Because my mother is Puerto Rican, my grandmother Beatrice was convinced that I was going to come out of the womb black. Beatrice is my father’s mother; she crosses her legs, knits sweaters, and reads the Times. My mother is a thin white woman with auburn hair who looks every bit Protestant, but that’s just because she shops in Garden City of Long Island. From the way my father tells the story of my birth, though, everyone in the hospital knew she was Puerto Rican. Puerto Ricans believe that the louder the woman screams during labor, the more beautiful the baby will be. My mother Yolanda screamed as if she hadn’t had two glasses of white wine when she began her contractions. Imagine my grandmother’s surprise when I came out looking like a cute little devil. (Redheads are never spoken of as sweet angels no matter how cute we are.) The day I was born was the first day my grandparents began speaking with my parents again. My father refused to accept the bribe of a corvette and a country club membership if he did not marry my mother. Since he turned his parents offer down and chose my mother as his family, telephone lines were cut. Then there was an announcement made that Stephanie Tara was born at 4:38 p.m., 6 lbs. 4 oz. Once my grandmother saw that I was indeed white, she offered to throw a baby shower. A baby shower, unlike a wedding, is a place where people should not feel insulted. It’s never the case that this one cannot believe that you thought she should be seated at the very same table as that one. Showers truly are celebrations… except when you mingle my mother’s family with my father’s.
• I love the way he tells a story • Not commitment-phobic • Nurturing, sensitive and gentle • Well educated / intellectually stimulating • Funny/witty smart humor (not at the expense of others’ feelings) • Hearty seexual appetite, but not so much so that he is willing to stray • Successful and driven yet will always put family first: Family oriented but not to a fault… realizes that “our” family comes before either of our own families. Not a mamma’s boy. • Non-yeller, should know how to fight fair… not call me names or bring up insecurities. • He has stones and knows how to throw them. • He’ll know to show up in the middle of the night if we’re fighting on the phone. He wouldn’t want us to spend any holidays apart. • He doesn’t smoke, ever. • He’ll show up just because. He won’t worry about pride. He’ll want to be with me. Period. • I shouldn’t wonder and question what he thinks or feels: open communicator… A man who knows how to tell me things I don’t want to hear. Should be a man who doesn’t tiptoe around when he’s afraid to say something. He should say, “fcuk what anyone else thinks…this is my woman.” Someone who adores me, thinks of me all the time, and doesn’t show his love with words alone but with actions, too. • Should love me just a smidge more: He must gush over me. I need to know that he adores me, thinks I’m a goddess, and that he would do anything in his power to ensure my happiness. He must put “the unit” first. • He should call. He should know when to call. He shouldn’t make me anxious, and he should know how to relieve it…but only if he means it. Shouldn’t do it just to make me feel better temporarily. I shouldn’t feel jealous or insecure, because I should feel it deep within my bones during those times, that he would never ever ruin us. • It should be friendship, not games. If he isn’t flooding me with love and showering me with affection, I should still enjoy his company. He should genuinely make me laugh out loud, since I don’t do that often. I should feel a deep sense of connectivity. • We’ll have fights; he’ll understand my drama. We’ll continue on, us against the world. But always an us, a team of two. • Picks me up for dates, plans things for us to do, makes reservations. • Likes watching movies, eating, and drinking wine. • Likes Linus. • He’s introspective and not afraid of changing what he wants to. • He’s a whole person, who has things to teach me. I know I probably can’t have everything; there’s a bit about compromise. I also know sometimes what we think we want isn’t really what we want deep down. I have a strong sense he’ll be creative, not necessarily for a living, and he’ll have energy. He’ll teach me things and ADD to the relationship. Never doubt your instincts, but be aware of familiarity breeding unhealthy dependencies.
