improvements.” I feel like I am willingly placing myself in the crosshairs. If such is the repeated fate of the crosswalk sign, I fear my fate as a flesh-and-blood pedestrian. The intersection at St. Paul’s and Liberty Avenues has a high volume of high-speed traffic, especially during the rush hours. In the mornings and early evenings, cars accelerate to beat the traffic light at the east end of St. Paul’s Avenue that leads to Kennedy Boulevard, and the traffic light at the west end that leads to Tonnelle Avenue. This is the traffic pedestrians confront to cross St. Paul’s Avenue to head toward the Journal Square transportation hub to catch their bus or train.

Yet who is foolish enough to cross? I believe drivers intentionally take aim and head straight for the crosswalk sign. There are no cameras at that intersection to capture the moment of impact or the identity of the driver. I’m just a small woman, only two feet taller than the crosswalk sign. My only barrier against the metal and fiberglass front-end of an oncoming vehicle is my non-reflective brown skin, and it’s not tough enough to protect my not-impact-resistant tissues and bones. What chance do I have of getting across the street safely?

Why did the chicken cross the road? is no longer just a corny grade school joke. It’s a tale of survival, my daily curbside contemplation. On days when I see the dinged and dented crosswalk sign against the side of the building, I can’t think of anything that is so valuable on the other side of St. Paul’s Avenue. On those days, this woman doesn’t want to cross the road because she’s too chicken.

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Did I miss the storm?

I awoke this morning, ran to the window, opened the curtains and… nada.

No cars on the road, no four-story high snow drifts. No snowpocalypse.

Just another winter Tuesday in Jersey, except I conferenced with my undergrads online (audio only) instead of on campus.

All the hype reminded me of past storms, non-events and otherwise. Remember Hurricane Irene in 2011? Enjoy these warm weather memories with hot cocoa.

And thanks for sharing your disaster preparation strategies. Chocolate chip cookies, a well-stocked bar, and savory snacks. Who needs anything more? Actually, I could have used the NYT this morning, but that’s a gripe for another post…

 

 

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Disaster preparation.

falling-snowflakes1. Supply of fruits. Preferably berries, bananas, grapes, apples, and pears. Good for smoothies, high-energy, antioxidant-rich breakfasts; skin cell re-generation is critical between January and May in preparation for 30th year reunion. Miracle Blur cream only does so much. Fruits can be eaten in whole, solid form if power is lost during the blizzard.

2. Batteries for radio. Lack of television would not be noticed. Lack of radio = disaster. What’s a day without my NPR friends? Soterios, James, Brian, Leonard, Terry? My girl Lakshmi keeping me up to speed with the news headlines? May be confined to condo with husband during the blizzard. No NPR = nothing to talk about = disaster.

3. Fully charged lap top. I hate reading online, but the blizzard may interrupt delivery of the New York Times and my New Yorker. That ****ing magazine is supposed to arrive on Mondays, not Tuesdays, nor Wednesdays. I should have contacted Customer Care again last week and complained in anticipation of the blizzard. There might have been hope that my New Yorker might arrive today, before the first fat flakes. Put on to-do list: Email Customer Care and complain about New Yorker delivery. Again.

4. Secret sugar stash. My treat tin is stocked with clearance Christmas candy, chocolate bar minis, and individual Laffy Taffies, fruit gels, and Sour Patch Kids. Tin location undisclosed, in case husband reads blog and we are confined to our condo during the blizzard. Crinkly wrappers = noise and possible discovery. Remember to unwrap candies when husband is in bathroom or sent to check the mailbox for delivery of the New Yorker.

5. Coffee. Roads and walkways may be impassable. Daily runs will likely be suspended indefinitely, as well as post-run coffee treat at Max’s corner deli. Max’s might be closed! Might be confined to condo and have to make coffee for self and husband. Indefinitely. Must buy more batteries for radio.

6. Bribe supply. Secret, undisclosed supply of husband’s favorite treats: mini Peanut Butter Cups, small stuffed peppers, mint chocolate chip ice cream. Husband has wine stock (red and white), fresh baked soda bread, and willingness to walk in the snow and cold to procure supplies. Indefinite confinement to condo = rapid deterioration of diplomatic relations. Must be prepared for possible necessary bartering and persuading.

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Bah Humbug Be Gone.

