Thursday, March 29, 2007

When the lights go out

It all started innocently enough. This months electric bill was $658.01. Since in the last two years of living here, it has never been more than $300. I decided it was a good idea to go and ask someone at the electric company about it. So off I go to the office in Caguas to dispute the bill. I went to the office armed with proof that it was wrong and that obviously someone made a mistake.

After spending 30 minutes looking for parking, which I am willing to admit, might have altered my normally cheerful disposition, I asked the "door guard" if he knew which department handled bill disputes. He responded with "take a number". So I did, because I respect men with no skills who can't find jobs other than that of door guard and sport a stupid looking faux police-like uniform. After waiting a few minutes, much to my gleeful surprise my number was called. I was instructed to sit in a cubical with a very large, rather angry looking ogre gentleman. Mr. Stupid informed me that I was in the wrong place and showed me where to take a number for the right place. (Note to self: submit to suggestion box: perhaps it would be wise to post signs as to which number is for what problem since both number stations are within inches of each other and not labeled).

I waited 90 minutes before my new number was called. This time I was ushered into a cubical where by with my astute powers of observation, it was clear this person was related to Mr. Stupid. Ms. Stupid not only wore the same non-existent smile, but her skin was of the same yellowish not human pallor. But I digress. She asked what the problem was, I told her my bill was wrong. She said the electric company didn't make mistakes and instructed me to pay my bill. I said I would pay as soon as I had proof I owed $658.01. She, being the automaton that she was, asked me to explain why I thought I didn't owe said amount. I pulled out the last 2 years worth of bills and explained I never paid more than $300.00 a month and that this bill was estimated and not an actual reading. She said they were too busy to read the meters. Too busy to read the meters! Go figure. I than very proudly handed her my (beautifully made on computer) meter dials with arrows pointing to the actual reading I took that morning. (all the while trying to hide my devilish smile because HA! I knew that was coming and I was ready)

Ms. Stupid glared (sideways no less) at the paper I handed her and asked when I took that reading. This morning I said proudly. Wait here she said and walked away. I was hoping she went off to show off my lovely dials but truth be known I thought there was a slight chance she was having my electricity turned off. Perhaps I shouldn't have smiled so much, diminishing the seriousness of the task at hand.

Ms. Stupid returned without a word and started to enter things in her computer. Then she started writing down numbers, then she started to use a calculator. Then I started to ask what she was doing but she shushed me ... me ... she shushed me. Now it got a little ugly. Maybe it was the fact that I had already spent 4 hours at the electric company, or I was hungry, or because no one has shushed me since I was 3, but I decided I would speak even if Ms. Stupid didn't care to listen. I demanded in my most eloquent Spanish to know what the hell was happening. That evil automaton looked at me with a "duh" sort of look and said she was trying to figure out what I owed. (I took a moment since when I get pissed off, I have a hard time switching back and forth between English and Spanish and can't find the right words.) I informed her she could have said so and that I didn't need her bad attitude since I intended to pay my bill as I always had, in full, and on time as long as it was right. She snarled, and went back to adding/subtracting, whatever the fuck she was doing with the calculator. I, not being one to be out done, pulled out my cell phone and made a call. I spoke entirely in English the whole time, hoping this was annoying Ms. Stupid.

Eventually Ms. Stupid said I was right. The bill was wrong. I owed $536.56. But I never paid more than $300 I exclaimed with sheer horror at her new figure. Yes, she smiled sweetly but your last bill was also estimated and you underpaid. Two bills, both estimated, both wrong. I only caught one, what a damn oversight. So I did what any girl would do at this point, I said prove it.

Mr. Stupid now joined Ms. Stupid, because apparently I was making a scene. Prove it, I'll pay and we can all go on with our day. A long while later, many pieces of paper, 3 calculators and a supervisor, I owed $526.06. Ms. Stupid had made a $10.50 mistake. (imagine my evil laugh here). OK, it was still more than $300 but I made a lasting impression. I used my debit card to pay, in full and left.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Brooklyn De Mi Corazon

I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn. On Euclid Avenue to be exact. A predominately Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood. Most people would say this was a poor neighborhood. I called it home. We had all the classic elements you associate with poor neighborhoods. Our own street gang, garbage, rodent infested empty lots, drugs and of course, minorities. There was violence. Sirens of some sort always audible. The smell of garbage was foul on occasion. (like when it wasn't picked up by the city for weeks). Our Houses all looked the same, big dilapidated apartment buildings with "stoops". Stoops were groovy, it's where we sat to watch the world go by. It was a crazy neighborhood but everyone watched out for each other. Even the Latin Kings (who were nothing like the gang of Spanky and Alfalfa fame) never pillaged or disrespected a neighbor. There was a twisted sense of honor even among our street gang. We were all in the same boat, and you always look after your own. Poor, hard working, just trying to get by, that's how it was on our block.

