Behind the Scaffolding Nets

So this story goes on secretly, as no one can see me anymore, behind the net of the scaffolding surrounding all the windows of my condo. And the sunshine is even obscured by it, as it is black w orange stripes, all fastened around, summer in NYC, in the desultory heat and hi humidity, w nary a lemon drop or a cool drink to soothe the parched throat. The paper sticks sullenly to the wood planks that give access to my terrace, and u cannot lift it; it is stuck tightly w some awful adhesive! Reminds me of a panicked mouse on a glue trap, of my pathetic youth, where vermin infestation was a fact of life, and where mice roam, run and jump even! The only saving grace we heard was that where there are mice, no rats come in. Nope, graduated from that hellish, scary reality, where cockroaches and what we knew as water bugs ran also, potentially into your beds, cabinet drawers, closets, toilet bowls, u name it! Smoke bombs to snuff them out, but they always return, as prolific they r in reproduction in slums and tenements too old to be standing anymore. They will fall down, the facades, the floorboards rotting, before any landlord does adequate property maintenance. Lack of dinero (money)  is the root cause of neglect. Not all landlords have sufficient resources, and may depend on the rent in order to keep the properties safe and maintained.

Now here comes the pandemic, and its privations. People no longer have their jobs. Government benefits r running out within days. No evictions allowed by fiat of the government, which makes sense, to a point, but if u remove people paying rent, and u eliminate eviction, then those same marginalized landlords cannot pay their property taxes, maintenance costs, even heating oil, which also goes to heat your home’s water…u can see the ripple effects. Some buildings r going to fall down, others will be burned up in arson, rights that tenants have, like replacement of ceilings and rotting floors, due to leaks, exterminators, repairmen, like plasterboard replacers, plumbers, electricians, u name it, it’s a constellation of people who work in housing…all r going to fall by the wayside. I am reminded of the Chinese laundryman of my youth: “No ticky, no shirty.” He meant when u pay nada, u get nada (nothing). When u take away means of support, en masse, u get society falling apart at the seams, which this country is doing now, in free fall. Multiply it a thousand times over, people desperate so much so that prison starts to look like a good deal then. At least u get a bed, 3 square meals, some medical care, and if needed, more extensive care, that is arranged too, at the hospital, albeit wearing cuffs when conscious. I saw that too, people in cuffs in the Bronx, from stabbings, ER North Central Bronx Hospital, fall 1995-winter 1996. GSW’s were gun shot wounds. Some people were DOA too, dead on arrival. Some things stay in memory 4ever. Is it better to be in prison, w a public defender to protect your rights in court, vs being homeless and hungry, in either a red hot city dying of heat stroke in heat indices of 110+ degrees of misery? Or in winter, when the Old Man Winter howls wind and snow, ice your way, such that the homeless risk freezing to death on the streets, rather than go into hellhole shelters, where occupants r likely to steal your meager belongings from a shopping cart filled w trash bags of detritus? We can go take a poll by Homeless Outreach volunteers.

Meanwhile, the rich and famous r seen in their home habitats now, via ZOOM meetings, or YouTube tapings, such that u see the difference between us and them. And boy the difference is vast! Big vats of square footage, massive spaces w winding glass wide stairs to multiple bedrooms upstairs, views of the ocean, a voluminous in ground swimming pool, all private, decked out w awnings, big umbrellas, tables and chairs, cushioned sofas, rattan or teak, a couple of designer dogs running the property, all coiffed and pedicured even, a bathroom for every bedroom, plus a couple extra, 4 good measure…security pads w 24 hrs watching outside. What is the difference w walk in closets, called California closets now, because they originated there…and the hut, the hovel of a tenement, walk up, no functioning elevator, again due to lack of maintenance or parts that no longer exist. And doors that r too narrow to let in nice furniture, which u might want, but your front door does not accommodate. Such was my past life and that of some dear friends, who r still in my life. I witnessed them too.

But we did have love! Love of friends, love of parents, aunts, uncles, some cousins even, a few boys who grew into men, who stuck around too, because who can forget us? We inch into their hearts by virtue of our imperfections, our vulnerability, our joie de vivre (joy of life). We have addictions, faults, some issues w health, but yet we r vital, compassionate, kind, loving to a fault, and all we ask for is some consideration, some willingness to see it from our side, our moccasins, after you have walked a couple of miles. Not in today’s heat tho! The heat index is like 100 degrees w heat and humidity. And ozone in the atmosphere, too high for those w chronic lung diseases. So we look out from the scaffolding w the nets obscuring our view. And imagine what it is like to be the Hollywood movie star w all that and more, plus grand parties, the obligatory back yard island w grill, a boat on the harbor, a fridge for those nice kabobs, mixed drinks served by a butler…and your own private beach, rolling waves into your fitful sleep, as no one is near u, behind your manicured obscuring bushes, in Malibu, Hollywood Hills, u name it…a far cry from most of the South Bronx or even North Bronx tenements, filled w teeming immigrants yearning to breathe free, but for the reality of property taxes that don’t support your schools, well, black and white realities anyway…and placement of water filtration plants, w death rates known to spiral the closer u r…nope, not in Malibu, my dear friends, not Rodeo Drive either.

