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Activism & Politics Featured Posts Personal

El Paseo, 2019-2020

Mill Valley looks like the kind of town

You’d expect to see in a model railroad set

Minus the trains—

Tracks torn up

After a massive fire

Almost a hundred years ago

But each little house

And road sign

And tree

And store

Glued on

Exactly where it belongs

There’s a hair salon on the corner

With a hand-painted sign outside

Doesn’t say the name of the salon

In fact I don’t even know the name of the salon

Or if it has a name

Just HAIRCUTS

A barber pole

And a giant pair of scissors

Downtown Mill Valley, 2019

Someone not from here

Asked me if Mill Valley is a Hollywood set

And I’m still not sure it isn’t

I mean it definitely has a cast:

There’s Alex the rug guy

Poor thing looks like he hasn’t eaten in a decade

Doug behind the counter

Who co-owns the market

His son Eugene

Who surfs big waves at Ocean Beach

Jason the bartender

Who knows everything

Theodosia the barista

Who only knows how to frown

Kecia who sells flowers

From a cart over the arroyo

Larry the Hat

Who needs no explanation

And Denis

An 80-something fellow

Gentle giant of sorts—

At least six-and-a-half feet tall

Maybe seven feet with the giant mop of white hair

He would dig through the trash

And return things to me in paper bags

That he thought I didn’t mean to throw away

Denis was also my landlord—

And property manager

As I’d round the corner

Up the stairs to my apartment

I’d peek over my left shoulder

Into Denis’s gallery—

And store I guess

I mean nothing had a price tag

But hundreds of oils on canvases

Leaning against the walls

Stacked ten deep

Like cardboard boxes broken down for recycling 

Then in the very back of the store

Or gallery or whatever it was

An easel facing the rear wall

And balanced in one of Denis’s enormous hands

I’d see the edge of a mottled palette

And a few fronds of white hair

Jostling around as he tinkered with his brushes

Most of his massive frame

Hunkered behind his latest work-in-progress

An old man emptying his brain

Filling canvas after canvas

In a race against time

Next door is a store called Poet and the Bench

That sells neither poetry—

Nor benches

That was pretty common here in Mill Valley

Also sometimes it was really hard to tell

What was for sale—

And what was just part of the store

The north entrance to the El Paseo tunnel

I lived above these art galleries

That wanted to be stores

That wanted to be art galleries

In a tiny apartment overlooking

The pedestrian tunnel entrance

On the third floor of El Paseo

In an unlikely love affair

With Mill Valley

A model railroad town

And Hollywood set—

Featuring majestic redwoods

In the shadow of Mt. Tam

From my tiny apartment

I’d watch glorious sunsets

And make vintage cocktails

In my little kitchen

And at 8pm sharp

In a coordinated show of support

For essential workers

We’d howl out the window

Like a bunch of fucking lunatics

The echoes bouncing off the buildings

And through the El Paseo tunnel

I would live above the entrance

For more than three years

Which felt like home

Until suddenly it didn’t


El Paseo was not the only tunnel in Mill Valley

The other one cut between Piazza D’Angelo

And the Balboa Cafe

That tunnel leads through wisteria to a small parking lot

The exit of which faces an old theater

It’s small—

Seats fewer than 300

But just a few months earlier

I gave my first musical theater performance

As J.P. Morgan in Ragtime, The Musical

It was a pro-am cast

With a 21-piece orchestra

Quite a spectacle

Yours Truly as J.P. Morgan in Ragtime, The Musical, summer 2019

Anyhow, I’m sure most of Mill Valley didn’t care

That ten times—

For ten performances

I was J.P. Morgan in Ragtime, The Musical

But that didn’t stop me from feeling—

And acting

Each time—

Like a local celebrity

I would don my wardrobe and do my makeup at home

Then I’d walk the two blocks from my El Paseo apartment

Actually it was more like prancing

Off to the theater

Dressed like J.P. Morgan

Navy blue pinstriped

Three piece suit

Ivory sash

Black top hat

Silver monocle

Chrome pocket watch

Wooden cane

And a ridiculous mustache

I was J.P. Morgan

This weird little place

Half model railroad town

And half Hollywood set

It felt especially right for me—

When I was J.P. Morgan

Morgan literally singing about how wealthy he is

See, there are a lot of J.P. Morgans

In Mill Valley

And for most of them