There were a couple eccentric people on our block. A Puerto Rican lady who weighed about 500 lbs lived across the street from me. She never spoke. I never heard her say one solitary word. She smiled and gestured and that was enough to get her message across. Then there was Lucky. Lucky lived in the apartment building next door. He was in his 30's. Lived with his brother and sister-in-law and their 9 kids. Lucky was an alcoholic. I don't recall ever seeing him sober, not ever. He had been in the military at some point and had been discharged due to a "mental illness". Lucky was black, tall, skinny and walked with a certain stride unique to him. Sort of a cool, meandering stride. He walked around singing the same song, every single day.
"Ride, I use to jump my horse and ride, I had a six gun at my side, I was so handsome, women cried, and I got shot and never died". It was a Sonny and Cher song, and that's the only verse he ever sang.

Lucky helped everyone who asked. He was often seen holding court, mediating between 2 kids who were fighting. He played handball, stick ball and he was my favorite "double dutch" partner. We kicked ass jumping rope. Lucky spent countless hours expounding the virtues of a drug free life. ("Do as I say not as I do" to an incalculable degree) When he wasn't playing with us, (us, being all the kids on the block) he was watching for us. He sat on his stoop and waited for all of us to walk home from school so he could ask about our day and about homework. He made us laugh and we called him our friend. (crazy to think that our parents trusted this drunk to hang with us, given the air of our current planet that would never happen today.) He was kind, thoughtful, funny and silly, all while being drunk.

I was on my way home from school one afternoon when I noticed the not so unusual array of police cars and an ambulance on our block. The only thing that made this sight different from any other day was the screaming and crying of familiar voices. As I walked past the yellow tape and glanced over, it was Lucky. He was dead. Shot by a man who thought Lucky was having an affair with his wife. (the wife had just moved to our block the night before). Lucky didn't know her.

I don't recall hearing that Sonny and Cher song again, until today. I was scanning for a radio station and there it was.
"Ride, I use to jump my horse and ride, I had a six gun at my side, I was so handsome, women cried, and I got shot and never died". Same first verse. In Puerto Rico, in the year 2007, what were the odds of that? Funny and strange how somethings just take you back. Right back to Brooklyn.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Trend?

I have had a frantic week and feel a bit out of control. Truth be known, I almost feel like weeping. So what's a girl to do when she is having a tough week? Buy a new pair of shoes, drink heavily, get a new blog banner? OK, so I got a new blog banner and now am going to buy a new pair of RocketDogs and drink heavily. Tell me what you think of the new banner (use the comments section, damn it, stop emailing me) And if you have some funny uplifting tale or words of encouragement add those too. In fact, if you have any good hangover remedies those might help in the morning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Prickly This

My little piece of the desert -------------------> way over here in the tropics.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's All Relative

I was talking to my cousin Daisy. As always it was a quick catching up session, in between her getting to work and me waiting at the doctors office. While waiting for other things to happen, is when we have time to chat. It was a multi-tasking moment. Later in the day, I got to thinking about the gazillion cousins I have. No, seriously, it's a gazillion. (if you do the math). My dad was one of 16 siblings, my mom one of 8. Some of their siblings had vast amounts of children. By vast, I mean one aunt had 22 kids, another had 24 and yet another had 18. You get the picture ... a gazillion cousins. Most of these aunts and uncles were born in the 1920's/1930's. No one had televisions or radio. (not that they needed T.V., given the number of children they had, we all know how they spent their time) Indoor plumbing and electricity were luxuries few of them knew until much later in life, if at all. Most were illiterate, there wasn't time for school, when the priority was trying to eat and have a roof over your head. There were many multiple births, Lot's of twins, many triplets and one set of quadruplets. You know that "six degrees of separation" Kevin Beacon thing, well here, it is six degrees of me. I have yet to go anywhere on this island where I didn't run into a relative or someone who knows a relative of mine or dated a relative of mine or knows someone who knows someone who is a relative of mine. I can't begin to list all my cousins by name because that would take until the end of time and I have other things to do, like floss, shower, and feed the cat. So in the interest of saving time, I have taken the liberty of putting them into categories.
  • The Aberrant: I place the transvestites (sadly good fashion sense isn't genetic), the addicted and the con's into this category. Alcoholism and drug abuse run rampant. Jail time has been served for all sorts of illegal activity, racketeering, jay walking, murder, etc. Also in this group are the cousins that would make Jerry Springer proud.
  • The Whacked: when Cary Grant said "insanity doesn't run in my family, it gallops" he was talking about my family. We can recite every mental illness and it's symptoms by the age of 5. By age 6 we know where all the closest mental hospitals are located and who has been there as well as how many times. By age 10, we start taking side bets on whose "mind" will go next.
  • The Talented: There are absolutely incredibly gifted musicians and artists among the cousins. There are a plethora of instruments and voices. Sadly some of these cousins fall into the first 2 categories and never did much with their talent. Others perform where/when they can and make family parties pretty groovy.
  • The Givers: this is perhaps the largest group. Loyal to family and whatever God they believe in. Unconditionally sacrificing everything for those they love. One particular cousin, is the queen of this group (I mean that figuratively not due to sexual orientation) She is close to 70 and takes care of a very ill husband and mother while making enough time for all her kids/grand kids/great grand kids and every single other living person to cross her path. She brightens my day and always makes me smile.
  • The Useless: also known as the stupid, these are the cousins that feel the world owes them something. (just because they are stupid, I suppose) They do nothing, go no where, They just take up space, sort of like a chia pet only not as fun. These cousins may swing back and forth between this and the first category.
  • The Recovering: these cousins are always recovering from something, drugs, alcohol, illness, the plague, life, in grown toenails ... anything and everything, perhaps I should call them the whiners, or maybe I should just meld this group with the useless bunch.
  • The Exceptions: by far the smallest group, (mostly all females, with a male cousin thrown in for good measure). They have worked hard, are educated, have careers, families ( 3 children or less, they did birth control research). They have retirement funds, own homes, cars and big screen T.V.'s. They are passionate about life. They are the elite group, who have managed to avoid all the other groupings, despite the odds against them.
I think I have everyone covered. If any of my cousins are reading this and think I left you out ... I didn't, trust me, you are in one of those groups. If any of my cousins are offended by my "sorting", HELLO, look around you. Like my dad use to say "I mean no offense, I am just being honest". Belonging to a family this large doesn't come without plenty of baggage but they are my family, the good, the bad, and the ugly (start humming that theme song here). And you know what they say "Families are like fudge ... mostly sweet with a few nuts." Our fudge is just a little more chewy ... it's all relative.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Animal Attraction

