Things Change

When I was very young my parents would pack the kids up and drive a few hours to their town of origin, which was Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Most of the time the brood stayed with our maternal grandmother and father, because they had the space available in their home. On one particular occasion, when I must have been around 8 years old, my younger brother Joe and I went alone with my father and stayed with his sister Etta.

Aunt Etta was the eldest of 11 kids, my father was the youngest. Etta was probably a bit of a surrogate mom to him; his much older sisters doted on him as a child, while his mother, weary from carrying the weight of so many children with what appeared to be an often absentee husband, probably couldn’t give him the attention or patience he might have needed.

Etta looooved my little sister, although she was just a baby at this time so the adoration had only just kicked in. And my sister wasn’t along for this trip. In my childhood memory Etta regularly shunted me aside as someone who had to be tolerated. In fairness, I think she was probably nicer than I’ve painted it in subjective memory, but I resented the way she doted on my sister and the way everyone else smiled upon their special bond. Etta was a matter of fact, ouspoken woman used to being in control, and for her there wasn’t much to enjoy about my bookish, sullen nature. In stark contrast, there was my sister: an adorable, outgoing, curly-topped, Italian moppet. Although this visit was prior to my getting glasses, and I can see in old photos that I was a pretty child at this time.

One of Etta’s great sorrows in life was that she and her husband were unable to conceive more than one child: our cousin Randy, who was a kind and cheerful boy, too much older than us to be of interest, but still a lovely guy with an easy smile. I liked Randy better than i did his mother, who expressed her desire for more children by taking in foster teenagers, like Kenny.

This visit was the only time I met Kenny, and I don’t think he was in their care for very long. In my memory it seems as if he was 18 or 19. I was so little that he seemed very old, but in retrospect he was probably more like 15 or 16. I remember that he was tall and skinny and his hair was cut overly short.

From the minute we landed, Kenny was all over me. He ruffled my hair, he tried to joke with me, he pulled at my clothing, he found any excuse to touch me, and the few times I happened to walk near him, he pulled me into his lap. He was relentless about getting me into his lap.

I hated it. I was averse to the spotlight and didn’t want to be touched by anyone other than my immediate family. And I was already well on my way to mind-crippling physical guilt courtesy of the Catholic church. So on a good day this would have been too much. I sensed instinctively that this was not the standard attention that a teenage boy should be lavishing upon an 8 year old girl. But I didn’t know how to rebuke the advances. The only recourse seemed to be to tolerate them as best I could and hide from him as much as possible. His attention made me feel guilty, and creepy, and weird, and even more alone than usual while surrounded by people. My father was preoccupied, my brother a pest, my aunt politely masking her mild disdain. I counted the hours until I could get home to the warm presence of my mother.

The night before we were to leave, I woke up in the dark, feeling the energy of someone standing next to my side of the large double bed that Joe and I were sharing. It was Kenny.

Ugh. What now? Why was he standing here in the dark? I wasn’t scared as much as sincerely bummed out that there he was again. I lay frozen and could hear my brother’s baby snore sleep next to me.

He whispered, “Shh. Don’t wake up your brother.”

He squatted down and slid his hands under the covers and under my flowered cotton nightie. I squeezed my eyes shut. He fingered my vagina very gently in weird motions.

It seemed silly, albeit horrible. I felt as if my privates were like the folded paper cootie catchers we played with in school, and he was just moving it back and forth looking for the answer. Do you like red, blue, green or yellow? Do you pick 2, 3, 4, or 5? 

The clock on the nightstand ticked quietly.

“Do you like this?” He asked.

“No.” I whispered. He wiggled his fingers a bit more.

“Doesn’t it feel good?”

I didn’t answer but shook my head, my teeth clenched, waiting desperately for it to stop. I felt beyond icky and terrified that my brother would wake up and see what was happening.

After a few more hour-long seconds of effort he gave up with his poking around. He leaned into my ear and said, “Don’t tell your dad or your brother, okay? It’s our secret.”

I felt hate bloom in my heart.

I didn’t tell. I felt deeply ashamed and I could never let them know this awful secret about me, especially my father, who loved me. I felt that if he knew that I was dirty, he would stop loving me. My Aunt Etta was right. 

I sat quietly in the back of the car, looking out the window as we drove home the next morning: my childhood cracked forever, the world a grey place.

Texting with the Third Street One Percent

ME (group text): Come hang with me and Kim tonight at Niagara 7th Street and Avenue A!


