Monday, November 23, 2009

My Life in Action Part 3

strand—leave in a helpless position: be stranded a thousand miles from home with no money.

I am a food connoisseur. Friend and family alike will tell you I love to eat! And I like food that’s good to me, but not good for me. I like food that sticks to the hips, thighs, butts and bellies long after the taste is gone from my mouth. I’ll do low fat, but not no-fat because my logic is if the food didn’t need the fat, it wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I like the camaraderie and the solitude the comfort of food brings. I eat to cure depression. I eat to celebrate. I eat to eat.

Most women go to the mall to shop; I only shop at malls that have good restaurants nearby. No matter what I’m doing, the foremost question in my mind is when and where are we going to eat when we’re done. One of my friends calls me Breakfast-Lunch-and-Dinner because she swears I am evil amplified when I miss I meal. But I never thought that food would make me lose my mind (albeit temporarily) and do something really stupid!

In 2005 during the Memorial Day weekend, some of Nefertari (Diane, Nicole and me) went to Silver Springs, Maryland for the 1st annual BOCA (Belly Dancers of Color Association) Festival--a weekend of dance workshops. We had an early morning flight, so I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, and the cardboard I consumed on the plane could not be counted as food. So, when we arrived in Maryland, we decided to grab something quick to eat before going to the hotel. I was eenie-meenie-minee-moing between an Annie’s Pretzel and a Cinnabon, when my keen sense of smell kicked in and I got a whiff of something even tastier. Ah, yes! A bakery that sold pecan rolls. It was the pecan roll hands down.

I was as happy as an audience member on an Oprah give-away show. Taking it apart layer by layer, I walked toward baggage claim with the taste of cinnamon on my tongue and the caramel coating sticking to my fingers. I was on the last part—the ooey-gooey center—and just as I was about to put it in my mouth, I saw my luggage come around the carousel. As I reached for my luggage, I watched in agony as my precious roll went airborne and landed nut side down. Bending down to pick it up, I reverted back to my childhood mantra, “God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt.” I even thought about kissing it up to God to be doubly sure. It may have worked in childhood, but it wasn’t working for me as an adult. Reluctantly I put it in the garbage. But it wouldn’t go away. I kept thinking about it, dreaming about it, wondering how it would have tasted in the end, even though I knew—just like it had in the beginning.

I just knew I was going to get me a pecan roll on the way home, but when we got to the airport, we were on a different concourse. No!!!! It was right at 11:00 and our flight didn’t leave until 11:40. Could I get one? Not on my own. With my penchant for getting lost, I knew better than to wonder off to another concourse by myself. But hey, Nicole has an excellent sense of direction and believes she can get anywhere in 10 minutes. She volunteered to go.

I was all for it, but the sensible one, Diane said no. She is our conscience—when we want to listen. We didn’t that day. So when Diane went to the bathroom, Nicole left with my blessings. When Diane came out of the bathroom and found Nicole MIA, she just looked at me and shook her head. Shortly thereafter, they began calling passengers for our flight. The first 10 rows--No Nicole. The next 10 rows--no Nicole. I called Nicole on her cell phone--no answer. They called the last rows-still no Nicole. My heart dropped into my stomach and came back up again. Diane looked like you could cook an entire Sunday dinner on her head--with smoke coming out the top, and fiery red, coal ready cheeks. She had to get back to finish some paperwork, and we knew this. What was funny at first, turned out not to be quite so amusing. Just as they were about to close the door, and leave us stranded in Maryland, I saw Nicole walking fast with a white bakery bag in her hand. I ran, grabbed her by the hand, and yelled to Diane, to tell them we were coming. We made the flight, but the bakery was out of pecan rolls. We ate cookies instead, and laughed all the way home. I found a little, French bakery in Hyde Park that sells deliciously, delectable pecan rolls, and the three of us remain friends.
And that’s my life in verbs—to be, to see, to feel, to live!

My Life in Action Part 2

Sprawl—lie or sit with the arms and legs spread out, especially ungracefully: The people sprawled on the beach in their bathing suits.