On any given day at the asylum we are surrounded by animals, some of the human variety others not. Lately we seem to have more than our share of cats. Besides my gato (who reigns and is a house cat) there are 3 others. Rusty, who neither looks nor tastes like rust. Snowball, who is, you guessed it, white. And the "crier", who has the most annoying cry/meow I have ever heard. Those 3 are "finca" cats, they wander around the many acres and show up for meal times. I have nothing against cats but if one more sprightly cat shows up and applies for free room and board, request will be denied!

We have 30-50 chickens/roosters at any given time. The discrepancy in the numbers is due to free- range status. They come and go as they like. Daily crowing starts around 3:30AM.

This fine looking iguana showed up without an invitation and stayed for a few months. He left after he devoured all of the flowery vine growing on that tree. Sadly, they are vegetarians, otherwise the cat and chicken count might be lower.

This beautiful chicken hawk, fell into the chicken coop after a tropical storm. (the coop is for injured birds). He thought he died and went to heaven. Instead he was greeted with a posse determined to get him out of the coop before he ate every bird in there. He stood around for a few days, waiting for his feathers to dry then scooped up a little chick and flew away.

This is a tropical island and we have our share of snakes, spiders and bats. We have a copious amount of bugs. Pretty bugs, fugly bugs and bugs that would scare the bravest of entomologists. In the past week, we have been besieged with volcanic ash from Montserrat. The ash has caused the delay and cancellation of flights in and out of Puerto Rico. We have had a minor earthquake. There have been (renewed) recent sightings of the "Chupacabra". I wonder if all of mother nature's current activity has something to do with the influx of uninvited guests.

I am spending the rest of the day making "KEEP OUT", "DO NOT ENTER" signs. No new visitors will be allowed to enter the asylum without prior written consent and at least 2 weeks notice. There are exceptions of course, for anyone bearing fabulous new shoes or gifts for yours truly. Hope it's groovy (and ash less) where you are.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Apple Jelly

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. In the 6Th grade I went to P.S. 218. My best friend at the time was Janet. Janet lived in a single family home in a nice middle class neighborhood. I lived in an apartment building in a very bad, low income neighborhood. Janet wasn't allowed to come to my house. I think her parents thought her Irish looks might stand out too much in my predominately black and Latin neighborhood. One day at school Janet invited me to her house to make apple jelly. APPLE JELLY! I couldn't stop laughing. In my neighborhood no one even went to the store to purchase jelly much less make it from scratch. We did have welfare peanut butter that came in huge industrial looking cans. But jelly wasn't a food group the welfare department deemed necessary. After I picked myself up from the floor, I told Janet I would ask my parents. I ran home (not out of fear as was usually the case but out of excitement) to tell my parents. It took 3 days for my parents to stop laughing. Then they asked all the important questions ... where did they get these apples? stolen? purchased? (they must have money) When I said they picked the apples, my parents laughed for another 2 days, they thought only itinerant farm workers did that. Anyhow, so I get the OK to go make apple jelly. It was a new experience and my folks were all for my experiencing new things that didn't involve drugs or gang related activities.

