Personal


It’s been a rough month. But I think I’m ready to come out of hiding. Reasons for hunkering down are largely beside the point.

And now, a scene.

Platinum Gym: a family-owned sweat palace populated largely by what appear to be bodybuilders of the former Soviet republics. Our heroine is doing pull-ups, wiggling excitedly between sets to an infectious pop number. She is marveling at a lissome lifter when she realizes that he is no longer kicking his leg to his forehead; he is staring at the pull-up bar, then at her, then at the pull-up bar, then furrowing his brow, and then fixing his gaze, again, on her.

Gym dude:

Hey, girl. I, uh, I wanted to say …

She smiles nervously, as is her wont. Just see what happens: It can’t be as bad as the time another regular mumbled through a discourse on the evils of Google Toolbar before asking her for a drink.

GD:

… you’re beautiful. But it’s not just, you’re not just beautiful. It’s that you work at it. You’re here, what—

TJ:

Oh, yeah, I come five or six days a week, blow off some steam.

GD:

Yeah! Blow off some steam! I’m K—-, and you’re?

TJ:

TJ, good to meet you K—-. And thanks, I, um, appreciate it?

He smiles and starts mumbling something again, and she knows that she should be annoyed, that he’s penetrating the little bubble of herself and the time she’s created when she never has to think about her husband or cleaning or making dinner or those damn cats, those fucking cats. But it’s not always about hormones and gonads and the ceaseless beating of flesh on flesh; sometimes it’s just nice, right when you feel farthest from the world and everything you wanted, to be reminded that there are others going through the motions, making the effort, trying to connect when it’s easy enough to make it through the day with no more contact than a rapid-fire coffee order or an exhausted “Excuse me!” yelped in the crush for the rush-hour train. Only connect, only connect.

Trying to work things out. Massive writer’s block. Until then, follow me on Twitter: @tjade.

Resist! … by knitting? Indeed: Yarnbombing, it’s totally hip. Or something. And if you’ve got a great idea for “handcrafted textile street art” (see example above), you could even get published. Woot. Knitta Please has lots of great ideas to get you started.

Incidentally, I find these sorts of cultural interventions much more interesting than the increasingly obnoxious national conversation on feminism vis-a-vis Hillary. Am I dragging down the cause because I prefer the power of reimagining an activity traditionally associated with female isolation in the domestic sphere to campaigning for a candidate merely because we share the same type of genitals? Is my resistance too passive, and thus, in the most pejorative sense of the term, too feminine?

“fucking in mouth pregnancy chance”

I think those words suffice.

I’ve been reading Luc Sante’s Low Life, a great book, and also one that is a convincing argument for soaking more fully in New York’s flavor. It’s not the Bowery of the 1890s, but there was a remarkable array of people strolling down Park Avenue at lunchtime today (likely because today was hands down the nicest day of the year thus far). I saw people with guidebooks, middle-aged office workers taking noontime strolls in tennis shoes, a man with a dog that crapped in front of oncoming traffic at a crosswalk, a woman in a cherry-red power suit, three or four couples making out in front of the Citi building, and, best of all, a man in a three-piece purple suit, topped off by a fuzzy purple-fur beret. And this, in one of the tamest parts of town …

Should write. Will write. But not now. Not for a little bit.

I sometimes verge toward holding our fucking idiot president responsible for the fact that two of my brothers have risked their lives in the Middle East numerous times, but I try to stay rational about it. But….this? Despicable. Unforgivable:

HuffPo: Bush “Envious” of Soldiers Serving “Romantic” Mission in Afghanistan.

This is not bull-fighting in Spain. This is men and women, putting their lives on the line, often not really believing in the mission, but doing it anyway, because they feel a sense of responsibility. This is our youth — often, our underprivileged youth — fighting and dying because they were told to fight, because they were told our idea of ourselves depended on them being there for us. It is fodder for tragic novels, for reflection, for analysis. But it is not romantic.

And if you are really envious, go there. Fight. Subsist on MREs. Point a gun at someone who does not speak your language and may hate you not because you’re American, per se, but because you’re in his country and have leapfrogged diplomacy for conflict. Put your life on the line. Then come back and do it all over again, because you feel you owe it to us, or because you have no better options, or because you feel adrift. But don’t patronize us with your fucking delusions of grandeur, your sepia-toned imaginings of a conflict you wrought and yet seem not to fully grasp.

(HuffPo blurb from Reuters article.)

Must rest. In the meantime: the Guardian anoints the 50 most powerful blogs. My fave from the list, I think, is Jezebel.

A sketch of the building of the Golden Gate Bridge done by my great-grandfather, Stephen Thomas Hennessy, some time in what I'm guess were the 1930s.

A view of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge under construction, from either 1935 or 1936, courtesy the San Francisco Museum.