It’s not a fucking costume

During the summer of activism

Around police violence

Which could have been any summer

Or anytime really in the last 150 years

So that doesn’t narrow it down much

But I’m talking about the summer of 2020

The mayor of Mill Valley

Herself a dark-skinned woman of Sri Lankan descent

Shut down any discussion of Black Lives Matter

At the town council meeting

Saying it wasn’t an issue of local importance

I guess that was on-script for Mill Valley, too

Where I rarely saw anyone who wasn’t white

And either enormously privileged—

Or descended from enormous privilege

Or at least they acted that way

There were other problems, too

In Mill Valley

Related to being black

See Ragtime, The Musical

Is about a lot of things

Like immigration

And love

But mostly it’s about racism

Specifically whites

In the early 1900s

Being truly awful, racist pricks

To blacks

So to pull off a musical like this

We needed three casts:

An “immigrant” cast

A “black” cast

And a “white” cast

Some members of the black cast

Both adults and kids

Came from the greater Bay Area

But others came from Mill Valley

I don’t know where the hell we found them

But somehow we did

We also needed guns

Fake guns, of course

This was musical theater

Not a theater of war

See what I did there?

So anyway our guns—

Theater guns

Some revolvers

Some rifles

They were vintage

And fake

Of course

But they were also kinda

Real-looking

One day the director

She sat everyone down

And gave us a very serious talk

About only using the guns—

Theater guns

In the theater

And only on stage

During rehearsals and performances

This had me wondering

Because very few things in theater are serious

But this sounded serious

Did some “well-meaning” white person

Wander past the theater

And notice a kid in the black cast?

With a gun—

A theater gun

Way more irony than I can stand

To have a police shooting

During the making of a musical about racism

Weeks later somebody spray-painted

Some KKK-related garbage

On a small building down the street

White people clutched their pearls

And said Not in Mill Valley

But until the police stop

Relentlessly provoking and killing black people

And proving

Again and again

That black lives don’t matter

This will continue to be an issue

In Mill Valley

And everywhere

Walking to rehearsal one evening

I noticed Theodosia wiping down tables

Sporting new purple streaks in her hair

My gaze lingered an instant too long

She frowned at me

Very much in character

Then I passed a parked Prius

Informally the official vehicle of Mill Valley

The paint was dinged up and worn

But the bumper stickers intact:

C O E X I S T

You know—

The blue one with all the religious symbols

And another with a raised black fist

This was exactly the kind of person

Who would probably call 911 on a black kid—

With a theater gun

And this is what makes me want to smash my fist

On the Hollywood set

On the little model railroad town

Watch the little fake houses and stores and trees snap

As they peel up remnants of the fake asphalt

Because the Prius driver would never identify as a racist

On the surface they would deny it

They’ve got the bumper stickers to prove it!

But their racism doesn’t live on the surface—

Like a bumper sticker

It’s buried deep within

And sometimes it has a way

Of sneaking through

Do we have to have our own real police shooting

Our own dead black kid

Right here in model train town

For it to be an issue of local importance?

Though I loved Mill Valley

With its quirky cast of characters

I didn’t like this plot development

Not in the slightest


So I’d end up living in Mill Valley

For another eighteen months after Ragtime, The Musical

So much of that in the thick of coronavirus

To keep everyone safe

We played apartment trading games

Quarantining with my teenage daughter

In El Paseo

Or sometimes it was just us

Oh and the cat we were hiding there

For months!

Perhaps the world’s most adaptable—and cuddly cat

Keeping the cat litter

And empty food cans

In separate trash bags

And sneaking out late at night

To deposit cat trash in the dumpster

Behind the nameless hair salon

So Denis—

The dumpster-diving landlord

Wouldn’t suspect anything

We did such a good job

That not even Jason the bartender found out

And he knew everything

Plus he lived next door

A paper-thin wall separating our apartments

And my bathroom window opened

Right onto his patio

(Don’t ask why)

(Because nobody knows)