Me: It’s Raff, you asshole!


Me: Ha!!! Sorry, that was a mini mass text to the chosen few. And goddamnit, stop yelling at me! You’re like Kanye West with the all caps, fer Chrissake.


Me: And another thing, why aren’t you keeping my number close to your black heart?


Safe and Sound

A long-time friend was in an accident last night, which caused a momentary scare and set me on a course of thinking about friends, the passage of time, our mortality, and who we are at this stage in the game. I’ve also been thinking about personal power, which is a regular ponderance theme for me anyway.

We all have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone on the planet is going to think we’re as awesome as our dogs believe we are. Some people don’t care what others think, and it would appear that I wouldn’t with the way I’m quick to react and constantly open my big mouth, but I do. I’m an adult now (kind of) so I can handle rejection with some dignity, and in some cases it’s a relief to be rejected by the truly crazy people I’ve co-dependently brought into my sphere. But there’s still that moment where you think, “Wah! They don’t like me!”

There is also the even darker issue of someone who truly does not wish you well. In my own experience, whenever I have wished someone would fail, which thankfully has been rare, it’s because I was feeling threatened in some way. Until recently I could not see when others carried that same motivation, I would instead just take everything completely personally. Taking things overly personally is one of my lifelong passions.

During my time in CSFH, there was one person with whom I fought constantly. I was on the defensive but undoubtedly behaved offensively. I felt undermined and sabotaged all the time. There was a mean-spirited subterfuge and will to control swirling in the room that I was not mature enough to deflect properly. As a result, I was regularly in a fit of  rage, shouting and stamping my feet ineffectually. I couldn’t handle the flow of selfish intent moving in my direction, and I didn’t fully understand what was happening. In the end, I simply walked away. It was too uncomfortable to live in that toxic energy for a minute longer, and I still blame the dynamic for the band’s demise. Well, that and grunge…
I have never talked about it with anyone other than the inner circle because it was such a complicated thing, and I still to this day have love in my heart and really don’t want to hurt the person who hurt me so badly all those years ago by spouting our fights publicly. I think in some way, too, the little girl in me still wanted this person to like and accept me. We’d shared so many amazing, funny, historical moments together that I see what a wonderful person they can be, and I have never wanted to sully the good memories with nonsense bitterness, especially after so much time has passed.

But whatever, this is not a blog meant to stir up dirt about the past. I’m far more intent upon examining the dynamic of personal power and the journey toward understanding and trusting what is real.

I have always had a certain charisma that pulls people into my circle. I didn’t get this until recently, and in my younger years I felt extremely insecure about every aspect of myself. I was able to use my physical appearance to get attention and approval from men, so this was the one area that I could wield some power, but of course this is an outside source that only fills you up for a short period of time, and I always believed that I was only conning people into finding me attractive. On the female side of my social life, I would often carry people that desired my energy, feeling comfortable playing the giving lead role, but I would inevitably walk away feeling sapped out and used while the other party hated me for starting out so strong and then abandoning them after one too many crises.

I can see with hindsight that my energy and appearance were so threatening to this one particular person that they felt the need to take action to keep me down at a level that felt comfortable to them. It wasn’t malicious as much as an unconscious attempt at self-preservation, which, in the end, is the reason for all of our malicious behavior, isn’t it? I bought into it as well, nothing happens in a vacuum, and I felt safe playing the role of the band bimbo and wild card, the one many wanted to fuck who didn’t pay attention to the business details or the one that shouted like a maniac what the rest of the crew were thinking but were afraid to articulate. 

