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Every last drop.

Little woman. Big choice. No problem.

Fifty-four flavors of homemade ice cream. I had worried the choices would overwhelm her. Mami has always been an anxious woman. Whether asked how she’d like her tea, if she’d be paying cash or credit, or to print her name and address on a form, her response is to reach for my arm, remain silent, and wait for me to respond. It’s been that way since the days when I could barely see over store or municipal agency counters. The askers behind the counters were always startled when my mother’s lips didn’t move yet their questions were answered by a voice that rose from below eye level. Social anxiety and self-consciousness about her English has kept her on mute throughout my life. In the past few years, I think it’s also her increasingly failing memory and recall. As her forgetfulness increases, so do my worries and the heaviness of the questions we face. I have less answers. Standing in front of the counter at Torico with her yesterday though, I should not have worried.

Mami didn’t want almond cream. She reminded me that’s what she’d had on our last visit to the ice cream shop. Maybe piña colada, I asked. No. Perhaps a scoop of chocolate chunk, offered the young woman behind the counter. Mami dismissed the suggestion with a wave of her hand, looked at the girl and told her she did not like chocolate ice cream. Well! I thought and before I could recite any more of the listed flavors I thought she might like, Mami spoke. Chunky cherry. One scoop in a wafer cone. Decision made, she walked to a table by the window, sat and waited for me to pay and deliver her cone.

The scoop was bigger than my fist and chunky with cherries indeed. I knew better than to take a lick. The women in Mami’s family, we can be generous, but we don’t share our sweet treats. Mami watched me as I walked toward the table. Mmmm was all she said when she waved off my offer to taste my scoop of pound cake. I was cool with that. I’d brought napkins, but we are both long-time ice cream professionals. We don’t waste a drop. We have a system. Lick around the edge first then continue toward the top to eliminate any overhang. Nudge the scoop with your tongue into the cone opening; not too hard or the cone will crack. The goal is to ease the ice cream into the stem of the cone as you lick and nibble your way down. The reward is the ice cream-stuffed cone bottom, a mini cup to be popped into your mouth where the last chews allow you to savor the crisp and the cream.

Mami noticed the sign that indicated Torico has been in business since 1968. She reminded me it is the year my husband B was born. She mentioned that she’d ask him the next time they spoke how old he had been on his first visit to Torico. We approved of the shop’s recent facelift, extended hours and expanded menu selection: all reassurances that Torico would be around for more years of Sunday afternoon strolls to get ice cream and chat. Mami wondered aloud how long they’ve been in business.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Mami is aware that she forgets more often. She has mentioned it to me, never at the moments when she repeats herself though. I don’t know that she’s aware of it at those times. I am but I don’t point them out to her. We both know.

Those moments are like drips from the ice cream cone. They were never supposed to happen to professionals like us. We knew how to manage and control our scoops. A wasted drop on my shirtfront or on the pavement used to make me cry as a little girl. The system had failed, and the remaining scoop was less sweet because of the one drop lost.

There are circumstances that exceed the powers of my system. A too-warm air temperature that causes the scoop to melt too fast: for every drip I lick, another two slither down the other side of the cone onto my fingers until my chin and hand are sticky with lost sweetness. Life feels like it’s all too-warm days: I can’t lick fast enough to save every – or any – drip. They all escape me and I’m a drippy, sticky mess.

What I tell myself is that the sweetness is not lost forever. Torico will be in business for as long as Mami and I can walk there to deliberate over the flavors: mamey? Avocado? Skip dinner for two scoops of rum raisin? (Never to share though.) I tell myself that things change and there is sweetness even in the differences. I’m a big girl in my forties. Big girls know the pleasure of the experience of the whole cone isn’t lost with one drip. I still want to cry though. I repeat to myself over and over that the sweetness is not lost so I won’t forget to savor what I have at the moment.

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Reflections: An Evening of Memoir



I have been invited by Jersey City Writers to read at Reflections: An Evening of Memoir.

Date and time: Wednesday, June 17, 7-9 pm. I am scheduled to read at 7:20-ish.

Location: The Brightside Tavern, 141 Bright Street, Jersey City.

