Twig and Berries

Writing about the Brooklyn Jugs and adventures at various bars in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn has made a bunch of ancient memories come bubbling up to the service.

Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a guy’s dick on the subway?

This one takes place during the same general era as the Lillie’s story. Z and I were living in Prospect Lefferts Garden (Southeast corner of Prospect Park). Z worked at NYU and I worked for a tiny wholesale bakery that over the years hopped around to various professional kitchen sites throughout the city. We started in a cavernous and filthy basement in SoHo, moved to a tiny but tidy storefront in the Meatpacking District across from what would soon be the Spice Market, detoured to a labyrinth catering kitchen in a warehouse in Long Island City for about a year, and returned to the Meatpacking District storefront for a second try.

Commuting from Brooklyn to Queens was pretty straightforward even if I did have to go to Manhattan to get there. I’d hop on the Q at Parkside Ave in Brooklyn and somewhere in Manhattan I’d switch over to the R which I’d take to 36th Street in Queens. Queens. That borough always confused me. With its 36th Street and 36th Avenue and the fact that they intersected. It just didn’t feel right. But the kitchen space was large and clean and the catering company that ran it invited us to eat family meal with them every day. I remember the chef reaming out a cook for not removing the bones from the fish in a dish he prepared for family meal. Chef was not fucking around. He was feeding his people (and us) right. Anything that was put out for consumption was expected to be as excellent as the food they sent to the US Open. I still have a couple of travel coffee mugs they were passing out late summer of ’05 after the Open was done.

So back to the train. If you are a daily commuter in New York you have your system. You wait for the train in the same spot every day. You enter the train through the same set of doors. You have a favorite seat. You have your routine, be it napping or reading or listening to music. You are in a bubble and feel alone even in a crowded car. I think it is how one stays sane in an overwhelming situation. You make order out of chaos. Your world gets manageably small. You recognize the regulars in your car, nod or smile at them but never strike up a conversation. When one of the regulars goes missing you feel a bizarre sense of loss for a stranger you never knew.

One morning in the silence of the subway car I happened to glance up from the book I was reading to see a well dressed man walking down the aisle. For a moment I could not process what I was seeing. He had carefully arranged his junk so that both his flaccid penis and rather hairy balls were free from the repressive underwear and pants the rest of us were wearing. His pants were buttoned, the fly was simply gaping open, a passageway for his genetalia that clearly yearned to be free.

I tensed up. You never really know what shit is going to go down on the train, best to be on guard. Not one other person in the half full car said a word, it seemed that everyone was so involved in their routine that they didn’t notice. I quickly looked back to my book and pretended to read until I heard him exit out of the door and into the next car.

A guy with his dick on display walked the length of our train car. After he left I glanced up at my fellow commuters. Not a single person met my eye. Not a twitch of a smile on any of their faces. I was having trouble not laughing hysterically. Did it that just happen? Was I really the only one to notice? Did I suffer some extended hallucination?

The next morning I was reading my book on the train as we chugged along still in Brooklyn. Suddenly I heard a woman talking to her friend. About Mr. Dick-Outside-His-Pants. My head whipped around, “You saw him, too?” I asked. “I didn’t think anyone else noticed!” She laughed. She didn’t think anyone else had noticed either.

I wonder how many of us on the train did notice. Either way I never saw the man again. Man, I miss the fuck out of New York. Not a lot of dull moments.

can we fix it

Of course we get all sorts of great moments in Syracuse as well. WCNY, our local PBS station moved into a fancy new location and had a big party to celebrate yesterday. Even Bob the Builder came.

bob the builder and c

Brave C just strutted right up to Bob for a high five.

too shy for bob

Shy T needed to watch from a distance and cuddle with Daddy.

kombucha

Guess what? I’m brewing Kombucha! Thanks again for the scoby, L! Should be ready to bottle in the next few days.