Okay, so I have a stimulating job. As long as we’re agreed on that, I’ll continue. Every morning, we chew the fat in my office. Gary has a reserved seat my desk. He brings me my grande skim, no whipped, toffee nut latte. Usually, we wrap about how he tied one on a bit too tight last night and what should he have for greasfast. Next comes what outfit did I convince Meredith not to wear out with me last night, or he asks who is up for the night and how’s my lineup looking. Ultimately David chimes in about what his sumbitching mother-in-law is up to now. Today though, as I write this, actually, the team is huddled around my computer watching “Are You Hot?” auditions on my second monitor. One might wonder how I stumbled upon such exciting web footage considering I seldom watch TV. Joan, my boss, interrupted our dishing session, saying that we “must see this show. It is the worst show ever. You have to see it.” (This reminds me of people who tell me to “taste this. I think it’s gone bad.”) “Lorenzo Lamas hosted last night, and he was checking out this girl, and he said ‘Baby, you might not be all that, but I gotta tell ya, I’ve got a taco cooking down south, and it’s almost done.'” Joan lets out a peal of laughter. Joan is a beautiful 40ish petite woman with silver hair, childlike features, and has a laugh that lights her up from the inside like candles in a pumpkin. We proceed to the site as Joan impersonates Lamas; I am the driver. Auditions load. We scan through photos of contestants who’ve appeared on the show. The comments pour: “He might be hot, but he looks like he’s trying to take a dump.” “She is NOT ugly.” “ Hot, without a doubt, but so Joe Lunchbucket.” “All the chicks have fake boobs.” “Man, I can’t tell when they’re fake or not.” “Get out, how can you not tell? They look like they’ve got two saucers of milk under there.” “He’s alright at best. The guy has eyes like pissholes in the snow.” “She’s cute, sure. But you can tell just by looking at her that her name ends in a vowel.” “What did he mean he had a taco down south? Why a taco? Oh, maybe because he’s Spanish?” “Yeah, I don’t really get the taco reference.” “Well maybe he’s uncircumcised.” “Still, why wouldn’t he say burrito then?” “I like the word butt taco, don’t you?” “I like vertical taco myself.” “What’s a vertical taco?” Ah, I have to say, I’m not at all nostalgic for the days of political correctness.
When train doors slide open, the station platform goes from beige to black. It’s flooded with polished shoes; stick legs form an army ready to assemble. From blank to bustling, in a moment. And that’s how it happened. Unlike a car gliding on its last fumes, slowing to a stall, things happened in a sudden. In a moment, people everywhere looked up. The overhead lights hummed orange; the temperature climbed. Passengers kept calm, reading dog-eared books, squinting into their laps. A women near the pole faints from anxiety, from heat. It is contagious. Subway cars beneath rivers are given priority; their passengers plunged into the darkness of the underground tracks. Maneuvering over rails, arms outstretched, teetering for balance, they’re escorted by strangers. Walking over faded food wrappers, searching for a face, someone to connect with. This could be it. Short order cooks sat. Arms folded, white hats resting on knees. Women in pearls escorted their Manolos down crowded streets, ruining their pedicures. Wide streets narrowed with throngs of people, their bags slung over their shoulders, cell phones in one hand, an overpriced bottle of water in the other. Old ladies with fuchsia lipstick, penciled eyebrows, and burgundy hair direct traffic so furiously, their hair fans out like an opened umbrella—can’t help but hope that it’s all just bad luck. People walking in bus lanes, buses too crowded with passengers, no room, wait for the next. Radio City Music Hall marquee dark. Traffic lights blank. Times Square black. “Bike for sale, $600. That’s right, people, God turned the lights out. The end is near.” Men in dark suits, with their ties and jackets draped over a winged arm, walk face down with opened cell phones, text messaging, as if engrossed in a good book, using peripheral vision as a guide. They have arrived: the end of the line for the public pay phone. Dress shoes were broken in. Blisters. Lines for Mister Softee, for the bus, down subway stairs, for the ferry, of people in the street sandwiched between stationary cars. People huddled in semicircles around parked cars with loud radios, as if the President had been shot. Brownstone steps became porches. This was not The South; this was Manhattan with candles. The jewelry district is closed. Hassidic men stand