I Admit It: I Love L.A.

5 min read

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

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

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

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

My how things have changed.

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

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

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

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

It was exactly what I needed.

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

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

I scoffed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m so glad I went back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I returned to San Francisco, I felt reinvigorated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in the East Bay

6 min read

Damn my need to experience things for myself.

When I announced I was leaving Los Angeles and heading up to the Bay Area, a few people encouraged me to consider living in the East Bay.

[For those unfamiliar with the area, here’s a simple analogy. San Francisco is like Manhattan. It’s the flagship city of the area. Oakland is like Brooklyn, a sister city across the water, that is sometimes very underrated, a city ‘snooty’ residents of the flagship city wouldn’t consider even visiting, and one that has its diehard fans who will passionately defend its superiority.  It’s affordability. It’s lack of pretentiousness. Both cities are experiencing a growing gentrification that dismay it’s original residents and is often attributed to the uptick in the overflow people who can’t afford to live in Manhattan or San Francisco. Then there are the other ‘boroughs’ like Berkeley and other surrounding small towns. 

I should note that I am from Brooklyn.]

When I got a headache looking for apartments in the City, my very sweet friend, Kat, offered, “My friend has a great apartment in the East Bay! His rent is pretty good. I can ask him if there are vacancies in his building?”

“Thanks, but I don’t want to live in the East Bay. I don’t want to live to far from work. I want a short commute.” 

Another friend, Jackie, excitedly suggested, “You should move to East Bay. I love it here!”

“I’m sure it’s great, but I want to live in San Francisco at least for a year.”  I’m six months in. Some days I wonder if I should have just moved back to New York.

I’d been to some parts of the East Bay before like Emeryville, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, but I’d been wanting to explore more. So, when Jackie suggested we go for a hike one weekend and asked, “East Bay or the City?” I answered vehemently, “East Bay, I get enough of the City everyday!”

I met Jackie at a party four years ago in Los Angeles. She’s big into the outdoors and co-hosted an awesome hiking group through which I met several good friends.

Last Saturday I hopped on BART and met her in downtown Berkeley. Jackie gave me a micro-tour of the East Bay that I wish I could have had in San Francisco. Not a hokey, touristic double-decker bus ride, but the kind of tour only an enthusiastic resident can do justice. It was a great weekend for it with record-breaking high temperatures for this time of year (I believe somewhere in the 80s), which was perfect for me since I am sick of feeling cold and like I have to wear a parka all the time.

We began in Berkeley.

We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it's on private property!).
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it’s on private property!).

We hiked for about two hours in Tilden Park. On the hike, Jackie began her sales pitch of the East Bay. “So what do you look for in a city?” she asked.

“I don’t know, lots of things to do, culture, diversity, people with progressive views, friendly people, weather that’s not too hot or cold, great food options…”

She smiled at me with satisfaction and stated, “Hmm, that sounds like Berkeley.” It certainly was an appealing city.

After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It's a pizza collective! It's located in the ironically named "Gourmet Ghetto." They make one type of pizza per day.
After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It’s a pizza collective! It’s located in the ironically named “Gourmet Ghetto.” They make one type of pizza per day.
We visited the original Peet's Coffee location.
We visited the original Peet’s Coffee location.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It's been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It’s been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.

While in Berkeley, I played an habitual game of “I see black people.” As I take in my surroundings, I scan for others that look like me. It’s a way of quickly assessing just how much I may stand out and the probability of me needing to put on my self-protective armor. I don’t usually think about it much. Like I said, it’s habitual. But, after six months in San Francisco, I do it a lot. It’s not so I can segregate myself from others. I know other people of colors do it too. There is comfort in numbers. Jackie got in on the fun too, pointing out a cute black girl on our hike. I, of course, had seen her long before she neared us. Black-dar? I like when my non-black friends join me in the game. It indicates to me that they understand the crux of the issue or are at least sympathetic. If you’ve never had the experience of being the only obvious minority in a place, it may be hard to understand just how alienating it can feel. Berkeley’s makeup reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s, which is to say, I wasn’t impressed. However, when we crossed over into Oakland, there was a noticeable change in demographics. “I see MANY black people! And a black beauty supply! Hello Yaki!” Jackie grinned at me. Jackie is half-Latina, half-Armenian. Oakland has more than once been named “one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the US.”

We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: "Only Quality, Non-Mainstream, Beer Is Supported & Served!"
We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: “Only Quality, Non-Mainstream Beer Is Supported & Served!”

After Beer Revolution, we moved on to Heinhold’s where a quartet of locals joined us. (Friendly people? Check!) They had all once lived in San Francisco and didn’t like it. They said it’s full of rich hipsters. Or lame hipsters? Rich, lame hipsters? Either way, hipsters and unpleasant. They were ebullient with their love for Oakland and then realized they might be inadvertently encouraging yet another San Franciscan to invade their city and drive up the rent prices. I told them I wasn’t all that in love with the City and that it wasn’t the same city I first visited over a decade ago. They agreed.

I cannot express how comforting it felt to meet people who weren’t falling all over themselves to praise San Francisco. I felt validated.  I’m getting tired of defending my less-than-excited & surprising even to me, reaction to San Francisco.

Between the acrid reaction I had to my year in San Jose over a decade ago, and my almost daily tension with San Francisco, I was beginning to think I am allergic to the Bay Area. But, my jaunt to the East Bay gave me renewed hope. I am not quite ready to declare an impending move east, though I did feel immediately more comfortable in Oakland. There is still part of me that hopes to find this magical neighborhood in San Francisco that makes me love it and unable to entertain the thought of leaving.

I moved out of Los Angeles, in part, because I felt like my life was stagnating. In San Francisco, I am growing, learning, becoming a stronger person, yadayadayadaimtiredoflifelessons. My life is definitely not stagnant, so the city is giving me what I asked for. As I told Jackie, “I am glad I moved to SF first. Because, if I hadn’t, I know I’d always be wondering what it would have been like.” But, San Francisco better be careful not to push this “growing pains” stuff too far, cause the East Bay is waiting in the wings to swoop in and grab me. And for now, the rent is cheaper over there.

I leave you with a ditty I came up with on a day when I was particularly NOT in love with San Francisco. Forgive the language, I came up with it while in physical discomfort.

Sang to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”

It’s always fucking cold,

It’s always fucking cold,

What the hell is wrong with this place?

It’s always fucking cold!

 

How Are the Kitties?

1 min read

It’s always funny to me how, when catching up with friends, they’ll sometimes ask “So, how are the kitties?”

The answer is always a (thankfully) boring, “Oh, they’re good. Healthy.” But, why do we ask about each other’s pets? They are very simple creatures. They eat, drink, play, sleep, whine to eat more, shed, and find the only rug in a hardwood-floored apartment to vomit on because vomiting on the floor would make things easier for me to clean, and repeat.

Do we expect the answer will be something like this?

Fluffy RaccoonTail is busy hatching his plan to take down the internet’s latest cat darling, Colonel Meow. The Colonel’s arrogance and perma-sneer offends him. Also, like me, he likes to give back. So he’s set up a nonprofit to provide birdwatching opportunities for disadvantaged indoor cats with nothing better to watch out their windows except large dogs that are beneath them as a species and that, like fools with no damn sense, do everything humans tell them and silly humans carrying no food whom are therefore useless. He’s getting push-back from the bird lobby on his birding nonprofit. He says, they’re whining that “cats kill birds and shit.” Boo hoo, he says. I don’t know where he gets this attitude from. He is brilliant and the secondary income he brings in allows me to afford to eat in this city, since rent consumes all of my pay.

Bitchy VonScaredy-Cat has regressed further into bitchery and lame-assedness since the move from L.A. She’s actively working with her therapist to get the hell over herself. She’s decorated her bedroom, a cozy spot far under my bed, with furballs and dust. She hopes one day I will stop torturing her by trying to love her and clean her since the vet told me she’s too stupid to clean herself properly.

We are all very well, thanks for asking. One of my cats is awesome. Do you want the other one?

Kitties Got Swag
Kitties Got Swag

Being Kind to Myself

1 min read

We all have our moments of doubt, where we feel like we’re not good enough or pretty enough or whatever-it-is enough. This starts so early, this self-doubt. It becomes like a shadow that follows us around to rain on our parade from time-to-time. Trip us up. Cause us grief.

Sometimes we spend too much energy focused on what we don't like about ourselves, and not enough considering the positive. Here's what happened when I made it a focus to give the latter a try. | Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
I wrote myself a cheesy love letter
source

I decided rather than doing what is all-too-easy and focusing on what I don’t like about me, I’d take some time to think about what I do like.

I took an objective view (as much as this is possible) and considered what other people see when they meet me. How my friends feel when they are around me. What my dad thinks when he sees the woman I am now. What my younger sisters think when they think of their big sister. I’m someone’s aunt.

I wrote an ode to myself. I wrote about all the traits, qualities, experiences and inherent me-ness that makes me Keisha. As I reread it, I finished with, “You are beautiful.” And I believed it.

Of course, this is nothing new or groundbreaking. We’re told all the time to love and appreciate ourselves. But, this time, I wasn’t just repeating an empty mantra after watching a very inspirational episode of Oprah. I meant it.

I took the time to assess who I really am and how far I’ve come, and in the end concluded that I have a lot to be proud of, grateful for and to like about myself. I truly like who I am, the good, the bad and the shameful. I’ll never be perfect, as hard I may try, but I think this woman full of imperfections is pretty cool.

Try it. I’m curious to hear your results.

You’ve Got a Friend…in San Francisco?

14 min read

I officially have my first San Francisco friend! I’m a couple of weeks shy of my 6-month marker of living in the City and I can now boast a new friend. This friend was hard-earned. I am not a hermit, I am not shy, I smile at strangers, I say nice things to people, I shower regularly and smell good. Should be a friend magnet, right? No.  Hhhhheeelll no.

I couldn’t even get hit on here. Usually if there’s one thing I can count on in life, it’s that a creepy guy with no sense of personal boundaries will hit on me. Not only did I feel friendless, but ugly. Maybe I don’t smell as good as I think I do.

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
The city is pretty cool, but what about the people?

As I often do when I have questions about life, I turned to Google. Google, why is it so hard to meet people and make friends in San Francisco? Google had all kinds of answer for me from the condescendingly unhelpful (“It’s so easy! Just get of your house and talk to people.” Shut. Up.) to a post titled, “Top 10 Reasons I Hate San Francisco. The reasons listed didn’t really resonate with me and I believe it was written with humorous intent. However, the comments section was a revelation. In a city where some residents seem to have a cult-like passion and exuberance for said city – akin to the insane levels of excitement you’d find in Oprah’s audience on a “My Favorite Things” show; nobody is giving you a car, calm down – I was surprised to find this seemingly small faction of San Francisco dissenters. One commenter stated:

I also loved the city when I first moved here (because I was still a tourist), but it got worse over time, not better. I have lived in San Francisco for two years now, and I hate it more than I ever did. Don’t get me wrong – I love the city and the bay area, but the people really suck here. I have never met so many cold, distant, unfriendly, rude, selfish, insular, stuck up people in one place! The east bay is a little better, but not much.

Cold. Distant. Unfriendly. Insular. I felt all those things.

Another commenter added:

I have never felt more strongly about something in my life. San Francisco is extremely clicky[sic]. It could take 2 years to get on the inside of a click because people are so distant and self preserving and guarded. Everyone has their forcefield up and it is designed to keep you out, along with everyone else they don’t know. My advice would be not to bother. Just cut your losses and leave now before you get bitter about the people here.

Hmm. Sounded like people at work. I could also feel the bitterness building. This anonymous poster was speaking directly to me.

For advice, I called an L.A. friend who moved to Seattle almost two years ago. At a party, if I’m cracking wise in a small group, she is

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
Not just the city that’s cold?

the party. If anyone could give me advice on making friends, she could. She told me about the “Seattle Freeze.” The Seattle Freeze is a newer term for the feelings of exclusion and insularity newbies feel from Seattleites. She theorized that Seattle residents encounter so many transplants, it tires them; they become desensitized and seek refuge in their cliques. Others blame: the Norwegians?

She admitted that after only a year and a half, having been adopted into a couple of cliques, she was guilty of perpetuating the ice-out. I don’t think we have an above-average number of Norwegians here, but it sounds like San Francisco to me. She reassured me that I was doing all the right things: saying yes to (most) invitations, trying to infiltrate cliques, taking initiative and extending invitations to people, being friendly when I’m out and joining activities. Just one thing though: it’s going to take time. I hate time. Take your time and shove it! Time is never on my side. When I’m lying prone on the floor, bawling and rolling around, desperately wishing for the heart-squeezing pain to end, because some guy broke my heart, the clock ticks like it’s mocking me. Hours seems to take years to pass. Snails laugh as they sail by. On the other hand, when I’m on vacation, thinking how much I love life and never want to leave, and why can’t I have Beyonce-money and just travel all the time, suddenly time is on speed, running as fast as it can, like it’s a damn race. Jerk.