It was a Saturday, summer afternoon, and the members of Nefertari --a belly dance troupe--and our instructor, TJ were sitting in Bar Louie’s in Hyde Park winding down from an intense 2 hour plus class. It was the whole crew—Tenisha, Diane, Nicole, Carmen and of course, me. Tired to the point of being silly, we were laughing and talking when Diane shared a recent conversation she had, had with her four-year old niece, Kyla who had discovered her vagina, and wanted to show her “toochie” to Auntie Diane. We were laughing hysterically and making all kinds of lewd comments, when this buff-body walked over to the table and interrupted our reverie. “Ms. Gates, is that you? How are you doing Ms. Gates?” said one of my former students all grown up. Freddie was in my class for two years when I first started teaching. “Hey Freddie!” I replied, silencing the silly in me before introducing him to my so-called friends. I felt my horns retracting, and was nearly blinded by the light from my halo when Freddie finished singing my praises. I was surprised my dance sisters didn’t throw in a few hallelujahs and amens of their own. As only my luck would have it, Freddie worked there and was our waiter. When he walked away with our drink order, they lit into me. “Looks like you might need to start teaching night school, Ms. Gates,” Tenisha said.“He’s 24 now, Ms. Gates,” Diane said, mimicking Freddie.“Yea, and you made him the man he is today,” Carmen chimed in. I had to take the ribbing because this is what we do when we get together. We tease each other all the time, about everything—no topic is sacred. Tenisha and I tie for being the most relentless. Carmen comes in second, and Diane is usually the group diplomat. Most of the time it’s Nicole, who gets got, but it was my turn that day--and they gave it to me good. “But he’s my student,” I whined. But they insisted that it didn’t matter because he was a man now. I gave up because I knew they were going to keep at it despite my feeble protests.After Freddie served our food and left, the conversation went back to touchies, and Tenisha said she was going to ask Freddie if he wanted to see mine. No amount of trying to explain why that wasn’t a good idea worked. I didn’t know if telling them Freddie used to have a crush on me would work for or against me, so I kept that tidbit of information to myself. We left without incident.Fast forward a few weeks. We return to Bar Louie on a Thursday night, and the place is crawling with people. Freddie and touchie were not on my mind, but should have been. Seated around the table, we are laughing and talking while feasting on chicken wings, chicken strips, fries and onion rings. The conversation is sprinkled with references to toochie, but it it’s a different time, a different night, and there has been no Freddie sightings, so I’m not worried. Tenisha excuses herself to go to the bathroom, which is close to where we’re sitting. Something tells me to turn around and when I do, I see Tenisha, the devil’s disciple, exiting the bathroom and slinking toward Freddie who is standing on the wall near the bar. She doesn’t see me, so I think I have a chance to foil her evil plan.I reach back to grab Tenisha’s purse, trying to snatch her, purse-and-all out of the room. It occurs to me that there is a reason why a chair needs four legs, but it’s too late. In that moment life slows down, just like in the movies, and I feel myself lifting off the ground. Carmen reaches for me, but to no avail. The chair tips over and keeps sliding right into the bar area. I silently pray for a trap door to open and allow me to escape with my dignity intact, but my prayer goes unanswered. Time stops, and the room stills. All eyes are on me—a grown sober woman, sprawled on the floor of Bar Louie. Someone is standing in front of me. My eyes travel up from the black gym shoes, to the nicely fitted jeans, to the chiseled chest, right into the eyes of Freddie. I just know the trap door is stuck, and is going to open any minute and get me out of this mess. “Ms. Gates, Ms. Gates are you alright?” I heard him say as he reached down to help me up. The bruise on my hip would heal a lot faster than the bruise on my ego. I assured him I was ok, and returned to my seat amidst the gawking and whispering of the bar patrons. When I sat down, my friends were hysterical. They said they couldn’t have done it better if they had planned it. I laughed along with them knowing that what’s done is done, but also plotting my revenge. I’m happy to say Freddie is married and living in Minnesota Last I heard, they have two children.

My Life in Action--Part 1

I get my thing in action (Verb!)
In being, (Verb!) In doing, (Verb!)
In saying
A verb expresses action, being or state of being
A verb makes a statement
Yeah, a verb tells it like it is!
Verb! That’s What’s Happenin’ School House Rock

I remember being a child in the 70s and watching segments of School House Rock on ABC in between my Saturday morning cartoons. The short segments helped reinforce what I was learning in school about multiplication tables, parts of speech, American history and science. I ran across the Grammar Rock video recently and began thinking about nouns and verbs in real life. As the noun, I know I am the receiver of the action from the verb. So, here’s my exploration of my life in verbs.

straddle—1. Have a leg on each side of (a horse, bicycle, chair etc.) 2. Stand or lie across; be on both sides of: A pair of glasses straddled her nose.