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Be Nice

That local art and design market we went to a few weekends ago? The hat people weren’t there. So I’m still wearing the ratty old hat for the time being. When we left the show I wasn’t even thinking about hats because I was so excited to have found this:

work hard

Eventually Z will have a spare moment to make a frame and it will hang in my kitchen, the room I spend the most time in. In five little words it expresses exactly what I want to teach my sons about life. The beauty of local events like Salt Market is finding that perfect something you didn’t even know was missing from your life and supporting a local maker at the same time. Who cares that I didn’t find a hat when I did find a print that makes me ridiculously happy.

The print has had me thinking about being nice. I try to be nice in my life, but I could do better. A lot better. Last night Z and I went out for dinner after our therapy session. Yes, our big date night once every couple of weeks involves couples therapy. Whatever works, right? We finished our sushi more than half an hour before the babysitter expected us home so we popped over to the bar next door for a quick drink.

beer

Dude. They had Narragansett on tap. Are you not familiar with the great state of Rhode Island? First of all, you are missing out. Get familiar, people. RI might be the smallest state, but it is mighty where it counts-it has tons of heart. A fact made more complicated and strangely more delightful by the wicked chip most Rhodies have on their shoulders. It is a magical place with beer that is “Made on Honor, Sold on Merit”.

Z and I were shooting the shit and an old friend and bandmate of Z’s came up. Talk about a nice guy and one who can play the living crap out of a harmonica. Z made him a banjo last year and E accidently left it on a subway platform a while back. Z told me that E offered to come up for a weekend if Z would make him another and I was all for it. I got the warm fuzzies thinking about E, like I always do. For some reason I decided to tell Z what I always think of when I hear E’s name.

Z and E were in a band called the Brooklyn Jugs in the early to mid oughts. They had built up a little following and often played in the garden of a sprawling bar in Red Hook called Lillie’s. The place is long closed, but it was cool back then. Cooler than Williamsburg cool. The kind of place that Norah Jones would play some Saturday night with her side project all girl punk band. The kind of place where the NYC smoking ban didn’t mean much. The kind of beat up dive that managed to transcend the hipster holier-than-thou malaise to just be a shitload of fun.

I remember getting trashed with Lillie herself and some other dude I called my nemesis for reasons that are no longer clear to me one night at Moonshine in Red Hook. Is Moonshine still there over on Columbia Street? That was one hell of a bar. No idea how I got home that night or where Z was.

Sorry, getting lost in old Brooklyn nostalgia. We did managed to have a lot of fun in those messy years.

So this one Sunday afternoon back in either the summer of ’04 or ’05 the Jugs were rocking in the garden of Lillie’s while barbeque was being served out of the kitchen they didn’t have a permit to use. I was late getting there. It was a rough time for me. I was slowly emerging from my rather extravagant mental breakdown. Z and I basically hated each other and he desperately wanted out of the marriage. I put on 60 pounds because of my meds. I was disgusted with myself and hated being in public. I wanted the earth to swallow me. I wanted to be ignored. Because if people noticed me I was sure they would be filled with pity and revulsion.

I walked through the door from the hazy bar into the light of the afternoon. Sunday barbeque was a big deal at Lillie’s and the garden was packed. As I stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to figure out where I could hide myself, I looked at the stage and caught E’s eye. He was in the middle of a song, but he stopped singing and called out, “Hey look! Karen’s here!” Everyone turned at once to look at me.

The guy singing, the coolest guy in the room, took a moment to make me feel like I belonged. E didn’t know the extend of my mental illness. He might not have known that Z and I were struggling in our marriage. He didn’t know that kind of attention would usually embarrass the hell out of me. He was just being himself. In that moment close to a decade ago he was nice. He was working hard (if you heard him play the harmonica you’d know what I was talking about) and he was being nice. 

I wish I was more like him.

piano C

Maybe this guy will be in a band someday. He sure likes to play the piano with his feet.

photo (21)

This stained and stretched out hat might just make it through one more winter.

Privilege

About a decade ago Z’s friend informed us that in his mind women did not use the bathroom. Ever. I’d been recently diagnosed with IBS and this cracked me up and infuriated me equally. So I made it a point to fart in front of him as much as humanly possible. Because fuck you. I use the bathroom and it does not diminish me as a human.

