That Whole Thing About My Old Apartment

No matter how hard I try to not talk about myself, sometimes other people force my hand. So here we go again.

During the Valentine’s Day weekend of 2016, my apartment at 537 W 147th St Apt 1 was flooded. My  apartment was and is managed by Aizer Realty, specifically by Joseph Aizer. I am making this information public because I have just found out today that Joseph Aizer and 147 Hamilton LLC have taken me to small claims court for unpaid rent, and at this point, there is no reason to be quiet.

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On the surface, my apartment was perfect. It had a washer/dryer unit, hardwood floors, dishwasher and a backyard.

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And it was home. The only problem was that during the cold months, the apartment was nearly uninhabitable.

We had central air, but it was so expensive to run, between $1200-$1500 monthly during the cold months. We had been in long tern talks with Joseph Aizer about the fact that the apartment was so cold, even despite the HVAC system, and we desperately needed an alternative. I insulated the windows, my roommate cooked frequently to keep the apartment warm, but during those cold months, the electric bill was so high that we were going broke. 

That first summer, my roommate and I made the decision to have the central air system shut down from the unit, to lower costs. During the warmer months, the  difference was significant. The electric bill went down to an average of $100-$200 a month. During the winter months we resolved to use space heaters instead, which lowered our bills to about $900-$1200, better, but still leaving us looking for alternatives. 

My room specifically was known as the freezer. With three of the four walls facing the garden, my room was often colder than the outside. I mentioned repeatedly that my room seemed badly insulated, something Mr. Aizer scoffed at. But I could feel the cold coming in through my feet, and I never went without socks between September and May.

Sometimes, I had to leave the space heater on in my bedroom all day to get it warm enough in time for bed, and while it was hard on the wallet, it made it easier to sleep.

That Valentine’s Day weekend, I spent it with friends. when I came back that Monday night, I started to warm up the apartment before bed, per usual. What I didn’t know is that the sprinkler pipes in my room froze, and when I came back and warmed up the apartment, they burst. I was able to catch the very moment it all went from a drip to a complete flood. 

Within minutes, I lost 300 books. I tried to protect what I could, but the water just kept going and going, and even though I tried going to the basement and shut the water off with one of his men on the phone, I could not figure out what to do.

I spent the next hour knee deep in water, on the phone with  my roommate, with Joe and his flunkies, waiting for someone to show up. One of his men, Ezra, tried to make me take the blame for the pipes freezing, telling me I should have never turned off the heat when I left. I kept reminding him, no matter how hard he tried to pin the blame on me, that keeping the pipes clear was not part of my skill set or my job.

When Mike arrived an hour later, I was standing right next to him when he informed Erza and Joe over the phone that there was no way I could have anticipated this, and that it was unreasonable for them to expect me to be the one to shut the water off, something that I do not know how to do and had never done before, and something that was their job. 

They offered to put me up in a hotel but I refused, too afraid to leave everything to rot overnight. Instead, I didn’t sleep. I cleaned until dawn. I washed the clothes that had gotten wet. I mopped the floors with towels and dumped water in the sink. I tried to save some of my books, mostly journals and signed copies, but the majority were lost.

The next morning when Joseph’s help came, I had done most of the work. I tried to sleep while they cleaned up the rest, dumped my mattress (not covering it according to NY code) and ripped up the carpet. I was livid because just like i had suspected, the carpet had been glued directly onto the floor, proving that my room was badly insulated like I’d told them.

In person, Joseph was super apologetic. we agreed to two things in person: that my roommate and I were going to break that lease, and that Joe would help me find another place to live.

Over email or over the phone, Joseph was different. He continued to blame me for the flood because I didn’t leave the heat on while I was away, despite what Mike had said, and denied any fault because I didn’t have any renter’s insurance. He got convenient amnesia. He admitted to nothing, kept saying he was going to reach out to the owners for us but never did, and kept jumping off conversation threads and creating new ones, I’m sure to keep us off balance.

He made some attempts to find me another place, but left it to me to contact the brokers. No one responded after I disclosed that I was out of a home because the sprinkler system in my apartment burst, and Joe stopped bothering. For a split-second, I considered staying in the apartment, but he took this as an opportunity to keep my roommate’s deposit (money that did not belong to me and that I  did not have) instead for allowing for a break to fix up the apartment and give me time to get a deposit, a new roommate, and enter into a new lease with him. 

I  moved out on March 1st and Joe’s people were in the apartment hours later, with our written permission. Two weeks later, I saw my apartment listed on streeteasy.com for $3,000 a month. 

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Two weeks after that, the apartment was taken off the market, meaning that within a month and a half, Joseph had re-rented the apartment, upped the rent, and collected a fee. Meaning that due to his negligence, he poised himself to make even more money.