in long navy lines, their white shirts stained with rings of sweat, like water on paper. Just as cadets wait to be bussed off to a co-ed social, a small army of men line up neat as matchsticks on the sidewalk, hats intact, waiting with anticipation and hot palms for their big yellow bus to take them home. Their display windows have been cleared; vaults are filled. The doors to camera stores near 42nd street have been locked. “We Are Open” signs have been turned. A graveyard of standing cardboard signs is all that’s left in their windows. ‘Panasonic’, ‘Sony’, ‘New!’, ‘Ask for Price’ stand alone, naked, their items removed with haste. Looting Prevention. Central park has more heels than shoelaces, more nylon stockings than nylon shorts. Dogs in Sheep’s Meadow race beyond NO DOGS ALLOWED signs. Ice cream vendors sell out their stock, push silver carts along the median of Park Avenue, smiling. Those who hated soda had one. Those who favored chocolate were left with Toasted Almond. Some people live and sleep their work. Unable to get home to Manhasset, to White Plains, to Livingston, they literally sleep at work. Wet with sweat, skin sticking to leather conference room sofas. Outside Grand Central Station, businessmen sat on their laptops with faces of defeat. Over the Queensboro Bridge, New Yorkers shuffled, shielding their eyes with hand-visors, looking up. Others looked down trying to stop the rocking in their heads, leaning over the bridge. Motion sickness. Vomit. A napkin and water from a stranger. Passengers stranded in stalled subway cars on the bridge, pry open doors, sit on the edges, dangle their bare feet, wave to walkers and wait for heroes. People wishing they had dressed lighter, that they had a better cell phone service provider, that they owned a flashlight, that they had worn flats, that they had pressed ‘save’ on their computer, that they kept a car, that they lived on a lower floor. Afternoon lullaby tapes go silent—the baby begins to cry. And so neighbors meet for the first time, in the dark, sharing a candle up shadowed stairwells, whispering by default. Invited into a stranger’s apartment, while previously you barely took a moment to nod up from your paper to extend a half-smile and grunt a punctuated “G’morning” in the elevator. Without knowing how long it would last, friends tried to meet for drinks—take advantage while it lasts, like being excused from school early because of heavy snow, only for the snow to melt. A free half…
Agreed, I have a very anxious dog. Is it genetic you think, this nervousness, or is it learned behavior? My doorman remembers the former tenant of 6K (my boss Joani) and her dog, and he said Amos was very relaxed, snobbish almost, like his owner. What does it say that Linus is a bundle of anxiety, hardly neatly packaged? Let’s face it; he’s unruly. People do it all the time. Choose a spouse, their friends, even their dogs as a reflection of who they are. Not ‘you are what you eat,’ but certainly there’s some cliché about the company you keep. I suppose some people see their dogs as an accessory, an extension of themselves. Some people begin to look like their pets somehow, the wrinkles, the walk, the crooked bottom rack of teeth. Like children, and Burberry plaid, pets are extensions. Of course, it’s nothing new to compare pets to children. I’m guilty. Parents get excited at a giggle, even if it’s gas. And I too, love those little things about Linus, yes, even his gas. The sound he makes when he’s crunching his food, his bunny hop, the way he humps the stuffed dog when he’s bored, the slight tilt of his head when he’s curious, how he sounds like Woodstock from The Peanuts when he yawns. Ah, and the Linus stretch, with his front legs on the ground, his tight little rump of an ass waiving in the air. My favorite Linusism is how he weasels his way under me when I’m sleeping on my stomach, and how he must be touching my skin before he can ever really sleep, nuzzling his way into any of my body nooks. And when I’m inaccessible, he beans when he sleeps. He knows when food is for him by just watching how small I cut it, and he’ll stare at me, ears erect, that brilliant rock-star dog of mine, as if to say, ‘Oh yeah baby, I’m ready. I was born ready; bring it lady.’ No, I don’t take Linus to the playground and strap him into a swing or anything (how cute and deranged would that be?), but he does go to the dog run on 72nd street to run in a self-exercising circle, like a herding dog only much smaller. There, he chases a ball and sniffs some ass, then we go home and make out. Parents care when their children look like ragamuffins before getting on the plane, or are having trouble in school, or do things that make one question their intelligence, like yanking chewed and discarded gum from beneath a desk, and then eating it to see if it retained any flavor. So when Linus’ social or survival skills fall below par and he decides to eat my plant, or when he flies through the air with anything but grace from sofa cushion to ottoman back to sofa cushion again, a furry pinball, what does it say about me? I’m good to the boy, just like a parent. Parents give their children dress coats and new shiny shoes with buckles every year. Dog owners get coats and cable-knit sweaters, and designer leashes and collars, and don’t get me started on the carriers for the little ones. Today even, before leaving for work, I tucked him into a sweater, pushing his little rose petal ears back, and grabbing his little mouth, to stick his head through the sweater opening. Not just any sweater… an argyle sweater with buttons that are usually reserved for blazers with suede elbows. Then he looks up at me, ready for the collar, for the walk, for the pigeons and outdoor stool time. No such luck, instead he gets Smelly & Regis and the daytime offerings of ABC. And then he whines, like a little sissy girl crybaby. Maybe it’s the sweater. Linus isn’t just anxious and nervous; he’s needy. It doesn’t matter what is in his mouth, a sock, the underwear he stole out of the laundry basket, a toy covered in peanut butter, even a steak… that little dog will follow me wherever I go. Boom. Tap tap tap. His little paws click on the hardwood floor. Tap. He sneaks up behind me, tap, with his head carried low, avoiding eye contact, tap, his tail tight against his bottom. He must be thinking, ‘what can I get away with here?’ Then boom, he’s on my lap, his legs collapse and fan beneath him–frog’s legs–happy as a clam, he chews his greasy bone on my leg. I’m suddenly feeling like Dr. Frankenstein.
A one-week romance at camp is the equivalent to a one-month relationship outside of it. You eat all of your meals in the same room and are thrown together with the significant other throughout the day, even when it’s not expected. Co-ed soccer, rainy day art class, when the boys are on the way to the lake and the girls are on the way to the pool. Almost everyone is involved in a summer romance at camp, even if it’s only a romance in your head. If there is someone you’ve got your eye on, all of your friends know it. They shift and maneuver just so you’re seated beside that special someone at the campfire. Cruiser and I were not a figment of my imagination. I had proof. He asked me if I would go out on a date with him. We were both ten and in camp. Neither of us had older siblings. We held hands and walked around the lake twice on our “date.” Finally, we ended up near the horse stables, behind the lake. There was an enormous rock there, nestled between some bushes that everyone in the know referred to as “Make-Out-Rock.” Cruiser and I hoisted ourselves onto it and sat quietly staring at our shoes. Finally he said, “Do you want to run the bases?” I knew exactly what he was talking about, but I was mortified. I was not nervous or embarrassed about making out at all. I was disgusted at how corny he sounded. I remember almost flinching like he had just told a flat joke. Without my saying a word, he scooted off the rock, picked a small stick off the ground, and began to swing it through the air. “Strike one!” He said quickly as he waved the branch. “Strike two!” He continued. My god, he was serious! “Uh oh, strike three, you know what that means. I’ve got to take my base.” Obviously Cruiser was so nervous that he was confusing strikes with balls. “Uh, no.” I said as I peered at him from atop the rock. “It means you’re out.” I was feeling satisfied. “Oh, yeah.” He mumbled. “Well, it’s your turn now.” He handed me the stick. “What, you mean you want me to actually swing it?” “Yeah, it’s your turn.” I felt incredibly stupid swinging the branch in the air counting imaginary balls. But, I wanted to kiss. I declared, “Ball four.” Cruiser climbed back onto the rock and said, “Okay, first base.” Then it happened. I don’t remember if I closed my eyes or not, but I do recall that we weren’t touching when it happened. Cruiser and I opened our mouths and flicked our tongues. Hot saliva. I’m sure our lips must have been touching, but that’s all. It was almost as fast as a snap, and all I could think was “mush.” I think I made a face like I just smelled milk that had gone sour. “Do you want to do it again?” “No. No.” I said quickly shaking my head rigidly. Then an older boy walked by and said, “Hey Cruiser, have you cruised up her shirt yet?” That was my first and last kiss for a long time.