Time. Ugh. But, it is what it is (don’t you hate when people say that?).

During this time, there are four avenues I’ve taken toward making friends – with varying levels of success.

Work

Some will warn you against making friendly with co-workers. I say bullshit. Several of my closest friends are former co-workers. I wouldn’t give them back. Just be smart about whom you associate with and trust. The heifer down the hall that gives you looks that say she hopes you fall on your face in a pool of acid-rain wastewater and is constantly throwing others under the bus, is not a good candidate for friendship.

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
How I sometimes feel in San Francisco. Photo cr: kainr, flickr.com

The weekend after the torturous wine-tasting with the private social club, I was feeling particularly black and tired. At less than 6%, San Francisco’s black population is the smallest I’ve ever been among, having lived in seven other major US cities. The city has been hemorrhaging so many black folks in the past 40 years, a task force was created to determine the cause and nip it. It’s weeeiird. I’ve written before about how I feel people treat and approach (or don’t approach me) me differently here. Crystal Sykes wrote a thoughtful piece about hipster racism in San Francisco and how awkward it can be as the only black person among a group of friends (read the comments; the discussion is fascinating). As a black male friend and former Berkeley resident summed up:

“…I always would think it’s just in my head or I’m being hypersensitive, until I would leave the Bay Area. Despite being the only Black person I saw in my several trips to Santa Fé, NM, everyone there made me feel like I belonged – and it wasn’t at all forced. I merely concluded that they made everyone feel like they belonged there, and that was just the culture. But I was suspicious that I had a doppelgänger in Santa Fé who had been a longtime resident, and everyone thought I was him. Los Angeles, New York, even Houston – none of those places gave me that out-of-place feeling that shopping at Andronico’s on Shattuck in North Berkeley or waiting in line at Cheeseboard pizza gave me. Only on campus or on Telegraph Avenue was that feeling relatively absent. It’s such a subtle thing, and virtually impossible to explain to someone who isn’t experiencing it, but cumulatively it weighs on you.”

Amen.

In December, I wrote about going dancing with one of my co-workers, whom I’ll refer to as Mercy since I am listening to the song as I write this. She is also the first co-worker who mercifully extended a hand of friendship to me when I was aching for human interaction two months in. After the dancing night, we’ve had lunch at work a few times and were friendly. But, recently our budding friendship hit a major milestone: self-disclosure.

I ran into her in the office the weekend after the wine tasting fail. Mercy is also black (one of the 3% in the company) . When she asked me about my weekend I told her about the wine tasting weirdness. Then, I blurted out, “I have to ask you something…how do you deal with being one of so few black professionals in San Francisco? I just don’t know if I can take this or want to take this.” We chatted about it for a little while, but we had to get back to work.

The following weekend, I received a surprise text from her saying, “We need to finish our conversation about being black in SF.” A weekend text out of the blue? This is MAJOR. It was particularly poignant given I’d just finished eating lunch at a restaurant, alone. She asked if I wanted to grab tea and continue our chat. We met in Japantown at the cutest tea shop/café and I just exhaled a lot of the stress I’d been feeling over the past 4-5 months. She totally got it. She said that after over 7 years of living here, she’s gotten used to it, for better or worse. She relies on her friends for support. Her friends treat her like Mercy, not black Mercy.

It wasn’t all about me though. I am not that person. She disclosed some stuff of her own, which I will not be sharing for the sake of her privacy. Tea led to us seeing a movie (Life of Pi) and tentative plans for all the cool things we can do in the future. It was like a cool, awesome date. We’ve hung out since then too (and did some more self-disclosing). I like her. She’s intelligent, thoughtful, fun and has an appealing mix of openness and strength that I don’t encounter often enough. She’s affable and she’s my new friend. And look what I came in to work to find from her one Monday morning!

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
How sweet is this?

The group of girls I went to happy hour with a couple of months ago, have continued extending happy hour invites. A few months ago people were rudely discussing their excitement, in my presence, about the happy hour I wasn’t invited to after work. Now, I am regularly being invited to happy hours (By a different group. I didn’t want to hang out with those other people anyway. Humph!). They remind me of some of my friends from college.

I sit in a new prison cube and my current neighbors are much more sociable than the former. The old neighbors were (mostly) nice enough, but quiet. Silence makes the day draaaaaag. On one side of my new seat, is a woman around my age from a country in Latin America. She’s been in the US for less than two years. She is very expressive, open, a close-talker, somewhat unfiltered and effervescent. I was drawn to her pretty immediately because I loved her energy and she also seemed open to friendship.

She often (hilariously) laments to me how she doesn’t understand people here. But, “here” for her is the United States. She’s only ever lived in San Francisco. Having lived in several different cities across multiple states, I felt quite confident in telling her: This is San Francisco; the bizarro behavior you just witnessed is not generalizable to the US as a whole. We’re both feeling like fish out of water, but for different reasons. It’s comforting having her to talk to when I have those “WTF?!” moments. On the other side is my neighbor who wants to put *NSYNC posters up on our shared wall. I could not be happier…with my neighbors.

Private Social Club

You will not be advancing on my tour of friendship.Get off my bus. Bye.

My Friend Has a Friend

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
My friend, L, arrived in San Francisco when I was really missing the comforts of home. Mood booster x 10.

I am so in love with my other friends (and my family) right now. They have been the biggest source of support for me during this adjustment. Whether it be supportive comments on my blog posts, Skype chats, phone calls, emails or visits, I have never been more grateful for the knowledge that someone else out there cares about me. A few of my friends have kindly offered to hook me up with other friends they have in the City. There’s no guarantee that your friends will like each other. I have friends from all kinds of groups and I know some of them do not like the others. Hehe.

When my L.A. friend “E” came up for a visit, she introduced me to her former co-worker, J, at brunch. It didn’t take long for me to like J. Her energy is enviable. If I could bottle her into a trendy energy-drink I’d have baller money. The feeling seemed mutual as we exchanged emails and phone numbers that day. I’ve made plans with J for a follow-up brunch. So, there’s potential.

One of my L.A. girlfriends/co-worker/work wife moved up here two months before I did. We actually work at the same company – again – but, in different departments. Unfortunately, she has some family stuff going on and a boyfriend that’s kept her busy, so we surprisingly haven’t seen each other much. Though that is changing. I’m so thankful she was here to celebrate my birthday with me! She grew up in the Bay Area and knows some people here. She’s shared one of her friends with me, another former Angeleno who owns a trendy boutique in the city. I like that she’s not in tech as I’m starting to really tire of tech people (if I never hear the word “start-up” again…). She seems to know an interesting blend of people and set up a good social network for herself in the few years she’s been here.

Girlfriend Circles

Girlfriend Circles has been the best route for making friends, of the XX variety at least.

I’ve been on the site for just about two months and met some really dynamic women. I moved here in hopes of meeting, um, more uh, intellectual people (I’m not saying they don’t exist in L.A., some of them are my friends!) and I definitely have with this group. During one dinner I was grouped with two published authors, one of whom was also a chocolatier (seriously, how many people can claim that as a career!), a software engineer, a physician and a paralegal. They were all in my age group as many events are segmented by age; it really helps. It was a fun and engaging dinner and we all agreed we’d like to meet up again as a group.

In addition to attending official “circles”, I’ve hung out with some of the girls outside of the circles , after the initial meets – which is ultimately the point.

There’s M- (the paralegal) and Ra-(also a software engineer), whom I met around the same time and had met each other a couple of months prior. They’re chill and down-to-earth. I’ve gone hiking and to dinners with them.

CC is an enigma to me. She’s an accountant by profession, but loves to sing and listen to opera. She’s quirky and dresses fabulously avant-garde. It’s fun to see what she’ll wear next. I have a feeling she’s not for everyone, but I think she’s interesting. We went out to have dessert one night and she casually mentioned Kim Kardashian. I have never been so happy to hear that vacuous girl’s name. Yeah, I like to be intellectual and hoity-toity and all, but I am also the girl who loves her US Weekly. A good pop-culture chat does an overly-taxed mind good (spending all day in a staid corporate environment, where I have to be on my best behavior all the day long, means I need some levity and fun outside of work). You can also combine the two and arrogantly wax on about how Kim’s popularity represents the downfall of societal values.

The dinner group had scheduled a brunch for a couple of weekends later. Unfortunately, only Jo, H-, Ra- and I could make it. Brunch was fun; the conversation flowed freely. Ra- had to leave early, but the rest of us lingered awhile after the bill was paid. We somehow ended up on the topic of shopping (go figure) and decided to check out the shops in Jo’s neighborhood. At one store,  I found a hot pair of shoes and as I debated buying them, they both encouraged me to go for it since they were on sale and so cute. These are my kind of girls: shopping enablers. After shopping, Jo invited H- and I to her apartment for a drink. We spent the next few hours planted on her comfortable chairs, listening to music, and chatting about all manner of topics: cooking, dating, marriage, careers and how I think I’m having an early mid-life crisis. They were amused by my random knowledge from falling into Wikipedia holes. It was supportive, engaging, funny and comfortable.

Making friends in a new city can be tough - especially in San Francisco. | Read more from "You've Got a Friend in San Francisco" on  The Girl Next Door is Black
These make me happy

I knew this trio really had potential when we were talking about cutting the cord from expensive cable and H- said, “I want to get rid of cable, but I need Bravo.” She didn’t say it ironically and pretend like she would never dare watch such treacle. She was sheepish, but owned it. Did I mention I’m a Real Housewives junkie? I’m an OG viewer. I started with episode one of The Real Housewives of Orange County all those years ago. She’s more into Top Chef, but I can dig it. I love good food, but it frustrates me to watch people cooking good food on TV that I can’t eat with them! Bravo disciples know there is something not right with the hold that station has on their viewing habits, but most of us accept it, ignore our feelings of cognitive dissonance and tune in. Jo, H- and I hung out again this weekend and had just as much fun as the last time. This shows promise, but I’m not counting my chickens just yet…

I’m nearing the point where I’ll have to shift focus from meeting new people to building the friendships I’m developing. It’s already becoming a challenge to fit in repeat dates with the new dates. I understand what Rachel Bertsche meant in MWF Seeking BFF. It’s a great problem to have though; it certainly beats sitting at home contemplating ways to reuse all the fur my cats shed (I’ve got nothin’!). Besides, meeting new people all the time is exhausting. However, I’m not going to pull it back just yet. This is just the beginning. It’s finally starting to become fun. I am hopeful and curious to see what’s in store over the next few months on my tour of friendship.

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Making Friends: Paying Dues

17 min read

Much like dating, the search for friends is filled with highs and lows, wins and losses. If you’re lucky, you meet your soulmate(s) right out of the gate. Unfortunately – and probably more likely – you end up wading through a lot of muck in search of your new mate(s).

I joined a “private social club” a few weeks ago. I read about it in a blog post on ways to meet people in San Francisco. I didn’t know such things existed outside of Ivy League enclaves, the East Coast and thrillers where club members are evil and plot to kill each other. The idea intrigued me. It sounded like a co-ed frat for grown folks.  Could be awesome, could be horrible.

I applied on their website and the next day received a call from a member coordinator for a brief phone screening. She asked me basics like why I was joining (I’m new to SF and largely friendless), what I was looking for (friends, obvs) and what adventures I like to do for fun (most things that don’t involve heights, but even then…). I passed and made it through to the hour-long phone interview with a member rep.

Making friends as an adult in a new city has it's ups and downs and is similar to dating in that way. You have to meet a lot of people before you find your "tribe." Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
I’m ready for adventure!

I should have known from the awkward conversation I had with the member rep that no good could come from this endeavor. You know how you can talk to someone and you just don’t vibe? They don’t laugh when things are clearly funny, because it’s a given that you are hilarious; they aren’t really listening to you because they ask you questions that you’ve previously answered and there are uncomfortably long pauses that leave you going, “Uh, hello, are you still there?” Work with me dude; it takes two to have a conversation!

Despite the laughably unfun interview, I did well enough to garner an invitation to join the club. I accepted, as they sold me with their 30-40 scheduled events a month, promise of adventure (kayaking! hiking! skydiving! trips to Belize!) and, of course, potential new friends (median age of members is 35). They boast a member roster numbering in the hundreds. Visions of my future awesome life flashed before my eyes.

There is a three-week membership trial period. During that period if you attend three events in your first three weeks and don’t like it, you can opt-out and get a refund.

Oh yeah. That. None of this “awesomeness” is free. There’s a one-time initiation fee and a monthly fee, like with a gym membership. I figured, worst comes to worst, I’m out the first month’s fee.

It’s been a month. I’ve attended all three events and, well, you can guess whether I jumped ship.

Event One

Wine tasting in Santa Rosa. Eight hours spent with strangers.

I like people. When I’m not hating the awful things we do to each other (Steubenville, ugh), I find us fascinating. From that perspective, more often than not, I can find a common thread to connect with people I meet. I met a mathematician a few weeks ago. I hate math. It’s an awful subject put on this earth to make my life more difficult and drag down my SAT scores in high school. Yet, he and I had a fun conversation. But, during this event, I was at a loss.