And before COVID canceled love and everything

People would get married

It seemed like every weekend

At the Outdoor Art Club

Across the street

One time I even recognized the music

Cosmo Alley Cats, a San Francisco swing band

From the comfort of my postage-stamp-sized living room

And then there was the time I helped Kecia

By climbing over a railing

And down an embankment

To fish fallen orchid stems out of the arroyo

And the time a woman at the market

Asked me to help her get basil off the shelf

But wouldn’t accept the basil I had right there in my hand

And the time a guy tried to pick me up

At the bar of Tyler Florence’s old restaurant—

In El Paseo

But I acted straight

And it was hard to watch

(Most guys really need to learn how to flirt)

And the time I asked the metermaid

If moving violations

Were within her jurisdiction

To stop her from yelling at my ex-wife

Perhaps an unlawful u-turn was involved

But that wasn’t my point

And those times I slipped out

Through the El Paseo tunnel

The careful art of triangulating

Between the elementary school

The restaurants

And the homes

So I could smoke a half a joint

Without getting dirty looks—

Or even actual aggression

Damn you Mill Valley!

The little model railroad town

That won over the train-loving kid in me

The Hollywood set

Where I learned to love community theater

I love you still Mill Valley

Because of you

And in spite of you

In some ways you need to change

And change is coming

Whether you’re ready for it or not

But in some other ways—

Some important and curious ways

I hope you’ll always stay the same

Categories
Activism & Politics Featured Posts Personal

A Marine’s Choice

Anyone who traveled with Mitch Ludwig

Knew about the shrapnel in his ass

It was from Vietnam

A Marine

Two tours

And a Purple Heart

A man who lived

But had to watch his friends die

Those metal detectors

At the airport

They would get him every time

The smiles and laughs

From TSA

Only a charmer like Mitch

Could make the TSA laugh

Mitch was the center

Of everything

I flew all over the country with him

Watched him work his magic

We’d walk the halls of the Pentagon

Or Langley

Could never get very far

Govvies and contractors alike

Tripping over themselves to shake hands

With Mitch Ludwig

He brought me along

To show off the technology

But my job was easy

Because Mitch had already closed the deals

With his outsized personality

Starch pressed shirts

Finely fitted suits

Red ties

Always red ties

Clean shaven

And bald as a cue ball

Mitch was the Daddy Warbucks

Of Washington, DC

He had this innocence

Or at least he’d fake it

He’d make an off-color joke

Then grab the end of his red tie

And gently pass it across his lips

As if he was wiping his mouth clean

Three vasectomies 

And two reversals!

He would always tell me

I’m still not sure why

But on weekends he’d pilot his yacht

Down the Potomac

Jam packed

With fifty of his closest friends

He’d drop anchor

And we’d tumble overboard

Stand in the silt

Water up to our tits

A shitty American beer in each hand

And not a care in the world

Somehow Mitch would reel us all back in

And pilot the yacht to a seafood shack

Now the fifty had become a hundred

A dozen blue crabs per person

And pitchers filled with more shitty beer

For hours

Nah it was all fucking night

We’d drink beer

And pick these tiny blue crabs

The Old Bay getting all up in our fingernails

And the corn on the cob, ignored

No one ever saw a bill

Or threw down a dime

Mitch always took care of it

Daddy Warbucks style

Then one day Mitch Ludwig

Blew his fucking brains out

No one will ever know exactly why

But does anyone really have to ask?

Because when I think about Vietnam

And Iraq

And Afghanistan

And everything

I wonder

Mitch loved his life

And was loved by his family

And me

And hundreds of others

That was clear

But if our country

And its leaders

Thought so little of his life

To send him off to die in a quagmire

In a war we knew we wouldn’t win

Then maybe suicide was Mitch’s way

Of taking control

Of his own life

Of his own destiny

Because Mitch didn’t die for his country

Mitch died for Mitch

On his terms

The way he wanted

And if our country

Put Mitch in this position

Why should anyone question his choice?

Categories
Featured Posts Personal

The Weight

When you feel the weight of the world
Upon your shoulders
It is an illusion
For you are the world
And the world is you
And it is heavy
And I feel it
Too

Categories
Featured Posts Personal

A Stranger in San Pancho

It’s 3:30am in San Pancho

Our legs are numb from dancing

And the mezcal has got us wondering

If we’re still drunk or starting to get hungover

I’m sitting at a filthy plastic table

Eating a quesadilla with mushrooms from a can

And frijoles from a plastic tub

But it’s the best fucking thing I’ve ever tasted

Why is this so good?

