Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Would You Do?

ABC News correspondent John Quioñes has conducted a hidden camera experiment on What Would You Do? in various social and cultural situations over the last two years.

One situation focused on mean girls verbally harassing a less popular girl in a public park. Only women, not men, stopped and intervened to breakup the confusion. I don't think I'd have gotten involved, especially living in New York City where some teens carry weapons. My thoughts would've been more on my personal safety versus rescuing a stranger. If I were with someone else with a cell phone, I'd stand at a distance until park officials or NYPD arrived. Why are men less likely to help men than women? Are men not emotionally or spiritually equipped as women are in these situations? Or perhaps men aren't as patient or nurturing as women? Whatever the case, I wouldn't risk my life when a group is on the attack like a wild pack of hyenas on National Geographic.

The next situation took place in a Texas bakery when a man repeatedly refused to serve a Muslim woman dressed in traditional clothing. I'm originally from Texas, and know all too well about the blatant and subtle racism. Is it less likely that a person stopping in for coffee, bagels, or donuts will have a pistol strapped to his leg or shoulder? In Texas, anything is possible. I remember how it felt when a white student in high school called me boy while I gathered my things at my hallway locker one day after school. He shook his head like a shaggy dog after having swam in the school pool. I was on the other side of town in River Oaks, but this wasn't 1950's Texas, but the 1980's, and he apparently had been raised racist. The sting of racism revisited upon me these many years later. Words linger and haunt.

The third scenario featured an African American couple in a park fighting, the female was verbally abused and spanked with a belt. All but one lone female walked by the arguing duo. Two white men approached and advised that this isn't the place or the time for that sorta thing. They were saying that it was acceptable for the man to assault the woman, but just not in the park in front of others. Private lives, public people.

The final segment showed drunken people struggling to unlock a car door while passersby looked on in disbelief. I think a drunk wouldn't be as threatening as a belligerent racist or bully. It'd be easy to commandeer a set of car keys, and/or nudge them to sit on the sidewalk or in a chair.

Thankfully for the sake of the televised experiments, the victims and abusers were actors, and weren't in real harm. The show raised important questions that I think everyone should ask and answer. What would you do?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Job Search Reality Check

I've been having a difficult time finding a full or part-time job in recent months, perhaps due to the current American economic downturn. I'm confident that I've unique professional and personality traits that would make me an appealing employee, but the deadening silence in the apartment from the dormant phone and empty Outlook inbox say otherwise.

In recent weeks I've interviewed with a medical software company that asked that I commit for three years as a help desk agent, and when the managing partner realized that I had writing and editing abilities, he couldn't contain himself. He modified the job description on the spot, with the same low annual salary that would be locked in for three years. I'm not afraid of commitment, and am seriously seeking a stable work environment now that I've a handle of my freelance writing and editing.

Years ago, I worked in two high-pressured investment banks as a help desk agent and software trainer, but I hadn't yet settled into my writing skin. I earned a great salary, but had no healthy outlets. It would've been ideal back then when I worked three thirteen-hour days, to have had the idea to create Morningside Writers Group. Clichés aside: Everything looks better in hindsight. If I knew then what I know now.

The next most recent interview felt like being in a police lineup or a college fraternity hazing. The department manager wasn't a pleasant person, and set about explaining the reasons why he asks certain questions and deconstructing my resume. I didn't get the job. He was more impressed with himself rather than actually conducting a proper interview.

I'm not desperate quite yet. Friends have suggested Starbucks that offers benefits for part-time staff, and I'm not mistaken, tuition reimbursement for fulltime employees. I've worked in a coffee shop as an assistant manager before, which I'm not keen to do anytime soon again. I reeked of coffee daily, and was wired on caffeine to keep up with the customers' demands and employees' needs.

My goal is two-fold: a steady income and regular online and print bylines to build writing clips as I establish myself as a brand. I'm not seeking a rockstar writing career, but to earn my living as a writer, editor, and workshop leader. I don't want unattended homes on several continents, but a log cabin next to a natural lake in Upstate New York during the summers and a brownstone or three-family home in Harlem, Brooklyn, or nearby Alpine, New Jersey during the school year.

I've also other ambitions and goals that hinge upon my younger brother's relocating to the East Coast in a few years. He's a talented pastry chef and all-around cook, and we'd love to open a writer-friendly café/lounge with book readings, book signings, and occasional live entertainment.