When I showed up at the designated meeting spot, three of the group of 10 who’d signed up were seated at a table in a nearby restaurant. “We ordered mimosas!” the enthusiastic hostess told me (each event has a host). I joined the group at the table. They were engrossed in a dull conversation (I don’t even remember what about, dust or some shit). The lone male made a joke about Chinese food that I thought was vaguely racist. However, I couldn’t be sure. Let the fun begin! I wanted to like him, but his social skills were questionable, which made it tough. No one acknowledged my presence.

The mimosas arrived: three glasses for three people. The waiter was off before I could ask for one myself. No one, but me, cared about my mimosa conundrum. Fifteen minutes after my arrival, one of the especially chatty women, who spoke with a Kathleen Turner-esque rasp, stopped talking and laughing at her own “jokes” (I think they were meant to be jokes, but they weren’t funny, so who knows?) for a nanosecond. I introduced myself. They gave me their names and continued their conversation about mothballs or the fur that grows on kiwi. Kathleen Turner-rasp and her female buddy became the dominators of the group that day with their incessant chatter and over-the-top enthusiasm for all things uninteresting; this was not a good thing.

Filling out the group was a trio of two men and a woman, hippie-ish types, who mostly kept to themselves; a woman who was either 45 or 54 and seemed incredibly and uncomfortably (for others) insecure, which is very unappealing in a person over the age of 30.

[An aside: I have a natural inclination to take in social outcasts. Perhaps it’s from having moved around so much and repeatedly having the experience of being the new girl trying to fit in. I hate for anyone to feel left out or bullied. But, it’s dangerous. More than once I’ve ended up with an overly attached, energy-sucking, take-everything-too-personally friend that I have to remove from my life with a surgical knife.]

I had to keep my distance from madame insécurité.

Lastly was a very perplexing youngish woman. She could have been an extra in The Craft, but, when she spoke, she could have passed for ditzy-ish sorority girl. She wore black thigh-high garter belt-ready tights, thick black clogs and a dark black suede dress. Throughout the day I wondered if she was hot. I was hot in lighter colors. She seemed nice enough, but we weren’t a match. I’m also pretty sure I was the youngest person of the group and I am no calf.

Making friends as an adult in a new city has it's ups and downs and is similar to dating in that way. You have to meet a lot of people before you find your "tribe." Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Hook & Ladder Winery

A few years ago, I realized I’d developed an allergy to wine. It’s generally not worth it to me to put myself through the pain and suffering wine-ingesting causes. I’ve always been more of a beer or vodka girl anyhow, so don’t feel pity for me. But, this was the only event of the week I could attend.

Despite the allergies, at each winery I tried to drink copious amounts of sample-wine, knowing I’d pay dearly for it later, especially that spiteful red wine. I wished I could have just suckled straight from the barrels. Unfortunately, we were wine tasting, not wine guzzling, so I had to maintain some decorum. I needed to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible to deal with this… day.

At the last winery I’d finally drank enough to increase my patience by a tenth. I made chit-chat with the host, who hails from a state I’ve not yet visited and find curious. As such, I peppered her with questions. I actually liked her, but as she’s employed by the club, her job isn’t to find friends.

Kathleen Turner-rasp’s pal joined our conversation. Inevitably, my “favorite” question was posed, “How do you like San Francisco?” with the familiar tone that indicates the expected response is, “OMGitssoawesomeIloveit bestcityever, go hipsters!” I gave her my standard spiel about how it’s an adjustment and it’s weird that there are only four other upwardly mobile black people in the city and people get all “OMG, a black person who speaks “well” and has a white-collar job, I don’t know how to handle it!” (Or perhaps I just said it could get uncomfortable at times, people treat me differently, etc.)

She replied with this gem:“But, doesn’t it make you feel special?” In my head, I bitch-slapped some sense into her; in real life I laughed, trying hard to contain my derision and answered, “Nope, I would rather feel normal just like everyone else.” I don’t have a lot of patience for people who I think don’t take the time to see the world from outside of their personal prism.

You try feeling “special” for years on end and see how fast that gets old. (“Does your skin get darker in the sun?” “Did you get your job by affirmative action?” “Oh your dad has his PhD? I don’t know why I assumed he’s got a blue collar job.” “Can I touch your hair? It’s so cool!”)

Although, she could be on to something. If I’m special, I need to act like it. “Bow down, bitches,” indeed. I’ll demand reverence wherever I roam. At work, I can refuse to do the things I think are beneath me because “I’m special.” I should be getting a discount on my rent because, dammit, I’m special. They’re lucky I deign to live in their building!

I felt hostage in the van on the ride up and back. I was forced to listen to adult contemporary music, which, in my view, induces premature aging and thus terrifies me. They didn’t seem like the Top 40 crowd (I wouldn’t have dared gone as far as hip-hop) so I didn’t object; it wasn’t worth expelling the energy. I suffered in silence.

I later found out one of the hippie-ish guys found Kathleen Turner-rasp and pal, as well as most of the rest of the group, equally annoying. This explains why he and his trio opted out of dinner after wine tasting. I also opted out of dinner. Fuck no, I wasn’t sitting through more of this torture. As we parted ways, the host said she hoped to see me again with a knowing look. She had to have known it wasn’t the best.event.ever! for me.

When I got home, I hugged my cat and my couch. Ah, comfort.

Event Two

Moroccan Dinner

Well, it was supposed to be a Moroccan dinner – one of their more calm events. The day of the event, the hostess (a different one) called and informed they cancelled the dinner. “We’re all going to Bar X to celebrate a member’s birthday.” I didn’t know the member from a random on the bus. But, I had three events to attend and this was the only one I could make that week.

When I arrived at the bar, the hostess texted me that they were on the patio. The patio was packed. She told me they were seated next to a guy in a giant tophat, so I approached a group with a man wearing a large Uncle Sam hat. They were not part of the club. You mean to tell me there is more than one dude here wearing an oversized attention-seeking costume hat? The answer is yes.

As I made my way through the crowded patio looking for them, a giant elbowed me in the head. Okay, perhaps he wasn’t a giant, but at 5’1”, anyone above 5’10” is gigantic. He had to have been at least 6’4”. He didn’t apologize, so I gave him a look that said, “Mofo, you WILL be apologizing.” Instead, he patted me on the head(!), the way you would pat a curious, precocious child on the head as you tell them to be on their merry way. I’m a grown ass woman and this asshole just patted me on the head. I glowered and kept it moving.

I finally found the hostess. Part of the hostess’s job is to introduce you to the group and help you to not feel alone. She quickly introduced me to five people and then stated, “Ok, I am heading out with my friend. Have fun!”

Great. You’ve introduced me to five people, one of whom is the middle-aged low self-esteem (LSE) woman from the wine trip. Another is the guy who head-bowed me and then child-patted me. He also happens to be the birthday guy and guest of honor. Awkward!

Given my options, the fact that LSE was talking to a black woman (the only other black person I saw) and my new hobby since moving to San Francisco is collecting black people, I joined her group. LSE was enthusiastically retelling the saga of her broken hip and its healing.

Here’s the difference between a simple injury and aging: when you’re young and have a simple injury it’s usually because you’ve for instance, blown out your knee from overzealous, improper running. When you’re aging, if you break a hip, it’s because your body is like, “Look, hon, we’ve been around a while. Shit’s about to start breaking down. All that abuse you piled on me in your youth is coming back for you. Body karma. Get ready!” She was describing the latter.

I had nothing to contribute as my hips are fine. The black woman walked away shortly after we exchanged greetings, having seen an old friend. I desperately looked around for people to talk to who appeared to be my age. No one from the club. It would probably have looked bad if I joined a whole group of strangers not-related to the group instead. I stayed put and pretended to be interested.

There appeared to be only one waitress working the patio. She was nowhere to be seen for 20 minutes. When I finally flagged her down, she hurriedly told me she’d return. I waited for another 20 minutes. In that time, I continued pretending to be fascinated by unstimulating conversations while I daydreamed of the more interesting places I wished I was. Finally, I told the group, “I’m going to see if I can track down a waitress.” I headed toward the bar, walked out of the restaurant and straight to my bus stop.

Bye people, just bye. I’m not exactly proud of that behavior, but I hate feeling trapped.

Making friends as an adult in a new city has it's ups and downs and is similar to dating in that way. You have to meet a lot of people before you find your "tribe." Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Oh sweet, sweet, alcohol – how you help make awkward social situations a little bit better.

Event Three

Barbecue

I was weary and full of low expectations for this third (and last?) event. On their website, they hail it as a great way for members, especially new ones, to mingle and enjoy some grilled grub. I arrived 45-minutes after start time to find a pitiful scene of just five people, including the blonde guy who made the vaguely racist joke from the wine tasting; a really loud older man who was practically shouting at the middle-aged woman sitting right in front of him and a little yappy dog.

Each day, I grow to dislike yappy, tiny dogs less and less. I blame the brainless, socialite-wannabes who carry them around like accessories, as well as the dogs’ generally annoying predilection for acting like they are bigger than they are and yapping with their laughably tiny little barks. I know how it is to be little and want to make sure people take you seriously. I get it. But, you don’t see me yelling at people bigger than I in a wee voice as I puff up my chest and preen. (There is one adorable chihuahua in Austin who is like my dog-niece. I adore her. She is exempt.)

There was no food ready and the cash bar hadn’t been set up yet. Oh, yes, the cash bar. Despite the not-insignificant initiation fee and the monthly dues, they charged a nominal amount for beverages, though food was included.

I tried to make conversation with the blonde, but it was painful. It was like he was wearing Keisha-repellent; I just could not like him. Finally, about an hour and fifteen minutes after start time, the cash bar was set up. The beer options were Heineken and Pacifico which is like Mexican Bud Light – water. Having thrown a party or ten in my life, I know that if you’re going to provide few beer options, at least choose one light and one dark for variety. I’ve nothing against Heineken, but I resent paying for one of two beer options.

The older man with a penchant for yelling announced to the women at the bar with delight, “Hey ladies, I’ve got a chick drink for you. It’s called a winemarita! Harharhar!” He laughed loudly and proudly at his comedy. Lame and offensive: two traits I love in potential new friends. I ignored him and my desire to “show him” by asking for a big-ass glass of scotch and asked for a Heineken, which I finished in about 10 minutes and had to ask for another. Oh, what I would have done for a Belgian ale right about then.

Making friends as an adult in a new city has it's ups and downs and is similar to dating in that way. You have to meet a lot of people before you find your "tribe." Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Now *this* is a beer selection! (I took this photo when I visited Bruges, Belgium a few years ago.)

I ended up in conversation with a woman whom I found out is 55. I am not ageist, (here comes my, “I am not _____, my best friend is _____” qualifier) one of my dearest friends is nearing 70. But, I am not looking for sexagenarian clique (or in this case, a quinquagenarian clique) any more than she wants to actively seek a crew of thirty-somethings whining about how old they are when they don’t even know how good they have it.

I was just beyond frustrated that while they claimed their median member age is 35, I seemed to only meet members well above the line. I asked her why she joined the club. She was recently divorced and looking to meet people as a newly single woman. As she told me about the first disastrous event she attended (only three people showed up for what was supposed to be a medium-sized event) and mentioned the founder called her to see if he could assuage her concerns about the club, I detected more than a hint of bitterness. She didn’t seem anymore excited about this motley crew than I.

She suggested a couple of non-meetup organizations I can join centered around travel and philanthropy, my twin loves. We talked for about half an hour. While she was interesting enough, I wanted to mingle to make sure I gave this club a fair shot. We broke and I make a beeline for a group of people who looked to be around my age. I heard them talking about skydiving. A guy protested, “But, it’s $300 to do it!” A woman rebutted, “No it’s not, it’s like $50!” Upon noticing my arrival, he put his fingers to his mouth, looked at the group, looked at me and then motioned, “Shhhhh.”

I think two things about this. First, homie is freaking rude. Second, what kind of sketchville stuff is going on here? I remember noticing the large discrepancy between what I paid for the wine tasting three weeks ago and what I read the event actually costs for the general public. Were they discussing the club’s markup on skydiving? And newbie me may just have overheard discussion of their sketchy practices to generate more income? I didn’t give a flip. I don’t have patience for ridiculous rudeness. I said with annoyance, “Ohhhhkaaaaaay then,” and walked off.

I chatted with another woman briefly, who was nice enough, but clearly painfully shy and I didn’t have the energy to be the one making most of the conversation. Someone announced that some food was ready. Great, I was hungry after drinking all that Heineken! I walked down into the backyard to find fresh off the rack, grilled chicken. No burgers, no hot dogs and a few sausages. Who the hell leads a barbecue with chicken?! The most boring meat on the planet?! Nobody comes to a barbecue for chicken! Very few Americans invite you over to their house for a barbecue and try to tantalize potential guests with the lure of boring-ass chicken. Where are the damned dead cows?! We have a ton of cows all over the state. I’ve seen them, go to the Central Valley!

