I’m kind of back to not liking living in San Francisco.
Part of my disenchantment is probably my fault. I arrived here with big dreams I’ve yet to see realized. For one, I thought I’d fall into a good group of friends. Instead, someone I considered a good friend ghosted on me. Though I have made a few good friends whom I am grateful for, they’re from disparate circles. My social life is unrecognizable to me.
I also thought I might finally meet someone I can see a future with or at the very least someone whose company I’d enjoy more than Netflix and chillin’ solo. After all, they say San Francisco is one of the best US cities for singles. I don’t know if they actually talked to anyone who lives here because while I know many single people of different genders and sexual orientations whom are lovely, lovable people, they are not in a relationship, and most are actively searching.
I suppose if they mean this a great place to for singles if you want to remain single, that makes sense. Dating mostly takes place on apps here, at the expense, in my opinion, of people sharpening their in-person social skills. You can take your Tinders, Bagels, soul connections, rings and dings or whatever the hells and put ’em somewhere not on my phone.
When reality doesn’t live up to your high hopes, an emotional crash isn’t all that surprising.
There’s also the fact that everything here is so.damn.expensive. I think I must blackout when I pay my rent every month. That’s the only way I can understand how I continue to pay more than some people’s mortgage.
Of the people: I don’t get the seemingly dominant personality of passivity in this city. Just last week, I was at the drugstore in my favorite aisle – the candy aisle – when I noticed a woman walking toward me. As she neared me, she paused and started rummaging through her purse. I know she was faking. She walked with purpose down that aisle until she saw me. Now, I’m not very wide and I’m generally aware of the space around me, so it’s not like I was completely blocking her path. I’m not one of those oblivious aisle-blocking asshats.
A simple “excuse me” would have sufficed to get me to scoot the inch or two more needed for her clear passage. Instead, this lady acted like she had an urgent need to reapply lipstick or find a tampon. Who knows?
I could have moved preemptively, but I’ve done this dance before. I’ve been in many an aisle in this city and had this same scene go down. What is the deal with people? Is it timidity? Are they afraid to make contact with an unfamiliar human being? Politeness is appreciated, but there is such a thing as being so polite you make people want to scream.
The woman continued to dig in her purse – finding nothing because she was looking for nothing – until I finally inched forward, making sure to sigh heavily and roll my eyes at the absurdity of it all (hi, petty). There I was minding my business, trying to determine which pack of Sour Patch Kids would be the freshest, and here comes Timid Tammy ruining the experience with her fish spine.
I’ve also had people here give me that “Oh my” pearl-clutching glance because I dared speak up about something.
On the bus one afternoon, after a particularly tiresome string of hours at the day job, a budding-grey-haired woman with a folding shopping cart packed with several large black plastic bags, decided to throw a tantrum as she exited. She’d situated herself right by the door, so she only needed to make it a few feet to the steps. Each and every step she took came with a cranky grunt and dramatic muttering.
A minute later, she’d only progressed a few inches, so a kind man offered to help her the rest of the way.
“Noooo!” she shouted, mimicking the Wicked Witch of the West, “I don’t need YOUR HELP!” If she’d carried a cane, here is where she’d have shaken it at him with menace.
The defeated man backed away like a kicked puppy.
Around me, other passengers looked toward the rear window to see if another bus was coming. Nope.
A couple more minutes ticked by. The shopping cart and it’s pusher had yet to reach the steps.
Is NO ONE going to say anything? This is fucking ridiculous. This woman is holding up a bus full of people with lives because of her pride and stubbornness. Not even a peep from the bus driver – whose arm she threatened to bite off. She didn’t actually say that, but the quickness with which he recoiled like she’d hissed at him, indicated as such.
I couldn’t take anymore.
“Get off the bus!” I hollered.
A young woman across the way turned toward me with a furrowed brow. Oh stop clutching your damn pearls!
“Yeah, get off already!” the bus driver repeated, regaining his voice.
Soon other passengers chanted, some quieter than others, as the woman grumbled her way down the steps.
A few passengers clapped and whistled once the last of her landed on the sidewalk.
I hadn’t meant to start an uprising on the bus; I just wanted us to get moving. But, I bet you those people felt good taking control of their lives. We endure a lot of bizarre and sometimes frustrating encounters on these city buses.
Lastly, but most importantly, there’s the race thing. To put it bluntly: being black in San Francisco is existentially exhausting and socially isolating like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve written about that on multipleoccasions, so I won’t rehash it here.
With all of that said, I do not regret moving here. It’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made. My life now is incredibly different from the life I lived in Los Angeles. If I felt stalled in L.A. and wanted to push past the stagnancy by trying a new city, I got what I asked for and more. I’ve evolved in ways I never imagined. I believe moving here was a necessary step for my personal, emotional and career growth.
Barring some freak joyful miracle, my time in San Francisco is nearing its end. I had hoped this might be a place I could stay put for a long while, but I want to get out before I am driven completely mad. I also fear becoming one of the passive. That works fine for some people, but it gives me the itchees.
There’s only one US city next on the list. I’m not quite ready to reveal it yet as I’m still planning. I will say that it’s not happening this year, but if you’re a regular reader, you can probably guess which one it is.
October will mark 3 years here. I think I gave it a good shot.
Have you ever lived in a place you didn’t like? Also, if you are a passive aisle-passer, tell me why please, I’m curious.
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Like many cities in the US, San Francisco is experiencing a wave of gentrification that some residents welcome and others deride. Often central to the debate is the Mission District, an eclectic enclave whose formerly large working- and middle-class Latino population moves further south as the gentrifiers roll in by the dozens: well-paid, largely young, white, male, and employed by tech companies. Their presence brings with it priced-out renters, long waits and lines at a growing number of trendy restaurants and cafes, and a fear of cultural and historical erasure.
The Mission’s Latino and Chicano influence is visible in the bright and elaborate murals that decorate the alleys for several blocks, tucked between the streets in a less polished section of the neighborhood. Inspired by the work of Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the Chicano Mural Movement of the ’60s and 70s, some of the artwork reflects reactions to social and political changes. Other pieces illustrate life in the Mission in the midst of the City’s growing pains.
A few weeks ago, I toured the murals with my younger sister, who was visiting from Texas. We picked up a map at Precita Eyes, a community mural center and headed for Balmy Alley, which boasts one of the largest collection of murals among the alleys.
We lingered in front of this mural. Almost every inch of paint seems to hold meaning.
We spent a bit more time with this one, as well.
A few more murals that stood out to me.
This is by no means all there is to see of San Francisco street art. You could easily spend 3-4 hours touring the alleys across the city, absorbing the messages in the work. If you ever get the chance, I recommend checking them out! Keeping it real though: it’s probably better to plan your visit for the daylight hours.
What symbolism / meaning do you see in the murals?
When my friend asked if I’d go with her to the Treasure Island Music Festival, I surprised myself when I said, “Yes.” After my one and only experience at the Coachella Music Festival a few years ago, I all but swore off large-scale music festivals. Between the heat, the parades of douchery, the posers (people who literally seem as though they are just there to pose), the flower headbands, the Native American headdresses on non-Natives, the spilled beer, sloppy drunken fools, the long lines to get just about anything and my general dislike of unruly crowds, I must have temporarily lost my memory to agree to this. Of course, it didn’t hurt that my friend’s face lit up as she gushed about how much she loves André 3000 of Outkast, one of the headliners of the two-day concert.
Treasure Island is man-made and sits in the San Francisco Bay just a short drive north of the Peninisula. Smartly, to avoid parking lot overcrowding, they provide (free!) large shuttles to transport concert-goers from the Civic Center to the Island. I enjoyed the bus ride, it felt like being on a field trip with a group of strangers excitedly buzzing about all the fun we hope is in store. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the event with temperatures in the 70s and a mild breeze blowing from the Bay.
Thankfully, the Treasure Island Music Festival was more like Coachella’s chill baby cousin whose sprinkles their speech with “hella” and smokes a lot of weed. The Bay Area doesn’t hide its love of the sticky icky. There is no “typical” smoker in the Bay. Smokers are old and young, ranging in colors from all over the spectrum, professional and slacker alike, each with their intake method of choice. The air was pungent over that island. Contact highs are real, y’all.
My friend and I attended Saturday’s lineup of shows. We arrived shortly before Ryan Hemsworth’s hopped onstage. He made fans of us by the end of his half-hour set that had the crowd bouncing. My friend and I agreed we liked his set more than Zedd‘s, whose set was too heavy on the “electronic” and not enough on the “dance” side of music for my liking.
