hitchhiking

i attended an alumni social event this evening. my expectations were low, so i wasn’t disappointed. i left early only to find out it was pouring rain, i did not have an umbrella. there’s no duane reade near the plaza hotel. i think the closest one is at 6th and 57th.

i huddled under the scaffolding waiting for the rain to stop until it seemed like it wouldn’t. i decided i would try to hitchhike my way to lex and 63rd. (it’s closer than lex and 53rd from the plaza hotel.) made eye contact with a guy wearing some pretty fly headphones and more importantly carrying an umbrella.

i asked where he was going. he said lexington. i asked if i could walk with him. he said sure.

i told him it’s okay if you want to listen to your headphones. he said, nah.

we walked. under his umbrella. it was still raining.

i asked what he was listening to on his headphones. he told me some house.

i asked him if he’d ever hitchhiked before. he said no. i said me neither. he said but it’s a crazy city ya know.

i had a big smile on my face because it was my first time hitchhiking. he seemed to be enjoying it, too.

he asked me where are you going. i said lex and 63rd. he said i’m going to zara.

he said that was a fun experience. i said thank you so much. we shook hands.

it was only a light drizzle at this point. he crossed the street. i walked to the end of the block and crossed.

i love new york.

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indians and oil spills

i’ve been working downtown lately, which has been nice because it’s given me time to explore a part of the city i don’t go often.  it’s the oldest part of the city.

this beautiful beaux-arts style building is what’s left of the native american presence in manhattan. it sits on what was fort amsterdam, the nucleus of the new amsterdam settlement, at the foot of the wiechquaekeck trail. the algonquins used the dirt path as a trading route. we call it broadway. it runs all the way up the concrete jungle that was once home to turtles and beavers and other abundant wildlife.

indian

speaking of beavers, this makes me really sad. can you imagine, sitting at home minding your own business when suddenly you are doused with diesel oil? how horrific. how irresponsible. there’s nothing okay about this. oil spills are constantly happening and not widely reported. 8,000 gallons in salt lake city last week. 20,000 gallons in east texas last month. way too much oil being spilled. it’s like we’re trying to kill ourselves so that a few people can make a lot of money. and then there’s this blabbering idiot, from texas of course. liberals don’t hate science, but apparently greedy politicians hate responsibility and ecology.

Rockaway

Today (50 days since Hurricane Sandy graced us with her ferocious presence), I take the Q53 from beginning to end, round trip. Takes about an hour one way. As we get closer, I see a house that is sideways. Like a little kid got angry while playing a game, knocked it over, and just left it there. Right before the last stop, the guy, about 20, sitting next to me stands up.

“Are you getting off here?”

“I don’t think so. Is it the last stop?”

“No. 116th is the last stop.”

He sits back down.

“Do you live out here?”

He does. I tell him about the Second Response work we’re doing and give him the printed overview. He reads it. His demeanor changes a little. He seems relieved, like he was just given hope. It’s the same reaction I am given by everyone I talk to about the work we are doing. He’s interested in coming to the playshop. We pass by what’s left of some buildings where there were shops, presumably people lived above them. They’re gone. It looks like a bomb was dropped on them.

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“My house is ok, it’s right on the beach, it’s made of brick. My buddy’s house burned to the ground in Breezy Point.”

“Did you see that?” He points at what we just passed.

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“Yeah.”

We part ways. I’m trying to find space where we can facilitate a playshop for some children in this area that was decimated by Hurricane Sandy. Finding space has been the big challenge.

I stumble upon the NYCares distribution center. A man comes out and asks what I want. He sends me down the street to a church. They have a massive warming tent. It’s closing January 1. Our playshop is scheduled for January 6. I go to the rectory. The only person there is an overwhelmed man working, moving boxes around. The church is undergoing renovations, they can’t help. I need to head back to meet the person I am out here to see about using the space at the school. I walk to the beach. It’s so peaceful, except for the sound of a jackhammer and a power saw.

I spot this beautiful old house, Hotel Del Mar. It apparently has some history.

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The beach is empty except for sea gulls and a man named Jack who is throwing a soggy well-used tennis ball for his happy black lab mutt. He points out the NYC parks department truck parked with people napping inside. He scoffs at the NY bureaucracy.

I continue on to the school, another distribution center. We’re all set with them. It’s been the only thing that has come together easily during this whole process. The first time we spoke he said, “Just let me know when you want to do it.” The only reason I had to come out to meet him is because he doesn’t use email. I am on my way 5 minutes later.

A couple of blocks over I stop at Small Water, another distribution spot. They’re going to help us get the word out, but they can’t help us out with space. A desperate woman asks us if we have 50 cents.