I grabbed a sausage and walked over to a young Japanese guy. He told me he just arrived in the US a couple of days ago and he and his friends/classmates are here for a few months to study. Again, agreeable enough, but I am not trying to befriend people who have a definite departure date. I have enough friends in other cities and countries. That is not the problem.

Making friends as an adult in a new city has it's ups and downs and is similar to dating in that way. You have to meet a lot of people before you find your "tribe." Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
Boring-ass meat

I headed back upstairs to make one more round. I saw another woman my age. She looked oddly SoCal-ish, wearing a light cover-up top over a bikini, long shorts and flip-flops. I asked her, “Did you just come from the beach?” She replied, “No. It’s just comfortable.”

What.in.THE.hell?!

Far be it from me to judge someone’s comfort fashion, but is it not a little odd to wear a bikini around when you aren’t doing anything remotely related to water? And San Francisco is almost always chilly after 4pm?

She then asked me, “Are you wearing one too?” I looked down at my outfit: an obvious tank-top underneath a sweater, jeans and boots. What exactly led her to believe I share her interesting choice of comfort wear?

I decided I was through. I gave it a shot. I stayed for almost two hours, mingled with various groups of people and played nice. As it happens, the member coordinator who initially screened me into this club, was doubling as bartender. I told her I was leaving and to avoid lying I casually mentioned I had other plans (my other plans were not being in that clubhouse, but at home, sitting on my ass, catching up on the week’s DVR’d shows).

She loudly asked, “Keisha, what’s your next event?!” She knew it was my third event and could be my final. I mumbled something about having to look at the calendar. She yelled out a few of the upcoming events. I repeated that I’d check out the calendar. I knew damn well by that point that I was never coming back. I had no intention of putting myself through more painfully dull and/or aggravating situations with that group. I can meet weird, awkward people lacking in social skills for free.

As I walked out, a true giant walked in. He had to be at least 7’ tall. Sorry dude, I won’t be around to hear the sure-to-be-told tired jokes about how the “air is up there.”

The next day, I prepared my cancellation letter.

There you have it. I’m out of the club. These encounters qualify as the lows of friend-finding. But with lows come highs, of which there have been a promising few, and which balance out all the fuckery of the lows. To be continued…

A Friending Frenzy

10 min read

Friendship Knot in Little Tokyo, photo by Sam Howzit, flickr.com
Friendship Knot in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, photo by Sam Howzit, flickr.com

I’ve been living in San Francisco a little over four months. I had five immediate goals when I arrived:

  1. Unpack box-partment and decorate within six weeks of move in – Did it in five.
  2. Don’t get fired (or maybe it was “do well at work”. Still, end result is, don’t get fired.)– still employed
  3. Find a gym – found
  4. Make friends – well, see…so…but I, err…
  5. Possibly finally trade in bitchy, useless, freeloading, ungrateful second cat.*

 *still debating this one

The sun loooves SoCal!
The sun loooves SoCal!

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are going well. Number 4 hasn’t been as smooth, which I foolishly did not anticipate. When I moved to San Francisco, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. In just two months, those feelings were replaced by boohoo and what the hell did I do?! Los Angeles was a perfectly fine place with beautiful weather, wearing of open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops almost year around and a world I understand, for good and for bad. I miss my friends, my burger places, Koreatown, ramen, mid-priced quality sushi, seeing and hearing Spanish everywhere, cheaper rent and not sobbing when I write out my rent check and not being the only upwardly mobile black person for miles. So what if I felt suicidal in traffic some days? There are plenty of doctors willing to prescribe me drugs to handle those emotions!

I get asked a lot whether I like it here. Sure, it’s a beautiful city. But so are many others I’ve been to or lived in. What’s got to make San Francisco stand out from the places I’ve lived and visited is the people. My default answer is usually, “I don’t know yet,” and I’ll explain that I’ve found it difficult to meet people. I’m either met with looks of confusion (how is it possible that you don’t love it here?!), nods of understanding and agreement or the not at all novel: “Have you tried meetup?” An L.A. friend who is a former SF resident shared that it can be hard to break into a clique in San Francisco, but once you do, the friendships you make will be more genuine than you’ll find in Los Angeles. That’s…comforting?

Playing Nice

Volunteering a couple of weeks ago, I went out for lunch after with some of the other volunteers. I met a lifelong Bay Area resident who, once I told her I moved here from L.A., delighted in telling me how much she hated SoCal and the people in it. “They’re so fake.” You know how you can talk all kinds of shit about your crazy uncle who wrecks family events on the regular, but let someone outside of the family chime in and you’re cracking your knuckles, ready to throw down? That was me; hiding my hands under the table. can talk shit about L.A. all day. I earned that right as a long-term resident. She, however, visited once or twice and dismissed it. Humph! 

“What are you unsure about?” she asked me.

“Well, it’s supposed to be diverse here, but there are no black people here (I waved my hand around the black-less the restaurant as I said this) and that’s kind of uncomfortable for me.”

I laughed to lighten the weight of my words. Uncomfortable chuckles from the group followed. It’s funny how awkwardly some people react when a minority brings up race, especially blackness. Sometimes I just wanna say, “Blackitty black black afro negro blackish black black blaaaaack. I AM BLACK! Feel better? Now can we move past your discomfort and talk about this?” It’s like they’re afraid you’re gonna know they secretly rap the “n-word” in hip-hop songs when no one black is around. The SoCal-hater had an immediate solution to my discomfort, “It’s plenty diverse here. Just go to the Tenderloin. Ha!” I thought to myself, “Did this chick really just tell me to go to the Tenderloin to see black people? The Tenderloin where everyone warns you away from due to the huge likelihood of being asked repeatedly for money, seeing someone pooping on the sidewalk or seeing a drug deal go down, Tenderloin? Does she think it feels good for my soul to see downtrodden black people?”

I told her, “Yeahhhh, there’s that…but, I think we have different interests.” This dumb, clueless chick. Diversity isn’t just about counting numbers of people of the same group. How well are those people represented and integrated among the population being measured? I just can’t with her foolishness. But, when meeting new people it’s better just to grin and bear it, put on your happy face and complain to your out-of-town friends about her flippant tone. I don’t tell her I’ve heard complaints that San Franciscans can be snooty and pretentious and that her bitchery isn’t helping to disprove that stereotype. Be nice now, save Keisha Fierce for later. 

Guerilla Socializing

MWF Seeking BFF - reading this reminded me just how much I appreciate the wonderful friends I have
MWF Seeking BFF – reading this reminded me just how much I appreciate the wonderful friends I d0 have

In response to one of my posts a few weeks ago, a blog reader suggested I check out Rachel Bertsche’s blog (thanks!), which led me to her book: MWF Seeking BFF (I recommend it if you’re in the friend-shopping business). In the non-fiction book, Rachel is a late twenty-something relatively new to Chicago, having moved there to be with her husband. Upon realizing she’s lonely and lacking in close girlfriends, she vows to go on one new friend date a week for a year. Throughout the book she details – often hilariously – the women she meets and their dates. Interspersed throughout the book are interesting friendship factoids and tidbits such as: “minorities are more open to friends outside their race than white people are” (ch. 7). Did I mention that San Francisco is almost 50% white? Oh, this will be fun. Good thing SF has a large Asian population and a smaller Latino population!

A co-worker moved here a little under two years ago. She told me that while she’s met people through activities here and there, she hasn’t yet found anyone that she’d call up for last-minute plans or to confide in. That’s…sad, and unacceptable for me. Another couple of women told me they felt it took them three to four years (one said six!) to feel they had a good circle of friends and felt comfortable here. Ain’t nobody got time for all that! I know there are other places where the weather is warmer and so are the personalities of the residents.

Inspired by Rachel Bertsche’s tenacity and my own rebellious nature that refuses to accept it taking years to find good friends, I decided it’d be fun to see just how many friends I can amass in a year. If I make it a competition (with myself), it’ll be more thrilling. Because, trying to make new friends once you’re out of school, is not really a joyride. Once it becomes a conscious effort it becomes work, especially when you’re seeking to create a social circle you don’t have. When you’re hoping to meet at least one person to be the Gayle to your Oprah (or better yet a Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose quad!), you’re putting in work!

I’ve been friending my ass off. Well, maybe not friending as much as meeting-new-people my ass off. I was out socializing five out of seven days last week and I had a couple of moments of fun, but mostly it was work.  Last week alone I met or re-met so many new people I was exhausted come Thursday and I wasn’t even done! Sunday was my day of rest, cocooning in my box-partment. The groundwork I laid a couple of months ago is finally paying off. When I started my job, I made it a point to eat lunch with people I want to get to know at least twice a week. Every meeting is a chance to show off my stunning personality. People need to know what richness they are missing.

At a work Valentine’s Day party, we had to meet at least one new person to be allowed to enter the raffle. I used it as an opportunity to speed meet people. People are starting to wave and smile at me in the halls! I’ve even gotten a few lunch invites. Unexpectedly, a co-worker, L –  with whom I’ve rarely interacted except during a training class and a few run-ins in the kitchen – invited me to happy hour last Thursday. My first happy hour invite! I could have cried. I double-checked the IM to see if she really meant to send it to me and not someone else. She meant me!  At happy hour, K, with whom I’ve gone to lunch once and was also in training with me and L, told me, “I loved how during training you told HR “no” when they asked if we thought the training was helpful. That was awesome! You go, girl.” L, the girl who invited me, nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s me: no bullshit. This no-bullshitter could be your friend!

A few weeks ago, I joined a women’s group that helps connect women looking to build female friendships. I’ve been to a couple of small events and met some cool women. A few of them have given me their phone numbers and invited me out outside of the group – unprompted. If I were a straight dude, I’d really be feeling myself. I’m getting those digits! I also joined an adventure group that seems promising. My calendar is slowly filling up again.

coffeeOne of the new women I’ve met asked me to go for coffee sometime. Coffee is not an activity, it’s a beverage. It’s the means to a caffeinated end. Why coffee? Why not drinks? I’m skeptical when people suggest going out to drink beverages and the beverages don’t include at least the option of alcohol. Recovering alcoholics get a pass. But, I’m wary people who don’t drink because they just don’t drink. I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I did in college or in my mid-20s when I was trying out every single club in L.A., but that party girl is still in there. She’s lying dormant, judging my more sober lifestyle, my “please God don’t let my friend have her birthday party at a bar-ness” and old lady o’clock bedtime. But, she’s ready to get the party started if the moment presents itself. It’s fine though, as the intro to MWF mentions, there are different types of friendships and they are all valuable. Maybe she’ll be my friend I do healthy, productive stuff with. Like I’ve said before, friendless beggars can’t be too choosy. 

At the same volunteer event where I met the snooty, clueless girl, I met A. I liked A right away. She was warm, lively and very sharp. When we talked about diversity in San Francisco she passionately said, “Oh, it’s bull! Everyone talks about how many Latinos are here, but they’re all Mexican. I’m from Central America. I’m from the East Coast where there are people from different Latin countries all over the place. And the food? I can’t get good Central American food to save my life! My boyfriend’s family has lived in the Mission for generations and the techies with money are probably going to price them out.” She worked in youth outreach in Bayview-Hunter’s Point and has seen first hand just how segregated and economically lopsided this city can be. With each word, I swooned. She gets it! She gets me. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. A few days later, I emailed her offering to grab a drink (with alcohol) or dinner. It’s been a month and she hasn’t replied. Maybe I scared her off? Maybe she thinks I’m a lesbian, read my email and thought, “Oh hell no!” Or maybe she’d rather go out for coffee? Can’t win ’em all. 

Who Will Stand Under My Umbrella (ella, ella)?

I'm not giving away any friendship bracelets just yet.  Photo by ilovememphis, flickr.com
I’m not giving away any friendship bracelets just yet. Photo by ilovememphis, flickr.com

All the people I’ve met have been nice, but as Rachel said in her book’s introduction, “I can be nice, but I don’t want nice friends. I want funny, gregarious, sarcastic and smart friends.“ To that I’d add: socially conscious, opinionated, adventurous and easy going. If you’re a pop culture fan we’ll probably be insta-besties. My ninth grade English teacher lectured “nice” out of our arsenal of adjectives. And she was right too: nice is fucking boring. However, I know it can take time for some people to warm up, chill and let their good crazy show. I am learning to be patient. 

I haven’t yet hit that pivotal moment of friendship with anyone, when you crossover from perfunctory greetings and awkward small talk to this is my homegirl, ride or die. You’ve heard of Bonnie & Clyde? We’re Bonnie and Bonnie! Psychologists call it: self-disclosure. I can vividly remember those tipping points in many of my cherished friendships. You feel all warm and fuzzy and bubble up with joy around your buddy. It’s a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait to experience it again. 

