After The Storm

After The Storm

“No ennui during Henri.” That’s today’s mantra.

Sitting here. Legs stretched across the couch. Ella, Louis, Billie, Duke, Etta, Nat and Frank are on the soundtrack. Apartment cleaned and smudged. Skin soft and glowing from being freshly exfoliated. Lemongrass wafting in the air from the diffuser. Outside, a gray, cloud-filled sky unloads seemingly endless drops of rain — bringing everything and everyone to a calming standstill.

This is serenity and gratitude being experienced in real time in a time of chaos. Something I’ve learned is not a small feat and should not be taken for granted.

I considered this yesterday, while confirming with one of my girlfriends that our Sunday brunch plans were, quite literally, going to be a wash, with the reports of “Henri” being upgraded to hurricane status. It conjured up a memory of the last time I left home during a hurricane — which happened to be notoriously destructive Sandy — during which I reported for work at a private club and hotel that was surprisingly still open and somewhat bustling with members and guests despite warnings and public transit shutdowns across the city. As it became clear Sandy was unrelenting, the members finally retreated to their respective personal spaces, but hotel guests remained. What resulted was an insane succession of hours, in which I’d work a double shift across two departments, partake in an impromptu sing-along of “Hey Jude,” while (appropriately) drinking “dark and stormy” cocktails with staff and guests in a club lit by candlelight as the chef used the fireplace to make cookies in the absence of power, made my way through a pitch-black stairwell using the last of my cell phone battery as light, shared a guest room and bonded with the ladies of housekeeping, had to explain to a guest why she could not plug her iPad into our only generator and later deal with her complaints of our lack of on-site chess boards to entertain her spoiled and rambunctious sons, and spent the next morning and afternoon placing the guests in hotels further north that had vacancies and no power and service disruptions before walking 3 miles to secure a cab back to my Harlem apartment — which had both electricity and no nearby buildings with its façade torn off to the point where it looked like a dollhouse with a heap of bricks in front of it.

Needless to say, when the words “hurricane warning in your area” flash across a screen, my older and wiser self now goes into cocoon mode, and the most adventurous I’m getting is when I’m deciding to use smoked paprika in dinner prep.

But with that experience, as with me documenting my current and very different situation, I was glaringly aware of the privilege it all entails.

Just days after the storm’s end, while volunteering at a housing complex a mere couple of blocks away from my posh workplace, I’d learn the real cost of it from the experiences of people who could not afford to relocate. As we went from door-to-door attempting to do welfare checks and provide much-needed supplies to seniors who had difficulty moving and/or accessing medicine and medical attention, and other tenants reluctant to open their doors for a myriad of (understandable and in some cases justified) reasons, we came away with an all-too-real understanding that not everyone has the option to have options.

I think of that now as I think of the state of the world.

How privileged are we to be comfortable inside our homes, doing whatever it is we feel like doing, while others who are less fortunate struggle to stay dry and survive because they have no home. How fortunate are we to have the choice of working from said homes to avoid contracting a deadly virus as people whose jobs and livelihoods afford us the luxury of having food, medical attention and other services available to us in our time of need. How lucky we are to have free vaccines that keep us from dying from this virus within our reach. How blessed are we that we don’t live in a part of the world where people brandishing weapons are dictating whether women and children can live and learn safely and freely, and impose their religious beliefs on everyone to make decisions that affect who lives and dies.

Oh, wait…

It takes a whole lot of cojones to blame one person for the self-serving and destructive decisions of many. And yet, in true entitled, unaccountable and hypocritical fashion, many Americans have placed their disdain for behaving responsibly during a pandemic and lack of education about a decades-long and un-winnable war that has cost trillions of dollars and countless human collateral squarely on the shoulders of a man who made it his mission and intention of taking on the fool’s errand of cleaning up colossal messes to restore our country to some sense of normalcy. Unsurprisingly, it’s not going well, because we suck, and don’t know how to behave when an adult enters the room after we’ve morphed into a full-on hybrid of “Lord of the Flies” and “Animal Farm.”

As with most storms, this too shall pass. I’m just hoping to see the sun rise someday soon and we all find our rainbow and peace in the process.

Until then…I’m staying mostly indoors, and plan to have protective gear at all times for the foreseeable future when interacting with this crazy world is absolutely necessary.

