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The Voices Inside My Head

We are at once captivated by the will to do good as much as we are by the propensity to choose evil and thus our fate lies always in the choice.

I recently endured a breakup of the extraordinary kind.  The romantic relationship I thought would surely and thankfully be my last on this earth came to a screeching halt.  I found myself asking all the usual whys which instantly garnered responses marked by yellow, pink and red flags etched solidly in my memory.  Ahhhh.  I see.  Of course, I received the customary condolences of friends who sought to share my pain.  After lingering in limbo for a week trying to figure out which feelings were more prevalent: anger, disdain, hurt, sorrow or relief, I finally settled on a nice even numbness (non aided by alcohol – this time) where the silence beckoned softly, “Come.  Sit.  Stay.  I promise.  You’re going to be okay.”  It was there I was able to reconcile the unexplainable questions that left me wondering if I would ever journey down the L-road again.  “Maybe, eventually…” the voice of optimism said.  “Okay, kid.  Cut the crap,” a different voice demanded.  “Everybody hates eventually.  It means not right now.  It means sometime in the future the healing will begin and end.  But ‘When?’ is always the question that begs answering and won’t wait patiently while you figure it out.”  Give me a break. Life can be very hurry up and wait.  Now Love too?  “C’mon!  You’ve got to be kidding!” my inner child screamed.  Then, plain as day amidst the cacophony and soft as a whispering wind I heard, “True healing begins within.”  Who said that?!  Identify yourself.  Since when is there any reasoning with a broken heart?  Emotional wounds need salve.  Bruised egos need ice.  And I need closure, dammit.  Do you hear me?  I need closure!  Silence.  More silence.  Fine.  You win.  Self look it is.  As I pondered the scenario inwardly in depth, I suddenly realized nothing in the equation hurt more than the loss of love.  The atmosphere that was once filled with I love yous, I miss yous and I can’t wait to see yous – now a vacant, hollow echo of what once was.  The deep and profound sense of loss was the ache I could not escape.  And it hurt like a bitch.

Yet, isn’t that the case with any disappointment in life?  Not to trivialize or minimize my (or our shared) experience, but any expectation fallen short of meeting its goal ends in disappointment whether love, career, family or fill-in-the-blank.  I can hear my mother’s voice, “Your expectations are too high.  Keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed by people.”  Well, if you’re listening or reading from up above, Mom, no disrespect… But, I still don’t understand that one.  Are we talking puddle-low, bathwater low, or shallow-end of the Olympic sized swimming pool low?  *scratches head* I know.  I’ve always asked too many questions.  Fine. Maybe it’s more like my cousin used to say, “Girl, nothing anyone does surprises me anymore.  If it wasn’t for audacity, people wouldn’t have anything.” Hmmm.  Okay.  I buy that.  So, keep my expectations tempered while being cautious that someday someone may randomly dunk me into a booth-full of b.s.?  Is that the key?  Somehow, I don’t think my father would have agreed.  (Whatever the verbal contribution, my pops was not short on words.  He also was not easily impressed by people unless you were Leontyne Price.  Take that.)  He lived with his share of people disappointments.  Unfulfilled expectations.  Being forced by his father to work to help feed the family in lieu of pursuing higher education was one we heard about frequently.  But, it never stopped him from acquiring a vast array of knowledge from whatever source he could find.  Wait a minute.  That’s it, isn’t it?  That’s the choice I want.  The one that reaches past the disappointment, through the hurt and pain, and lays firm grasp upon the goal in spite of the loss and without the bitterness.  Thanks, Dad! That’s the piece I was looking for… not the corner but the one smack in the middle.  It can be the most difficult to place, but it’s usually the piece that puts the rest of the puzzle in perspective.

And so it is with perspective… once you see clearly, the voices subside and the healing begins.  I think I’m good for now.  I mean, I could wallow in the ‘woe is me’ or continue to count my blessings and keep my head held high.  The choice is what defines me and the choice is always mine and mine alone.