Despite this not being the smoothest transition, I’m glad I moved here. Shaking things up is healthy. I’ve amped up my friendmaking ventures. I am meeting people, I’m not exactly having fun yet, but it’s gotta pay off at some point. I eagerly await the moment when I can rush up to a new friend and say, “You will not believe what just happened to me! I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!”   

Why I Don’t Eat Watermelon in Public

5 min read

Racists really need to update their stereotype references. When it comes to black people at least, they seem stuck on…well, they’re stuck on stupid, as many of us know, but also stuck in the old days. Music evolves, the amount of clothing women wear (or don’t wear) evolves, our language evolves, yet racist Americans don’t appear to take pride in their racism enough to keep up with the times.

For example, Jennifer Olsen, chairwoman of Yellowstone County’s Republican committee in Montana, allegedly shared the following “hilarious” image with her Facebook followers:

Racist post by Jennifer Olsen of Montana, read more on The Girl Next Door is Black
The alleged post

She denies any involvement with this posting. In short, she says a hater is responsible. I’m sure her best friend is black, she prays to the black Jesus everyday of Black History Month and loves a scrumptious Kwanzaa cake. In 2000, Montana had a black population of less than half a percent. HALF A PERCENT! Where exactly are all these black people who Jennifer – oops, I mean, Jennifer’s hater”- sees indulging in watermelon grubfests?

Where do these racists get their black-people-eat stereotypes? Is there a watermelon eating show on BET that I don’t know about? Um, also, because people keep forgetting, President Obama is half-white, so…

These racists need to up their game. If you’re going to decide that all people of one race (ignoring that all of us humans are ridiculously genetically similar) eat the same things, at least be current people! For you racists, I submit three popular black-people-eat stereotypes that are old as hell and implore you to consider modernizing your racist jokes.

Watermelon

Sambo and the Watermelon stereotype | The Girl Next Door is Black
Played out
source

This racial weapon has been around since the days of slavery. Watermelon was one of the foods masters deigned to feed their captives. Slavery has ended; this black chick is free and happily riffing on racists. So why does the watermelon obsession persist? Why are some racists so fixated on black people eating watermelon?

Are their hordes of black people across America buying up all the watermelon, keeping them from melon-loving racists? Was there a run on watermelon during the depression and black people were first in line, hogging the watermelon from the other poor, starving, depressed non-black folk? Do some people have a watermelon allergy and are thus jealous of those of us that can easily digest the juicy melon? Do watermelons speak to black people in special language?

Hey black girl, I wanna be in yo’ belly. Let’s do this!

Do we look hotter eating watermelon? Maybe I should try this: sit down at a public place, chow down on some watermelon, wind machine blowing a breeze through my hair, making seductive eyes at my luscious, red fruit and see how many men start throwing themselves at me. Ah, sweet watermelon, thank you for getting me a man!

You know what’s interesting? China is the largest producer of watermelon. The USDA led a super-important study on the lives of watermelon. Know what they found? Asian people actually consume a whole lotta this melon. More than black people. So BAM, racists! Check your stats, fools!

Asian Male Female Eating Watermelon | The Girl Next Door is Black
Look at that: Asian people eat fried chicken too!

These lame racists living in the past don’t care though. This is why I don’t eat watermelon in mixed company: stereotype threat.

From time to time I’ll order a side of fruit at brunch. Sometimes, watermelon is in that mix. I don’t request it specifically; it just shows up in the bowl. If there are suspect people nearby who seem overly interested in the fruits of my bowl, I’ll loudly say to the server, loudly enough to be overheard, using my best diction: “Excuuuuuse me, sir. I did not ask for this wayward melon. It repulses meeeeeuh. Soooo guh-ross! It’s unnatural. Take it away. I said: take it away, sir! Have you people never heard of apples? Darn watermelon ruining the fabric of our society! Have a good day, sir. I said, GOOD DAY!”

Fried Chicken

Offensive Caricature Black Man Eating Fried Chicken  | The Girl Next Door is Black
Old and tired | source

Another old stereotype. Wouldn’t you know, black Americans and eating chicken goes back to the days of slavery? Chickens were one of the few animals slaves were allowed to own.

People eat fried chicken throughout the world: it’s popular in the American South among not just black people, but Southerners of all colors. If you’ve ever go to a Japanese restaurant and order “chicken katsu”, you’re presented with a patty of fried chicken. Koreans have their own version of fried chicken. Visit one of the many fried chicken shops in Los Angeles’s Koreatown and you’ll see not just Koreans enjoying it, but white hipsters too!

Paula Deen with fried chicken, not a black woman, by the way src: http://pixgood.com/black-person-fried-chicken.html
Paula Deen with fried chicken. She is not a black woman, by the way

As mentioned in a previous post, I stopped eating fried chicken in high school. Fried food = fatty boombatty. No thanks. However. Yes, HOWEVER. I do love Popeye’s, mainly for the red beans and rice, but the chicken is pretty hot and tasty.

I do not enter Popeye’s in recognizable form. My alter ego, Diane, goes. Diane seems like a ethnically-neutral name, right? I’ve met Dianes of all colors. Diane wears a red wig, think Carrot Top’s style:a big curly mop. She also dons a white theater mask (the comedy one, not the sad tragedy one). She speaks in a deep, saccharine, Southern drawl:

“Hey y’all, I’m just a sweet ole girl from Jo’gia. I love me some fried chicken. Mmm, mmm, mmm, deep down in my churchin’ soul. Y’all know how you go to church and you just feel the spirit of the Lawd in ya? That’s how I feel when I get me some Popeye’s. Mmm. Mmm. What’s that? My mask is scary? Well, you know, I got protect myself from the cancer. That skin cancer’ll kill ya. Thanks for the chicken. Have a nice day, y’all!”

Kool-Aid (Oh yeah!)

Kool-Aid is cheap as hell. If you are trying to save a dollar or quench the thirst of a large family who enjoys uber-sugary bevvies on a tight budget, Kool-Aid is an option. If you aspire to have a crayon-colored tongue, get you some Kool-Aid. If you just like the taste of artificial powders: hell yeah, Kool-Aid. Me, I haven’t had Kool-Aid since I was a kid. Though I do love a good Kool-Aid man cameo on Family Guy.

Some more knowledge for you racists, Kool-Aid was invented by a white man in Nebraska in the 1920s. Nebraska had how many black people then? Like 2? And who engineered a cult’s group suicide making the term “Drinking the Kool-Aid” part of our lexicon: Jim Jones. Not black, not even brownish. Kool-Aid started with white people. So suck it.

I am black, therefore I am an expert on what this black person eats. Should you be the type to assume that what one black person does, all black people do, here are some ideas for new racial stereotypes. Try: spinach, low-fat milk, Sour Patch Kids, protein shakes, udon noodle soup, sushi, wonton noodle soup, pasta, coffee, fajitas, crawfish…

If you’re stuck on stupid and find yourself obsessed with what black people eat, ask yourself this: what is so shameful or insult-worthy about eating healthy fruit, tasty chicken or washing it all down with a sickeningly-sweet, cold beverage? Perhaps you are the one with the issue?

10 Ridiculous Business Terms

3 min read

I was IMing with a co-worker last week about the absurdity of business jargon. How ridiculous is business-speak? I envision that somewhere there is a committee of Seth Rogan-types who secretly hate their jobs and sit around in a slacker lair inventing dumb shit for business people to say. Stuff that will secretly crack them up when they hear the words repeated. I remember when I started my first big girl business job. I’d hear people speak in a seemingly foreign language and I wanted to quit. It was Office Space: Live!

(sidenote: OMG you guys, a co-worker and I IM’d about non-work stuff, this is such progress in the work friendship department. This deserves Rachel Zoe levels of excitement: This is so “major!” )

Business Jargon
Business Jargon

10 laughable business terms

1. Putting Out Fires

Usually said by a self-important middle-manager as she/he runs around spreading her/his frenetic energy to everyone else. “People, we have fires to put out!” *Yawn* Call a damn fireman then! Why are you talking to me about it? Keep your stress ball to yourself and get back to me when there’s an actual fire. My hair might be flammable.

2. I don’t have the bandwidth for that

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto. You are a machine right? That’s why you’re talking about your bandwidth? You got a panel on your back we need to open to increase your bandwidth? Do you know Vicky from Small Wonder? I have always wanted to meet her. She wore prairie dresses like nobody’s business.

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto (ロボット人ありがとう)
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto (cr: Daniel Y. Go)

3. Circle Back

It means to um, I think, like, revisit something? Oh who cares! You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna make a circle all right, a circle around a bar as I get multiple rounds of beer ‘til I get so drunk I walk in an arc. Yeah, circle baaa – I’m so wasted. Heeeeeeee!

4. Think Outside the Box

How long have we been saying this now? I think everyone is outside of the stupid box. That box is probably skanky as hell now. All kinds of germs and shit. People passing the flu back and forth to each other. Gross. Now, who’s gonna be different climb right back in? That’s a real trailblazer. Enjoy the box. Looooove the box. Empower yourself to circle back to the box.

I do not want to be in a box with this guy! cr:  califrayray, flickr.com
I do not want to be in a box with this guy!
cr: califrayray, flickr.com

5. Let’s Touch Base

Is there a reason business people never reference things actually related to business? How about “hey, come to my cubicle where everyone can see and hear our business! Good times, man, good times!” In business, we “touch base”, we are cool like baseball players. But, no. You sir, are no Sammy Sosa, weird-looking face notwithstanding.

6. On the radar screen

Again! You are not a pilot. You do not work for the FAA. You’re not directing air traffic. You’re not flying anywhere, but I do secretly think you like to get high. So high. I see it in your eyes when you talk about putting out fires. You really wanna blaze it up! Give in to your inner smokey!

7. Let’s “parking lot” this discussion

Great, I’m out. Dueces! Peace out, suckas! Oh, you mean we can’t go home? Say what, now? “parking lot it” means to discuss it later? %)*%#)^&_)&%^@!

8. Let’s drill-down to the fine points.

I like to drill. Actually I love Home Depot. The place is amazing. Did you know you can buy toilet seat covers there? Like with cute little duckies on them and everything?

9. Utilize / Incentivize

Stop. Just stop. Stop making up words, biz. You don’t need to “utilize” anything. You can use it. You may have used it. It may be even be useful. You should find a way to incent yourself to stop using the worlds “utilize” and “incentivize.”

10. Value Add

GTFO!

We speak a language only we can understand.  cr: IIP State, flickr.com
We speak a language only we can understand.
cr: IIP State, flickr.com

The Significance of Gap Jeans

9 min read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco: Not a Treat (Yet)

7 min read

I’ve been feeling pretty lonely and lacking regular human interaction the past few months. You know you’re desperate for human interaction when you look forward to visiting your new chiropractor because you know that as chatty as she is, she’ll also be a captive audience.

La, La, La, I Can’t See You!

Photo by epSos.de, flickr.com
I know monkey, I’m lonely too
cr: epSos.de, flickr.com

I think people in this city, at least the parts I’ve been in, are deathly allergic to making eye contact with others. As though meeting the eyes of another human might suck out their souls. I know there are many reasons why people may avoid eye contact: some are shy, some have social anxiety (or just regular anxiety), others wary of strangers, I’ve heard some say that they are afraid of being asked for money, but everyone?!

When walking down the streets, I’ve found people to be aloof and sometimes cold. I’ve met friendlier people walking down the streets of Manhattan and Paris. I’ve made more connections here with the thousands of gorgeous and no doubt very pampered dogs that live in the city than any of their owners. They happily wag their tails at me the same way I do internally when I see another black person on the street. I treat other black people in this city like they’re endangered species. I am shocked by their presence and have an urge to capture them and protect them like I may see another ever again. NatGeo voiceovers play in my head: The black American, endangered in these parts, is seen walking into a Starbuck’s, where we must assume, they will purchase a caffeinated beverage.

I’ve started missing the comfort of Los Angeles. A city where I know how things work, how people behave and (for the most part) how I fit in. An article in The Atlantic quoted a study that found:

…withholding eye contact can signal exclusion. … Even though one person looks in the general direction of another, no eye contact is made, and the latter feels invisible.

Yup, pretty much.

New York City gets a bad rap as an unfriendly city
New York City gets a bad rap as an unfriendly city

The friendliest resident I’ve met to date is an older black panhandler named Mike. I was in the Castro trying to find a nail shop I was Christmas-gifted with a manicure to, when he asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any change and noticing me]y peering around, he asked me what I was looking for. (I legit didn’t have any change. One of the best lessons I learned last year was not to forget the humanity of the homeless and down-and-out. I try to at least smile at and acknowledge those that I encounter.) I told him the address and he walked with me trying to help me find the salon since as he told me he’d been “on that street corner for 10 years!” If anyone could find it, he could. He didn’t find it, but he gave me his phone number, sweetly asked when we’re getting married and made me promise to come back and show him my nails (I did, but he wasn’t there when I returned). Meeting him was the highlight of that day. “Mommy, another human spoke to me today!”

We Are the World?