I fart, I shit, I fantasize about strangers, I love sex, I swear, when I have an opinion I speak up.  

I don’t wear makeup. Or heals. Or skirts more than a couple times a year. I don’t blow dry my hair. I’ve never been waxed. I suck at flirting.

I shave my legs. I use moisturizer. I’m a sucker for face masks and ointments that promise to make me look younger. I get a couple of pedicures a year.

These choices make me who I am. They do not make me less of a woman. Or more of a woman.

The last post was a quick little sketch of a moment in my day. It was meant to be amusing (I hope) and honest and even though I was dealing with feminism and asking questions it was more of a superficial rumination.

But I’ve been thinking about the deeper implications ever since. Especially because of a valuable comment left by a friend of my sisters-in-law. Her comment would be familiar to anyone who has taken a women’s issues class, but how many of us is that really? And if I agree with what she said why was I so unsettled by it?

Privilege.

I was raised with white privilege. With socio-economic privilege. And I fooled myself into thinking gender privilege didn’t really exist because I was lucky enough to be raised by people who taught me there was no difference between me and my male counterparts. Yet at the same time the sexual politics in my house were….antiquated. Good girls wait, etc.

This dichotomy was confusing and ultimately infuriating to me. My self worth was impacted. I do not mean to throw my parents under the bus. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We are all products of our generation. We are doing the best we can, now that I am a parent I understand that. I also understand I will make choices that will negatively impact my sons even though I will try my damndest not to. My parents gave me a huge gift by telling me I could be the President of the United States or an Astronaut or the first professional female baseball player.

Who I am is shaped by being privileged in all areas save gender. I am ashamed to admit this, I want that last bit of privilege. My objectification of males (and again I’m writing here about hetero interactions) is primarily for my enjoyment, but there is a fuck you in there, too. There is an “I get to do this, too” element.

To quote Ele: “I don’t think an average woman on the street ogling a man can so easily ignore his personhood, free will, or strength” I WANT to ignore a man I am objectifying’s personhood, his free will, and his strenght. Which is a shame. Which makes me a toddler throwing a tantrum. It is the easy way out-aspiring to the privilege that one population uses (subconsciously or not) to subjugate another population.

Because isn’t the goal to teach men that viewing women as “empty vessels” negates each woman’s personhood and free will? Isn’t the goal to raise a generation of men who are not squeamish about women taking a shit? Who do realize that women are sexual beings who fantasize right along with the best of them? Those two little things and a million others combine to form a picture of women who share much in common with and who are just as capable as men.

Z views me as his equal. He always has. He accepts the millions of contradictions that make me me. He does not care which traditional tenets of femininity I embrace and which I reject. Because he does not have a laundry list of what is required to be female. And it does not affect his ability to also see me as a sexual being or an object of desire.

He is constantly aware of gender politics in his day to day life-the fact that his students are nearly all women is hard to ignore. The other week he took part in an event on campus aimed at students. When I asked him how it was he said, “All dudes. The underlying message to the majority of participants-the women-is there is no room for you on the stage.”

As a woman who is scrambling for acceptance and validation from my male peers it is easy for me to have that sort of realization-there is only room for one woman in this movie or novel or workplace or there is no room for women at all. But for Z to get there? Z, a product of every privilege under the sun? I wish this wasn’t the case, but his views are extraordinary. It is no accident I married him. And I’m glad as hell that I get to raise our boys with him. Boys who will not grow to see attractive women as empty vessels who don’t shit and fart and love sex.

Let’s take a little dance break after the seriousness of that post. The fam went to the Halloween event at our zoo (the ZooBoo) on Sunday. C adored the dance party. T was a little more shy about the whole thing.

c doc office

C spiked a fever at the end of last week. By the time we made it to the doc’s office he was feeling much better.

T styles his shirt

T did some creative styling with his t-shirt.

Hot Piece of Tail on Clarendon Street

Welcome Home, Son was playing on my phone. I’d just crested the killer hill that is part of my walk home from class. I was feeling pretty damn content when this dude walked out of a house and down the sidewalk 20 feet in front of me.

