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3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From An Unlikely Friendship

One of my closest friends is a white woman 30 years my senior – a Baby Boomer. We shared a cubicle wall back in the ’00s when we worked in IT at a large insurance company. I hated that job so much that some mornings I’d sit in my car and cry before leaving for the office.

It was the type of job where I had a micro-managing relic of a supervisor whom on a daily basis would periodically stroll by unsubtly peeking at our screens to make sure we weren’t surfing the internet. God forbid we take a break from the mind-numbing, inconsequential grunt work we were doing.

This is the same supervisor who for some reason couldn’t get my name right and would often refer to me by the name of one of the few other black female employees, who looked nothing like me and were at least 15 years older. I would pretend I didn’t hear him; after all, my name didn’t come out of his mouth.

Five days a week, I’d toil for hours at my desk in the large, window-deprived, cubicle farm boxed in by drab, ’70s-brown walls. An inappropriately loud middle-aged man who bang-typed on his keyboard and always seemed to be on the phone with his doctor discussing his various prescription meds, including one for ADHD, which explained a lot – sat in front of me. The back of his head, where unkempt gray hairs fought black for dominance, greeted me each time I looked up from my boxy monitor.

I worked in a Dilbert cartoon.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
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I’d often wonder, as I looked upward, “Why am I here? Why do I have to go through this? I am miserable almost every day!”

I wondered what lessons I’d learn from this job, what I would take away from it. I figured there had to exist a reason beyond the below-market paycheck.

One afternoon, feeling trapped in the office and trying to make it through the day without screaming, I eavesdropped on my surrounding co-workers. To my left, on the other side of my cube wall, my neighbor ranted about yet another blunder of then-President George H. Bush. I heard her say:

“Of course, he’s from Texas. I’ve never met a person from Texas who I like.”

I stood up, peered over the wall and interjected shyly, “I’m from Texas. Well…kinda…I lived there junior high through college.”

My neighbor, JC, a blonde woman with a kind face, bright expressive eyes, and a voice that brings to mind your favorite elementary school teacher replied, “Well, I like you, so maybe Texas isn’t all bad.”

A friendship was born.

As we got better acquainted in the following months, we discovered that despite our age difference we shared more than a few commonalities. Our friendship cemented, when on a Friday night she came out to West Hollywood – risking traffic misery – to celebrate my 27th birthday with me and a bunch of my twenty-something friends. My friends liked her and I loved that she was game for anything – even hanging out with people who whine about being old at the age of 27.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
Me with JC in 2005. One of my younger sisters was in town visiting and JC took us on a nature drive through the Santa Monica Mountains

In the many years that we’ve been friends, JC’s seen me through heartbreak, job changes and career struggles, supported me through growing pains and has taken me in on holidays since I don’t have family in California. She is like family to me.

It’s an unlikely friendship. I notice the curious looks we get sometimes when we’re out in public together – often joined by JC’s husband, to whom she’s been married almost as long as I’ve been alive. It’s difficult to quantify how much our friendship has enriched my life. However, there are valuable lessons I’ve picked up which I’d like to share.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"

1. Don’t Take Your Body or Health for Granted

A few years before I met JC, a man having an epileptic seizure while driving lost control of his car and plowed into her parked vehicle where she sat paying bills in the driver’s seat. The accident nearly killed her and almost destroyed her body. She spent nearly a year in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries as well as physical and mental therapy.

A self-proclaimed nature lover and outdoors girl who grew up in the California desert, JC had to re-learn how to walk and use her body – now rebuilt with skin grafts and enough metal to alarm an airport detector.

Her life as a maven of the outdoors was never the same after the accident. She can’t hike the way she used to. There’s always a mobility walker in the trunk of her Prius which she uses to help with her balance. She suffers through pain almost daily due to lingering nerve damage.

In discussing her accident, JC always reminds me of the importance of appreciating my body, health and youth. Not taking for granted how hard my muscles work just so I can walk, run and jump. To respect the vitality and mobility youth enables. As we all know, that mobility and vitality isn’t everlasting.

Staying physically fit and healthy is a priority for me. I use my youth to my advantage. I want to be that 70-year old no one believes is 70 because she’s bursting with energy and in fantastic shape.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"

2. You Can Be Friends with People with Different Belief Systems

JC is friends with nearly everyone. She’s warm, talkative, vibrant and very likable. Souls are drawn to her open heart, even those who don’t share her firmly liberal beliefs, about which she is quite vocal.

Conservative friends of hers will send her inflammatory memes and Snopes-worthy articles which they’ll vehemently debate knowing neither party will budge. Yet, they remain friends, despite their warring political beliefs of the type some friendships fall out over. It’s a testament to the fact that she accepts people for who they are and genuinely wants the best for everyone.

Some of JC’s friends she’s known since her childhood and early adulthood – though that doesn’t keep her from making new friends. With those she’s close to, she keeps in touch regularly – even talking on that device we use to text and check our social media. I aspire to be able to say the same when I hit her age. Maintaining friendships is important.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
In 2012 at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California. JC and I both love animals.

3. Always be Learning and Seeking New Experiences

From time to time JC will remind me of a conversation we had years ago that changed the way she views people in public spaces. She’d invited me to an art festival in Orange County, about an hour south of Los Angeles. If you’re unfamiliar with the OC, many cities there aren’t exactly diverse. Driving to Orange County is sometimes derisively referred to by Angelenos as “crossing the orange curtain” because in several ways it’s the polar opposite of L.A.

Though art is totally my thing, I declined the invite and explained why. I’d had some uncomfortable racial experiences in the OC. Particularly in the region where the festival took place, which was and still is overwhelmingly white. Some people would stare at me like they’ d never seen a black person before or they’d just not even acknowledge my existence. It’s quite alienating.

JC said that she’d never thought about it that way before. She’d never really had to. She’d see a sprinkling of people of color in a crowd and think “ah, diversity.” She hadn’t given much thought to how it’d feel to always be the minority in public spaces and endure the weirdness that sometimes occurs. I laughed when one day she emailed me about an event she’d attended and how all she saw were “old white people.”

We’ve spoken fairly candidly about race over the years. She’s been open and receptive to learning about my experiences and how the world looks through my eyes. Likewise, I’ve learned a lot about her lens on the world.

As an avid traveler, JC’s always encouraged me to see the world. I recall one afternoon visiting her wonderfully quirky, ranch-style home up in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains and flipping through old photo albums as she narrated.

One album was full of photos taken on an African safari she’d gone on with her husband. As I turned the pages, I imagined how amazing it would be to visit Africa one day. For so long it had seemed like an unrealistic dream. Talking to JC about her experiences made it seem a more real and attainable goal to me.