It’s a combination of factors, she says

I met this woman five minutes ago

I don’t know her name

And she doesn’t know mine

But she looks me square in the eye and asks

Why do we fall in love with people we shouldn’t?

I don’t know, why?

It’s a combination of factors, she says

The stranger

***

Earlier I attended the big dance

In the flesh

But my mind

Obsessing about Maria

She stood out on the crowded dance floor

Pink v-neck, jean cutoffs, no shoes

She looked at her bare feet

And danced with wild abandon

Like a little girl

But with the body of a woman

Her shirt danced, too

Like intertwined lovers

Beneath pink linens 

She was out of place here

At the big dance

With live big band music

But so were we

Gringos, most of us

But a lot of Mexicans, too

From La Ciudad, Guadalajara, Sayulita

We came for the live music and for lindy hop

A dance, a swing dance

I came to San Pancho for a lindy hop festival

But I was running away

Way more than I was coming

***

Earlier, at dusk, I sat on a rickety stool at an outdoor bar

Everything is at least a little bit rickety

And a little bit outdoors

In San Pancho

Maria was tending bar

Yes the same Maria

It was her bar

She was the first person I met in San Pancho

It was earlier, still daytime, already hot, maybe 11am

She was walking a little hotdog with perky ears, no leash

His jet black coat matched the enormous mane atop Maria’s head

That fell in haphazard layers down her shoulders and back

Maria spoke to me, in broken English

I responded, in broken Spanish

She helped me find my room

Assured me no one would ever lock the outdoor gate

Nunca?

No, nunca

Maria was the nicest

And the prettiest

In San Pancho

She was also my neighbor

From my balcony

I could see her front door

Across a patio speckled with garbage

But to be fair to San Pancho

Let’s just call it stuff, not garbage

San Pancho is a small town

So it was more coincidence than scheming

That I would run into Maria three times in one day

But there was a little scheming, too

And it was also a long day

And a long night

I didn’t ever get much sleep in San Pancho

By the time I’d had a cold shower

The only option

And gotten myself into bed

The roosters would already be crowing

False advertising!

Fuckers never wait for sunrise

At least not in San Pancho

Shortly after, the sound of Mexican music

Blaring on little speakers the size of sand dollars

Because everything is under construction 

In San Pancho

At least a little bit

By now it was my last day here

I was starting to get used to it

Amid the roosters

And the sounds of construction

And the tinny Mexican music

I would stare at the broken ceiling fan

Thinking about how much my feet hurt

From dancing

And Maria

See, I had invited Maria to attend the big dance

With the big band

That was my scheme

Back when I was trying so hard to flirt with her at the bar

Women don’t like it when you try too hard

There’s a right amount of trying

And I’m trying to figure out what that is

Because it’s different

For different women

I didn’t think she would come to the dance

Perhaps I was trying too hard at the bar

Tengo novio, she said

¿Dónde está? I asked

You see I was flirting

With Maria at the bar

Her bar

Using flirting logic

How can you have a boyfriend

If he isn’t here right this second?

Maria didn’t know

But her fellow bartender had already sold her out

Given me intel

Maria was available, she said

With a certain look that conveyed

Go for it

There are things you notice

After a breakup

It’s like a sixth sense

Or maybe a seventh

The gift

And the danger

Is that virtually anyone

That’s right, almost anyone

Can be your quarry

At least it seems that way

Whether or not it’s true

Or maybe everything is exactly the same as it always is

But I am different

Seeing things that may not have been there

Signs that I shouldn’t have acted on

At Maria’s bar in San Pancho

Half-sitting on a stool, half standing up

Ready to walk away

Or run

Sipping warm mezcal

I tried hard to get her attention

While trying just as hard to look like I wasn’t

Truth is I had no business being around people

See, I was less than a month off a busted engagement

Serious shit

We had named our kids and everything

Then one morning

The morning after Valentine’s Day, in fact

She fucked me

Good and hard

And then she was gone

Forever

Should have known better

Because she never liked morning sex

Or sex at all, really

But she did that time

The last time

* * *

I came to San Pancho

On a whim

Buying my airfare the expensive way

Missing the sign up deadline

For the lindy hop classes I wanted

And my ex

Her mind was not at all connected to her heart

But I still loved her

It was not even a month

Couldn’t just turn that shit off

She left me

But she also freed me

Now I could do whatever I wanted

Go wherever I pleased

A blessing

A curse?