Persnickety Self Adjustment:  Don’t worry.  If the voices in my head begin singing opera I will officially check myself in.  Somewhere safe.  Possibly with padded walls.

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Clarity

I think I was Latina in another life.  My friends can all testify. I love Mexican food. I should probably own a cilantro tree – it would be more cost effective. Handmade tiles make me swoon. And I’ve never met a taco I didn’t like. (Yes, I’m straight.) I’ve been known to ingest obscene amounts of tequila at night and run 3 miles the following morning. Then, there’s my obnoxious affection for the avocado…the “alligator pear.”  Yes, the evidence is all there. As a matter of fact, I think my name may have been Rocio. Rocio the great. I like it. 

Funny thing is… I’m not sure when I discovered this potent revelation. It’s a bit unclear. But, I do remember it began with tequila.  I didn’t really drink tequila or do tequila shots in college like all the other newly-legal students at LSU.  However, I do distinctly remember crashing a party with a few of my fellow Caucasian persuasion Tigers.  Three cute guys accosted me at the door with a bottle of “tequila” that held a worm firmly implanted at the bottom.  They offered free shots and encouraged me to ‘bite the worm.’ Only in their dreams… I wasn’t interested in the worm. (Yes, I already told you; I’m straight.)  I did, however, take one shot, and thus began my fascination with the agave plant.  Those poor bastards had no idea that they were drinking Mezcal. Mezcal isn’t tequila.  It’s the equivalent of calling Wild Irish Rose a vintage Cabernet.  But, I’m sure they knew what they possessed was a “3-shot” liquor meaning if they got any girl to take 3-shots they had a better chance of scoring that night.  Although my college years included many a faux pas, that night was not one of them.  Thank the Inkan gods!

Then came the military.  My oath to defend this country against enemies both foreign and domestic came fully equipped with an I.D. valid at the nearest Class Six facility which held an array of 40 proof beverages to quench my camoflauge-wearing sharp-shooter qualified palette.  It was there, through trial and error, mix and pour, I found my liver’s joy: tequila.  Tequila was definitely crafted for me. No headaches. No hangovers. Only waves of elation and bliss.  Sometimes it takes a while, years even, to figure out what works for you.  Time.  Life.  Experiences. Heartbreak and sometimes even tequila… all bring clarity.

The same could be said of my chosen profession.  I didn’t always know what I wanted to be or who I wanted to do.  Pause.  Rewind.  Who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do… Yeah.  That.  During my recent high school reunion, my friends and I scanned our senior class yearbook and called out the career aspirations listed under each girl’s graduation photo.  Then, the five of us pondered whether each girl, now grown-up, had fulfilled her wishes.  Graduating from a small, all-female, African-American, private, Catholic high-school in New Orleans was an anomaly.  Everyone knew everyone else a little more intimately than we would have liked to. (For the last time, for real, man. I’m straight!)  As we sat spralled across deck chairs on the cruise ship combing through pics, we laughed and shared stories about the ambitions of once teenagers now women.  Some of us had realized our set goals, yet some of us – me included – had taken turns, set new goals along the way and decided to pursue those.  As we arrived at my photo, a friend proclaimed loudly, “Well, we know you’re not an attorney!”  We all laughed.  No… not quite.  My grandfather used to say, “That girl sure does like to talk.  She should be an attorney.”  I was 6 years old and he was thinking financial security. I love him for that.  He had no idea there was a creative beast inside me longing to break free.  Deep down, I always knew I was different. Spectacularly so.  I spent more time in my grandparents’ massive backyard pretending to roam the hills of some faraway, make-believe land, conquering giants and slaying evil sorcerers, than I ever spent on homework. Plus, law school never really appealed to me. 

