Verbatim & Translation

Overheard at Juju’s bagels. Verbatim.

Scene: Two elderly neighborhood women–let’s call them Myra and Sylvia – playing scratch-offs and schmoozing. Myra goes up to the counter and orders tea for them both.

Myra,  turning to Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: You want the boy should put sugar in your tea?

Sylvia: Sugar?
     translation: What? I can’t hear you.

Myra, louder: Sugar?
     translation: What, now you’re deaf? Sugar. Do you want sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar?
     translation: You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf. Do I want sugar? In my tea?

Myra: Sugar?
     translation: Yes. What? You think I mean a pile in the middle of the table? A ten-pound bag maybe?  Sugar?

Slyvia: Sugar? Yeah. Sugar.
     translation: Sugar? Of course, sugar, what do you think? Thirty years you know me, did I ever not have sugar? You have to ask?

Myra, turns to counter man: Sugar.
     translation: One tea with sugar, for my meshugah friend. A lovely woman she is, but a little deaf she is going.

photo by jshdoff 2016
photo by jshdoff 2016

Shoot Me

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what’s the sound of two edies talking?

Big Edie: It wasn’t such a good day.

Me: What can I do to make it a better day for you, Ma?

Woman with gunBig Edie: Shoot me? (Big Edie’s standard answer.)

Me: I don’t have a gun anymore.

Big Edie: You had a gun? What did you do with it?

Me: I sold it to my coke dealer.
(silence)
I bought it from my heroin dealer, sold it to my coke dealer, and gave two pockets full of hollow-point bullets to a dirty cop who moonlighted in the after-hours clubs.

Big Edie: A cop?  You should have called the cops on him.

Me: That’s what you took from that story? I bought an illegal gun from a heroin dealer, sold it to a cocaine dealer, and you think I should have had the cop arrested?

Big Edie: Well, they’re not supposed to moonlight.

She’s got a point, there. You have to admit it.

 

 

 

Leave a Message at the Beep

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I input her contacts into the new Jitterbug (aka old people’s cell phone). My numbers, her friends, the mechanic, the fire department, the senior center. Now, showing Big Edie how to use her new phone and how to find a phone number and dial from the list of contacts:

Me: Ma, find my number and try to call me at home.
Big Edie: But you’re here. You’re not home. (looks at me like I’m an idiot)
Me: Ma, just find me and leave me a fucking message.

So, she did. (scroll down for closed caption)

 

“Okay, this is your fucking mother leaving you a fucking message….(giggles)…bye.”

Thinking About the Brownsville Rape

These are the facts, so far:

I can’t stop thinking about this, and following the details as they come out. He was drunk. She was drunk. Still, something is missing. Something in our culture is broken and I’m struggling to make sense of it.

I’m childless, but I still wonder what I would do if it were me and my child. Or me and my father. When I was raped I kept it a secret from my parents; I was afraid my father try to go after the man who had done it. That man would have killed my father and not lost any sleep over it. I did what I did to protect my father, maybe this father did what he did to protect his daughter.

Maybe he thought he’d be no help at all if he was dead. That they’d have to kill her too then, so there’d be no witnesses to the murder. Maybe he didn’t think at all and just acted on instinct–a gun in your face, running seems like a natural reaction.

She will have to come to terms with the rape. Rapes. With that feeling of safety having been ripped away. A trust in the world, shattered. At least one in every five women have had to do the same thing–figure out who they are after they’ve been raped. Figure out if they are the same person, or if they’ve changed and how. But, I wonder how this girl will process the knowledge and memory of her father–a father who only recently came back into her life–running away and leaving her with them, no matter what his reasoning was. I wonder how he will come to terms with the knowledge and memory that while he was running away from her, she was being brutalized. I’m trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle that might help make sense of this whole thing.

Being raped at gunpoint by five men when you’re alone.
Being raped at gunpoint by five men while your father runs for help.
Is one worse than the other?

He didn’t seem upset, said one store owner, when he asked to use the store phone. Maybe that’s how he handles stress,  I say, maybe he shuts down, closes off his emotions. He wouldn’t be alone in that. Or maybe he was in shock. After I was raped, and my rapist had left the house, I called my job to let them know I would be late to work. And then I started to get ready to go to work. Shut down. Survival mode. It’s one way to deal with extreme stress.

Another store owner said the man was frantic and didn’t make any sense. Maybe that’s how he handles stress, he falls apart. He’s not alone in that either. When my rapist was still in the house, I crawled on the floor like an animal, the sounds I made not even close to words. I was frantic, and I didn’t make sense.

Did her father put up a fight, or did he run away as fast as he could?

What if it wasn’t random at all but some awful payback for something he’d done but his daughter had to pay for. Some drug deal gone bad. Or money owed. Maybe she was payment. I feel awful for thinking that, but it happens. People sell their children to stay alive, to feed the rest of their family. People do awful things all the time, to survive or for the pleasure they get from their cruelty.

The youngest boy is 14. He is four years younger than the woman he raped. He is someone’s son.  Someone raised this child in a way that he thinks this is acceptable behavior. This is a child who gets pleasure from his cruelty, from someone else’s pain, from dominance.