I get on the Q22 for a half hour ride out to Far Rockaway. When I get off the bus, I see a church in a storefront with a line 20 deep coming out of it. They’re waiting for food or supplies. I arrive at the church where the woman with whom I spoke on the phone told me she could set me up with space. FEMA is there in the sanctuary with rectangular tables set up around the perimeter. The man at the entrance asks me if I’m there to volunteer. No one is in this large room except FEMA people.

I step outside the sanctuary, back into the room I first entered. It’s being used as a large kitchen space. Only volunteers and two men talking. I ask if they know where the woman is. One of the men goes to find her. I start talking to the other man, he turns out to be the pastor of the church. He is interested in the work we’re doing, but tells me we can’t use the space FEMA is occupying because they have an agreement with FEMA. No outside organizations can come in to use the space. Somewhere in the conversation I let him know it has taken me an hour and a half to come out to his church. He offers me the tent outside. It’s not a 4-person tent, but my apartment is bigger. The living room in my apartment is bigger. Hopefully, tomorrow one of the synagogues will offer us space.

A few things were confirmed for me today during my adventure to Rockaway. There is still a shit ton of work to be done there. Organizations run by bureaucracy are not helpful, nor are they efficient. Devastating hurricanes are better timed during warmer months.

long road ahead

Today I went down to Brooklyn to the New York Communities for Change office to do some data entry. People have been canvassing the buildings out in the Rockaways and other places hard hit by Sandy. They fill out forms indicating their needs. Most common items needed were batteries, flashlights, candles, food, water, and blankets. People still have no power out there! Several were in need of medication for diabetes. Several were asthmatic and concerned about mold in the once flooded basement. Nearly all of them were requesting aid from FEMA, some indicated they were already in the process of getting help but weren’t sure whether or not that process was moving along. All the forms were filled out on November 10. (The storm hit October 29.) Some people who still have cars that are working indicated they had no gas. Many were wanting assistance applying for food stamps. Some were homeowners, some renters, one landlord who lives on the second floor. The first floor was completely destroyed, that tenant moved on, somewhere. Many indicated that they are not able to make mortgage payments on their homes, or what’s left of them now.

For many life has gone on, but the road ahead is long for people living in Staten Island and along the coasts of NY and NJ.  (When I was finished I found myself in Chelsea, you’d never know that millions of people were devastated by a storm two weeks ago walking around there. It reminded me of the tourist overheard in midtown who said, “it’s not really that bad here, what’s all the fuss about?” a few days after the storm. Walking around above 37th street even then, you’d never know anything had happened at all.) The problem I see is that people’s needs weren’t being met before the storm, now their situations are more heartbreaking and leave me feeling a little hopeless.

On the bright side, my mentor’s organization Fortunate Blessings will be coming to the area in a couple weeks. The work he does providing trauma relief following natural disasters is far reaching and profound. Since I’ve known him he’s done work in Samoa, Haiti, and Japan; but he also was in Indonesia following the tsunami there several years ago. I’m looking forward to volunteering with his efforts here. So, please make a donation…even small amounts are helpful. The people here really need it.

caffeine

i hope i don’t sleep through the hurricane. how could that happen? i had a cappuccino yesterday afternoon. it kept me up all night. i wish i could blame it on the caffeine, but it’s my own fault. i can’t believe i didn’t learn my lesson last year. this time is worse. i’ve rested, but i have not gotten a single hour of sleep. it’s horrible. i’m doomed to feel like a crack head all day. and i could miss the frankenstorm! after all the hype and anticipation. i can’t sleep through it!

about a year ago i had a cappuccino late in the afternoon on a fairly empty stomach. it was small, but i drank it quickly. not on purpose, it all just worked out that way. on my way back to my apartment, i thought my heart was going to explode on the train. it was like a bad trip, or what i imagine a bad trip to be. i felt hot and sweaty, anxious, not well. the train was the last place i wanted to be. i needed fresh, cool air. i needed to feel calm. i arrived home reasonably early in the evening. around mid-night i got a second wind, even though my body wanted nothing more than to sleep. 4 hours later, still wide awake, mind racing. i somehow managed to fall asleep for a few hours, but it was horrible. you’d think i’d never have caffeine again, but i do occasionally.

i drink decaf tea regularly in the morning and sometimes at night. kukicha,tulsi, rose.  jasmine (my favorite) has a little, but i rarely drink it anymore. (it also kept me up late once, that’s how i found out it was caffeinated.) every once in awhile though, i like to have a cappuccino. it just wouldn’t feel right living in NY and never having a cappuccino.

yesterday,  i had to get out of the apartment. the thought of being stuck inside until wednesday because of the hurricane was too much. i walked over to espresso 77, which i had yet to check out. i guess i wasn’t thinking. i think i was thinking i had a full stomach and it wouldn’t be a problem. i was totally wrong. not a wink of sleep. at least i was able to close my eyes and rest, but still.