Good luck out there y’all. And choose wisely. Please.

Paris Is Burning

Her name is Paris.

I observed her as we walked out of Jackie Robinson Park. Even though the sun had long set past the clouds, she was noticeable.

Without seeing her face, I felt her presence. Nearly a foot ahead of me, she stormed down the stairs with determination, while simultaneously undoing the bun of hair on her head; whipping it from side to side like models and actresses do when they’re in front of a camera. As it fell into place, it almost seemed as if the ghost of Whitney Houston came down and styled it as she walked. Her white eyelet mini-dress revealed her strong legs which towered a good four inches over mine (more with her ankle boots), along with toned and delicate arms attached to broad shoulders which reveal her past life.

This woman was born a boy.

As she began to speak to her girlfriends, I scurried to keep their pace. It was unusual for me to physically “body” my way into a conversation — especially between people I don’t even know — but it happened. And I listened…

To back track a bit, we had all just come from the vigil for Islan Nettles; the transgendered woman whose violent assault on a Harlem street last week resulted in her death, and sent shock waves into the LGBT community. Although I’d missed several speeches, I managed to catch a couple of gospel songs, an angry vow for justice by Nettles’ mother who looked far older than myself despite being the same age at 37, a grandstanding family member who used the platform as her moment to shine, a poetic younger sister and a few words by people who repeatedly mispronounced her name (it’s “E-lan“, not “Ees-lan“). At the end of the vigil, a group of transgendered women began to angrily confront one of the organizers, screaming “Lesbians know nothing about what we go through!” after being told they could not take the stage.

What I had missed, which Paris and her friends — and later other transgendered women I encountered further on my walk home — alerted me to, was that Islan was constantly referred to as “he”.  To most people and the media, it just seems like the natural way to address her, because there’s still such a lack of understanding with such a delicate, controversial, and perhaps unsavory topic. But to her community it was the greatest insult beyond her senseless death.

Yes, she may have been born with different parts, but Islan was a woman.

She dressed, spoke and loved as a woman. As one of her actual friends took the stage to speak of her, he was joined by a small crowd in the audience echoing his sentiment as he expressed how she would say “hello” to people she didn’t know. To those who knew her, she was kind and full of life… until it was taken away by someone filled with ignorance, fear and contempt for something and someone so special.

What do I, as a “straight girl”, know about this person or any in the LGBT community? Honestly, not one damn thing that makes me an expert. Despite going to fashion schools, working within the fashion industry for several years, having many gay friends, attending a few gay bars and being privy to some of the lingo  — I’m still about as much of an expert as the douchebags who go into notoriously LGBT neighborhoods and pick fights. Okay, maybe I do know a little more than them, but I’m about as prepared to do a dissertation or panel discussion on being a member of their community as I am on “Catholic guilt” or what it’s like to be part of the one percent.

As a straight, single, African-American woman, I do know the struggles of relationships, and finding people who’ll accept me for who I am and love me in spite of or because of it. As a teenager, I walked into a store in rural Pennsylvania with my lighter-hued father and witnessed the entire store go quiet as the customers and cashiers watched my every move because of my skin tone. So I can only imagine Islan and others like her being discomforted on a much grander scale when the entire world is staring at you while you’re discovering an entirely new skin.

The timing of the news that Bradley “Chelsea” Manning requested to have hormone therapy while serving his sentence in military prison for serving up government secrets was unfortunate in a sense that it overshadowed news about Nettles’ death, but it raised awareness about the transgender community. While folks like Chaz Bono have brought the topic into the spotlight with appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and having Cher as a mother, the popular consensus is that they’re confused or even… wait for it… gay. (Can be explained in one word: Convert. As the “gays” say: “Look it up.”)

Unbeknownst to a majority of the population, there are many wealthy, famous and powerful men who are happily (albeit secretly) attached to transgendered women. Some even trek to exotic Pan-Asian locales to pay for their attention.

Personally, from my own experiences, I’ve found transgendered women to be very much the way Islan was described. They have consistently been some of the sweetest people I’ve encountered, but also very outspoken and passionate. Possibly because it takes a great amount of courage to be a part of that community. To acknowledge your truth and take very drastic action to make it your reality takes — forgive me — a lot of balls. Clearly they have extra, and are happier in the long run for not living a lie.