I’m not usually a leg gal. And my ass of choice is no ass. This gentleman had me rethinking my stance on the lower extremities. He was over 6 feet, slender but muscular in tight jeans, work boots, and a SUNY ESF sweatshirt. It didn’t hurt that he was rather pasty with black hair which is my type. A couple houses down the street I noticed an old Ford F150 parked on the other side of the road and I prayed he would cross over to it. Watching him get into that truck would only enhance the fantasy that was playing in my head.

He crossed over and climbed into the truck.

Holy fucking shit, it has been a while since I have been that violently attracted to a stranger.

I like looking at people. As much as I tell T that looks don’t matter I really enjoy looking at beautiful people. Hell, it doesn’t have to be people. Beauty in general makes my life better. Everyday that I walk around I’m checking out those around me, drinking in those who I’m attracted to. I’m guessing that everyone else is doing the exact same thing.

Tonight our friend C was over for dinner and I told him and Z about Mr. F150. I asked what they thought about my blatant objectification of a man when compared to the outrage feminists (including me) express at the objectification of women.

C said he never heard a woman admit to having a fantasy about a stranger. I told him I’d put money on the fact that every women he knows does it.

My hypothesis was that hetero women don’t view the objects of their desire as less than them. And maybe that is the difference. I thought hetero males often consider the objects of their desire to be inferior. C and Z told me that wasn’t fair.

Now both C and Z are excellent humans. Z is one of the most strident feminists I know. C said that there isn’t consideration of the object of desire as less than or more than. Rather she is more of a vessel onto which a fantasy is superimposed. I guess that I agree I was doing the same thing. I didn’t want to know this dude’s name. I didn’t want to talk to him in real life. I am incredibly happily married. I just wanted to think dirty thoughts about him and his legs for a couple of minutes.

Does the problem with objectification begin when that 4th wall is broken? Is it when the catcalling begins? Neither C nor Z has catcalled a woman in their adult lives, which makes me pretty proud. I have been catcalled in my time. Not because I’m any great shakes, but because I’d wager every adult women in America has been. When I lived in Bed-Stuy it was a daily occurrence for every woman who walked those streets. And it did make me feel diminished. Less than. It also made me feel like I belonged in a neighborhood where I was a minority. I was targeted because of my femaleness, not the color of my skin.

So what do you think? Is it cool that I was hard core objectifying a stranger on my walk home? Is it just as bad as catcalling? Should women fess up to their constant thoughts about sex as they walk around in this world? Should we start catcalling men so they know how it makes us feel? I don’t really mean that, but I sort of do.

I think it is harmless to fantasize about each other, to objectify each other in our minds. I think it is human. The problem begins when we act on our thoughts. When we call out to the object of our desire, or lear, or stare it is an act of aggression. It isn’t a compliment. It isn’t harmless. It isn’t ok.

sick c

As soon as I touched this sweet boy after his nap I knew he was rocking a fever. 102.4 isn’t that bad, but he’s going to the doc’s tomorrow to be sure he doesn’t have an ear infection.

faker

T watched me snap a picture of C and asked me to take his as well. Then he carefully arranged himself and the blanket and closed his eyes all ready for his close up.

Bathtime Gets Heavy

T was arranging toys in a line on the edge of the bathtub when he looked up at me. “I tell people that you and Dad hit me and poke me in the eye.”

Me, “What?”

T, “I TELL PEOPLE THAT YOU AND DAD HIT ME AND POKE ME IN THE EYE!”

Yup. That is what I thought he said. But I was stalling for time.

After a very long pause in which I attempted to collect my thoughts…..”Do Dad or I ever hit you or poke you in the eye?” (Poke him in the eye??? Who are we? The Three Stooges?”)

“No.”

“Here’s the deal. You cannot say stuff like that. Do you know why? Someone could hear you and they could think you were serious and they would be really worried that we were hurting you. They might call the police. And the police want to help. So the police would come over. They might believe your story. And if they thought Daddy and I were hurting you they would take you away so you could be somewhere they thought was safe.”

He was listening so carefully. I saw he was scared and I felt like I fucked up. Shit. I did not want to scare him. But how do I explain this? How do I let him know how grave this topic is without terrifying him?