Hope to see you there.

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The Moth


I’ve got my ticket and my story.

There is no guarantee my name will be selected when I arrive to The Moth story slam tonight, but I’m ready.

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Nancy Mendez-Booth | Cornelia St. Cafe | Tues., Apr. 7



I will be among the invited readers at “End of the Line: Stories Inspired by Fishing.”

The event begins at 6:00 p.m. at Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street, NYC. Click on the link for more information.

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Ahead in the race.

coffee in hand

Starbucks thought it was being progressive with its failed “Race Together” campaign. Ordering coffee at my local bodegas and corner stores has been occasion for my “dialogue-ing” about race, ethnicity, and culture for as long as I’ve been drinking coffee. Some of you may remember “Cafe con leche,” posted in 2011. For those of you who don’t remember it (or maybe you missed it?), click and refresh your memory.

I dig the approach Vernicia Colon and Pedro Medina took: ordering coffee as an opportunity for exploring racial identity and cultural assumptions. Their project was covered in The New York Times on Monday, March 30 in “Before Starbucks, a Bronx Cafe Blended Coffee and Racial Dialogue.”  Colon and Medina’s pop-up coffee shop was located in the South Bronx, and provided la gente with brews and an opportunity to explore who they are and how they are seen. The experiences in the South Bronx were what Starbucks’ nationally employed tag line was not: real. Local gente, often underserved in more respects than just coffee selections,were given a forum to explore their place in the world during the course of their daily life.

This is the second time this week that topics in the news had already been covered by this boricua on la bloga. Hmm…

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This boricua hair.

The more words assigned to an object, the greater the object’s importance.

I know more hair-related words, in two languages, than I do words for discussing my finances–a sign that what sits on my head takes up too much head space. I’ve blogged about how being a “good girl with bad hair” is an intrinsic part of my identity, taught and reenforced by family and the Latino community. “Good hair” is an elusive aspiration that has diverted time, energy, mental focus, creativity, and money from goals that would have really moved me forward. The quest for “good hair” is just a relentless reminder that you’ll never be good enough.

A recent article expresses parallel sentiments. Pamela Paul contributes to the Cultural Studies feature of The New York Times’ Sunday Styles; “She Sounds Smart, but That Hair!” was published Sunday, March 29, 2015. The article points out that focusing on a woman’s appearance, whether or not she is of color, diminishes her accomplishments and capacities. The article includes a comment by Sally Kohn, a political commentator who has had her hair compared to Brillo after television appearances, that echoes my own past thoughts: “Really? Nobody was listening to me? They were just looking at my hair?”

Kinky. Nappy. Frizzy. Pasa. Nido de raton. Enjambre. Messed-up. “Black-girl” hair. Brillo. Wooly. Coarse. Damaged. Troubled.

I have accumulated this vocabulary over a lifetime. It’s been a long-time project to defuse those words. The process has taught me hard lessons, including that the words have been most effective because I’ve used them against myself.

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The magic word.



I wanted an oat bran bagel with peanut butter.

I got shit instead.

I was at the bagel shop, mid-afternoon, post-lunch. I overheard two women in line ahead of me talk about their friend, a woman who’d suffered a stroke. She was 43 years old – my age! I made a mental note to never skip my daily blood thinner. The women mentioned that their friend was receiving rehabilitative therapy and regaining the ability to speak, though very slowly. Her vocabulary was limited to three words, one of which was “shit.”

Limited indeed, I thought.

How much could that poor woman communicate if one of her three words was shit? I waited my turn to order and wondered what I would want my three words to be, if in a similar circumstance.

My turn to order approached and the bagel situation behind the counter did not look promising. Many of the bins were empty. Supply was limited. I ordered an oat bran bagel, not toasted, with peanut butter. The young man at the register tilted his head and gave me a pouty face.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. We’re out of whole grain bagels. We’ll have a fresh supply tomorrow morning!”

“Oh,” I replied.

That one sorry syllable was inadequate; it couldn’t even hint at everything I wanted to, but didn’t say: “Listen junior, how does a fresh supply tomorrow help me right now? I don’t want to come back tomorrow. I know it’s not your fault there are no more whole grain bagels, but your trying to be all friendly and cute doesn’t help me. I want my oat bran bagel. Now.”

