January 30, 2010

How to Prevent Sexual Assault

I found this article online, and thought it was amusing. Perhaps you will, too?

{The brilliant Colleen Jameson penned the following tips and generously gave permission to Girl With Pen to republish them. }

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!

1. Don’t put drugs in people’s drinks in order to control their behavior.

2. When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!

3. If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them!

4. NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.

5. If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON’T ASSAULT THEM!

6. Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry, do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

7. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.

8. Always be honest with people! Don’t pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the other person may take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.

9. Don’t forget: you can’t have sex with someone unless they are awake!

10. Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone “on accident” you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And, ALWAYS REMEMBER: if you didn’t ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime- no matter how “into it” others appear to be.

January 28, 2010

Harlem: Cat Calls and Sex Offenders

The second day in Harlem I was walking casually down 1-2-5 to the 4,5,6 train. It was a hot August day, so I was wearing a festive little dress (which, like most things I own, was quite modest.) A guy walking opposite of me mumbled "Oh, mami. Sexy" and grabbed my ass. In Rolla, KC, or Arkansas nothing like this would be commonplace. I had an incident with a creepy old man in Little Rock, but for the most part I have rarely been treated so crudely. I remember thinking "Oh, great. This is what it's going to be like. all. the. time." Luckily this wasn't quite the case, but life was still extremely different.

Before making the move people often warned me. They would say things like "Be careful on the streets there, girl." Or "Don't venture over to Spanish Harlem too often. The men will eat you alive there." I listened to their advice, but can't say I quite understood it at the time. Now I know.

Walking down Lenox or 1-2-5 (or 125th street to outsiders, *ahem*) it's common to hear at least a few catcalls: "Hey snow white!" "Oh, God bless you white girl." "Hey, you like coffee?!? I like coffee? You know what else I like? Milk! You know, a little bit of milk, a little bit of coffee... they go good together."

It's weird. I've talked to girls that have lived here their entire lives, and they haven't encountered the things I have. One of the boys that grew up here said "Girl, it's just because you're white. They see a pretty African girl or a Dominican and know not to mess with them. You, you're fresh meat." I knew I would be an outsider in one way, but not in this one.

For the most part, the cat calls don't bother me. In fact, I often write down the best ones to send to friends back home. Sometimes I would try to think of witty comebacks but mostly I ignore them while walking to work. That was until this past week.

I was coming home last Friday from my mates' house in Crown Heights. It wasn't too late- around 1 or so, and the streets were full of night owls and tourists. I was lugging a vacuum home to prepare for my upcoming move, and decided to stop into the local bodega for a sandwich. I had to work early the next morning,and thought that grabbing a sandwich for lunch the next day would be a good idea. Unfortunately, it was a poor, poor decision.

I've mentioned my favorite bodega before, the one on 130th and Lenox. The guys are usually friendly and oh-so-sweet; I know them by name. I've seen them pal around with other customers, so I thought this was a normal thing. This night was a bit different, though. It's a family business, and the older brother David was working. His younger brother usually works nights, but tonight he was simply in the store stopping by to say hello. After getting my sandwich, the usual, I headed out the door. I didn't head out alone, though.

The younger brother left, following me home. He tried to take the vacuum from me, rationalizing that I wasn't strong enough to carry it home. (The bodega is half a block from my house; I had carried this thing from Brooklyn.) I tried to rationalize him following me home, thinking "Well, I know he lives around here. It's late. He's headed home, too." But then he stopped at my gate. He took the vacuum from me as I opened my gate. I tried to take it from him, saying "Okay, well, I'll see you around. I need to head to bed." At this point he asked if he could come upstairs. "Please, just for twenty minutes." I told him no, that I had to go to bed as I had to be at work early the next morning. "Oh, please, just for twenty minutes." I kept on protesting. Then his story changed. "I have to work tomorrow morning, too. I'll wake up at 7 and be out of your hair." "I need to sleep, though. If somebody is in my room I won't sleep." "You're not married, and I have nobody else, I swear. When you come into my store, I love you. Oh please, just let me come up." I said no, again. At this point I wasn't sure what I should do. My phone had died before my evening had even started,and I was on an eerily-empty side street. I knew that I didn't want this man in my building, and that he wasn't going to leave. I then started heading up to my porch, thinking that would fend him off. "Okay, I'll go this way, and you'll go that way" I said, pointing to the street. He didn't relent, though. He followed me on to the porch, getting closer. Finally I thought he was going to leave, and he tried to hug me goodbye. For a split second I thought "Oh, a hug. Okay." but knew better. I backed off, while he attack-kissed me. I turned my face, but he kissed my head and face several times. He tried to kiss me at least three other times saying "Oh, just a hug. Why not?" This was never the case, though.