“I won’t say it again.”

“Baby. There are things we can joke about and things we can’t joke about. You being hit is serious. It isn’t funny. We can’t make up stories about it. And listen. Police are the good guys. You need to go to them for help. But they trust us to be honest. If we tell them stories that aren’t true they will probably believe us and try to help us. Here’s the deal. If someone is hurting you you do need to speak up. And we will get you help. But you can never ever make up stories about being hit.”

Jesus christ. Deep, relaxing breaths. I am sorry he got scared. I do not want to threaten my child. He was testing limits, seeing what would happen when he made up a story. But this kind of make believe can backfire badly. Ugh. Some days I really feel like I am not equipped to deal with this job, this responsibility of raising another human. My blood pressure was through the roof. I needed a laugh or a stiff drink. Of course he provided me with the former just moments later.

He laid in my lap wrapped in his towel as I brushed his teeth. Yes, I insist on brushing them before his turn. He is not as thorough as I would like. His towel fell open and like every male in the universe his hand went right for his junk. “I want to make babies.”

“What?” (Again, I was stalling for time.)

“I want to make babies!”

“Um…….with whom?”

“With the little things in the big thing below my penis!”

Oh. Several weeks ago he was asking about making babies and the hows and whys and all that jazz. I told him that someday he will make sperm in his testicals that could combine with an egg in the belly of a woman to make a baby. It was his consolation prize after I had to break it to him that he couldn’t get pregnant.

“Sweet boy. You cannot make babies with those little things yet because you don’t have any little things. And you couldn’t support a baby right now. Babies are expensive. Where would you get the money? I want you to have babies some day if that is what you want. But not for a while. Your body isn’t mature yet.”

“But Mommy!” he wailed “I’m sure! I’m sure!”

I had to bury my face in his hair so he wouldn’t see me choking back the laughter. Of course he didn’t understand what mature meant. He is only four. But is my pronunciation that bad? Does it really sound like “I’m sure” when I say it? Maybe C’s speech therapist needs to work with me….

Also, parenthood should be renamed “Emotional Whiplash”.

sleepy boy

This sweet kid. He challenges me every day. Then he makes me laugh.

weird dad

So does his crazy Dad. Back off, ladies. He is all mine.

no eyes C

This little monkey was aimlessly wandering around the kitchen. I was hastily collecting stuff so we could head out the door and finally looked over at him. I did pull the hat off of his eyes after I took the picture. Because, you know, I care.

Pacifier

This is my fault. I still think of C as a baby and it is a major disservice to him. He will always be my baby, T will also always be my baby. But C is the youngest, the last one. Accepting that he is growing up means accepting it is time to start letting go tiny bit by tiny bit, a torturous process I’m guessing I’ll wrestle with for the rest of my life.

His delayed speech has made it easier for the baby charade to continue. It’s been an excuse for so much. How can we transition him to a big boy bed if we can’t have a conversation with him? How can we potty train him? How can I wean him when he is so comforted by breastfeeding? How will he understand when we take the pacifier away? The truth is he understands language. I simply do not give him enough credit. It isn’t fair to him.

Last January we explained to him that he could only have the pacifier at night. Sometime over the spring he started taking two pacifiers to bed-one in his mouth, one to hold. And he’d switch back and forth between the two as he settled. Sometimes he’d lose them overnight and cry until we got them for him, but it was occasional-a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep. A couple of weeks ago he started losing the pacifiers more often. And more often. And more often. Suddenly Z and I have found ourselves up half a dozen times a night. We are at our wits’ end.

I need to be on a daily maintenance med for anxiety. Not only for my mental health, but for the health of the entire family. It isn’t fair to Z and the boys that the anxiety has been so acute lately. It puts a strain on everyone. I need to wean him in order to start the drugs. I’m still struggling with the letting go.

Parenting is triage so much of the time. It is easier to get up in the middle of the night every once in a while to pop a pacifier into his mouth than it is to deal with the struggle of taking the pacifier away. Until the day you wake up and realize you are getting up six times a night. A monster exists. And you created it by taking the path of least resistance.