After the dust settled, years passed, and I was free of the day to day awfulness, I worked very hard to maintain peace and a friendship. It worked for a time and I even got the apology I never thought would come. But in the end a truce simply wasn’t possible. I was rejected, which is ironic considering that I thought I was being the great giver in the whole scenario. But it was still the same dynamic, and because I am unable to squash my true self down any more now than I was all those years ago, a rift was inevitable. The rejection and bitterness coming off of this person hurt me. But I am okay with it now because I can see clearly that this whole scenario was never really about me.
I did have to ask myself this question once I got over festering on how awful I perceived my treatment from the same hand twice in one lifetime: Why was I spending so much time caring about the thoughts of someone who has never had my best interest at heart anyway? Can’t I be confident enough in my own worth to enjoy the abundant love and friendship that is available to me from other sources? That is a revelation in itself: How about we stop rolling around in the mud with the assholes when there are a million good people out there who have no interest in keeping us down? What a freeing thought! And last night I got a text that my other ex-bandmate was in the hospital, and this point was driven home. I am so grateful that she’s going to be fine and that I will have more chances to thank her for her support and love over the last 20 years.
We all have our own power that very few of us know how to manage, especially when we’re young. We allow bosses and lovers and strangers to tell us that we are unworthy, or only worthy of love, money, attention, whatever the currency is, if we forfeit something of ourselves in return. The truth is that we are completely magical from the get, we just need to get out of our own way and let it shine. 
But how to do that? It’s like solving a puzzle that changes up all the time.
In my case, I am being forced to let go of the beauty of youth; I notice men in the room looking past me at younger women. I am pretty okay with that right now, although it is a definite process to let go of one identity and get comfortable in another. It is forcing me to move on to a new chapter in life, one in which I have to rely upon other means to feel whole and loved, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I am also still hiding at least a portion of my light under a bushel to make a living, and I’m unsure of how to make the shift into feeling the sunshine on my face (mixing metaphors?) while still getting the bills paid. I’m definitely in a much better space with this than I was many years ago, working bar jobs that destroyed liver and self esteem, but the question remains: how to find a way to work in a place that most resonates with our energy, that makes us feel good about ourselves, that makes the world a better place? This is what I desire most these days.
I see some of my beautiful girlfriends dampening themselves down to keep their men or attract men. I am so incredibly lucky that I have a man who is unafraid of strong females, and indeed finds my loud friends and me entertaining rather than scary or “too much”. But I wouldn’t have been able to handle his acceptance years ago, and it has taken me years to trust that his love is real. He, like anyone else, has his own personal doubts and fears that sometimes make him doubt how strongly his own light shines. And so it goes with everyone I know. 
The mission seems to be to reach an understanding of how great we really are, and by “we” I don’t mean the outer, fleeting shit that we use to hold our egos up, but our actual true, creative, loving selves. I wish it would arrive all at once, but maybe the plan is designed to take a lifetime, or maybe a few? I don’t know. I do know that it’s enough for tonight to know who I am as much as I can at the moment, who my friends are, and that we’re all safe and sound.

Kitty Cab

As much as I hate what New York has become, there are still New York-ish moments to be had, which I cherish all the more now that they are so rare.

Last night one of my new kitties, Albert, who is ordinarily a perfect angel in cat form, (see visual below for confirmation of angelic status) freaked  out and began trying to pee everywhere. Which of course caused me to freak out, because A) Cats peeing anywhere other than the litter box is a bad, bad, baaaaad thing, and because B) Although he was trying, nothing was coming out and he was very obviously uncomfortable, which led me to believe there may be a blockage, which is quickly fatal to cats.
 Angel in rare moment of repose:

At 1 am, after watching him suffer for a few hours I decided it couldn’t wait for the vet in the morning, and that an emergency trip to the Animal Medical Center was necessary. Oh joy. But this is a positive thing about New York City, at any hour of the night you can hustle your pet into a cab and over to East 62nd Street, where there is a full medical facility and when you enter with your ailing pet they hustle you into an examination room while simultaneously calling for triage over the loudspeaker with a tone of urgency. However, everyone that I personally know who has used this wonderful service has also walked out with a bill in the thousands. Definite, terrifying downside. But there didn’t seem to be any way around it.

So there I am outside my apartment on a full swing East Village Friday night, attempting to hail a cab. The sidewalks are packed with what I deem are assholes. There’s a twinkie gay dude pissing on the street in between cars while his friends alternatively squeal at him or make phone calls to locate other squealing friends. Groups of college girls scream and shout things like, “EPIC FAIL!” while stumbling out of the traffic they’re blocking. I grumble under my breath, feeling unarmed and vulnerable in bare face and sweatpants, carrying my sick kitty.

When I got there the staff was lovely and quickly determined that the problem was not blockage. They then sent me to the waiting room while they worked on more urgent cases, and I sat. And sat. And sat, for an hour and a half, next to a moneyed looking white couple and their cheerful, non-ill appearing Bichon Frise and a guy with a giant standard poodle who hacked with what appeared to be a case of kennel cough. A half hour into my wait a dubious looking couple came in with an injured chihuahua which they claimed they found on the street. My assumption is that they didn’t want to pay their own vet bill and would rather drop the dog off “anonymously”, and I crabbily refused to make eye contact as they loudly clucked over the stray status for our benefit. An hour into my wait a Hispanic family ran in en masse, the father holding a tiny, dying kitten, their two little girls crying.

