Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Amber Eyes

A lot of things occurred during the five years between breaking up with Randi and meeting Margarita.  It's really important to understand that, yes people change; some people change drastically.  No, I am not the Ross from A Beautiful Life; The Ross Story.  But I ask, if my father and my Uncle Henry were "superstars" why not Ross?  Was it that no one truly believed the magnetude of what Alan and Henry had accomplished?  

Back in Acapulco December 2007, I said to my brother-in-law José Francisco, "José, if we don't make the adequate effort towards attracting the clients, we won't sell enough coffee.  We are living on the economic edge and we run the risk of losing all of this..."  Because it seemed that the comment didn't register in José's brain, I added, "Look José, your house is the colateral for the loan of the pick-up you're driving.  If we don't complete those payments, the bank can reposess your house.  Do you want that?"  And José responded, "I've never had anything in my life. What's the difference?"  But you have a house.  You have something...  It's 3.5 years later.  Margarita and I don't have a house we call home.  José spends his days finishing the house he built...  

When my father died, no one said to my mother, but you have a son Marsha, that's something, an extension of Alan, why not cultivate in Ross what your deceased husband had?

Was that the case?  The father dies and the son ceases existing? ceases following in the footsteps of the father, of the uncles?  There is no one standing infront of the mirror, the son ceases being the reflection of his father...  

When a son is born, everyone exclaims "he looks so much like his daddy!"  Later on they observe how the child immitates his father.  At the very least the father wishes for his son to be like him, follow in his footsteps...  He gives his son the foundation for obtaining what he had obtained, if not more...  If my father was a superstar, why wouldn't I become a superstar too?

But, in 1997 we weren't talking about being a superstar.  We were talking about not being a failure.  I was asking, why do I continue with this problem I had in High School?  Why can't I concentrate?  Why does my brain freeze up so easily?  Why couldn't I build my confidence?  Why did it seem that I wasn't growing?  To me I seemed half-retarded...  If I talked with Randi about this stuff, she blurted out her problems...  So why talk about this stuff with her?  It was my problem.  Something I must deal with alone. 

In 1997, the only thing I had to show for myself was my college diploma and my talent in the kitchen, my understanding of international cuisine that would expand dramatically over the following 5 years...  But, if I met people, I couldn't invite them over to the house for dinner evertime I wanted to show them that I had something to offer...

During the week Randi still lived with me, I left work exhausted.  We spent the evenings talking or arguing.  We weren't resolving the issue.  I hopped on the 6 train on 66th Street and 3rd Avenue and found myself sitting infront of a black woman with amber colored eyes.  I dozed on and off.  Each time I opened my eyes, I looked at her eyes looking at mine.  It became a game between the two of us.  I had never seen that color of eyes.  I couldn't take mine off of hers.  Uncomfortable, I tried diverting my attention.  She diverted her's playfully.  I stayed on that car.  I couldn't remove myself. Something was occurring.  So, I wrote her a note.  She knew what was occurring and waited expectantly. Then suddenly she got up.  We were in Crown Heights.  I was the only white man on the train.  I left the train and stepped onto the platform behind her, grabbed her arm and said, "Here" and handed her the note.  It was a poem I wrote about her eyes of amber...  I ended the poem with phone #.  She received the note with a smile and disappeared into the crowd.  I on the other hand, was lost.  I road the 4 train in one direction and then realized I was further entering deep Brooklyn, the inner city of the maxi-projects.  I hopped off the subway, crossed the platform and returned towards Manhattan sweating.  Little did I know that I would become a semi-expert on these neighborhoods... 