Post high school – what to do? I had no clue.  I changed my major three times.  Scholarship aside, I was an academic, ill-focused wreck.  Yet somehow, I survived.  Living life brought clarity.  The more time I spent releasing my creative energy and comedic genius, the more I realized it was my love, my passion and my destiny to pursue.  I am blessed to now call it my profession.  My grandfather may have been slightly disappointed, but who cares?  Seriously.  There are enough attorneys in the world, don’t you think?  The truth is I was crafted for this business of storytelling.  It is the life for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sometimes it takes a while, years even, to figure out what works for you.  Sorry, grandpa. I may not have a juris doctorate.  But, I am happy doing what I love.  That’s what’s important. Even if I have to eat sandwiches for now.  Being happy is what matters most.  And that, my friends, is clarity.

Persnickety Self Adjustment: Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned, they turn out far better.

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#GTFO

My house is the party house.  I’ve long accepted its designation as such.  With Southern roots come certain responsibilities.  We cook edible meals.  We are expectant of chivalry.  And we are at all times hospitable to strangers in our home.  Should we find ourselves in a predicament where someone who is less than charming invades our space, we don’t give them the old “heave-ho” *GTFO… They just won’t be invited back.  It’s as simple as that.  To illustrate the depth of my hospitality I offer you this: Last week I had a party.  I inadvertently forgot to invite an actress who bunked on my sofa for a month when she first moved to L.A.  I remembered I had forgotten her when I posted the pics from said party publicly on “Tracebook.”  Upon remembering, I immediately sent her a message apologizing for my forgetfulness.  Some people would say, “The party was over!  Why apologize after the fact?”  I’m not sure.  I guess it’s just the most Southernly hospitable thing to do.  Plus, I like her.  She’s cool peeps.  And I felt bad.  Isn’t that reason enough?  Go ahead and say it.  I’m just too damn nice.  I already know.

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like hosting parties because it gives me control over the atmosphere of the room and thus hopefully my guests’ level of good time.  Is everyone drinking?  Are they enjoying themselves?  Bopping to the beat?  No?!  Really?!  Put that on pause.  Changing the song.  Ahhh… there we go… This is how we doooo it…  Literally.  In case you don’t know, Montell Jordan will liven up any party!  That 90’s song has the same effect as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in a Caucasian bar.  (Which until recently, I always misidentified as “We Will Rock You” if I caught the song midway through.)  Shut up already!  I know!  You die hard Queen and Def Leppard fans are uttering curses as I type…  Calm down.  It’s okay.  That was before.  Now?  You would be ultra proud of me… right on time singing, “I’m hawwwt… Sticky SWEET.  From my head down to my feet!!!” Give me an “A” for effort and an “A+” for versatility, why dontcha?  I digress.  Back to my party where the beer is iced in the bathtub.  It’s free.  Don’t judge me.  Once everyone is moving and grooving I’m cool and if everyone leaves happier than they came I’m ecstatic.  Everyone loves a good house party, right?  I think that’s why the movie was made.  I have yet to eject anyone for bad behavior – which includes unwanted groping of the opposite or same sex, double dipping in the chips-n-dip, or stealing of any sort including liquor from my bar.  I haven’t found anyone making out in my bedroom or smoking reefer in my closet.  Nothing’s been broken and the neighbors haven’t complained (someone said they actually heard the music from the corner and everyone on the street was twerking a little to it).  So far, so good.  Hopefully Murphy stays far far away, unless he’s single and likes to do the wobble.  Then, he’s invited to my place for a party anytime!