Back in the early 90s there was a BIG push from the self-help movement to reconnect to our inner child. Bookshelves were bulging with books on how to find and connect to the little girl or boy within who may have gotten lost on our way to adulthood. Finding and embracing our inner child was supposed to make us better human beings, filling us with childlike wonder. Well, at 28 on a cool, breezy spring morning 16 years ago, I had an unforgettable encounter with my inner child, and I learned that sometimes we shouldn’t go back no matter what the prevailing wisdom of the day is!
I had an appointment at Michael Reese Hospital for an ultrasound, and I had it all worked out--get my ultrasound and then head downtown for a little shopping. Sounds simple enough right? Well, I believe God has a sense of humor, and some of our trials and tribulations are for His amusement. I drew the short straw that day.
My neighbor gave me a ride because I did not drive at the time. And since I was already on 28th and Michigan, the bus ride downtown should have been short, sweet and uneventful, but if it had, I would not be telling this story.
After leaving the hospital, I got completely turned around trying to find my way to the bus stop. I can’t explain this because if I could, it wouldn’t have happened. I am directionally challenged. While I know my left from my right, north, south, east and west is as foreign to me as Chinese. In Chicago, people try to help me by reminding me that the lake is east. But this only works for me when I can see the lake.
I walked and looked; looked and walked, but I didn’t see the bus stop sign or another person even though it was the middle of the afternoon. No one was out walking the dog, taking a smoke break, or even begging for change. There was nothing but the back of the hospital, a big green field, the fence and me. I didn’t even know how to get back to where I had come from. After about 15 or 20 minutes of following my shadow, I saw it--the most beautiful blue and white bus stop sign I had ever seen. The only problem was, I was on one side of the chain link fence and the bus stop sign was on the other side. The fence was as tall as two NBA players stacked on top of each other, and the claw-like prongs were turned up ready to attack. My intuition and good sense abandoned me in that moment. Caged in with no visible way out, I was struck by genius--which is close to crazy--and decided to climb the fence.
Dressed in a raspberry sweat shirt, brand new Guess jeans and white lace-up gym shoes, I was up for the challenge. I used to climb and walk along the fence as a child so this was easy, I reasoned. It never dawned on me that close to 20 years had probably passed since I climbed my last fence. I was older, a little less limber and my feet were too big to neatly fit into the grooves on the fence. But my inner child wasn’t concerned with any of this. She wanted to be free. So, she silenced the grown-up me, stuck that superwoman “S” on my chest, and pushed me to face the monster before me.
I strapped my purse across my chest and began to climb. The fence was taller than the fences of my childhood, and I was carrying more weight--thoughts that did not occur to me when I had both feet on the ground. When I got to the top, I swung my left leg over. When I went to swing my right leg over, my shoe string got caught on the prongs. Oh, sugar-honey-ice-tea! I thought. I’m stuck. I tried wiggling my foot loose from the grips of fence monster, but he had my string between his teeth and wasn’t letting go.
There I was, a grown woman straddling the fence in the middle of an open field. My imagination ran wild. First, I had visions of going to jail because I knew somebody was going to call the police and report that there was a woman on the fence. Then I had visions of being on the six o’clock news with family and friends watching. “That looks like Stephanie . . . That is Stephanie,” I could hear them say as they fell over laughing. And once they recovered from their laughing spell, their sick, twisted sense of humor would kick in and they’d make up jokes and songs. Once during a game of charades, my brother mimed blowing up a balloon, and popping it. The answer was Stephanie’s lung. This was a few months after I had been treated for a partially collapsed lung. Being caught on tape and having to deal with family and friends was a fate far worse than jail. At least in jail I could get some reprieve.
I had to get down, so I wiggled my foot again. Nothing happened. I was caught up-- literally. Just outside of my peripheral vision I caught sight of my prince charming walking down the street unaware that he was about to rescue a damsel in distress. At that very moment I denounced my feminist principles and became a firm believer in the happily ever after. Well, sort of. The armor was a little dented, and he wasn’t that charming in a black skull cap and some beat-up dingy jeans. But hey! He was as fine as Denzel that day. “Excuse me sir,” I yelled from atop my prison. The man looked around, and of course, he didn’t see anybody.
“Up here, sir!” I yelled.
He looked up and shook his head as he began walking toward me. “What cha doin’ up there?” He said with this silly grin on his face. I didn’t get a chance to reply because my shoe miraculously came loose. I swung my leg over and jumped down.
“How did you get up there?”
“It’s a long story,” I replied “And I’m too old to be climbing fences,” I mumbled.
He looked at me shaking his head in disbelief as he walked away. I could only imagine how many times he told that story. But it didn’t matter. I was down. I was safe and I could go on with my plans for the day. Not!
I didn’t have a bus pass, and all I could scrounge up in my purse was a measly 37 cents—just enough change to call my brother, who lived nearby. As I headed toward his house on 29th and Indiana, I felt a burning sensation on the back of my thigh. I reached back to find a vertical rip in my jeans. Unable to tell how bad the damage was, I stopped these two guys headed in my direction. “Excuse me, but I ripped my pants and I want you to tell me if it looks bad or not.” To this day I can’t believe I actually asked a man to look at my booty.
“Go ahead. Walk on in front of us,” one said while the other licked his lips. “Naw, it looks fine to me,” the first one said as I walked down the street.
“Yea,” the second one agreed. I know I gave God a deep belly laugh that day.