Janelle Monae did not disappoint with her high-energy show despite a confusing 10 minutes during which she sang her heart out and the audience heard nothing. The audience chanted, “We can’t hear! We can’t hear!” hoping to get attention from a sound guy, Janelle, a backup dancer, Jesus, anybody! If I miss hearing “Electric Lady” because of this, someone is going to pay.
Outkast closed out the evening playing all the fan faves like, “Ms Jackson,” “Caroline, “B.O.B.”, and of course, “Hey Ya!” At one point, André 3000 called out, “Seattle!” I guess he forgot where he was. Contact highs are real, y’all.
We had a “hella” good time at the concert.
Other scenes from the festival.
Me (L) and my friend E___
Which one of these will I not be eating in this public space?
“I no longer have road rage, I have walk rage,” I joked to my friends at breakfast recently, sharing one of the ways which my life has changed since leaving Los Angeles.
“We’re in the city. People walk, take public transportation, taxis, Uber. We’re trying to get somewhere, not take leisurely strolls through the streets.”
Traffic, horrendously douchey driving and my resulting road rage which became way to commonplace for my liking (I don’t think it’s healthy to regularly wish for people to “get his someday, motherfucker!”) top the list of reasons why I left L.A. Now, after nearly two years of living in San Francisco, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve driven my car. My poor, neglected car which once held way too much import in my life.
My friends, all current L.A. residents, listened with amusement as I continued my mini-tirade.
“I get irrationally bothered when people walk slowly or when they don’t walk on the right side of the sidewalk. It messes up the flow. It’s so annoying! That and standing all haphazardly on the escalators, blocking the flow of people who are just trying to catch their train to work. Stand to the right! Climb to the left! It’s not that hard!”
Rant over, I sat back in my seat, satisfied at having released a string of words suppressed for too long.
“You’re supposed to walk to the right?” my friend K- asked with mock trepidation.
Wide-eyed, my friend L- added, “Yeah, I didn’t know that.”
I fixed them with a stare of disbelief and looked to I-, L-‘s husband for validation. He nodded at me in agreement.
“Yes! In this country, we walk on the right side of the street if there are others on the sidewalk. It’s like driving. You drive on the right side of the road. I know it’s different in some other countries. Anyway, that way if you’re walking down the street and are walking toward a stranger, you avoid doing that stupid, ‘Which way are you going? I’m going left, no you’re going right! Ok, I’ll go right,’ dance.”
“Oh, is that why that happens?” K- remarked with a half-smile.
“Yes,” I sighed, “do people not know this?? Am I going to have to blog about this?!”
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There’s no other way to say it. It happened. I’m a bee killer.
I feel guilty about this bee-icide.
My approach toward insects is this: I pay to live in my home. They do not, nor are they invited. No creature with more than four legs should be taking up residence in my place. If the bugs stay outside, keep outta my abode, we’re all good. Invade my lair and all bets are off.
I spent a summer in Panama when I was a kid. One night, while settling into bed, a cockroach accosted me, boldly crawling across my pastel pink wall, mere feet above my twin bed. A bug as thick as a pack of Bubble Yum. The roaches I knew in New York, where I lived at the time, were typically the size of my little girl pinky toe. Gross and pesky, but manageable. Squishable. This cockroach was a meathead bug; ‘roided out.
In a panicked blur, I grabbed a small shoe, and THWACK! Nobody invited you, roach, GOOD.BYE! When I shared the story with the family I was staying with, the matriarch, a kind-eyed woman with a no-nonsense manner, fixed me with a somber stare and said matter-of-factly:
“If you kill one, the rest of their family will come back for revenge. You should be careful.”
I couldn’t be sure if she spoke the truth or not, her eyes twinkled, but her eyes always twinkled. I slept uneasily that night, dreams of being chased by vindictive cockroach armies disturbing my slumber.
Though I’m an adult and I know vengeful cockroach militias don’t exist, if ever I kill a bug, a nagging thought tries to take root in my mind, an immortal superstition, “The rest of it’s kind is coming for you.”
Since the weather in San Francisco rarely rises to uncomfortable levels, many apartment units, like mine, don’t have window screens. A recent series of humid nights brought with it a wimpy breeze and ravenous mosquitoes chomping on me like steak, dining for free, multiple times a week. I’m over being battered by bugs.
So, this bee.
It flew into my home one afternoon, using my screenless window as it’s portal. When it zoomed into my living room, my favorite cat did absolutely nothing. His feeble, half-assed attempts to catch it evolved into a game of his design, a cat-and-bee chase, only the bee was unaware of its participation and I became very concerned about getting stung. I watched his catnanigans for a bit, keeping one eye on the bee, the other on my useless feline, flipping, flopping and tossing in the air like a caught fish as he half-heartedly attempted to capture the fast-moving bee.
“Aren’t you going to do something, cat?! You only have two jobs: be cute and kill pests. Ugh!”
The bee, catching on to the cat’s plan, flew away from him and into my personal zone. Oh shit! Unthinkingly, I grabbed a broom and showed my cat how it’s done. Bee Smash!
I felt temporarily victorious – until I realized what I’d done. I killed a bee. We need bees! Bees are endangered! Did I not just have a conversation with someone about how we should try to avoid killing bees? Even though I initially scoffed and side-eyed the idea of sparing the life of an insect – sometimes these NorCal-ers take their organic-treehugging-sustainable-“nature, man”-hippieness to extremes and it’s easy to get caught up in – I am nothing if not soft-hearted when it comes to living creatures.
However, I acted on instinct. The instinct not to end up with my soft-hearted ass in the hospital. A bee stung me once – the same year as the great Panamanian cockroach haunting – and the incident ended with piercing pain and a trip to the doctor’s office. No thank you.
Filled with self-reproach – because of me, that’s one less flower pollinated, who knows how much I’ve messed up the circle of life – I approached the fallen bee, hoping that it’d still be twitching. Alive.
The bee remained still.
I poked it gently with a pen, careful not to get too close lest it was playing possum and decided to sneak attack.
It didn’t move.
I gently picked it up in my paper-towel-covered hand, walked to my window and placed it carefully on the fire escape. Solemnly I said to the bee, still slightly hopeful it’d flutter awake, “I am really sorry. I will not kill another, but can you guys not fly into my apartment? Also, please do not send your bee crew after me in retaliation.”
1. My personal life was like, “Hey girl, where you been?” My days seemed to consist of either being at work, thinking about work or recovering from the exhaustion of an intense workweek that left me so spent all I want nothing more than to recline on the couch, watching cartoon movies and other non-mentally taxing fare. In addition to that, most Thursday nights in the winter I played kickball with the company team. “I need to get a life!” I told my sister, N, during a phone chat. She chuckled. “I’m not insulting myself. I mean I actually need to get a life. This is pathetic. This isn’t me.”
2. A year and a half after moving to San Francisco, I kinda actually have some friends. Imagine that!
I decided to throw a party. Well…ok, not really a party, but a small gathering in my home – a place the size of one of Oprah’s walk-in closets at her Montecito ranch. A partini? A partito? Parties are even better with a theme so I settled on a “girls’ night in” since I’m acquainted with more women than men.
For nine of the years I lived in L.A., I threw an annual post-holiday party. Sadly, the last two holiday seasons sailed by without an event. I didn’t know enough people to legitimize throwing a party.
Who would I have invited? The mailperson who insists on cramming grocery ads in my mailbox even though I have unsubscribed from the junk? (You are not fooling anyone by crossing out the apartment number!) The Spanish teacher whose class I took when I first moved here? Would he insist on conversing only in Spanish? My chatty, eccentric chiropractor? She’d be trying to recruit clients all night, no doubt. (“Stand here. Look in this mirror. Now, do you see how lopsided you are when you stand up straight?! It’s incredible, isn’t it? Come to my office; I’ll fix it! Life changing!”)
Or maybe the inquisitive, cherub-cheeked young checker at my local grocery store who always comments when I buy Now & Laters, “Oh! I haven’t had these since I was a kid.” The same comment every time. Well, I still eat them because my one true addiction sugar. I’m trying to get the monkey off my back, but it’s clinging to me like Spanx! And anyway, I hate when people feel the need to make commentary on my purchases.
I limited the guest list to 12, including me. A mix of women I know from work, friends of friends who are now my friends, a few women I met thanks to Girlfriend Circles and friends from L.A. who now live here. A fun, diverse group of women in their early to mid-30s (and one late twenty-something). Tip: I always invite more people to a party than my place can handle. Unless you’re throwing an “I’m handing out free cash and weed!” party, the acceptance rate will probably be around 60 – 70%. This is not a scientific figure, I just know from experience throwing many events. Plus, there are almost always last-minute cancellations.