I have fought the urge to contact the current tenants and warn them about what we went through in that apartment. The idea that space is limited in the city is a myth, but the predatory nature of the real estate system is very real. It was in Joe’s financial interest to be negligible about that apartment. It has been in mine to keep quiet, for fear of being put on a blacklist. But to believe that I  should keep quiet after Joseph Aizer has had the nerve to take me me to small claims court for an apartment he was slow in maintaining is absurd. If he had been as diligent about maintaining the property as he is about trying gain financially, we would not  be in this situation. Specifically, I would not be out of a home.

I did not want to leave my apartment. Financially, I had no choice. Joe gained more by my departure. This behavior is not only predatory, it is unethical, and New Yorkers are constantly being pushed out of their homes because of people looking out for the bottom line. I will not be silent about that any longer.

UPDATES

Here’s video I took as I stood in the dark waiting for someone to show. I shut off the circut breakers to keep from getting electrocuted.

 

A picture of the pipes that could have helped me but were chained:

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And more of the aftermath.

The 7 People You’ll Probably Argue With Online Now That Trump Has Been Elected President (And You’re A Liberal)

It’s been little over a week since the presidential election. I feel like I’ve aged five years. After it was clear on Wednesday morning that Trump had in fact gotten the electoral vote, New York was in mourning. No one could look at each other on the train. I cried twice in public, and still now I keep trying to think of upsides.

(“There is no upside!” My  roommate tells me as I  type this. “It’s just terrible!”)

Even though I can barely wrap my head  around what has happened, I’d rather not reiterate anything Vice, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and New York Mag have already said. Instead, I am going to do what I do best: analyze what I see.

I spend a lot of time online, mostly arguing with people in the comments section. It tightens up my writing, but it also makes me feel like I am reclaiming that space. Unless regularly moderated, the comments section on almost every website can be a petri dish of the worst of humanity; I for one think that the fragile anonymity that the internet provides should not be an excuse to indulge the worst in ourselves, and I like to use my powers of persuasion for the greater good.

But some people can’t help themselves. While they may think they’re being edgy or counterculture, or just expressing their opinion, man, the way that humans argue still follow certain patterns. And if you’re the type to loves to argue for arguments sake, then there’s a really good chance your arguments commit certain logical fallacies.

The truth is, there really is no one way to argue with these people.

1. The Move On’er 

“The election is over, man. Why don’t you just move on?” Admit it, even reading the title of this post you were thinking it. We’ve been in election mode for the past year and a half, and now a lot of people just want to move on with their lives.

Except the result of the election is not normal. Somehow we managed to elect a man who ran several businesses into the ground and is so unprepared for a presidency that he doesn’t even have a transition team in place.

It’s difficult to move on when your rights might be in danger. I live in a nice little blue bubble of democracy, and I am still worried about my reproductive rights being decided by the alt-right. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those who woke up still black, Muslim, LGBTQ, or Mexican in a red state. People are afraid because there is real reason to be.

The best way to talk to the Move On’er is to point out the real reasons why you’re afraid, and the very real things Trump has said to make you afraid of his presidency. If they come back with something along the lines of, “Trump didn’t really mean that,” remind them that there really is no way to be 100% sure of that until it happens, and you have every right to be wary.

2. The Couple Tag Team 

You argue with one and you inherit an argument with the other. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, or if you’re being naive, confrontational, cynical, or snide. If you’re arguing with Thing 1, Thing 2 is bound to come in to defend their honor.

The problem with The Couple Tag Team is that they come at you as an united front but you’re still arguing with two people. When one taps out, the other taps in. When you’re responding to one, the other asks another question. It’s exhausting, and completely unfair. How can you possibly make your point when it’s two-on-one, at least?

The Couple Tag Team is tough because real relationships are on the line. If you are having a disagreement with a friend and their other half joins in guns blazing, it might be easier to back off to preserve your friendship. But if its someone you barely interacted with and then their spouse is being obnoxious? Fuck ’em. Make your point and then hit that block button when you’re done.

3. The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud)

They don’t make any sense. Any time you try to respond to one of their points, they throw three more at you at the same time. They change the subject, they move the goal post, they criticize your sources as”lamestream media” and then they turn around and quote The Washington Post. And then, just when you think you’ve got them cornered, they go to another thread and start the whole fucking thing again.

But look into The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud), and you’ll find someone with a family and children. They may even have high powered positions and college degrees, and you might actually consider being friends with them if they weren’t so horrible on social media.

You might start to think, why would otherwise will read and learned person say such horrible things online? Well, some people, hear me out, think that the things they say online has no real-world consequences. Other people feel so insignificant in their daily lives that trolling online is the only way they feel important. And then there’s the type of person that has really damaging opinions and sees the internet as a safe place to be hateful.

One thing we often overlook when dealing with conflict is that humans feel things. One of those feelings can be anger, and socially, we discourage people from expressing their anger. Often, this is well-intentioned: anger is volatile, unpredictable, and destructive. There really is no safe, public place where to express and expel undiluted anger, and for many, the internet has been an outlet.