In 2012, I visited Africa for the first time – Tanzania, specifically – and went on a safari. The entire trip was more incredible than I could have imagined. In the years since I met JC, I’ve visited countries on four different continents. I hope to make it to all seven by my 40th birthday.

Sometimes you find friendship in the most unlikely people. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black in "3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From an Unlikely Friendship"
2012: On a safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania with zebras grazing in the background.

Sometimes, the reason we’re placed in difficult situations isn’t immediately obvious. I never imagined in all those mornings I wept over how much I disliked my job, that I would one day be grateful for the experience. Without it, I never would have made one of the best friends I could ever ask for.

Do you have any unlikely friendships? What lessons have you learned through your friendships?

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Why Her, Why Now?

A friend of mine passed away last Tuesday. She was only 37.

I’m looking at those words and I still have difficulty absorbing them.

Few thoughts are as unnerving as knowing that someone you care about is no longer on this earth in their physical form. That all that’s left of them is your memories, which fade over time, and photos as digital proof of their once existence.

Her death didn’t come as a complete surprise. A cancer diagnosis six years ago was only the first of three. Three times my poor friend had to endure intensely draining – in all senses of the word – cycles of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I saw her when she lost her hair and covered her head with baseball caps, generally opting out of wigs. As her hair spikily returned, she joked that she looked like a boy, which didn’t bother her. She dealt with her cancer with her unique, sardonic sense of humor.

We met at work in Los Angeles eight years ago. She was one of three people who interviewed me for the job where I’d spend the next five years. I remember how comfortable I felt with her during the interview. There was an openness and warmth about her even though she presented herself somewhat stoically.

Life is notoriously unfair. Bad things happen to good people while people who cause harm to others remain earthly.  Cancer took another soul way too early.  | Read more from "Why Her, Why Now" on The Girl Next Door is Black
At our company’s holiday party in 2010. (E is on the right)

For three years, we sat just a few feet away from each other, the backs of our chairs facing the other’s desk. Those chairs got a lot of swivel action as we talked to each other frequently. Our roles were somewhat interdependent, so we worked closely together. It was a partnership which I greatly appreciated. She was incredibly intelligent and hardworking. She didn’t like disappointing people so she sometimes took on more work than she should have. We had many conversations where I implored upon her, as did several others, to push back on some of the requests for the sake of her sanity. She’d nod and agree, but soon revert to her old ways, working too many late hours.

Life is so often unfair. Bad things happen to good people while people who cause harm to others remain earthly.  Cancer took another soul way too early.  | Read more from "Why Her, Why Now" on The Girl Next Door is Black
E- usually opted for no makeup, a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. It was fun seeing her all dolled up for our friend and fellow co-worker’s wedding in 2011. She looked gorgeous. (She’s the one in blue next to the bride.)

Over time, we became friends and shared a mutual love of travel, dislike of people with no common sense, as well as the mundane in life. She was a person you could trust with a secret and one whose loyalty you never needed to question.

After her second battle with cancer, she decided not to return to work. The type of cancer she had has a 5-year survival rate of 30%. She decided to learn to relax and enjoy life: traveling, spending time with concerned and loving relatives in Korea, eating all the foods that were off-limits during her treatments. She’d wax poetic about red meat, sushi and good whiskey.

Life is so often unfair. Bad things happen to good people while people who cause harm to others remain earthly.  Cancer took another soul way too early.  | Read more from "Why Her, Why Now" on The Girl Next Door is Black
I was so happy E (R) made it to my farewell party back when I lived in Los Angeles in 2012. She hadn’t been feeling well and wasn’t sure she’d be up for it.

She came up to San Francisco for a visit earlier this year just before she was set to begin her third round of treatment. After the Bay Area, she planned to head north to visit friends in Oregon. I had the nagging feeling she was saying her goodbyes.

She was never a spiritual or religious person. She was also not a touchy-feely person. But, on this last trip, she seemed different, less cynical and more serene. I wish I’d recorded her speaking so I could replay that conversation and fill in the gaps in my recall. We talked about life matter-of-factly, not in soothing platitudes. She encouraged and greatly supported my efforts to change careers. I was surprised to learn she was a faithful reader of my blog. It really touched me because her opinion mattered to me.

We both agreed life is too short to waste time on things we don’t care about. It didn’t seem like she was afraid of death, she seemed to have come to terms with her potential fate. At the time, I didn’t want to spend too much energy considering her mortality.

Life is strange. It’s so often unfair. I have asked myself the question many before me have: “Why her? Why now?”

I would never truly wish death on someone, but I have to wonder why a cold-blooded, racist, white supremacist 19-year old man, who murdered nine innocent black people IN A CHURCH and who is adding no value to society, gets to stick around, but my friend who had a kind heart and meant a tremendous deal to so many people, has to go. It makes me angry.

A few friends and I are planning to gather for an informal memorial in her honor. Fittingly, it will be in Koreatown in Los Angeles, site of many good times and fond memories in our group. I think, perhaps more than most people, our friend E- would want us to focus on living the hell out of our lives. We never know when we’ll get called out of the game.

I plan to honor her by continuing to strive to lead the best, most truthful and significant life I can. I’m not always sold on the benefits of walking this earth, but I’m here and I gotta keep living.

My friend, I will miss you. I hope you are at peace wherever you are.

Life is notoriously unfair. Bad things happen to good people while people who cause harm to others remain earthly. Cancer took another soul way too early. | Read more from "Why Her, Why Now" on The Girl Next Door is Black
At Korean BBQ in Los Angeles on one of my return visits in 2014. It was St. Patrick’s day, hence all the green. (She’s seated to my right)

That Time I Almost Accidentally Joined a Cult

All the chatter about the HBO documentary on the Church of Scientology, Going Clear, got me thinking about my own experiences with a similar church I’ll call the Church of OddPhilosophies. Because I would never say anything bad about the Church of Scientology.

I was once on the run from the Church of OddPhilosophies.

Ok, so things weren’t as dramatic as that, but there did exist a time when I had to avoid the COO.

Picture it: the early ’00s, Los Angeles, California. A city of towering palm trees, near constant sunshine, and an overabundance of injectable-filled faces. A twenty-something woman full of youthful energy and naiveté dreams of a brilliant acting career.

(This young woman is me, by the way).

I’d often flip through Backstage West, an entertainment newspaper, looking for classes, seminars, casting notices and odd jobs. On one such occasion I came across an ad that looked something like this:

Fake Ad for Acting Seminar | The Girl Next Door is Black

That’s not exactly what it said, but that’s sure how I read it! Every actor knows there’s big opportunity and money in nationally broadcast commercials. SIGN ME UP!