Have you ever been to a party without music? I really don’t understand it. What kind of party is that? A wake?
DJ Keisha Keish streamed a mix of hip-hop, hip-pop & top 40, prompting song requests from the group and shameful admissions of liking music you know is offensive and sometimes downright misogynistic, but the beat is so damn good you can’t help yourself. See: almost anything by Juicy J.
Tip: Prepare a playlist in advance, keeping in mind the mood you wish to set. Consider asking guests for their favorite songs to add to the playlist.
BITES & BUBBLES
Inspired by friends who are avid Pinterest-projecters, I turned to the site to find ideas for the food and drink menu. I decided on a combination of fun finger foods like tangy barbecue meatballs, one “sophisticated” dish, recipe by Martha Stewart; and a bubbly, easy-to-make Kir Royale as the signature drink.
I saved prep time by shopping for most of the groceries on Instacart. Thanks to Google Shopping Express I also ordered party supplies online, including a couple of serving dishes I neglected to purchase and ordered the night before the partito for delivery the next morning.
Marshmallow popcorn balls
For a healthy choice: a berry salad with a light sugar glaze and optional creme fraiche topping.
The wine station before the guests arrived
Creamy Pasta with Peas, recipe from Martha Stewart
GAMES & GIGGLES
The party gave me the perfect excuse to break out the Cards Against Humanity game gifted to me on my last birthday.
The first player (The “Card Czar”) is determined by answering the question “Who pooped most recently?” Of course, this means as a group you have to actually talk about when you pooped. I learned more about my new friends’ bowel movements than I could never have imagined or necessarily wanted to know.
“I think at like 10 this morning after breakfast?”
“I go every morning like clockwork!”
“If I don’t poop daily I get really cranky!”
After titters, giggles and me being teased for the many faces of disgust I made each time someone said “poop” (damn my vivid imagination!), the game commenced.
We spent most of the evening talking and laughing, digressions in conversation alternating with each round of the game. Topics veering from secrets of aging well to the details of G’s recent engagement (“How did he ask?” “What a pretty ring!” “Were you surprised?”) and careers (one of my friends is a urologist which always fascinates people) and every single gal’s favorite topic: dating (blech).
I’d intended to have Magic Mike playing in the background. My friend E surprised me with the DVD for Valentine’s Day this year, knowing my uncharacteristic affinity (read: crush from afar of embarrassing proportions) for Channing Tatum. What a pal!. However, the WORST ELECTRONIC DEVICE I HAVE EVER PURCHASED aka my Blu Ray player wouldn’t play the movie. Gotdamn piece of nothing good.
Tip: Something inevitably will go wrong at a party; roll with it and adjust. Don’t freak out and be that host(ess).
The party wound down naturally after hours of belly laughing and too many champagne cocktails on my part. My guests left with smiles, new acquaintances made, good times had, exchanges of hugs and “We have to get together again soon!” As I closed the door behind the last guest just before midnight, I grinned with the satisfaction of successfully pulling off my first party in San Francisco.
A couple of weeks ago, seated with a girlfriend outside Philz Coffee, a random, late middle-age man passing by, grabbed my foot and shook it. He didn’t say anything, just shook my foot and continued walking.
What the hell?!
My friend and I looked at each other, puzzled. I didn’t say much and publicly shrugged it off. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react. Afterward, however, I sat feeling disturbed, my attention divided between my discombobulated thoughts and my friend’s excited chatter about her upcoming travel plans. What made that man think he had the right to reach out and touch me? Would he return? With the steady stream of pedestrians, many toting along canine companions larger than me, I uncomfortably wondered if anyone else might feel compelled to invade my personal space and grab a limb.
A few weeks ago, I opted for an Uber home after dinner with a friend. A few blocks away from my apartment building, I instructed the driver where to drop me off. He nodded, but a few seconds later looked behind him and said, “Uhhhh, there’s a police car behind me. I’m going to drive for a little while, see if he goes away.”
My heartbeat sped up ready to race. Danger! Danger! Why does he care if a cop is behind him? They exist, they patrol, they eat donuts and tacos. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you probably have nothing to worry about (in that neighborhood, with his skin color). The story I’d heard of the woman in West Hollywood who was allegedly kidnapped by her Uber driver in the forefront of my memory.
I prepared to weaponize. I will stab an attempted kidnapping motherfucker in the eye. I looked around and assessed my surroundings, people to ask for help if needed,or a place to run. Only 9pm, but my neighborhood is a quieter one and thus few people wander around late – it’s one of the reasons I chose it, fewer chances of being harassed on the street. The doors to the car were locked. This man is not taking me anywhere. My phone poised to dial 911, I requested, my tone firm, “Please let me out right here.” He drove one more block, my anxiousness increasing with each wheel revolution until finally he stopped the car, I got out and told him, “Never say ‘no’ when a female passenger tells you she wants out.” I don’t know what his issues were or his intentions, but the experience left me shaken. Did I do everything I could have to prevent a bad situation?
After, I read up on the incidences of assault and kidnapping on female passengers in taxis and shared ride services. One male officer suggested that women consider riding with a friend. I grew angry. Isn’t the point of taxis and other passenger services to provide convenience to get from point A to B? I have to adjust my behavior, put a crimp in my lifestyle, because there are some people, men – let’s be real – who think they have a right to my body. Though, I didn’t share this story – as much as it disturbed me – with anyone else because I feared the potential judgement of questions, “Were you drunk? How were you dressed? Were your clear with him that you wanted to get out? Did you flirt with him? Why were you out so late?” All the ways in which female victims are sometimes blamed for the poor behavior of their transgressors.
A few of months before the Uber incident, on my way home from a friend’s place after the sun disappeared for the day, as I boarded the bus, the bus driver, with his shaggy muted brown hair, 70’s pornstache, and Dahmer-style eyeglasses, greeted me with an approving glance and asked creepily, What’s a nice girl like you doing out here this time of night?” Is 7pm when all the “girls” are to pack it in for the day and stay indoors? I’ll admit, I stereotyped him, his appearance and borderline-lascivious gaze brought to mind the type of man police discover harboring missing young women for years.
A handful of other passengers were aboard, including two women – one young, one middle-aged. I decided to board, we’re all women riding the bus at night and there is strength in numbers. I texted my girlfriend to fill her in on the situation and updated my Facebook, a humor-tinged status referencing the fact that bus drivers here are sometimes as stoic as the men guarding The Royal Palace, and this guy was different. Should anything actually happen, people will know I’m missing sooner than later. Thankfully, I disembarked the bus without incident.
Last year, on our way to a piercing shop in The Haight, my sister N and I were leered at by street kids lazing on the sidewalk, leaning against a clothing store, looking lost, stoned and sketchy. One “kid” (he appeared to be in his early twenties), white with dirty, stringy blonde hair, shouted at us, “Hey ladies! I’ll lick your p–sy for $10.”
I shook my head, the taste of revulsion and disgust filling my mouth. I’ve experienced my share of insensitive and objectifying cat-calling, but this incident begged to stand out. We are more than our vaginas and ours breasts, we are human beings that deserve the respect we afforded them.
During dinner in The Mission with two of my ex-coworkers, Andrew and Melissa* – the same week as the foot-grabbing episode – Andy, one of the most genuine, big-hearted people you could ever meet, asked us earnestly for our thoughts about the national ongoing rape culturediscussion. He didn’t want to unknowingly perpetuate the behaviors and beliefs that encapsulate it. We assured him he’s one of the last men who should be concerned with promoting rape culture. As things tend to go, the men who should concern themselves are likely the ones not thinking about it. Similar to how, often the people most insistent on not talking about race, are the ones who need to examine their beliefs and behaviors.
After dinner, our trio headed to the BART station; Andy insisted on walking us to the BART and bus stops, because that’s the kind of guy he is. We ambled down Valencia Street, savoring our time now that we no longer all work together, when a lone man of average height, approaching from the opposite direction, eyes ogling me and Melissa, uttered, with his voice hinting at desire, “Sexxxxxy.”
I ignored him. No man worth my time will approach me on the street and call out to me like I’m a cow in the field.
Andy gaped at us in disbelief. “Did you guys just hear that?!” he asked.
I looked at Melissa, she nodded with indifference. I shrugged and told Andy, “This happens all the time. You get used to it.” He shook his head in sadness. I told Andy, “I’m glad you are with us though. Men respect other men. He won’t be bothering us.” Had Andy not been with us, who knows what would have happened? The three of us remained silent for some time, my words, “You get used it,” reverberating in my head. I have gotten used to and I hate it. I hate that I have accepted that this is part of life as a woman.
