Corona on Crack

Hands up.

Hands out.

Hands. Just hands.

Hands sideways.

Hands other sideways.

Hands up.

Hands up.

Jazz hands.

 

I watched the curious man perform the curious upper body routine. I was idling at a stop light, trying to covertly watch him perform this vigorous dance ritual. I nervously darted my eyes away when I thought he’d turn to face me. I didn’t want to get caught gawking and making eye contact. I didn’t want him to ask me for change.

He never even seemed to realize that I, or anyone else was watching him. He didn’t seem to really notice any part of the world around him.

dancing man

He stood on the concrete median, bare chested and beer bellied, all bare, flailing his gray-hair covered arms above and around his head. I squinted, not because of the sun, but in the way one squints when trying to really understand what is happening. Then, I squinted even harder.

And then I remembered: this man is likely on drugs.

Big cities are seemingly always hotbeds for naughty activities and Houston is no different. With all of the good things (lots of museums, shopping, sports teams) come some not so great things (an active drug scene and very, very creative drug users).

Being stuck inside most of the time is twisting my reality. A few times that I’ve been outside, I almost forgot that the coronavirus-related lock-down is happening. I also almost forgot that Houston is full of interesting characters, walking around like anyone else, except they’re actively in the grips of a wild drug trip.

I have seen people walk straight into oncoming traffic (I’ve actually seen this MANY times, believe it or not). I have seen people having sex and performing cunnilingus (Google it) in daylight. I have seen people urinating and defecating on the street. I have also seen people perform complicated, upper body only dance routines. Dare I say that the jazz hands dance was the most entertaining and the least offensive. Although, in full disclosure, I don’t have anything against cunnilingus.

I also once saw a man, wearing very expensive looking house slippers, walk in and out of a Starbucks, over and over and over again. Each time, he would perform a little jig, in the middle of the parking lot, make a twirl, and re-enter the building. I struggled to drive away; I was mesmerized by the oddity of his athletic ability coupled with his drug-induced behavior. “This man could have truly been an amazing dancer,” I remember thinking. I did not have the same sentiment about jazz hands on the median man.

The thing I thought most about jazz hands on the median man is this: it has now been 6 weeks (or longer) that I have been unable to find bleach. Where in the HELL did this guy find drugs?

Sigh.

A Coronavirus Misanthrope

I would describe myself as a misanthrope. A nice one. A nice misanthrope who actually has a few friends that I love dearly. I have always been able to entertain myself with no, or very little, interaction with other people. In the past, when I have been betrayed by friends, I was disappointed, but I never felt any life-changing pang of loss when I was no longer friends with someone. I have never felt that deep, saddening missing of someone who was still alive. I have felt deep sadness when someone dies, but a disconnection with someone who is still alive never greatly affected me. Overall, I would describe myself as not having much deep interest in other people…

UNTIL NOW.

sad gif

Oh my, my, my, how the tides have changed over the past few weeks. It’s as if the tides heard me boasting about my general, seemingly harmless disdain for other people. And then the tides all got together and conspire against me and against all of humanity, to teach a terrible, long-lasting lesson.

 

Dear tides: I GET IT. I AM SOOOOOO SORRY. WHAT CAN I DO TO FIX THIS?

fix it gif
The answer is nothing. I can do nothing.

I suppose that whenever the coronavirus-related lock downs are lifted, I should not go out into the world, continuing to boast about how deeply misanthropic I am. It turns out, that although I am still not pining over missing friends who essentially dumped me for no good reason (I’m looking at all you lames who couldn’t get over my personal decision to not drink until inebriation), I am *totally* missing friendly interactions with strangers.

waving bear gif

Do you remember those people? Strangers? The Starbucks barista that you don’t really know but somehow remembers your name. The old lady in Target that asks you where the cat food is located. The even older lady in Palais Royal whose question about which pair of shoes look better leads to a long conversation about where she is going to wear the shoes (her sister’s funeral) and why she is nervous about buying a pair with high heels (she’s nervous that the graveyard soil will be damp and unsturdy). All of these are real things that have happened to me by the way.

I also miss hanging out with my friends. I know, gosh, who doesn’t, right? I miss laughing loudly in restaurants, always saying “yes” to bread baskets, and sharing crazy stories with them. I miss people laughing at my jokes. I miss laughing at stories about other people’s husbands.

I guess some part of me likes some people. Not many people. Only a few of them. But those few people really, really, do count. I miss my people. All five of them.

*all GIFs courtesy of http://www.giphy.com*

Stranger Danger, Part 1

Let’s talk about interacting with strangers.

Interactions with strangers have provided some of the most interesting stories of my life. A friend once said to me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even leave the house most days.” That is how often and how strange my stranger interactions are.

Stranger interactions are so common to me that nowadays, it takes a VERY strange interaction to get me to even think twice about it. Yesterday, I had such an interaction.