I guess it’s a matter of perspective

But I wasn’t thinking about any of that

I was only thinking about Maria

And the things we could do

If only she wanted to

***

In San Pancho

And really almost everywhere I go

I’m surrounded by lindy hoppers

They’re in every major city

And many not-so-major cities, too

Yes lindy hop is a dance

Usually

But not always

Between people of different genders

Involving touching

And intimacy

But it’s not an intimate dance

It’s not tango

Or zouk

All dances

On some level

Model intercourse

But lindy hop

At least to me

Feels more like basketball

Than sex

For this reason

I’d been careful

To avoid casual hookups

With lindy hoppers

Getting naked

And exchanging bodily fluids

Other than hot breath and sweat

Could mean no more basketball

And basketball

Is way less complicated than sex

You can even do it in public!

But I couldn’t think about basketball

Or lindy hop

Because all I wanted

Was Maria to agree to a game of one-on-one

With me

She could probably sense my hunger

I needed to know if the boyfriend was real

I had learned something from the last one

And the last one

And maybe even the one before that

Sometimes people aren’t clear with their intentions

Sometimes those intentions change

Sometimes those intentions were never there to begin with

And that’s a really nice way to put it

***

Once I had a five year relationship

Back when I was too young

To have any idea what the fuck that meant

For our final year

I guess we didn’t know it was our final year

Not at the time

We tried an open relationship

We had rules

Everything was okay

As long as we talked about it

So I’m at my grandmother’s house in New York

And my girlfriend’s in San Francisco

And my entire Sicilian extended family is sitting around a long table

Eating a cassata cake

And alternating sips of espresso and sambuca

I’m on the phone with my girlfriend

Not even really sure why

She’s telling me about a guy

Another lindy hopper

Burt, she said

I had seen him around

He was older

And kinda short

When he kissed me it tasted like cigars, she said

Gross, I thought

But with my whole family there

I didn’t say anything

It was so weird, she went on to tell me

When we had sex, his dick wasn’t even hard the whole time

I felt a heat well up inside me

From my also not hard dick

Not at the time

Right up to my temples

I wanted to scream

Throw the phone out the window

Tie the absurdly long phone cord into a noose

And hang myself

Right there in front of my whole family

Over the cassata cake

And the espresso, the sambuca

Well that’s nice, maybe we can talk about it more when I get home

She didn’t break the rules!

We talked about it, right?

But then tell me why the fuck

Why the fuck did it hurt so much?

Maybe I could hear something

That wasn’t being said

Because a few days later

I returned to San Francisco

And she left me

For Burt

Moved to Twin Peaks

Into his apartment

With his cigar breath

And his soft dick

Left me wondering

Was I too tall?

Did my breath smell too good?

Was I too hard?

Since when is that a problem?

Before I had time

To get self-conscious about being too hard

While having sex

I was hit with the worst depression of my life

Moved back in with my parents for six months

I didn’t know how to do a relationship

For sure

And I didn’t know how to do a breakup

Either

And this is why I wanted Maria

So badly

Yes because she was friendly

And beautiful

And waifish

And she danced with her whole body

Not her mind

Yes all those things

But also because by now I had learned

That breakups don’t need daily milkshakes

And six months living with Mom and Dad

Well maybe sometimes breakups do need those things

But this breakup only needed one thing

Maria

***

Maria, Maria, Maria

Maria wouldn’t stop dancing

Looked like a mishmash of hippie dancing

And some kind of country line dance

She smiled from ear to ear

But still looked innocently at her feet

As her hair and her boobs bounced around

In disheveled and frenetic wonder

I was falling for her in every conceivable way

She had brought some friends

The bartender spy

And two other women I didn’t know

I kept watching Maria dance

Every so often I looked away

Just in case

But she kept looking at her feet

As though in a trance

I was distracted by some conversation

Two of the organizers were talking

Who let the locals in?

In a split-second decision

I realized I should come clean

Don’t worry, I invited them!

