Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Heros!

Recently I have noticed an inordinate number of super heros on the streets of Washington Heights.  Blame it on the snowy weather (super heros come out in full force when their powers are needed), but there are capes and masks everwhere.  Just this morning I passed the Lone Ranger:  a little boy dressed from head to toe in royal blue (blue poofy snow jacket, blue cowboy boots, blue cowboy hat decorated squarely in the front with a red star).  Where was Tonto in this urban winter wonderland?  At the pharmacy after work today, I passed a more sinister super hero:  an older boy staring solemnly from behind a Darth Vader mask (there were heavy breathing and sinus problems involved I'm sure of it-- his mother was buying decongestant). 

Walking Poochini past the mine field of yellow and brown mysteriosos that dot the glaciers near the sidewalk, I passed two less obvious super heros:  a father and his pre-teen son throwing snow balls (well, now iceballs since temperatures have plummeted, turning slush to ice).  You'll never get me, the boy yelled. Hah, you'll see, the father called back as he threw an iceball far and above the boy's head.  The boy ran away laughing, knowing that he would soon best his father in other things. 

There are inconspicous super heros:  the man who helped me dig my car out from more than a foot of snow.  The superintendents who chip away at the ice that encrust fire hydrants, and who clear the sidewalks for the rest of us.  All of New York is awaiting the garbage collector super heros, whose services have been interrupted due to winter storms.  Hopefully they will soon come:  the garbage has piled to higher than waist level.

Then there is my personal super hero, Poochini, who leaps for joy when I open the door upon returning from a long work day.  He is the 20 lb bundle of energy with the Napoleonic complex, who doesn't realize his size and chases after the 150 pound Cane Corso (Caesar Augustus, Augie to friends), in the dog park.  Augie leaps in fright, surprised by Poochini's audacity.  Poochini is the super hero who sometimes won't let me write, squirming on the couch for my attention, reminding me to take a break.

We all need super heros now and then.  Sometimes, we forget where to look for them.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Lately I have been thinking about trust.  A few Sundays ago, as I walked past St.Francis Cabrini chapel, I passed a father and his daughter.  The father, hiply dressed in jeans and an urban khaki jacket, held his daughter's hand.  She was a fiesta of pink:  pink frills peaked out from beneath a pink poofy winter jacket; pink leggings stretched along pudgy three year old legs that were planted in pink Barbie sneakers.  From beneath his baseball cap the father said, We have to trust each other.  The little girl looked at the yellow ice where a dog had urinated near the sidewalk.  I trust you, the father said, do you trust me?  The girl didn't answer.  The father asked again, we need to trust each other, do you trust me?  The girl nodded, OK, Daddy, she said.

Learning how to trust at such an early age, I thought, bodes well for a little girl's future.  But what sparked the father's request?  Fear of future betrayal?

That got me thinking.  Betrayals of trust come in different shapes and sizes.  There are the small daily betrayals, ones that often go unnoticed and rightly so (they would occupy too much mental energy):  the unanswered emails, the friend who cancels plans at the last minute, or the neighbor who throws away errant socks rather than laying them on the laundry table to await retrieval by its owner.  There are the betrayals to self:  when, lacking faith in ourselves, we do the opposite of our intentions.  I know this from dance:  when I don't trust my Self and my own body, I fall down.  Then there are the more significant betrayals:  the co-worker who undermines our work by secreting information and keeping us out of the loop; the friend who, thinking us unaware, makes a pass at a boyfriend; the family member who, not having all the information, judges rather than understands.  There are the larger betrayals still: lies, infidelity, abuse.  Then there are the betrayals that tear at the fabric of society:  murder, rape, war.

Society depends on trust.  Right now, I'm thinking about making a large purchase, and am dependent on trusting a complete stranger for legal and other matters.  Every time I drive my car, I'm trusting my mechanic and the factory workers before him.  For adults not clothed in frilly pink and not holding the hand of a hip urban father, trust can be confusing.

Hannah Arendt wrote that trust begins with forgiveness.  But forgiveness doesn't come easily.  It ebbs and flows.  It takes baby steps, and sometimes falls down.  There are different types of forgiveness, and some of them begin with little things:  the man who picks up our winter gloves when we hurriedly stand to exit the subway; the neighbor who takes our laundry out of the dryer and folds it rather than dumping it on top to become wrinkled;  the friend who isn't very interested in the movie we've been dying to see, but goes anyway just to keep us company.  For the larger betrayals, partial forgiveness may be the only kind possible.  But for the smaller ones, the kindnesses of daily life collect into a patchwork of forgiveness, a re-configuration of trust.

