Friday, June 17, 2005

Orthodox Jews think I'm a whore

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I spend my days chasing after a toddler has long been a punk-rock haven for the artistic needing an escape from gentrified, genteel Manhattan. The baby has a sock monkey he sleeps with that wears a T-shirt saying "Punk's not dead" if that gives you a clue. The T-shirt is hipster style, ripped up and fastened with safety pins. Seems to be near the E-Z Blender (from the people that brought you E-Z Bake Oven) on the list of unsafe child novelty items, but I'm not paid to think. Toss that and a handful of glass shards into the crib and that's a winning naptime combo.

The kid was made to be a New Yorker - the baby who never sleeps in the city that never sleeps. I realized I can trick him into a nap by loading him into his ($800) stroller. We walked past the tattoo parlors (four) and the Italian bakery and the Chinese restaurants and into the heart of the Spanish section. Salsa music, men playing cards in the street, shaved ice vendors, flags from the mother country. There were Spanish signs as far as the eye could see, until a schoolbus drove by with Hebrew on it.

I walked another block and went from one continent to another, EPCOT world style. It was stunning. In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, this orthodox community had sprung up maybe 100 years ago, taking bits of Europe and the Middle East with them. There were schools, ambulances, synagogues, restaurants all operating completely in Hebrew. The girls all wore long skirts, the boys had blue pants and shaved heads, with a long curl by either ear. They were skipping rope and riding bikes, and the siblings held hands crossing the street. It seemed so cliched to the point of being fake, staged for the benefit of anyone who stumbled into the black hole.

Being the only one without my head covered made me feel sheepish, like I forgot my homework, or was doing the devil's bidding showing off my hair like a hussy. Knowing that everyone's looking at you is a strange feeling.

Then the baby sprang back to the world of the waking, so we headed home. At a stoplight we met a sweet old man who asked how old the baby was.

I keep forgetting that people think I'm the kid's mom, so this is how our conversation went down.

Man: He's so cute, how old is he?
Me: 15 months.
Man: (To baby) You're a pretty tall little guy. (To me) How tall is his father?
Me: Uh, I can't really remember. To tell you the truth I only met him once.
Man, in horrified silence, hurries off.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Cracker a-salt

At the risk of this rapidly turning into a crazy-people-on-the-subways blog, I've got another tale, and it's a doozy.
I got done babysitting in too-cool-for-school Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and hopped onto the subway with a bunch of punk rockers. I was the most straight, square and sober )and least sparkily) person on there by a mile. A few stops later, I looked up and the punks had been replaced by the New York stew of ethnicities. By 14th Street, I was the only while girl.
I'm used to playing the token white girl in my neighborhood, and barring the foreseen air conditioning accident (see previous entry) I rep my people well; I always have a smile for children and dogs, smalltalk for the shopkeeps and a neighborly "hola" for anyone else.
The man who got up to rap on the subway didn't see me that way though. His rap was trite and derivative, even by rap standards. I thought how cool it'd be to hop up and battle him with my one rhyme ("I'm not black like obsidian, but I spread word like the Gideons. I'm like a prophet when I get lyrical, I spit rhymes and you say it's a miracle.")
Everyone else thought he was lame too because nobody gave him any change. This made him change his tactic. He began pacing back and forth, yelling about how white people were ruining Harlem by buying apartments there and making the buildings nice.
I look around. I'm the only white person. Awesome. Everyone else casts a glance my way, and some sort of self-preservation class-clown thing kicked in. The man turned his back and I pointed at myself innocently and let out a little "eep." Everyone smiled except for my man.
"You think this is funny cracker?" he shouted. "No crackers should be allowed above 103rd Street."
This is layer upon layer of crazy for many reasons, not the least of which is that Columbia University - a known cracker haven - is at 116th Street. I live at 207th, which is more than twice his tolerance level for crackers' abodes.
He yells at me and at the car in general for a few more minutes, about co-op boards and crackers, then comes back to me.
"What stop you getting off at cracker? It better not be after 103rd. I'm watching you cracker."
I really wanted to tell him that I'm really more of a honky, one that listened to Kanye West's CD for over 200 consecutive work days, but I figured he wasn't in the mood to appreciate it, so I stared off into space while he yelled some more, then strode off to try his by-all-accounts unsuccessful rap career on the next car.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Anyone else sweaty? No? Just me? OK.