I’ve read discussions online about the supposed diversity of SF. The city is largely white and Asian (majority Chinese) with those two groups comprising over 80% of the population and Latinos being the third most populous ethnic group at ~ 15% (give or take some percentages depending who’s reporting). We also have the largest gay and lesbian population in the US. Yes, this is a lot of different groups, but whether this is considered “diverse” depends on your perspective.

I often wonder if the “diversity” is touted by people who aren’t used to feeling like a minority in a US city. [Indeed: “Ideas of what is a diverse neighborhood differ by race.” ] Online, one commenter will lament the mass exodus of blacks from a city that used to have a large population of them (down to less than 6% from over 15% in 1970 and less than the US population of 13%). Another will rebut that there are plenty of blacks in Hunters Point (also known as Guns Point) and Bayview (a mostly working class neighborhood, with high poverty rates and called one of the most violent neighborhoods in the City by the New York Times).  Neither are neighborhoods you’ll see mentioned in glossy guidebooks or in hipster-foodie conversation.

Then the discussion inevitably devolves as some asshole puts in his or her racist two cents about how they are glad the “ghetto black thugs” keep to their habitat in Oakland. I (mostly) resist the urge to reply and instead fantasize about pulling a Tina Turner and getting the hell out of the US altogether . But, I’ve already covered that. (Please do not misunderstand, I’m an equal opportunity friender, but being the only black person [or one of few] in many of the places you frequent, gets really old after a while.)

To some, “a lot” of black people is 10 out of 300 white people. When I think of cities that are diverse, Houston, Los Angeles (though I think LA is unfortunately pretty segregated) and New York come to mind. Not just diversity of ethnic groups and sexual orientation, but economic diversity. It seems there are two kinds of residents here in SF: those with money and those without. The middle class is continually shrinking because the city has become so unaffordable.

There definitely aren’t a lot of black professionals living in SF. I went from working at a company where the staff was admirably diverse, including 15% black employees and 50% of women (in Santa Monica, not exactly a diverse area in itself). At my current office, I am one of 7 or 8 black employees, less than 3% of the total workforce. Some days I feel like walking around the city wearing a big ass sign that says “token”.

What About Your Friends?

Let me iiiiiin!cr:  stevendepolo, flickr.com
Let me iiiiiin!
cr: stevendepolo, flickr.com

On the friendship end, my attempts to reach out to the few people I already know here have mostly failed: multiple cancellations on their ends and one non-reply after dates to meet up were discussed. The kickball league I signed up for was cancelled. My coworkers are still cliquey.

A couple of weeks ago the cube people around me loudly talked about the happy hour they had planned. No one bothered to invite the new girl. This happened twice in the same week. Previous to that, on my way home one evening, I ran into a manager who asked me if I was going to the happy hour one of my project teams was having that night. That was the first I’d heard of it. Further, last week in the office, I walked by a woman whose tag was sticking out of her shirt. Trying to be helpful, I told her, and her response was “Oh.” No “thank you”, just “oh”. Later I ran into her on the elevator and she averted her gaze. Bitch, fine, look raggedy with tags sticking out all over the place, next time I’ll say nothing. So its been less than a treat, to say the least.

In the coming weeks, through convergence, I am signed up for a few meetup events, a speed-friending event (yes, I think it sounds lame too, but lonely beggars can’t be choosers) and an event with a service that helps women find girlfriends.  Supposedly the new kickball league I was transferred to starts in April. I am not holding my breath.

Is this really my life?

Hope Floats

I am not giving up though. I’m charming, dammit, and people in other cities like me. Funnily enough, thanks to a crazy boiler blowup in my apartment building, I ended up having a drink with my (married and retired) building manager who’s lived in San Francisco all his life. I was probably a little much as when he asked how I was doing I sighed so heavily you’d think I was recovering from an asthma attack. This is what having few friends does to someone who’s a Myers-Briggs ‘E’. All my thoughts came gushing out like a busted fire hydrant. Chatting with him was a pleasant reminder that behind the non-gaze of San Franciscans are people who like and even wish for human interaction.

Hope is nigh! I think I may have finally cracked one of the cliques at work. And I may have a couple of new lunch buddies. Last week, I had a girl date with someone who lives in my neighborhood that seems promising. My neighbors have been nice and a couple even helpful. I’ve met most of them (and their dogs).

I am the chapter leader of the black employee network at work (for all few of us, though the other outposts of our company have many more). It’s only been three months. I just need to be patient (though telling myself this is like telling Rihanna to keep her damn clothes on: you can try, but you know she ain’t listening) and not let myself be overcome with bitterness. Sharing this with the world is testament to my optimism. I know that in a year or two I’ll reread this post and be thrilled with my progress and laugh about my former loneliness with my new friends.

America: Land of No Time Off, No Fun?

5 min read

A good book, a beach and a hammock: this is the life.
A good book, a beach and a hammock: this is the life.

In Tanzania this summer, I had a stimulating conversation with an Irish woman who had taken a break from her teaching job to manage a resort in Zanzibar. When she discovered that I’d been in Tanzania for three weeks, she was in shock. “I thought Americans didn’t get much holiday time?”

“I work for a company that provides really good benefits in the hopes of retaining employees.” 

“Lovely. My American relatives come to visit us in Ireland and they only stay for six days. What’s the point? Stay home! There’s no time!” Imagine this said with a delightfully animated Irish accent.

“I know.”

“Why don’t Americans fight for more time off?”

I gave a heavy sigh and answered, “I don’t even know where to begin.”

A few months before my trip, Jack Cafferty of CNN asked in a short essay, “Why don’t most Americans take all their vacation time?

Personally, I don’t feel I have enough vacation time. In fact, I have a Pinterest board titled, “I need more vacation time.

The article sourced a recent study that found “57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of last year. “ Reasons given for this varied: some feel they have too much work to afford to take time off, others are afraid to take time off for fear of returning jobless and some just feel they can’t afford to do anything.

There was a time when I worked for a large insurance company as a contractor (because they were too cheap to hire me and many others full-time; of course, the execs got nice fat bonuses most years and they can afford shiny commercials with a celebrity endorser). I was only a few years out of college and didn’t have enough saved to afford to take unpaid time off. Even calling in sick wasn’t an option. No work, no pay. So, I get it. But, I didn’t like it. Working days on end with no break in sight. At a job I hated. With no health, dental or vision insurance and a micro-managing mid-level boss spying on everyone’s move. Another who kept calling me by the name of another black girl. I needed a break. We all do. Taking time off can have a beneficial impact on our physical and mental health, as well as our productivity at work. While according to the study, the average American employee gets 13 paid days off, the United States doesn’t mandate it (and I’m not sure how I feel about government intervention in this realm).

Costa Rica was REALLY good for my soul
Costa Rica was REALLY good for my soul

However, according to CNN Money the UK mandates employers give employees at least 28 paid days off, France decrees 25 and Japan 20. If vacation time is good for the body, good for the soul and good for the business, why don’t Americans fight for vacation time?

Cafferty’s question generated a (mostly) healthy debate.

Patrick from Oregon said,

“Many who work making minimum wages or near it are unable to afford a vacation. heck we can barely afford to buy gas to get to work.”

A more cynical MnTaxpayer commented,

“Because most corporate drones think they are more important then[sic] they really are.”

Quite a few chalked it up to our strong American work ethic. Guy Williams summed up the recurring themes nicely,

“Reasons: (1). Americans, for the most part, have very strong work ethics. (2). We fear losing our jobs if we aren’t at our desk every day other workers see our absence and maneuver for an opening. (3). We barely keep our heads above water with the work load we have; setting it aside for 2 weeks or longer means an unconquerable mountain of backlog when we return. That’s why we don’t take vacations.”

On Friday, CNN Money posted a somewhat related article: “One in three U.S. workers has no paid sick days” which similar to the vacation post received a large number of responses. This time some of the responses were a little sharper in tone.

J. Medford replied,

“I live in a 3rd world Caribbean Country and we have that right…America is weird.”

To which Burns8282 responded,

“Says the guys in the 3rd world country. Ill take the American work ethic and the title of most powerful country in the world.”

Ouch! (As of this writing the response had received 6 positive votes, 14 negative votes.)

In an unrelated comment, Waytooold2 chimed in,

“when your[sic] worried about being outsourced you don’t worry about sick days”

The eye-rollingly named liberlmedia added,

“They should move to Europe if they want paid vacation.”

Others worried about the increase in malingerers (one woman worried about an uptick in drunkards taking the day off to nurse hangovers). However, many were sympathetic to the plight of those without paid sick days. As Nick Knight commented,

“America, slowly becoming a right wing toilet.”

And the battle between the 1% & the 99% continues as Madisontruth stated,

“Welcome to the new normal. The 1% who control the game board see us all as pawns. This is why government intervention is necessary.”

Why don’t Americans have as much time off as other countries? Is it a strong work ethic? Is it that we’re pawns in a game played by a few, dazzlingly wealthy people in charge? Are we just so used to it that it never occurs to us to ask for more? Even when people do take vacation, some end up working anyway!

Paris, je t'aime
Paris, je t’aime

I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that I choose to live my life with respect to my future self. When I make important decisions, I ask myself: will I feel it was worth it; will I feel good about it? If not, it’s probably not the right decision. When I look back on my life, I don’t want to lament all the time I spent not making the most of it, not enjoying myself, not doing something meaningful. As I lay on my deathbed, I surely will not regret spending too much time working as I reflect on my life choices. I work hard during work hours, I play during play hours. When I’m on vacation, don’t call me and I’m not checking work emails.

Of course, it’s not that black and white. I’ve progressed well in my career. I have chosen to work in a field where the smart employers – as in employers that realize employees are their best asset –  fight over employees by dangling tantalizing benefits in our faces. I have the option of saying “Hellllll to the no” to jobs with shit benefits. But, that could change: I could lose my job, the debt ceiling could finally crush us and work “perks” like sick days and vacation time could disappear. However, I’ll do my best to live a life to love and in any case, liberlmedia has a good point about moving to Europe…I did love France when I visited.

As far as we know, we get one life to live and I want to enjoy the hell out of this one!

2012 in Review

8 min read

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
Spotted in Los Angeles, January 2012

This is the time of year when people start making resolutions that many probably will not keep. The time of year that regular gym-goers like me hate. The gym is packed with resolutioners who don’t know what the hell they are doing, hitting themselves on the head, breaking shit, all up on my machines, sweaty after walking 30 seconds on the treadmill, and hogging the free weights. Sadly for them, but happily for me, their enthusiasm for their resolution will die down within a few weeks as they forget they want Jennifer Aniston’s body.

I gave up on resolutions years ago when I realized I was ignoring them and not meeting them. Instead I decided to set goals for things I’d like to accomplish for the year. Here’s how I fared in 2012.

2012 Goals

Goal 1:  Read 12 Books (or a book a month)

Status: Overachieved.

I read 18 books last year. According to this study, the average American read six books in 2012. According this related post on Gawker, more than a few, er…Gawkerians, found time to read 50+ books, be snooty about it and in pearl-clutching shock that others haven’t matched their stunning achievement. Look, I have other things to do with my time, as well. The Real Housewives of Atlanta beckons. Nene is on fire again. I had to see what all the fuss over Homeland is about. I kinda like to hang out with other humans. I also like to take time with my books, bond with them, read discussions about them, love on them (or resist the urge to hurl them at the wall in some cases); not speed read through them and move on to the next like I’m running through big-bootied strippers.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
The books I read last year

Book I Had the Most Fun Reading Last Year: 

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games would be first, but I read it in 2011) by Suzanne Collins

Most Thought-Provoking Book I Read Last Year: 

It’s a tie!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Best Page-Turner Book I Read Last Year: Another Tie!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Biggest Waste of My Time

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Goal 2: Get the hell out of Los Angeles.

Status: Achieved.

Yep, that was the actual goal, emphasis on hell. I wasn’t happy there. I hadn’t been happy for years. Traffic had me all road-ragey and daydreaming about driving myself off overpasses. I set a goal to be out by mid-2013. I was gone by Mid-October. Booyah! Goodbye bitchass bitches in BMWs, people so flakey Corn Flakes are jealous and mockable obsessions with looks and status (speed dating a few years ago, a dude spent his intro telling me what labels he was wearing: Prada belt and pants, Gucci something or other. Funnily enough, he didn’t mention wearing Eau de Douche).  I miss my fave ramen place though. And the palm trees were pretty to look at. Oh and friends! I miss you guys!

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
I had some good times in this city…
2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges
but, it’s on to the next.

Goal 3: Get into bike riding.

Status: Kinda achieved.

Erm… On Memorial Day a friend and I rented beach cruisers and rode on the paths in Venice and Santa Monica beaches. With the wind blowing through my weave, it was a beautiful occasion. I loved it. I have confirmed this is something I WANT to do. I just need to do it more. Perhaps buy a bike in 2013? And put it where? On my fire escape? Damn sure ain’t room for anything else in my boxpartment.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
At the bike rental place, the attendant told me that I was “an in-between size” (she meant short) and asked if I’d be okay with a bike that looked like it was for a 12-year old. It was the right height, so I took it.