I changed my order to a plain bagel. The situation was almost redeemed when I realized I had a choice of smooth or my favored crunchy peanut butter, but then I had to wait more than ten minutes for a non-toasted bagel. What was up with taking forever to spread crunchy peanut butter on a bagel? As I waited, I didn’t have a fit as I normally would have. I had a revelation: I recognized the brilliance of the word shit. It can be various kinds of noun (a person or a thing) or it can be a verb. Shit can communicate a wide range of emotion. I had never before appreciated how multi-functional it was and how perfectly applicable it could have been at that moment.

“Shit, no whole grain bagels? I don’t give a shit about tomorrow’s delivery. I will shit upon the counter in protest.”

I’d never get that much mileage out of a word like “please.” Magic word my ass. Please would have made me sound like some wimp begging for a bagel. Please invites the possibility of no, whereas shit displays cojones. Shit is defiant and shows authority. Shit would have shown this mamacita takes no shit. It would have made clear that I was not happy about waiting for a second-choice bagel and introduced the possibility of menace, like there might have been hell to pay because I was displeased.

I didn’t use shit or any of those words that afternoon at the bagel shop, but I carry the knowledge of shit’s potential with me, like a super power I can unleash when needed. That’s a real magic word.

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Domestic Diva: A 90-second opera.

laundry pile


SCENE: The hallway in a domestic dwelling, a two-bedroom condo, in modern-day New Jersey.

A woman, not young, but certainly not old. A woman of a certain age. This woman stands in the hallway with a wheeled cart filled with colored clothing. A man, her husband, steps out of a bedroom into the hallway. He places a pair of still body-heated briefs onto the pile of clothes.




Hey, I’ve run out of whites. Would you wash them too?


(She looks over the clothes in the cart, piled taller than her, at the man. Her face darkens.)

It would take me double the time. There are other matters to which I must attend this morning.


I don’t have any undershirts or socks for the week.


For how long have you been aware of this?

(The Man looks confused. The Woman continues, louder.)

Your lack of white clothing is not a surprise to you.

You did not stumble from our bedroom, clutching your chest, exclaiming,

“Oh wife, oh! The day is doomed!

I have no clean articles of white clothing

with which to cover this temple, mine body!”

No, you stated it as a fact, a long-standing truth,

as unsurprising as “My nose is on my face.”


I don’t get this.


(Steps from behind the cart and closer to The Man.)

As your supply of clean whites dwindled,

you took no action. Until now.

You tossed the task of cleaning whites onto my chore heap,

as high and precarious as the pile onto which you added

your soiled undergarments!


Geesh, I’ll help you…


(She tosses her head back and gives a laugh.)

Help? How could you possibly help,

wring the injustice from my plight, alleviate my burden?

Push the cart? Push the elevator button? Push “Start”

on the washing machine? No. You have already pushed

me off the brink and into the abyss of domestic doom.


(His face shows greater confusion. He does not move from where he stands, and maintains his distance.)

Have you eaten this morning? Do you need a cup of coffee?


(She reaches toward the heavens with her gaze and her arms.)

He offers food, drink, as if these could right the wrongs

of this life, this world. The luxury of a moment to nourish myself

is never mine. I must do everything. Nothing –

not the colors, the whites, the earth’s rotation –

gets done if not by me. Nothing is mine. Everyone demands my time,

breathes in my space, deprives me of the life-sustaining air around me!


(The Woman lowers her arms and looks at The Man. He looks back at her, scratches his chest. She sighs. She asks The Man to place the hamper filled with whites into the cart. The clothes smell. Their stomachs grumble. The Woman sighs again, pushes the cart, asks The Man to grind the beans and get the coffee started. He walks ahead of The Woman to hold open the door so she can push the cart out of their condo unit and to the building’s laundry room.)

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Spring and new spaces.

la casa azulI felt hopeful on Sunday, March 8. The sun was out, the temperature was above forty degrees, and because daylight savings time had begun at 2:00 a.m., I looked forward to walking outdoors and enjoying daylight past 4:30 p.m.