The news didn’t completely surprise me. I knew the company, which I’ll refer to as “Fancy Startup” (FS), planned to cut some jobs [the numbers-focused CEO told us weeks ago, “We have too many employees and still more to hire. We now have x hundreds of employees and plan to hire x number more. Do you guys think we should have that many? That’s crazy!” He laughed mirthlessly, “By year’s end I expect we’ll have the same number. So…”] I didn’t think I’d be one of the casualties, though it’s always a possibility when you’re not a coveted software engineer in the tech world. FS slashed a significant percentage of the workforce in a “restructure.”
Upon hearing of the news, which I shared freely – may as well, the media reported it – my friends and family have been supportive, offering encouraging words of positivity, platitudes about doors opening and closing and reactions from, “I am shocked. They are idiots who didn’t deserve you,” to “Want me to kick someone’s ass for you? and “Are you okaaaaaaay?”
I am okay. In fact, I feel relief. I feel FREE.
BYE BYE ROSE-COLORED GLASSES
I mostly enjoyed my first 5 months at FS. It’s definitely a fast-paced environment as advertised. Every week in the office felt like a month, with always always something going on.
Often the job sapped my energy. Intense days, often without lunch, or lunch eaten at my desk during a quick break between meetings, sleepless nights ruminating over the previous day’s events; early mornings awoken with anxiety, concerned with things to occur that day, worrying that I’d missed something on my to-do list. I drove myself crazy thinking about ways to improve my teams, techniques to do the best job I could do without the infrastructure or support in place to truly do so effectively. I was the first person hired in my position, which I’ll refer to as Thankless Role (TR): when things are going well, you almost always get no credit; when things are going poorly, you’re often the recipient of of blame and fingers pointing in your direction.
In a matter of weeks after hiring me last July, the company recognized the need for more people in the Thankless Role for other departments and hired three more in few short months. With my manager, the five of us grew close pretty quickly. We’re all experienced professionals with big name companies dotting our resumes and a lot of mutual respect for each other’s different experiences and personalities. The TR team and a few other co-workers helped keep me sane during the last 5-6 months where things ratcheted up to a level of near-constant stress and anxiety. I imagined if you touched me, you’d feel a current of hot stress bubbling under my skin.
By February, when the stress escalated to a level I didn’t know possible and the rose-colored classes finally slid all the way off, I posted on Facebook:
I told one of my co-workers that our company is full of overachieving, nerdy, “gotta get an ‘A'” kids who work themselves up into a frenzy when they fail to be perfect. The kinds of kids who would get upset when they’d get a 96 on a test instead of 100 and I’d want to shake them. (Then I’d go home with a 94 and my dad would be like, “But, why are you bringing home a ’94’ though?” Well, damn). Sometimes they raise my stress levels with their stress. I don’t like people making their problems mine.
By then I could tell the worker bee team players from those who talk a good game and only pretend to work hard while cheering, “Go team!” I sniffed out the self-promoters, the brown-nosers and the politickers (my least favorite type behind even the lazy ones). I sensed the trustworthy and those itching to chuck bodies under buses. Finally, there were “the sinkers.” The sinkers are the people that exist as human cement blocks. They are all to happy to attach themselves to you like a blood sucking eel, whether consciously or sub-consciously, and attempt to drag you down under the water with them. Whatever problems they have, they want to share them with you, have you sink down into the deep, dark water with them. They are dangerous and the office bred more than it’s share.
IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR FACE?
I’m known as a bit of a meeting taskmaster, which generally people appreciate. In April, we received the results of our annual peer feedback. I asked for feedback from 11 peers and more than one (anonymously) enthused about my facilitation skills, “I like being in meetings run by Keisha, because I know they will be efficient and end on time or early.” I hate meetings. Unless it’s a meeting for fun, with an agenda and an actual interesting topic (or even better: drinks!), I want to get in and get out. Many people don’t know how to run an effective meeting. It’s a skill you have to learn as it’s not really taught. I’ve sat through one too many meetings, the sole purpose for which seemed to give pompous directors and ambitious sycophants a platform to bestow their “brilliance” upon their bored, under-recognized, overworked, over-scheduled peers and subordinates. An hour (because 1/2 hour meetings weren’t part of the culture) of listening to people attempt to prove they’re smarter than the next person. Find a damn penpal. Get a therapist. Talked to a stuffed teddy bear.
In a meeting in March, a woman senior to me in age (by only a few years) and position (by only a couple of levels), gave me the dirtiest look I’ve seen since a random disheveled, wrinkled old woman on the street pushing a shopping cart full of assorted collected trash muttered angrily at me, “You stupid fucking bitch.” My only transgression being my bold existence.
I assume this woman is talented at what she does, though she sometimes appeared scattered and disorganized and is prone to veering off-topic and making disruptive, emotional outbursts in meetings. “Is it just me? Or is this just, like, really fucking stupid? I mean, what, oh my God!…” spastic body movements and eye rolls punctuating her words. During one such meeting, where eight highly paid people sat around for yet another assembly of wasted minutes getting nothing accomplished, stalemate after stalemate, because of ego-based arguments and general foolishness like getting into a disagreement because you don’t understand the meaning of “something is fluid.” (An argument ensued because a senior level person though it meant “fixed” and got upset that his idea wasn’t even considered. In that same meeting a grown man pouted as he complained, “I guess I should just sit here and pretend like I don’t exist.”)
I cut her off in this meeting – politely, I am skilled at diplomacy – suggesting we “table” that discussion for now. It was then that she hit me with the dirty look. I have since tried to recreate this look as I telegraph this story for others, but I can’t quite figure out how to contort my features in the ugly way she did. If my life were ever turned into a movie, her face would have transformed into a pool of slithering, hissing serpents like Charlize Theron saw in the face of the duplicitous laywers’ wives in The Devil’s Advocate. I was amazed; who is that unprofessional, especially at that age?
WHO IS RUNNING THINGS?
Given the breadth of my position – I worked with people across different departments and functional groups – I had unique insight into the goings-ons in many groups and holy! unchecked rampant dysfunction, Iyanla! Backstabbing, infighting, territorialism, competitiveness, badmouthing, defensiveness, posturing, ego-puffing, uncooperative actions, CYA-ing to the extreme, defensiveness – oh did I mention that already? – the list of maladaptive behaviors didn’t end.
Personally and professionally, I’ve been primarily frustrated with ineffectual management and the amount of time I spent existing in an unhealthy environment, absorbing the effects of such poor management in the actions of others, detracting from my ability to actually do the job they hired me to do. Being pulled in different directions by people who seemingly change their minds on a whim or have a vision they don’t clearly articulate into actionable tactics. Leaving employees confused, directionless, off-balance and stressed. Both my manager, who’s one of the long-timers at FS, and a couple of co-workers told me that while I have the fortune of working on one of the most exciting parts of the site, I also work with some of the most difficult personalities in the company. Gee, how did I ever get so lucky? Comfortingly though, they all told me I was handling it well.
AND THEN THERE WAS HER
I have never worked with anyone quite like her. The highly ambitious, Ivy League educated young woman who became a huge thorn in my side. She and I worked on the same team, one of many teams I was on, and while I thought she could be charming, is sharp and hard-working, and appreciated her collection of designer handbags and shoes, I quickly grew to view her as an extremely exhausting energy vampire. She’s high-strung and prone to catastrophizing everything, particularly when she’s stressed, which seemed to be most days the sun rose. She micromanages people out of her need to control things and oversteps her boundaries. She can be dictatorial and too often speaks to her peers in a condescending manner and interacts with her teammates in such a way that implies she doesn’t respect your experience or skills. My position was senior to hers and yet she felt comfortable directing me in how to do my job (because as she once told me, she “did it for a year.” Well, I’ve done it for 10. Shall we take out our swords?) and speaking to me as though I were her employee. One engineer left our team for another – she treated him like a wayward child and constantly criticized his behavior failing to make it constructive. She caused another team member to cry because she hammered at her so much, put so much pressure on her.
She and I seem to speak such different languages that our once a week, one-on-one to sync up on our team, inevitably devolved into a relationship discussion, about our working relationship, “When you say this, I feel this…” Also inevitably, she’d take the opportunity to inform me of all the tasks she thought I should be doing that I wasn’t. So often she projected her own bad behavior on to me that I wondered if I were part of some big, secret, clearly unethical, crazy psychological experiment to see just how much fucked up-ness a person can stand. She’d cut me out of things, approach me when there was a problem, too late for me to do anything about it, then blame me for the outcome. On one hand she’d express to me how important it is to be unified in front of our team and then in meetings shut me down when I expressed an opinion, undermine me in front of the team and/or be argumentative.