It wasn’t until I arrived at the Famous Centre on the eastern edge of Hollywood that I realized it was part of The Church of OddPhilosophies.

I should have turned around as soon as I made the connection.

Instead, I parked and entered the estate. I’d driven by the grounds of the Famous Centre before and thought it beautiful and quintessentially old Hollywood. Now I had the chance to see the inside! Besides, I figured other churches sometimes rent out use of their space to non-religious groups as an income generator.

Church of Scientology Celebrity Center | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, which looks very similar to the Church of OddPhilosophies Famous Centre
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A cheery young blond man ushered a group of about 30 of us hopefuls into a small room with seats arranged in rows facing the speaker.

“Hi, I am Felicia Lister, Denise’s less famous and less talented sister.” What happened to Denise?! Who is Felicia?

For the next half hour, Felicia charmed and dazzled us with motivational platitudes and positive affirmations.

“Maybe your dream is to win an Oscar one day. Your dream is RIGHT WITHIN YOUR GRASP! How badly do you want it though? Do you just talk the talk or do you WALK THE WALK? Do you want success?! Are you tired of worrying about how you’re going to pay your rent?”

Yes! Tell me how!

“I’ll tell you how! Some of our students are today’s biggest stars. We can’t name names because we respect their privacy. But, you know who they are.” Felicia winked.

Most of the actors were focused on Felicia, transfixed by her promises of glory and riches.

“We can help you achieve your dreams! Our methods are highly successful. So, if you’re serious about being serious about MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE, Chad will take you into the next room to watch a short film.”

Wait – so far, no one has mentioned anything about commercials. When is that going to happen?

I didn’t get the chance to ask as we were quickly hustled into an already dark screening room with about 20 seats. Somehow we’d lost 10 of our original number, so we all fit. I was beginning to feel trapped.

They showed us a 30-minute film that was part history of the Church of OddPhilosophies, and part propaganda documentary, including a direct sell from the church founder J. Don Buzzard.

It’s still one of the scariest films I’ve seen in my entire life.

Chad blocked my attempt to exit after the film.

“We’re almost done.” His smile slowly widened and his eyes glistened, “After this we’ll talk a bit about the program and then you can go if you’re not interested in MAKING YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.”

I now understood how I people get entangled in cults. Save me.

Help me, Save me - Photo by miamojoline, | The Girl Next Door is Black
Help!

After the film, Chad led us into yet another room. This one grander, with a vaulted ceiling and lots of glittery gold. It was when they told us that for the program to work we’d need to sign a promise to stop taking any and all mind-altering drugs like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and the like, that I got my ass out of there.

Holy crap. Even nutritionists tell you to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications. What the hell kinda crazy?

Oh had the tale ended there.

Unfortunately, I’d given my home phone number to the COO when I signed up for the seminar. A week later I received a call from a sugary-voiced member of the church, Mandy. Mandy wanted to know if I would like to finish my consultation and join them on the road to MAKING MY DREAMS COME TRUE.

“It’s not for me.”

Mandy protested, insistent that the COO held the keys to my future bounty, but I cut her off: “Yeah, I am not interested. Thanks, Mandy! Bye!”

In the following six months, I received monthly – sometimes bi-monthly – calls from the Church of OddPhilosophies. This, despite requesting multiple times that they remove me from their list and failing that, flat-out hanging up on them. I told my roommate to regard calls with extreme suspicion if the person on the other end asked to speak to me and sounded unnaturally happy.

It took moving to a new apartment and disconnecting my phone number to finally dodge the COO.

I haven’t heard from them since.

I still screen all my calls though. You can never be too careful.

Let this serve as a cautionary tale, my friends.

12 Things About My First 12 Months in San Francisco

view of the City from LombardWell, well, well, look who survived her first year in San Francisco! That’s right. She of the woeful posts New City, No New Friends, San Francisco: Not a Treat (Yet) and Making Friends: Paying Dues. It’s been a tremendous year with intense ups and downs and quite a bit of change and growth. Here are 12 ways in which my life has changed in the 12 months I’ve lived in San Francisco, from the mundane to the exciting.

1. I Spent 90% Less in Gas

I drove an average of twice a month in this first year as compared to daily in the Los Angeles version of my life. My main mode of transportation is Muni, the bus line, with some help from BART, taxis, Lyft and Uber. When I drive now, I feel like a brittle, nervous octogenarian, with nodding head and pursed lips, my small frame almost hidden behind the wheel of a giant Cadillac, making exclamations like, “Oh golly, I just, oh my, so many cars, oh no, one-way street, oh jeez, too much! Too much! Abort! I want to get out of this mechanical beast!”

Driving is intense and stressful. I don’t like it anymore. I blame Los Angeles and that hellion of a freeway, the 405. I have post traumatic traffic stress disorder or PTTSD. I told myself I wouldn’t make a decision on what to do with my car for at least a year. It’s been at least a year and have no decision…yet. The Angeleno in me is having a hard time imagining a life without the freedom of my own car.

It’s not always easy on the bus, but it sure beats developing an unhealthy hatred for BMW drivers and contemplating all the fucked up things you’d rather be doing than sitting in traffic.

Guess where the money saved on gas ends up…

2. Rent, Rent, Rent, Rent, Reeeeent

My rent here is nearly double what I paid in Los Angeles. Yet, my square footage decreased by almost 30%. This sucks. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

3. More Oysters Please

In Los Angeles, some of my friends and I had an unofficial burger club. We’d take turns picking burger spots to check out. L.A. has become a beef-opolis of sorts, with competing burger joints popping up on the regular. I used to eat some form of beef at least once a week. [Obvious joke not intended.]

Me Hog Island
One of my favorite days this year was spent with my sister N at Hog Island Oyster Farm

Burger joints don’t abound here the way they do in L.A. There are, however, plenty of oysters-a-gogo. I’ve grown quite fond of the little suckers. They’re now on rotation in my cravings repository. Burger cravings, however, are rotating around with less frequency these days.

My sister and I went to Hog Island Oyster Farm one weekend – about an hour north of the City – and that day was the perfect culmination of joy from hanging out with my little sister, tasty oysters, refreshing Arrogant Bastard beer, mild weather, bright sunshine and outdoor NorCal beauty. To top it off, one group of picnickers’ weird-ass folk music played loudly enough for us all to hear. Oddly, the bizarre music fit the scene perfectly. A soundtrack to go with the perfect picnic scene.