The thing about The Attention Starved Troll (Or The Troll You Know Would Never Say Anything of The Things They Post Online Out loud) is that they see the internet as a no-consequence space to  vent their anger. While anger is a perfectly valid emotion, there is a difference between venting and indulging. What they don’t see is that opinions influence media and ideas. Remind them. My favorite thing to tell people: everything is sociology. Everything. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything has a footprint. The quality of the footprint is up to us.

4. The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher

God knows all. God will protect us. God has a plan. God knows your ass didn’t vote.

The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher sees their own inaction as part as some mysterious greater plan. Didn’t wear a condom? God will know what to do. Got pregnant? God wanted it to happen. Criticize their decisions? God will protect them from your negativity.

The hard part about arguing with The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher is that they really believe God is pulling the strings. Call it a form of comfortable ennui. On one hand, it keeps them from feeling insignificant and giving up hope. But on the other hand, it can be a very passive existence, comfortable in the idea that there’s a higher power living their life for them.

I have a huge problem with “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosophers. I grew up in the same type of skirt-only-wearing, girls-should-be-pure-preaching, used-to-be-a-bodega kind of Pentecostal church that used to preach that the Apocalypse was going to happen and it was only a matter of when. As an adult, I now have anxiety.

But part of the reason I am okay with leaving the church is that often, The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosophy is often used to excuse bad behavior or inaction, because God knows what’s in their heart. It doesn’t matter what they do or don’t do, because God knows what’s in their heart. 

When I argue with The “It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher, I’m usually brutal. I’m not saying take my lead on this one, I am saying, I hate this type of person specifically and I am probably not the best person to take advice from on this one. When I do argue with  The”It’s in God’s Hands Now” Philosopher, it looks something like this:

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5. The Conspiracy Theorist

They think Clinton should be in jail. They share statistics about black on black crime. They think 9/11 was an inside job. Something something Illuminati. And if you disagree with them, you’ve clearly have been brainwashed by the establishment.

The Conspiracy Theorist thinks they know a higher truth than you. How did they learn this higher truth? Probably on the internet.

The Conspiracy Theorist is usually trying to fill a void in their life, and it can be really difficult to convince them otherwise. The answer, however, seems to be empathy. From the linked article:

“So what’s the key to stopping conspiracy theorists? It’s like a wise dog once said: “Empathy, empathy, put yourself in place of me.” It was his conversation with Mark Bingham’s grieving mother (and his disgust at how his fellow conspiracy theorists were treating her with utter contempt) which pushed Charlie back into sanity.

There’s a belief that fighting conspiracy theories is a simple matter of bludgeoning people over the head with facts and waiting for everything to sink in. But that’s like arguing that Christianity will eventually defeat atheism by finding the right combination of Bible verses. Every one of us has near-constant access to the greatest information archive in history, and conspiracy theories are flourishing like never before.”

The Conspiracy Theorist, like literally everyone else, is trying to find meaning in this world, just through a really harmful outlet. If you have to argue with The Conspiracy Theorist, try to get them up on the conspiracy that private corporations have been trying to buy our democracy through the Republican party for over a century. It’s scary stuff.

6. The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist

Didn’t you hear? Obama has been coming for our guns since 2008! Did he get yours yet? Huh? He hasn’t? No, he hasn’t gotten mine either. But he’s coming for our guns!!! Any day now!!

The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist always makes me thinks of this quote in Good Omens. Crowley, a demon, is describing how he feels about the people who worship the Prince of Darkness:

“Crowley always found them embarrassing. You couldn’t actually be rude to them, but you couldn’t help feeling about them the same way that, say, a Vietnam veteran would feel about someone who wears combat gear to Neighborhood Watch meetings.”

The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist has probably never seen active combat. They’re probably not even fit to be on a police force. They’re probably white, very likely male, and  they’re very afraid that “those people” will come take their rights (i.e. privileges) away.

They also don’t represent they average gun owner:

Don’t argue with The Over The Top Guns Rights Activist, but keep a wary eye on them. If they post something that even hints at a threat, call the police, pronto.

7. The Diet Racist

They just want to make America Great Again, ya’ll. They want to protect the border and bring back our jobs! What’s wrong with that?

Well, The Diet Racist is the reason the United States has immigration laws after 90% of the native population died off. The Diet Racist is the reason redlining is still a thing, and why the quality of education you get depends on where you live.

The Diet Racist uses coded language to obscure what they really mean. They’re not racist, you see, they’re just trying to keep the ones they love safe from ‘those other people’:

Othering, of course, is the root of the problem. From the link:

“By “othering”, we mean any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.

This psychological tactic may have had its uses in our tribal past. Group cohesion was crucially important in the early days of human civilisation, and required strong demarcation between our allies and our enemies. To thrive, we needed to be part of a close-knit tribe who’d look out for us, in exchange for knowing that we’d help to look out for them in kind. People in your tribe, who live in the same community as you, are more likely to be closely related to you and consequently share your genes.