History of discrepancies in Black and White America. We have to build bridges, not walls, and scrap the system of inequality. In the name of the righteous men who went before: President Abraham Lincoln, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Representative John Lewis, Senator John McCain, civil rights leaders, who believed in the promise of America: that of equal opportunity 4 all. Let us remember and move forward w reinvestment, not division and hatred, so viciously fomented in this age of tyranny. There r also many women who stood up right beside these men, not counted here, but in a future essay. They all deserve the accolades of honor and the best way is to learn from them, as we stand on the shoulders of giants, those to whom we owe a deep debt. And also, once learned, spread the education far and wide, to change hearts and minds, to know that we were all aliens in a strange land, once. And prejudice, spat upon, beaten, not given opportunity, silenced, taken away in the night, never to be heard from again….that is what is behind the scaffolding w the dark nets. That which we don’t want to see. But needs to see the light of day, 4 all!

Equal Rights in America (4th of July)

The 4th of July in the United States of America is a misnomer, a mirage, when we look at the reality of an ideal: that of equal rights and fraternity, achievement by merit, not birthright. In my lifetime, this was at least partially true, and I have achieved it, towards my mid-life, at least. I have been fortunate, and privileged tho. The vast majority have not been, especially in this age of profound inequality, RACISM, nationalistic impulses given free rein, hatred, schools the great equalizer of yore, except that school funding is tied very heavily to the surrounding area’s property taxes. Hence, school in segregated and poor areas, w lower property taxes, get proportionally lower funding 4 supplies, updating, needed upgrades in computers, laptops, tablets, air conditioners, staffing levels, supplemental staff, like psychologists, nurses, guidance counselors, offerings like advanced placement courses, honors classes, field trips, extras galore like yearbooks, college application fees, senior dues, prom, senior trip, commemorative class rings and the like…I knew of people who could not do almost any of those things, for lack of personal income. Lots of kids ate free lunch, a measure of the official family poverty level too. My own personal difference was that my parents were divorced by this time, and mom and I were left poor, hence that free lunch, but guilty, bedeviled dad coughed up 4 extras, so that his daughter didn’t do without. I had asked him to take me out of my home years before, due to physical and other types of abuse, only to be rebuffed. I was told to wait till college to go off, to escape that house, some 3 years in the future. Meantime, yours truly was in that house, w a needed broken tooth to be sawed down, to match my 2 front teeth. An ironing board had been pushed into my mouth. Even that didn’t get me out of my situation. I remember every single thing that happened in those years. I was looked at as a sexual object also by mom’s drunk boyfriend. That wasn’t enough to get an exit either. No one would rescue me. Wait 4 college, I was told, and did, crying often. Amazing now to look back and see all that I achieved, despite this childhood. Mom was also a victim in this, left w less than she needed to keep the house financially afloat, and also unable to work, due to undiagnosed and hidden birth defects. We survived because of this drunk, abusive boyfriend, and the help of other family members, plus alimony. Mom never worked again, after age 27. In the time of that era, her high school aided graduates w placement assistance, and she was a typing pool clerk. When I found out years later abt the birth defect, I was increasingly proud of my mother, for having overcome, to have been a high school graduate even. She had had been borne w a host of problems, in a bedroom in the South Bronx, w a midwife, when she needed a hospital birth, but there was neither health insurance nor money for such. She had hydrocephalus, commonly known as “water on the brain.” Also, rickets, a severe bone weakening deformity due to calcium and Vitamin D deficiency. Her birth mother, my grandmother, also smoked during pregnancy, as the Surgeon General’s Warning wasn’t yet law in November 1935. Mom was life long damaged by this being born in the Great Depression, when my grandparents couldn’t even start their own apartment, living w grandma’s family, doubled up.  It took time, and eventually in years to come, the new little family moved out, but grandpa was a high school drop out, so his options for future employment were limited. The only thing that saved them was that it wasn’t as necessary in that era to be educated. Grandpa spent his life selling men’s suits and other clothes. He made a living, just barely. I just saw where they lived in 1940, in a hand filled in census form, from, living in Bedford Park, the Bronx, a place I never knew they lived in. I cried seeing my mom listed as a 4 yr old child then, living there. She died in 2014. I miss her to this day. All of them.