The only thing I hate about throwing house parties is the aftermath.  I once compared it to 100 elephants having trampled through your place.  It’s exhausting.  After all the glorious hosting and grand glorious dropping-it-like-it’s-hot, to wake up the next morning and face the kitchen, the rearranged furniture, the empty bottles and general people-in-your-place-ness of it all can be a bit overwhelming.  Luckily for me, I have wonderful friends.  My mother always said, “To have friends, you have to be a friend.”  I believe it.  All of my friends know I hate washing dishes.  Period.  There is little to be done to get on my very best side.  If you come to my place and I’ve cooked a fabulous meal, lend a hand in the kitchen.  I will love you for life.  The contary goes without saying.  Even if I give you the Korean cultural norm and I refuse your gesture twice, persist.  This party time, two lovely female friends of mine helped out during the party and two strong, handsome male friends came over the next day and helped me put it all back into perspective (get your mind out of the East Jersey sewerage – they are just friends).  We laughed and talked about the party while they helped me clean.  It made the process go much more smoothly and helped me disassociate any bitterness with “the day after.”  SO.  If you are ever so fortunate as to receive and accept an invitation to one of my house parties, please know that my wish for you is to have the very best of times.  And know that your good fortune has been precipitated by the good will of those around you.  Don’t take it for granted.  Pay it forward.  And, in the process have fun. ;-)

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Line up the cleaning crew beforehand.  It saves on bitterness in the aftermath.

*GTFO = get the f*ck out

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Just Like Sex

Last week marked the anniversary of my mom’s death and my first tattoo.  No, I did not rush out to get inked just as her spirit ascended from its earthly home, you brute.  I waited three years to the date.  Then, after my dinner shift ended and my tips were counted, I rushed to the tattoo parlor and squeezed through the door just before the artist flipped the sign from open to closed.  I had thought long and hard about it.  Getting your first tattoo is a lot like losing your virginity.  I had been warned by the colorfully, scenic, tattoo-laden waitstaff at my job that tattoos are, in fact, highly addictive.  “Oh, Honey!  Once you get one you can’t wait until you get the next one. You get all excited.  Then you start getting real creative and finding new places to put ‘em.”  See? Just like sex.  Anywho, I decided that my first (tattoo) would be in homage to my mother.  A purple heart with the Chinese symbol for mother on the inside.  Smaller than a quarter and over my heart with enough space to clothe it discreetly for any professional interview.  Those are my rules.  Ask my daughter.  She can quote the tattoo rules verbatim.  So, off I rushed to the parlor that was decorated artistically with a bit of psychotic flair on the outside.  Sidebar: Anyone who subjects themselves, myself included, to a needle filled with ink piercing their skin continuously for at least thirty to forty minutes has crossed the line at least one time.  Which line?  Take your pick.  I squeezed through the door and gave the handsome guy my best puppy dog eyes. “It’s my first time,” I pleaded. “Please.  It won’t take long.  I promise. [Insert rapid eyelash flutter.]”  If he recalls some fond memory of girlfriends past… all the better, man!  Tatt me up!  He acquiesced and politely showed me his workspace.  I dropped my top as much as was required for him to hover over my left breast and sketch out the image I had concocted/selected.  He adjusted twice making sure I was pleased with the positioning.  I braced my back firmly against the wooden chair and held tightly to the rungs on the side.  Slowly, I sucked my breath in deep and closed my eyes tightly just at the needle pierced my skin and I heard him say, “Try not to move.”  I told you.  Just like sex.

My tattoo was perfect.  It still is perfect.  Every time I look down at my chest or glance in the mirror I am reminded of the memory of my mom, the memory of her bravery, her life.  Would she have approved of the tattoo?  Maybe.  Probably.  More than anything she was an advocate for self-expression and freedom of choice.  She taught me to live with my decisions no matter how big or small.  She would no more have advised me against the tattoo than she prevented me from joining the military.  She said it was my life and my choice – choose wisely.  What a great Mom!  I try to remember her wisdom when I’m having a tough day.  I imagine her looking down on me nudging me along, guiding me and giving me hugs of encouragement along the way.  I am sad sometimes.  I wish she had been here with me longer.  But, I am comforted that the moments we shared will last a lifetime.  If ever I want to honor her memory, I pass along a piece of the vital advice she gave to me.  Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.  Always use your manners – that’s what they’re for.  And, stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.  Those are three I’ve found quite useful.  Distribute them as you please!