As a result, there’s a powerful evolutionary drive to identify in some way with a tribe of people who are “like you”, and to feel a stronger connection and allegiance to them than to anyone else. Today, this tribe might not be a local and insular community you grew up with, but can be, for instance, fellow supporters of a sports team or political party.”

Understanding this, your best tool when arguing online is to remind your opposition that you are a person. Not a name on a screen, not a profile on social media, but a person who lives and breathes and has people in their corner. How you decide to get that message across, however, is entirely up to you.

 

On Grief

Some of you may already know that my father passed away last night after a year-long battle with ALS.

Some of you may also know that I received the news from Facebook, or rather, from a Facebook post publicized by his pastor within hours of his demise, who I’m sure was given permission to share the news by my father’s wife, Miriam. Because being a good person only matters if everyone knows.

And so here we are.

My father, Jose, the only father I know, was a complicated man. I don’t know the impression that he left with church friends in his last years, but the man I remember loved his weekend parties, his salsa, his Budweisers and his Malboros.

He was also a man who resented his domestication. The man meant well for the most part, but he showed that he cared in the most ass-backwards ways, thinking that because he had a job and he came home every night, he was A Good Man. The threats of violence and emotional intimidation? It was still better than the way his own parents raised him.

His favorite phrase was, “Yo, el hombre de la casa!” (“Me, the man of the house!”) Followed by some complaint about an unfair indignity he had to suffer through, like sweeping after he got home from work or something. He said this so much that when Good Charlotte’s, “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous” was popular and my sister and I would sing the chorus randomly, (“always complaining, always complaining.”), he thought we were talking about him.

He had no patience for idle activities, often hovering over me while I would be reading a book, asking me if I had nothing better to do. If I was done with my homework early, he’d yell at me to do more work, not understanding that that’s not how homework works. How could I explain to the man that as the youngest in my class I was already a freak? I didn’t. Instead in high school I stopped doing homework all together. Out of sight, out of mind.

He was unsatisfied and unhappy with his life, often putting the burden on us to provide him with the happiness he could not find himself. Often expecting us to answer the questions he could not formulate.

He would often control little pieces of our lives to feel powerful. When my sister and I shared a room, he put a phone in our room and took it back within hours because we were using it. He would listen in on our phone calls. He would hide the mouse to our computer so we’d have to ask permission to use it, not knowing I knew what F keys are for. And when he got into his moods, it was only a matter of time until he found something, anything, no matter how small, to be angry about for the rest of the day.

When I was a teenager, I’d had enough. I was not okay with being humiliated, sometimes publicly, because of his moods. I started talking back, sometimes physically blocking him from my sister, and after he moved out for the last time, I was the one who made it clear to him that he was not welcome back.

My entire adult life has been an exercise in untangling myself from him. He mourned that I never contacted him, but his attitude had not changed and I had nothing to say. And after he started dating his wife Miriam, the nastiness only continued through her.

He divorced my mother on the same day my sister graduated from college. He got married on Father’s Day and did not invite my sister or myself, and only informed my mother after the fact, and it was that one single event that gave me the excuse to cut him off forever.

I was ready to let my father die without forgiving him. I knew that my silence hurt him more than anything, and when I learned of his diagnosis, I thought: Good. Now he’s going to know what it’s like to need compassion, and patience, and understanding. Now he’s going to know what it’s like to be depressed, and small, and sick, and depend on others. Now he is going to know what it feels like to be powerless.

I was ready to let my father die without forgiving him, but in the end, it was Miriam’s nastiness that allowed me to forgive him. Miriam was nasty to my mother until the very end, and in part, my father allowed it because it made him the center of attention. But then, she blocked my sister from seeing him, and that’s where I drew the line.

It was one thing for a disease to break down his body. It was another for one person to take it upon herself to decide who had access to my father after he could no longer speak for himself. I did not want a bully for the bully. I just wanted the bully to learn compassion, to understand others unlike him, and to find his happiness himself.

In the end, I reached out, sending him a series of messages to let him know I did not take any joy in his humiliation. That I did not wish this for him. In the end, my sister was able to see him again, and she made sure to tell him I was no longer angry at him. He died the next day.

I am my father’s daughter. He taught me my temper and my impatience. But he also taught me how to dance. He taught me to love music. He inadvertently taught me to speak up for myself, to hold my ground, to not be afraid of men twice my size. He taught me not to be intimidated, to stand up for what I believe in, to depend on logic above all else.

He also taught me to avoid men like him: men who are wholly unsatisfied in their lives, the kind of men who would expect something from me that I do not have or cannot give.

But in the end, he may have taught me how to forgive.

In the end, yes, I am sad, not because my daddy died, but sad for the relationship we never had. I’m sad that it took a rare disease, and muscle death, and intubation, and a oxygen mask for him to really realize all that he had.

I need to believe that in the end, he realized all that he had.

May you finally find peace, dad. May you finally find some peace.

