On Issues of Trust (and Killing Best Friends) Part II

In the first forty-five minutes at the rag house, I feel my throat begin to close up and start producing mucus in an attempt to trap and/or keep out whatever I was inhaling.  My sneezes come like lion roars.  This can’t be good for me.  I try to find gloves and a mask on a few occasions but can’t seem to come up with any.  When I walk around the warehouse and see that no one here is wearing any form of protection I am surprised.  These people must of lungs of steel.  Four hours of digging through bins and I am spent.  Actually, Whitney went full steam ahead for the full four hours; I stopped at about three and stood around ho humming and scratching my elbows.

We pay for our finds while the owner makes jokes about if we want to knock back some Vodka before the cab ride home.  He says he needs to find his hat because he’s driving.  This doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think it’s supposed it.  This is because there’s the strong possibility El Jefe is already drunk.  He reminds me of one of the characters from that show Dinosaurs back in the 90s.  The only thing I remember about it is the stupid baby dinosaur trapped in a high chair squeaking, “I’m the baby!” in this hideous pitch that makes me want to kill the director even ten years later.

The owner looks like a plumper version of John Madden, and probably just as insane.  When I come in to get my remaining things he offers me a “snackle crackle” which is in reference to the candy treats crammed into the glass jar on his desk.  He calls Whitney and I “beautiful ladies” that he’ll do just about anything for.  I never see him out from behind his desk.  I think he just grew from the floor there back in the 50s.

They call another gypsy cab for us to drive all the way into the city.  Whitney’s got a forty-pound trash bag full of dust-riddled items and I’ve got maybe half of that.  I’m a cheap bastard, but there’s no way in hell I’m lugging this up and down any subway staircases.  We say thank you and enter back into the depressing landscape that is Middle of Bumblefuck, Brooklyn.

We’re only two steps out the door and the gypsy cab has already arrived.  These guys might creep me out, but I am sure impressed with their speed and efficiency.  Our driver is a boy, probably twenty-four, with the pale olive skin of someone from the Caribbean.  We find out that he is from the Dominican Republic after Whitney and I start talking about how good Chipotle sounds right now and he chimes into the conversation.

“You talking about Megian foo?”

His English leaves a little to be desired but I can pick up what he’s throwing down.

“I hate Megian foo.  Too much spicy.”

Whitney goes into a tirade about how his disdain for Mexican food makes sense because the food in the Dominican Republic is bland.  I hope he can’t understand what she’s saying and I hope that if he does he doesn’t find this assault on his cultural palate offensive.  I stare down at the singular broken piece of salted pretzel lodged under the seat in front of me and hope I don’t get murdered in a fight over the merits of plantains versus salsa verde.

Just as before, I am totally clueless as to what neighborhoods we are driving through.  Each block is as equally dismal as the last.  Broken windows on ever other house – some of them boarded up, some of them not.  A series of ramshackle cars sit lazily next to sidewalks.  Occasionally there is a suspiciously expensive car waiting at a street corner.

When we drive past a duplex with a white iron fence and a grass lawn, I have an unexpected and terrible knee-jerk reaction: Who the hell do they think they are? Only then do I understand that mentality, that need to drag people down when you’re down so low already.  My next thought is that these people are brave.  Brave to have a lawn in this gray place and brave to have a shiny toy bike on the porch.  It looks like a normal house.  But it recedes from my vision, giving way to reality: more broken windows, more rectangles of plywood, more concrete, no grass, no trees, no air.

I’m Googling Chipotle on my phone to see if there’s one that’s close to my house.  I don’t know if it was the Mexican radio I’ve been listening to all day burrowing into my subconscious but I’m craving some guacamole.  The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror.

“You doing GPS?”

I tell him that I’m just looking up a Chipotle.  I think his question is strange and a little intrusive but then again, I’m in a gypsy cab with three pine-tree-shaped air fresheners tied to above my door and four tied above Whitney’s.  This ride isn’t want I’d call typical.

The driver with the pale olive skin turns back halfway and tells us that he’s stopping to get his brother because his brother “left his keys”.  It’s hard to tell if he’s being generic in the way a terrible liar is generic or if the sparse and obtuse sentence is a reflection of his poor handle on the English language.  He asks us if that’s okay and despite the fact that now I think that I am going to get gang raped in about fifteen minutes, I make some agreeable statement because I figure in these situations, if you make a fuss you’ll only incite more rage when the inevitable moment of your demise comes.  May as well make hell less hot, if you know what I mean.

Only an intersection later and he pulls over to the side of the road.  I look out the back window at a boy coming towards us.  Shit.  Shit.  Shit.  I’m going to die.  I.  Am going.  To die. He gets into the front seat.  They do not look like brothers and there are no keys exchanged.  They start talking in Spanish and all I can siphon out is “loca” and “ellas” said while motioning to the back seat.  Yep, I am totally going to die.