Persnickety Snit Adjustment: Self-expression is rarely for your approval; it’s usually for the artist’s edification.

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C’est La Vie

The year 2011 was anything but boring.  A momentous year filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, it did not disappoint with one tumultuous rollercoaster ride of surprises at every turn.  Watching the news, I was reminded of the many victories around the globe for freedom, for democracy, for the common man.  I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life.  Isn’t that what we do at year’s end?  We reflect on our actions and reactions and the events that occurred over the course of the last 365 days (except in a leap year) and we are either excessively glad to see the year go or we rest with fondness on the fact that it was indeed a “good year.”   For me, this past year was filled opportunities which pointed to dreams clearly realized.  It was also marked with tough times to overcome and sadness to endure.  I experienced the passing of my beloved pet who escaped death not once but twice – a cat who was rescued as a kitten from the median of a busy street – and whose mere presence after five feet of flood waters drenched my home said he was possibly the luckiest cat alive.  In the end, it was a kidney stone that got him.  Isn’t that life?  I was commissioned to write my first episode for television produced by a major cable network.  It was exciting, honorable and “where the rubber-meets-the-road” as my mother would say.  When I look back over the year from January to December, I see many hills and valleys.  I celebrated as many victories as I mourned losses.  I think the term is properly coined – bittersweet.  That’s been a constant theme in my life – one that’s not gone unnoticed or unanswered.  So, with the arrival of each New Year I choose not to dwell on the difficulties of the past year but how I rose to meet those difficulties and forged through each challenge to emerge stronger, wiser and better for the wear.  I choose not to swim in the river of denial regarding the pain I’ve suffered; but to use the sting of defeat, disappointment or heartache as a reminder that brighter days most assuredly follow the torrent of rain.  That is a meteorological fact of life.

My wish for you this New Year is my wish for all mankind: that you see clearly the world in front of you, the opportunities that surround you and the greatness that lives within you without fear or hesitation; that you rise to meet each new day with confidence even in the face of what may seemingly be your toughest battle yet; and that you learn to cherish each moment of happiness and tolerate the pain of loss without bitterness, envy or remorse.  Take the good with the bad, my friend, then rise triumphant.  After all, that’s life.

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Wait, WHAT?

It all started one day when I was bored and surfing the net.  There’s a limit to how long a single woman can go without testosterone seated across the table.  That limit varies per female and per her appetite… for whatever.  I’ve posted profiles on my fair share of dating sites.  Admittedly, that “harmony” website was far too intense for me.  Yes, I know.  I’ve been told I should approach dating like I would approach securing a job.  Well, I dress appropriately and I put my best foot forward.  What more do you want?  If my potential mate came with the assurance of six figures and profit sharing, I would subject myself to more of that question-answering and chemistry-badgering.  The difference between a relationship and a job?  Monetary income.  Direct deposit that’s timely, not sporadic.  Predictable.  Consistent, neither subject to feelings nor attitudes or whimsical nature.  Is that enough?  I don’t think I’m totally off base.  I mean, doesn’t everyone take a certain type of job because they know what they’re getting?  Would you take a job that required extensive travel if you don’t like flying?!  Seriously.  Well, isn’t it pretty much the same with men?  Don’t worry.  That’s rhetorical.