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Why I Write

One morning when I was in the third grade, my mother and I were working our way down the stairs of our apartment building. We were living in the cold ass Bronx in a third-floor apartment, and while I had walked myself to school in Puerto Rico during the first and second grade, there was no way that was going to be a reality living in the Bronx in the early 90’s.

When we got downstairs, we stumbled across one of our first floor neighbors, a lady who was struggling to put her toddler in a stroller to take her son, who was about my age, to school as well. The moment my mother saw her she told the woman to stop. My mother explained that she was taking me to school as well, and that she was more than happy to take her son with us. 
I’m pretty sure we had not met that woman before that moment, and in that moment, that woman could not have been more relieved. So every day for the remainder of our time in New York, if it was a school day, my mother was happy to do this lady the favor of escorting her son safely to school. 
One of the things I struggle with daily is what to decide to write and what to decide to share. This story, like so, so, so many others that I have is part of who I am, and it is part of the lessons I’ve learned in my 30+ years of paying attention to the world around me. 
People are interesting. They’re complex. They are the summation of their experiences, their heartbreaks and triumphs, and they deserve to have their stories heard. They deserve to be acknowledged, respected, and remembered, and I want to preserve the stories of the people that I’ve known. 
But people are also flawed, myself wholly included. We make mistakes, harsh decisions and are resistant to change. I have a long list of people who I’d wish would receive a rude awakening. But I also have very specific points in my life where I’ve wished, wholeheartedly, that I could turn back time and do it all over again. 
One of the things I struggle with the most is sharing personal stories that paint others in an unflattering light. The New York Diaries was my attempt at that, and to this day I’m still on the fence about leaving all those stories open to the public. It was a hard time for me, and I wanted to show friends and family that I did not disappear because I was too busy partying it up in New York. But… exposing my trauma for all to see? 
Yes, its cathartic to get it off your chest, but the internet is written not in pencil, but in ink, and once those stories are out there, they’re essentially out there forever. In any story, there are monsters and sociopaths who deserve to be exposed for what they are. But then there are many others who are simply flawed, stunted, or just fucking dumb. I don’t know what 45 year-old me will feel about exposing them and potentially humiliating them, and I’m still not comfortable making this decision for her. 
For a long time, my compromise was to write in notebooks, and I was content with the idea of someone finding my notebooks and publishing them long after I’m dead and there’s no consequences, but I’ve just learned the hard way that notebooks are not impervious to water or fire. My other compromise is fiction, and even then I feel like I’ll never be done. 
So, why do I write? 
I write to share experiences. 
I write because I think it matters. 
I write because I want to inspire others, even if it means my own family. 
I write because it’s what I love. 
I write so that when people look at my work, they see what it’s like to pull yourself up by your bootstraps so often that they snap in your face, over and over and you keep doing it because it’s what you want. 
I write so that people will look at my work and think, this is what happens when you make bold decisions. This is what happens to people on a microsocial level in certain environments. This is what happens when there aren’t appropriate systems in place. This is the life of someone who doesn’t look like me, who comes from a reality different than mine, and who sees the world differently than I do. Or better, this is the life of someone who looks like me, who comes from a very similar reality, and who sees the world the same way I do. 
But I don’t like to write to hurt others. 
I don’t like to write to be scandalous or salacious. 
I don’t write for attention, or page hits or to go viral. The idea of it makes me feel like I’m having a panic attack. 
I write for the people I love, to show them that I did listen, and that, at the very least, someone will remember me long after I’m gone. 