 

unsettling

while i was home last month in dallas, i didn’t see any suffering.  i did see opulence, mostly working holiday parties for the 1%.  otherwise i saw comfort amongst the 99%.  today on my way home from nolita on the D, a man was pleading for donations.  he was partially paralyzed on the left side of his body.  his left arm was practically useless and his left foot dragged as he made his was down the car.  a veteran from the 1st iraq war, he said the power at his home where he lives with his family would be cut off on monday and they need money.  it was heartbreaking.  assuming he is being truthful, how is it that in this country, veterans who fought in wars are suffering?

i transferred to the E and another man was carrying a small gift bag with handles.  he too was asking for money, and his gift bag sounded empty except for a few coins.  his story is different.  he’s homeless and staying at a shelter.  he has to bring his own food.  he was actually asking for money or food.  he said he’d changed his ways and just needed some help.  i felt so guilty sitting there with my bag full of organic beets, ginger, seaweed, and walnuts.  i thought for a minute about giving him one of my beets (i have 3), but once i gave a man a package of crackers on a train and he forcefully threw them at the girl sitting next to me.  that man couldn’t see very well and clearly wanted money even though he claimed to be hungry.  when i say homeless you might have an image of a disheveled vagrant in need of a shower pop into your mind.  he didn’t look like that, nor did the veteran, but that doesn’t mean he has a place to live.  the number of homeless people living in new york city alone is staggering.

i have no solutions to offer, but watching people suffer is unsettling.  i type this as i am just settling in to a new apartment, my 7th since i moved to new york two and a half years ago.  it seems totally unnecessary in a country filled with opulence.  maybe they should be at 57th and madison?  or on park ave?  or maybe those people ignore them too.  or others already have that market cornered.

when i got to my stop there was a homeless man sleeping at the top of the stairs.  i’m glad he had blankets and today was warmer than it was earlier this week.

bodycheck

last night on my way to meet a friend for dinner before seeing the opera dark sisters, i was walking up 8th avenue when i was bodychecked by a random stranger at 47th st.  it’s not the first time i’ve been assaulted, but it was the first time it happened on a city street at 5:30 in the evening.  it rattled me.

ironically, when i was getting off the A train 10 minutes earlier, the woman in front of me suddenly stopped and i bumped into her like we were bumper cars.  i apologized to her.  she kindly acknowledged my apology and continued walking.  she knew it was an accident.  it happens in this crowded city, especially during rush hour.

but when this man walking erratically on the sidewalk walked in front of me and slowed down, i clipped the back of his foot with my pink rain boot.  it wasn’t forceful, i can’t imagine it hurt him.  i apologized, he turned around, looked me in the eye then bodychecked me.  it all happened so fast, but i could see the anger in his eyes.  i’m glad he didn’t use more force and that i have cat-like reflexes, he could have knocked me down.  i kept walking a few more steps when i realized i was following behind him and it would be better to just stop.  i didn’t want to be anywhere near him.  one man who was standing against the wall of the building saw the whole thing happen.  he walked over to me and asked, “did he just hit you?”  “yes,” i replied, “i bumped him first, but i apologized.  i wasn’t expecting him to do that.”  “he clearly hit you,” he said shocked as he looked around.  maybe he was looking for a cop.  i’m not sure.  we chatted for a few more moments as i kept my on the whereabouts of the strange violent man.  i thanked him for coming over, continued on and crossed the street.

as i continued up 8th ave., i remembered the feeling i had after being assaulted 12 years ago in college.  the bodycheck was far less extreme.  back then, i was thrown out of my body for a period of time.  it’s a terrible feeling to feel unsafe or to have your personal space violated.  to suddenly become very sensitive to all the strangers around you, to feel weary.  i remember back then even feeling so uncomfortable around the people who were closest to me.  i was just not myself.   i was probably experiencing PTSD.  fortunately, this experience was far less intrusive and didn’t throw me out of my body.  i got my bearings back quickly.  the shock has worn off and i don’t feel afraid, uncomfortable, or traumatized.

i think most people don’t understand what it’s like to be assaulted, so they find it difficult to empathize.  perhaps it is challenging to empathize when we haven’t experienced similar circumstances.  maybe that’s where compassion enters?  or is empathy a pre-requisite for compassion?