I have been in this type of situation before.  That time involved hitchhiking through New Jersey around midnight when I was eighteen.  Apparently the trains stop running into Manhattan at 10 PM.  That night taught me a valuable lesson in pre-planning.  But at least that driver spoke English.  I was able to talk to him the whole time in a nervous and frantic attempt to befriend him just in case he was thinking about murdering me and my best friend, that way when he pulled out his gun/knife/pick axe I could plead and say, “But Guy, we were getting along so swimmingly!”

Whitney is taking this drive much better than the aforementioned best friend who sat next to me in the back seat without saying a single word for about an hour.  When I looked over I think she had tears in her eyes.  Whitney looks at me and says that this exact same thing happened the last time she was out here with Mariel and Mariel had a shit fit.  I’m pretty much doing that right now in my head.  Yep, pretty much having a heart attack right now, actually.  She is casual in the way someone has to be when they know they’re life is no longer in their hands.  Brain surgery…the electric chair…a gypsy cab…

I, however, am not so calm.  I’m an internal thrasher.  I think back to when he asked about looking at my GPS and I panic because obviously he must have done that because he didn’t want us to know where we were.  I look down at my door and see that he’s locked ours and note everything in the backseat is child proof (AKA Rape Ready).  I am going to die.  I am going to die.  I am going to die.

We’ve been driving for fifteen minutes by the time I start looking for an address to type into my phone.  Broadway.  Broadway and what…Dear God, Broadway and what?! I find a cross street and type it in rapid fire.  Whitney’s doing the same thing on her iPhone and beats me.

“We’re going the right way,” she says as she points at her iPhone screen.  My heart rate decelerates.  Had we been heading the opposite direction, my fear that today was my last day on Earth, or at least my worse, would have been spot on.  Knowing that we are at least heading towards Manhattan means that my likelihood of survival has increased tenfold.

Hood Brooklyn morphs into Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn.  Little kids in yamakas sit cross-legged in the onion-shaped bars encasing their windows. They look like fish in iron bowls.  Monkeys in cages.  Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn turns into Williamsburg turns into the Williamsburg Bridge turns into home, where the cabs are yellow and the rent is high.  I stop sweating.

They drop me off on the side of the road and I pull my heavy trash bag out of the back.  I say goodbye to Whitney, trusting that they’re not going to kill her in the one block it takes to get to her house.  Once again, I am proven wrong.  These gypsy cabs are going to be the end of me.  My heart can’t take another trip like this.  Nor can my ever eroding, occasionally handy stereotyping of humanity.

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On Issues of Trust (and Killing Best Friends) Part I

Whitney tells me I need to go to the bank to take out some cash, at least $250 for the presumed goodies we will be purchasing at some hellhole rag house today.  I’m helping her with her vintage buying.  Assuming that you don’t know what a rag house it is, allow me to explain.  A rag house is a Costco-sized warehouse filled to the brim with used clothing.  I’m not talking about a neatly – or even not so neatly – organized Goodwill.  I’m talking about a place where clothing spills out of bins and compressed two-ton squares get shipped around with forklifts – all of it creating a veritable landscape of cotton, polyester, and blue jean denim.

Anyway, said hellhole only takes cash.  I walk into my local bank and head straight for an ATM just vacated by a young woman.  I notice that she has left her screen open with that “What do you want to do next?” question that means I have two minutes to steal all of her money.  I’d like to think I’m a good person, one with her own means of providing for herself with the gains from sort-of-not-really-hard work.  In other words, I don’t need her money, or yours for that matter.

I shut down her screen, pressing cancel.  I assume when someone walks more than seven feet away from an ATM machine, they’re done using it.  That, or they are moronically trusting: this is a bank accessible via Broadway by any asshole that just wants to wait for people like this to absentmindedly forget to close out their transactions.  Thank me later.

Just as I have pulled my card out of the slot and started typed in my PIN for my own account, I see the girl come back out of my peripheral vision.  I look up in her direction.

“Sorry, I thought you were done so I shut your session down.”

“Oh, okay…” she says.

Apparently she had walked away from her “Just Fucking Rob Me” ATM session to sign the back of a check.   She looks a little confused that I have stepped in and is none too appreciative.  She has pretty, blonde, Montauk beach hair and looks about my age but better put together, the way people have to be put together when they work in an office.

I request $260 liquidated from a checking account and she watches as I pocket a large fold of money into my wallet.  I suppose this looks vaguely suspicious; who the hell takes out more than $60 at an ATM these days?  Taking out more than that leaves you exposed to mugging and your own stupidity.  The last time I carried around this much cash, it got stolen from me backstage at a show in Chicago.  That wad of impolitely nipped three hundred dollars actually launched this blog [feel free go back to the 2008 archives and read “A Letter to a Thief”].