Case in point.  As I was surfing said website, not the harmony one, but another piscine one, I came across a picture of a guy.  Guy referred to himself as a southern gentleman.  Oooh… I like… I’m down with it.  I dropped him a line and we commenced to communicate via email.  I guess he liked what he saw and my grammar gave him goosebumps.  We exchanged numbers and then played phonetag for two days.  He was getting frustrated; I could tell.  Dude.  It’s the weekend.  (Somebody shoulda told him.  Wait.  I did.  My profile specifically states, I do not sit around twiddling my thumbs waiting for you.  Whatever.)  On Evening 3, as I snuggle up on the sofa to watch a new dvd release that I could not catch at the theater, I send him a text asking if he’s free to talk before I begin my movie.  I know once the movie begins I will NOT want to be interrupted.  He responds instantly, “Why don’t you come and watch the movie over here?”  Wait, WHAT?  I swear my fingers typed it faster than Superman changed in that damn telephone booth.  Faster than Antwon Dodson was autotuned.  Faster than J.Lo dropped two babies out her womb, divorced Marc Anthony and made a comeback.  My eyes stared intently at the screen of my cellular device as my mind raced reminding myself that I was not crazy… I had only been communicating with old dude for three days… and I had “met” him on a dating website.  See, this is where the straight-laced, judgementals break out their ‘told-ya-so’s.  You told me what?  That I shouldn’t meet a man for dating on a website?  HOW ABOUT NOBODY SHOULD MEET ANYBODY THEY CONTACT ON A WEBSITE, MALE OR FEMALE, for the first time in a NON-PUBLIC PLACE?  That’s internet 101.  That’s not just me, or a thousand others who engage in internet dating, you twit.  That’s also you… as you purchase something on ebay from someone who lives 10 miles from you and offers to drop it off at your house and you so stupidly incline… Don’t you dare judge me.  And, yes, I am on one.  When, he finally replies and says, “My house.”  I have three words for him.  No, they are not “Go eff yourself.”  They are, “I don’t know you.”  Oh wait.  That’s four words.  Yeah, I probably meant the first one and he probably heard it in my text-voice too.  Cuz now, I’m pissed that you would even ask me to come to your place, a single female, living in L.A. that you met three days ago on the blankety-blank.com.  I don’t care how “nice” I look on my pics.  I could be a serial killer.  I’ve already assumed you’re one.  So, why not me?  <Text Silence>  I watch my movie and turn in for the night.  Safe and sound.

The next morning my phone rings.  It’s him.  Albeit earlier than my sleepy eyes can adjust to the name that scrolls across the screen, I answer in my most polite voice possible.  Because, of course, I misunderstood his intentions and he wants to apologize, right?  He’s a southern gentleman, right?  In my best Trey Songz voice: Leg-go… After the formalities of him telling me how hard it is to catch up with me (which I NEVER understand… cuz you have me now, and in ten seconds you won’t have me if you keep this ish up!) he says, “So what’d you do last night?”  Problem #1: You don’t listen.  Me: Uhhh… I… watched… a movie.  Him: Oh, yeah.  You coulda come over here and watched it.  Problem #2: You’re daft.  Me: Yeah… um… I don’t really know you like that.  Him: What?  I live in a gated community.  Problem #effing 3: You’re a moron.  Me: (subtext: You could live on the white house lawn…)  I still don’t know you like that.  Him: What do you think I’m a serial killer or something?  Bingo.  <Silence>  Him:  So can we meet for coffee?  Okay!  Now, you’re acting like a civilized person, not someone who hasn’t had sex in 6 months and is trying to get a stranger over to your house under the guise of “watching a movie.”  Me: Sure… where would you like to meet?  Him: Well, I live in such-and-such.  <Silence>  Me: Well, there are a million Starbucks between where I live and such-and-such.  Are you suggesting that I drive to such-and-such?  Him: Yeah.  Me: No, thank you.  Him: Well, why don’t we go to the movies? (HUH? Did you just pull the switch-up on me… cuz now it’s a bit humorous.  But, I’ll humor you.) Me: Sure… which movie theater?  (He suggests a movie theater near his house.  Oh boy!  This is even better than I thought.)  Me: I live in the valley.  So, can we go to this movie theater instead?  Him: Well, why can’t we go to this theater?  Me: Cuz that’s 25 miles from my house.  Him: But, it’s half-way.  Me: It’s our first date.  Him: Well, I might as well meet you at a Starbucks around the corner from your house.  REALLY?!  Me (with a totally straight face): There’s one on such-and-such (which is literally five blocks from my house) #subtext: a**hole.  <Silence>  Him: Well, why can’t we just go to the movies over here?  Me: THINKING – For the same reason I wouldn’t come to your house last night.  SAYING – You know, this isn’t going to work.  Him:  Yeah, I don’t think so.  Me: Best of luck to ya.  *End call* <Deuces>  You with me so far?  Good.  That’s not the best part.