(Originally posted December 2, 2012)

7920683-humorous-illustration-cartoon-of-ebenezer-scrooge-with-one-green-ornamentI read recently that in our forties, we’re wise enough to acknowledge our bad habits and negative personality traits, and pliable enough to reform and avoid becoming cranky, nasty, annoying geezers. I’ve been cranky, nasty, and annoying since birth, and I become even more aware of it during the holiday season. I almost tossed rocks through a neighbor’s window to knock down the Santa figurines he displayed on the sill in mid-October. I know I need to change my ways and attitude or I’ll alienate all the people in my life. No one will visit me at the nursing home, and I’m sure some of my former students will be on staff. They’ll disregard the instructions on my prescription bottles as much as they did the directions for the college assignments they never submitted. I’ll die at their hands of an overdose or lethal medication combination.

I’ve also read that it takes three weeks to acquire a new habit. Therefore, I committed to doing one kind, nice thing every day before Christmas Day in 2012. I hoped to become a nicer Nancy in those 23 days and learn to enjoy the holiday season, instead of staying in bed with my quilt over my head and wishing all the cheer would just go away. To keep myself honest, I posted my progress (or not) every day.

I’m looking back at that time as I try to elevate my spirit again this year.

Saturday, December 1. 2012: I attended the five o’clock mass with my husband B. I didn’t think he’d make it to mass because I shocked el pobre with too much at once: I took a shower, I showered because I was going to accompany him to mass, and I would accompany him to mass in hope that I’d run into fellow parishioners I had not seen in a long time.  When B thinks of me, clean and social do not come to his mind. After mass, I was genuinely glad to catch up with people I hadn’t seen for weeks (okay, months). B was too light-headed to drive home though after I told the pastor I wanted to help decorate the church tree on December 22 and offered to pick up Wonder Bagels for the occasion.

Sunday, December 2, 2012: I complain plenty about, well, everything. A family member once told me, “Nancy, if you didn’t have anything to complain about, you wouldn’t have anything to write about.” Two things I complain about are the constant posting of notices in my building (e.g., the garage door is out of service for two weeks, there will be an increase in monthly maintenance fees, residents cannot park in the driveway for more than five minutes) and how much *&%$# stuff is accumulated in my and B‘s unit. There were new notices in the elevator this morning, but before I lost my s*** all over the place, I did as my therapist reminds me to do: I took a deep breath and rationally assessed the situation. The notice explained that the bins in the lobby are for donations of various items for the needy and homeless. I complain too much and don’t appreciate enough how overly fortunate I am. I placed coats and unworn winter items in the bins, and put non-perishables on the week’s grocery list to donate.

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Sugar fiend. (Part IV)

sugar-lumpsI was surrounded by selfish people at the dinner table. They called themselves my friends. Each of them self-centered, self-aggrandizing, blind to my struggle. Who wanted to hear about Jill’s volunteer work with the hospice program? Those people were on their way out, nearing their expiration date. Life was for the living and the living wanted dessert. Then Kyle had to tell us about his client, some guy facing 12 years. Kyle provided that guy with dress clothes for court appearances but couldn’t bring out the dessert for his dinner guests – his friends!

Yeah, yeah Kyle, I thought. Thanks for sharing. Now shut up and focus on the task at hand, man, and break out that dessert.

Kyle finally placed the cookies on the table. I sat rigid as Pavlov’s dog and waited the signal that would eliminate the space between me and the sweets. They were not the premium special batch cookies available at ShopRite, but the cheaper pre-packaged assortment – always a little too dry and shed their sprinkles in the clear plastic container, where it would be gross, weird or both to collect the colored specks with my moistened fingertip. It didn’t matter to me that they were low-quality cookies, an afterthought while Kyle had been at ShopRite. At the dinner table, the cookies took hostage of my thoughts.

Kyle was a thoughtless, selfish host. He continued and blah-blah-blahed all his self-congratulatory crap when the seal on the cookie container needed to be broken. The clock couldn’t start until that seal was broken. Rules were rules. I could have a cookie after waiting five minutes, not starting when the cookies were placed on the table, but when the seal of the container was broken. And the seal could not be broken by me.

Only I knew the rules, but I was no cheat. I could control myself. I could wait until that seal was broken and then wait five minutes. Five full minutes. I would sit at Kyle and Ted’s dining table, rigid and focused – all night if I had to – while they cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, turned off the dining room lights, went upstairs to bed, and left me and the cookies neglected and alone in the dark.

