Tag Archives: new york city

Here’s to Being Me

Today I was told that I am too loud. Abrasive. That women need to be quiet and respectful when talking to men if they want that respect to be reciprocated. That men don’t like me because I don’t fit this profile, that this profile is what makes a good female manager. I felt at first like the little girl who never got picked for either of the teams in kickball; I told myself not to cry because the speaker was just being a butthead. The attack was completely unwarranted. I struggled to figure out where it had come from, because it was so out of left field. And then I realized that I don’t want to be that person who makes excuses for someone who would say these things. Because that is like saying that it’s okay to say them—and it’s not.

I swore that once I got a degree, I wouldn’t put myself back in retail. But I’m here now, and that’s all right. I work in a cash office all day, and sometimes I cashier. It pays for bills and food while I further my degree. So because I enjoy eating, I put up with a lot. Many people assume that cashiers are servants made to do their bidding. They forget that we spend all day on our feet, scanning their shit and counting their money, until we are ready to fall over—and we come back for more each and every day. They forget that we are ordinary people just like they are, trying to get by. They treat us like dirt, like inferior beings, when we are, if anything, superior for putting up with the lot of them. They yell at us, they call us names, they threaten us. And we are still expected to smile and wait on them as if it’s okay. We make excuses for their behavior in order to get through the day, because we don’t know what they’re going through or where they’re coming from.

But I’m mad now, and I won’t make excuses for today. I won’t make excuses for what was said, because there simply aren’t any.

I view the discussion I had tonight as is a warning that women cannot be successful in management. A friend of mine wrote upon hearing this that it isn’t the 50s anymore. Truth. Women are just as awesome at management as men. Some are better. Management skill is not something that is based on gender. But I don’t want to be in management. I came here to write. I came here to be a bigger person that they will ever be. That’s not me being braggy—that’s me simply stating a fact. From the start with this company, I have been talked down to by people above me. I have been insulted. I have been continuously badgered to be someone that I’m not, because I, as I am, am just not good enough to work there.

I’m not a loud person, by nature. I can be exuberant when I’m happy or when I really know someone, but trust me—that does not happen at work. I do my job. I do it well. I care, so I get things done. The fact that I care so much and work hard apparently makes me female-managerial. But my so-called personality and way of speech make me male-managerial, which apparently means I will never be a good manager.

My resume begs to differ. I am good. I am good as ME. The more that I stay in this city, the more that I go to school, the more that I write, the better I am going to be. So here’s to me. Here’s to me being me, and to knowing that the words of someone who doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things will never have the power to change who I am unless I give them that power. *imaginary toast of alcohol*

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Give and Take, Good and Bad

Customers in New York seem even more rude than customers in Wisconsin did, if that’s even possible. In just a few weeks, I have had two people call me fat, two people throw things at me, one I’m fairly certain was about to stab me with a pen before he was hauled away, and countless ones losing their tempers for absolutely no logical reason.
I swore to myself that once I had a college degree, I would never again work in retail; I worked really hard for that degree. And yet, here I am. While I understand that this is a means to an end while in grad school, I still hate it. I love the cashiers I supervise, but I hate going to work every day.
New York and retail have me quite blah.

There was a police officer in dress uniform in front of me today at Starbucks. While I was looking down at the floor, playing with my name badge for work, I caught a glimpse of something on the underside of the cap he held in the hand closest to me. I wasn’t trying to snoop, per say, but I was definitely curious. I leaned a little closer and saw it was a photograph. He smiled at me when he saw me glancing down at it, which seemed like an invitation to ask, “Do you mind if I ask whose photo you have taped there?”
“Not at all.” He flipped the cap over more and held it up so I could get a closer look. “Most police officers, fire fighters, and the like carry a photo of one of the fallen from 9/11 under their hats. If you ask, we are happy to show it you. It helps us—and others—to remember.”
There’s good in New York too. I need to remember this.