The following days I forgot about the woman with the amber eyes and continued on with the present struggle. Then one day I entered the apartment.  Randi's energy had changed drastically. She didn't look at me expectatively, hopeful that I was reconsidering; that I would go with her to couple's therapy...  The pill, the ADD specialist, the amphetamines for ADD wouldn't change the situation.  Passing me cooly, Randi said, "you have a message on the answering machine..."  It was the woman with the Amber eyes saying that she kept my note I had given her on the train and that she was home if I wanted to call her...  Truthfully, I never imagined that she would call me, a stranger on the subway...  (No, I didn't write What a FOOL!  What was I thinking? How terrible to subject Randi to this...  I guess I thought I would receive the phone call, that Randi wouldn't be there for the message, that Amber Eyes wouldn't call...)  I looked at Randi and said, "I guess you listened to the message..."  Randi looked at me as if I had asked her if the Sun shines...  and said, "I hope you will help me move my stuff to Astoria this weekend.  You find the moving van and you pay for it..."  I remember packing up our stuff in Astoria and moving it to Park Slope a month or so earlier.  What an exciting feeling that was, and how much I was able carry up the 4 flights of stairs on Seeley Street.  Now, I would be returning half or less of that stuff to from where it had come...  I believe I also helped her move her stuff to her new apartment on Prospect Park West weeks later...  Everything is blurry.  I was her beast of burden.  The least she could do as revenge, a slight whipping.  Clearly not enough retaliation for how I had made her feel with my seeming superiority and lack of consideration.  I just hoped to end the relationship cleanly, not create additional problems for us, for her...  She would marry 2 years later.  She would have her first child 3 years after marrying her husband. I didn't complicate, nor slow down that process.  I was selfish. I had to focus on myself. I had a lot of work to do.  But I didn't harm her.  And that's what counts in the end.

The whole family was livid.  They thought I had fallen off my rocker...  In the midst of the annoyance my mother tried rationalizing and said, "many couples have a baby, thinking it will change the situation.  Not long after the baby is born, the couple separates.  We know 3 of those couples in Xalapa.  All foreign men married to Mexican women: They are from Quebec, Sweden and Germany.  The baby was born and they all separated.  When we lived in Xalapa, I realized that Margarita and I were the only international couple that withstood the cultural stress.  Beth and Marc did what they could to invent value in their marriage; they had two beautiful girls, bought a house, bought a Volvo, all on an expanding scale and then, one day, they divorced.  The value of a relationship is not the apartment, the child, the car, the vacations.  It's the connection and understanding between the two people.

I don't remember what was the name of the Woman with the Amber Eyes... She was Trini, from Trinidad and Tobaggo...  At the time I had met some West Indian women at Drummer's Grove.  Their children became very interested in my drawing and I invited them to draw with me...  One of the West Indian women invited me to participate with her group in the West Indian Parade that takes place in September on Eastern Parkway between Crown Heights and the Brooklyn Museum of Art/Botanic Gardens, http://www.eatingintranslation.com/2009/09/west-indian-day.html.  She said that we would dress up in West Indian Costumes and begin the parade at 5am.  I created every excuse in my mind not to join her.  Not because I wasn't interested, nor in her children.  They all were beautiful.  But, because I was "white".  How stupid, no?  Later on, everytime I invited work "friends" and others to go with me on a tour of the Jamaican, Trini and Guyanan communities of Parkside and Brownsville, to eat Jamaican patties and drink Sorrel spiced with ginger, my friends exclaimed "What? Are you Crazy?"  I always went alone.  The blacks and West Indians looked at me curiously.  One time someone said something racist when I crossed the street infront of their car.  But I continued buying in their bakeries, from their vegetable markets, eating in their cafes....  There is this wonderful Gayanan restaurant on the walk out towards Flatbush, on Flatbush Ave between Parkside Ave and Church Ave.  Do you like Mole Poblano?  Do you like Thai Mussaman Curry?  Do you like Indian Chicken Masala?  Well, try Guyanan Black Curry.  Due to British Imperialism, we have Jamaican Patties, Indian Somosas, Argentinian Empanadas and Mexican Pastes.  Each and every one of these empanadas with a mix of the original recipe from Cornwall, England and the native flavors where you find them with their new name.  I always wondered, why curries in the West Indian cuisine.  Then I learned that, when the U.S. and Europe created the ban on trading Africans, in the 1830s England began shipping to their colonies in the Americas Asian Indians.  Later on they would also ship to those colonies, Chinese...  Hence the variety, spiciness and flavorfulness of the food... and also a reason for a very strong vegetarian heritage in Jamaica.  

When I spoke with Amber Eyes (The name will come to me) on the phone, she told me that she ran regularly and loved to walk. That was a good sign, since one of the conflicts between Randi and I were our differing athletic needs.  Amber lived in Brownsville, on the edge of Crown Heights. I met her there one afternoon, she told me the way.  The community was bussling, like in Harlem.  Amber rented the second floor of a two story house and said, "My auntie wants to meet you.  I've talked much about you.  She lives downstairs.  I rent from her.  She makes wonderful Jamaican Jerk Chicken."  And I said, "You're Aunt is Jamaican and lives here too? Didn't you say that you left your family behind in Trinidad?"  And she said, "No silly!  We call the elders 'Auntie' and 'Uncle'!"  Think about it...  What better way of teaching the children respect for the adults and of extending the family into the community?