I left for Manhattan at midday. My destination: Into Our Space, a reading and networking event for writers of color hosted at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem. My anticipation had been building since I’d received the invitation in February: I wanted to be in the company of other creative people of color, and be reminded that I am a writer and my life and ambitions are bigger than the daily to-do list of adjunct responsibilities, family obligations, and household chores.

The event was organized by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, a poet, author, and one of those generous forces that keeps entering my life. He seems to know everyone, do everything, be everywhere, and keeps me on the guest list. His greeting and introductions made it easier for this shy boricua to socialize. I was able to talk about the challenges of writing, working, and living with other writers. I work alone or remotely so often that it’s easy to forget I’m not just a weirdo malcontent and there are others who face the same challenges and anxieties I do.

The 11 readers represented different communities of color, sex, orientation, and ethnicity, but their work reminded me why we write: our stories are human stories. One male reader’s poem highlighted that love, no matter between whom it is shared, is a museum-quality treasure. An Armenian female author shared my childhood anxieties of being too ethnic in America. The neighborhood soundtrack in a Latino author’s novel excerpt described the same sounds I sought to leave behind in my 20s, just like the author’s young homosexual male narrator.

As writers of color, our voices need to be recognized not just as representative of our particular “group”, but as communicating the universal desires and fears shared by everyone and anyone outside of our space.

I returned home to Jersey with a new book, a fresh infusion of vitamin D, and renewed energy for my work. Well worth the trip out of my “space” and essential as I face a new season. Pa’lante.

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Sugar fiend (part V).



It’s easy to blame others for my sugar addiction, but it’s no cop-out. I’m justified. There’s the conditioning of the American palate to crave sweets so we’ll buy the manufactured processed foods that leave us wanting more and continues the cycle. The studies continue to be conducted, and the science is out there. I also blame my family. We are a family of sugar friends. If my childhood soundtrack consists of candy jingles, my earliest memories of comfort and love are associated with candy.

My grandfather was the patriarch of our candy-loving dynasty. I remember the long-ago days with my abuelo, when I was too young for kindergarten, but old enough to be trusted with the location of his candy stash: behind the sliding doors of his bedroom closet, on the right side, third shelf, underneath his Sunday fedora. Light in color and weight to shield his pate from the tropical sun, abuelo would pinch the hat’s sharp crease on the crown front and lift it off the shelf to reveal–TA DA!–the stash: a brown paper bag, filled not with a hearty lunch but with glistening bits of magic.

There were starlight mints, and butterscotch and fruit-flavored hard candies in transparent wrappers. There were better treasures like the caramel squares, dark as abuelo, and the milky colored nougat blocks studded with multicolored jellies. The best treasures were in the shiny foils: little logs of toffee filled in the center with chocolate, orange or other fillings. All with twisted ends, all perfectly packed little gifts.

Abuelo would take a handful and lower the bag so I could select my pieces. He would re-hide the stash, give the hat a pat as reward for keeping the secret so well, and give me a wink. We’d walk from the bedroom to the living room, where we could hear the sounds from the kitchen: canciones de amor on the radio, knives on cutting boards, and the murmurings of my grandmother and mother. Abuelo and I would settle into his orange velour arm chair (it was the 70s, it was Puerto Rico, and it was el campo) in front of the color television set encased in its faux wood, colonial-style cabinet. He’d sit first, leaving a space just big enough for a four-year-old Nancy to wedge myself between his left hip and the chair’s left arm rest. The television would be set to the local news program, delivering las noticias del pueblo before the afternoon novellas. It was our slot of in-between time, and it belonged only to us.

I used to believe we were hidden by the high back of the arm chair. Truth is only I was hidden, tucked beside abuelo, my cheek resting on the worn cotton of his undershirt, feeling the dependable firmness of his belly underneath, and smelling his Old Spice as I drifted to sleep with a toffee dissolving in my mouth. Abuelo used to pat my head until his hand rested there when he too fell asleep. We would sit there, asleep, until awakened by abuela, who scolded us for spoiling our appetites with candy and dropping the wrappers on the floor.

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