…for I guard one seed…

22 Nov

Have you ever been walking down the street in New York City, or anywhere really, and run into people you know, completely unexpectantly? Of course you have. I mean, who hasn’t? I remember one time I was in Portland, Oregon visiting my awesome friend Meredith (I miss you so much, girl! KICK!) and we were walking down the street and there, sitting at a little cafe, were my friends Kristi and Brendan (I also miss you two, obvs), having dinner. Two of the four of us did not live in Portland. Two of the four of us were, in fact, residents of different East Coast cities which made this chance encounter even more special and random. And then I began thinking, as I always do when this occurs, what are the odds?  What are the odds that I would be visiting a new city for the first and only time, a city where I thought I knew one person, to find myself face to face with two people I traveled the world with? And then came the inevitable follow-up, the far more interesting mind adventure of how many times have I been so close to seeing someone, to only get caught up at a light and miss them by mere seconds? When this happens I like to imagine myself in a television show with a pre-recorded audience. There I am walking down the street and an Important Person in my Life is also walking down the street. Or maybe The Person is walking down a perpendicular street. Anyway, the music builds but then I decide to turn and look into a window and The Person walks by, both of us completely unaware of the presence of the other. And then you hear it, that familiar sound from shows like Full House,


A communal exhale of disappointment. Maybe we will encounter one another in a later episode.

In case you were wondering where this all was going, have no fear. This was a sloppy introduction to what happened the other day. (And do not fret, the sloppiness will continue.) I was spending a few days up in the Poconos at my Aunt Mindy and Aunt Joanne’s house. It is my happy place. As a little background, after my junior year abroad (where I met Kristi and Brendan, in fact) I returned to the US and suffered a crazy bout of culture shock and got really depressed and could not relate to people at all. It sucked so hard. It seemed to me the best thing to do was to run away (I am a beacon of health!) and so I ran to Mindy and Joanne’s and spent the summer with them, going on long walks, taking a Spanish class and generally readjusting to what it meant for me to go back to living in the United States. Their home is this warm place surrounded by beauty where I feel safe being, well, me because there are no two better people in the world for me to be me around than Mindy and Joanne. So since then, whenever they’ve been free and I have been able to string a few days together I head on out there.

So this past Monday, with an open Tuesday and Wednesday stretching before me, I hopped in my car, Jose, and made the beautiful trek past the Gas-O-Rama, the Chatterbox Drive-in, Olde Lafayette Village and all the other landmarks I have been passing for years and years. I arrived at their house at the end of a quiet, unpaved road and we just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. And we built a bonfire for the purpose of forest management (AKA our entertainment). In order to build and light the bonfire, however, we had to move our cars because nothing takes the shine off a bonfire quite like accidentally blowing a car up. And this, my friends, is where it all comes together. I turned the key in the ignition and the radio started up. It was the local NPR station that I had been listening to on my journey west the day before. I began listening to the woman speaking on the radio and I realized, right then and there, that it was an activist whose work I have been reading, enjoying, and sometimes criticizing for the better part of 15 years. It was Vandana Shiva. She was, of course, talking about access to seeds, an issue that I have been interested in since my first trip to India in late 2003, (where I met Kristi and Brendan, it all comes full circle!!) and one that she is incredibly vocal about. At the end of her talk, which it turned out was a speech given during graduation at Colorado College, she recited the following poem, written by an anonymous Palestinian poet:

The Seed Keeper

Burn our land
burn our dreams
pour acid onto our songs
cover with saw dust
the blood of our massacred people
muffle with your technology
the screams of all that is free,
wild and indigenous.

our grass and soil
raze to the ground
every farm and every village
our ancestors had built
every tree, every home
every book, every law
and all the equity and harmony.

Flatten with your bombs
every valley; erase with your edicts
our past
our literature, our metaphor
Denude the forests
and the earth
till no insect,
no bird
no word
can find a place to hide.
Do that and more.
I do not fear your tyranny
I do not despair ever
for I guard one seed
a little live seed
That I shall safeguard
and plant again.

I listened to the poem and then I just sat there and I got the strangest feeling. The only way I know how to describe it is that it was almost as if I came rushing back to myself and I wanted to grab onto that moment and hold it as tightly as I could. It was as if my mind was somehow reawakened. I have been interested in access to seeds for an incredibly long time. It is, in many ways, a cross roads of a lot of topics that intrigue me: women’s rights, agriculture, access to food and water, the privatization of things that have historically been understood as the commons, culture, equality, the environment, intellectual property. I started thinking back to all the reading I have done over the years, the conversations I have had, the dark roads my mind has gone down as I have imagined all the implications of the ownership of genetic materials. I remember reading, over and over again, the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and being so mad I could cry. I did cry a few times, actually. As it all rushed back in and I started imagining all the ways I could get involved, write, share, change things, I thought to myself, man, maybe I should do something. Honestly, and sadly, that was the first time I felt that in a while.

And then, of course, I was back on my television show. Only this time NPR was playing in the background, and there was the climactic build-up and then I decided, at that very moment, to get into the car and to hear that hauntingly beautiful poem read by Vandana Shiva and the audience cheered (only they did it quietly because the producers didn’t want them to ruin the moment). If I hadn’t gotten in Jose right at that second, if I hadn’t been visiting my aunts, if we hadn’t decided to try not to blow up our cars while burning old Amazon boxes and dried up sticks and leaves I never would have heard the poem. This never would have happened. The universe was speaking. So  I don’t know what I will do, ultimately, but I will start by educating myself again and I will stop trying to convince myself, as I do almost every day, that who I am and what I am doing is enough. Because for me, it isn’t. And so I am going to guard this seed and plant again. And hopefully this time it’ll finally take.

Tip #15 on Being a Good Bar Customer

21 Nov

Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! And here we are, back to some helpful tips from your friendly* neighborhood bartender on how not to make me and my fellow bartenders hate you. Feeling a little rusty in bar etiquette? Well, feel free to freshen up with some past tips. Tip #1, tip #2, tip #3, tip #4, tip #5, tip#6, tip #7, tip#8, tip #9, tip #10, tip #11, tip #12, tip #13 and tip #14. And don’t forget about this non tip which is one of my favorites. Alright. Let’s go.

Where to begin? I guess by saying that if you look at this story in a certain way, it can maybe be a little bit sad. But don’t look at it that way, okay? Because there is so much sadness happening in the world and sometimes it’s nice to just forget about it for a minute. And, of course, to feel fortunate that we have the luxury to do so. So last night at about 8:45, give or take, an older woman walked into my bar and ordered a double gin and tonic. She was very clearly a woman suffering from a very long fight with alcoholism. I could see it in her face. I had a moment where I thought maybe I shouldn’t serve her, but she wasn’t misbehaving at that point and I had to remind myself once again that it is not my job to save people from themselves as long as they aren’t an immediate danger to themselves or others. It’s something I have to remind myself of time and time again and, honestly, I never feel less shitty about it. Moving on. I made the drink and she reached into her wallet and handed me a credit card. I said to her, as I say to everyone who tries to pay by card at this particular bar,

“I just need to see an ID with your card.”

I am routinely met by four different reactions when I request ID:

  1. People simply don’t give a fuck and hand me the ID (love them)
  2. People are happy because
    1. they think I doubt they are of legal age to drink and in their heads they begin celebrating their chosen skin care technique; clearly it’s been working!
    2. they realize I am verifying that they are the rightful owner of the credit card they are presenting and are pleased that we are taking precautions to safe guard their identity
  3. People feel inconvenienced or miffed for some reason and reach into their wallets to pay cash, which is actually better for me
  4. People are mad because they were IDed at the door and pulling out the ID again is really hard even though it usually lives in their wallets, right near where the credit card lives

This lady fell squarely into category four. First she got irritated and said that she had been drinking in the other bar (there are two bars at this particular spot) and that she hadn’t been IDed which I called bullshit on. And, upon speaking with my coworker, I found out he had cut her off which was why she came to me. Second, she tried the old “I don’t have my ID” routine which quickly fell apart when her ID made itself clearly visible when she opened her wallet. Third, she got mad and called me stupid. That’s right, folks. After taking the time to explain to her that it is bar policy that I cannot run a card unless I check ID she decided the most expedient way to get the drink she wanted was to call the person in control of said drink stupid. Bad move.

This is actually a two-part tip. The first part of the tip is don’t call your bartender stupid. I mean, let’s be honest. Calling people stupid is rude and also we’re all adults with imaginations here. We can totally come up with something better. Calling someone stupid is so recess.

So I did what anyone would do and told her that she couldn’t have the drink. She started shoving her ID and credit card at me and saying

You want ID? Here’s ID!

To which I responded,

Yea, that’s great, but actually that’s no longer the issue. You called me stupid. You could present me your birth certificate and social security card and I still wouldn’t give you this drink. Have a nice night.

I walked away and dealt with the other customers at my bar at which point she left and went back into the other bar. Then I got security and told him to escort the woman out because seriously, who needs to be called stupid at the beginning of their night, or at any part of their night really? No one, that’s who. I then watched from behind the bar as she puffed up her 5’4″ frame and kicked a few chairs as she walked next to the security guard, Gino, who’s about 3 times her size and like 50 times nicer. I could tell that she was yelling some nonsense at him and I imagined it had everything to do with me and how stupid I am. I couldn’t wait to find out what it was. As soon as the coast was clear and my customers were sufficiently beveraged, I hustled to the front gate to get the lowdown. Apparently she was very upset that I had kicked her out and said that she has connections to the mob and that she was going to have those connections come back to the bar and blow it up and that, and this is a direct quote,

“when this bar blows up it will all be because of that girl in the little bar! It will be her fault!”

I said to Gino that if the bar blows up they can put that on my tomb stone. RIP Rebekah. It was all her fault.

So here’s the second part of the tip. Don’t threaten to have your mob connections, real or imagined, blow up the bar. Especially not now, when people are on high alert about things being blown up. It’s totally fucked up. Admittedly, it’s more creative than calling someone stupid, but puts you at risk of being reported to the police for making a threat of violence. And all because you didn’t want to show ID.

So yea, just show your ID. Keep your feelings about my intelligence to yourself and don’t threaten to blow up my place of employment.

The end.

*Friendliness is in the eye of the beholder. Just remember that.


The Real Life Sherman McCoy

17 Nov

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities? It’s one of my favorites. One of the three main characters, Sherman McCoy, is a stock broker in 1980s New York, a self-proclaimed “Master of the Universe.” Without giving too much of the book away in case any of you want to read it, McCoy, heading back from the airport to his Park Avenue apartment, makes a wrong turn and ends up in the Bronx. When his car is approached by a few young black men McCoy makes the assumption that they are going to try and rob him and his mistress and takes off, hitting one of the men in the process. He flees the scene, not knowing whether or not “the skinny one,” as he is referred to, survives.

At this point I could, obviously, take this post in myriad different directions. I could point out the racism and classism, make a comparison between the New York of the late 1980s and the one that I live in today. I could note how much has changed or, more accurately, how much has not. I could go on about how the in-your-face biases that existed then have, in many ways, been replaced by something slightly more hidden but certainly more dangerous. I could talk about all the people who believe, because they live in some alternate universe of privilege and ignorance, that we are living in some sort of a post-racial society. Those people, of course, are all white. But I won’t. Instead I am going to tell you a story.

The other day at work these two middle aged women came into the bar, sat down and ordered some drinks. They asked me my name, which always makes me a little nervous — that request tends to lead to more annoyance than anything else — and settled in to chat and laugh and enjoy the afternoon. After about an hour and a half, give or take, during which time some guy who was clearly on pills tried to bolt on his bill, one of the women left. The remaining one told me that they were sisters and that they were up in New York from Philadelphia. As she spoke a heart-breaking story emerged. Her sister’s son, her nephew, had just moved up to New York in June and was working in film, living in Bed Stuy, commuting by bike. About three weeks earlier, on his way home, he had been struck by a car and then, while he was on the ground, he was struck by a second car and dragged down the block. Both cars left the scene. A by-stander called 911. I immediately asked about his head, his spine, she assured me they were both, miraculously, fine. She and the doctors attributed his survival to his sheer size: 6’2″ and solidly built. But he still wasn’t out of the woods. The accident broke his arm clear through, fractured every one of his ribs which in turn punctured his lungs. His spleen ruptured and the skin where he was dragged down the asphalt, well, I am sure you can imagine. Gone. This poor kid. He had been here for 4 months.

So I thought back to Sherman McCoy. I remember when I read that book I simply couldn’t get past the not knowing. I couldn’t understand how a person could continue with his life with the knowledge that he may have killed someone and, even worse, that if he hadn’t fled the scene he could potentially have done something to help. Accidents happen but how do you leave? It’s not really an accident anymore, is it? It morphs into a choice.

When she finished telling me the story she asked,

“How did they sleep that night?”

And all I could say, in some attempt at comfort, was

“I hope they never sleep again.”

I meant it. I hope their days are consumed by looking at the news, searching the internet wildly for any information about an accident that occurred on a specific night, in a specific place, clearing their search history as they go for fear that their secret will be discovered. I hope they find nothing. They should continue to wonder. I don’t hope that anything in kind happens to them but I do hope that they have souls because, if they do, then this will eat them alive. As it should. Sean — his name is Sean — will be okay. His Aunt convinced me of this and it seems better to believe it than not. But those assholes? I hope they suffer for the rest of their lives. There is no way they could have mistaken Sean for anything other than he was, is: a human being. And yet not one but two different drivers decided to protect their own asses rather than stop and help. It was an accident. But now it is a choice. And it makes me feel a little sadder about the world I live in.


Dear Blood Manor

5 Nov

To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Rebekah and last Thursday after work my friend Jessy and I visited your establishment. For Jessy, who loves all things scary and apparently was not afraid of a movie called The Babadook (which, admittedly, I have never heard of and will never be seeing) this was an outing to be excited about. But for me? Totally different story. I agreed to go because I am always down for an adventure but immediately after agreeing I thought to myself,

Self, that was maybe the stupidest decision you ever made.

You see, I startle quite easily. If there is a thunder storm I jump at every single clap. You could say to me,

Rebekah, I am going to hide out around the corner of this hallway and then when you come down the hall and get to that outlet over there I am going to jump out and scream BOO!

And I will walk down the hallway, completely aware of your plan, and still have a near heart attack. It’s awful. I haven’t watched a scary movie since the 7th grade when a few of my girlfriends and I watched Psycho in the basement of my friend’s house. I didn’t sleep through the night for weeks afterwards and I still have flashbacks of that scene where Norman Bates watched the car sink in the lake whenever I see a bag of Raisinets. There was this one time, over a Labor Day weekend, when my roommates and my then-boyfriend were all out of town and I was home by myself and decided to have a Law and Order: SVU marathon in my bedroom. That night I had a dream that I was the victim in the show and that when I went on the witness stand I realized that the judge in the case was actually my attacker and I had to sit there and continue to testify while he stared at me and then all of a sudden <flash forward> and I was running through some dark, damp house and he was chasing after me with a hammer. Only he wasn’t running. He was walking, calmly, and I knew that he would eventually catch me because I was headed for the roof even though I am fully aware that people in these shows always head for the roof and that is their demise because once you get to the top of whatever building there is nowhere else to go but down or dead. Anyway, I woke up at that point and nearly gave myself a stroke from fear when I thought that a sweatshirt hanging over an open closet door was actually a homicidal maniac watching me sleep, waiting for the perfect moment to bash my head in. As you can imagine I am not well suited for haunted houses.

The days leading up to our visit were a blur of anxiety for me. I am not someone who likes to flake and I had given my word so I knew that barring a freak fire that I would have no role in igniting (….) I would be walking through that haunted house. And then, the day came. All day long I hoped my friend Jessy would forget (there was no way) or just become tired and decide she didn’t want to go (she is the energizer bunny!). I thought maybe she would smell the fear radiating off my body and think, well, maybe this isn’t the best idea. But no. There was no escape. So we got on the train and made our way to your house of ghouls, stopping for some liquid bravery en route.

Before I knew it we were waiting on line to enter. As if the screams coming from inside the building weren’t enough to ratchet up the anxiety level, there were some scary people milling about outside, working the line. There was the woman dressed up sort of like a demented Big Bird, the guy on stilts in something that looked like a zombie costume with a tiny little zombie head on its shoulder and gross-looking gauze dangling all over the place, and a lady in a bustier with dollar bills attached to her body, walking around with a stapler trying to entice us to staple dollars to her skin with real staples. I think maybe that requires repeating. She wanted us to use a real staple gun with actual, real metal staples to puncture her skin. There was blood. It was horrible. I hope she got a tetanus shot. There were two guys ahead of us in line who were amused by my fear and I think maybe thought I was flirting with them a little? I don’t know. It was weird. I mean, they couldn’t know this but I would never flirt with someone in line for a haunted house. How could I think about anything other than maintaining a certain level of calmness in the face of sure doom? I mean, I am a multitasker by trade but that is too much. Even for me.

And then, we got into the House. Everything was dark. And loud. There were laser lights. There was this weird robotic thing that was remote-controlled that would lean into you and blow gross, scary air on you as you walked by. Everyone knew I was afraid. Maybe it was the sweat. Maybe it was the eyes darting frantically to and fro. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was holding onto Jessy’s backpack for dear life, audibly weighing the option of walking through the entire house with my eyes closed like I did at those catacombs in Lima. As we began our adventure, they all came straight for me. The rooms were all decorated with gruesome scenes of torture chambers, demented clowns, circuses gone wrong. And then there were people, always people, impeding your progress with their bodies, getting onto your personal space, breathing on you, whispering not-so-sweet somethings into your ears. We darted around them. I felt like we were in a post apocalyptic version of Frogger. One of the dudes leaned into me and said

I am going to follow you home. I will find out where you live. I will rip you apart.

And this is where it all went from fun to maybe not-so-fun. Just so you know, owner of Blood Manor, this is something that we out in the world call triggering. As someone who has had a weird-o do regular drive-bys of my house when I was in high school, who was followed home here in Brooklyn and who was stalked to a hotel in a mountain town in Guatemala, the fear causing me to lose all access to the Spanish-speaking part of my brain, this was not received as emptily as it had been intended. My stomach dropped. My brain swirled. And then we encountered the angry gorilla man. We entered his lair and he herded us into the corner of the room. We looked around – every single door had an exit sign on it. Which way do we go?! How do we get out?! There were people walking towards us from every direction, looking lost. I couldn’t tell whether they were visitors like us or zombies, walking undeterred towards their next victims. I looked around and said, in a semi-panic,

Where do we go? Which way do we go?!

At that moment I sort of felt like maybe we would be in the house forever. And I didn’t know whether or not we could trust the demented gorilla man. Would he send us in the right direction? Would he tell us to go through a door only to lead us back into the room with the clowns, or worse, the one that looked like a root canal gone wrong?! But he didn’t do either of those things. He hissed

You’re fucking the whole thing up!

And called security. We almost got kicked out of the haunted house. Seriously. Jessy and I almost got ejected by a huge dude in black pants and a black, Blood Manor polo for being afraid of a dude in a weird gorilla suit. I felt like I had left Blood Manor and walked straight into Crazy Town. I looked at the security guard in utter disbelief and simply said,

We’re lost. All the doors have exits on them. And it’s dark. How are we supposed to know where to go?

He pointed at one of the three “exits” which led us into a room we had been through before. We walked around, the shine taken off, the fear evaporated. I looked around the room and rather than seeing gruesome scenes I saw poorly designed sets for underfunded plays. And instead of jumping from monsters and the orchestrators of torture chambers, I saw actors in face paint and gauze, simply trying to pay their rent. They got in our faces, we stared back at them dead-pan. There was no more fear, no more fun. We just wanted out. The gorilla man was a total buzz kill.

We emerged from the house pissed off, trying to figure out what we had done to be nearly ejected. Did we make it through the house too quickly, fucking up the flow? Did we make a wrong turn? Or did we just encounter a ghoul at the end of a long, arduous night, his patience on zero after dealing with scores of assholes, who took his anger out on the wrong people? Lord knows as bartenders we have been on the other side of that equation more than once.

It was a weird ending to what was a fun, albeit anxiety inducing, night. It made me think a lot about perception, about what we bring to the table when we enter an interaction, about what it must have been like for the people acting in the house. My ears were ringing from the loud noises for the rest of the night and into the next day and my eyes took a bit to adjust to normal lighting after spending the better part of 1/2 hour being visually assaulted by flashing bulbs and lasers. I can’t imagine it is a comfortable work environment. Or maybe the guy was just an asshole, not well-suited for his role as an undead gorilla. Either way I sort of feel like you ripped us off, Blood Manor. We will not be back next year. Maybe you should look to hire a new gorilla. Oh, and lose the triggering threats.


A dude told me not to trust the Jews. Funny thing is, I am one.

28 Oct

Working behind the bar is a weird thing. Sometimes it feels as though going through an average day it work is like walking through a moral minefield. At any moment something might happen, someone might say something, that violates my own personal set of morals and I am left trying to figure out where the line is, trying to figure out when I should step in and say something and when I should just shrug my shoulders and walk away. Or, perhaps better yet, whether the smartest approach of all is simply to pretend like I heard nothing and simply carry along, seemingly unphased, while on the inside my mind is running through all the fucked-up implications of whatever it was that I just witnessed and whether or not my silence makes me complicit in a person’s horribleness. It is positively exhausting.

So I have this customer and generally he is okay. Well, more to the point, I thought he was okay. He has very odd tastes in alcoholic beverages but I won’t judge him for that…much. Other than that he mostly keeps to himself and as long as I keep his glass full he is happy and easy. Well, he was happy and easy until he found out I’m Irish (on my mom’s side) and decided he liked me. Not like liked me, like in middle school when you like people, but just liked me as a person, a bartender and, I guess, an Irish(wo)man. Anyway, so then he started telling me things which, in hindsight, I wish he hadn’t.

Note to self: put skin-toned tape over celtic knot on back; continue to not answer the question “where are you from?” with anything other than “Jersey.”

Okay, so here is a thing to know about me, just as an aside. And this might come as a surprise to some of you but I really dislike it when people use words like “gay” and “retarded” pejoratively. I even wrote a blog about it once. Here, read it. The thing is that it is incredibly important to realize the power of language, and to understand that using words that only further marginalize already marginalized groups does actually have an impact on our lived experience. Like, personally, and n on a lighter note, I need to stop calling people “pussies” unless I want to kind of turn the whole thing on its head and rather than using the word to mean that someone is weak or a coward, I could potentially use it to mean that something is strong and amazing! Like a vagina! I mean, I don’t think I could realistically start a one-woman revolution to redefine the meaning of the word pussy in the English language, so I should just retire it (as I have been trying to do) so that the effect of my using it isn’t to make the comparison, which is ever-so-common, between something that is characteristically feminine and something that is weak. You get me? So, yea, pussy has got to go unless I want to be a shitty feminist. And the words “retarded” and “gay” have to go unless you want to be a shitty person.

The reason I mentioned all of that is that I think language matters and I really don’t like when people say anything disparaging about groups of people in my presence and this guy has a habit of making rather off-color comments but in such a way that there is some room to believe that maybe I am reading into them. He doesn’t use things pejoratively, but he will mention someone and then look at me with a sort of side glance and be like

“you know what I mean?”

And it’s like,

“I think so? But I can’t really tell and if you mean what I think you maybe mean then I think you are an asshole and I do not agree with you at all in fact will you just stop talking to me or better yet, just leave?”

And so I am left in this weird sort of middle area where I want to call him out but then if I do call him out he could backtrack and be like you totally misinterpreted that and then I look like the asshole. He’s wiley. I think he was testing the waters. My basic approach was to just appear as uncomfortable as possible and walk away in the hopes that if he did mean what I thought he probably meant that he would realize I was not going to agree with him and we could go back to our previous relationship: he says very little and I make him drinks. That was hoping too much.

The other day he came in and was feeling a little bit chatty and asked me what my drink of choice is.

Me: Powers on the rocks.
Him: (after screwing his face up to demonstrate that he thinks Powers tastes like gut rot) Oh. How did you get on that?

I would like to add in here that I will tell people that I am Irish by descent if it comes up, but I don’t feel particularly attached to the country. I’m sure it’s a really awesome place but I haven’t ever visited there, I know very little about it, I don’t look Irish at all and it didn’t really play a very prominent role in my upbringing. I have the celtic knot on my back not because it represents my heritage, but because when my Grandma, Mima, went to Ireland for the first time in her life she brought me back a necklace with a simple celtic knot on it that I wore for 10 years until it broke so I got it tattooed on there. It doesn’t represent Ireland, it represents Mima. But this is an Irish guy and he asked if I was also Irish after seeing the knot and rather than go into a whole thing I just said yes, because I am.

Me: Well, I was dating this guy and he always drank Jameson on the rocks and I really liked whisky but I didn’t want to be that couple that drinks the same drink so I started on Powers and just never stopped. Funny thing is last time he sat at my bar he ordered a Powers from me. I felt like the winner.
Him: He’s an Irishman!
Me: Chinese Jamaican, actually.
Him: Jeez, where did you find one of those? What a crazy combination.
Me: (Ignoring the “one of those” comments) well, before him I dated a guy who was Jewish and Cuban! So that’s fun.
Him: A Jew? Oh no. Never trust the Jews.

I feel as though it is important, at this point, to address the fact that I am Jewish. That’s right. An Irish-Russian Jew. Bat Mitzvahed and everything. And at this point there was no way to pretend like he wasn’t being a total bigot. So I jumped in.

Me: Oh? Well that’s funny because you seem to trust me plenty.
Him: (Confusion turns to panic) But you’re Irish!
Me: Yup. Also, Jewish. Crazy, right?
Him: Well, the Irish just cancels the Jewish out.

At this point I was seething. In my brain I was saying,


But in reality I cocked my head to the side and said, more or less,

It doesn’t work like that. And just so you know, we’re everywhere. Hiding in plain sight.

It was one of those things that I was hoping would sort of scare him, you know, since we are so untrustworthy and all. I mean, I even touched his glass! I handled his money! I might have been swindling him and he would never even know it because he thought that I was a trustworthy Irish person rather than a lying, stealing, cheating Jew!

Anyway, it was crazy. He felt like an asshole and tipped me really well. He didn’t apologize though, or take it back. And I bet every time he sees me now he is always trying to see the (not so visible) Irish in me and ignore the (blatantly obvious) Jewish characteristics. So now I am left feeling like maybe I should have called him out on the earlier, sneakier things rather than wait for him to prove himself to be an actual bigot who was bigoted against me, you know? And, just as another aside, I said to someone recently that whenever someone, or a group of someones, is generally bigoted, they always also hate the Jews. People are always hating the Jews. All through history and shit. And this person was all “nah, people don’t hate the Jews anymore. Not after Hitler and all that” and I was like “um…hello?” And now I wish I could remember who that person was and I would tell them all about this dude and be like,

QED mother fucker. Q. E. D.

An Open Letter to a Developer

16 Oct

Dear Ryan Pedram,

Hi, my name is Rebekah and I live down the block from the luxury condominiums you are currently constructing. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and my street. I have lived on this block for over 10 years now. Even still, even with all these young kids from where ever they are coming from moving into Brooklyn in droves every month and saying they are “from” here, I don’t think I can actually call myself a New Yorker. It never feels as though I have been here quite long enough to call this city my own without feeling like an impostor. Even still, I love my block and it is more my home than probably anywhere else. Despite what people say about the anonymity and lack of community here in New York, I know my neighbors if not by name then certainly by face. I wave at them and chat with them when I go about my day and they notice when I leave on some adventure or other for an extended period of time; they notice when they haven’t seen me running in a while; they just notice. Well, those who are left do, anyway. See, my block has changed quite a bit in the past few years. It seems like every few months one of those familiar faces is forced to sell their property under the pressure of constantly rising property taxes and in response to the threats made by developers like you.

Now listen, I am not going to sit here and pretend like my arrival over 10 years ago wasn’t a canary in the mine shaft to some of the people who have lived here for decades, generations, even. When young, white kids start moving in, you know shit is about to change. I did my best to respect the place I was moving to, the neighborhood that existed before my arrival. I never once acted, like so many newcomers do, as though I “discovered” something. Talk about some language reminiscent of colonialism, ya know? I know now that my young, privileged face read as an upcoming rent hike to those that lived here then. Like the beginning of the end. Like gentrification (which it was). To those people, I apologize. Seriously. I know it doesn’t make it better but I am truly sorry. Even with what followed: all the new faces, the new bars, the coffee shops, the thrift stores, the bike shops, the bike shops, the bike shops — all the trappings of Hipster New York that have made Brooklyn a brand and paved the way for a Banana Republic to open on Fulton Mall (like, what?!) — this neighborhood has, in many ways, remained itself: low key and unassuming. A lot of the people on my block have managed to hold on.

But now the new New York that has been plaguing neighborhoods all over the city, but most notably Brooklyn, has arrived here. (Thank you for that, Bloomberg.) And you are responsible for the building currently going up on my block. This past spring and summer, men in suits descended on my street, trying to buy up whatever buildings and lots they could. A house that had gone down during Sandy, one which was never cleared away, suddenly looked like dollar signs. Buildings with residents — houses where people lived — were condemned by the city and those people forced out to look for new housing in a place where rent prices seem to climb by the second. Then those houses were leveled. And then silence. Until this past week.

This week has been horrible. I, like many people I know, live an off-schedule. I am a bartender and a writer. I keep odd hours and I work from the table in my (usually relatively quiet) kitchen. I understand that I cannot expect the world to kowtow to my abnormality. But the construction has made my home absolutely uninhabitable. Noise I can handle. I live in New York and share this space with millions of people and I understand what that entails. If I wanted pitch black nights with stars and crickets and to be awoken by birds in the morning, I would move to the country. But Mr. Pedram, everything is shaking. The work your contractors are doing up the block, which, by the way, they said they would be done with by 6pm on Tuesday when I first spoke with them (it is currently Friday at noon), is causing things to fall off my refrigerator, my coffee to dance across the table, my cats to cower, fur standing straight up, under the sofa for hours. When I called you on the phone just now you said that the Department of Buildings had been called to the site 2 dozen times and that this portion of the work would be completed in 45 minutes. As if the fact that you aren’t breaking any of their bullshit regulations should offer me some solace. I mean, I know this is crazy but how about you offer us some compensation? I am paying rent on a space I cannot be in. You stand to make millions and millions of dollars. Do the math.

I am not going to act as though my experience has been any different from, worse than even, the hundreds of thousands, hell, millions of New Yorkers who have watched as their neighborhoods become unrecognizable, as the homes they’ve rented for years become unaffordable, as the mom-and-pop shops they have frequented close and make way for banks and pharmacies, banks and pharmacies, more banks and more pharmacies. And I know, it is a lot worse for other people. My roommates and I are still able to afford our apartment, for now. And I am so incredibly thankful for that. But when those starry-eyed newcomers with their strollers hogging the sidewalks, their cars taking our parking spaces, their money closing our neighborhood businesses arrive, how long do the rest of us have? They will have “discovered” this neighborhood that existed for so long before them and before me and it will start to look like everywhere else.

I know that it is all money to you. But just for a second, can you acknowledge that people live here? More than that, even. Acknowledge that people have lives here. Lives that they have worked hard to establish. Lives that deserve better than apartments that shake because you need to make way for the new hip neighborhood. Because after you do that, after you throw up this shottily-constructed building that, if the other new construction in this neighborhood is any indication, will begin falling apart within 3 years, you will move onto the next thing, pockets lined with cash. And those of us who live here now, probably won’t be able to afford it anymore. And where do we go? Where do any of us go? Where do all of the people — in Crown Heights, Long Island City, Harlem, East New York, Astoria, Mott Haven — go? And how much longer can this really go on? How many more newcomers with money can there be?

I’m sure you don’t have the answers any more than I do. And I am not going to act as though this is something only affecting me and the neighborhood I live in. I know this has been going on for years, that I am lucky to have avoided it so long, that other people, specifically people of color, have it worse. I know that I am partially to blame. But fuck, man. My house is shaking and the only thing I have to look ahead to is an ugly new building going up on my block. Assuming I can still afford to live here.

So thank you for taking the time to answer my phone calls today, for speaking with the contractors about my complaints, and for saying that you “understand and feel for what I am going through.” Thank you, in short, for attempting to placate me. But just so you know, I think you, and all the people doing what you are doing in the name of personal enrichment, are assholes. I think you are all destroying this city. This city that gets slightly less awesome with every single personality-less building that clutters the skyline. And by the way, it has been more than 45 minutes and my house is still shaking.



“Well he doesn’t live in Afghanistan. Like me.”

15 Oct

You know that thing that people always say to kids who don’t want to finish all the food on their plate? You know,

“eat all those peas because there are kids starving in (insert name of country that currently brings to mind deprivation here).”

I mean, to be entirely honest with you, it would be just as accurate, and probably more meaningful, to say something like,

“eat all those peas because there are kids starving down the block only you likely won’t ever be faced with it because we do a really good job of hiding our poverty problem in plain sight and then pointing a judgemental finger at others.”

I mean, what a truly ridiculous thing to say to children. To make them feel as though by not finishing all the food on their plates they are at most contributing to, and at least complicit in, the starvation and suffering of their peers the world over. I mean, obviously wasting food is not a good thing and we should appreciate what we have from a young age, but everyone knows pretty much everything (except fried food) tastes better the next day anyway and Little Sally’s pea consumption, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with inequality in food access. It actually would make more sense to draw a parallel between the effects on food production caused by changes in climate which is a direct result of our overconsumption of fossil fuels and the methane gas emissions of our industrial agriculture than some little kid forgoing the overcooked veggies on her plate. But I digress.

The reason that I bring this is up is that there is this thing that happens on the Internet and In Real Life that drives me absolutely bananas. So let’s say you go on your Facebook page or Twitter feed and you say something like

“Ugh I got shat on by another bird. Worst day ever.”

And then someone writes you back and is like,

“Well if that’s your worst day then consider yourself lucky. You could be getting bombed in Gaza.”

or some shit. And it’s like, fuck, now I feel kind of bad because you’re right, it would be way worse to be bombed in Gaza, or anywhere really, than to be shat on by a bird. But at the same time it’s like, no, fuck you, I was obviously being fascitious and really, what the fuck does one thing even have to do with the other?! Nothing! Nothing at all! And also, there is no way for me to be bombed in Gaza because I am here in Brooklyn. So, if we’re being accurate, I actually couldn’t be bombed in Gaza. Just like wasted peas will not change someone else’s access to a nutritious meal, my feeling negatively about being shat on does not mean I am incapable of feeling negatively about other things at the same time. I can be mad about my own experience with bird shit and simultaneously be mad about people living in fear of aerial bombings. The brain is magical.

So I remember when Michael Brown was murdered and a lot of people were, rightfully, posting links to articles about it. The people in my circle by and large were appalled and there were lots of exchanges about institutionalized and systemic racism and a renewed hope that maybe by blowing the lid open on the fact that racism is endemic in the United States we could really get to the process of addressing it, having a real, honest and hurtful nationwide conversation about racism and its implications, and maybe, just maybe, move in the direction of change. Meanwhile, some kid posted an article about Syria and was like,

“All this talk about Michael Brown and no one cares about what is happening in Syria right now.”

And it’s like, I’m sorry, what?! Because the fact that we care about this tragedy necessarily means that we can’t simultaneously care about that one? It’s like Jesus fucking Christ, man! What in the world is wrong with you?! So, what? You’re going to go to Ferguson and tell the parents of Michael Brown that what happened to their son was terrible but, hey, what about the implications of our drug war in Mexico? I mean seriously. Go fuck yourself. There are terrible things that happen in the world all the time. Sometimes those things happen to us and people we know and sometimes they don’t. We cannot possibly engage with all the horrible all the time because it would eat us alive. Believe me, I have tried my damnedest. But also, that there are worse things happening to other people doesn’t mean that the shitty things that happen to us are any less real. Losing someone in a car accident is not any less painful because we are in the middle of an epidemic of gun violence. Those things are simply not connected. Our pain is our pain, our experience is our experience. Plain and simple.

I bring this up because the other day at work some random drunk woman (British, blonde, middle-aged; this is relevant, I swear) commented that someone looked angry. I said he wasn’t angry. Just having a rough week. And she looks at me and she says, and this is a direct quote,

“Well he could live in Afghanistan. Like me.”

My brain basically exploded. I stared at her for slightly longer than was comfortable and I walked away. Obviously I have been thinking about this nonstop since it happened. If I had a chance to speak with her again, this is what I would say…give or take:

You are a self-righteous asshole. I am sure that you have seen plenty of terrible things, but that does not diminish the impacts of the things that happen to others in their day-to-day lives. Loss, physical pain, anger, loneliness, heartache and yes, even happiness do not cease to exist because there are injustices happening elsewhere in the world. There is not a finite amount of feelings that exist, like by feeling happy about one thing means that you necessarily have less anger to feel about another. And if someone has a shit day then they have a shit fucking day, regardless of how shitty someone else’s might have been. That is honestly neither here nor there. And, besides, last I checked you were sitting at my bar with your girlfriends on a Saturday night getting wasted off Kettle 1 and sodas. I am sure that what you do, things you have been exposed to, have been difficult but the fact of the matter is that you get a week off. And in that week off, maybe don’t shame people about their lives. Because honestly, the best way to get people to stop listening to you, to stop wanting to learn, is to behave exactly the way you behaved. Talk to people, not down to them. You are not better than anyone else.

Obviously I didn’t say any of that but hopefully someone will, in real time, and much more articulately than I could manage even with 5 days of thought going into it.


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