But my point in this essay is to say that the promise of America, the merit argument of achievement via education, also a robust financial aid safety net, has irretrievably frayed, just in my own lifetime. I got out of a great public high school, that I got into by merit, and also free practice based after school classes, to take an entrance exam, and made it. And the State of NY took pity by its programs of the time, looking at the finances on a Financial Aid Form, and getting all sorts of both state and federal aid, to go to public SUNY at Buffalo, 1981-1985. I took on even an extra semester after that, not needed, but desirable, because of the need for near fluency in Spanish, went off to a 2nd jaunt in Puerto Rico, their University in Rio Piedras, and it helped. From there, college grad, off to Columbia University, Teachers College, again on scholarship, because very motivated to achievement at the time. A way to get out of that house….I succeeded. Made a career as a teacher, working and studying, same time. The taxpayer aid was spent well, as I could then become a taxpayer myself.

Today’s kids have much less. The aid net has been broken up, w much more in loans, guaranteed w hi fees attached, eating the principal, but u have to pay back the full amount u didn’t receive…the average college grad today is graduating w $100K in debt! How can anyone have such an educational debt AND establish their own apartment even? Pretty much no one! I know parents who r my own age, who took on their sons’ and daughters’ indebtedness in order that they’d be able to get out, to establish their own homes, albeit modest ones, smallish city apartments. Just to have a chance, even tho said parents were ill equipped to take on those debts also, not having sufficient money to service the debts on top of their own living costs…but u do what u do 4 love. To give hope to the next generation.

Imagine countless millions of youths w no real opportunities to advance, make themselves professionals in a tech heavy culture, but behind the 8 ball from the get go, because financial aid isn’t really there 4 them, like it was 4 me, just a generation or two ago. Some girls were brought up w the notion that their own life path was going to be simply: “Be a misses. Your husband will support u.” Quite literally. And the life long self image suffered henceforward, to be dominated and even abused by those same husbands. Much better to be a co-equal w your would be husband, that u don’t need him for money, but instead 4 love, and respect. Aretha Franklin had that song right, by God!

The Road Not Taken

A close friend tonight suggested by text that I should write a novel of my own life story. I was surprised that she would think my story was worth writing, and I pointed out that no one wants to read a story that has a sad ending, even tho historically that is an untruth. In fact, many love stories that end badly, where u do not get your heart’s desire, r often the most compelling tales. It is all in the craft of the telling, and the journey the story takes u on, that people begin to root for a certain outcome, because feelings become engaged, so tautly, like a rope that is holding u as u scale a mountain cliff, and all that holds u from oblivion is that rope and pulleys, that obviously can support your weight.

So it has been 4 me, as I have actually led a quite unique life. I dismiss it as trite tho, because literally every person’s life is unique, w facets that shape us as diamonds might in the crust of the Earth, carbon millions of years in the making. And every single diamond pulled from the Earth has its own unique journey, just as we do. Not all people know that graphite is an isomer of carbon too, yet distinct from diamond, another isomer. I know this because I went to a celebrated high school in New York City, which changed the trajectory of my life 4 the better. But I digress.

I have to date 7 scrapbooks running all thru my life, since age 11 that I began writing them, of significant events and shows, and concerts, w ticket stubs, and details of who I went with. To this date, I have also written very personal things in my scrapbooks, of not only me, but also others who have touched my life, including a list of Boyfriends and/or Sexual relationships, which currently number 25 on said list. No one has access to my scrapbooks but one day they too shall be laid bare, w their secrets. Now, don’t get me wrong, not all the men and boys on such list r actual conquests. I say boys because the first name on the list is the boy that I first kissed, and nothing more than that. But it was significant to me, to be included, as I looked at it. So in fact there r “boys” when I too was a “girl,” meaning a teenager, who was precocious in that arena. There were no sexual assaults per se, but one boyfriend of the list came back to visit me in graduate school, and thought that he had carte blanche w me, on a date, and no, he did not! We had long since broken up, and just because I agreed to a date did not mean he was entitled to sex. But I was foolish that night, and allowed him to come back w me to the Columbia University dorm room, which was a single room, and he almost forced me to do what I clearly did not want! But I was persistent in my refusal, and fighting back, so he got the message. He did stop, and left. I was lucky frankly, that he did, as he was too much 4 me, being much bigger than I was at the time. Hence my entry into the many years later #MeToo movement. It stays w you, these sorts of memories.