This cutie chow in a penguin suit won best dog in costume at my job.
This cutie chow in a penguin suit won best dog in costume at my job.

4. Started From the (Corporate) Bottom  The job I have now isn’t the job I had when I moved here. That first job stank like some of the funky people I ride the bus with. I went from the job of my nightmares – which sold itself as a “startup-like environment”, but in reality operated more like a corporate fledgling – to an up-and-coming actual startup.

The start-up world is unique and peculiar. At times, I feel like I’m in a pretty NBC office sitcom. Like when a group of trendily-dressed, attractive, young women walk by my desk laughing with bright white smiles, or a thin Michael Cera-looking engineer breezes by on a scooter, or when I pass by the kegerator in the lounge, or when there’s a costume contest for employees and employee dogs on Halloween. I can’t tell how old anyone is at my job. Everyone looks some vague age between 22 and 45. The person that looks 25 could be a director. There’s talk of venture capitalists, competition and IPOs. It can feel surreal. As I share tales of the workplace with my sister N, she often asks incredulously, “Do you actually do any work there?” Heh. Absolutely, they just reward us very well for our hard work. I feel lucky to be there.

5. Try Walking in My Shoes 

Thanks to my trusty FitBit (which, devastatingly, I recently lost on a Muni bus, RIP Bitty), I know that I walk an average of 1 to 1.25 miles more per day compared to an average day in Los “Your car is your BFF” Angeles. Let’s hear it for walking!

6. Shake-Up in the Shoe Game

Last year while shopping with my friend Z at Loehmann’s, I picked up a great pair of rose-colored Franco Sarto wedge sandals with ivory embroidered trim.

“Don’t you already have a pair of wedges that look like that?” she asked me with a teasing smile.

“Yeah, kind of, I mean… not really. At least not in this color!”

I purchased the sandals and we’ve been very happy together. We’ve shared many adventures on foot and receive many compliments. A girl can never have too many pairs of wedges (or boots, scarves, hats, jeans or dollar bills). I like to wear wedges because they give me and my itty-bitty legs height without the feeling that I’m going to break my neck if my ankle rolls that I get with a skinny heel.

Since I’m walking more and in cooler weather, I need comfortable, cute (a must, obviously), non-toe-freezing shoes versatile enough for dashing over puddles of water to dashing away from the man with weird facial tics angrily muttering to himself about “the enemy.” I don’t wear sneakers (or tennis shoes for those of you down South) out unless there is a workout involved. So, those were a no-go from the get-go. I am not a fan of the ubiquitous, shuffling ballet flats and I couldn’t get away with wearing boots year round, so I needed options.

Sperry Top-Sider Audrey . Very comfortable, versatile, do not recommend for walking long distance due to limited ankle support.
Sperry Top-Sider Audrey: Very comfortable & versatile, do not recommend for walking long distances due to limited ankle support.

Like a hypocrite and a sheep, I turned to the boat shoes I once scoffed at: Sperry’s. At some point, they became cute to me. It could be that everyone seems to have a pair here, men and women alike. Isn’t that cute? A shoe that both women and men can wear! I’ve seen couples out in boat shoes together and it’s a sickeningly adorable.

I also am thankful for the moto boot trend, as I now have a legitimate fashion excuse to wear boots year-round. I just vary the height of the boot depending on the time of year and day. And the wedge bootie? Best shoething ever! Anyway, I could go on, but I don’t think you’re here for the shoes.

7. My Cats are Even Bougier

It's good to be a cat in San Francisco
It’s good to be a cat in San Francisco

My cats already ate well, but the pet stores here sell San Francisco-type goods and food. You know, all trying to be responsible, earth-friendly, healthy, free roaming geese and pigs and all that. So the cats now poop on corn-based litter instead of clay. I mean, who poops on clay these days? What is this? 2012? Am I right? Their new brand of can food has kitschy dish names such as “Two Tu Tango,” and “Kitty Gone Wild.” Ain’t no Friskies touching the tongues of these cats.

8. I Have One of These

The yellow squiggly is the Timbuk2 logo. Photo cr: timbuk2.com
The yellow squiggly is the Timbuk2 logo. Photo cr: timbuk2.com

Being the little observer that I am, while riding on the bus early on, with all the other worker bees, I noticed many people seemed to have cute or rugged messenger bags and totes. Makes sense if you don’t have a car to use a storage unit. I’d been looking for the perfect bag that could double as a gym bag and hold my work laptop. I kept seeing the brands Timbuk2 & Rickshaw, two bag companies native to SF. The Timbuk2 bags had heaps of positive reviews and cute designs, so I supported a local business and got a great gym/laptop/weekend bag.

9. I Know You!

At a friend’s party in L.A. last year, pre-move, I got to chatting with friends of hers, a couple whom had recently moved to L.A. from San Francisco. I told them I’d been considering moving to San Francisco and asked them how they liked it.

“It’s cool. But…it’s a really small city.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Well, you sometimes run into people you don’t want to see. Like ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends…”

I remember that conversation each time I run into someone I know here. I don’t know that many people here. I couldn’t even scramble enough people together to have a flash mob. So, it amuses me that I’ve run into an average of one person I know every 2 months. I went years in L.A. without randomly running into anyone I know.

I did have the misfortune of running into a woman from the nightmare job. A woman whom I intensely disliked and whose presence seemed to make my awful days that much worse. Her nose seemed permanently in the air around me. Ugh. I saw her one afternoon while I was shopping downtown with two of the 20 people I know in the City.

“Shit!” I told my new friend J, while trying to hide behind a clothing rack, “I know that girl. Don’t look!!! I know her from work and I can’t stand her. The last thing I want is to see her on my work-free weekend. Ack, I hope she didn’t see me! I’m gonna go over there!” I pointed to a section on the far opposite end of the store, which was thankfully, very large. I don’t know if she ever saw me. She never said anything to me about it later. My life will be fine if I never see her again.

10. Reuse This!

I have a new hobby. It’s called “collecting reusable bags because I forget to bring one I already own and end up buying another.” It’s ridiculous. As I mentioned, San Francisco is all about being good to Mama Earth, and as such we’re encouraged to bring our own reusable bags to the grocery store. If you forget or don’t have one, you can pay $.10 for a non-reusable bag from the store. Paper only. Plastic bags are banned here. The plastic bags which I like to use to dispose of cat litter.

I always forget to bring a damn reusable bag with me to the store. I end up spending the $.10 on a paper bag I have no use for. A few clerks act like an admonishing Principal Strickland as they dutifully tell you with mild judgment, “I’m going to have to charge you 10 cents per bag.” Damn, I get it. Let’s move on. Don’t bag-shame me.