What kind of a person did that to a guest, a long-time friend? Those forlorn cookies on the table were for me. Someone at the damn table – anybody but me! – needed to focus on what had to be done and break the damn seal so I could start the five-minute countdown so I could have a fucking cheap cookie. Was that too much to ask of friends?

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Sugar fiend. (Part III)

sugar-lumps

 

Weaning myself from carbs and sugars was going to be an endurance event. If it required visualizing, i.e., ogling baked goods from behind glass like a peep show patron, then so be it. My addiction was extreme; I had to be unorthodox in my recovery.

I had kicked ass in the past. I wasn’t going to let sugar kick me. I thought of my poor clogged, congested Susie and the discomfort we were both going through. I thought of the discomfort my poor husband was going through. Eww. In addition to the physical discomfort my sugar addiction caused him, there was the mental and emotional toll it took on both of us, and anyone who came into contact with me. My sugar highs were glorious cloud-grazing flights of euphoria. The crashes unleashed the enraged fiend driven by desperation for sugar in any form: from a packet, a linty starlight mint forgotten at the bottom of a purse, the synthetic mini marshmallows in hot cocoa packets. Sugar — in tremendous quantity — was the one thing I wanted at those moments.

I couldn’t remember life without sugars. The soundtrack of my childhood consisted of candy commercial jingles.

“Sometimes you feel like a nut,/sometimes you don’t./Almond Joy’s got nuts,/Mounds don’t.”

“Taste the rainbow of fruit flavors in Skittles:/strawberry, orange and lime!”

“The world looks mighty good to me,/it’s Tootsie Rolls around I see./Whatever it is I think I see,/becomes a Tootsie Roll to me!”

I remembered the animated Tootise Roll commercial: a little boy walked along a path through a magical land where trees became smiling Tootsie Rolls pops, the sky was filled with winged Tootsie Rolls, and the river flowed with chocolaty goodness. Who cared about the Land of Oz if there existed some magical region where I could lick the trees and bathe in a river where waves of chocolate would wash over me, my mouth open and greedy? Promised Land, Garden of Eden, who cared about any of those supposed paradises, with their guilt and suffering and danger that lurked and tempted? I wanted the simple gluttonous pleasures of Candy Land.

Yet it had been gluttony that had made a mess out of my Susie. I kept candy stashes at home: a Hershey’s kisses-filled basket by the door that I reached into every time I entered and exited. The jar of jelly beans in the cupboard that I dipped into so often that my palms were always sticky with brightly colored splotches. There was always candy in my bag: individually wrapped Twizzlers, rolls of Mentos, Caramel Parfait Nips and mini Muskateers. In a corporate cubicle maze, I could locate any unattended candy jar. Throughout my lifetime, I had consumed enough candy and sweets that my taste buds were perpetually sugar-coated and numbed to more complex or unpleasant flavors.

To facilitate my weaning, I ogled at the bagel shop and groped at Rite Aid. I couldn’t touch the baked goods at Wonder Bagels or the Italian pastry shop, but I could touch at Rite Aid. I lurked in the “Seasonal” aisle beginning in September. Stores had become shameless about displaying holiday goods in exaggerated advance of the actual holidays, but I said “Bring it on.” Halloween candy on the shelves while summer flip flops were still being marked down for clearance was fine with me. I walked slowly through Rite Aid’s Seasonal candy aisle, like I was visiting old friends. I held bags of candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins, and fingered the firm candies in the crinkly bags. I gave the bags a little shake to hear the soothing rattle of the treats inside. I touched but never pressed the shiny foil wrappers of the Russell Stover chocolate-coated marshmallow pumpkins. There were so many bags and sealed edges. I imagined taking a corner between my teeth to tear into a seal, and feeling the bag’s soft sweet exhale on my lips. I recalled and fantasized of past pleasures, but only touched while I stood in the aisle of Rite Aid.

I looked. I allowed myself to touch. The desire was strong. Always. I wanted to give in and indulge, but I resisted. The weaning was for the best of my health, but I feared it was making me weird and crazy. My worst fear was that maybe I’d always been weird and crazy, but had never recognized it in my serotonin-induced delusions of splendor.

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Sugar fiend. (Part II)

sugar-lumps

 

Words are easy.

The easiest are those first-ones-that-come-to-mind words that POP into my head, instant-delivered, no exploring nor analyzing required. Those words are best kept unspoken, mental tchotchkes to be forgotten in a cluttered corner. I’m old enough to know that words spoken out loud commit me to some level of action. So I knew that just telling my gynecologist that I would cut the sugars from my diet was not enough to get the job done. I just didn’t anticipate how fucking hard the job would be.