Every job I've had until now has been educational, which I don't want to go to waste. I now know who I am and what I can offer an employer until I am able to support myself and a family from my writing, and other creative business ventures. I excel as a Project Manager and community builder, witnessed by the five-year anniversary of Morningside Writers Group. The task is to find a job that will bring out the best in me professionally and personally, leaving me time and energy afterward to continue writing film, theatre, and dance reviews, personality and neighborhood profiles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sundays at Granny's

My granny's house was the central hub for the family for as long I can remember. Since her death in November and subsequent burial in December 2007, the surviving relatives have gone their separate ways. My architect cousin continues to work eighty-plus hours a week, my schoolteacher aunt enrolled in computer classes two years after having first purchased her desktop, and there have been two stillborns within the last two weeks.

Granny was the glue that held us together, even with my cousin and his new family stationed in Germany, and me in New York, she had a way of uniting all with phone calls. She keep us updated on who was doing what, and possible reasons as to why if it were something untoward.

She was ninety when she went home to glory, and I'm glad she lived as long as she did, but her long life brought with it a sense of expectancy. We all expected that she'd outlive us all as a testament to her will to survive and personal strength.

There's a void at granny's house in Houston. It's difficult for some to visit the house in her absence, because they know she won't be sitting on the corner of the sofa when they step inside the living room.

Sundays at Granny's after church were second-nature. The children raced inside to change into play clothes, some of the women stepped out of their heels and into slippers, while others headed to the kitchen to warm up the meal that had been prepared the night before or that morning. My mother or other aunts usually made the dessert.

There's no tragedy to speak of other than the splintering of my family back home. I'm powerless from where I sit, not that I could do anything to heal and reunite my family. It's painful to face Granny's absence. We all remember how she'd shuffle about her house, sometimes refusing help, her path blurry due to cataracts.

I feel her absence in my life, too. I've been unable to discard the ticket stub for the flight to Houston, as if holding onto it will bring her back to me, to us. It won't. Letting go will take sometime yet. When I close my eyes I can still smell her coffee percolating in the kitchen on the gas stove, and remember what the peach preserves looked like in the corner closet. Each room holds a special memory, all of which involve Granny's wisdom, guidance, energy, and smile.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stray Cats and Other Tails

I'm working on overcoming my bad habit of welcoming various human and animal strays into my life and home. I adopted my gray calico from the cat lady in Stuyvesant Town in Lower Manhattan, because I was alone and thought I'd find a lap cap to keep me company as I acclimated myself to the East Coast. Clancy was great at first, but like all living creatures with a pulse, personalities and behaviors change over time. We were content in our cramped one-bedroom apartment in West New York, New Jersey, until hell temporarily rose on earth to upend us. We were displaced between the old and new apartment in Manhattan.

I had talked a hellion college dorm mate to move up north months before we moved into Manhattan. I can't recall now why or how I ended up sleeping on the floor of this girl the Texan hellion met and beguiled as was her nature to do, other than the new apartment not being ready at the time. I digress. I was responsible for two strays at that time, and it almost took its toll on me. Adulthood wasn't for the weak of heart back then.

Fast forward. The apartment was ready for occupancy, and I left Clancy to screen and capture small to medium sized four-legged creatures before we officially moved in, which she did a few days later. She meowed, no, bellowed, to get my attention when she caught a mouse. I walked into the kitchen where she held a dead mouse with what appeared to have been a pained or frightened expression about its face. I wondered then and now why she chose not to eat it. Does only happen on National Geographic and cartoons?

Many years later, I look around at my cluttered apartment with stacks of magazines and shelves overflowing with books I might not get around to reading, clothes that are woefully out of style, an aquarium with an overgrown tri-collor tropical shark, and two cats, the oldest of which seems to be purring her swan song.

Where did the time go? How many roommates-cum-strays have I rescued, given shelter, a few of which took advantage of the situation and me? I had to call upon my Peruvian-Irish friend to come over and evict a Spanish con artist that I thought I was saving from all manner of heartbreak and despondency. He pulled the wool over my eyes, and racked up international phone calls, as did another Spaniard, by way of England. Perhaps I had "sap" emblazoned on my forehead.

I have a bad habit of trying to repopulate my life with favorable people and experiences from the past in Houston. What do we say about not living in the past, and letting go? People are different on the East Coast, and no amount of books, parties, and sleepovers will fill the tiny space that at times can seem as vast as the universe that's yearning for emotional and spiritual sustenance. When I was a child, I did childish things. It's high time I put away the bucket of Legos and electric race car set, and get to living as an adult life without so many encumbrances, useless clutter, and spiritual vampires. Perhaps it's time for me to have my own reality show: Simplify Your Life, Now! (Just do the opposite I what I used to do.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Women's Tennis Fan

Earlier this afternoon I participated in a live blogging event hosted by Shelia on Black Tennis Pros. It was the first time I didn't feel alone while watching competitive women's tennis. I was in the company of others from around the country tuned into their televisions, with an assortment fast food and beverages.