Admonishment, judgment and bag-shaming seem to have no effect. I forget to bring my reusable bag, 9 times out of 10.

11. Buying Eggs is a 10-Minute Task

Organic, free-range, free-range organic, brown free-range, brown organic, cage-free, vegetarian-fed, cage-free brown, OMG, how many freakin’ egg choices are there?! Which one makes me seem the most humane? I suffer from analysis paralysis a lot more here. There are so many options for food!

I'm practically running unofficial egg taste tests in my kitchen.
I’m practically running unofficial egg taste tests in my kitchen.

My sister and I went to a farmer’s market one Saturday morning where she wanted to buy an avocado.

“One avocado please.”

“Sure,” said the vendor, “do you prefer a sweeter flavor?”

“Yeah, that sounds good!”

He rooted around the pile of avocados in front of him.

“Will you be eating in this in the next day or so, or a week?“

“A day.”

More rooting around.

“Hmm, will you be cooking it or eating it raw?”

“Raw.”

More rooting.

A beat. “Here you go, this should do it!” He presented the winning avocado with a slight flourish.

And all of that was just to buy one avocado, which to his credit, my sister said was very, very good.

12. Who are you?

The foggy days get old quickly.
The foggy days get old quickly. (View from Sea Cliff)

I yammered on in the early days here about how people didn’t make eye contact on the street. Like a puppy eager to make new friends, I smiled at people whose eyes I caught and they’d look away, down or through me. I now recognize my irritated response as part of the rejection phase of cultural adjustment. About three to four months into the move my attitude toward San Francisco was that of a woman carping about the guy who hooked her and then disappeared. As anthropologist Kalvero Oberg observed, “At this stage the newcomer either gets stronger and stays, or gets weaker and goes home (physically, or only mentally).” I got stronger and stayed, I am pleased to say. Also, I make eye contact with few people these days; I’ve learned well from my citymates. I’ve adapted to the culture and feel like San Francisco is my home.

Folsom Fair
The very naked Folsom Street Fair was…eye-opening and made me want to bathe vigorously.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Honorable mentions go to: my growing dislike of bikers who wantonly disregard pedestrians and road rules; my growing love of Oakland; attending more festivals and fairs in one year than I have in the past five; way more time spent waiting in line at restaurants; seeing triple the number of publicly nude people (up from 0); my expanding collection of hats, scarves, sweaters and coats; getting better at figuring out what’s compostable; and finally, significantly increasing my knowledge about wine thanks to several visits to nearby Napa Valley.

This City didn’t make the adjustment easy on me. We fought and it was really tough at times. I persevered, made it through and I really like it now. I forgot what it’s like to genuinely have fond feelings for the city you live in. Moving here goes the list of “Great Life Decisions Made by Me.” I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months have in store!

With The Painted Ladies
With The Painted Ladies

I Admit It: I Love L.A.

Giant Blue Bear on 405 Freeway Los Angeles | The Girl Next Door is Black
Seen on the 405S while on my way to work one day. The traffic was so insane it took me 2 hours to go 4 miles, with 13 miles more to go. I was so tired of being in my car. But, I got a good laugh when I saw these bears on the truck bed in front of me.

I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Los Angeles by the time I left in 2012 after over 10 years of calling it home.

My biggest complaint about L.A. is the heinous, constant traffic. It’s terrible and it’s a regular topic of conversation in L.A. Few cities in the US compare.

I moved to San Francisco full of hope and relieved to live in a true walking city.  No more daily near-death incidents on the freeway! No more road rage! No more wondering why everyone in a BMW seems to drive like a tool.

My how things have changed.

Watts Tower Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
I was homesick for L.A. | Watts Towers in South Los Angeles

By the end of the my second month in San Francisco, I was pretty depressed. I had no friends, the job wasn’t what I thought it would be, my apartment building is old and seems to have no noise insulation whatsoever. I pay what’s essentially a mortgage to hear my upstairs neighbors’ every elephant-ine moves and sometimes entire conversations (sadly, nothing interesting).

In a very dense city of close to one million people, I felt lonelier than I have in a long while.

Around the same time, I had to head back to L.A. for my dear friend’s bridal shower.

It was exactly what I needed.

Three months in San Francisco allowed me to see Los Angeles with new eyes again.

When I picked up my rental car at LAX, the agent asked , “What kind of car would you like? Do you want a car that gets good mileage?”

I scoffed.

“No, I don’t care about that! Which is the fastest in this class?”

He pointed me toward a cute, gray VW Jetta with a V6 engine Sorry, Earth.

Roosevelt Hotel's Tropicana Bar pool Hollywood Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Roosevelt Hotel‘s Tropicana Bar pool. Look at those trees! | Hollywood

As I sped toward my old neighborhood, in the warm sunshine, with the windows open, letting the breeze circulate, singing at the top of my lungs to a song on Power 106, shaking my booty in the seat, I felt so at peace. On the freeway. On the awful 405 freeway that I’ve written scathing yelp reviews about and I felt at peace.

It was comforting. I missed the benefits of solo time spent in my car. I can’t sing at the top of my lungs in my current apartment – everyone would hear. I still have my car, but I drive so rarely these days. I didn’t realize how important that personal time was.

The palm trees were as gorgeous and magnificent as I remember thinking they were when I’d moved there over a decade ago.

I thought: the sun really does love this place! How can it be so impossibly beautiful, warm and bright?

A friend who’d lived up in Berkeley for undergrad warned me when I told him I was considering San Francisco, “You’re going to miss the weather.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone says, ‘the weather is so amazing.'”

I liked it, some days even deeply appreciated it, but, I realize now just how much I took it for granted. I really think the sun sets up camp there and just visits other cities from time to time.

The trip went by in a blur. I met up with former co-workers and other close friends, including my older friend J___ who is almost like a surrogate mom to me. We, the bridesmaids, pulled off an excellent bridal shower and made the bride happy.

I’m so glad I went back.

I released the pent-up emotion that had built since I moved to San Francisco. Being back in L.A. made me feel normal. My friends’  warm welcomes reminded me that I I’m not alone. I am loved. That I am someone people want to befriend.

I understand Los Angeles. I once functioned as part of the city. A sense of inclusion in your city is more important than I ever realized.

"Home Is Little Tokyo" mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. http://www.publicartinla.com/Downtown/Little_Tokyo/home_little_tokyo.html cr. The City Project, flickr.com
“Home Is Little Tokyo” mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. This mural reflects the rich history of Little Tokyo. When Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, a number of African-Americans repopulated the area, including Charlie Parker. cr: The City Project, flickr.com
Golden State Burger Los Angeles Fairfax | The Girl Next Door is Black
A group of my friends and I had a “burger club.” We tried to taste as many of the gourmet burgers in L.A.’s ever-growing burger scene. | Golden State Burger, Los Angeles

When I left L.A. that weekend, I said and felt something that I so rarely did in the time that I lived there: “I love Los Angeles!”