And if anyone questions if it’s natural, consider this: Manning is going to prison for providing Wikileaks with hundreds of thousands of classified government documents. Now, really, who else but a woman would spill that many secrets?

While Paris, Christina (her somewhat shy friend) and their other sister in the struggle were hoping that tonight’s vigil would be the breakthrough they were looking for in gaining acceptance, I’m not entirely confident that it will succeed. In a society that has become more brazen with its intolerance and insensitivity, the possibility of them being treated as equals may still find resistance.

But at least the conversation has begun.

Sadly, the taking of another innocent life once again had to start it.

[Author’s note: After the original publishing, I’ve since been educated that the use of the word “transgendered” is incorrect, and that Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley) should be addressed as such going forward. We’re all learning something new!]  

Tea and Empathy

Every now and then, my Anglophilia kicks in with a vengeance.

In the past, it has served me well when it comes to some of my career choices, music, fashion and entertainment interests and a few friends who are always solid sources of good times.

Adversely, it has also served me two of my last three significant love interests…

Ummm… yeah… how ’bout this year’s Wimbledon tournament? Well done, Andy Murray!

Anyway, this week it was tickled blue with the news of the Royal baby being born. Although I did not personally deliver this child, his arrival was exciting because I can briefly obsess about a Kate other than Moss, and be confident that his parents won’t name him something stupid like “Knot” Windsor. (For the record, I’m having difficulty with his birth name, George, because it always reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the “abominable snowman”. Yes, I’m different.)  

Coming down from that high could only be done one way: by watching Idris Elba in “Pacific Rim”. While the crush I once had on him has gone the way of my days of wearing long hair, he’s still a great actor, and that movie restored the joy in sci-fi fantasy that “Iron Man 3” briefly snatched away (effectively nullifying my other crush, Don Cheadle — they’re dropping like flies).

What made this picture so great, you ask?

Besides it feeling like a sick mash-up of a live-action “Voltron vs. Godzilla and Friends”, the overall theme of the characters being “connected” mentally and emotionally is always a topic that resonates in my book.

“Drifting”, as they called it, was the concept of being in your partner’s thoughts and memories to enable a cohesive — and stronger — team. In other words, understanding and working with someone’s strengths and weaknesses can mean the difference between overcoming an enormous life-altering obstacle, or watching in horror as your brother gets snatched and eaten. (That last part is totally changeable to fit your own life story, by the way.)

It’s funny to me that I should come to watch a film that incites putting oneself in other’s minds when, just two days ago, a discussion with a guy friend about my writing “voice” prompted him to advise me to “be angrier” about my subjects. My first reaction was to laugh, as anyone who has irritated — or dated — me in this lifetime can attest that I have “hulk-like” abilities when it comes to temperament. That is, when I care to even feel any kind of way about something.  

These days, I feel the only thing worth fighting for is make-up sex. Watching the world get pissed off about everything from race to real-estate is more exhausting than empowering. Frankly, it’s all counter-productive. When people spend more time thinking about how they feel about something instead of actually finding a solution to the challenge, what, exactly, gets accomplished?

As much as I’d love to say I’ve conquered my anger, and have made great strides for the better in the last few years, there are of course moments that can’t be denied. It usually occurs when someone hurts women or children, or when someone close to me has shown me great inconsideration, betrayal or disrespect. When you have a history of childhood molestation and parental abandonment, it tends to come gift-wrapped with trust issues and an occasional desire to be a vigilante. Nowadays, I would prefer any baggage of mine to be by Samsonite or Tumi.

Of course, there’s never a easy transition. People often feel a lack of passion about their plight equates to dissidence. Perhaps choosing peace over war is a confusing concept, because historically “war” has always come before “peace” in sentences and titles of books and songs.

And that’s why it’s ironic that I’m drawn to British culture, given it’s history of wars and colonization… now known as the American way. It’s like watching “All About Eve” starring the Queen as Bette Davis’ character. (If you’ve never seen this movie, now’s the time.)

I’m not sure if I can attest this to my love of tea, or my sadomasochistic idolization of Naomi Campbell.

Just to play it safe, I’ll say it was a mix of things like Corinne Baily Rae, Laura M’vula, Adele, Burberry and all things Virgin.

Okay… and Idris. “Pacific Rim” was that good.