Fast forward to… well… to today.  I get a “wink” from the same guy on ANOTHER website.  This is too hilarious to be true.  So, I check out the profile.  It is DEFINITELY old dude.  Short memory men. (Not all, just… some.)  I chuckle.  At least he likes what he likes.  I pulled him TWICE.  I send him a message with the other website in the subject line.  (Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.  But, I had to let him know that I know exactly who he is.)   The message went something like this… Me: Alfredo, right?  We’ve spoken on the phone.  Thanks for the wink.  Him: Why did it not go any further?  Me: Because I refused to drive to such-and-such or meet you halfway on the first date. I don’t care if you live in a gated community or on the white house lawn. I’m a southern girl.  WAIT-FOR-IT.  Him: Do you want me to pick you up?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am still single.  For the love of Chow Chows, French Bulldogs and Labradoodles!  If I have to go through all of that to get a sane answer or a chivalrous, gentlemanly gesture from a man who claims to be a southern gentleman, no thank you.  This is a bit dramatic.  I completely understand.  I also know that there are many women who would have not only met him halfway on the first date, but driven to his house to watch the movie the night before, and could tell you the details of the paint on his bedroom ceiling.  Simply put?  They make it hard for a woman like me.  Literally.  Oh well.  Moving right along!

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: If it wasn’t for audacity, some people would have nothing.

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Basura

I was born and raised in New Orleans.  Post Hurricane Katrina when the levees broke and flooded our city (that was for you, Rob) I lived in Houston, Texas.  During that tumultuous time, I had a co-worker who is of Hispanic origin.  Hola chica!  She was as bright eyed, bubbly, and feisty as you can imagine.  Add another dash of habanera and that’s her.  When I decided it was time to make the big leap to L.A., I told her she was welcome to visit anytime.  Her reply, “Are there any Mexicans in L.A.?”  The question caused the type of knee-jerk reaction where you cock your head slightly to the side and repeat the wording in a slightly satirical tone, one octave higher at the end.  “Are there any Mexicans in EL-AY?”  Her innocence alarmed me and rendered me momentarily speechless.  Who am I to give cavalier statistics on the Latino population comparison of Los Angeles to Houston?  I’m an amateur statistician at best.  After a long dramatic pause, I responded my own rhetorical question, “YEP!  You would love it!”  She was barely 21.  (I tend to reserve judgment for fools twice her age.)  She had never been to Mexico and I have never been to Africa.  I considered us even.  On race I am no authority.  I grew up in a city with one of the most complex racial intermingling histories in America – a port city, colonized by Spain and France with the most land-owning, free people of color in the 19th century.  Notwithstanding, the city is still pretty black and white.  Yet visually we are a gumbo of sorts.  Inside this cocoon called home, I’m black.  I’ve always been black.  It would be a shocker if suddenly I weren’t.  My birth certificate says Negro.  So, I’m African-American for sure.  Right?

Remarkably, outside my native crescent land, my nationality has been questioned more than once and even refuted twice.  It started in Basic Training.  I had three drill sergeants: one white male, one black male, one Hispanic female.  A Neapolitan coalition of armed might if you will.  One day my female drill sergeant called me by my last name, because that’s what they do when you join the military, and asked me a very straight forward question.  “What’s your nationality?”  The puzzled look on my face should have given her a clue.  I answered, “Black, drill sergeant.”  The profound lack of reference to any nation in the answer should have given her another clue.  She fumbled along clueless.  “No.  I mean, what are your parents?”  I replied instantaneously and a bit incredulously, “Black and black, drill sergeant.”  And so it went… The questioning and the subsequent dismissal as if we were playing some cruel game of Connect Four genealogy.  It happened that day for the very first time and it’s happened numerous times since then whenever I visit New York, D.C., Chicago and some parts of L.A.  I don’t speak Spanish.  I’m not from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, or any other Latin nation I would be most proud to represent if I were.  Heritage is important to me.  Why would I deny it if it were mine?