Finally fed up and terrified, I decided to head inside. I was in the mudroom (a part where you don't need a key to enter my building) and went to unlock the main door. At this point he grabbed my butt, and slid his hand up my dress. I physically pushed him away, barging into my door and slamming it behind me. At this point, I had made myself perfectly clear that I did not want this man in my presence. He apparently didn't get the point, though: he slammed his foot in the door, making it so I couldn't shut it. I knew both of the downstairs neighbors were at work this late, and knew that nobody was around to hear me yell. So I leaned myself up again the door, using all of my force to shut it. He pawed at the glass, begging me "Oh, just twenty minutes, please. Eventually his strength wavered and I managed to shut the door. I stormed up the stairs (or rather, ran like a klutz) and unlocked my room. I threw myself inside, locking the door in a great fury behind me.

This whole event left me upset and a little unsure. I began to question WHY this guy had followed me home. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't dressed provocatively. I actually went through a bit of an identity crisis. I usually identify myself as a feminist, but this event left me thinking otherwise. Instead of blaming the guy, I tried to figure out what I did wrong. I thought about calling the police. I mean, this guy had been nice. Surely I did something wrong. He didn't REALLY do anything, so I couldn't really have a case, either. I decided to lay in bed sleepless, and forget the whole thing.

Harlem didn't let me off that easily, though. Rounding the corner onto Lenox (Once again, just half a block down) I was confronted by two large males. Walking on either side of me, they said "Damn, girl, you sexy." I was already upset, so this was too much. They each actually had the balls to take one of their hands and run them along my inner thigh, from my knee up. When I kept trudging down the street, ignoring them they turned around and yelled "Ugly bitch, turn around! I dare you to!" This was all at 8 in the morning, too.

Arriving at work, I needed to tell somebody. I told my manager, Rich, and he offered some advice. Later in the day two police officers stopped by, and he felt like he should talk to them about the incident. I was pulled into the office to talk to the officers, and told them the entire thing. At this point they asked "Well, what do you want to do?" I wasn't sure, though. Could I really put a guy in jail? That's a hard thing to do, being responsible for putting somebody behind bars. I asked the officers for their advice, what they would do. The female cop said "Well, I would have punched him before any of this. But, he touched you. That's sexual assault." The male officer said "I have a daughter, and I think we should lock this bastard up." I rationalized this with "But I move in a week" They said "That's an entire week he has to find you, though. And what if he doesn't stop at you?" So with that, I said, sure. Find him. And they did.

I must say that since this event I've changed my attitude completely. I used to feel comfortable walking from the train station at night, but now I'll hail a cab after 11 for those 6 blocks. I don't talk to people on the street, not even offering a smile. I even changed up my walking route: After seeing his face once again in the store window on Lenox, I began going out of my way on the walk to work. I didn't want to see him, or risk him seeing me.

The thing about being a Midwesterner is that I am automatically more friendly than the average American. My time in Arkansas, and my sunny disposition has added to this, making me a plain friendly gal. Usually my smile and upbeat personality are an advantage, but it seems here they are a hindrance. It stinks that I could treat an elderly lady and a middle-aged man the same way, but it will be perceived as flirting or sexual with the male. I know I am not to blame in any way for this, but for some reason I keep on just going back to myself, finding a fault that could have caused this behavior. My mother said it's just a woman thing, that guilt is built into my genes. I know this to be true, that I just naturally tend to feel guilty. This doesn't make it any more right, though.

Despite all of this, I still love Harlem. After this incident my entire community rallied alongside me, helping me with anything I needed. I must say that the move to Bushwick couldn't have come at a better time. I'll miss the historic streets of Harlem, the ones that Langston walked down so long ago. Yet I'm excited for the adventure ahead, and to live in a neighborhood that has more organic food, more coffee shops, and far less cat calls.

January 25, 2010

Simple's Hard Enough Now Anyway.

Adrienne Rich

You're wondering if I'm lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawn's first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning.

January 21, 2010

Harlem: Renee

If it weren’t for my best friend up here, Renee, I’m not sure where I would be. Like Val she is a Californian, and a mexican-food snob. “This isn’t anything like California.” Oh yeah? Well, California’s Mexican food sucks compared to Mexico’s. (Let’s be honest- Missouri can’t even compete. Arkansas probably has better Mexican food than Missouri.)