Cutting back on alcohol was not so hard. I’d gone through previous periods when I’d had to limit or stop my consumption, for example during marathon training, focusing on time-consuming projects, and undergoing fertility treatments. And alcohol had never been dominant in my daily life; it was ordinarily something to enjoy at special social situations – a life accessory, not a life essential.

It was different with bread. From my waking moment to when I went to sleep, bread had always been pervasive throughout my day. I rationalized that I could still begin my days at Wonder Bagels in Jersey City, as long as I followed a look-and-salivate-but-don’t touch approach. Wonder Bagels didn’t serve the best coffee, but I bought my morning cup there so I could smell the baking bagels. I watched as Tony or Mike pulled a fresh batch from the oven with the wooden bread paddle and deposited the bagels into their corresponding baskets. Plain. Whole wheat. Everything. Sesame seed. So warm and beautiful, the holes puckered closed in the center of each plump bagel. They were a wonder indeed and I lingered at the counter, licked the rim of my paper coffee cup and my lips as I recalled the wonder of bagels past, the pleasure of the initial resistance of the bagel crust before my teeth pierced into the yielding inner mass. Never any butter nor cream cheese nor any spread. I recalled the many times my molars had macerated and mixed the crust and soft insides into the warm mass that cavorted with my tongue before I ingested it and the carbs released the happy chemicals in my brain.

That had been joy. Those had been moments of pleasure. My mornings lingering by the counter and getting lost in the recollection of the hundreds, maybe thousands of bagels I’d consumed? Those were weird. Even I recognized it. But they were necessary. I likened the culinary reminiscing to the visualizing techniques I’d used in the past to prepare for marathons. I used to recall the experience of past marathons to train for upcoming races, remembered the feel of the pavement beneath my feet, saw myself ascend hills, and approach and cross the finish. And just like the 26.2 miles of a marathon, the cutting-carbs-and-sugars project was an endurance event that I feared could break me.

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Sugar fiend. (Part I)

sugar cloud

 

There are things I don’t want to hear a man to say when he’s positioned between my legs.

“It’s thick in there all right. More like ricotta than cottage cheese though.”

That was my gynecologist’s professional assessment of the yeast infection that had led to my appointment. It was my third visit in two months for an infection that had gone from reoccurring to continual. My treatment options were dwindling. It didn’t make sense to insert medicated antifungal cream into my filled-to-capacity Susie. Oral antibiotics were the way to go, and Dr. B prescribed a five-day course of super-powered pills. However, if the infection didn’t clear or if I had to return for the same condition within 60 days, it would be time for the big guns: a six-month regimen of Diflucan, an oral antifungal about which I’d heard negative things from friends who’d taken it.

There had to be a better way. I thought I was doing all the right things. I ate Greek yogurt and drank cranberry juice every day to maintain healthy levels of acidity in my lady region. I wore cotton undies and removed my bathing suit immediately after swimming. I kept my Susie clean, dry, and kept away from perfumed soap, body products, even laundry detergent. I asked Dr. B if there was anything more I could do, perhaps dietary changes.

Again, the man between my legs said words I did not want to hear.

“Cut out the alcohol, carbs, and sugar.”

I gripped the sides of the examining table and sat up. Dr. B looked up and our eyes met over the sheet draped over my bent, splayed legs.

“Give them up?! Completely?”

“As completely as you can. If you have to have carbs, go for whole grain. When you drink, limit yourself to one. Refined sugar’s the worst though. You’ve got to stay off the candy and sweets.”

I knew he was right. It wasn’t his fault that I was a sugar fiend, unable to control myself around candy and sweets. I kept stashes everywhere. I had one at home and another at my parents’ place. I knew where other people kept their stashes. I knew the bodegas along my commute that had canisters of single candies by the register: Laffy Taffy, orange slices, Sour Patch kids, Swedish Fish. Every day on my route to and from work, I enjoyed handfuls of pleasure for only fifty cents. Dr. B wanted me to give it all up. I wanted to crush his head between my knees.