I love that in a city largely ruled by the entertainment industry, we clap as the credits roll at a movie’s end.

I love that there is so much amazing food of all types of cuisines.

I missed the unique/break-the-rules/bold/relaxed/trend-setting fashionI forgot how seeing the way others dressed inspired me to push beyond my fashion boundaries.

Was it my imagination or did some of the guys get cuter since I left?

I miss the train-wreck-style “entertainment” of high-speed car chases.

I miss the morning show on KROQ and waking up to the cheery crew at KTLA Morning News.

I liked that I didn’t see hipsters every.where.I.looked. Hipsters have their own neighborhoods in L.A.

Hearing people argue about which eatery in the city has the best Mexican food never stops being amusing.

One thing that hasn’t changed: I still hate LAX.

I knew I didn’t want to move back though. At least not until I give San Francisco at least a year. Even then, I left Los Angeles for a reason and I didn’t make the decision lightly. Moving back might feel comforting at first, but eventually the same elements that made me want to leave will probably arise again. It hasn’t been the easiest move, but I know that the experience is good for me.

I really needed that trip. I needed a reset. I needed closure with Los Angeles.

When I returned to San Francisco, I felt reinvigorated.

I owe Los Angeles an apology. I didn’t appreciate it enough when I lived there. I spent most of my 20s in L.A. and I will forever be linked to the city via my memories.

I now find myself protective of Los Angeles. I will defend it.

It’s not the kind of city you can live in for a year, or even three years, and think you get it. You cannot possibly get it. The city is huge!

If you’ve only been to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice, you probably don’t know Los Angeles. What about Echo Park, Monterrey Park, Baldwin Hills, Burbank, Studio City, Leimert Park, Pasadena or Highland Park?

There’s an ad that plays here in SF, sponsored by Discover Los Angeles. I used to think it was beckoning me to return. A female voiceover says – and I’m paraphrasing:

Just when you think you’ve seen all I have to offer, there’s more.

Thank you, Los Angeles. I owe you a lot. Now, it’s San Francisco’s turn.

Los Angeles Snowglobe | The Girl Next Door is Black
Kisses & Hugs L.A.

The Significance of Gap Jeans

cr: Thomas Hawk, flickr.com
cr: Thomas Hawk, flickr.com

A couple of years ago I had an intense crisis of conscious moment while waiting for the bus in North Hollywood. Returning from a beer festival, I’d opted to be a responsible citizen and take public transportation rather than drive. I don’t know what the stats are, but few people in Los Angeles take public transportation. You can see the economic divide between those that take the bus or ride the trains and those who zip around in one of the many BMWs, Mercedes or Porsches that flood the city. I watched as a Latina woman fished around in her purse for change to afford the ride for herself and her three children. I resisted the urge to hand her the extra dollar she was looking for. I didn’t want to assume she needed it and risk insulting her. Near her stood two black female teenagers in worn clothing and holey shoes in dire need of replacement, listening to music and joking with each other. They flirted confidently with an ethnically-mixed group of male teenagers a few feet away from them. They reminded me of my “little sister” with the Big Sisters Big Brothers program. I thought back to the times when I’d pick her up from the small two bedroom apartment in Panorama City where she lived with her mom, stepdad and four siblings. Her stepdad would be drinking from a 40 and smoking indoors and all I could think about was the secondhand smoke the kids were being exposed to. There was always trash strewn about on the sidewalks on her street. Broken glass here and there. Bars on the windows of the convenience store where the cashier always seemed jumpy. As though he were nervous that shit would go down any minute.

When I got home, I let myself in and almost tripped over an unopened box of shoes I’d ordered. Nearby sat another unopened package – something else I’d ordered online – I didn’t even remember what it was. The packages had arrived weeks earlier. Yet, there they sat, unopened. It hit me: I don’t need these things. If I needed them, I would have opened them as soon as they arrived. If I didn’t need them why was I buying them? At some point over the previous few years my socioeconomic status had changed and those unopened packages symbolized that evolution. I could afford to buy things I didn’t need and not only that, but leave them casually about for weeks to sit and gather dust. I thought about the woman struggling to find a dollar in her purse and the young girls in the tattered clothing and I felt guilty. I wasn’t even excited about these packages.

I called my sister, N, and told her about my unopened box of shoes. Not one to mince words she replied, “Girl, you have shoes in a box that you haven’t opened for weeks?! WTF?! Give ‘em to me. I’ll open them for you! What the hell! Open them!” I told her I was having an identity crisis brought on by some damn shoes. Talking to her helps me put my life in perspective when I need it.

My parents are a great example of an inspiring American success story. We moved to Atlanta from New York when I was in third grade. Our new apartment was in a working class neighborhood where all but a few residents were black. My two sisters and I (the youngest wasn’t born yet) shared a bedroom and a queen-sized bed. I was nine and my sisters were ten and three. It was cramped quarters, but we were happy. I quickly made friends (and a few enemies there). My best friend was a couple of years younger than me. Even though she lived in the same complex, I could tell that she didn’t have as much. She was often dirty and hungry. Her mom yelled at her a lot. Other kids in the neighborhood would pick on her and tease her for being poor. I was fiercely protective of her (and still am very loyal to my friends to this day) and got into my first fight defending her.

We didn’t live there for long. My parents worked hard and saved money and moved us to the suburbs where they bought their first house. My sisters and I each got our own room and new attitudes to go along with it: “I said get outta my room!”

From there on, it was up, up, up. We moved to Texas a couple of years later. My dad had gotten a fancy new job and my parents bought another house. Though with four bedrooms, two parents, four kids and eventually my mom’s father, I had to share a room with my sister, N. We were firmly in the middle class now, with a yard to tend to, a dog in the backyard, a bitchy cat in the house and for me: envy of the Jones’.

While we were middle class, some of my classmates were upper middle class or as far I knew, rich as hell. Suddenly our house, that I was once so happy and proud to live in, didn’t seem as impressive when we rode by the mansions in other subdivisions. Why didn’t we have an island in our kitchen? Why did we have to get our school clothes from Sears? Why do I and my sister M have to mow the lawn when other people pay kids to do that for them?

cr: sparktography, flickr.com
cr: sparktography, flickr.com

In junior high, I would beg and beg my dad to let me get clothes from The Gap like everyone else. One year he relented and I dragged him to The Gap where he took one look at the price tag on a pair of jeans I wanted and scoffed. “Keish, I am not spending $50 on a pair of dungarees!” I was crestfallen. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to look like a loser in Sear’s clothing. I found a slightly cheaper pair of jeans and convinced him that my life would be perfect with them. He gave in. Those jeans meant the world to me. It meant I fit in. I still have those jeans all these years later.