As my mother can attest to, I’ve never really had any close girl friends. Renee is my first best friend who happens to be female. I realize that she is far from the typical girl, though, and that is probably why we click.

Like my guy friends out West, Renee is always up for an adventure; Girls usually just sit around, talking about plans they’d like to follow through with, but they rarely do. If I tell Renee I want to jump, she grabs my hand and we go together. Being in the city without a friend like her would probably be dull. I have no problem going on adventures alone, but it’s oh-so-much fun to laugh about it with a best friend.

Part momma-bear, part adolescent, Renee and I seem to compliment one another well. Sometimes I think she simply sticks around because she’s worried about me, but then I’ll get that worried text or call, saying “Can we hang out?” Tonight we have an engagement, and she was seriously worried. “But, I won’t be any fun that night. Thursday is the end of my work week. Thursday is when I come over and bitch to you about work and everything else going on. We are not going to be fun Thursday night.” (This was, of course, said with one breath.)

Although a bundle of fun, Renee is also one big ball of stress. I often have to do a “tone it down” gesture to her when she goes on a breathless ramble about work or her family. She’s a hard worker, and really cares about those around her, but she often takes on far too large of a work load. Being (slightly) soft-spoken, she tends to just shrug things off and do what she’s told. Luckily she’s becoming a bit more bold and demanding, and her health is greatly benefiting. If it ever gets to be too much, though, we simply meet up and eat popcorn or pancakes.

Renee has also helped me greatly with my down times. With all of the uncertainty surrounding my health and future, she’s always been eager to help. She’ll show up with some food and a big smile to make sure I’m okay. I have already been pushed out of the city year elite, meaning that the people I worked with daily, the people whom I could “depend on for anything” have excommunicated me. Despite what her teammates may think of her, she still stays in touch, never giving our friendship a second thought.

I think my favorite thing about Renee, though, is that we can just sit at a table and have a good time. Yes, we go out together and conquer the city, but we don’t need to. We are simply okay just being together, and to me that makes a good friend.

January 20, 2010

Brooklyn: Val

“You know how sometimes I think I’m the Messiah? Well, I think I’m the Messiah of Hipsters. I think I’m here to lead these people!”

This is Val. He calls me up at midnight, to let me know that he loves me and that I’m wonderful. He was in City Year, but left a few months ago because it wasn’t the organization he thought it was. (This seems to be a widely-shared sentiment.) He’s a lost soul, but a kind one. He lives in Crown Heights with one of my new best friends, and I often go over to their house to just watch british television and talk about life.

Val is the kind of guy who has a large beard and a traveling cloak (because he’s not fancy enough to have a dress one.) Although he can be a little boisterous at times, we’re a good duo. He physically takes care of me by making me brownies and giving me big hugs, while I help him emotionally by dancing in footed pajamas for him or giving him big hugs. Mostly, he makes me laugh. He’s full of conspiracy theories and wild tales, but not in a radical way. More like in a late night talk show kind of way. Oh gosh, Val should never be allowed to have his own television show. Instead of Jaywalking, he would try to psychologically analyze people on the street. I don’t think any network could cover the therapy those poor souls would undoubtedly need.

Sometimes Val smells, but we’re working on that. He always calls me a Pixie; I suppose I can be pixie-like.

At first I was a little hesitant to befriend Val, mostly due to his large stature and occasional smell. As soon as my homesickness set in, I ran to him like a MS&T student to a LAN party. He is like a mixture of all of my KMNR friends and Bob from Staples. Oh, how I miss Bob. I realized that although he could very easily break me into small pieces, Val was nothing but a gentle giant. After we sat on line on a sidewalk in Chelsea for a few hours, I knew we’d be best friends; someone behind us commented that he was like a cartoon character, and that is very true. He could very easily be placed into Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Sometimes I even have doubts if he is real.

Pure myth or a Dude-like living legend, Val is one of my best friends here in the city, one of the crutches I depend on.

“I think hipsters are the type of people that say “Bush sucks, let’s party!” They care, but they don’t do anything about it. I don’t really care that Bush sucks, as long as we party. If i ran into him, I’m sure we’d get along. He’d buy me lunch because he’s a rich guy, and I’m poor. We’d shake hands, and I’d smoke a cigarette with him. He’s probably a decent guy.”

See, dad, even you would like Val.

January 19, 2010

It's time for us to represent: My favorites from CY. Miss you.