Like a responsible person, I end my session.  As I turn around to leave, I am about to apologize for commandeering her ATM machine but she cuts me short.

“Are you sure you closed my account out?” she asks with the furrowed brow of someone who thinks they are being robbed right in front of their eyes.

Instead of telling her that she’s an naïve idiot and she should be thankful that I was the person who came up to the machine after her and not some fifteen year old high schooler who doesn’t want to work at Jamba Juice this year, I smile and yes, “Yeah, I’m sure.”  I quell my irritation knowing that she’ll check her statement later and see that she’s rude and neurotic, although people generally lack such self-awareness.  I walk out secretly wishing that I had used her money to fund my purchases in Brooklyn today.  Jenny B Teaches You a Valuable Lesson.

Whitney and I meet in the subway station and start our trek into Brooklyn.  She snacks on pistachios and talks about how she used to eat them in Milan all the time back in 2005.  We talk about Restalyne and Botox and who we know that has done either.  I feel Manhattan recede away from us as the train barrels full speed for what feels like a mile, at which point I know we are under the river.

We arrive at our destination and emerge from the depths of the subway into a scene that is galaxies away from anything I am routinely familiar with.  We’re not in the Williamsburg varietal of Brooklyn.  We are in the hood.  The likelihood that this place will ever be gentrified by creative people “just looking for a little more space” or hip kids who bartend is highly unlikely.

The air seems thicker here and sunlight struggles to break through the haze of what was supposed to make for a day of thunderstorms that never come.  The streets are treeless and men who cannot find gainful employment stand on corners soliciting drugs or conversation – I don’t know what else one does on a street corner.  I’ve only ever been to places like this while watching The Wire from the comfort of my well-appointed apartment, drinking an evening latte.

Places like this exist. When forced into someone else’s abysmal reality, you fire up equal parts self-loathing and gratitude.  It’s hard to imagine how different the circumstances of your life have been from the people who live here.  You begin to understand why people deal drugs and kill people to get out of places like this.

Whitney wants to get something to eat before we spend the next four hours in a windowless box digging through the sartorial refuse of millions.  She skips the bodega on the corner, populated with a few guys liberally dropping N-bombs and walks down the street a ways in favor of a place with “Grocery” written on a green awning.

Inside, the place is less like a grocery and more like, well, a bodega.  She walks up to the sandwich counter and addresses the man behind it with, “You have turkey meat?”  Her voice is loud and sort of Southern and I smile because Whitney’s questions always sound like veiled threats.  Like if he didn’t have turkey meat she would feign vocal and loud-ish disappointment.  I look behind the glass casing and the first thing my eyes fall on is a tube of spiced ham.  It is marbled with circles of fat and is not pink in the slightest – something I usually associate with sandwich pork.

I walk away while Whitney starts assessing toppings and condiments.  The man is already calling her “sweetheart.”  The exchange some bizarre joke about incited by him asking Whitney, “I make you hot?” of course in reference to the sandwich.  There’s a wall of various pork cracklings and the requisite gallons of soda.  By the grace of God I find a bag of cashews and raisins.  Whitney pays for her giant sub and tells the checkout woman, “No cambio.”  I’m hoping that the woman actually speaks Spanish.

To get to the rag house we have to take a gypsy cab.  Think unmarked, dented Lincoln town car.  Enter at your own risk.  That type of thing.  We hop into one next to the bodega and drive a mile or so to the warehouse.  I watch the streets pass by, pretending I know where the hell I am.  Being a girl in a cab is generally one of the more nerve wracking experiences when you are unfamiliar with the area.  There is no way to tell whether or not this person is actually headed to your destination or down to an alley somewhere and do bad things, most of which you will probably never recover from.  The best you can do is keep chanting “Trust…trust…trust” in your head to drown out the sounds of “You’re going to die…This guy is going to rape you….I hope you called your mother recently…You’re totally going to die today.”  Then, when you’ve inevitably made it in one piece without being physically harmed, you hand over your money and a “thank you” and chastise yourself for being a stereotyping bitch.

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Cool is Relative.

My brother and I are only sixteen months apart.  He is an effectual pain in my ass and I am a pain in his.  I love my brother, but I think he’s an idiot.  My brother loves me, but he thinks I’m a bitch.  Ah, family.