We stayed put throughout my high school years. Between high school and college I learned to value individuality, eschew conformity and avoid getting caught up in the battle of the Jones’. What the Jones’ got to do with me? But, still in the back of my mind, I hated feeling like I didn’t have enough money. Like I couldn’t afford what everyone else could. When I got to college I was on my own financially and it was rough. I was surrounded by people who had parents practically throwing money at them for whatever they needed. Meanwhile, I was often struggling to pay my rent and bills because I didn’t know how to properly manage my money and $6/hour doesn’t go far. I went from having a safety net to having to purchase my own net with a part-time job. One summer I survived on cheap ramen and frozen spinach until one day the ramen and frozen spinach ran out and I realized I had no food and no money to buy more. I would later tell a college friend about this and she admonished me, “Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t have any food?! I would have lent you some money!” I was ashamed. I felt like I was always borrowing money from friends to make up for my mistakes. I spent money I shouldn’t have, trying to keep up with my friends. I felt like the “poor one.” It was a miserable and I remember vowing that one day I would make a lot of money so I would never feel this helpless again.

After college and a brief stint in San Jose, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting dreams. I arrived in a used car I’d purchased on Craigslist for $1200 and with a few hundred dollars in my bank account. It seemed romantic like all the stories successful super-rich actors tell about their first lean years in L.A. It took me about a month and half to find a job and by then my money had run out. I was staying in hostels and weekly rentals with other down and out people. I didn’t have enough money to afford the deposit on an apartment. One of my co-workers noticed the backseat of my car was packed with all my belongings and asked another co-worker if I was homeless. I felt humiliated. Again, I vowed I would make a lot of money one day so I would never have that awful feeling again. I had poverty anxiety.

cr: destempsanciens, flickr.com
cr: destempsanciens, flickr.com

Los Angeles is a rough place to be if you have poverty anxiety or income-envy. It is a city of flash and excess. It is a city of haves and have-nots. Even people who don’t make all that much present the illusion of being well off. In certain parts of town, a valet will look down on you if your car is below their standards. If you’re a man, a particular kind of woman won’t date you if you don’t shower her with Louis Vuittons, Balenciegas and Manolos. I would sit in judgment of the label whores and the clear (to me) esteem issues that led them to seek meaning and an identity in conspicuous consumption with designer items and expensive German cars. I learned in junior high that labels do not define me.

Nine years later I sat in my apartment in a well-maintained, safe, upper middle class neighborhood staring at unopened packages feeling guilty. I made it. My new car rested safely in the carport. My closet contained more than five items from The Gap and other stores you’ll find in a mall. I made it. There was food in my fridge. I made it. I let myself get peer pressured into replacing my CRT TV with a sleek new flat screen. I made it. And yet I felt empty. I had all this stuff and it wasn’t making me happy. While I sat high on my horse, patting myself on the back for rejecting the LA-standard BMW and Chanel bag, I wasn’t behaving any better. When did I stop appreciating the things I could afford myself? Was I trying to prove something? Impress someone? What I was doing was satisfying my need to prove to myself that I am not poor. It’s how I treat my poverty-anxiety. But, it doesn’t work.

We’ve all heard the cliché: “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.” I would always retort, “Let me have some money and I’ll show you just how happy it’ll make me!” But, once your basic needs are met, you have a place to call home and your bills are paid, everything else is just gravy. And sometimes the gravy isn’t as tasty as you’d expect it to be. You don’t always need the gravy. Or you take the gravy for granted.

I was taking the gravy for granted. In the moment I had this epiphany, not only did I feel guilty, but I felt dirty. I was disgusted with myself. I wanted to toss out everything I didn’t need or that didn’t bring me some kind of happiness. I wanted to quit my job and go work for the Peace Corps. I needed to do something useful. I needed to reconnect with the real part of myself. I waited until I sobered up to make any big decisions. The next day I started researching volunteer opportunities. It seemed more important than ever for me to do something for other people. I signed up for as many volunteer events as I could. I would love to say it was an act of selflessness, but it’s not. Yes, I genuinely want to help other people and see others succeed. But, I get something out of it too. I get to feel cleansed. I get to feel like I’m giving thanks for all the good in my life.

cr:  Tax Credits, flickr.com
cr: Tax Credits, flickr.com

I still want to quit my job in the corporate world. I don’t feel like I do anything to benefit others. The absolute seriousness with which people in the corporate world treat non-lifesaving work is laughable to me. I still wrestle with the guilt I feel from my new socioeconomic status. I have big dreams of working in sustainable development or creating social programs for those who need it. But, I still have poverty anxiety. Not so deep down is the part of me that above all else, fears being poor and helpless. I hate money and the excess that can come with it, but I’m addicted to making it.

How I Learned to Love My “Thick Thighs”

I’ve been thinking about my weight since I was 13.

One day I ate everything I wanted with abandon and the next, the size of my thighs were cause for angst.

Jane Fonda Workout Record Video Body Image Acceptance
She wore the tights / leg warmer combo like no other
Photo cr: Jacob Whittaker, flickr.com

Thirteen is about when I started working out. My mom had a catalog of Jane Fonda videos from the 80s and I was Jane Fonda’s devoted follower. Those videos work!Jane still looks hot today. It’s unreal. I also became a fan of Joyce Vedral and her fat-burning workout. I thank her to this day for my interest in being fit and toned.

Once, upon being presented with “soaked in the deep fryer” chicken for dinner, I whined to my parents with dramatic horror:

Fried chicken?! Oh.my.God. Do you know how much fat and salt is in that, mother?!

(I learned from watching white teens on TV that if you are angry with your parents you refer to them – with the disgust only a teen can muster – as “mother” and “father”. See: Brenda Walsh). My mom would reply with something like: “You don’t like it, you can get a job! Sit your butt down at this table. I don’t have time for this. And do not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

“Mo-ther! I am not eating this!”

In college I gained the “Freshman 15.”

I’m short, so even an extra five lbs becomes noticeable. That first year, I steadily free-fed on dorm food – bovine-style. My frequent meal-buddy and I would even stow away bread rolls and whatever else we could easily hide for later consumption. It felt deliciously decadent to have dessert with every meal. Then, the summer after my freshman year, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and my rounder image horrified me. My face was fat(ish), like a burnt chipmunk. I was wearing a crop top with a fat roll muffining its way out. Who was this schlub?! Well it had to stop.