Back in 2000, there was a big socio-political conflict between the New York City native Black community and the immigrant West Indian community. The black community believed that the West Indian children were given biased attention and their children were being neglected in the public school systems.  The West Indian children were excelling academically and entering into the gifted and talented programs, while the native black children where lagging behind.  

But what natives ("Americans") don't understand is that the immigrants know too well what is at stake when they enter the U.S., what they left behind, from what they ran away.  If you are born into a bad situation in the U.S., there is no escape and your children grow up in apathy and complacency.  The Civil Rights movement had pushed up a steep hill a very large stone that would roll back down the hill, plastering those who couldn't react in time... the elderly, undernourished and under-educated. The working-class blacks saw their communities disintegrating and didn't have the energy nor the preparation to re-construct themselves.  The West Indians rode on a wave of hope and enthusiasm, were building from the ground up and constructed a social-framework that protected their personal and political interests and focussed upon the development of their children as their future success as first generation Americans.  

That afternoon we walked to a cultural fair in Crown Heights.  We ate curried goat rotis.  The one thing I don't accept in the West Indian food is that they give you the rotis or the sandwiches filled with stewed meat with their bones.  Imagine biting into a juicy burrito from Burrito Brothers; you are just about to close your mouth completely, bite off a nice mouthful of black beans with rice, guacamole, cheese, jalapeños, sour cream and flour tortilla and a thick chicken bone almost breaks your two front teeth!  You have your mouth full.  You return the burrito to its plate and you stick your fingers in your mouth digging around in the unchewed food for the bone or bones...  Mexican tamales also have bones in the filling (depending upon the economy of the tamale salesperson and where they are selling the tamales).  But, the filling is so sparce, you remove the chicken wing and continue. But the rotis are filled with meat and potatoes and bones.  You can't sift through them removing the bones, less so standing in a public space.   It removes the enjoyment from the roti's form.  Wouldn't it be easier to offer a bowl of goat curry on rice with a fork?  

I  passed a stand with a Jewish Star of David and a man speaking charismatically through a speaker...  He was talking about "the Lost Tribes of Israel".  So, I enthusiastically walked up to him and said, "I'm Jewish" and he replied, "No you aren't.  Jews aren't white.  You are European and your people are liers."  He said that Jews as we know them don't have any blood connections with Israel.  They are imposters...  With that statement, there was no reason for further talking. In fact, he would have used me to express his Lost Tribe ideology.  He would have ridiculed me.  So, we moved onwards...  and returned to Amber's apartment.  She put on Bob Marley and we got stuck in a strange tension.  I believe I was supposed to kiss her.  But there was a game she was playing that I didn't understand.  Something wasn't straight forward.  Amber had a son back in Trinidad living with her parents.  She had fallen in-love with who became the father of her son.  I believe they married, if I am correct.  But her husband cheated on her... Broke her heart, betrayed her confidence and then played games with her. She said that she hadn't dated a man since.  With my note on the subway, 8 years had passed!  She said that her husband was somewhere in the West Indian community of Brooklyn with his women.  I had just broken up with Randi and immediately I found the stakes way too high. I gave her a peck on her thick red lips and flagged a cab.  I never met Auntie.  I never tasted her wonderful Jerk Chicken.

When I know that a relationship must end, I have the tendency towards over focussing on the other person's flaws.  It's as if that person suddenly becomes inflamed.  I met Amber once in Prospect Park.  We went on a horribly painful walk on the perimeter road and she explained to me the origin of the word "mosey".  She claimed that it has it's origins in Trinadad.  The reason we approached the topic was because she walked way too slow, she walked like an elderly person, shuffling her feet.  And I wondered what about what she had said about running...?  She said that that's how they walk in Trinidad.  I couldn't accept it and became impatient.  She defended herself saying, "It's Sunday, my day off.  We're in a park.  My day's off are for resting and relaxing.  Why must I make an effort?"  So, we found a clearing and put a blanket on the ground and had a picnic.  She was wearing shorts and I couldn't remove my eyes from her cellulite... I couldn't stop thinking about her evening runs.  She mentioned that she was about to leave for a trip to France and would love it if I could go with her...  I said that I didn't have the money.  That I must look for a job.  I never saw her again.  She called me periodically.  But I couldn't go there.  

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