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new york i love you but you’re bringing me down

For a while, for work, I went to New York City once a year to run a one-on-one student publication critique program. For $15, you got an hour to talk with an expert stranger about your newspaper or magazine or website or yearbook or your staff issues or your problematic faculty adviser. It was fun, and people got a LOT out of it.  

Here are a few things that happened to me:

•  Found a deli I liked directly across the hotel that would make you a sandwich, which was just a pound of freshly sliced roast beef (all pink and paper thin) on sourdough bread. It was $9. As sandwiches go in NYC, this was a steal. 

• Running this program meant I usually was trapped at my volunteer table from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. for 3-4 days. We closed for lunch, and I usually had 30 minutes to either grab something from the lobby bar or run over to the deli.

• This was always in March. Maybe April sometimes. Spring break-y time. In Georgia, March and April are already “pre-summer.” It’s 80 in the days, but it might still be 45 overnight. But in NYC, it’s still chilly.

• If I had 30 minutes for a break, I didn’t want to waste that time waiting on elevators, so I’d just jet across the street in whatever I was wearing. Usually: Jeans, t-shirt, cardigan or hoodie. 

• One day, on my way across a chilly but tolerable 7th avenue around 53rd. A dude leans out and yells, right at me, “Girl you got that COLD blood.” I nodded. Hell yes I do. (I don’t consider this catcalling. Dude was just identifying and stating a fact.)

• Years later, here in Atlanta, about two blocks from where I live, I went into a convenience store to get a drink after I pumped gas. I was about 35 (a white lady). The blacktop was being resurfaced. A guy, about 19, ran up to me to walk me in to the store. “You missed the show! I just put my shirt back on,” and I said maybe I’d catch tomorrow’s. We both laughed. (I also don’t really consider this catcalling. Dude was also stating facts.) 

• And only one time, it wasn’t snowing when I got in the subway, but when I got out, it had just started, and the glittery little crystals were blowing around me as I came out of the subway stairs. Absolutely gorgeous. I watched it until I thought I’d just drop dead from coldness or overstimulation, then retreated back to the hotel and put three pairs of socks on to go to bed.

• In a cab from Manhattan to LGA one time the driver was like, “You have a trustworthy face,” and then told me his life story about growing up in Bangladesh and as as a young teen beginning an affair with his neighbor. He told me he’d never told anybody but that I seemed OK to accept this information.

Part of me is like, OK, cool, people see me or check my vibe and are like, I’m gonna unburden my soul a little. It doesn’t take much from me, just some nods and smiles, and then another life story is mine. But then it steeps. It sits and strengthens in my head. Then, is that My Thing? No. Not wholly. But somehow, partially.

New York, I love you, but sometimes you’re just not for me. 

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godspeed, bob and doug

I would also like to leave earth for a while. It’s gotten kind of crappy recently.

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Top ten nightmares I have about high school even though I am a 35-year-old adult with two college degrees:

1. I missed something and didn’t graduate after all. Goon squad picks me up from work to take me back to high school.
2. I can’t find my class schedule or my locker combination.
3. Dress code violation.
4. A teacher confiscated my car keys and I can’t leave.
5. My parents forgot to pick me up for 18 years.
6. I did my homework but I can’t find it to turn it in.
7. I didn’t know we had homework (because I was at work, doing my adult job).
8. Missed the bus and locked out of my house. Knocking on neighbors’ doors to use their phone to call my mom.
9. Can’t find a door to leave the school, but other people can and leave without me.
10. Can’t find my place in line at graduation. Don’t graduate. Doomed to repeat twelfth grade forever.

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Hallelujah

Jeff Buckley would have been 50 this year.

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Allies

If you don’t know, I’m white. I’m 100% Scotland/Ireland/France white. Pug nose, un-tannable fishbelly white. My hair has been turning white since I was 19. I slather on the moisturizer, but I have had wrinkles since middle school.

But. I live in the south. I have lived in the south my whole life. The most north I’ve ever lived is D.C., and that’s still the south (technically). I am familiar with race relations. It’s not like I spent my life in Omaha or anything where I don’t even know if they have “persons of color.”

A lot of people want to be an “ally.” Whites want to be allies for blacks. Straights want to be allies for gays. Men want to be allies to women. And on and on. But a lot of these people don’t understand that to be an ally, you have to be willing to pay for it. You have to be risking something.

When I think about allies, and what it really means to be an ally, I think of a white Australian guy named Peter Norman. Peter Norman won the silver medal in the 200-meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics. His time, 20.06 seconds, still stands as the record time for an Australian running 200 meters. Two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, won first and third place.

You’ve seen this photograph. Two black athletes on an Olympic podium, raising their fists in the Black Power salute with their heads bowed. They’re wearing black gloves—Smith on his right hand, Carlos on his left. It’s a powerful image of hope and reverence and defiance. And next to them, sometimes cut out of the frame, is Peter Norman.

After the race, Smith and Carlos told Norman what they planned to do on the podium. They asked if he believed in human rights, and God, and Norman said yes. He said, “I’ll stand with you.” And when Carlos left his gloves in his room, Norman suggested they share the pair they had with them. Carlos said he expected Norman to look afraid when they got up on the podium, to see fear in his eyes, and he didn’t. Carlos said, later, “I saw love. Peter never flinched.”

When Norman went back to Australia, he wasn’t well received. Australia refused to send him to the 1972 Olympics, even though he qualified repeatedly. In fact, Australia didn’t send a men’s track team at all. In the 80s, Norman tore his Achilles tendon, then later suffered from alcoholism, a painkiller addiction and severe depression.

Norman died in 2006.

Smith and Carlos were pallbearers. They stood side by side, at the front of Norman’s funeral procession, his coffin on their shoulders. “Go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman,” Carlos said.

This is what I mean when I say that if you’re going to call yourself an ally, you have to be willing to risk what you have. And you have to take that risk unflinchingly, and with love.