I had two options: Take the Diflucan or cut the sugars in my diet. I didn’t want to take Diflucan. It would kill the yeast and fungus that caused my infection, but the die-off of the nasties was known to cause adverse reactions, including mood instability, fevers and vomiting, possibly for weeks while the liver and kidneys processed all the junk. The junk I’d consumed so willingly. I’d fed my infection every time I’d stuffed my face. I also didn’t want to see Dr. B so frequently. He was a nice guy but it was not like we got together to catch up and gossip over lattes. So I lay there prone, naked but for the blush-colored paper gown, and my feet in stirrups, and Dr. B behind the paper sheet draped over my legs, out of sight while he examined my congested Susie.

“Fine. I’ll cut back as much as I can.”

I said the words. It was as simple as that. The words were the easiest part of the choice I’d made.

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Bad hair days.

“Selling hope. That’s all the beauty business is.”
– Comer Cottrell, 1931-2014. Founder of Pro-Line Corporation, which produced hair-care products for African-Americans.

Hope came in a box that was about half the size of a shoe box. On its glossy exterior was a color photo of a little African-American girl about my age, maybe seven or eight years old. Her skin wasn’t dark like a Hershey bar, but more like the Swiss Miss hot coca Mami prepared for me with lots of milk: creamy and smooth. Her teeth were as white as the mini marshmallows I ate straight from the cocoa packet. The little girl was black, but pretty enough to be on that box. Prettiest of all was her hair. Black, like mine, but smooth. Cut just above her shoulders, the ends rounded softly under. She even had bangs, straight over her forehead, ending right above her eyes, the ones that looked right at me from her smiling face on the box. Did she smile to taunt me, triumphant that she, a little black girl, una negrita, had what I wished, hoped, and prayed for? I decided that no, she smiled at me precisely because she understood my want and was willing to share the magic that would make my wish come true.

It was the late 1970s and the box held hope for good little girls like me with bad hair. My hair wasn’t as bad as the black girls who lived in my projects. Their wooly hair, pasa as Mami called it, had to be twisted, coiled or braided, and weighed down with multicolored beads or ponytail holders, so many mini plastic bits that click-click-clicked when they jumped double Dutch.

My hair was better than that, but there were no black girls in Most Precious Blood, so my hair was the worst in my Catholic school. There was only one other little Latina girl there; her family was from Mexico and she had black hair as glossy and straight as little Cindy Yun’s hair. The three of us were the exotic ones, not Eastern European nor Italian nor Irish, our faces different among those framed by brown and blond shades of hair that was straight, some wavy, a few even curly, but pretty curls like Cindy Brady. Even the two other different little girls had hair that moved in the slightest breeze, strands too limp and textureless to hold barrettes. My hair was so thick and tightly kinked that hair pins were lost and held hostage in there until my mother performed the weekly Saturday hair taming ritual.

The ritual began in the early morning, when mami dressed my hair with mayonnaise (rumored among Puerto Rican ladies in the know to have hair-smoothing powers), which I had to let sit for one hour before she rinsed my head with super cold water. Then she lathered and scoured my head with a vengeance that didn’t expel any kink-causing demons from my hair but did threaten to dislocate my head from my little girl neck. She located and disentangled all knots with a fine-toothed comb before another cold rinse, followed by an application of conditioner, a final cold rinse, and then she wrung my hair like the string mop to remove excess water before setting.

It was punishment to be handled so roughly but also to be confined indoors until my hair was dry. If I complained enough, my mother would tell me Vete, go outside then and stop being so malcriada. But how could I be seen with my hair set in giant rollers just like the older ladies at the Laundromat? The little black girls who never let me double Dutch would have certainly beaten me up. So I sat alone in front of the television in our fourth-floor apartment, and could sometimes hear the click-click-clicking from outside.

But there was hope in the box. Kiddie Kit hair relaxer for children, $4.99 at Genovese Drug Store. Such a happy day when I arrived home from school and saw the box on my dresser. Mami had bought it while I was at school and it was an unexpected surprise to find Kiddie Kit next to my music box that held the twirling blond ballerina and the glass-bead rosary I received for my first Holy Communion. The Kiddie Kit box held magic that could accomplish what was beyond the power of prayer. How much of my allowance had been spent to light votive candles at Most Precious Blood Church and yet I still had bad hair? Perhaps it had been a sin to pray for vanity, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be a pretty girl and the secret was to have pretty hair.

The church could keep my quarters and dollar bills. Mami had brought the magic home for $4.99. For the first time, I couldn’t wait for Saturday. With good hair, it wouldn’t matter that the little black girls wouldn’t let me play with them. I would be good enough to play with the pretty girls. I would be a Puerto Rican princess with smooth hair. The magic was in the box.

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