We were in a freaking relationship except I didn’t get any benefits, just the nagging & the headaches. With her, what you did was never enough unless you were by her side like a lapdog ready to sit when she directed. And if you accomplished this feat it was on to the next thing you needed to be doing, with barely a rewarding pat on the head. Always harder, harder, harder; more more more.
That was my least favorite team. You’re on hyper-alert, always afraid to fail, to come up short despite trying your best, to catch a glimpse of that disapproving look on her face. Waiting for her to get on your case for not doing something else she expected you to do, but didn’t communicate to you, or perhaps did, but in a language that sounds like high-strungese. For her eventually to sacrifice you and tell an exec that she thinks you need to be handled – I know, because I was in a meeting with her and an exec where she did it to someone else. I knew before that I couldn’t trust her, but after that meeting, my guard went up all the way.
She is fantastic at managing up, she’s Teacher’s Pet, and just like Teacher’s Pet, several of her co-workers don’t like working with her. Her mentor is one of the execs and another exec promoted her. When her promotion was announced in a departmental meeting, you could see the unhappiness of others in the room – and it wasn’t jealousy. Another friend of mine got promoted (they were the only two recognized as such in our department) and many were thrilled for him, he truly deserved it and is a pleasure to work with.
The situation devolved to the point where as time went on I began to have physical anxiety reactions to her very presence.
THE WORST MEETING EVER
In March, when a new Exec decided to restructure teams, and largely left the execution of it in the hands of feckless middle management, the process fell apart and the train veered way off the track into a fiery ditch of confusion, misdirection and frustration. There was little support or guidance. 25+ people directionless. I raised my concerns about the flying debris of confusion to various levels of management, careful not to make anything personal: a broken process and unhappy employees who feel like the execs don’t care is bad for business. Ultimately, I want the people on my teams to be happy and be able to do their jobs effectively. Largely, nothing changed for weeks. I grew more frustrated and my feelings of helplessness ballooned. How am I supposed to work like this? Nothing changed that is, until May when the din of dysfunction grew so loud hearing it was unavoidable and three execs scheduled meetings with the impacted teams to attempt to solve the problems they created. I was the lucky recipient of not one, but two meeting invites.
The morning of the WORST MEETING EVER, I headed to the ubiquitous Starbucks for a latte with burnt coffee. As I waited for my filled coffee cup on which my name would undoubtedly be misspelled even though I spell it out, I suddenly felt weak. My heart began to flutter and then race. My face broke out in a sweat. I felt hot. I literally had to have a seat. I couldn’t hear what was taking place around me with the blood quickly filling and then pulsing in the vessels in my ears. I focused on my breathing and though shaky, composed myself enough to pick up the coffee for “Aesha” when called.
I later asked on Facebook:
What does an anxiety attack feel like?
It was the meetings. The idea of these meetings with the whole team and three execs, yet another meeting full of unproductive conflict and tension, filled me with overwhelming anxiety.
The first meeting scheduled for an hour took 1 hour and 45 minutes! Like a family argument that makes you wish you could be anywhere but in that very place, a hot, enclosed room, ripe with the energy of heavy emotions, hovering in the air like smog. Halfway through the meeting a teammate leaned over to me to whisper, “This is so.fucking.painful.” I spoke no more than a few sentences to give the team a chance to express their challenges. Voices raised, figurative fingers pointed, the words “we don’t feel valued, we have college degrees in this subject, listen to us” spoken with most of this directed at High Strung Girl. I felt bad for her, I’m not heartless. To have a few people share, in a room full of people, just how much you have made their work lives difficult must sting and badly. She seemed stunned and remained largely silent, her faithful sidekick coming to her defense. The execs who’d bought into the package she’s sold them, were also stunned. Her reaction surprised me – how could she not know – sadly, the stupefaction of the execs didn’t shock me. They’ve been highly uninvolved in what’s going on with their own people.
In that meeting I knew I wanted out of the company. I started to plot my exit.
Not too much later, I’d find out that a few of my team members had similar problems with High Strung Girl, including having one-on-one meetings with her to talk about their working relationships, and similarly notified their managers of their frustration and seemingly their managers failed to take action [I can’t say this with certainty, but they sure didn’t think so]. Oh, guess what – at least one of their managers is good friends with High Strung Girl. How do you like that? They also let me know they’d witnessed how disrespectfully I’d been treated and supported me. I needed the validation. I’d been feeling alone in the insanity.
A few weeks later, Fancy Startup gave me the boot, a few weeks shy of my (partial) stock option-vesting one year anniversary.
In May, a new TR joined the company. As part of his interview panel, I advocated for his hire. He’d also formerly worked at another tech company with the exec that promoted HSG and whom I am quite certain was instrumental in my being let go. He’s been asked to take over my role. But, wait, I thought the company was restructuring? Well, more power to him, I hope he enjoys inheriting the mess of problems and the remaining difficult people (some did get cut).
I cannot count the number of nights I awoke thinking about work, the hours I lay awake in bed stressing over bullshit related to office politics and a need to defend myself from the very event that occurred. So, I am not sad. I am thrilled that I don’t work there anymore. I predict it’s on it’s way toward an even more toxic environment before things begin to improve, if they improve.
I am good at what I do. It took my last job for me to really learn to believe that. My peer and manager feedback in April was positive and I received a merit increase. In my time there I led several brown bag workshops, mentored another person who is also in Thankless Role, though junior to me, coached others through hard times with their own teams, started a business book club and solicited agenda topics for a weekly town hall-like meeting in addition to doing my actual job. I was no slouch.
I’ll miss my kickball team friends, the lunch crew, my other team members in the Thankless Role, the autonomy I had – when I actually got to do my job I enjoyed it – my standing desk and my professional and reasonable boss. However, that chapter is over now.
For the first time in 11 years – since the last time I got laid off, this is the fourth time(!) – I have few responsibilities. I have no job to get up and go to. Nobody asking me for anything. No stress, no dirty looks, no anxiety. I just have to take care of myself, my bills and my felines. I’m going to enjoy this for at least a short while before I figure out what’s next. I have more time to dedicate to family and friends who’ve received less of my attention because I was in meetings all the time or too stressed and exhausted to handle long conversations after work. So far this week, I’ve spent hours fun Facetiming with my youngest sister, chatted with my mom, spent another couple of hours talking to my middle sister. I’ve chatted with friends on and offline. I’m reading a book for fun, I went to the park in the middle of the day, with the other people who have daytime freedom: the kids, the retired, the stay-at-home mommies and daddies and the nannies. I had sushi & beer for lunch with another laid off co-worker, Mighty, and we toasted to our freedom. It’s summer and 70 degrees in San Francisco, who wants to waste time being upset?
This is one year out of my hopefully long life. The job was meant as a stepping stone. I knew that from day one. I learned A LOT and met a handful of wonderful people with whom I will stay in contact; now is a great time to move on. Each time I’ve been laid off, it’s led to a positive, life-pivoting change and I welcome it.
I left on my desk two post-its written by teammates of mine during a team-building activity I led after the WORST MEETING EVER in an attempt to repair the damage, still without support or guidance. They read, “You are good at team-building” and “You are welcoming and friendly. You are the glue that keeps us together. :)”
Recently during lunch with a co-worker, Mighty* – we’ve bonded in our search for sanity in the crazytown that is our work environment – she exclaimed, “Keisha, I have to tell you! Something you told me really helped me!”
A few weeks earlier, on our way back from lunch, dodging poo on the sidewalk (dog? human? who knows), sidestepping a disheveled-looking man angrily muttering to himself and quickly breezing past a urine-scented staircase, – in other words, a not atypical walk in certain parts of San Francisco – Mighty told me how she’d fallen victim to a scam on a popular website – a website which began as a consumer-to-consumer auction site, we’ll call it, “eCray”.
She sold an expensive electronic item to someone who conned her out of four figures. Distraught and poorer, she complained to eCray’s customer service who told her due to some loophole, “Sorry for ya, but you screwed yourself. Sucks for you though, we get that. Maybe call a lawyer? Ok, bye! Please shop again!”
Clearly exasperated and frustrated, she concluded, “I guess I’m just out all of that money! It was stupid! I can’t believe they won’t do anything!”
I recounted to her the tale of my great battle against the big online bookstore that put many baby bookstores out of business. But, I didn’t buy a book from them, I bought something else, because they sell other stuff too, everything actually, it’s pretty amazing. Let’s call that company, “Jungle.”