It’s Wednesday and hot out. The air is a sticky gray, and I somehow made it to work. I can’t even remember transferring from the 2/3 to the S. I swore when I left my apartment that I was going to find a cab. With the month’s catalogs piled beneath my winged arm, I waited. It was hopeless, and I was in heels. The subway was too crowded to sit, never mind turn pages; I didn’t even have pole space… I leaned against the door with one hand on the ceiling for balance (secretly a little afraid that the doors would open on me and I’d fall out and be train trampled). So now I’m here at my desk, in a half-sleep, pecking away at a venti-unsweetened-passion fruit-iced-tea, wondering what to do with my day. I didn’t shower today, or change my underwear. My hair is in a bun; my teeth have not been brushed. I’m tired and should still be in bed with Linus. Oh so this is what it’s like when you give up coffee. I am going to try to get to the gym this afternoon, if for no other reason than to get this personal trainer guy to stop calling me. I’m realizing that I’m in a hairdresser situation. You know, you have a good cut, you go to that same person, religiously, until one day, you hear that someone else just cut Jennifer’s hair, yes, that Jennifer, and you’re ready, on the waitlist, and called. You switch, and get calls from the old hairdresser questioning your loyalty. You are a traitor with a great cut. I hate my personal fitness trainer, his seexist meat-head remarks, his waxed chest and wife-beater tee, the way he says, “you gotta work on yaw hawt…cause that’s the most impawtant pawt of you, ya know?” Still, I feel uneasy calling his boss, saying I don’t agree with his philosophy and would like to train with someone else. I know when I return to the gym, he will be there, glancing at me, maybe do head nod, maybe even tell me if I work out with him again, he’ll do things differently. I don’t want him to look at me. Go away. I’ll just say I’d prefer a woman. Be sexist. The lies I tell at the gym, though, are somehow appropriate. I tell lies to myself, too, to endure cardio. Only two more minutes, then I can get off the damn machine. I never get off, not unless some impatient, wicked woman, goes around monitoring the data boards of the machines…making certain no one goes past their allotted 30 minutes, so she can have her turn. Women like that are usually short with piggy noses, wearing a leotard, and dare I say, sweatband. I have no idea who these women think they are showing up in the gym wearing a unitard just to ride a stationary bike. I just don’t get it. I’m sorry but leggings should remain in all of our pasts. Then there is the whole matter of watching these women disrobe. Locker rooms are daunting. Where to put your gaze when these women saunter around, letting their flapjack breasts just hang there white against their wrinkled stomachs. Pubic hair, I have learned is generational. Women in their 40s at the gym have overgrown bushes, letting it all grow into a pile of hair, wild like a jungle woman who picks and grooms her kin. Women in their 30s have well groomed vaginas, a runway strip, a neat pyramid, and it’s a wonder how a woman transitions from her 30s to her 40s. And then there are those women in their 20s sometimes with Brazilian waxes, or jeweled pubic areas. Yes, crystal decals strategically placed to form patterns. This is really a wonder. Still, it reminds me that I need a wax and an eyebrow threading from the Indian place (dot not feather). Prior to arriving at the salon, I shot down 3 Advil to ward off the inevitable swelling. Helga, that’s right, Helga, tells me to undress in room #5. This is not a porno. In the room, there is a cold doctor’s chair, the metal kind with a short pleather back, that’s hardly a back, more like a strolling stool with a tootsie roll for back support. The chair is sandwiched between a massage table and an overflowing trash pail. This is not Frederic Fekkai; still, it’s also not some hole-in-the-wall nail place that also tampers in waxing and tanning. The “massage table” is also the kind you see in doctor’s exam rooms… with the white translucent paper attached to a roll that covers the table for sanitary reasons. Except today, the paper that is there is flecked with baby powder and stained with oil and…
Into the bathroom, with Gabe in the shower, I peed into the cup. Two lines. The first test I ever took, the month before, I was so disappointed by the single pink line.