Lights of New York

Life in the Bronx is hard to describe.
The first time, I didn’t even know we were moving to New York until we were about to board the plane. I traveled a lot as a kid, mostly with my grandmother, and had no reason to see it as more than just another trip. Some of my childhood pictures were taken at airports. There are pictures of me barely two years old, in pretty dresses posing in airport terminals. I have pictures I remember were taken after a trip; of weddings I attended during a weekend trip to Puerto Rico, of Christmas presents opened in January after I’d come home from vacation at my grandmother’s.
Some of my best memories, and most vivid, are from riding on planes. The most immediate and vivid memories are, of course, from when I got violently sick. Once after having nothing but a big cup of fruit punch before an early morning trip, I got so sick on the plane that to this day I can not smell fruit punch without getting nauseous. It also did not do wonders for my relationship with my aunt either. Another time I ate half a can of un-reheated Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs after Dominican customs opened it. They were really thorough about their searches back then, and it seemed like such a waste. So I ate the congealed pasta with my bare fingers, dug for meatballs, and wiped my fingers on my new dress before deciding it wasn’t worth the effort. 
At one point I had the American Airlines Safety video memorized. Every time I boarded a plane, I always searched that backseat pocket for a barf bag and a set of headphones. And yes, I loved airplane food. It was delicious and it was different and it came with a dessert. I knew that the first time the carts rolled by was for drinks, and the second time was for food.
But I also know what it’s like to step out of an airport into a shouting crowd of people, eager to see you. Most often strangers, but once in a while there’s a face in the crowd, beaming at you because they’re oh, so happy to see you again. I know what it’s like to watch the carousel and recognize your luggage, to clap as your plane lands safely, to watch the ocean and shores fly beneath your window.
Before the move, I remember traveling to the United States once before. I remembered the cold being crisp, and seeing a lot of greenery, and a lot of beautiful houses, and liking it there. It was nothing like the bitter cold and the congestion of New York. And the entire time we lived in the Bronx, I absolutely hated it there.
When my parents spoke to me about going to New York, in my immature mind, I didn’t grasp that we were moving indefinitely. As I remember it, everyone told me we were going to New York. I am sure that no one used the words moving or living or never coming back . Even the topic of switching schools or learning another language was not addressed after the move. I watched my parents pack and sell off the furniture, and I still I didn’t put it all together. It wasn’t until I was about to board the plane and my favorite aunt hugged me, and then wouldn’t let go, that I realized something was up.
I sunk into an immediate depression in New York. The first couple of days were brutal. I just spent the days sitting in the small bedroom, staring at the walls, wondering why everything was different. I couldn’t go outside. I couldn’t even see the sun. The windows faced other windows, and at night one the neighbors would sing Karaoke to the same song. Over and over.
The hardest part to adjust to was everything. It was the new weather. That first winter my lips got so chapped they bled. It was dealing with wearing coats, dealing with a runny nose for the first time and leaving my coat sleeve covered in snot. Birthdays were also much different here. All celebrations were. Back home, when there was something to celebrate your family and neighbors joined you in a jovial mood. Holidays were nothing but one block party after another, and you usually knew someone there. It was the new language, the new television, the new bed, the new place, even the new family structure. There were no aunts and cousins here. Just mom, dad, and sister.
It also didn’t help that I had to think of this place as home. It wasn’t until years after we’d settled in Connecticut that I stopped thinking of Puerto Rico as going back home. A big part of me resisted the assimilation. In my mind, I already had a home and this place was not it.
In those first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time hanging out at the restaurant my aunt worked at. This place was the definition of a cabaret, but I don’t remember it that way. It was a cabaret in the same way that the 80’s were glam: there were cracks in the veneer, the furniture was cheap, and children hung out there. It was the kind of place, I’m sure, that today would still be stuck in a time capsule or completely lost in the past.
As of now, I can only formulate about three incomplete memories of my time there, but it was frequently enough that they knew my favorite order were arepas, a Dominican cornmeal bread that is better homemade and incredibly hard to find unless you’re in the right neighborhood and go to the right bakery.
But this place had a jukebox that I was obsessed with. Because I only enjoyed playing two songs, and there were three songs to a dollar, I learned very quickly that picking the same song back to back got you robbed a song. So I developed a simple formula of sandwiching a song between the other and feeding the jukebox a dollar at a time for maximum song play. It also meant that for an indefinite amount of time, the smallest person at this bar had complete control of this jukebox, and she was playing the same two songs over and over.
I’m sure I never had much money, if it helps.
The first song I loved to play was a favorite of mine at the time. It was an upbeat salsa with a positive message, the kind of song every artist puts out after kicking a nasty drug habit and turning over a new leaf. The second song was a favorite of my aunt’s, a melancholy bolero that to this day I only remember the first line, “Vuelve al cabaret donde te encontre bailando.”Come back to the cabaret where I met you dancing.
My mother hated that song, said that it was crass and scolded me for singing it, even if it was just that one line. I liked the song and found it fitting. I was a dancer, after all, and danced in a cabaret, so I saw no harm in singing it and didn’t understand what it meant. But she’s still my mother, and but default, won, and I found myself purposely singing the words wrong so that I could “forget” how to sing it.
And I was there frequently enough that I was known there for my dancing. You see, I loved to dance. You couldn’t turn on a stereo before I started dancing. It was a way to pass the time, to escape. A way to feel special without directly asking for attention. I remember how the parents of other girls would sometime make the back-handed comment that their daughter- most often my friends, and to me the furthest thing from rivals- would sometimes skip dinner because she wanted to be a model someday. Yes, the pressure to be thin was palpable even as a third grader, but by then it didn’t matter. I had already internalized that models were stupid. Dancing took skill. Some kids at parties pass the time by playing, I danced.
I danced  so much at my aunt’s bar that they had a two night event that summer, and I was listed as the headliner on the promotional flyers. I remember my mother holding  that yellow paper and having to explain to me, after the shock wore off, that my nickname was printed at the very top of the announcement. Andreina.
That, I think, was the last straw. It’s funny how when you look back, how different things are when you consider other perspectives. That place was a few of the links that I had to my previous life. It was nostalgic even though I was barely ten years old.
It all culminated  one day when that song came on the radio. I had not seen my aunt in months. At the time, she did not have the best relationship with my parents, and so when the song came on the radio, and then when it came on again and again, each time being sung by a different artist as an homage to the original band, I could only glance at my mother awkwardly for some sort of reaction.
Finally my mother surprised me by handing me the phone. “Call her,” she said. “Its her birthday and you know you miss her.” And I looked up at my mother and did what I do whenever I am faced with a complex set of emotions that I cannot verbalize. I cried my eyes out.
I did not know how to say to my mother that calling my aunt felt like I was betraying her, that it wasn’t so much my aunt that I missed, but that small bar with the mints that melt in your mouth and the jukebox that was never fooled when I fed it napkins, no matter how hard I tried. Oh and the arepas, the wonderful warm arepas that were crumbly and thick and sweet with the occasional raisin.
I didn’t know how to say this to my mom, so I cried, and after about three seconds she let out a sound of exasperation and took the phone away. And that was that.
I don’t think I went back to the cabaret again.