There is a man who sits on Fifth Avenue in the vicinity of Barnes and Noble almost every day. He puts his back against the brick wall and rests a cardboard sign against his knees: “Please help; my mother died of breast cancer two days ago and I just need 56 dollars for a ticket home. Help me and her get a miracle.”
By my clock, his mother has died two days ago almost forty times now, or every day that I have gone to work in the last seven weeks. It is people like this man who are the reason why I won’t give any money or any second glances to any homeless people, and that makes me a little sad. I worry I am losing my faith in humanity, that New York is burning it out of me.

I left my grad school workshop in tears last week. For a myriad of reasons. Mostly, because I don’t really fit in. I haven’t had a critique yet—though I will tonight. I don’t know how to fit into the conversation. How to make my voice heard. When I reached the bus that would drive me through the Lincoln Tunnel and deposit me safely at my nice, quiet house, it was quite late and only one spot remained. For two of us.
I must have looked pretty damn sad and forlorn, because the man who was in line with me gave me his spot. I have never seen that happen around here. We fight over those tunnel bus seats with a ferociousness that is akin to my cat attacking her food dish at night. He said to me, “You look like you need to go home more than I do.”
A mild spot of faith in humanity was restored that night.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while New York may drive me absolutely bloody mental at times, there is also good in it too. The city, like everything else in the world, is not black and white. It’s give and take, good and bad.
I would do well to remember this, always.

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Dear Man I Almost Just Pepper-Sprayed (Or, Another Day in My Life as a Minority)

Tonight after class, I was walking home from the bus stop. This is about a two block or so stretch along the river. It’s normally not so bad; the view is pretty and there are usually the occasional stragglers around walking dogs. I went to cross from the Hudson side of the road to my side, and heard people yelling. A quick pivot revealed a man a woman arguing on the corner about something in a book they were looking at. I turned back around to hit the button for the traffic signal, and there was a man directly in my face. He grabbed my arm, and told me how attractive I looked. (Trust me, I have worked all day. And then school. I am sweaty, I’m sure my makeup has melted off, and I am in no way attractive at this point in the day.) I had the pepper spray out before he could get out another word. Had he not let go, I would have kneed him. The plan was in my head without me making a conscious decision to create it. I crossed the street outside of the crosswalk, not bothering with the signal button. Walked up my steps after making sure he was not behind me, and then locked myself in the house. All is well and fine.

I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before, quite honestly. One night when I was coming home from work, walking down 6th Avenue, a man jumped out a doorway and tried to “ask me for directions.” I kept walking. Another time, a weird man came up to me when I was in line for the bus, but he walked away when I ignored him. There have been creepy things like that before, but I’ve never been touched, let alone grabbed. And I was, legit, with a few steps of my house.

One of my greatest fears in coming to the city was things like this happening. What surprises me most about it is that I really wasn’t afraid when it did. I don’t remember grabbing my pepper spray, or clicking off the safety. But I did it. PTSD be damned. I’m sitting on my bed now with tea and my cat replaying the entire brief encounter. Part of me wonders if he really did have good intentions, if he just wanted to introduce himself. In the dark. In not fantastic clothes. With crazy eyes. Smart me knows this probably wasn’t the case, though I still wonder if I overreacted. Had I not had pepper spray, would I still be on my bed right now with my cat?

My brain has programmed me to think differently. To be suspicious of the things in the shadows, to bolt when someone approaches me in the dark, especially when they’re unannounced. And for a while there, I forgot that I am naturally suspicious. I forgot that I am a white girl in a neighborhood where NO ONE else is white. (Minus the nice elderly lady next door.) I forgot that I used to be afraid. Of everything. But now I know that I’m not afraid anymore; and I know that there’s a different between fear and preparedness.