Goal 4: Improve Spanish speaking

Status: Uh…si.

I got this one in under the wire.  I enrolled in a Spanish course in November. Yo soy Keisha. Yo estoy en San Francisco. Kim Kardashian es antipatico. To be continued.

Goal 5: Get into art – take a painting or drawing class

Status: In Progress

I get bored. A lot. So, I’m always on the lookout for things to do in my spare time that will also help me further myself as a person. I’ve always wanted to learn to paint. One fine Saturday my friend Laura joined me for crafts & 80’s movie watching at my apartment. At the art store she appeared dubious as I followed an employee around picking up supply after supply. I grabbed a 16” x 20” canvas. “You might want to get something smaller. It’s a lot of work,” Laura warned. I bought it and two smaller canvases. I imagined being a hot new underground artist who discovered her brilliant artistic talent later in life.

Supplies acquired and a Heathers DVD playing, I began painting my 8” by 10” masterpiece. Amused, Laura commented, “I’ll be interested to see if you finish that.” I didn’t finish my masterpiece that day and months later, it’s still not finished. She was right. Gah! Now, I have all these painting supplies and two blank canvases and I’m not sure if and when I’ll take them out for a spin again. Look, I tried.

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black
My unfinished “masterpiece”

Goal 6: Run a 5k

Status: Rejected!

I decided I don’t want to do this. I hate running. Runners claim you reach a point when running starts to feel good, your mind clears and you see Jesus or some shit. None of these things have happened for me. All I feel is pain, suffering and a death wish. I decided it’s all bullshit some liar came up with to get people to beat themselves up, buy a bunch of expensive gear and speed up the aging process with all the face bouncing. Also, sometimes the things runners say get on my nerves. Here’s an example:

Woman: I am not sure how long it will take me to run this 5k.

Me: The average healthy person should be able to run a mile in 15 minutes or less. So, I’d give yourself 45 minutes on the high end.

Runner: 15 minutes?! That’s so slow!

Me: [Glaring] Uh okay, Speedy Gonzales (I promise you this person was not of Latin descent). I run a mile in a little over 14 minutes and I am proud of myself.

Runner: Oh, er….10-11 minutes is average. That’s what I run and I feel like I’m slow.

Me: Excuuuse me Usain Bolt, if I run at a 10-minute pace, I’ll fall out by the first quarter-mile. Face on trail. [Why don’t you go run into a bush!]

Runner: [Judgment face]

Me: [Fuck this running crap.]

A 2011 goal was to condition myself to the point where I could run 3-miles,

Asics
I did buy new running shoes

uninterrupted, for the first time ever in life. I made it and I was damned proud of myself! I don’t care how FAST I’m going, I care that I can do it without feeling like my heart is reaching for the heavens.  But, runners man, with their, “Don’t you want to increase your speed?” “You should get these awesome shoes that make you feel like you’re running on air and were tested on roadrunners in Botswana!” “Don’t you want to run on the moon?” Save it. Y’all can have your running, I’m going to find an activity where the people who partake don’t make me want to smack them or push them into traffic.

Goal 7: Be able to run six miles continuously.

Status: Double rejected.  

See #6.

Goal 8: Visit two new countries & three states.

Status: Not achieved. 

I’m overly ambitious with my travel goals. I want to go everywhere, but I am not rich and I do not have all kinds of free time. I have a job and I live in America. America doesn’t believe in vacation. “Here worker bees, take two days off a year and consider yourself lucky, ya whiny bastards. In my day, we worked seven days a week with dynamite strapped to our backs! Vacation is for the weak!”

I visited one new country, one new continent and two new states. While I didn’t hit all three new states, I did visit two repeat states, for a total of four.

2012 was a good year for me. I accomplished a lot, more than I expected. I made some new friends (not in SF, unfortunately), spent time with old friends, I discovered and developed a huge crush on Channing Tatum and saw three of his movies, petted a giant pig, saw Jon Cusack, finally got on base playing kickball and helped kick in a runner, volunteered some, got to go on an amazing trip and even created the blog I’d talked about doing for so many years.

——

2013 goals are under construction, but here are a few ideas:

  • Stop being so judgy. Judgy people bother me because I am judgy. Don’t you love how that works? Sometimes the traits that bug you most in OTHER people are those you possess yourself. I am acutely aware of people’s actions. I love trying to understand how people work. Thus, I notice things. Then I have opinions on these things. But, girl, just because someone types in text speak doesn’t mean they are incapable of using proper grammar and/or lack intelligence and should be tossed into a fire. It is also okay for people to use an excessive number of question marks on a single sentence, and do so repeatedly in a paragraph. And just because a co-worker takes the last slice of pizza and doesn’t throw the empty box away doesn’t mean they lack proper home training. Repeat and internalize.
  • Figure out what and who I want to be when I grow up. That ‘4’ number followed by a ‘0’  is getting closer than I care for. I gotta figure out who I want to be by then so I don’t reach the age and have some sort of early mid-life crisis.
  • Stop wasting money. I overcompensate for the times when I couldn’t buy what I wanted when I wanted. Now I buy too much. I’m 75% YOLO (do it now, worry about how to pay for it later) and 25% responsible. How do I walk into the drugstore to get a prescription and leave with a dog bed (I don’t have dogs), a pound of candy, an “As Seen on TV” product and five colors of nail polish that I will use once and forget about? Do better!
  • Make some friends.

Happy New Year!

2012 Year in Review - A Year of Fun New Experiences and Some Challenges | The Girl Next Door is Black

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Snorkeling, Spice Farms and Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania

11 min read

This is part II of my trip to Zanzibar. Check out part I here.

Zanzibar Beach Indian Ocean Beautiful | The Girl Next Door is BlackBright and early I met up with the group of 20 other snorkelers and divers at the pick up point for our guided trip on a dhow. The hyper crew had us all introduce ourselves by name and origin. The group of six from my hotel were aboard, along with two white South African girls. The rest of the group hailed from places in Europe like Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Poland. I was the lone person who lived in America. I was also one of only two solo-ers and the only black person aside from the crew. Thankfully, no one directed a shocked exclamation of, “YOU ARE BY YOURSELF?!” my way.

We stopped in the middle of the Ocean twice to snorkel and let the divers do their thing. I had to use a life jacket because though I can swim (as in do proper strokes, even backstroke) I still cannot tread water. Having almost drowned twice, I just cannot relax enough to let the water help me float. One day…

Clown fish in Zanzibar Indian Ocean CR:  BBM Explorer, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Clown fish in the Indian Ocean Photo cr: BBM Explorer, flickr.com

The coral were “reach out and touch someone” large. I could swear one tried to grab my leg. Our guide made sure we all stayed together so no one got lost or taken by coral or lost in the frigid, choppy water.

The problem with guided snorkeling is everyone must enter and exit the water together. If you decide you want to stop – say if you’re chilled to the bone and wish you’d accepted a wetsuit when offered – you have to tell the guide and then everyone must return. Even though I felt like my legs were going to fall off and it’d be 127 Hours: Indian Ocean edition, I opted to grin and bear it. I wasn’t going to ruin the trip for everyone else.

Once back on the dhow and still freezing, I climbed up to the top-level to catnap. Shortly after I laid my head down I heard a male voice say to me:

“Dada (miss), do you like the trip?”

My eyes were closed, so I pretended I didn’t hear him.

“Dada, you are from America?”

Alright, I’ll play, but I’m not sitting up. “Yes, I am from America.”

“Ah, America. I like to visit there one day. Where is your simba?” Hmm, simba means lion, so is he talking about a man?

I don’t have one.

“I don’t believe it. You are too beautiful to be alone.”

Yep, I am here by myself.”

“How old are you?” I told him.

“Nooo. I think you are 23, 24. You are very beautiful. I am 42. I am looking for a special lady. Dada, I am going to play you a song.”

He pulled out an empty Tupperware container leftover from lunch, turned it over, began drumming on it with his hands and sang,

Jambo, jambo bwana

After three weeks in TZ, I’d heard the beloved 80’s Kenyan pop hit so many times I could play it myself. He asked me to join him in playing. I could see the South African girls peeping over curiously.

“Dada, I want to take you dancing. I think you probably dance like Shakira.”

Shakira, I am not. CR: oouinouin, flickr.com
Shakira, I am not. Photo cr: oouinouin, flickr.com

I guffawed. “Uh, maybe if I have some pombe (beer).

“I’ll take you dancing at the club where the local people go. We can have some drinks and dance. Cost no money.”

My gut told me that as nice as he seemed, going off with a man I just met in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, where I can barely speak the language, is an unwise idea

I’m sorry, I am going to stay home tonight.”

“Dada, we will have fun.”

Noooo, I’m sorry.

“Dada, why do you break my heart? I think you are lying and have a simba at your hotel.”

His tenacity and earnestness was admirable (and amusing).  Tempting. He wasn’t bad to look at: Wesley Snipes choco with short dreads and very fit from his day job.

Ha! I really don’t. I leave tomorrow and I want to go to bed early tonight.

“Ok, we will go dancing early. 10 o’clock.”

10! That is not early!

“The people do not start dancing until 11.” I shook my head no.

“Dada, why do you reject me? What is wrong with me? I am going to sing another song. It is about a man with a broken heart.” He launched into a sad melody and looked at me forlornly as he sang. Is this really happening? I fought the urge to laugh. Everyone on the top deck eavesdropped without subtlety.

Dejected and rejected, he left to attend to his captainly duties.

We neared the shore where high tide had rolled in, bathing the beach in ocean water. The captain and his assistants navigated the dhow 100-feet from shore and anchored it.

“Ok, ladies and gentleman, you will have to swim. We will pack your things.” Is he for real? I can’t swim that! I can swim in a calm, contained swimming pool next to toddlers diving and synchronized swimming. Not a angry-waved, freezing ocean. Embarrassingly I had to ask for help. Of course, who else but the broken-hearted captain also doubled as lifeguard? Now I felt like I owed him. But, not enough to reconsider going dancing. Once we hit dry land, I thanked him profusely and said goodbye. He threw a last sad-puppy face my way.

Beach East Coast Nungwi Zanzibar| The Girl Next Door is Black
East Coast Nungwi Zanzibar

Later that afternoon, I headed to the bar at the hotel to have a pre-dinner drink and enjoy the ocean view.  I introduced myself to the bartender, Bakar, who’d met my friend J earlier in the week.

“So, you are friends with J_, yeah? He is my best friend!” This tickled me. People seemed to get attached quickly in TZ.

Yes, he told me about you. You like hip-hop, right?

He smiled widely. “Yes, I like Tupac!”

We made idle chitchat for a bit and he shared, “I would like an American girlfriend.”

I asked why.

“American women have independence. African women want you to have a job and then buy everything for them. They depend on you.”

I laughed, “So do some American women. They like men with money and nice cars who will buy them things.”

“Really?” he asked, surprised. “But, in America, you have a job. You can pay for yourself. Here? The woman wants you to buy her things that are simple, like bras. And they ask you to help their family too.” I could see his point.

I dined solo at dinner that night and continued reading my book. I ordered fish for dinner mostly so I could share it with Mwezi, the hotel kitty. I went to bed early in preparation for the next day’s activities. The hotel manager had helpfully arranged a spice tour and Stone Town excursion for me.

In the morning, a driver picked me up and me to a local farm where a guide awaited me. I thought I’d be joining a group to tour the farm, but I had my very own guide! I loved my guide; he was very knowledgeable and sweet.

Ginger, an aphrodiasic for men, in addition to being used to flavor foods and aid in wellness.
Ginger is used as a male aphrodisiac  in addition to its use in flavoring foods and aiding in wellness.

The spice farm is community owned and they all share in the profits (including the dog I saw eating the fallen fruits). As we visited each plant or tree, an assistant would tear off a leaf or slice into bark for me to smell and guess what spice is derived from it. I sucked at the game. The only thing I was able to guess was the scent of vanilla.

I enjoyed seeing the origins of the spices we use for cooking, medicines and to scent things like candles and perfumes. Also of interest was hearing how the locals use spices recreationally. As my guide told me,

Ginger is an aphrodisiac for men. It gives them power.”

Later, “Nutmeg has many uses. You can make it into a tea to help with your nerves if you are like, a singer. But, it’s also good for women as an aphrodisiac. If a man takes ginger and a woman takes nutmeg, it’s like a boom! You don’t know who will win.” He pantomimed an explosion with his hands. I giggled.

Nutmeg, which my guide informed me has many uses including use an aphrodisiac for women.
Nutmeg, which my guide informed me has many uses including use as an aphrodisiac for women.
Tree climber - his job is to climb trees to get fruit down. Tree climbers' skin becomes rough due to the nature of their work.
Tree climber – his job is to climb trees to retrieve fruit. Tree climbers’ skin becomes rough due to the nature of their work.