Yesterday, I was sitting outside of my local Barnes and Noble bookseller. One of my past times is to go to the bookstore and wander around. Sometimes I leave with $80 worth of books, but most days, I just wander around, enjoy the atmosphere, and if the guilt of “just looking” gets to me, I will purchase a copy of Psychology Today or some virtually unknown, paperback literary journal.

As I was sitting in my car, kind of fumbling around with my purse and finishing up an episode of “The Daily” podcast (my go-to source for short bursts of information and entertainment), a beggar approached my window.

I have pretty good intuition and I usually play it safe. I didn’t immediately feel threatened, and he stayed a bit back away from the car, silently waving, trying to get my attention.

He held up a quarter and made the universal hand motion for “spare a quarter?”

I waved him to the other side of the car, to the driver’s side, and rolled down the window.

“Hi there, ma’am, do you have even just a quarter you can spare? I think I can get a bus ride if I can just get a little bit more,” he started.

He was almost soft spoken, with a twangy Texan accent. He was short, probably around my own height of a little more than five feet tall. He had curiously bright blue eyes, dirty blond, long, stringy, greasy hair and the kind of dark, tanned skin that only comes from being exposed to lots and lots of outdoor elements. He was almost the shade of some parts of my own body, and I am a Black American.

I very quickly pick up on people’s natures, and even when I still give a person a chance to prove me wrong, my initial twinge of judgement about their nature has never once been wrong.

Regardless of this man’s past or present, I could sense that his nature was mellow, and perhaps kind.

Believe it or not, I have met lots and lots and lots of beggars. Regardless of what a person is doing, begging or running a Fortune 500 company, the nature of that person, at least to me, is almost immediately apparent, and I have learned to question my innate guidance less, having gone against my better judgement in the past and been proven dumb for having done so.

“Sure,” I said, and I began to clear the clutter from my dashboard cubbie to fish out some change.

“Yeah, you know, I have made some bad choices,” he confessed.

I didn’t ask what kind. One part of me didn’t care, but the greater part of me now operates from a place of peace and non-judgement that I happily live in. This place of peace does not have space for or interest in the the bad choices of other people.

“We all have made bad choices,” I reminded him, and smiled. His already curiously bright eyes lit up a little bit, and for a moment, I could kind of see the guy he could be, or perhaps he would be, when he decided to make different choices.

Disclaimer: Don’t worry, these are completely platonic, entirely asexual observations. This story does not end with me taking him home.

“You sure do have a pretty smile,” he said, seeming relaxed.

“Thank you,” I responded, still gathering together the coins, and wondering if this guy is going to make out like a bandit because I have approximately $87 worth of nickels and dimes in my car cubbie.

“I am getting all the change together,” I reassured him, wondering if he was thinking about how long it was taking me.

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind; I am just thankful that you didn’t shoo me away.”

At this point, I was digging my nails against the last few cents, and putting it all together in my hands.

“I can see God around you,” he continued. At this point, I am actually not having cynical thoughts. I am not thinking, “Dude, I am going to give you the money, no need to bring God into this” or “Dude, I am not going to give you dollar bills because you mentioned God.”

For a few moments, I was just having a purely pure interaction with a random, middle aged dude who was down on his luck.

I handed over the change (finally) and he took it, and thanked me genuinely. He put it away and took a step or two from the car, and came back.

I had not rolled up the window and I did not seem annoyed that he came back. That’s because I wasn’t annoyed.

“Hey, would you like to pray with me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded. Even though I am not much of a church going, Bible thumping, anything nowadays, the peace I currently live in also extends to any sort of religious beliefs that others have, including any that do not mirror the ones I was raised in.

“Ok,” he started with now an almost child-like, giddy energy in his voice, “you say the prayer. You lead it, and I will follow.”

This is kind of where this story gets weird, at least for me.

No one has ever asked me to pray for them aloud or to lead a prayer. In fact, in the church I was raised in, the misogynistic view of women in the pulpit or in any type of meaningful worship leadership, prevailed.

Although I do not subscribe to such horseshit now, and to be frank, I thought of it as horseshit as a kid, too, I was completely shocked, as a woman, to be asked to lead a prayer. A prayer for a stranger, in a bookstore parking lot.

“Oh, oh my goodness, no one has ever asked me to pray for them, errr, I mean, to, um, lead a prayer, I think,” I stumbled.

I was so shocked that I had put my right hand over my breast, in classic, southern lady shocked posture.

“It’s ok,” he assured me. “How bout this? You say a prayer for me, silently, and I will say a prayer for you, too. What’s your name?” he asked.

“Nicole,” I responded. “And yours?”

“Chris,” he replied.

I stuck my hand out of the window, heart full of both confusion and thankfulness, and opened my hand.

He seemed shocked. I am sure he is treated very poorly by most people, based on his appearance and current stage of life. He looked at my hand like it was an oddity, but quickly presented his own.