My mom just made a pilgrimmage to the grandparent’s abode in the Sierra Nevadas, where she took a series of photos of her grandfather’s sketches from the Bay Area in the early twentieth century. I don’t know much about Stephen, but I have culled a few facts and/or amassed some anecdotes that may be historical conjecture:
— He was born in Cincinnatti, had moved to St. Louis by 1920, and ended up in California in the 1930s (according to U.S. Census records)
— My mother claims he drove a motorcycle built by a Native American across the country
— He painted alongside S.C. Yuan and spent much of his time mimicking landscapes in Carmel-by-Sea
— Walt Disney approached him to work with him as a studio artist, but Stephen refused
— He sketched maniacally, on any material available to him (which included brown paper bags, tissue paper, and cardboard inserts discarded by dry cleaners)

I’ve created a set of photos of his work on my Flickr account. It’s got landscapes, a few fabulous figure studies, and, of course, those select sketches of the Golden Gate going up. My aunt, an artist herself, is rumored to have squirrelled away about 20 more.

The San Francisco Museum, from which I brazenly stole the above image for comparison, has a great repository of images of the Golden Gate Bridge being built.

America Hurrah’s Bill Roddy also offers pictures he took while the bridge was going up, which he later published as a set of postcards. Another comprehensive set was posted by history_eyes_05 on WebShots; numerous books on the subject have also been published.

Escape
but
remember;
embrace
life’s
ambiguities.

(Inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.)

She knew as soon as she found the yellow legal pad etched with his erratic hand that it wasn’t something she should share. But, lacking the abiding sense of self-preservation that develops only around the age of 13 or so, she settled in the garage, sifting through the boxes her father was filling—boxes he would carry off in his silver Camry to a place unknown, a place she didn’t really want to know, either.

(more…)

 

Footsteps in the dark

Can’t seem to find a way home

Keep searching blindly

… by genealogy. It happens every few months, an obsession with finding out my roots, usually quelled after a few false starts.

But today, I remembered. I remembered some details, and they led to census records, which led to yet more census records, all handwritten in entrancing, precise cursive, o’s and l’s looping across the page.

Some facts long sealed in the family vault, finally unleashed:
— My maternal great-grandfather had four sisters, one of whom was named Imelda, which seems rather avant-garde for the daughter of an Irish immigrant in the 1890s
— Contrary to anecdotal lore, it appears that my family is not quite so full-blooded German as it imagined it was: my paternal great-grandmother left from Hamburg in 1891, but she did not in fact live in the country or even speak German
— There is still much to learn: though I discovered that my paternal great-grandmother was not German, the record from the ship she crossed on lists her hometown as Kozojed, Boehmen (which is in the modern Czech Republic), but in the 1920 census, her hometown is listed as Sopron, Austria (which is in modern Hungary)

Whither the snapshot of a store in Hamburg, purportedly taken in the 1880s, emblazoned with our family name? Was the oral history I based all my colorful, childish elaborations on a false history? How do you try and unearth “truth” when no one alive has any recollection of these people, places, the smells, sights, memories? When you haven’t even talked to your own father since the halcyon days leading up to 9/11?

(These musings facilitated by the kind people at Ancestry and Genealogy.)

I.

You underestimate me. Because I am young, closer to your daughter’s or son’s age than your own. Because I am a woman, because I have soft fleshy thighs and sleek hair and I wear little silver earrings in the shape of birds, which my husband gave me on my birthday, a time to take flight. Because I’m successful, and you don’t see why I should be. Because I’m agreeable, because I write e-mails that make my friends in accounting turn to their dictionaries, because sometimes I let you chalk up small victories so that I don’t to navigate the uncomfortable terrain that would come with making you feel slighted.

I am 24. I can’t even claim to have reached the year of the quarter-life crisis; I radiate a sheen of youth, I wear high heels on the subway, and I shyly drop my head when we’re all in the elevator together because I never developed a facility for small talk. I do small work — I fixate, dissect sentences in my head, thumb madly through reference books to find clear extrapolations of arcane rules of splitting infinitives — but I am unhinged, trying to apply the same rigorous logic to our sprawling, messy lives.

I can’t tell if I’m mature or immature. I don’t want to get involved in office politics. I don’t want to think that things as petty as age can divide us. The only time I ever feel real any more is staring out to sea, or listening to ambient fuzz while studying faces on the subway, back and forth, back and forth, bodies pressing together without emitting sparks.

Lonely in America

While in Bradenton, I developed an unnatural obsession with birds. I donno; sometimes I’m like that. As such, you are now privy to some of my pictures (including, of course, some poor amateur Photoshopping).

 

For the rest of my myriad shots … –> The Birds!

It doesn’t have the cachet of Astoria and it lacks the gritty appeal of the LIC arts scene, but for my buck, I couldn’t pick a better place in Queens than Rego Park.