Near the end of the tour I tried some of the tropical fruits grown on the island: mangoes, green oranges, orange oranges, jackfruit, papaya and a couple of different types of bananas. The guys serving up the fruit in a open-air hut, were listening to Drake. They spoke barely any English but were jamming to “Forever.” The one who cut my fruit flirted with me via my guide. I didn’t need him to translate though. I’d learned the words for “beautiful,” “(not) married,” and “American” quickly. I loved that the men I met in Tanzania were so upfront (but respectful) about their interest. It was refreshing and flattering.

Spices for Sale Spice Farm Zanzibar Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Spices for sale
Jackfruit in Tree Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Jackfruit – it’s an adventure removing these from the tree. They are heavy and if one falls on your head…
Spice Tour Guide Zanzibar Farm | The Girl Next Door is Black
With my spice tour guide. I’m wearing handmade souvenir gifts made for me from plants on the farm.
Drinking coconut water in Zanzibar Spice Farm | The Girl Next Door is Black
Drinking fresh coconut water

My driver waited for me (with my luggage) during the hour and a half I toured the farm. He then drove me into Stone Town where another guide was waiting to take me on a tour of the city. My driver let me know he’d return for me to take me to the airport in a few hours. This kind of personalized service would have cost me so much more in the States. In TZ it was affordable and I felt like I was helping employ people who needed it.

Muslim Men on Promenade in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Promenade in Stone Town
Little Girl in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
This little girl is too cute and she happened to be grasping an impressively designed door.

The people of Zanzibar have an interesting ethnic makeup due to colonialism and trade with influences from all over Africa, as well as Britain, India, Oman and Portugal. This diversity was especially noticeable in Stone Town, the hub of Zanzibar. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, 7% Christian and the remaining 3% of other religions include Hindu. Many of the women dressed in traditional Muslim coverings and the looks I got for showing the bit of leg I did in my capris did not escape me. I found myself scandalized when I saw two female tourists wearing booty shorts and tank tops. Put on some clothing, you harlots!

You can also see the varied cultural influences in the architecture. There are the Arab-inspired narrow streets and open air markets; the ornate, heavy wooden doors with rounded tops reminiscent of India; and its own native influence with buildings constructed from crushed limestone and coral, hence the name Stone Town.

The only Hindu temple in Zanzibar Stone Town | The Girl Next Door is Black
The only Hindu temple in Zanzibar

Zanzibar is more of a tourist destination than Moshi and I observed a distinct difference in the treatment of visitors in each place. In Zanzibar, the locals greeted visitors with “jambo,” which I’d learned soon after arriving in Tanzania, is a greeting used for tourists. Having been in Tanzania for three weeks, I was taken aback by the number of “jambos” directed my way.

Ampitheatre Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania | The Girl Next Door is Black
Amphitheatre

My guide clearly took his job seriously as he rattled off historical facts in rapid succession. I love history, but I found myself becoming mentally fatigued. I can’t keep all of these Kings straight!

We visited the site of a former slave market where a Christian church now stands. Left intact is the cellar where slaves were held until auction. The cellar was dark, windowless, tiny and at 5’1” even I probably wouldn’t be able to stand upright without hunching over. The captors chained people up in this dungeon with no access to food, water or even a way to relieve themselves.

Outside is a tree that stands as a marker for the old trading post. Near it is a monument to peace with messages in four different languages. There is also an art installation depicting five African slaves chained together by their necks awaiting sale at auction. The chains are from the originals used on the captives. Taking all of it in, I felt the same sobering, heavy feeling I got when I visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Sometimes I hate people.

Peace Monument Slavery Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Peace monument – “May peace prevail on Earth”
Slave memorial Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Slave memorial

Freddie Mercury, of Queen fame, is Zanzibar-born. My tour guide told me, “He is the king of rock ‘n’ roll.”

The museum was disappointing. Aside from a plaque outside and a handful of newspaper clippings, I’m not sure what made it a museum.I didn’t actually see anything about Freddie Mercury inside. It seemed like any other souvenir shop.

Freddie Mercury Museum Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Freddie Mercury Museum

After we visited the open-air markets, we headed back to our starting point where I overheard three youts speaking in English about their prowess with girls with some of the foulest language I’ve heard since Eddie Murphy’s Raw. I gave them a look that said, “I can hear you motherbleepers and I know and you know, the ladies don’t love you like that.”

 Motorbikes in Stone Town Zanzibar | The Girl Next Door is Black
Motorbikes are a popular form of transport

I liked Stone Town, but a few hours touring the city was enough. Perhaps at another time I might like to try some of the restaurants and maybe spoil myself and spend the night at one of the expensive rich-folk hotels, but I enjoyed the quiet and ease of Nungwi more.

Right on time, my driver picked me up to take me to the airport. A male passenger was with him. The passenger introduced himself to me, asked me a few questions and then said,

“I just met you, but I will already miss you when you leave.”

I knew I would also miss the men of Tanzania when I left.

New City, No New Friends

8 min read

Friendship meaning

I forgot how hard it is to move to a new city where you know virtually no one. It’s my sixth time doing this. I think it gets harder each time.

When I moved to Los Angeles years and years ago I dreamed about the fabulous life I’d have hobnobbing with celebrities, meeting other actors, falling in love with my hot male castmates in all the leading roles I’d get and generally just living a flyass life. None of that happened. The closest I came to meeting a celebrity that early on was during planning for a charity event. We were looking for star power to amp up the interest; someone offered, “My friend is friends with Ryan Seacrest. Maybe we could get him to host?” At the time, Seacrest was a drivetime DJ for Star 98.7 in L.A.. He declined the offer. The next year, he signed on as host of American Idol; of course he wasn’t going to host our rinky-dink, ill-planned, never-happened charity event.

I threw myself into friend-making in Los Angeles. I met some weird people the first couple of years. I attached myself to a social butterfly through a women’s group I found. She knew a lot of people, was exceedingly outgoing and talked a lot about things that were foreign to me yet intriguing like reiki and chakras. But, not too long after I met her, I found her “crazy”. (Everyone has something “crazy” about them, it’s just a matter of deciding if you can deal with their brand of crazy.) She hooked up with the boyfriend of the sister of a friend (got that?). When confronted about her trifling behavior, she said, “I am friends with her, not her sister, so I have no loyalty to her sister.” This was my first encounter with “LA Logic”:  basically it’s illogical, full of specious arguments, but allows one to justify behaving like an asshole. I, and the friend believe(d): you hurt people I love, you hurt me. I also soon realized she was a bit of a flake, a wee bit too new-agey for me and always seemed to have a relationship with a “soulmate.” Problem is she seemed to have a new soulmate every few months. After a while, I stopped caring about her latest soulmate, how she finally found love and how her life was now complete. Oh and she might move to another state to be with the latest one! She was like a starter friend. A friend to help make the transition easier, show you around, introduce you to other new people and generally make your new home a little less lonely. Then as time passes, you gradually part ways. I would like to skip over the starter friend phase here in San Francisco and just find friends.

One year early on in elementary school, I was transferred to a new class for the “gifted and talented.” (I know they meant well, but how the heck does that make the kids feel who aren’t in those classes? Slow and awkward?) One of the popular girls in class invited me to her birthday slumber party. My life was made. At that early age I was already strategically navigating my social life. I figured if I could get in with her and be entertaining at this party, I would be guaranteed invites to the other kids’ birthday parties. I really wanted everyone to like me. We had a great time at the party. People laughed at my jokes. The next morning the birthday girl said to me, “Keisha, you are fun! I want to have you at every birthday party!” Who was the winner? The winner was me. I had this. I would be popular. A couple of months later, my family left New York for the promise of a safer life in Georgia. All that work and I had to start all over again. Sigh.

I’ve been in San Francisco for two months now and I have no friends. Now that I’m no longer spending my weekends getting my apartment together, I have time to think about this. Zero. Zip. No click for anybody to fuck with. Okay fine, I have one friend. But she’s busy, she has a man, her family lives here and I don’t want to attach myself to her like a canker sore. “Take me wherever you go. Don’t leave me! I’ll make you feel pain!” I’m a big girl, I can fend for myself. But, it’s lonely. I spend too much time with one of my cats (the other one is a useless, skittish, waste of fur and cuteness). A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath. I never take baths. I am not that wine, bubbles, soak, cucumbers-on-sockets, bathtub-time girl. I like showers; no sitting in my filth. This cat I’ve had for 10 years has only seen me take a bath a few times, so when I hopped in a tub full of water, he was curious. I watched him pace around the tub examining the water and the bubbles, reaching up to peer into the tub. He looked at me as if to ask, “Is okay I jump?” “No, kitty, no jump.” I could just imagine the ensuing hilarious hijinks once he realized he was voluntarily in a tub full of water. If by “hilarious” you understand I mean “a naked, painful, mauling by cat incident.” He didn’t jump in. But, the fact that he thought about it led me to the conclusion that he and I are spending too much time together. He’d probably be speaking English and quoting rap lyrics along with me if his mouth could form the words.

I network. I smile at (almost) everyone, including the guards at all the banks in the financial district on my way to work. I’m probably now on some government watch list. People who case banks for robberies probably act all friendly and shit. One guy likes it though. He always gives me a big grin and a “hi” now. Weekdays, people in the financial district brisk their way down the street like work drones. No smiles, no stopping to look at the architecture, no flashdancing; just singular focus on getting to work. Why? The office ain’t going anywhere. Sometimes I like to smile widely at people just to throw them off. Yeah, I smiled at you. Boo! h

I’ve no problem doing things solo. But, I prefer for that to be a choice, not the default option because I have no others. Last week, when my hormones decided to hijack my brain, I had a mini meltdown. I saw a posting for an event I would have loved to attend: SantaCon. People dress up in Santa suits and go pub crawling. How awesome.is.that?! Then I realized I had no one to go with (let alone a Santa suit just hanging around) and I threw a fit…to myself. I have no friends to throw a fit to. Now I have to wait another 362 days before SantaCon rolls around again. I better have some Santa-suit-wearing, pub-crawl-loving friends by then. I do not want to spend another SantaCon weekend Michelle Tannering it: “This is nooo fun, noooo fun, looking at the waaaallllll.”

Ask anyone how you make friends outside of school and they’ll say: “Join a church group!” “Have you heard of meetup.com (as if this is 2005 and a revolutionary idea)?” “Take a class!” “Make friends at work!” Always said with exclamatory enthusiasm.

I don’t go to church. I’m not going to church. So, that’s out.

I’ve joined a shit ton of meetup groups. I’m not sold on meetup.com though. In L.A., I attended a few meetup groups. I met a few people who ensured I would be scared to go to another meetup again. You know the type: no social skills, weird ticks, creepily interested in you and every detail of your life, or the gross guy who is clearly there trolling for women. You’re at a women’s brunch, mofo, why are you here? Perhaps SF meetup-ers are of the more uncreepy variety? We’ll see.

I started taking a Spanish class a few weeks ago. For myself. I am tired of being a monolingual American. Bonus if I meet people. It’s a group class for up to eight people. As luck would have it, there are me and two other girls in the class. Just three people. Girls. I specify girls because a question I’m frequently asked by inquiring friends (in other cities!) is, “Have you met/seen/smelled any hot guys there?” No/No/No.

Work is…cliquey. I’m sure people don’t mean act as such, but they are not exactly inclusive. I bet karma is behind it, cackling at my plight.  The bitch. I am told I was in a clique at my last job. It wasn’t on purpose; I promise! I am proactive. I have targeted a few lucky people that I have decided I want to be my friends. They are people that I have or will ask to lunch or potentially smile at too often, making them think the new girl is creepy. Nope, the new girl just has no friends. One of my younger sisters said to me with 95% seriousness, “Keisha, you’re pretty, who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?” Ha! No one can blow smoke up your bum and make you feel momentarily less like a loser than a sister or a good frie…awwww (tear).

I just want a buddy.
I just want a buddy.

I’ve made progress! Last Friday in the kitchen at work, I ran into one of the girls that is actually outwardly friendly to me. She asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. My response: “I don’t really have any plans because I don’t have any friends here yet.” Why lie? She took pity on me, having been new in SF once herself, and invited me out. Last Saturday night, I actually had legit plans with someone who lives in this city. It turned out to be a pretty good-sized group, so I met a few new people. I had a great time! I danced, I drank, I friended my ass off. Now I await their verdict. Am I cool enough to be asked out again? I can’t seem too eager, but I can’t play it too cool. It’s elementary school all over again.

I’m on my way. I’ll get there. I’ll find my buddies. Getting there is the hard part. When I do finally have friends I think I may allow myself one really good Sally Field Oscar moment (“They like me! They really like me!”) and then dorkshame myself.

If you know of anyone who lives here whose personality you think would mesh well with mine, feel free to send ‘em my way. Yes, that is how desperate I am. I am trolling for friends on my blog which is read by people from the United States to countries I’ve never even heard of but am now intrigued to visit.