On that fateful Saturday, my dad walked with me to the "line", that imaginary line that separated our neighborhoods. In my mind I can still clearly see my dad on the "dark" side as I stepped into the "light". As I looked for Janet's house I was amazed at the sight of this hood. It was nothing like mine. Single family homes, lawns, it all looked surreal. At Janet's house I started screaming her name, after all this was the "doorbell" in my part of town. Her mom came to the door looking a bit frightened and asked if I was OK. I gleefully announced I was there to make apple jelly.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped into Janet's house, it was just like stepping through the looking glass. They had matching furniture and it wasn't covered in plastic. They didn't have huge ceramic animal figurines and no sign of a religious alter, para todos los santos, including but not limited to the virgin Mary, the biggest Jesus on the cross you could afford and a candle lit for every single relative to have died. They did have a rosary hanging by the door. (they were Irish after all). They each had their own bedroom and slept one to a bed! The whole house was shiny. Light and airy even. When they opened the fridge to get the apples, I gasped in shock and bewilderment. It was filled, filled with food! All sorts of food. And not one thing was stamped "department of family services, FDA approved". Janet and her brother could help themselves to whatever they wanted, anytime they wanted! This was opulence the likes of which I didn't know existed.

Now back to the apple jelly, We all joined in the kitchen, apparently apple jelly making was a family affair. My heart was pounding and I broke out in a sweat. They laid all the apples on the counter as I looked around the kitchen for any signs of rats, or roaches. (That is what we did at my house) I am convinced this is what an out of the body experience must feel like. The conversation consisted mostly of them asking me stuff about where I lived and my family. Janet's mom didn't work, mine worked in a factory, Janet's dad was a dentist, mine worked in a factory. Did I get scared at night when I heard gun shots? No, it's more scary when the police and ambulance arrive to take away the bodies. Did I have a yard? Nope, but there is an empty lot next door, it's sort of like a yard, if you can look past all the garbage. Did I have pets? Yes, a dog, a turtle, some fish, a few chickens, a goose, 2 rabbits and some pigeons, not all in the house, some we kept on the roof. We made the apple jelly while hearing my tales. While I was there I also had milk and cookies. I can still see Janet's mom face drop when I asked if she had cafe con leche and corn flakes instead, I liked that better. Picture my chagrin when she said kids shouldn't drink coffee. They were a nice family but odd.

I went home with 2 jars of apple jelly and 4 apples. I held that brown bag as tightly as I could as I ran all the way home. I had peanut butter and jelly for the first time. It was yummy even if we didn't have bread. We ate the apples as I shared every tiny detail of my adventure. All of us in the living room, sitting by candle light (our electricity had been shut off), keeping a lookout for roaches or rats and listening to the sounds of distant and not so distant sirens. All these years later I remember Janet. I wonder if she ever knew how wondrous an adventure apple jelly was for a kid like me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Devoid of Sleep

For as long as I can remember my sleep patterns have been odd. I don't sleep well. Never have. I do have moments when I sleep through the night for a few weeks at a time. Alas it doesn't happen often. As a kid I didn't sleep for fear I would miss out on something. My mind was always filled with things to read, things to do, adventures to undertake. Sleep was such an annoyance. As time went on I realized I was one of those insomniacs, you know those people who don't sleep much for months on end and then become zombie like until they crash. Well today I crashed. I was heading in that direction all week. Feeling tired, looking a bit zombie like, getting a little edgy. No longer my fabulous, cool, ready to tackle the world self. I can always tell when I am heading for the "crash". Besides not looking my very best. I become obsessive. Yesterday I spent way too much time obsessing about my latest love affair with Rocket Dog shoes. That is sign number 1 of impending doom. You should never worry about a shoe obsession, shoes are good things. Sign number 2 is my very irritable reaction to everything I see or hear. Good Morning is heard as " your Rocket Dog shoes are ugly" to which I reply with a resounding "SO" ( I am sleep deprived, that is all I can come up with) Sign number 3 is the hallucinations. Now lucky for me, hallucinations are not always a bad thing sometimes I even welcome their arrival. But when I start to have conversations with the "free range" chickens, I know I am crashing soon. ( I always mention "free range" to keep the PETA people at bay) Today I crashed. I have slept all day. All day. I went to sleep about 5 am and woke up around 7PM. The Asylum woke me up a few times just to verify I was still among the living. I barely manged an audible "go away" before I feel right back to sleep. Of course it is now 9PM and I am wide awake. Rested and awake. Awake when I should be getting ready for sleep ... It's a vicious cycle.

He Reigns

Que Miras?!

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