I squeezed his hand, smiled, and said, “Good luck, Chris.”

“Thank ya, miss,” he told me, turned away, and continued walking.

I believe that the universe (or God, or Yoda, or whatever you like to call it) is represented in all of us. Sometimes, I believe, the universe presents its strangest selves to us for us to see and experience the odd, yet beautiful.

What do you think?

Until tomorrow, my friends…

 

P.S.

I fell way off the wagon; I am afraid to count the number of days I haven’t written. Regardless of how my blog may now suffer from short term abandonment issues, I am back with something interesting to write about. Perhaps I should only write on days when I actually have something interesting to say?

What It’s Like: Working With a Muslim Family

I want to start off this post by saying that I am very grateful for my life and the series of choices and happenstances that have put me in this exact spot, in this very moment. I am very, very fortunate and I am practicing being more grateful and observant of my good fortune.

One of the things that I am most thankful for is the many opportunities I have had to meet different people. And by different, I mean people who are of a different race, religion, background, nationality, gender, and experience than I am. You know, all of the typical things that humans use to segregate themselves and to judge the ones not in their special little circle.

Sometimes the opportunity to meet different people come because of me reaching out or because of some other self-directed involvement or effort. Most of the times, however, I find that opportunity comes simply by being open to it coming.

A few months ago, I started tutoring two children from an Eastern block country, near Russia. I will provide as few details as I can about this family, in an effort to protect their identities and keep the focus on the story and my experience, and the religion of Islam, which I am in no way qualified to even begin to discuss.

The first time I went to their house for a tutoring session, there was no answer on the phone for 15 minutes. Tardiness angers me, and over time, I have had to learn to manage my anger when people are late. But, this time, anger kind of got the best of me. I’d driven almost 50 minutes in hellish Houston traffic, just to be on time. And there I was, still on time, even after navigating around a big wreck, and the people were not answering the phone.

I looked at the clock on my dashboard and said to myself, “I’m only waiting 15 minutes; then, I’m leaving.”

I also had a bunch of other bad thoughts about these people BEFORE I even met them. Perhaps they were sharpening their saws, so they could cut me up into little bits? Is there such a thing as the “Tutor Strangler” in any popular movies? They must be absolutely terrible people; how dare they be so late?

I worked myself up into an almost seething frenzy when my phone rang at exactly 14 minutes past the hour. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

The frenzied sounding father apologized profusely and asked me to please excuse them and come up to tutor the children. Not wanting to break the rule I’d set for myself, I reluctantly went up to meet them.

I immediately thanked myself for the decision to try, the decision to trust the universe, which is absolutely not something that I usually do.

Upon entering, the entire family came to warmly greet me, one by one. The father told me that he appreciated me tutoring his children and that he trusted my abilities as a teacher. Having taught public school in rough areas for several years, hearing the words “appreciation” and “trust” the first time I interacted with a parent was a rarity, to say the least.

After the session was over, the mother meekly came up to me, and handed me a warm, paper towel wrapped bundle. I said thank you as graciously as I could, not knowing at all what was customary or rude to them, realizing I knew nothing about the culture of their home country, and also realizing that my “American guilt” is still pretty strong.

I left the apartment and walked to the elevator and opened the napkin. She had given me two freshly baked rolls of bread, the steam gently greeting my grinning face as I pinched off a piece and ate it.

At that moment, I realized that something really beautiful had happened. A shared experience between people who are seemingly nothing alike, joined together by the universe’s pull and their own collective abilities to extend a bit of trust to another human being.

For the family, they had trusted a strange American to enter their home, the first time they met them. Given the media and hatred and negative messaging about Muslims in America, if I were them, I do not think I would have had the courage to invite a strange American into my home. But, they did.

For me, I had continued with the tutoring appointment, even though I was angry that they were late and a little afraid of going into a strange home. I also greedily ate home made bread from a stranger, something that I am pretty sure children are taught not to do, and there I was, as an adult, eating a stranger’s food, in an elevator, no less.

By the time I reached the first floor, I loved those people. I loved the children. I loved their kindness. I loved the open and loving energy that you can feel in their house. I texted my mother and told her I was all right and that everything went well and I even told her, “I love them already.”

I continue to work with the children and the family continues to treat me better than any parents have in all my years of teaching. They have invited me to stay after the session to have dinner with them. They have given me other food gifts. They’ve taken the time to share things about their culture and food with me. They’ve even let me hold their infant child, which for a woman who is terrified of small children, was a big feat for me to even agree to do such a thing.

Somehow, the fact that I know almost nothing about Islam, or their home country, or their language, yet I am still able to share very human experiences with the family makes me feel incredibly fortunate.

My experience with the family is truly a testament to what great things can happen when, even if you are scared or emotional, you can summon up the courage to trust others and the universe.

You just might not be disappointed.

Until tomorrow, my friends…