That's what I think today, but I haven't made my purchase yet.  Stay tuned for details...      

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cross-Cultural Bling Bling: Russia and Southern California

For the last three weeks this blog has been on hiatus while I traveled and visited family, first in Russia and then in Southern California.  The following somewhat atypical post (for this blog) results from those travels.

Walking up Tverskaya Street (because in Russia life is hard, hard, hard, and one walks up, up, up, always up, never down, a street), the flashbacks of Rodeo Drive hit suddenly and without warning.  Slip sliding along the snow and ice, the thermometer reading ten degrees below zero, the winter night lights up with the glitz of haute couture, the shiny black Mercedes parked in front of the new Marriott Tverskaya, the abundant window displays at TSUM (rhymes with zoom, like the Russian nouveau riche moving at warp speed), the Bolshoi (Nutcracker tickets starting at $700!), brooding under renovation but glowing with promise.  On the metro, I sit next to an old, mustachioed, tight-lipped Muscovite, her arms folded resolutely across an ample frame wrapped in matching fur coat and comrade hat, both made of beige ermine.  These new fangled comrade hats also come in cashmere.  In GUM on the edge of Red Square, I rest my feet outside Accessorize, the only store where I can afford a purchase.  In St. Petersburg, I barely set foot in Gostiny Dvor, one of the world's first indoor shopping malls dating from 1785 and where these days Dolce & Gabbana vies for attention with Sonia Rykiel.  Across the street, old women beg in sixteen degree below zero temperatures outside the doors of Kazan Cathedral.

Four days in Moscow, six in St. Petersburg.  Then I head to the old Soviet style domestic airport, where I wait in a barely heated pre-departure area.  A group of Chinese workers huddles together.  A troup of Russian soldiers marches onto a flight headed to Kaliningrad on the Baltic.  My gate is changed.  I can't ask where.  The signs are in cyrillic, the announcements in Russian.  A tall, handsome, sharply dressed Central Asian shows up.  He speaks good English, is on my flight to Moscow, and helps me find it.  To board, we walk outside through blowing snow and upstairs to the plane, which takes off without delay.  At Moscow International Airport, trying to help me find my connecting flight, the Central Asian reveals never having traveled internationally.  How did he learn such good English?

I fly Aeroflot (barely edible food) back to NYC, then a 2 hour subway ride to my apartment, home at 10 PM, unpack heavy Russia-oriented clothes, re-pack Southern-California oriented clothes, up at 3.30 AM, another 2 hr subway ride, a lay-over in Las Vegas, land in Long Beach, California, where de-boarding is delayed 20 minutes by rain, then a 3 hour car ride (traffic delays) to my family in Rialto.  How to explain the disconnect between these two worlds? I am in a sleep-deprived time warp.

I sleep for two days.  The temperature is fifty degrees *above* zero (sixty degrees warmer than in Russia). In my haste, I have not packed enough warm clothes, and wear the same sweat shirt day after day (I wash it twice).  Family members arrive for Christmas, bringing more food than fits on the table.   My nieces, 10 and 6 years, receive an all-pink Barbi McMansion, with working elevator, jacuzzi tub (with sounds of rushing water), and chandeliers.  It is the type of plaything my sister and I had dreamed of having as children.  We wait with anticipation for the girls to unwrap it, secretly wishing for our turn.  I take my 10 year old niece shopping at Victoria Gardens, an outside mall designed to look like the streets of East Coast cities.  Our day stops at Clare's, where she weaves amongst glitter and sparkle, her eyes gleeful.

Southern California is known for bling bling.  Russia, in the age of the czars, used to be.  These days, bling bling, for those who can afford it, is resurgent in Russia.  While I can't speak for bling bling of the Rodeo sort, it seems to me that in Southern California bling bling of the Clare's sort, and especially of the sort that makes little girls happy, is hanging on.  And I don't see anything wrong with that.

One thing is true: when denied, bling bling comes back with a vengeance.  Best to have a moderate, steady supply of it to avoid starvation and keep one's appetite at bay.