My roommate doesn't understand my fanaticism, but rather pokes fun at me when I clinch my fists at the screen in an attempt to rally Serena, Venus, Asha Rolle, or Lindsey Davenport through to the finals.

My love of tennis came upon me just as The Williams Sisters began dominating the sport. To the uninitiated, I probably behave like an awful stage parent when I move about the room trying to urge one of the ladies to a win. I used to be embarrassed by my reaction, but soon got over those feelings when the upstairs neighbor who makes much too much noise, much too early in the morning with her washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and traipsing back and forth had the nerve to pound on the floor during The Wimbledon 2005 final between Venus and Lindsey. I know these women are capable of victories, and when they fall short, I'm baffled.

Perhaps it's a personal reflection on my not always living up to my abilities in life that I cringe when I see someone else not fulfilling theirs. I applaud them for taking the court in front of a critical worldwide audience. I don't suffer from stage fright, but I don't think I'd be comfortable on a tennis court with a racket in hand.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Film Review : Where Is Osama Bin Laden?

A father’s quest to protect his unborn child bookends a new documentary by writer/director Morgan Spurlock, famous for taking on McDonald’s in Supersize Me. The movie poster is reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia with Morgan donning traditional Middle Eastern garb atop a camel charging off in the distance into the maze of shantytowns, mountains, and ethnic enclaves in several countries that Osama Bin Laden might have taken up residence.

The theme song continues along a similar lighthearted motif as washboard country music perhaps more at home in Tennessee or Alabama, filters into the theatre. Good ole boys sing, “Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?” Should I tap my foot and bob my head to the catchy tune, or would it be in bad taste because it’s an infamous murderer?

Morgan and his film crew set out to find Osama Bin Laden, or at least gather clues to his whereabouts over the course of three years in distant lands such as Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Morocco. This was an impressive cause for a layman who wanted to do what highly placed government officials and trained military operatives have been unable to do until now.

Morgan initially takes on a bad ass superhero persona that battles Osama in an enhanced video game. If only if was a matter of squaring off against evildoers with a joystick in hand, then perhaps thousands of American lives wouldn’t have been lost in Iraq. Imagine warfare in the controlled environment of simulated video games with a reset button. We all deserve a do over. If at first you don’t succeed. The audience is next met with a hip hop dancing Osama as MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This temporarily distracts from the seriousness at hand. The documentary succeeds in that it presents different scenarios for the audience to contemplate in the elusive search for one of the world’s most wanted men.

Morgan takes his unofficial role as layman commando leader to heart with a preventative doctor’s visit, indoor and outdoor survival training, and language and culture lessons. Questions hang in the air as we watch Morgan being poked, prodded, and endure mock psychological abuse.

What if something were to happen to the film crew? Is Morgan getting in over his head for the sake of infotainment? Is it a civilian’s responsibility to hunt down terrorists on their own turf, or is it better to wait for another attack?

The focus of the documentary shifts when the crew lands in Egypt and the locals offer their uncensored opinions on American people and politics. When abroad, it feels as if we’re inside a well-meaning cultural exchange PSA, and the search for Osama takes a back seat to interviews with colorful characters who are either afraid of Bin Laden, his reputation, or didn’t want to be involved in the discussion. In each of the countries visited, there were stark images of poverty, anti-American sentiment, and a sense of exhaustion or disinterest because the locals had other pressing matters weighing on their mind.

The documentary is equal parts love letter to the filmmaker’s unborn child, his wife, America, and the plight of countries that endure ridicule and hatred because of one man. If nothing else, Morgan has added to the ongoing conversation on homegrown and exported terror. One memorable scene takes place in Israel of an irate Hassidic Jewish man shouting and blocking Morgan’s path as he tried to question people. The man propelled our adventurous director backward, as if in a trance, with his opened palms against Morgan’s chest. This man wanted no part of the investigation and Osama dialogue. Police arrived amidst a growing number of black-clad Jews to escort Morgan to the safety of his van.

The world would be a bit safer if Al Qaeda didn’t exist and Osama captured, but what we have instead is one man who has eluded capture and has fascinated a global audience hungry for information on his whereabouts. This documentary will spark discussions and debates, which might have been the filmmaker’s overall intention. How can one man, if still alive, disappear into thin air? I feel an episode of Without A Trace coming on.