The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

March 26, 2011

Because of Geraldine

In times of mourning, prose seems flaccid.  I offer poetry instead.  This poem of mine originally appeared in Lummox Journal:

GERALDINE FERRARO HAS BLOOD CANCER

It would be impossible to overstate this imperfect woman's importance to women in the United States

While I blot my eyes, I tell her, “Geraldine Ferraro

Has blood cancer.”  She blinks twice, wets her lips,

And asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam

That has blood cancer.  She blinks twice, wets her lips.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam,

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

She has no inkling, none, what it was like —

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie —

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She has no inkling, none, what it was like

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer.

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender.

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

But I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping.

I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat,

since she was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Because the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last.

She was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve —

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady,”

But the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last —

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered.

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady.

Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet.”

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

“Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet,”

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp,

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp

By my reaction half the country away from her.  I was ransomed,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief.

At least somebody showed them I could do it; a girl could do it.

My reaction half the country away from her: I was ransomed;

I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why.

At least somebody showed them I could do it.  A girl could do it.

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.

“…I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why,”

While I blot my eyes,  I tell her.  “Geraldine Ferraro…

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.”

She asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

I met Geraldine Ferraro once at a rally in New York City.  She was surrounded by scary-looking advance men, as advance campaign staff invariably at the time was male.  She was running for governor.  Her advance staff looked scary precisely because they did not  appear to come from the typical advance staff stock — college-educated guys who majored in political science with aspirations of their own, not idealists — the guys who other guys would have called dickish.  Gerry Ferraro‘s advance men were head-crackers that looked like they were only graduates of what first-Irish-and-totally-mobbed-up governor of New York Al Smith called “The Institute of FFM — the Fulton Fish Market” (For those of you who don’t know New York crime blotter sheets from re-runs of Law and Order, the Fulton Fish Market, now closed, was THE mob spot since it opened.

She was not an idealist.  She was infinitely pragmatic.  But if it’s not a  mobbed-up woman who gets to be the first female president, I sincerely wonder who has the muscle to pull off the final boring through the glass ceiling.  Gerry Ferraro gave it a swift kick, and the fissures she left in it are still being chipped away at by women of my generation and younger.

Because of Geraldine, we have abandoned the idea that leadership requires the ability to pee standing up.

I owe her, knuckle-headed advance staff, nasal voice and all — I owe her so much.  If you’re a woman and you like your job, your rights, your possibilities, you owe her, too.

Rest in peace, mother Geraldine.  Rest in peace.

September 19, 2010

Don’t MAKE me come up there, New York City!

So here I am, New York, one of your expatriates,  now living in Mississippi, forever assuming that  I had left the place of ultimate tolerance for a place still wrestling with civil rights issues.  While I’m off minding my business down here, I find out from Farah Akbar of The Gotham Gazette and others — the sweet elderly couple down the street at CNN, those crazy neighbors of ours at Fox News, and basically everybody else — that you’ve gone and pulled a switcheroo on me, New York City.  Down here, I’ve yet to witness a hate crime or hear about one recently committed in my environs, but up there, you’ve gone all Klannish on me!

Farah Akbar wrote the following:

“A 37-year-old Queens resident, who does not want his name used, thinks that he may have been the victim of a hate crime. On a warm August evening, he was taking the routine four-block walk home from the Jamaica Muslim Center after completing his prayers. He was wearing a traditional outfit from his native Bangladesh, which consists of a long overflowing shirt that reaches the knees and baggy pants. Two blocks shy of his home, five men surrounded him began punching him.

‘I kept saying, ‘Don’t hit me. Take what you want, but don’t hit me,’ he said. The men did not ask for money or for his watch. In fact, they did not say a word to him throughout the entire ordeal. The victim, an information technology professional, had to take two days off from work to recover from his injuries.

Officials from the Jamaica Muslim Center believe that this was a hate crime. ‘He was wearing Muslim garb, he was not robbed and he was only two blocks away from the mosque,” said Junnun Choudhury, general secretary of the center.'” — The Gotham Gazette, September 2010

And then there’s the guy who drunkenly took a whizz on prayer rugs in a mosque in a different part of Queens, a part of Queens where I organized a pro-diversity literary reading within a year of 9/11 that was well attended!

Why are the people of Astoria, Queens, in what must be the most diverse portion of the most diverse county in the whole world, seemingly more angry at Islam today than  they were in January, 2002?

Is this what you do, New York, when I leave you alone in the house like a grown-up?  If I had discovered you had thrown a wild party with a lot of friends over who broke stuff, that would have just been business as usual for you, and we wouldn’t be having this talk right now.  This is a sad surprise, to say the least.

And then, let’s take a look at this winner, who celebrated September 11th by protesting the Islamic center they want to build at Park 51:

Wait -- I'm in Mississippi and THIS GUY is in New York?

When I was contemplating my move down here, New York City, didn’t you warn me that if I went to Mississippi, I would run into a pack of half-wit racist scumbags with horrible taste in men’s hats?

Is this your idea of a joke, New York?

New York, it’s not just the ninth anniversary of September 11th when this guy was walking around like this — it was during FASHION WEEK that he was looking like this, too. Have you no shame?

New York, my Irish great-great-great-grandmother would have said the following to you:

  1. You’ve gone “beyond the beyonds” — which means pack your bags, no Carmelite nun’s prayer can save you — this is the kind of behavior that lands you straight in Hell.
  2. She would remind you of the controversy that existed during her lifetime about the building of  Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, as one wouldn’t want to encourage all that anti-American papist hooliganism supposedly inherent in the worship practices of that upstart immigrant group, the Irish Catholics.  I refer you to Martin Scorcese’s film, The Gangs of New York, for a reenactment of another jingoist protest against an immigrant group’s house of worship being built.
  3. You have abandoned your wonderful principles.
  4. Osama Bin Laden wins if we become hateful or even distrust our own ideal of a diverse society.
  5. Given that this man has “Guinness” written on his tacky cap, there’s a pretty good chance the guy in the photo is Irish-American.  What would  his Irish great-great-great grandmother have to say to him?  Irish eyes would not be smiling.

New York, what’s going on  up there?  Are you just acting out because you miss me so much?  Have I really  moved to a place of greater tolerance for difference and individual choice than your overcrowded streets?

Don’t make me come up there, New York City!  If I come up there, and I don’t see things back the way they were when I left — a reasonable attitude between all groups of people, a total rejection of the attitudes that inspire hate crimes, and — don’t forget — the best-dressed men in North America, you will have to answer to me.  I remind you of the many demonstrations I organized when I lived there.  I remind you of the several makeovers I performed.  You don’t want to get me started again, do you?  Don’t make me come up there.

Blog at WordPress.com.