Today I’m thinking about the move. Mostly about art supplies. Embroidery skiens, knitting needles, balls of yarn, water color trays, paint tubes, water cups, sponges, masking liquid, colored pencils, smudge sticks. I want to use my supplies, and when they are all burried away in wicker baskets, I end up pulling stuff out, sitting indian style beneath the coffee table in the living room. Instead, I want a space to do projects. A place where everything has its spot, where colored pencils can remain out, and metalic paint and charcoal fixative can remain tucked away. A place where a self-healing cutting mat can remain out, propped up on an artist’s table. I think I need to dedicate a wall in the new office to crafts. The elliptical machine might have to be in the living room. Even if a plank of white coated wood rests on two even storage drawers/cabinets… hmmm. I need to organize life with label makers.
Yesterday morning I made the god-awful mistake of being bored miserable. It was a mistake I suppose because I ought to have forced myself out, even if it was whippingly cold out, the kind of cold where it stings to breathe and you’re thankful for the warm snot that is dripping into your mouth. Okay, so you’re not exactly thankful. I made the mistake of thrusting myself out in it, to bury the boredom, took a wog (walk/jog) to Gracious Home. I finally bought a can of chalkboard spray paint. Now, I have a headache. I slept in fumes. The chalkboard was sprayed onto one of my kitchen walls, the one above the flip out table, the one above where the Linus wee-wee-pad-chucks reside. I used a level. I used a wooden school ruler. Straight lines, blue paint tape. The thing is, that tape isn’t all that sticky, so the black paint dripped beneath the areas I was trying to mask. The measuring was for nothing. Uneven mess. Headache bonus. Now I’ll have to dig up some white paint to even it out. Chalk and felt eraser are now on my to-do list. It doesn’t stop there, you see, because I had to go to Duane Reade for a refill on the pill. Who knows why I even bother with it. It’s sad, really, every time I take a pill, I’m reminded that there is no reason to be on it. Sex. None. My skin is fine, so I can’t even say, oh it makes my skin clear, or oh, it keeps my periods light. It’s a sham. So, there I am at the DR, loading up on TP and cotton balls, then, it strikes me that I’m running low on anti- perspirant. Dove. The thing is, they didn’t have my powder scent. FRESH SCENT was all that was left. You can’t just switch to a new brand, or it takes days to kick in, then you walk around sticky moist, flinching from the smell on your hands as you sniff to see if it’s working. Is that me? So, I buy the damn FRESH SCENT, and it doesn’t smell fresh. It smells like artificial beach. Headache. Finally, this weekend, I went perfume shopping. No man, no dating. Newfound Stephanie… who paints with chalkboard spray in the winter, who writes three pages of longhand each morning, who takes herself out on “Artist Dates” once a week, who now makes an effort to take walks just because. The Stephanie who keeps two therapists incase she doesn’t agree with one, she can bring it up with the other. Consensus. And with this newfound self, I figured, what the hell… newfound scent. Bulgarian Roses from Creed. Plus two samples which came wrapped in shiney paper, packaged like a roll of Smarties. Not smart. Too many samples, not enough coffee beans. Headache. Still, the Roses scent is lovely on my skin, my sweaters will be lovely too… folded neatly in my armoire after being worn, then picked up again in a week, smelling of love and sophistication. Of course, not this sweater. This sweater will smell like artificial beach. Ho hum.