Here’s the genetic breakdown I know.  My great-grandmother on my father’s side was from France. My great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Jewish.  My great-great-grandmother was African.  My familial hues are most represented by people of color and I am unequivocally an African-American woman.  You with me?  Good.  I speak English.  In high school I studied Latin and French.  At a military institute off the coast of Monterey I studied Korean.  I’ve never studied Spanish.  Ever.  Although, I’m told I have an affinity for languages.  Insert “me” as Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon as he spouts German to the officers requiring proof of his citizenship then proceeds to disarm and disable both.

I’ve always wanted to be that badass.  I thought I was joining the military to be the female James Bond.  (We can thank a silver-tongued recruiter for that notion.)  The truth is the “needs of the Army” far outweigh any girl’s dreams of learning Russian to slip underneath the iron curtain and procure secrets vital to the continued freedom of our nation.  And… my test scores dictated otherwise.  They ensured years of adoration for bulgogi, white sticky rice, and kimchi were in my future!  In hindsight I don’t think blending in would have been a feat easily attained in the Ukraine. (I told you I’m a colored gal.  Don’t you DARE repeat that.  The term grates my skin!!!)  Consequently, I couldn’t pass for Korean any day of the week either, not even in winter when I’ve lost my summer tan.  I am quite versatile.  The languages I’ve studied come complete with accents which astonish a native tongue.  I’m a bit of a showoff.  We can thank my background in theatre and my position in the birth order for that.   I love languages and I never cease to amaze myself.  In Italy I picked up a few phrases after “Ciao Bella!” was engrained in my brain.  In Mexico, I found myself in the middle of a marketplace bartering for a blanket while screaming, “Veinticinco!  Veinticinco!”  This is in no way contradictory to what I wrote earlier.  It’s true.  I’ve never studied Spanish.  I learned my numbers from Sesame Street and Villa Alegre, the first national bilingual children’s program televised in the U.S.  I’m a chameleon and a very quick study.  Blame it on great genes and a father who taught me how to play blackjack when I was seven years old.

What’s my point?  I’m not sure.  This is now considered rambling.  The only explanation I have is my power of association went full speed ahead when I saw a sign tacked on a pile of empty boxes in the office that read “Basura.”  My deductive reasoning led me to assume the sign read “Trash” or “Garbage” in Spanish.  Yes, even an idiot could have figured that out.  Thank you for the compliment.  The sign was thoughtful.  It was a solid attempt to communicate with someone on their terms instead of leaving to chance which items were regarded as important and which ones should have been discarded.  It made me wonder why I haven’t made more of an effort to take a Spanish class… or get a Hispanic boyfriend as one of my friends suggested.  (If I had taken her advice I shudder to think which Spanish words I would have learned first.  “Aye Papi!  Muey bueno!” does not count.)  Maybe I’ve yet to encounter a situation where my knowledge of the language was absolutely necessary.  Whatever the case may be, when I decide to learn the most widely used romance language in the world it will be because my desire to communicate has overcome my apathy.  It’s that simple.  It won’t be about the denial of my race or heritage.  My ethnicity will be questioned as long as my features represent a collection of 40 different nations.  My answer will continue to be the one given to my drill sergeant on that scorching hot summer day in Columbia, South Carolina.  But, perhaps it will be phrased more succinctly in my best voice a la espanol, “Yo soy morena!”

Persnickety Self-Adjustment: Embrace your race. It’s important to celebrate who you are enlighten those don’t.

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