Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It Would Be So Worth It To Conquer The World For This

For another little ray of urban biking sunshine, I recommend this site that maps the safest bike routes between two points in the five boroughs. Still has kinks, like not being able to show me how to get to my favorite tofu pot restaurant in Fort Lee, NJ, but pretty good otherwise.

Colonizing the Last Banana

The weather has finally turned uncomfortably warm, and we don't have AC in our kitchen. I've gotten a bit careless about the zero-crumb policy of New York living: More than zero crumbs or sticky patches of evaporated juice on the counter will breed cockroaches and mice in your very own kitchen.

The last banana in the house was sitting on the shelf, and I was looking forward to making myself a fruit smoothie. When I went to claim it, I found that someone had already discovered the banana. There was a large chomp taken out of the side, complete with little mice teeth marks, and an army of drunken fruit flies hovering lazily around the fermenting exposed fruit. The fruit flies had also taken a liking to the mouse poo stuck to things all around the banana. And I dunno. That puddle of liquid under it? A by-product of fruit fly colonization...or mouse pee?

Back In The Saddle. The closest F train stop is a 12 minute walk from my apartment, when going at a brisk pace. Last night I strolled to the station, and then discovered that I had forgotten everything I needed to get on the train: my Metrocard and my money. I actually considered panhandling for the $2 train fare, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I haven't lived in New York long enough, I guess.

So I trekked for 12 minutes back to my house, my eyes, nose and mouth collapsed into a dark, disgruntled, cursing mass. I decided that I would not waste another 12 minutes on the stupidity of my current situation, so I got on my bike and rode back to the station. It took about 3 minutes, and my soul scoffed defiantly at Karma, who rolled her eyes and plotted her next infuriation with my name on it.

New York has taken steps like a caveman towards becoming a more bike-friendly city, but still the only way you can take your bike (or stroller, or wheelchair) onto a train is to go through the emergency gate, which sets off a piercing alarm that is gleefully amplified by the natural echo chambers of the New York subway system. At this particular stop, there aren't even any turnstiles that you can carry your bike through--which is illegal anyway. There are only those revolving bars that would never fly in Texas because everyone is too fat to go through. And a bike won't go through, either.

So what you have to do is:

1. Leave your bike by the emergency gate
2. Scan your Metrocard for the revolving bars
3. Enter through the revolving bars
4. Run to the emergency gate
5. Push the bar that sets off the alarm and opens the gate
6. Look around frantically for your bike, which may or may not have been stolen by now

There should be an accompanying diagram for this complex process.

Anyway, a kind man offered to hold my bike for me while I went through the revolving bars. All sorts of images came to mind while I let him hold my bike against my better judgment. I just know he's going to make off with the bike. I just know it. He's throwing his leg over the seat now. There he goes. Pedal pedal pedal.

He didn't steal my bike. He didn't even try. Isn't that nice?

It turned out to be one of those nights on the subway. You know: the Manhattan-bound F train was running on the A track after Jay Street. What? How is that even possible? They announce it at the Jay Street station and you have to make a split-second decision about whether to get off the F, which is now the A, and wait for a real F, or stay on the F, even though it's an A, because you don't know where else you'd find an F. Since I had my bike, I decided to stay on. I could ride my bike from wherever the F-ing A train dumped me.

Biking in Manhattan only reinforces all my sweeping assumptions about New Yorkers. No one could care less about anyone else. Life is all about yelling at people for how they've annoyed you. Somehow I arrived at my destination in one piece, insane, sweaty, and grinding my teeth into little nubs.

I think it would be so worth it to conquer the world just so I could pass a law saying that cars aren't allowed on this planet and everyone rides bikes.

When There Is Charcoal, Life Is Good

Don't Leave The Bananas Out. I feel like that could be a great ironic slogan for something involving crazy fun. Unfortunately right now it's just a good rule of thumb for keeping the mice and fruit flies at bay. Ewww. I kept wondering why there was this rotting garbage smell in my kitchen. I took out the trash. I took out the recycling. No food bits left in the sink.

You know, it's a bit cliche to say that Kenya taught me all sorts of lessons that I'm still using today. But like any decent cliche, it's true. There was one night when I was visiting my friends Julia and Emily and their family in Kapkoi village. It was a bit cold out, maybe a little rainy, and we had just eaten what seemed to me a pretty unsatisfying dinner of ugali - unsalted maize flour eaten as a paste - and milk. To the Nandis, though, this was a perfect meal, and Julia, Emily and I sat together in the dark hut making idle conversation. We were huddled around a ceramic stove full of warm coals, and the pungent gray smoke was making my eyes sting and laying the foundation for lung cancer. All the parts of me facing the stove were feeling charred, and all the parts of me not facing the stove were feeling a bit chilly. Julia sighed contentedly.

"When there is charcoal, Justina, life is good," she said.