The kitten did not make it. I know this because I could see the mother crying, then the vet went into a room to speak with the little girls. They didn’t come out for a half an hour. I was sympathetic for quite a while, toward the end I was on the verge of becoming that person. The crazy bitch who cops an attitude while everyone else is calm and nice. But it was 3:30 am fer Chrissake. Jenny McCarthy (who I love) was being annoyingly flirty with Larry King on the flat screen TV. I had seen her on Oprah two days before and she was hilarious, here she was acting like the bimbo that some people believe her to be. It was past my bedtime; my butt hurt from the plastic chair. I was not in the mood for Jenny’s televised insecurities.

So by the time the vet saw me I was clearly hostile but thankfully was able to shake it off after snarking for a moment that I was glad it wasn’t a true emergency. This is probably more of a relief to me than for the doctor on the receiving end, as I always end up feeling shitty any time my lack of patience and innate bitchy temperament become too visible to the world.

I got my diagnosis and medicine and paid my $189 bill (thank you Jesus, thank you Lord), got in the elevator, and prayed it would be possible to get a cab at 3:45 am on 62nd and York while lugging a cat in a bag. I stated an intention, as my good mother has taught me, and said, “I choose to have a quick and easy trip home.”

Et voila, a cab sat on the empty street in front of the center with what looked to be an exiting friend. I caught the cabbie’s eye with a question mark on my face and he smiled and nodded. The friend said goodbye and I got in.

The cab driver, of Indian descent, asked me with an accent if I was coming from work. I told him about my cat and he stated he had a cat once and he liked them. Then he said it was very late, and I mentioned that I always feel sorry for cab drivers on the weekends, because many passengers are drunk and obnoxious.

He said, “I have had a very hard night this evening.”

And I said, “Problem drunks?”

He said, “No. I was working, working, working for many hours. So busy. I had to make bathroom very badly, and I put my off duty sign on and locked my doors. This girl pounded on my window and begged me to take her. I said, I cannot, I must take a break, I am sorry. She said, ‘Please, are you going to the East Side, can’t you just take me there?’ So I said yes and I took her and her friend to 1st Avenue. But when I got there her friend got out but she would not.”

I said, “Why?”

He continued, “She wanted me to take her to a second stop, to Delancey near the bridge.”

I nodded, “There’s a club that gets very crowded over there…”

“I said to her, ‘Please. My stomach is hurting. I am in pain, I have taken you to where you asked. Please get out and let me go or give me five minutes to use a bathroom.’ She said no, and she would not get out of the cab, and she began yelling at me and told me that she was a lawyer and was going to make a complaint about me. Now I am scared and sad, and my stomach is hurting. I do not want to lose my job.”

“So you took her to Delancey?”

“I did, I had no choice, but she was yelling at me and telling me about being a lawyer and how she would get me fired. After this I take my break and then I was so upset that I sat in my cab for an hour. I was so sad. I do not want to lose my job. I have a big family.”

“You’re not going to lose your job. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But she is a lawyer.”

I said, “Let me tell you something. Assholes that want to win a fight with a stranger always say they’re lawyers because they think it makes them look important and special. If she complains you just explain your side of the story.”

He said, “I hope you are right.”

By this time I had paid him and was sitting with the cab door open in front of my apartment, the douchery of the night still apparent around us in the form of more screaming drunk girls in front of the bar 20 feet down the street. I said once more, “You’re not going to lose your job. Just tell yourself, ‘I am not going to lose my job.'”

I smiled at him, he smiled back and I got out, relieved to be home. He waited until I was safely in the building before driving away. This is something most cab drivers used to do (the good ones), and which forged a quiet bond between the working cabbie and the female customer in the scary Wild West days of the East Village in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, when to exit a cab and fumble with keys could prove to be a dangerous situation. Now the cabs just roar away as soon as the car door clicks shut, which is okay in one way because there are so many people on my street at night that safety is not generally in question. But I miss the chivalry and camaraderie of the old days.
I was touched and I felt a little guilty. He was such a sweet man and I know he would have liked to talk about it for a minute more. But I rushed it at the end because I was tired and my suffering little cat was meowing and I really wanted to take off my boots and go to bed. I hope he was able to go home to someone who could talk to him and reassure him that everything was going to be okay. And I’m grateful for the random connections that New York can bring us at times. I’ll never see the man again but I won’t forget him either. And that makes me love the city…for today at least.

%d bloggers like this: