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These are scary, scary times

10 Nov

Friends. As many of you already know, today I am embarking on a journey. Today I leave, my trunk full of clothing and books, my heart heavy, and head down to New Orleans for a short but important new chapter. A time when I can reflect on who I am and who I want to be in this world. I time when I can just sit back, far away from family and many of my friends, far away from where I have called home for my entire adult life, and start building. I want to start building a me that makes active choices and decisions for where I want my life to go and becomes a more vocal person within my community, where ever that community may be. This is more important now than ever.

I thought that I, along with one of my closest friends, would be driving South in a different America than the one we find ourselves in today. I thought we would be driving in the spirit of celebration and safety, not feeling as though we are in a high-speed train, breaks failing, hurtling into the darkness. Clearly we, along with millions of others, were out of touch with the degree to which people are hurting all over this country, to the degree that people feel ignored and left behind, to the degree so many disdain the cities and the people that live within them. And I get it. Shit is hard. And I am sure I am going to be seeing a lot of hard shit on this ride – a different kind of poverty and destitution than I see day after day in my beloved New York City. And that is unfair. I truly believe we all deserve opportunity, that we should all feel as though we matter. But more than anything else, I feel as though we should all feel safe and at home here in our America. In our beautiful, diverse, America. And so, in keeping with my post from yesterday, albeit with slightly less swearing, I have just a few things to say.

I am having so many feelings right now. I am angry, I am shocked, I am saddened, but more than anything I am afraid. I spoke on the phone with my father last night and he who lived through America during the Vietnam War, through the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, through the on-air killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, through the resignation of Richard Nixon, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the horrors of the Cold War and September 11th and everything that has come before, in between and after, he told me that he has never felt so unsure or afraid for and about the future of our country. These are scary, scary times. Scarier than ever before. And I remember speaking to my mother in the days and weeks following the 2001 attack on our country, myself in tears and her with a strength she always manages to find, and having her assure me that there are always these moments, always these times, that give us uncertainty but that we must have resolve and move forward and know there is more good than evil out in the world. That although things will never be the same, we will adjust and we will learn and we will get better. When I spoke with her at 10pm on election night, as we were understanding the reality of where we stood, her voice cracked. These are scary, scary times.

And in the past few days since Donald Trump’s election, things have become clear: we are living in a moment where people are angry and this outcome has, for some though certainly not for all, legitimized their feelings of closed-mindedness and has emboldened them to behave in ways that openly threaten those around them. My friend Ashlie shared this story:

Tonight we were at a bar, celebrating Leon’s fantastic film screening. A man came up to our table behind my seated friend and proceeded to, without greeting or warning or any words at all, put his arms around her, hug her, and kiss her cheek. We all assumed it was an old friend, and she squirmed around to see who it was, and it was a complete stranger! I said, “Do you know him?” and she said “no! Not at all!!!” We all started telling him in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t get to do that, just touch and kiss anyone whenever he feels like it, and he responded, “but Trump just won the Presidential Race.”
I am not kidding, lying, or being even the slightest bit hyperbolic. That is what happened, and that is how he defended his actions. So, know that.

Reading through the comments on her post revealed to me that there were many women who had the same exact experiences. Men walking up to them and touching them, grabbing them, kissing them and saying that because now that we have a President Elect Trump it is within their rights to do so. And then, of course, there was the one man, the one white man, who called all these women liars. These are scary, scary times.

And my younger sister, a graduate of Wellesley University, shared with me a story recounted by Sydney Robertson:

Today, Wellesley women, like a lot of America, were in mourning.

Edward Tomasso and Parker Rander-Riccardi, two students at Babson College, decided to drive around our beautiful campus with a Trump flag in a pick up truck. They laughed, screamed and sped around campus. Then, they parked in front of the house for students of African decent, and jeered at them, screaming Trump and Make America Great Again. When one student asked them to leave, they spit in her direction.

This is not my America, this is Trump’s America filled with hatred and bigotry. This is what he has provoked. Please help us get these faces out there, they cannot get away with this.

And this is just the tip of the ice burg. There are women afraid to leave the house in the hijab; women making appointments at Planned Parenthoods to get IUDs before our access to birth control, and our rights to choose, are further threatened; one member of the North Carolina LGBTQ community woke up to find a note on his car that read “Can’t wait until your ‘marriage’ is overturned by a real president. Gay families = burn in hell. Trump 2016.” And this is just the beginning. This is just 36-hours in. These are scary, scary times.

And so I head south. Away from a New York that no longer feels safe and into the unknown. I’m sure I will be fine but still, the nervous butterflies in my stomach are a little more active than the were just 2 days ago. Things seem less certain, more foreboding, and just, I don’t know, more treacherous. We all need to be more careful because a dragon has been awoken and that dragon has found his and her voice within mainstream media and our government, on the streets of our cities and our towns, and things will be a lot less safe for all of us. Every single one. Because if there is a Trump supporter who is reading this blog, and if that Trump supporter happens to be a white female (as so many maddeningly were) or a person of color, let me just tell you this:

Your vote will not save you. You cannot wear your vote as a badge of honor or protection as you move through your life. You might feel as though you are one of them but you are not. You are not part of their America. You are not equal. You are not free. And you are not safe. And so, though I might be angry and though I might not be ready to try to love you and embrace you in order to move forward, I hope that this horror blows over soon for all of us. Although honestly I doubt it will. We have a long uphill battle. And though on November 8th and the days immediately after you never thought you would be walking alongside us, you will be. Your pussies are just as grabable, your ethnicity and patriotism just as questionable, your skin color just as threatening.

I know that not all Trump supporters are awful or full of hate or voted for anyone else but who they believed would be the best person for the job. But the loudest ones, the ones in the corners of the internet, the ones touching women and threatening people of color, they are full of hate. Those are the bad ones. And so for those who voted not from a place of hate but from a place of fear and hurt, a fear and hurt that so many of us have been experiencing, you know what? We will be here. We will be here waiting for you because no one, no one deserves to be treated as lesser than. And we are, truly, stronger together.

So I’ll be seeing you, New York. Stay safe out there everyone. No matter where, or who, you are.

New York, Have You Become Respectful?

12 Oct

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would get harassed on the streets on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. I got hissed at, winked at, snapped at, clapped at; I had people tell me I was beautiful, demand that I smile, whisper in my ear, ask me out to dinner or to marry them; I had men follow me down streets and try to come with me on my run; I got touched and I got grabbed; one man tried to push his way into my apartment. In all the hundreds of times that this happened, I never once felt flattered or happy, I never once left the interaction feeling more attractive. Sometimes when I complained about it, people – men, to be more specific – would tell me I should take it as a compliment, that when it stopped happening I would miss it. I assured them that I would not.

Over the past few years I have noticed that the amount that I get harassed has been slowly creeping downward. It hasn’t stopped entirely but it is way less common than it used to be. Maybe the city has changed or maybe I have become less attractive or desirable now that I am safely into my thirties. Maybe it’s some combination of the two. The reality of the situation is that I don’t give a shit what it is that is causing this significant downturn. All I can tell you is that I fucking love it. Let me tell you a quick story.

This morning I went to a spin class with my friend CJ. Afterwards, red faced and sweaty, I headed out into the bustle of Downtown Brooklyn to run a few errands. I was wearing the modern-day workout uniform of 3/4 length stretchy pants and a tank top, with a small sweatshirt and a vest thrown over to keep me warm. And you know what? No one gave a shit. No one asked me where I was going or if they could come with me. No one honked at me or yelled at me from the window of their car. No one whispered a hushed “god bless” into my ear as I hustled through my tasks. And it wasn’t until all my  errands were completed and I hopped on the train that I realized it. And do you know what? I smiled. I fucking smiled.

I smiled and I realized to myself that there was never a moment, there has never been a moment, where the downtick in harassment has somehow made me feel bad about myself. I don’t need that to feel attractive or worthwhile. Being harassed wasn’t something that added value to me or my day, it detracted from it. It made me feel cheap and dehumanized and as if because I am a woman I only matter in how I look, and how my looks make other people (read: men) feel. And do you know what else made me feel cheap and dehumanized? Having people tell me I would miss it when it went away. Because that meant that they believed that somewhere in me, somewhere I wasn’t willing to acknowledge existed, I was somehow flattered by the passing lewd comments. And even as I told them I wouldn’t miss it, there were times when I worried that maybe the norm of the hyper-sexualization of women had snuck in there a little and that maybe I did thrive off it, just a little bit. That even though I hated it, it still made me feel desirable. But do you want to know something? I feel more desirable, more empowered, more human and complex and amazing in the absence of it. Because it took a lot of work to build myself back up after being verbally objectified day after day. And now that I don’t have to put that work in as often, now that I don’t have to be defensive and angry and sometimes have outbursts at a passing car or man in the middle of a busy avenue at 3 in the afternoon, I start every single day a little bit ahead. And I have more mental energy to put into the things that matter to me. Like this blog, and my friends, and trying to figure out what the fuck is happening in our country right now.

So, thank you New York City for either getting more respectful or simply not wanting to fuck me. Keep it up – it’s been amazing.

Turn Down the Microphone

27 Sep

I was driving down Hamilton Avenue listening to NPR when I heard it, the thing I’d been anticipating since I woke up this morning: The Excuse. And it wasn’t The Excuse I had been mentally predicting since the middle of the debate last night, that Lester Holt had asked him unfair questions, although that was certainly on the list of ways that Donald Trump believed he was the victim of a biased moderator. (Never mind the fact that Lester Holt was simply fact checking Trump’s responses and trying to hold him accountable for any of the countless inflammatory and incorrect statements he has made through his campaign and before. His deep participation in the birther movement, comes to mind, but also the fact that Trump has not yet released his taxes – something that presidential candidates have done for decades.) The Excuse was actually much more absurd. On Fox & Friends this morning, the day after the debate in which, I would say, he got trounced, Trump complained that his microphone was defective, that it wasn’t as loud as Hillary Clinton’s.

o_O

Let us just reflect on this for a moment. Many of us watched the debate last night and I am going to go out on a limb and say that none of us had a hard time hearing Donald Trump. Did we have a hard time understanding him, what with his reliance on incomplete sentences and his incredible overuse of the word tremendous? Certainly. But could we hear him? Loud and clear. We heard his arrythmic breathing – he sniffled 37 times during the debate. We also heard him when he interrupted Clinton – 51 times by some estimates. We heard him when he said that not paying taxes makes him smart. And again we heard him when, in response to Clinton bringing up his long history of misogyny, he said that this well-documented history simply was not true. Except for in one particular instance.

“Somebody who’s been very vicious to me, Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her, and I think everybody would agree that she deserves it, and nobody feels sorry for her.”

The supposedly justified “tough things” that he said? He called her a “loser,” a “fat pig,” a “mental midget, a low life,” a “degenerate” and a “slob.” She deserved all of these insults, though, because she had the gall to opine that his bankruptcy and extra-marital affair perhaps made him unfit to be a moral arbiter for a potentially wayward Miss USA. Rosie O’Donnell made that statement in 2006. And here we are, 10 years later, on the main stage of American politics, in a debate thats purpose is to help the American electorate decide who is best fit to have the fucking nuclear codes, and one of the candidates is so butthurt about a more-or-less harmless comment made by a daytime talkshow host that he brings it up. And, in an effort to not sound like the misogynist playground bully that he is, he blamed the victim.

But while Trump makes the rounds talking about how unfair everyone is in the face of his tremendous ability to make money and respect women, I just want to discuss one simple thing. I want to discuss the fact that last night myself and millions of other people tuned in to watch as one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history patiently waited her turn as an uninformed, unqualified man yelled over her time and time again. And that, friends, is what it is to be a woman. Hillary Clinton had so many opportunities to deliver the kill shot in last night’s debate. There was the issue of misogyny, the taxes, national security, among others but she resisted. She was measured and restrained. It was frustrating as hell but it was smart. It was the only way for her to play it. We live in a society that normalizes sexism. Where women make less than men for equal work, where we have to work harder and be more qualified, where a group of young female athletes win the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics and their excitement is likened to girls hanging out in a mall. We are underestimated and infantilized. And god forbid we succeed. Because success means giving up our only intrinsically valued trait: our femininity. But don’t get it twisted: that trait is valued in that it makes us controllable and unthreatening. And even when we reach the pinnacle of success, when one of us is at the brink of becoming the first female president of the United States of America, still she must demure. Still she must wait while her opponent rattles off a series of untruths, knowing full well that if the roles were reversed, if he was the prepared policy wonk and she the temperamental dunce, she never would have gotten this far. She never would have gotten anywhere. She would have been thrown into the pit along with Sarah Palin, Carly Fiorina and Michelle Bachman, resurrected only when her specific brand of stylized politics and nifty glasses were deemed useful to the man she was helping to support. Hilary is smart. She knows what world she lives in.

And now today we have to listen to Trump talk about how his mic was bad. And how that was probably intentional. But how he won anyway. And we have to listen to political commentators say that he came ahead in the first 25 minutes despite the fact that he barely said anything and that what he did say was sprinkled with questionable grammar and overused qualifiers. And we have to remember that she stood there, calmly, hoping that he would self-destruct on his own because it would be unladylike for her to take him down, and being ladylike still matters. Playing by the biased rules of the game has gotten her this far and she is too close, too goddamn close, to let it all go.

So I guess what I am saying is just remember this moment. Remember this moment when the most qualified went up against the biggest blowhard and she had to play it cool in the face of his mansplaining, his insults, and his inaccuracies. Because that is what we as women do. That is what we do every single fucking day. And I honestly hope that if Hillary wins, no, when Hillary wins, that younger generations will see a woman as the leader of the free world and realize that women, all women, regardless of their religion, color, class, job, sexual orientation, physical abilities or whatever else, deserve the same respect, the same opportunities, as men. Because what Hillary endured last night was absurd. It was the patriarchy rearing its ugly head. And mark my word it will continue to do so throughout the next 6 weeks up until election day, there is no getting around it. It’s the patriarchy that makes Trump a viable candidate, and the patriarchy that makes Hillary not a shoe in.

So, no, your mic was working. It’s your privilege that needs to be checked.

 

 

Once a Runner

10 Sep

I started running in the spring of 2002. Like, really running. Like miles and miles running. It was the second semester of my freshman year in college and to say I was absolutely miserable would be a complete understatement.

I had always been liked, never had a problem making friends, and college was no different. I bonded with a group of women who lived in my freshman year dorm immediately. We went to meals together, went out to parties together, joked around together, watched The Crocodile Hunter together (RIP Steve Irwin). But then, just like that, everything changed. I could go into what happened but, really, what’s the point. And, honestly, it was all about a boy. A boy who I wasn’t even interested in.

My high school friends were never petty like that. But of course, I grew up with them, we knew each other. We trusted each other. The women I became friends with at the beginning of college weren’t bad people, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. We just didn’t know each other, didn’t trust each other. And insecurity and hormones are strong, strong motivators. So I got cast out. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I didn’t have a community of friends. It still remains the only time I felt that alone. My mom told me that at that time, that spring semester of 2002, she would get anxious when the phone rang. Afraid it was me, crying so hard she couldn’t understand a thing I was saying, afraid that all she could do was try to comfort me over the phone, knowing she couldn’t fix it.

So I started running.

I started running because it was the only thing that made me feel strong. The only thing that made me feel independent. It was a thing I could do, alone, for myself and no one could stop me. It got me through that semester and the years that followed. It was part of what motivated me to return to the same school rather than transfer, part of what convinced me to actively make my own choice, to not give up on something, to find my own happiness. It kept me sane and grounded through the deaths of my grandfather and my grandmother; through heart break; through graduate school; through the past few years of complete and total uncertainty. It has made me feel powerful and like I could do something incredible. I could traverse large swaths of this great city with only the power of my muscles and my mind moving me forwards. I ran marathons, half marathons, 10k’s. I did sprints and hills. I ran with groups and I ran alone.

And then one day I stopped.

I just…. stopped.

It has been a really jarring thing to see this activity, this part of me that has become such a core piece of who I am, just slip through my fingers. I have had to adjust to the limitations of my body, to the trouble I’ve had sleeping, to the problems I have had getting through hard days, to the fact that half the time my mind feels like this restrictive box that I simply can’t escape from. Running has always been my escape. And every time someone asks me if I am still running I say I am. Because I am A Runner. But then again maybe I’m not anymore. I certainly don’t see one staring back at me when I look into the mirror. And every day that goes by I just feel less and less like the Rebekah I have grown into.

But then yesterday I went for a run. A short one. A run that a year ago I would have found utterly pointless, like nothing had been accomplished. And the second I started I just felt right. My body feels right in motion. It settles into the stride so easily. And my mind resumed its old habits. I started thinking about my day, thinking about my run; dreaming about getting faster, going farther; about finally beating that half marathon time that has been sitting there, seemingly untouchable, for years. Man, I killed it that day. And then I thought about this blog. Thought about finally being honest with myself.

Rebekah, are you still running?

People ask. They ask all the time. It’s as if they know, they can see it. And I feel ashamed and so I say that yes, I am always running. But I’m not. The true answer is that I’m sort of running. A few times a week maybe. But not very far or for very long. And I feel weird. My body feels weird. It doesn’t feel like home anymore.

And that’s the truth. I feel weird inside and out. And I think it’s a little bit because I know that there is nothing stopping me from going forward but myself, that I have to get out of my own way, motivate myself out the door. I have to realize that, no, it isn’t going to feel like it used to. It isn’t going to feel freeing and easy and empowering, at least not at first. But I’ve been here before. I started running once, many, many years ago. And I worked hard over years to build up the strength – mental and physical – to get through those miles. And I have come back from injury before. Injuries that took me out of the game for months at a time. Injuries that I had to work myself back from. I did it then and I can do it now. One step, one mile, one day at a time.

Once a runner always a runner, right?

On Running While Female

19 Dec

I wrote this post for my running blog, chafingisreal.com, but thought it was a good crossover. And no one reads that blog, anyway. (But you should! I mean, if you feel like it.)

This morning I was met with the following post made in a running group I am a member of on Facebook (I shortened it slightly, italicized it and added the bolding for emphasis):

I’ve always been told to be careful while running alone but I never thought that anyone would actually want to target me as long as I remained in motion running. It sounds naïve… I credit growing up in the city with being street-smart and experienced in dealing with strangers. Yesterday however, was different. I found myself flagging down a police car outside PP and crying about an incident that happened on my run. I had started my run at dusk around ~4:45 and planned on running my usual route… I was about 200 meters from my turn-around point… when I spotted a group of about 6-7 guys “jogging” together on the road in the opposite direction. I thought they must be from nearby HS track team… I continued running. WE continued running, running in opposite directions. A few seconds later I heard rustling in the leaves behind me and I quickly turned around to find two of the guys sneaking up behind me…the two guys had made it about 15ft from me when I realized they were there and the rest were about 10 meters behind those guys, spread out in an envelope-like fashion as if they were about to encircle me. I took my headphones off and locked eyes with the guy in front of me carefully backing out toward the road slowly and he goes “Miss do you have the time?” pointing to his wrist. I nodded side-to-side not sure what I was trying to indicate but I was just too terrified at the time to speak…I proceeded to back away towards the road when the guy replied “No, you don’t have the time?” This time he pointed to the phone on my armband and the group proceeded to narrow in. That is when I started to run… a few hundred meters had never felt so far and I’d never felt so threatened and hopeless. I wondered what would have happened if I was farther from an entrance or if I was listening to music rather than a podcast with pauses in it…I’m terrified of running in the park now.

And now I sit here at my computer, a little heart broken and a little afraid. But more than either of those things, as I sit here in the safety of my own home, I am extremely fucking angry. So permit me a rant, will you?

Listen, I get it. I am a woman. I have friends who are concerned about me running alone in the dark. To appease them, I tend to choose a crappy run on city streets, donning my reflective running gear so that the hundreds of cars that will accompany me on my journey know I am there. I breath in the exhaust fumes rather than the clean(er) air of the park; listen to the honks of cars, trucks and buses rather than the night sounds of the lake. But I shouldn’t have to. None of us should. That it feels like a safer bet to run in traffic than to run in a park is absurd. We are less afraid of being hit by a car than we are of being physically, emotionally, or sexually assaulted by a man, or a group of men. These fears aren’t just mere relics of our high school sex ed classes where we as women were taught to fear strangers rather than men that we know, to always travel in groups, to take precautions to protect ourselves from attack. These fears are real because there is actually a group of young men marauding around the park in the evenings, preying on solo female women, changing them forever.

Because believe me, this sort of scare changes you.

The fear creeps in and it never really goes away. Flashbacks seemingly come out of nowhere. You find yourself second guessing things you say, things you do, places you go. You find yourself looking over your shoulder. You find yourself changing what you think people are capable of, what they are capable of doing to you, how far they will go.

And you know what? I am fucking sick of victims always having to be responsible for our own safety. I am pissed off at the fact that many people, reading about her experience, will immediately ask themselves why she was wearing headphones at night, why she was running alone, why she didn’t take better care when the real question should be why didn’t those men simply not try to attack her? I am pissed off that we live in a society in which 6 or 7 young men thought it was a reasonable idea to scare someone half to death, and for what? A cell phone? So now she walks around the world being afraid and they just go ahead and try to do it again to someone else, like it’s nothing. Because we are so weak, so vulnerable, and no matter how many precautions we take we still don’t take enough. Because we have it coming. Because we owe something to men. Because it is our job to protect ourselves, to take self-defense classes, to run with pepper spray, to make sure we have buddies to walk us home or cab drivers who wait outside to make sure we get into the house okay. It is our job to stay sober at parties and guard our drinks, or to protect our friends who don’t do either. It is our job to ask men, over and over again, to put on a goddamn condom. And when we don’t do these things, people wonder what we were thinking.

We were simply thinking that we are human beings in a world full of human beings. Dreaming that we are on equal footing.

So, yea, clearly the reality is that running alone at night is not safe. But it is just so god damn fucked up that it isn’t. And honestly, I am sick of taking precautions on top of precautions. I am sick of it all being on us. And I am sick of that still not being enough. I am sick of that split second of doubt after something happens to me because I am female where I run through everything I did and wonder what I did wrong. What I did to deserve being spit on, being yelled at, being assaulted. I am sick of feeling that what makes life so dangerous and difficult for me and all other women is something we had no say in.

But it is.

And it shouldn’t be.

But I guess I will go back to running on the streets, to not wearing headphones, to not making eye contact after dusk, to not smiling at strangers, to traveling in groups, to not getting drunk, to always being alert, to being careful about what I wear, what I say, where I go and when. Sounds fun, right? I guess we all ought to just continue to be afraid so that men, and of course this does not apply to all of them, can continue taking what they believe they are entitled to, be it our bodies or our belongings or the safety of our fucking exercise regimes. And then, after they do that, we can combine the fear and anger that we feel upon being threatened or assaulted and combine that with the blame hoisted upon us for our own experience. Because having the experience, living through and with the experience, isn’t enough. We also are expected to apologize for it.

And to the woman who had this experience, I am so, so sorry you went through that and that you will continue to go through it for some time. I am so glad that you managed to escape without physical harm. And I hope that one day soon you feel safe running again.

Happy, and safe, miles, friends.

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.

 

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.

Sincerely,

Rebekah