They’re just some friends of mine from the bar

They won’t stay long 

Now I sprung into action

The song changed, something a little slower, good

Maria, let me show you the dance we do here

She smiled and took a few steps in my direction

I reached out both my hands, which she clasped

With my left hand

I took hers

And placed it on my right shoulder

At the same time

I put my right hand on the small of her back

Pulling her closer, gently

But keeping space between us

Basketball

Not sex

With my left hand

I softly took ahold of her right

And held it at eye level

Step, step, rock-step

Say it with me

Step, step, rock-step

I talked softly

Under the music

My lips nearly touching her ear

And led with my body

Which always follows my heart

She was clumsy

She looked at her feet

But she followed me

And then time folded

Our bodies became one 

We hit a dancer flow

A million songs behind us already

But still she looked at her feet

¡Ahora, mírame!

Our eyes locked

Her smile softened

Her big brown eyes widened

We were still in a flow

Dancing as one form

Was this basketball?

Or sex?

I hadn’t a clue

The pounding in my chest

So hard it was distracting me

In an instant

The moment was gone

Maria’s friends beckoned

Her hands fell to her sides

¿Y entonces, Maria? 

No se

And in a flash the four of them scurried away

Into the dusty parking lot

And down the cracked and cobbled streets of San Pancho

*** 

I didn’t follow them

That Romeo bullshit doesn’t work

Only in movies

I gave them plenty of time to leave

And once they were good and gone

I went out into the same parking lot

And I called my friend Samantha

We were about the same age

Both married to other people for decades

I divorced, she’s still with hers, good for them

Sammie and I were old neighbors

In San Francisco back in the 90s

She helped me return to earth

After my girlfriend left me for Burt

Cigar-mouthed

Soft-dicked

Burt

Sammie and I hadn’t talked in years

But if anyone could understand me now

It would be the woman who understood me then

And “understand me” is a nice way of saying

That she ripped me a new asshole

Look at you! 42 years old?

You’re a grown-ass man acting like a child

Sure, sure, chase tail all you want

But goddammit for the last time

Don’t fall in love so easily

Don’t trust someone until they deserve it

Don’t give someone everything they ask for after three dates

Learn how to say no

And for fuck’s sake

Set some goddamn boundaries!

***

I went back into the dance

It was getting late

The floor was slick

Almost like an ice-skating rink

On a slick floor

With the right shoes

You can dance for hours

Without getting tired

There were people from San Francisco

I largely ignored them

I can play basketball with them anytime

Here I got to dance with strangers

From all over Mexico

And all around the world

Even a darling French couple

Absolute scorchers on the dance floor

Finally I’m worn paper thin

It’s 3:30am

And I wander back into the same dusty parking lot

For more mezcal

And impossibly good quesadillas

That’s where we began

When I met the stranger

I still don’t know her name

But I will never forget

How we marveled at the strange beauty

Of parking lot quesadillas

Born of canned mushrooms

And plastic tub beans

Somehow this stranger

She knew what I needed to hear

Right when I needed to hear it

Why do we fall in love with people we shouldn’t?

I don’t know, why?

It’s a combination of factors, she says, the stranger

But is it?

How can we know who we should love?

And who we shouldn’t?

And why?

People fall in love

By accident

They don’t schedule it in their day planner

Put it on a todo list

Maybe it really is a combination of factors

And nobody can put their finger on it

Maybe we all just get swept up in the moment

And fall in love over plastic tubs of frijoles?

***

My body had already failed a good while ago

And now I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open

So I decide it’s time to leave the dance hall parking lot

And the quesadillas

And find my way back to my room

My cold shower

And the broken ceiling fan

I’m sure the roosters are preparing

To wake me up

Well before they’re due

Those fuckers

At 4am the streets of San Pancho

Still aren’t totally quiet

A few dogs barking, an occasional car, and what’s this?

The sounds of skateboarding?

And giggling?

Maria?

Sure enough

Maria, still barefoot, skateboarding, at 4am

Which was really just stumbling around

On cracks and cobblestones

Crease!

She couldn’t pronounce my name

So adorable

Add that to the combination of factors

I was falling in love over and over again

As if it wasn’t under my control

Perhaps it wasn’t

Esta es mi novio, Manuel. Manuel, Crís es un bailador!