So the time has come for us to do the hard work. Yesterday when C got up we asked if he was a big boy. He nodded. We told him big boys don’t need pacifiers. We suggested that we give all his pacifiers to our friend who is expecting a baby soon. We talked about it on and off all morning. I put him down for nap without one. It was terrible. He wept. I cried because when he hurts I hurt.

And then he slept for three and a half hours.

Last night it was another struggle, but he went down without a pacifier again. He did wake at 4am. And dude was up for the day. So this is going to take some work, this no pacifier deal, but we are facing it. We are back to making choices rather than letting the whims of a two year old dictate our behavior. He needs us to parent a hell of a lot more than he needs us to fetch his pacifier.

And in a few weeks I will wean him. The goal is for him to be done with the boob by the time we embark on our annual winter sojourn down south to see family. A friend was kind enough to come by yesterday to talk to me about how she weaned her daughter. She had great advice. And she listened, really listened to me. Which was a huge kindness. The talk made me feel armed with information. It reminded me that weaning him isn’t going to ruin his life. Kind of embarrassing that I needed that reminder, but I’ve gotten myself ridiculously spun up over this.

In other news, C’s speech therapy is going swimmingly. He has picked up a few words after about a month of sessions and both he and T love his therapist. He is working hard to overcome the communication issue. Z and I are working hard on letting him become a big boy.

bumblebee c

My littlest man rocking his brother’s Bumblebee costume.

family cuddles

The fam. Last night we cuddled on the sofa and watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

still running

The only social media my Dad follows is Instagram. He digs the pictures my sister and I post of our kiddos. Yesterday we were chatting and he asked me if I was still jogging. “Five days a week.” I told him. He wanted to know why I wasn’t posting pictures anymore. I told him I thought they were boring. And he told me it was the way he knew I was still doing it. He and my Mom have been wonderful cheerleaders during my foray into exercising. He asked for another picture. Guess he needs evidence. I’m in love with the top I’m wearing, by the by. Super comfortable and great for chilly days with the high neck and thumb slits so it goes over the hands.

Radio Silence

It’s been a shit week. Started off with T informing me I was fat. There was a stressful and involved homework assignment I left to the last minute. A terrible therapy session. Yesterday I wrote 700 words about the it. But they were the wrong words. I deleted the post. Found out that someone I loved a very long time ago lost a person close to him, a person I rather adored. C got another cold. The hot water heater broke rather dramatically to the tune of nearly a grand. The boys went on a sleeping strike. Z and I haven’t spent time together in, oh, I don’t know how long. The anxiety has been…..constant.

sad C

C in this moment=how I’ve felt all week.

Many other people experienced real tragedy over the last few days. I’m just being a whiney brat. But it is why I haven’t been writing.

Today wasn’t so bad. Found out a friend from a million years ago sent a scoby to me. Sometime next week I should be trying to figure out how to brew my own kombucha. Was the room mother for T’s class and had fun with my boy. Except when he told two gals that the tree he was playing under was “No girls allowed”. Yes, I might have performed an impromptu monologue straight out of a women’s issues class. But other than that heartbreak it was delightful.

bumblebee

T’s Halloween costume arrived in the mail this afternoon. He is rocking this look. One of the cooler parts of parenthood? Six months ago I had no idea who Bumblebee was. Personally I still don’t give a shit about him, but because T adores him he has sort of crept into my heart a little.

photo (20)

After a trip to Target to score Mommy more crazy lady drugs and the boys some more play doh (What? I don’t make my own play doh? I know! Call Child Protective Services!) I decided I was pretty much done with the week. Z wasn’t home for dinner. So we got take out, I told the boys we would pretend it was a picnic, cracked open a bottle of cider, and I threw in a Harry Potter Movie. T was pissed I made him take off the Bumblebee costume. But I was not born yesterday. And no, we don’t have a flatscreen TV. I realize we might be the only people on the planet. Someday I hope we join those living in the 21st century.

friday night

So there you have it. Rough week. Better Friday. Hey next week? Can we be friends?