Someone pointed out that we do things in groups we would never do alone. That’s true. Maybe that’s the get-out-of-jail-free card that explains the 14-year-old. And gang rape is certainly nothing new. But I cannot get beyond that idea that someone, people, parents, or the state raised these boys to think rape is okay, that it is manly, powerful, and some kind of birthright they’re entitled to.

Except two of those boys were turned in by their parents when the discovered what had happened. Those two were raised by parents who knew right from wrong well enough to know their children had done wrong.

Where did things go wrong that those moral lessons did not penetrate these children deep enough so that this couldn’t have happened?

 

A Lesson in Loss: On the Death of a Friend

A friend of mine died this week. The older I get, the more often I’m going to find myself saying that. It’s sad to lose someone you cared about. To realize a child will grow up without a parent. To watch a parent lose their child, a friend lose a friend. But there’s more than that, more than loss and grieving. There’s the lesson.

In everything you experience, every single thing–good, bad, or somewhere in-between (where most of life falls) is a lesson. The trick is to get the lesson the first time it comes around, to find the opportunity in the chaos. Broken hearts. Death of a friend. Lost job. Major illness. There are lessons in there, and we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

When Adam died, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Not because it was the same “rare” cancer that killed the love of my life three years ago. That just reminded me how fast it would happen, that will-to-live meant nothing to this cancer and there is no way around this one. No, it was the turn-out of support, the mass of people who contributed on the GoFundMe page to raise money for a last-ditch I’ll-try-anything-cure. Collecting almost three times what they’d asked in less than a month. The flood of posts and well-wishes that filled the Facebook feeds, the Twittersphere.

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Everyone always says “Oh, she was so special,” or “There will never be anyone like him,” but the truth is in the pudding. It’s in who shows up, who speaks up, what’s said and why.

And that was what was familiar.

A few years ago another friend died. No one saw it coming, no one was prepared. Is one easier than the other? Losing someone suddenly or having time to prepare? Can you really prepare? I think all you can really do is use that time to say a proper goodbye. Big Daddy Addy was lucky that way. His friends and family were too, even though it didn’t feel like luck at all.

Chloe Dzubilo died suddenly at 50. Violently. She died alone.
Adam Roth died slowly, peacefully, and surrounded by friends. He was 57.

10608786_10152817636030625_8912646138906773135_oThey were both performers, musicians, and stylistas. He went through dozens of hair styles, colors (oh, that frosted stage…). So did she, leaning more towards the peacock colors.  East Village icons and stalwarts. First generation Punks. He was dapper, a mod, a rocker, always dressed with intention. She, identified warmly by a friend as the “trans Courtney Love,” wore vintage lingerie and silks mixed with rock t-shirts and tight pants.  Both had struggled with addiction and gotten past it. One battled anxiety, the other, depression. And both were met with an ear-splitting roar into the abyss when they passed. A roar from the huge crowd that loved them. Huge. Crowd.

A sign-up sheet had to be created for visitors when Adam went into hospice at his parent’s home. Without it, the room was swamped, his family overwhelmed, himself, drained.

Judson Church overflowed with Chloe’s memorial and it felt like we were hundreds who marched in her honor down to the Hudson River.

Adam brought his sober-and-wicked-cool musician-funny-as-fuckness with him to work with at-risk kids via Road Recovery.
Chloe took her HIV+ transgender fierceness to help with the first HIV prevention programs for transgender sex workers.

And that’s the thing. The thing that made them each so special. That attracted crowds. The lives they lived. The love in their heart and their ability to open that heart, not just in the doing, but in their daily lives.The impact of their lives spreading like a pebble dropped in still water, they radiated outwards.

Adam was a high-energy, rapid-fire, snappy-dressing dynamo who could get a party started or be that guest you wanted there that kept it going. And he was your biggest fan.
Chloe tended more toward the soft-spoken, sometimes raunchy, often Southern-belle-ish delicate flower,  and earth mother. She was your tender and constant support.

They  made you feel seen. Heard.

She  spoke in a  Monroe-like whisper and you leaned forward to hear, and suddenly the two of you were in a silver bubble, an intimate conversation in the center of a chaotic city. And you felt beautiful, important, trusted. She shared her heart with you.
He drew you in, dragged you along wherever the party was, was sincerely happy to see you. Sincerely. He made you feel special–like you were the funniest, prettiest, smartest, somethingest. He shared his light with you.

They knew there was enough for everyone. Enough love, enough light. Like a moon reflecting the light of the stars and suns, sometimes you were the moon, sometimes you were the star.

So, the lesson? They were so loved because of who they were. Because of how they saw you, opened themselves to you, stood aside to make room for you. They were loved because in all their frenetic activity, talent, insecurities, battles, human-ness they made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. Big open hearts. Hearts that were honest. That wanted love, wanted to love and be loved.

I was out with my “brother” (family of choice, related by hair) the other night, and we talked about how we are, he and I. How we are not that kind of people. We are the kind of people who don’t allow you to get close to us. We are afraid we will be crushed by all that love, that it will break us.

The lesson?  My lesson in the death of my friend? Love doesn’t break you. Love makes you larger than life.

Photo of Adam Roth courtesy: Jeff Smith~ReflectionsNYC