I learned something beyond disturbing the other day: About a quarter of air pollution comes from human skin and dandruff. Twenty-five percent. It's enough to make a girl dig her SARS mask back out.
It's the most unsetting news I've heard since I learned what it took on my parents' part to get me to the planet. But back to skin cells: Take comfort, person next to me on the subway. My skin cells are firmly in place thanks to the glue that is my sweat. See, I don't have air conditioning, which means that from the time I wake up to the time I pass out from heat stroke nightly, I feel like a piece of fruit stuck in a dehydrator, despite drinking liters of water a day – often while waiting in line to pay for said water.
Project "Keep Kate in an air conditioned building at all times" fails on a daily basis. After window shopping and getting groceries, there's not much else to do.
Like all New Yorkers, I'm used to the garden variety "Hey baby" and "Looking good Mami"from guys on the street, but thanks to my constant sweat glow I was completely freaked out yesterday. On the subway, my usual concern is not sticking my armpit in the face of the person in front of me when I'm holding on to the bar, but a whole new meaning of fear was opened to me when a guy leaned over before getting off and whispered in my ear "Nice skin," which seems like something a person would say before skinning you.
My plight is actually all the worse because I actually do have a window AC unit, but my landlord won't get back to me about installing it, and the self-installation scenarios in my head are not pretty. I'm on the fifth floor and there's a courtyard below my window where kids play (loudly). Add to it that I'm the only gringo in my building, and you can imagine that I don't need the bad P.R.
I can see the Post headline the next day "Neighbors describe AC Monster as quiet, Caucasian, sweaty."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Stupid? Yes stupid!

I had to fly from Kentucky to New York on Monday, which wouldn't seem to be breaking new ground, but apparently is damn near impossible to do. It took 19 hours, five cities and three layovers so I could sweat myself to sleep in an un-air-conditioned apartment.
Plus, every leg of the trip was made on those dinky planes, the air equivalent of the short bus. I think the other jets were laughing at us. I saw Trump's gold-and-black monstrosity at La Guardia, and I know it let out a condescending chuckle.
At one point while we were on the ground, someone, possibly the pilot got on and said "Whoo! That wind just blew my hair into a nice 'do!" To which the Indian man next to me mumbled "Haha funnyman. Fly the plane."
The highlight was the five hour layover in Buffalo. Did you know Buffalo has a slogan. They reached deep into the vault of creativity and pulled out "Buffalo? Yes, Buffalo!" It speaks volumes about the city.
I imagine this will be the nation's next big catchprase for disbelieving dinner guests tasting bison burgers. It was brought to us by the creative geniuses behind "St. Paul? You betcha!" and "Tulsa? Why the fuck not!"

Things I've seen recently:
* Trump's jet
* A mile of highway adopted by Lifetime, Television for women. I hope it leads to "From trash volunteer to wheelchair bound: The Tiffy Daniels story."
* La Sinogoga, in Harlem. Complete with Star of David and Mexican flag.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

To find yourself suddenly engrossed in page A33 of The New York Times, one of several things is going on. The Times stooped from its perch to write about pop culture, you need to appear smart to impress the person next to you or the most common reason: There's a homeless man dancing for joy over Jesus in front of you.
The Lord had blessed my friend with a nice outfit and a booming voice, and he got a 10.0 on his improv skills. He danced, he sang, he recited Bible verses for us. Had there been a lion, I'm sure he would have stuck his head in the beast's mouth. As it was, I rode for him for almost 20 minutes and never did the man repeat a part of his message, which is harder than it seems when your entire message is "I love Jesus."
Sure, he stalled for time by saying "I don't even know where I am" every time the train stopped, but overall he covered a lot of territory. There was talk about his shoes (they may have looked shiny, but that didn't mean he wasn't homeless), turning the other cheek and counting our blessings for that $20 in our pockets (I was flattered he thought I had folding money).
As we wound our way from Brooklyn to Manhattan, his story came out. Dancing nonstop in the aisle, he told us about the homeless shelter he was kicked out of for being disruptive ("BUT I WASN'T!!") about Jesus.
He filled the time by speculative riffing about what kinds of hygiene products we might use. ("Think about that when you're putting on your Right Guard or your Prell or your Dolce" -- miming spritzing perfume -- "or Gabanna" -- spritz.")
And I will.