Due to a botched transaction with a reseller (they have stuff for resale too!), I was owed a refund which I never received. At the time, Jungle’s customer service that was so bad and it angered me so much I wondered if I needed therapy, after all, it wasn’t all that much money. But, THEY messed up and THEY needed to give me back my money. It’s the principle of the thing. So, when Jungle’s customer service hit me with:
“We are sorry for your inconvenience, but our policy states that we must be money-hoarding automatons with fake names – because you know and I know my name isn’t really ‘Brad’ or ‘George’ or ‘Angelina’, but something less easy for the average American to pronounce – and we can’t give you a refund. But, sorry, that sucks ma’am. Ok, bye! Please shop again!”
Screw that. I drafted a letter and an email – old school and new school – to “whom it may concern”, about the small amount I was owed, why it was owed to me and the amount of ridiculous shenanigans and fuckery that ensued when I tried to reclaim my money thanks to their blood-pressure raising, script-reading, customer service. In summary, I added how I’m not going to be shopping there anymore because they’ve left a bad taste in my mouth and I will never be the same. Ever.
Letter stamped, dropped in the mail and email sent to the VP of Customer Service, the VP of Marketing and the VP of VPness. That should about reach at least one person high enough who will care that a customer is so upset she’ll take her fight up the ladder and tell the whole damn neighborhood about it.
A few weeks later, I received a lovely email from a VP expressing intense regret at the unfortunate experiences I’d endured at Jungle’s hands along with a refund for the full amount owed and a gift card to buy anything I like (you can buy Q-tips! Q-tips delivered to your doorstep in two days!).
When I finished the story about my battle against the giant Jungle, Mighty let out a big breath: “Wow, I didn’t think of that. You’re right; I should do that, because I am so angry! That is so wrong, they should be protecting their customers!”
At lunch, she recalled the telling of that anecdote and being marveled by my perseverance. I offered as explanation:
“I guess I just never take ‘no’ for an answer. I never really thought about it, but I think I just figure there’s always a way around most things. There’s almost always someone higher up who can get you what you need or another solution around a roadblock.
I just keep trying until I decide either it’s no longer worth it or I’ve exhausted my solutions. I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and decide if it’s worth it.”
I added, “I think it’s a family thing.”
Ready for another story within a story?
I shared with her how Last Christmas, back in Texas to visit the family, I went to the movies with my mom and younger sister to see the film Mandela. Unfortunately, an older version of Martha and the Vandellas were there too, gossiping like church ladies. Now this is Man.de.la, a movie about a man of great historical importance, who, along with his fellow South African supporters, suffered through much violence and debasement as demonstrated in evocative scenes. Imagine having your stream of emotions interrupted by obnoxious braying:
“Honeyyyyyyyy, I couldn’t!”
“Hahahaha, I know!“
My mom and sister periodically turned around presumably to mean-mug them. A few other patrons in the mostly empty theatre attempted to shush them, but they’d start right back up again, clucking away like plump hens freed from their pen.
Ordinarily, this is exactly the kind of shit that sticks in my craw. I have paid damn near the price of a concert ticket to sit in this dark theatre with strangers and my family, eating overpriced artery-clogging popcorn because the stuff is addictive, and these women here, these women here, are bleating their way through Mandela. Mandela!
However, I was more fascinated with my mom and sister and their fascination with Rude, Ruder & Rudest.
My sister huffed. Then she stood up. She is 22 and has more confidence and self-assuredness at her age than I had my entire high school experience. She whispered, “I’m going to find the manager.”
A long 10 minutes later, my sister returned, shortly followed by a young usher, who looked like he’s capable of nothing more than wrestling a stuffed tiger, peered toward the back of the theatre where the three assmigas have caught on and were silently behaving themselves.
He stood in place for a beat, probably sizing up the women, shrugged – I’m sure he realized they could take him and the stuffed tiger he wrestled – and he exited the theatre without a word to them.
We were not impressed.
For a blissful half an hour, the women remained largely silent, shuffling and shifting weight periodically, almost as though the pain of holding back their witty commentary might eat them up from inside, until finally bits of conversation, varying in volume from a whisper to audible travel-level and worked its way toward us:
“and then…yeah, uh huh…right, so then…and he…”
Gah!. We did our best to ignore their voices as they chittered intermittently during the movie.
After the film, my mom approached the useless usher and requested to speak to the manager.
“Yes, ma’am!” He immediately turned and headed for a private door.
I think he would have flown to the manager to get there faster if he could. My mom’s tone indicated, “I mean business. You better get moving! Nobody’s playing here!”
When the manager arrived, my mom and sister calmly explained to the him the pain we suffered through having our Mandela experience ruined: Do you know how much movie tickets are these days? And my sister/daughter is in town all the way from California! and this is what she has to go through? I just find this unacceptable. We did not enjoy ourselves.
I stood silently in awe trying to avoid breaking out in a full smile of pride.
In less than five minutes, we emerged from the theatre having received an apology and 8 passes to see any movie we like.
“I wrote to the Vice President of Customer Service at eCray like you suggested,” Mighty said, “and I got it resolved! It was so fast! They refunded all my money! I have to remember this! Thank you for your help!”
Sometimes it pays not to take no for an answer.
* Name changed for the sake of making my life easier
A few days ago I was at my local greeting card store picking up what seemed like stacks of birthday cards because I tend to befriend and befamily* a disproportionate number of Pisces/Aries/Taurus people (those born in March and April, for the non-astrology folks). As I approached the cash register to pay, I kind of hoped that I wouldn’t be helped out by the somewhat eccentric older woman with the Thelma Harper hair and with whom I’d had an off-putting encounter around the Christmas holidays.
As I was packing away the holiday cards I’d just purchased (holiday-neutral, no religious symbols, no mentions of Christmas, baby Jesus or miraculous pregnancies) in the reusable bag I’d dutifully brought with me (you’re welcome, Earth), she wished me a, “Happy Holidays.”
“Thanks, you too!”
“Oh, thank you. You know, last week, I said ‘Merry Christmas’ to a customer. She snapped at me, ‘I am Jewish!’ Sor-REEEE. You don’t have to jump down my throat! Can’t say anything these days without somebody getting offended. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
“Then MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, young lady.”
I tilted my head in false sympathy for her plight and left.
Erm…okay. I mean, maybe you shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s religion? Maybe the customer is Jewish and in the religious minority in this country and gets tired of people assuming she celebrates Christmas? I mean, I get annoyed when ignorant dudes approach with me some fake swagger and a “Hey girl, what’s up?” trying to sound hood, but the same dude will greet my white or Asian friend with, “Hi, I’m Joe,” using perfect diction, sounding like they’re ready to give a speech to the President. It just so happens that I also speak Standard American English and am capable of understanding simple words like, ‘Hi, I’m Joe.” So, spare me the blaccent. Assumptions, assumptions. Just assy.
A few months later, I stood at the register and who else but eccentric older woman made her way toward me? Three employees in the store and I get her.
“All set? Oh! Let me show you our Easter cards!” She motioned toward the front of the store.
“Oh, no thank you.”
“They’re just right here. I’ll show you.” She started toward the cards.
Her voice was loud enough for me and the rest of the customers in the store to hear.
“Thanks. I don’t celebrate Easter.”
“Ahhhh…” she walked back to the register. The woman standing in line behind me tensed up, shifted her weight. The woman still hadn’t even rung up my purchases; she was too busy badgering me into looking at Easter cards.
I was raised Christian, but don’t consider myself Christian and don’t really make it a point to celebrate Easter. I do celebrate Christmas, but for the secular reasons.
“It’s just, there’s one with an [she lowered her voice to a loud whisper] ‘African-American’ on it. We don’t usually have those, so…”
Why is this happening? For real? I just wanted to buy some damn cards.
On the one hand, given I’ve written about the lack of color representation among greeting card choices, it’s positive there’s a card with a black person on it. But, it’s ONE CARD. What if I didn’t like the card? What if the person on the card was wearing some tacky ass outfit? Or looked ratchet? Or looked like a white person whose skin was painted a horrible brown shade that doesn’t exist in humans? Like I’m not supposed to notice the European features on the chocolate skin. They do that. Thanks for the charity. One card.
On the other hand: woman, seriously? Stop being so pushy and sticking your foot all the way in your mouth. It’s kind of ridiculous to single me out because you have one black card. She probably meant well, but c’mon.
“Yeah, not a lot of cards like that. I’ll have to check that out some other time.”
It seemed like it took her ages to ring me up before finally I could bolt from the store. The lone black customer has exited the store, off to do some black stuff. Goodbye.
Hi, I’m Keisha and apparently I get into fights with old ladies. Let’s take a look, shall we?
When I first moved into my apartment building I met the girlfriend of one of my neighbors. Her boyfriend had lived in the building for two years.
“How do you like it here? How are the people in the
“Oh, I like it. People are pretty quiet and nice, but…” she lowered her voice and moved closer to me, “Have you met the old lady that lives down the hall?”