The Cult of The Father

Spanish Version

I watch as they call him Father, this scrawny tattooed man who has made a career out of humiliating and exposing women for sport. I watch as they follow him blindly, both men and women, most of them young and stupid, like lost sheep looking for a religion. I watch as they vie for his attention, exposing themselves; women send him pictures of their naked bodies, men egging them on, fervently worshiping him.

I watch as She is retweeted by him, this little lost girl living somewhere in the bible belt, blonde and pretty, a young mother, really, with pictures of her barely one year old child on her profile next to the picture of her bare asshole that she sent to the Father. I watch as She basks in the attention the Father grants her, watch as the wolves descend. I watch, already knowing what’s coming. I doesn’t take too long. She indulges them at first, loving the attention, her moment of fame. Then when the attention gets to be too much, tinged with a touch of violence, she ignores them and quietly, sets her profile on private. Then I watch as she deletes it, quietly, without fanfare, leaving the ghost of her messages. The cult still remains.
The Misogynist and the Feminist

 When I tell people about my background I feel that they don’t really listen, so that when they ugliest part of my character appear, they are always shocked, and I’m forced to go, see? I warned you. I was very clear. And yet, they still somehow don’t get that I am so wary of being manipulated that with me, it’s full disclosure or nothing. I am paranoid. I am anxious, coupled with a Sociology degree and a background in Child Protection Services (really, a detective for families) and you will find that I will hang out to every word, every nuance and omission. Thankfully, my friends are incredibly patient, and while I drive them nuts with my suspicions, they love me enough to sit down and explain things to me, or simply tell me to calm the fuck down.
I once had a friend, frustrated, scold me about this. Just because you’re trained to find pedophiles and rapists, he said to me, doesn’t mean everyone is a potential pedophile or rapist.
Are you sure?
I started following the Father after an attempt at online dating. I met this big-eyed boy, let’s call him Manny, with lips to die for and a dirty talker to boot. And oh man, am I a sucker for a dirty talker. Manny and I had been texting for a couple of weeks, but I had yet to hear his voice or see him in person. Any attempt at solidifying the person separately from the online persona I made yielded no result. Whenever I brought up the topic he deflected or ignored my messages altogether. Oh, I was in the shower, he would reply. I was sleeping. I’m dying to meet you too, but no actual, real attempt at seeing me in person, and this, of course, sent up major red flags.
It was during one of these attempts at contact that I decided to do a search on Manny. When we first started speaking he’d given me his name, but it was too generic and it yielded no results. Then a light bulb went off: search his screen name. With that I found twitter accounts, a website, vine, tumblr, even a resume. He told me he had no online links to share. He had also given me a false last name. He had lied. And I don’t take very well to being lied to.
Still, Manny didn’t take too kindly to my detective work. He called me crazy, called me a stalker, told me I was feeble-minded and needy. And then he boasted: what did I find, really? Information that was lying all over the internet. I wasn’t that clever. Find my MySpace password, he taunted, that would be more useful. The irony struck me. This man who accused me of crossing boundaries and stalking behavior when all I wanted was to know the person I had been talking to, here he was suggesting better ways for me to stalk him. I had asked him repeatedly for a phone call. I told him that I needed to hear his voice. Listen to his tone. Still, he avoided it.
And then I saw his lust for the Father.
 The Lost Boys