On the list there r asterisks, for the ones who had intercourse, which r not most of the names. Also 3 male virgins who were deflowered by me. These things r clearly naughty, but they r by no means unusual 4 a girl who never married, who has dated over these long 56 years of life, both in person and via the internet later, one in a phishing scam even, before I became wise to such tomfoolery. Who would guess that Bill Clinton would famously say “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” And later, it was revealed that “sex” was not to be the word used for oral activities only, and not having intercourse. Even to this day, some hold to that definition, even tho yours truly does not subscribe to it. To me, if u r having oral sex, U R HAVING SEX, DAMN IT! Or petting even, or such activities designed to elicit arousal and physical responses to stimuli. All of this is sex. But I even put up the boy who first kissed me, so my threshold is rather low, admittedly. Said kiss was just a lip kiss, a peck, quite innocent. But we both thought it was an important event. And that was key.

And my list contains names of men who turned out to be gay, unbeknownst to me at the time of dating. It was revealed later, when said men felt it was safe to come out. In therapy years later, it was understood that my repeated attraction to gay guys was part of a pattern of dysfunction w my own dad, a life long closeted gay man. Subconsciously, I wanted to get that sense of love and belonging that my father withheld from me, so I sought out guys who could patch that wound. Every single time, these men did not give me what I sought, ultimately. Perhaps it was unreasonable, as I can perfectly understand, that a man who is almost a 10 on the homosexuality scale, meaning purely gay, how can he find solace and romance w a woman then? Yet my father was not even given that choice. It was not unlike putting a square peg in a round hole. In his time of life, he was forced into that only sanctioned sexual relationship, the heterosexual marriage, and poor mama was none the wiser 4 it either. It was hidden from her, for years and years.

As I got older, and became sexually sophisticated in my own right, I started to piece together the strings of the puzzle, and the little lapses w witnesses who saw my father parked in a  car, kissing another man on the lips. And the types of sex he wanted w my mother, which were outside of the norm. We figured it out. He even died without telling either of us the truth. I felt like he owed us that, at least. It had repercussions life long, 4 both of us. My parents were terrible together overall, even tho both loved me very much, a saving grace. They stayed married a long 16 years even before the divorce became final. In many ways, it marked my life, the dissension and misery, and also the financial ramifications of deprivation and even poverty, while the males all did well, in contrast to me and mom. But this essay is just another chapter of my life thus far.

A man who is gay may be on a continuum of sexuality actually, where 1 is purely heterosexual and 10 is purely homosexual, and in between these poles lies bisexuality, transgender identity, non-binary, questioning, or LGBTQ. A person could be almost completely purely gay, but find that a special person moves them so much, that it becomes love, of an intimate variety, which would be atypical 4 them, but not w that person. I have heard many such tales over the years. Some lesbians have come after me in this life also, but as I do not see myself as a lesbian, and am a pure heterosexual, so no purchase is given such impulses that have been offered to me. I feel 4 them, as it is lousy to be attracted to someone who is not in the least capable of being attracted to u. But I am honest and do not ever lead them on. I am a man’s woman, pure.

I have however liked the song by Shania Twain: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and also by Katy Perry: “I Kissed a Girl.” Even tho I never did, not like that anyway. Just friendship kisses on the cheek. One such gay guy kissed me in my teenager hood, before he came out, and man! He knocked my socks off. To date, it may have been the kiss that broke all records. Such passion in the moonlight, a full moon it was, in the Bronx. Both of us wanted each other then, quite badly, but my code was that it was important to not cross such barrier of sex while in that age bracket, and in my high school, it would certainly have gotten out…so I held back, tho it was a decision that may have altered my life path, eventually. I often fantasize in a time machine kind of way, what if we could go back to that night, and take the course not taken…what would have the result been? I wanted to. His name is on that list of course, but no asterisk, and also no deflower notation either. Ahhh, to be that blushing 16 year old girl again, in the moonlight, in a night of someone else’s Sweet 16 party. That girl and I were born on the same day too, in the same hospital even, and both of our mothers became friends years later at the Senior Center! And we both became nurses in 2nd careers we undertook, how abt them apples?!

But while I still have breath in my body, the story is not over, and this is but a chapter recollection tonight, at the behest of my dear friend Maria, also from that same high school class. So here’s a little piece of my life story, most names not given, but the readers will know who they r, by the descriptions of events. I hope it has held u in good stead as a short reading exercise from the annals of Marsha’s life. All of this is true. I can still see that night in my mind’s eye, in all its majesty and beauty, and passion, even tho it is tucked away deeply in the recesses of memory, albeit cherished ones.

And finally, if u could go back to a path of sexual proclivity w someone u wished 4, would u do the same thing again? Or is it better to have a life long deep friendship w its own beauty, of a different sort? Perhaps the key to this question would have been easier to answer if I had but found someone else who stirred me as that man did so long ago. No man was on my same page w me at the same time of life, hence no marriage, no children. And that is the pity. Even the would be rapist, years later, on a phone call, was shocked that no one had scooped me up. I was such a tasty pastry.

Even as a voluptuously proportioned woman, years later…my kiss still dazzles. And sizzles too. Man! I Feel Like a Woman!