“Oh, Gertie? Yeah, she seems nice, I saw her vacuuming the entryway. It’s sweet that she does that.”
She made a face as though she was less than impressed.
“Yeah…she’s just…kinda weird,” her voice trailed off and then as though she were re-energized, “Well, I hope you love it here! Good luck unpacking!”
This is how scary movies start. Everyone knows the black people always die first. Dammit!
I had indeed met Ms. Gertie. I know little about her. I try to engage her in conversation when I see her, but she doesn’t much seem interested. I
noticed once an accent fading in and out, so I asked her about it.
“Oh yes, I am from Ireland.”
I asked her how long she’d been living in the building.
“Oh, longer than you’ve probably been alive, dear.” She has the voice of a fairy-tale grandmother. Or the Wicked Witch: “I’ll get you my pretty (and your little cats tooooo.).”
In the 18 months or so that I’ve lived in the building, I’ve learned the following about the life of Gertie:
1. She lives alone and spent this past Christmas with her niece that lives an hour north inWine Country.
2. I can’t say with certainty how old she is, but I’m a good guesstimator of age (ask my friends) and I think she’s probably between 72-77.
3. She likes to vacuum. I don’t mean vacuum her place. I mean, the whole building. Often at 9:30pm on a weeknight. I don’t know what the hell she’s vacuuming or why; we have a cleaning service that comes weekly to tidy up. In any case, our building is extra clean. Maybe she’s bored and needs something to do. If she has a job, it doesn’t seem to be one that requires her to leave her place.
4. I had a drink with our former building manager once (a random occurrence, he’s nearly 60 and married; it was nothing scandalous) and when I asked for his take on our building and its residents, about Gertie he shared “Ohhh, Gertie. She’s a tough one.”
He winced. I chuckled. “Does she complain a lot?”
“You could say that. She just makes my job extra hard. She calls about every little thing that goes wrong.”
5. Every Christmas she decorates the indoor entryway to our building with a Christmas tree, lights, tinsel, garland and a 2-ft tall Santa Claus doll with a pale, waxy face that my sister N deemed “creepy as hell!” It’s festive and I appreciate someone making the effort, especially since I’m not putting up a Christmas tree for me and the cats.
6. She is fond of leaving passive aggressive notes with lots!of!exclamation! around the building:
“The LIGHT! in the laundry room! is BROKEN as of 1/5/14 @ 2pm! Please FIX it IMMEDIATELY! Someone could break! their NECK!”
7. My younger sister N was here last summer and stayed with me some nights. Gertie asked me: “Is that your daughter that stays with you sometimes?”
My sister and I are six years apart in age and black don’t crack so usually people ask us who is older. No way in hell does she look like my daughter! Is my black cracking?! Do I suddenly look old? My sister’s reaction when I shared this with her reassured me, “The fuck? Your daughter?! Why does she think that? Is this some racial thing? Like you’re a ‘young single black mother’? What the hell? Your daughter? Let me say something to her.” No need. I let it go.
8. I ran into Gertie when I was on my way out to dinner once, wearing a cute new dress and showing a perfectly respectable amount of skin. And even if I wasn’t, I am a grown ass woman and I buy what I want to wear, so I can wear what I want. The look she gave me. Like I was some loose harlot! When did I sign up for a den mom? This wasn’t the first time she side-eyed me when I was either coming from fun or going to fun. Of course I ran into her on way home from the Pride festivalwith stickers on my face wearing a rainbow feathered boa. I think she either hates fun or is jealous of fun. Either way, not my problem.
I couldn’t find my keys when I left for work this morning. I dug up half my apartment looking for them. I even missed my bus trying to find them. I have a
spare key to my apartment, but not to the building’s front door. It’s one of those keys that you can’t get copied at your local Home Depot. We used to have the access code, but when our building management changed, they
decided to change the access code too and not tell anybody. Hey guys,
maybe you should notify your tenants. Anyway. I figured I could either call a neighbor when I got home or call a friend to call my cell so I could buzz myself in.
Well, hold on there girl! There are other plans in store for you!
When I got home, I was happy to see Gertie sitting inside at the bottom of the stairs. I wouldn’t have to use any of my door plans! I tried again to see if I could find my keys, just in case, but came up with nothing. All the while, Gertie didn’t move. I fished around in my purse some more and finally mouthed to Gertie, “Can you let me in, please?”
She walked slowly over, met my eyes and growled, “NO. Call the [offsite] manager. You should have your key!”
R e a l l y?
I rolled my eyes and turned away. I wasn’t going to beg her to get into my own damn place of residence. A shoebox that I pay stacks to live in. Fuck her. I was mad I ever thought to send her mean ass a Christmas card.
For whatever reason, calling myself didn’t work – I was probably too agitated to focus. I looked through the directory and dialed my neighbors who live across the hall from me. They are a polite young couple who mostly keep to themselves and their two pugs. I also knew they’d be home because they’re pretty predictable and I know their schedule.
“Hi, this is Keisha, I live in #_ and I can’t find my key…”
“Oh, I’ll let you in!”
I could see Gertie stewing in the entryway. Her plan to teach
this wayward youngin’ a lesson foiled by cleverity (no, it’s not a word). Had I been less stew-y I would have booyah’d! all up in her face. Instead, I stormed in, I hope looking flawless, huffing, as she started in on me with, “You should have your
“DO NOT TALK TO ME GERTIE! I don’t want to hear ANYTHING you have to say. This is the WORST neighborly treatment I have ever received.” Neighborly treatment? Is that really the best I could come up with?
I almost never yell. I’m quite anti yelling in anger. But this crazy old goat got me yelling. Yes. Crazy. Old. Goat. I love old people. I love goats. I even love some crazy people. But I don’t love crazy old goat people. I hope I never become a crazy old goat so set in proving I’m right that I act like I’m constantly trying to headbutt people with my assholery, goaty beard strands swinging in the wind.
“Where’s YOUR KEY?
“I MISPLACED IT!”
I was yelling.
“How come none of you have your keys?! You all lose your keys? Sure! You think I”m crazy?”
Actually, yes, you crazy old goat. I don’t know who or what the fuck she was talking about and I don’t care. I am not “you guys,” I am the person who was standing outside with grocery bags trying to find my keys, getting super angry, as she banged on the window like a banshee, lecturing me and telling me to call the manager. I’ve never even misplaced my keys before!
“Gertie. I have a JOB. I have a lot of responsibilities. I am busy. SOMETIMES I MISPLACE THINGS. I have lived here for OVER A YEAR. YOU KNOW WHO I AM.” God, I really pulled the “I have a job” card. Who am I? Vicki Gunvalson?
“You should have YOUR KEY!”
“You KNOW I LIVE HERE! Do not EVER ask me for ANYTHING. EVER.”
Do not come to my house looking for an egg, sugar, an earthquake kit, or a rag to chew on as goats are wont to do…go ask somebody else, crazy old goat. All I got for you in this apartment are dead stares and no fucks. Look me in my face, I ain’t got no worriesFOR YOU.
I opened my door, walked in and slammed it with the force of Veruca Salt’s anger.
I cannot believe she let me stand outside the build, like a damn fool, just watching me and not helping. WHO DOES THAT?! I felt humiliated. Crazy old goat.
She continued muttering and bitching out in the hall, periodically moving closer to my door so I could get a good whiff of the shit she was spewing. I heard her
complain to a neighbor who must have passed by, “Keys..door..manager…I…crazy…”
Sometimes people misplace things. It happens with age. She should know.
She walked nearer to my door and complained into the air, “It’s like an insane asylum in here!”
This old bitch.
My keys were on the key rack under a sweater. In my attempts to straighten up, I hid my own damn keys.
I get a few days off from work next week and away from my apartment. I need it.
It occurs to me that she was just sitting at the bottom of the staircase when I got home. She didn’t appear to be doing anything. Was that crazy old goat just waiting to bleat at people about their keys? I’m now wondering if the Christmas decorations she puts up in the lobby every year are riddled nanny cams so she can spy on people coming in and out of the building, daring to have fun or forget their keys.
Damn crazy old goats.
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Well, 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.
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.]
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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?“
More rooting around.
“Hmm, will you be cooking it or eating it raw?”
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?
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 Obergobserved, “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.
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!
Last week on my way home from work, trouble came looking for me in the form of a bus bully. I could have ignored it, but the fighter in me protested: “Nope, we will NOT be backing down today.”
When I boarded the bus, it was standing room only. I parked myself near a pole, turned up Spotify and tried to decompress from work. Whereas I could have gotten lobotomized and still done my old job, my new job keeps me on my toes: literally and figuratively. By the end of most days, I’m spent. That day had been particularly exhausting.
