Sunday, July 24, 2011

Getting Bad News in the Hospital

I spent most of yesterday afternoon at an event held in a building I’m quite familiar with. When I used to do research for a former professor in there, I took 30-minute lunch breaks across the street in the Harlem Hospital cafeteria. As a teenage candy striper, the highlight of each already-rewarding shift was the complimentary meal I shared with the other pink ladies in our hospital’s state-of-the-art cafeteria. Harlem Hospital’s eatery is more of a sleepy diner than a cafeteria, the waiter isn’t one of my favorite people, and I doubt I would have liked candy striping there. But its short-order cook makes the best spinach pie I’ve had in Manhattan, and whenever I’m back on this block I have to go in for another taste fest.

That’s where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Amy Winehouse was found dead at 27. “Who was she?” the waiter asked after another customer gasped at the announcement that came over whatever radio station blared from above. “A singer,” the gasper said. “She was a white girl from England, but when she sang she sounded black.”

A few weeks before I turned 27, someone felt the need to tell me that that’s the age when rock stars kill themselves. It used to seem like such an arbitrary breakdown age, but now that I’ve made it to the other side of 27, I can see why 27-year-olds who peaked early and have a stubborn set of “pre-existing conditions” might super-snap. It’s a turning-point year when a lot of young people more intensely feel the pressure to start making some game-changing decisions and become a real adult. And not everyone is equipped enough to put up with the pressure’s punches.

The quarter-life crisis still doesn’t get the attention and respect it deserves.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Hazards of Hindsight

At a public reading last night, I read from a short story I wrote that’s based on an experience I had in a crowded D.C. subway car almost 10 years ago. I had been accosted by a Middle Eastern journalist who somehow easily pegged me as a writer. He quasi-offered me a job to write for a newspaper he was about to launch in Beirut, and I would have had to pick up and move out there. I never followed up with him or checked out the legitimacy of any of this.

I only recently remembered the incident while thinking about how much I miss a former friend of mine, who happened to have been with me at the time. As my future boss and I were getting into the logistics of my possible relocation to Lebanon, I remember looking over at her, her boyfriend, and their floored expressions. I had met this friend a year earlier in a different city and could often tell she thought there was heavy exaggeration involved with some of my personal storytelling. That summer in D.C., the more time she spent with me, the more of these encounters she witnessed for herself, and I remember the elation I felt when I saw the look on her face in that subway car because I knew she would never doubt me again.

When I delivered some of the dialogue from the pop interview into a microphone last night, I flashbacked to the conversation itself and found myself sickened by how blasé I had been during and afterwards. As my dad always told me, most jobs are found through personal contacts, and this had all the makings of a potentially golden one.

I wish I had been half as much of the risk taker I am today back then.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nuisance Nurturing

As soon as my plane taxied away from the gate a few mornings ago, I started to hear a sucking, smacking noise every 15-20 seconds. I assumed something was wrong with the plane. I had just spent several minutes trying to get the fan above my seat to stop spewing bits of water crystals onto my head - who knew what other halfhearted health and safety inspections this Express Jet had recently sailed its way through? I turned around expecting to see the bathroom door about to fall off its hinges, only to discover that the racket was created by the passenger sitting behind me who was kissing her infant lap child’s head.

She’s the first to have taught me that nonsexual kissing can be this loud and last for so long - in public and in close quarters. Would the baby – who slept through most of the flight - have felt less unconditionally loved if the kisses coming at him several times a minute were a decibel level lower? Most of the other passengers around us were fast asleep too. I was completely on my own and still uncaffeinated.

The third time I turned around, the eye contact we made was so meaningful that I thought an understanding had been wordlessly brokered. But the moment I turned back to face forward, the kisses became louder and more frequent.

All the noise she was making eventually woke the baby up. The sound of his scream-crying was far preferable to the sound of the scream-kissing, and I finally had some peace.