I think what I learned tonight is that I am stronger than I give myself credit for, a lesson that needs to be driven home for me again and again and again on repeat. I’m not going to fall apart anymore just because something happened. I, more than anyone, know this could have turned out incredibly differently. My life has prepared me to be on alert in a society that has forced me to be. Fuck this world that tells a man it’s okay to come to a strange woman after dark. Fuck this world that treats women like they are objects that can be touched by anyone. Fuck this culture that tells women we have to be afraid. I’m not going to be afraid. I’m going to kick ass.

I like this me much better.

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On Living in a Food Desert

I sat in the window, watching as the grocery truck pulled up outside after an hour of counting boats sailing the Hudson. Watching as the driver unloaded my bags. Watching as a case of soda and plastic bag after plastic bag filled with goodness that I would soon be able to eat appeared on the sidewalk. I’m not ashamed to admit that I squealed a little watching from my third story picture window as the grocery man walked up the stairs to my front door. I’m also not ashamed that I totally jogged down to meet him.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, going hungry. But, I’m hungry.

When I lived in Wisconsin, it never occurred to me how exciting groceries could be. And then I moved to New York. One thing that I never expected was how bloody difficult it would be to find groceries—and to get them home. I’ve found a Whole Foods (and apparently there is a mythical Trader Joe’s in that vicinity), but they are several train stops and a bus ride away from my house. Much too far for groceries. Then there are the bodegas in my neighborhood; the ones where the shopkeepers only speak Spanish and only take cash. Most of the products in these places are in Spanish as well, which makes it doubly difficult to figure stuff out.

It’s impossible to get bread anywhere that I’ve found, at least, bread that’s not wheat. I can’t eat wheat bread—it dries out when I chew it, literally solidifying the desert illusion. My neighborhood is literally flooded with tiny restaurants. Miniature oasis’, filled with the most expensive water this side of the Hudson. But I can’t eat out all the time. I’m a graduate student. I’m poor; there is rent to be paid. Plus, the neighborhood gets scary at the night the farther away from the river I go. I refuse to leave the safety of the street lights. I could bring takeout food over the river from the city, but it’s cold by the time I get it home. And, again, expensive.

It is because of these things that I now call this city the food desert. A physical desert is a region so arid because of little rainfall that it supports little to no vegetation; a food desert is a region that is completely dry of whatever food it is I happen to want. Bread. Fresh meat. Normal juice. Necessities.

My Peapod order this week was a total cave in, out of sheer desperation. I used to laugh at physically capable people who had groceries delivered, but I totally understand it now. It’s so bad in this area that I couldn’t even get a loaf of decent bread. I spent at least a month living on Ramen noodles and mini-cheeseburgers, which while not terrible to taste, get a little boring after a while. I now have frozen chicken and various types of pasta, as well as bread, bagels, and soda. They came in a little green truck, rather than me having to go out and fix them. But I still don’t have what I really want. I also highly suspect these food related wants that exist nowhere in my personal desert are a way of trying to fill the holes of all the things I have left behind. But that’s another piece all together.

I would kill for a pork steak. Bacon. Or any meat, really. Quite possibly literally—which is hilarious, because I’m not really a huge meat eater. I think that, at this point, I would be willing to go out and slaughter the pig myself. I am used to a society where I can just go out and get what I need, and this place requires me to figure out bus maps, condense my purchases so they don’t have to buy their own seats, and transport stuff without it melting before I can eat it.

I am writing this from the middle of the food desert, 1000 miles from home. If anyone gets this message, please go out and spear me a pig. If I don’t answer when you drop it off due to either working or being inundated with grad school and NOT writing, the cat would be glad to assist you. Thanks in advance.

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On Being Still

I met a man today in Washington Square Park who was a literal bird man. He was dressed entirely in black, long sleeves and heavy pants, with a bandana around his forehead. A belt ensnared his waist that was filled with bird snacks—and a cell phone, which came close to being a bird snack. While I watched, he stood in the middle of the brick path and let the birds land all over him and the squirrels shimmy up his legs. After watching for a while, I asked him how he got the birds to land on him like that, how he taught them to be so comfortable. He told me it was all about being still, waiting. Patience. When he first started, the birds wouldn’t come to him. He was new. But because he was patient, he managed to convince them that he was safe. Eventually, he became a giant bird feeder.