I went on a superdiet.

Cows grazing, Rosengarten, The Dolomites, Italy by ** Maurice ** Freshman 15 College Weight Gain
This was me, my Freshman year of college.

I greatly reduced my caloric intake and worked out like I was training for The Olympics. My weight quickly came down, and down, and down, until I looked like a chocolate Tootsie Roll pop. I’d gone too far. I lost my butt. As the ever-wise Lil Wayne says about women with no ass: “You ain’t got shit.” Or as his labelmate, Tyga raps: If you ain’t got no ass, bitch, wear a poncho.” When the ass goes, you’ve overdone it and misogynistic men won’t give you  a second glance. What will you do with your life then?

The problem is that even though I was too thin, I received a lot of compliments about my size: from men (“hey baby!”) and women (“please share your secret!”) alike. I learned: skinny = validation.

When I graduated college I was ill-prepared for the shock of the real world. I went from constant partying studying and working, to what seemed like days and days of endless, routine boredom. I came to understand that this is called “working for a living.” The novelty of ordering office supplies for my desk quickly wore off and the reality of working in corporate America set in: this shit is boring.

So, I ate and my weight crept up.

One evening I went out with my roommates for a much needed bout of drinking and dancing. While walking into one of San Jose’s “clubs” (the city was boring as all hell) I bumped into a cute, slender Asian girl about my height. Having already thrown back a few, I gushed to her: “You’re so cute. You must be a size three. I used to be a size three.” She looked me over – I was probably no bigger than a size six – and with her voice dripping in bubbly judgement replied:

What happened to you?!

Her reaction stunned and hurt me. It also saddened me that a size six is considered worthy of disgust. I should have been fine with my size. I was healthy and within the right range for my height. But, by this point, my body image was so distorted, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I also wasn’t getting the skinny validation I’d gotten in the past.

Then followed an intense battle between my body, my mind and my other mind.

My body insisted on stowing away fat for the winter that never comes in my part of California. My mind wanted to eat everything in sight to soothe my boredom and loneliness. My other mind wanted to be thin.

I started bingeing and purging. I’d go crazy eating cookies, chips and soda in one sitting, feel ill and disgusted with myself, and then run to the bathroom to throw it up. I only did this for a short time. It’s not effective and it’s too much damn work. Do you know how much work it takes to stick your fingers down your throat and force yourself to vomit? Who has the time? People are starving all over the world and I’m eyeing food with a mix of lust and hatred. It’s also bad for your teeth and I like my teeth. Not to mention, if anyone catches you in public, you have to explain why your feet are facing the wrong way in the bathroom stall. Either you are barfing or you have a secret penis. My dance with bulimia ended within a couple of weeks, never to be revisited again.

Popcorn and Sour Patch Kids, photo by naydeeyah on flickr.com Favorite food combos sweet and salty together
I love you all!

A few years later, I was in Los Angeles. I’d started dating an actor (warning: don’t do it). He said to me one day while we were phone-flirting:

You got some thick thighs, I like that.

Well, I sure as hell didn’t like that! Thick?! Why the hell had I been going to the gym?! He meant it as a compliment, but I took it as a reason to go annihilate myself at Bally’s.  I replied with a hesitant “Uh, thanks.” That relationship crashed and burned miserably (I said not to date an actor).

Another couple of years later, I’d worked my weight down to my “normal” (for me) size. I went to visit my feisty grandma. She took one look at me and said matter-of-factly “Keisha, you’re too thin. Men like women with a little extra padding.” I’ve heard more than enough times from others that men like more “cushion for the pushin’”. Grandma knows. My grandma is no “oh my, golly gee, let me bake you some cookies” granny. She tells it like it is, she keeps it real and you can bake your own damn cookies. I laughed and told her how awesome she is.

Then I got into a serious long-term relationship.

For at least a year, I maintained my weight. Boyfriend liked my body and the “thick” thighs were just the right size. Then came year two. Happily in love, I spent less time at the gym and more time, well…none of your business. By year three, I’d grown faaat. I mean, actually fat. I was clinically overweight. I had never weighed so much in my life. I  comforted myself with the thought: boyfriend will still love me anyway, right? But, I didn’t love me.

I had to buy a whole new wardrobe. Not only did I feel bad about how I looked, I felt bad physically. My body wasn’t used to carrying so much extra weight. I didn’t know how to dress for my new size. What looked good on me? So, I tried to lose weight. Then boyfriend and I broke up. That was the kick in the pants I needed to get my fat ass back in the gym. It’s the depression weight loss plan.

I couldn’t shake the weight, no matter what I did. I figured it was because I was nearing that age where people say your metabolism slows. Since, I was also having problems sleeping and breathing properly, I visited a specialist to check things out. He said to me,

“You’re too heavy! That’s why you can’t sleep.”

That was his expensive doctorly wisdom: you are a fat bitch. Well, fuck you very much doctor dickhead. The issue did turn out to be medical and once pinpointed, the weight started to come off. I’ve been able to maintain a reasonable weight (for me) since then.

I straddle two worlds: one black and one mainstream.

In the “black world” depending on who you ask, I am either “just right” or “too thin”. One of my younger sisters is very slender. She once had a black boyfriend tell her she was too skinny and that she needed to start eating some cornbread. I marveled at this. A free pass to pig out on cornbread? I’m sold! Does he have an older brother?

In the “white” or “mainstream” world, the view of what constitutes thin has shrunken over time. In Los Angeles, some women probably think I’m “big.” To those types, if you’re larger than a size two, you’re a tub o’ Crisco.

I would love to say that I no longer care. That I don’t think about my weight and that I don’t have days when I just want to say “Fuck it all, I’m going to eat some motherbleepin’ ice cream and then a big ol’ tub of movie popcorn and be fat and happy!” But, that’s not the case. However, after several low-carb diets, starvation diets, weird heart patient lemonades, and flirting with bulimia, I’ve learned to allow myself to enjoy food. I can eat well and be healthy. I’ve also learned to appreciate my womanly figure, including the “thick thighs”, and pay less attention to my clothing size.

What happened to the days when women with a little bit of belly fat were thought of as gorgeous? Can we go back to that? To the figurative days when having extra pounds meant you were fortunate enough to have plenty of food to eat? We aren’t meant to starve ourselves into stick figures. Life is meant to be lived and food is part of living (and too damn good to be chucking in the toilet). So, live, eat, and love your body!