A minute into my bus ride, the girl (she was maybe in her early 20s) sitting in front of me said to her friend, seated behind me, “Hoes be having they p-ssy all in my face and shit.”
Say what now?
Another woman (not a man) can call me a bitch and I won’t care. Dirt off my shoulder. But, I do not accept “ho” or “hoe.” Perhaps to me the word “ho” is like the word “chicken” is to Marty McFly. [“Nobody.calls me.a HO!”]. This may seem hypocritical given the post title, but so be it.
I looked up from my phone. Dammit, I just wanted to listen to some music and read.
“Excuuuuse me?” I said with surprise (and ok, maybe some irritation, but still, I was calm).
The girl gave me a stankass look. Or maybe that was just her face. Frozen in stank position ’cause all she does is act stank. “Giiiiirl, I know you ain’t talkin’ to me.”
“First of all, I am not a girl. I am a woman. Second, you will not speak to me that way.”
I always wondered when I would stop referring to myself as a “girl” and start referring to myself as a “woman.” This, apparently, was that moment.
I could see on her stankass stankface that she was taken aback. To her friend she got all huffy and began heaving her giganto-boobs in my direction, neck-rolling, steam coming out of her ears that are probably too through with hearing her stankiness. Her stankface became even stankier as she exclaimed stankily: “Ooh this bitch…blah blah blah…dumb ho…niggas….blah blah..I know she didn’t…more stankface bloviating. I am a stankface who says stankface things.” [Ok, fine, she didn’t say the last two things.]
Now here is where I could have told trouble to take a damn hike.
A woman in a wheelchair needed to board the bus. As it happened, stankface was seated in the wheelchair area.
The bus driver instructed: “Everybody move back, get up! Wheelchair coming!”
Stankface got up with a huff, rolling her eyes and heaving her giant bosom. I taunted her (gleefully?), “Oh look. Now your problems are over and you don’t have to be near me!! Lucky you!”
She stood over me, at least 6 inches on my 5’1′ (and 3/4!) frame and made like she was gonna fight me. Her face became the stankiest I would see it that day. Winner of the stankface-a-thon is YOU!
I didn’t flinch. I know a bully when I see one. I was the smart black kid who got teased for “talking white,” listening to grunge music and caring about school. I was not here for her bullshit.
“I am not scared of you little girl.“ You know how they say someone’s voice was “dripping with disdain?” That was me. I was practically vomiting disdain. Disdain all up and down that bus! Channeling my grandma, my dad, my moms and any other strong people I know who don’t put up with disrespect, I thought to myself, “I am too old and too accomplished to have this stankface little girl talking to me this way and wasting my time over some nonsense.”
Stankface moved closer to her stanky sidekick. She was now standing next to me. She and her friend continued to chitter on, loudly, as though the rest of the bus cared what went on in their stankratch lives, about what an awful person I was. Ho this. Ho that. I could see other riders looking at them askew. Then a detour: “My baby daddy…blah blah…my son…oh yeah, my daughter.” These ratchet bitches have kids? God help those children and our society.
Don’t make a comment about their kids. Don’t even say the word “child!” Don’t say that you feel sorry for their kids. Keep your mouth shut! You are too old to be getting into a fight. You have a real job. Get it together girl.
I could see my criminal future flashing before my eyes, Facebook HuffPost headline reading: Promising black female tech employee (one of 5.75 in the City!) gets in bus fight with stankface ratchet bitch over the word “ho”. Ruins career.
I silenced the devil on my shoulder. Instead, as they tried to antagonize me with their words, I smirked. Bullies hate when you don’t break down and give in to their shenanigans. Oh does it anger them. “Oh hellll no, this bitch is laughing,” stankface grumbled indignantly. Yep, this bitch is laughing, and you and your heaving bosom of all that is ratchet and your stankface are getting more upset and I don’t give a f-.
Another woman, seated with her child, pulled the cord to get off the bus. She announced loudly, directing her attention to the stankcrew: “I am getting off the bus with my son. If anybody gets in my way….”
What in thee hell is with people on this bus? This bus line can be particularly trying. There always seems to be someone yelling, someone with an attitude, someone angry at the world, someone smelly, someone talking to themselves, some dude trying to make eyes at you with a yellow-toothed smile. Sometimes, it’s overstimulating.
The woman and the toddler got off the bus just fine. No incidents. A few senior citizens boarded the bus at the same time. Stankface’s friend continued sitting her rathet ass in one of the seats reserved for the elderly. Might I remind you that I said the bus was standing room only? And stankfacefriend didn’t move? No respect.
As it turned out, the stankcrew had another friend on the bus. He was a real charmer. “Maaaan, them Oakland cops ain’t got nothin’ on me. I know how to work them!” Oh how lovely. Stankface and stank-less-face nodded in appreciation at his skill in avoiding the cops.
Finally, after what seemed an interminable amount of time, we arrived at my stop.
There were so many things I wanted to say to those girls as I disembarked. “Get an education. Go to an etiquette class. Control your heaving bosom! Unstank your face! You’re feeding into negative stereotypes. Stop throwing around the word ‘nigga’.” I resisted uttering these things as well as the urge to grin widely and say “Toodle-fucking-loo ratchet bitches!”
Instead, I got off the bus and thought about all the ways I could have behaved better. Stankface reminded me of bullies I’d dealt with when I was younger. It was as though my younger self took over, seeking vindication. Stankface touched a nerve, one that raise my self-defenses. I am not proud of how I allowed myself to be drawn into the madness. I am not proud of my judginess. I misbehaved. Try as I may and wish as I might, I am still not perfect.
*I am trying really hard to stop referring to some women as bitches. But, sometimes a bitch is a bitch is a bitch. Don’t come after me mega-feminists, I know.
Last night, my sister, my friend “Mercy” and I were on the bus returning from Oakland’s First Music Festival (a blast!). We were exhaustedly babbling, trying to figure out what to do for dinner (sleep sounded like a great option!) when a young guy behind us interjected:
“Excuse me ladies…”
Oh lord. Don’t let this be some lame line. I am too tired.
“Excuse me ladies, but I just have to tell you how refreshing it is to see three African-American women on this bus. On any bus here really.”
We all nodded laughed knowingly. We get it. There are so few of us here – particularly the young and upwardly mobile. You get so used to being the only one on the daily. It’s like we’re unicorns, aliens or endangered species; so, when you see another, it makes an imprint.
We chatted with him for a little while (he did, not-so-subtly, but charmingly, try to get one of our phone numbers indiscriminately) about the festival and his job at one of the museums in the City.
No numbers were exchanged, no wondrous epiphanies had, just a pleasant and notable encounter among strangers on a bus.
Side note: I’ve visited Oakland four or five times in the 11 months I’ve been living in San Francisco and I gotta say, Oakland just might be cooler than San Francisco. *Ducking flying objects*
If you listen to hip-hop these days, you’ve no doubt heard all the references to molly (basically ecstasy): “I Can’t Seem to Find Molly“, “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin‘” or maybe you’re even listening to Miley “cultural appropriation” Cyrus’ latest song. She sings about poppin’ mollies in “We Can’t Stop“. [She told producers she wanted “something that sounds black.” Girl, get your life! I give major side-eye to people who reduce blackness to the sliver of sub-culture of which they are aware. You need to diversify your black exposure. 13 million black Americans aren’t all the same. It’s like if Rihanna said she wants a “white” sound for her next album and had bagpipers all up in her video. Have a seat with your pancake booty that has no business twerking.]
My sister asked me to go with her to an album release party for Big Sean‘s album release party earlier this month. We arrived just in time to see him being hustled from his outdoor stage into Brooklyn Circus to sign CDs. The crowd was large, super hype and pushing and shoving trying to sneak in behind him. The bodyguards weren’t having it. It was a disorganized mess. No one seemed to know how we were supposed to get into the signing. Some people had wristbands, others didn’t. If there are two things I can’t stand: crowds & chaos. As the crowd started to form a line, I overheard this exchange between a girl who appeared to be in her early 20s and two older teenagers:
Girl: “Y’all want some pills?”
Boy 1: “You got mollies?”
Girl: “No, but I got those Obamas and McDonalds.”
Disappointed, the boys shook their heads no.
Obamas?! My sister joked, ‘That must be some Presidential-grade shit!”
I looked at my sister, pleading with my eyes to leave. This isn’t my crowd. I don’t pop mollies, Obama or McDonald’s. I am not here for that business. I’m too old for this shit. We didn’t get to see Big Sean perform, but we did see him. I didn’t need an up close and personal experience.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.