Other residents (and real estate agents) highlight its proximity to Forest Hills (the fillet of Queens!), the easy commute to Manhattan (30 minutes door to door!), and the low crime rate (a 40% drop in robberies in the past year!). But for me? It’s the humble character of the neighborhood and the kaleidoscope of culture shifting and glittering on 63rd Drive, on Queens Boulevard, along Yellowstone and Woodhaven.

The gym I go to is locally owned, rather than an outpost of the overpriced Bally’s or New York Sports Club (also, its employees are always quick with a friendly greeting, initially winning me over by exclaiming, “Is named Platinum — better than Gold!”). Within a 15-minute walk from my apartment, I can buy Colombian chicken, find Thums-Up cola, get supplies to celebrate Chinese New Year, hum along to old Bollywood tunes at a Subway franchised by a chipper young fellow from Indonesia, delight in a knish, or procure a neon menora. And on balmy summer days, or even into crisp fall evenings, there’s a certain corner on which a group of five or six old men invariably play backgammon, kids occasionally peering over their shoulders to help them strategize.

It’s a cool, refreshingly authentic place to live when it seems everyone is urging us to consider Williamsburg or Park Slope, both dripping with irony and artifice and endless posturing about who has the best what. Sure, sometimes it means I miss a hip indie concert, and there’s not much of a nightlife (other than Wiggles!), but at least I don’t have to fight for groceries amongst a million tiny men wearing black eyeliner, flannels, and ever-tighter jeans.

The Times has a brief today about a man in Queens who has been charged with a hate crime. I suppose the racists are never known for having a nuanced grasp of the world, but it’s always dimly amusing to see yet more evidence of their ignorance.

 David C. Wood was charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after he shouted “Arab, go back to your country!” at 63-year-old Chadha Bajeet, a Sikh, and punched him in the face. Bajeet, who presumably ties a turban (as many Sikhs do), suffered a broken nose and jaw.

Violence against Sikhs in the U.S. isn’t new; particularly after 9/11, the visual cue provided by the turban has made the religion’s predominantly Indian adherents a rather easy target. From Congressman John Cooksey’s reactionary comment urging racial profiling after the terror attacks (“If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over”) to the Sikh Coalition’s exhaustive listing of hate crimes and bias incidents against Sikhs since then, discrimination is blatant and well-documented. But I still find it confounding: Really? You’re so threatened by this Other that you have to break a 63-year-old’s jaw? What did he ever do to you?

The subject gets me all het up, I suppose, is that my husband is Sikh; even though he doesn’t tie a turban, he has long hair and a beard, which means we are inevitably pulled aside at the airport for grilling and patting down. The worst that’s happened is a TSA official asking the hubby why he looked so fidgety; hubz remained calm and explained, “It’s the first time I’ll be visiting my in-laws at their family home.” But when you hear about random attacks in a neighborhood less than five miles from your own humble apartment, it’s easy to get a little paranoid.

 vet.jpg

(Photo from NYT, courtesy the man’s family)

The New York Times began a new series today, “War Torn,” that focuses on crimes and wartime experiences of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings (or been charged with them) after coming home. The first piece, “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” is a heart-breaking, provocative, and essential piece of reportage. The paper also offers multimedia case studies, a slide show, an audio interview with a psychiatrist, and an excerpt from a related book.

 “Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories [of violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan]. Lakewood, Wash.: ‘Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.’ Pierre, S.D.: ‘Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.’ Colorado Springs: ‘Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.’

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killingi n this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.”

This story hits home for me, having two brothers that have spent time fighting in both countries. I don’t see either very often, and when I do, the subject is off-limits. Occasionally, something about their time there will slip out — one Christmas, right after Saddam had been captured by the U.S. (“like a rat!”), one of my brothers kept mentioning how he swore he saw Hussein driving a taxi around Baghdad, and how he should have just shot him in the fuckin’ head right there, while he had a chance, how he always regretted not shooting the driver in the fuckin’ head. Another time, when someone asked if he had killed anyone, my brother got quiet, then noted that people there got killed all the time, but that the military was very respectful, that he had helped bury dead combatants in mass graves as soon as possible out of respect for Islamic mores and customs.

It’s hard to hear these stories, and even harder to figure out how to process them (imagine how hard it must be for my brothers themselves). As I’ve begun writing this, I’ve gotten…increasingly agitated, simply because I don’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to work my concern for my brothers (and people I went to high school with, and other acquaintances) into everyday life. But as I continue to ponder the subject, looking forward to the next story in the series, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer:

“To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

It’s difficult to make sense of stories in which there may be no winners, only losers, only gaping holes where pieces of ourselves used to be. But it’s important to review them and cast a critical eye on them — and I applaud the Times for highlighting this important issue.

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