I have never good at any of those things—patience, waiting, stillness—when it comes to new experiences. When things go wrong, or don’t go how I imagined they would, I want to run away before they get worse. So I never have the pigeons of life land on me.

I will never be a bird girl.

This bird man conversation came about on the same day that I met with an old friend for lunch. He said to me, over bites of amazing pad thai noodles and beef, that he was loving the city. And then he asked me how grad school was. And the truth? I’m not writing. Not like I used to. I’m working full time hours at a part time job; I go to class twice a week, and I spend the rest of my time at home with the cat. Staring at a computer that no writing is coming out of. He asked if I’d met my advisor yet—I haven’t. Not unless you count orientation, which was fifteen minutes of introductions followed by two hours of wine-influenced mingling. And while I love grad school, I do not love it in the way that I thought I would. It just feels…different.

This bird man conversation also came on the same day as a text conversation with another friend of mine. I wrote her because, at least it seems to me, like I’m the only one of my friends not fitting in at grad school. I watch E, going out with her cohort for food and drinks, to movies, shopping. I watch L’s happy posts about the different things she’s doing. I’m not doing that. I look around me and I realize that everyone knows somebody else, and nobody really knows me. I wonder how much of that is my fault. My resistance to being still.

A mere six months ago, there was a magical pile of acceptance letters for graduate school. (Along with rejections, but those didn’t bother me once I obtained the acceptances I had coveted). I was put in a place where I was forced to choose between programs, and I chose this one. A program that I liked for the people in it; for the ambiance of the school; for the close-knitness I ascertained from long distance interviews and observations.

I have found none of these things. My roommates and I are radically different. My workshop is filled with people who already know each other; a large group of second years that all have someone else to talk to. My lit seminar is a mash of existence, placing first and second years together and ringing around the drain whilst actually saying nothing. I’m older than almost everyone. Plus, many of them have been in New York for much longer than I have; several grew up here. When they go out to the bar after class, they don’t invite me. I don’t possess the social skills to know whether I should go home or go crash the party, and besides, I’m scared to get drunk—drinking is not, and has never really been, my thing.

The worst thing though is that I, who considers (considered) myself to be a writer, am not writing. Not well. Not like I used to.

I wrote the following in my personal statement while applying to graduate programs: “I’m a writer. What I want most is to pursue a literary life that allows me to flourish in an occupation that I love. And I want time. I write as much as I can, nearly every day, but I never feel like I have enough time for my work. Graduate school will give me the professors, the peer community, and the time that I need to take my writing to a place where I can use everything that I have learned and apply it in a manner that will help others.” But I’m not writing now. I don’t have time; I have less time than I had as an undergrad. Rather than writing, I’m working at a job I hate. I’m riding to and fro on transit. I’m unable to form any kind of attachment or learning bond with my professors. I don’t know how to connect to my peers.

I told myself that I was open to new things, but I don’t think I am. I don’t know how to handle them. I liked my little world where I was a good writer, where I was a tutor and a teacher and anything but someone who counts cash for a living. I liked working for a lit magazine—I haven’t figured out how to do that here—and I definitely liked knowing what I was doing. I do not know how to be still, how to be like the bird man and let those birds come to me. I want everything to happen now, and the way that I want. The way that I know.

This, unfortunately, isn’t life. And if I keep looking for life to be the way that it used to be, I will never have any birds. So this week I have ordered groceries online (to replace the grocery store I cannot find), made myself write three pieces, and let myself be social with another student in the hall at school. Tiny, tiny birds that will hopefully, someday, turn into the flock of pigeons that I saw on the bird man. If I have learned anything by being in New York, it’s that I need to be more flexible. I need to let the world in more. I need to embrace the change.

I need to stop, be still, and let the birds land.

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