"I think the Falcon Club is important because we valenter and help the ones in the need. Falcon Club is a cool club because when it's thanksgiving we will visit a Hospital. I think I community will be touch by our help."
-M., 7th Grade

During a session we were discussing ideal communities. We had gone through about 15 minutes discussing ideal communities, when one of my team members realized that the kids had no idea what the word 'ideal' meant. So, we asked them to define it for us.
"Uhm... Dangerous?" (student)
"Well, no. What do you think ideal means?" (Corps Members)
"USE CONTEXT CLUES! GOOOSH!" (Other student)
"Oh, well. So, like, it's when you deal with things. Like someone punching somebody, so i deal with it."

It made total sense, and I hear things like this daily. This is not to belittle my students' work at all. They are amazing. Sure, there are times where they are crawling on the floor, starting fights, or cursing like they are sailors, but they are truly amazing souls. With the right direction they can voice their deep thoughts and incredibly unique perceptions. With the right direction. Right now, I'm not that direction.

It's makes me sad to think that I won't be able to see if Brandon can start to focus, or if Mohamed really will turn out to be as wonderful as I think he is. I want to make sure Luz doesn't get too crazy with the boys, and try to help Paris control his emotional outbursts. But the more I've done this job, the more I've realized it requires more than I have to offer.

A little over a year ago, I was sitting at my dining room table in Missouri talking to my parents. I was teary-eyed, as were they when my mother said these words: "What I just don't understand is your sudden obsession with helping others. Erika, you can't help others if you aren't taking care of yourself. You have to take care of yourself first." I understood her at the time, but was determined that I would be taking care of myself through my service to others. (I believe that this was instilled in me during Sunday School with Mrs. Peaslee) And I did, I nurtured the parts of me that needed to be nurtured, shrank several doubts ( and bad habits) I had, and opened all kinds of doors to people and possibilities. Unfortunately, I've also experienced all kinds of failure.

The past few months have been riddled with scary phone conversations and worried stomachs. I know my family back home is wishing I were back home, curled up with my new kitten (whom I love dearly) under their watchful eye. I've been having some health problems, yes. There are days where I can't feel limbs, days when I feel so exhausted I don't even leave my house. I've been to hospitals, had my brain scanned, been given pills that make me feel funny. Through the beginning of this I tried to trudge through, being the perky one at First Circle, the one consistently trying to put on the smile I'm known for. But it just kept on getting harder. I would go home, exhausted, and fall asleep with my Reds on. I stopped doing the things I loved so much simply to keep a commitment, knowing it wasn't good for me. But now, in the midst of all of this confusion and pain, I'm deciding to take my mother's advice. (I'm not moving back home, though. Sorry, mom.) I'm going to take care of myself FIRST.

Doing this is bringing on several changes. One, obviously, I won't be in CY. I already miss talking to my buds in the office, but hopefully we'll find some weekend time to catch up. Lord knows they need to relieve some stress, and we all know I love laughing. (Especially you, Theresa and Alli. We need to get you away from CY culture for a day.)

The second one is that I won't be living in Harlem anymore. Some are relieved at this news "Oh, you'll be moving to a better neighborhood!" or "You'll be closer to me now!" (Val) Others, are disheartened "You won't be 5 blocks away!" (I'll miss you too, Renee.) Not only will it be cheaper, but it will be a much better living situation. I'll be living in a house with people my age whom share the same interests I do. They have communal meals a few times a week, and a roof top garden where I can play with worms and grow food. They're involved in the community, and just seem like genuinely nice folks. The neighborhood is a gentrified one, much like Harlem, but is definitely more focused towards my demographic. There are coffee shops, organic groceries, local food restaurants, and a kick-ass pizza place all within a few blocks from my new house. I won't move until the end of the month. Until then, I'm soaking in the cat-calls and soul food. You'll always be my first love, Harlem. Really.

The last one is that I'm trying to find a new job to take up the time CY did. Right now I'm picking up extra shifts at Staples, while still sticking with the weekend shifts I had. I do love the people I work with there, but it would be nice to do something more productive with my time. I know that due to my experience and the economic climate choices are limited, but I'm putting myself out there. Plus, Harlem is around an hour commute from Bushwick. I'd appreciate working a little closer to home.

Home has been such a relative term these past few years, but I've found that it's a really easy concept to create. Maybe it's just my Midwestern smile or southern hospitality, but all it takes are a few close friends and a few constant haunts to make a home. I hear these songs longing for it, see shows dedicated to finding the perfect one, but really it's all hogwash; Home is wherever you decide it is.

Right now, home is a lumpy bed in a messy room in Harlem. 'night, friends.