Last week I get a phone call that went something along the lines of “I’m coming to New York on a private plane in two days.”  Okay.  I call back after flights have already been arranged and find out how long he’s staying.  Five days.  Five days?  What am I going to do with my brother for five days?  The problem with entertaining someone is that you have to be entertaining.  I’m not entertaining; I am boring, lame, and otherwise uninteresting.  I spend my days sitting on my bed with my feet up, writing.  When I’m not writing, I have anxiety that I should be writing.  When I’m out at night, I’m taking notes about what’s going on – if it’s at all interesting or terrible in the ways I find incredibly hilarious – so that I can write about it all later.  I am, in a word or two, a big fucking square.

Being an anti-social weirdo is fine and dandy when you’re the only one you’re subjecting to said dysfunctional behavior to.  I’m okay with me, if you know what I mean.  I’ve had my share of drunkards slurring into my ear and accidentally spitting into my face at all hours of the night and early morning.  That period of time was called my early, decadent and delightfully irresponsible twenties.  At a certain point I just started thinking that reading a book would be much more stimulating than talking to another asshole about his really sweet bowtie.

But when around another living and breathing person, you feel the need to perform like a normal person.  Dinner?  Museum?  Walk in the park?  Even thinking about it leaves me exhausted.  Every hour on the hour since my brother has arrived, I have asked him, “What do you feel like doing?” interchanged with “Do you hate how lame I am?” and a little “Are you like so bored right now?” for good measure.  Every time I see his Facebook homepage on his computer screen I shudder that it has come to this.

I am not what you would call a conventionally fun person.  My fun run ended around the middle of my Freshman year of college after consuming one Long Island Ice Tea too many.  The nail in the coffin ended up being a Long Island Ice Tea bender in Miami that provided me with my very first black out experience, followed soon after by a notable vom sesh after consuming my entire $7 pitcher at a basement pub back in New York.  I figure that the LIITs caused me to burn bridges with five different hard alcohols; the beer experience ruined any future relationships with hops or yeast or whatever they put it there to engage my gag reflex.

While I was at the dermatologist yesterday getting my once-every-five-year routine mole checkup, my doc and I were going over the list that every doctor goes over to ensure they don’t accidentally kill me or that I am not going to accidentally kill myself.

Allergies?

No.

Medications?

No.

Any allergies to medications?

No.

These are the areas you want to be boring in.  Any time you answer “yes” in a doctor’s office – verbally or nonverbally – that generally means you’re two steps closer to fucked.  Yes, skin cancer runs in my family.  Usually a bad thing.  Yes, I have high blood pressure.  Not my cup of tea.  Those questionnaires are meant to be row upon row of circled “No’s.”  The thought that one day even one of those questions about health, or lack thereof, would be circled “Yes” was enough to make my skin crawl.  Getting older.  Shudder.  That’s usually my cue for my usual doctor’s office breakdown: realizing that one day, I will literally break down.

My new and affable doctor continues with his own questions.

Do you smoke?

No way.

You drink occasionally.

No.

Oh?

Yeah, I mean, like once…once a month, maybe?

He scratched out his own presumptive “Yes” circle on his chart and circled “No” instead.  His question about if I drank was a statement, not a question.  It is assumed that a girl my age drinks at least semi-regularly.  I am that lame.  I am so lame that even my dermatologist couldn’t believe that I’m a near teetotaler.  On the bright side, none of my moles looked like they’re going to kill me.

I do wish I was one of those girls who, just walking around in the sunshine on a weekend, saw an airy sidewalk café and insisted on getting a glass of Rose or a beer.  How carefree that would be!  How utterly gluttonous and chic!  How completely and totally not me!  Truth is, I am so accustomed to not drinking, that the thought of drinking for fun is totally beyond me.  I am like the opposite of an alcoholic: I am addicted to being a total bore.  Hello, my name is Jenny and I’m a nerd-a-holic.

When I do get a good buzz on, I am over the moon – happy and sloppy and vocalizing how I should drink all the time.  But without fail, I’ll wake up the next morning and feel totally wrecked, even if I’ve only had two glasses of wine the night before.  That’s how clean my body is.  That’s how utterly accustomed my body is to purity and it makes me want to vomit.  Boozers wake up the next morning and have a hair of the dog to take the edge off, to reach a feeling of homeostasis.  I wake up and I want green salads and walnuts and Kombucha tea to try and redeem myself.

As my brother sits in my living room as I type this up, I wonder when I will just start living like a normal being, taking years off of my life by smoking, boozing, partying.  Maybe when I’m forty, I’ll feel like I’m at the point in my life where I will allow myself to be a complete and utter degenerate.  I will be at a stage that I am comfortable with, at a stage that I have worked hard to get to, that I have given up drunken nights talking about bullshit for to sit down and take my future life seriously.  That will be the day that I’ll want to go out and be an idiot again.  That will be the day I’ll want to go out and act like I’m twenty-one all over.  But by then I won’t look twenty-one and by then I’ll have kids and a mortgage and legitimate responsibilities and you certainly can’t be fun then, now can you.

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