Strangely profound. My Kenyan friends always had a way of interspersing some great wisdom into their redundant small talk about what kind of crops we grow in America and helpful clarifications that, yes, two years later, "Jambo," is still how people say hello in Swahili.

Paradox: There's something about living closer to survival mode that gives you more clarity on what's meaningful in life, but at the same time, always being in survival mode made many people incredibly obtuse about things that seem so obvious to me, like considering the consequences of an action before doing it, or thinking about the future at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rogue Butter Knife

Just finished the dishes and kept trying to put a butter knife into the part of the dishrack that holds silverware. The dishrack is one of those stainless steel wire things from Ikea, and the silverware pocket has wider gaps in the corners, where silverware can sometimes fall through. The first time I dropped a butter knife in there, it slipped through the large corner gap and fell on the floor. I picked it up and tried again, and it fell through again. This time, though, it fell into the narrow gap between the counter and the wall, and is now irretrievable.

Isn't there a part of all of us that is actually a butter knife? Life can be such a silverware pocket, and we're all looking for big corner gaps to through which to escape. Only some people have the courage to run off and build a new life in the dark, musty space between the counter and the wall.

Man, I really tried to make this metaphor work. Let's face it. A butter knife is just a butter knife.

Also Possesses Solid Mastery Of Offensive Stereotypes. There are always a few outrageous stories in the back of my head that I always meant to blog about and kept forgetting.

There was the time during grad school when I was at my neighborhood Gristedes in Washington Heights, standing in the chicken aisle. A Dominican man and his 8-year-old son were standing nearby. In my lizard brain I was like, "Oo. Cute man. I wonder if he notices me."

The man looked at me, then turned to his son and said loudly, "Hey, so what do you think about having chicken feet for dinner?"

Uhhh ex-squeeze me? "Hahaha, just joking," he said, still to the boy.

Then the man looked at me again, and he had this unbelievable look on his face. It didn't say, "That's right, go back to where you came from, you yellow slanty-eyed dog eater."

It didn't even say, "Hahahaha, I love making fun of your weird food, Chinkie lady."

No. Apparently chicken feet is also well-appreciated in the Dominican Republic, and what his face actually said was, "Hey, pretty lady, aren't you proud of me for knowing something about your culture?"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nimepotea sana

I have been so lost.

And, we're back. No point trying to justify my absence, which has no more interesting explanation than laziness, or being swallowed up by life, or accepting a five-month seahorse harvesting contract in the Solomon Islands.

The quick run down:

1. I graduated with a masters in public health (MPH) in May. I moved out of my apartment on campus at the end of May, and into a sublet in the South Prospect Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. It's a bit like Washington Heights except that in addition to English and Spanish, people also speak a Carribean language or two that I can't identify. Some woman I met at a friend's birthday party was like, "Well, why don't you just ASK what language they're speaking?" Well, why don't you just ASK why I'm about to trout-slap you in the face?

2. I'm looking for a job. It's been two months of pounding out resumes, cover letters, networking emails, and updates to LinkedIn profiles. No luck so far. Something is wrong with our economy when my brilliance and genius and modesty haven't landed me a job, but most people working in customer service in New York have raging attitude problems and IQs like they've lived too long in jars with not enough air holes punched in the lid.

Anyone know of anyone in San Francisco hiring MPHs? Specifically, an MPH with experience working in Africa and Asia on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and migrant health issues, with jaw-dropping writing, communications and project management skills. Other skills include qualitative data collection and analysis, needs assessment, literature reviews, community mobilization, health curriculum development and education, event planning, online content development, cross-cultural experience and grantwriting.

3. I've come full circle in my appreciation for New York. I feel like despite starting out with a negative attitude, I started to open up to the possibility that this town doesn't suck. There were months when I'd actually say that New York isn't that bad. I don't hate it. It's growing on me. I think I've given it a fair chance, especially after deciding to stay through this summer, when the weather is beautiful, the free outdoor events are copious, and I don't have grad school getting in the way.

But the verdict is in. This city bugs. Irrevocably. I outgrew it ten years ago, when I was actually earning a decent salary and flying in for business trips armed with an expense account. Now it's just loud, rude, obnoxious and dirty. I don't sound like a grumpy old lady at all. People say things like, "New York just wouldn't be New York without people screaming at each other and being jerks. You just have to love it." What is wrong with people??

4. One of my coping mechanisms, which I developed while rafting in Maine last weekend, is to put my hand on my air mouse and air click on everything in my field of sight that I don't like, which naturally air deletes it.

"Delete. Delete. Delete."

It started out as a way to delete away all the other bright yellow rafts full of life-jacketed, helmeted urban escapees from my view of the pristine river landscape.

"In New York you need to use the Select All tool," says Holger, my co-conspirator in hating on the city that should be put to sleep.


Oh, look. I can see Connecticut.