Mucho gusto I said

As they giggled away

Into the dark, dusty San Pancho night

The boyfriend

He’s real

I wanted to think about this

But suddenly a man on a moped was nearly on top of me

I didn’t see him coming at all

He stuck out a bony finger and said

In a very thick accent

Go home

Esta bien, amigo, voy a ir a casa

No! Go home, right now

I got the message

But I didn’t really know what to do

Other than keep walking to my room

I was at least half way there already

So that’s what I did

One cold shower

And a few hours later

When those fucking roosters woke me up

Again

I stared at the broken ceiling fan

Again

And I thought

Not about Maria

Not this time

I thought about me

I thought about a man

Who fell in love too easily

Then he came to San Pancho

And never loved the same way again

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Featured Posts Personal

Washing Pennies

Violent thunderstorms would often strike Freeport, GBI. I was four years old, but I can feel them like it was yesterday. Several times a day, mothers would holler, wet kids running in every direction, rain funneling off the palm fronds and slapping the pavers, anger cracking through the sky. Thunderstorms meant one thing: time to wash my spare change. I lined up the Bahamian pennies around the perimeter of our screened-in porch, starfish side up, watching the rainwater course over them. Years later I would learn that a change-washing machine is one of the famous old quirks of the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Two places that have clean change: The St. Francis and my parents’ porch in Freeport in 1980.

These storms never lasted long. In just a few minutes, maybe a rainbow or two, then blue skies, sunshine, and kids, everywhere kids. Ashish and Vinay, who gave me something so spicy to eat that their mom had to spoon-feed me yogurt until I stopped freaking out. And Nick, my babysitter. We would launch model rockets. Once, we lost one deep inside a field of poison oak. The kid uniform in Freeport was one article of clothing: swim trunks. Nick was maybe 16, so the dress code applied to him too. “I’m not allergic,” he said, lofting me onto his shoulders and marching into the thicket. From my elevated view, I spotted the downed rocket first. Or maybe Nick knew it was there all along, but let me be the one to find it because that’s something Nick would do.

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As promised, Rigatoni & Impossible Balls!

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Activism & Politics Featured Posts Personal

Fuck you, coronavirus

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Recent cooking projects

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Activism & Politics Featured Posts

A Must-Read Letter from Andrea Ocasio-Cortez

Content warning: This email contains details regarding abuse, violence, and sexual assault.

Monday night, I hopped on IG live to talk about what happened at the Capitol. My story is one of many. It’s not the only story or the central story.

But, it’s important to share because so many of the people who helped perpetrate what happened are trying to tell us to move on and forget about what happened – saying it isn’t a big deal.

They’re asking us to move on for their own convenience. These are the same tactics used by abusers. What they are really asking is: “Can you forget about this so we can do it again?”I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and I haven’t told many people that in my life. But when we go through trauma, whether we have neglectful parents or any kind of trauma, these episodes can compound on one another. Part of my hesitancy to tell this story until now has to do with some of my trauma. As a survivor, I struggle with the idea of being believed.

Many Republicans have done everything they can to try to rewrite history. They say we’re exaggerating or stoking tensions or even that I should apologize. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz have had nearly a month to apologize for their role, but over and over they’ve doubled down and said they did the right thing and if they could go back, they’d do it all again. That’s why they need to resign, because they will do it again.

First, let’s dispel the idea that this insurrection happened suddenly – that there was no way for Hawley, Cruz or Trump not to see this violence coming or anticipate their role in stoking it. Everyone knew something was going to happen.

One week before, I started to get text messages from other members of Congress saying that I needed to be careful on Wednesday. So I started thinking through a security plan with my staff.

Insurrectionists arrived in town starting on Monday. That day, as I exited the Capitol, a crowd of Trump supporters were gathered directly behind my car. All there was to protect myself and other members of Congress was a waist-high fence.

My heart was beating fast. They were yelling insults my way. I tried to lighten the mood to create enough space for me to drive away and get out of there.

Later that day, I went to the grocery store and saw all these people in MAGA hats. It felt tense. And, I guess it felt like – whether you’re from the Bronx, New York City, Queens, or wherever – you can just catch a vibe and kind of know a general sense of when things aren’t right. And things started to feel “not right” when I was in that grocery store that Monday night.By Tuesday, 24 hours before the events on January 6th, I had already resolved that I wouldn’t go back outside except to vote. Myself and other members asked about security plans, and we were told that it was being handled by Capitol Police and couldn’t be shared.