Everything about me says Girl. Most about me says feminist. The label is prominently displayed on all my online profiles and it is where my passion lies. No, I do not hate men. That is a myth. There is a quote that says something along the lines of, the best way to disenfranchise a group is to delegitimize their message. I know too many incredible women who are too afraid to identify themselves as feminists for fear of being labeled man-hating dykes. I am not one of them. I am as confident in my femininity as I am in my beliefs. Doesn’t hurt that I’ve got the genetics to back it up. Still, I learned at a very early age that I was much more intelligent and talented than the men who tried to boss me around or use me simply because they were male.
I do not hate men. In fact, I pity them. I feel sorry for my boys. I know way too many single, lonely, overgrown boys with a sense of entitlement a mile long who cannot fathom why women won’t come near them. But I’m a nice guy, they’ll say. And I’ll groan. Last guy who said this to me did so while repeatedly dipping his bare fingers in a communal bowl of chilli dip at a party. I don’t get it, he said, smacking his lips, licking his fingers, and dipping them again shamelessly. I stood there frozen, staring as his face. I knew for a fact that he hadn’t showered in the past 48 hours. And I was embarrassed for him. I just don’t get you girls, he said, licking his fingers again. 
You’re all crazy.
Indeed.
I’m a girl’s girl who also hangs with the boys. In many ways, I am bilingual. The relationships I have with my girl friends are deep are complex, multi-layered, sometimes frustrating and passive-aggressive but unquestionably worth it and amazing. I’m also no stranger of being the only girl in the room.
I call them the lost boys, boys who have yet to grow up, who are afraid of women, who don’t really know how to socialize so that are left alone, baffled, as to why their attempts have failed. I try to help them. It’s the social worker in me, the do-gooder. Maybe, teaching a man how to be in a relationship, during a relationship, is a mistake. Maybe doing it as a friend would work better. But this has massively blown up in my face every single time. Too stubborn, too self-involved. To wrapped up in their own reality to be truly self-actualized. I’ve tried to help boys who are convinced that women are nags and it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done to try to help my boys, they are set in their ways.
Once, a friend told me a story about a girl he dated. The Dime Piece, he called her, never giving me her name. He told me how she kept trying to change him, buying clothes to wear. He told me this story while loudly proclaiming that no woman would ever change him.

And before I could help myself, I blurted out: But you’re not that great to begin with.

I haven’t heard from him since.

The Father
Every generation seems to have one: a Joel Francis, a Hugh Heffner. But the misogyny and pure disdain for women seems much more palpable in every new incantation. I don’t know, maybe I’m looking back with nostalgia tinted glasses. After all, I wasn’t alive in the 60s, during the time when Playboy ruled the world. But I have heard hushed stories about Bunnies being subjected to pap smears as a requirement to work.
The Father is nothing new. He is a parasite, the kind of man that will fuck you and call you a disgusting stank and mean it, wholeheartedly, and probably thinks he’s doing you a favor by giving you his honest assessment of your value.
Shouldn’t there be laws against this? If drunks and nicotine addicts get taxed for only hurting themselves, shouldn’t there be a tax for those who make the world a little bit worse just by existing?
And it makes me wonder, if there is so much money and fame from exploiting women, is it time, then, for us to unionize and just exploit ourselves? Control our own images and stop signing over control to these over-hyped middlemen who have little talent beyond testosterone?

It’s all a fantasy
I’m doubting myself again. I wonder if I was too harsh with Manny, if maybe I should’ve been more patient. This is what men like him do: breed doubt. They live in ambiguity: never confirming or denying anything, lying by omission, qualifying. I remind myself that he lied to me about his name. I remind myself of all the red flags, of the one video he sent me that wasn’t even for me. In my fervor to get to know him I asked him to send me a video just saying hello. He’d made a mistake however and sent me a video of a friend first. I knew what that meant, even then, but I wanted to ignore it and believe otherwise. The video he had sent me wasn’t made for me, it was sitting in his files. He was playing with me and was being lazy about it, using cut and paste.
Still, I can’t help myself, and I search him again for some indication either way. I find an outdated resume with pictures. He’s sporting a different look: suit jacket, button down shirt and spiky hair, a far cry from the emo kid vibe he’s currently sporting. Although the picture quality is bad, On his left hand I see a wedding ring prominently displayed.
I close my laptop and rub my eyes. He is not my responsibility. Not at all.

Attention All Shoppers

Hello Ma’am, how are you today?
Oh, you had trouble finding a parking spot?
I’m so sorry to hear that.
No, I take the bus, and I’ve been here since 6 AM, so I wouldn’t know.
Yes, you can make a return.
Do you have your receipt?
Oh, lost it?
Well, let me see what we can do…

Actually, you can’t return this item, it’s a final sale.
Oh, didn’t know? Well, it says so right here on the tag, see?
FINAL SALE, and there’s a big sign right above the sale items that says, “Final Sale!”
Yes, I guess it’s easy to miss.
Would you like me to ring you up?
Ok…
Did anyone help you today?
No, we don’t make commission, it’s just nice to keep track.
Well, your total comes to $98.74.
Oh?
Well, you got everything on sale.
The most expensive item was the brown sweater. It was $34.99.
Oh?
Actually, the sign says Up To 60% off.
Yes, I know it can be misleading, but it’s there.
Well, your total comes to $63.75 without the sweater.
No, I’m sorry, you can’t combine coupons.
Do you have an account with us?
Well, you know if you open an account you’ll save-
Yes, I know it’s annoying, but I’m required to ask.
Ok, I’ll ring you up.
Yes, you can keep the hangers.
Sign right here please.
Yes, I know it’s a little hard to sign, but if you press firmly it should be fine.
Ok, here’s your receipt.
Thank you, you have a nice day.
Next!