Fast forward, Wednesday, January 6: At 12:45pm, my chief of staff called me and asked how I was feeling. In that moment, I was feeling great – Rev. Warnock and Jon Ossoff had just won. I was on cloud nine. It took a weight off my shoulders – and I hoped maybe it would take the wind out of the sails of the growing mob outside the Capitol.

Shortly after we hung up, I heard violent bangs on my office door and all the doors into our congressional office. My legislative director – G – told me to hide. I ran into the bathroom – then quickly realized I should have gone to the closet instead. When I opened the door to move, I heard that someone had already gotten into my office. It was too late. Then, they started to yell: “Where is she?” “Where is she?” “Where is she?”

This is the moment I thought everything was over. As a spiritual person, I thought: if this is the plan for me, people – you all – would be able to take it from here. I felt that things were going to be okay and that I had fulfilled my purpose.

Peeking through the hinges of the door behind which I was hiding, I saw a white man with a black beanie come into my direct office. He continued to ask, “where is she?” “where is she?” Finally, I heard G follow him and say “Boss, it’s OK to come out.”

The man in the black beanie was a Capitol Police officer – he was alone with no partner, and I never heard him identify himself as Capitol Police or anything. We weren’t sure if he was there to help us or hurt us. He was looking at me with a tremendous amount of anger and hostility.

Yelling, he told us to go to a different building where all Members would be extracted – not providing the room number or any other exact information on where in the building that extraction point was. Still, we started running. Alone with no escort and no specific location, we could hear the rioters outside. Not knowing where to go, I ran to find the offices of members I knew in the building. After running up and down the stairs, googling frantically to find room numbers, I eventually found Rep. Katie Porter’s office and asked if we could shelter with her.

She welcomed us in, and we started searching for where we could hide. We pushed couches against the door. I found clothes and sneakers to change into in case I needed to run, jump out of a window, or blend in with a crowd. We turned off all the lights.

Shortly after we finished barricading ourselves, we received intelligence that bombs were found not far from where we were.

We discussed what we’d do if the building exploded. Staffers were making decisions to put their lives on the line to save us.

When I finally learned the location of the extraction point, I didn’t feel safe going there, knowing that some Republican members were live tweeting the locations of the Speaker and others. I knew the National Guard hadn’t been called. We were in Rep. Porter’s office for hours.

After the building was secure, I walked over to Rep. Pressley’s office where she and her staffers made sure I was fed. We were at Ayanna’s office until 4am as Congress finally proceeded with voting to certify the electoral college. There are more details to share at some point, but not today.

Rep. Pressley told me that night that what I experienced was traumatizing. Hearing her say that, it forced me to pump my brakes. If you have experienced any type of trauma, just admitting and recognizing it is already a big step. The moment you admit that a thing happened to you is hugely important.

I look back on this and Ayanna really helped my healing. Telling your story is an important tool for healing, which is why I’m telling mine. Together, we have 435 stories and we need to tell them because every time a Republican gets on television and tells us to forget, these stories are reminders of what they’re trying to absolve.

What happens now should not be a partisan issue. This moment is not about a difference of political opinion. This is about basic humanity.

We knew that violence was expected on January 6. We knew the rioters depended on someone upholding the lie that the presidential election was fraudulent. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley chose to tell the lie because they thought it would be politically advantageous.

Six people have lost their lives, eyes and limbs have been lost, and many more people traumatized. Even after all of that, not even an ‘I’m sorry.’ Not even an: ‘I didn’t realize what I said would contribute to this violence and if I had known, I wouldn’t have done it.’ Instead the response has been, ‘I did the right thing and I would do it again.’

If that is their stance, these members will continue to be a danger to their colleagues. Given the same conditions, they will choose to endanger their colleagues for political gain again. That’s why we need accountability.

It’s not about revenge, it’s about creating safety. We are not safe with people who hold political power who are willing to endanger lives for political gain.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this or listen to my IG live. I’ve been giving myself the time and space to heal. And, if you’ve experienced trauma, I hope you’ll do the same. You don’t need to have experienced the worst thing or the biggest thing.

Talk to someone about it. Acknowledge it in your heart.

Big hugs and build a snowman for me,

AOC

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Why I’m an Activist