pepperMy mouth and forehead all wrinkled up with frustration about Ferguson, I walked five blocks to get coffee.  The guy ahead of me on the sidewalk wore a peach and white striped sweater and he looked great in that color and he smelled like weed.  A mom and her daughter carried plastic bags of groceries up their brownstone’s steps.  Two orthodox guy stood just inside a loading dock and chatted.  A guy smoking a ridiculous tiny cigar walked over to the bus stop bench yelling to his buddies, and he blew his smoke across my path, but I liked the smell of it.

The residents of Crown Heights have not rioted in 25 years.  When they did (according to wikipedia, ’cause you’re not paying me to research, kids): three days, almost 200 injuries, 225 cases of burglary and robbery, property damage estimate $1 million.

I got my coffee and wrote about how much I hate it when people use their anger to make scenes and be self-righteous instead of listening to figure out how to be helpful and doing the hard work of trying to be helpful.  I really hate that.

I couldn’t figure out how to end it.  I went home.

At home, I tasted a teeny bit of a habanero pepper, a teeny piece without seeds, and it was hot enough that I felt I had done something.  Then I proceeded to cut it up to put it into my salsa.  I tasted the salsa, and lo, it was good.

I went to my writing group and, as usual.  As I was listing kinds of coffee I have had for a series poem, I thought my palms might be burning.  Maybe someone was talking about me.   Or was it that I was about to come into some money?

By the time I got home, my palms were definitely burning, and it was still sort of funny.

Nothing will help you once the oils are really in there. It became less funny.  I was cursing the person who had given me the pepper like a woman in childbirth curses people in the special episode when she unexpectedly has the baby in the elevator/coal mine/nuclear submarine.

I took two ibuprofen.  I poured milk over my hands.  I watched another episode of “Masters of Sex.”  I goodled and made a bleach solution.  I read about how bleach was going to kill us all.  I looked in vain for other dairy products in the fridge.  My hands burned like the eyes of Donald Rumsfeld.

I googled.

I went ahead and bought Season 1 of “Masters of Sex.”  I poured lemon juice over each hand.  I scrubbed them with salt.  I scrubbed them with exfoliating face wash.  I watched another episode.  The title had so annoyed me that I had avoided the show, but it is not merely titilating, thoughtful as well.  My hands stung like I had hairy hands and I ripped a big band-aid off each side.

I googled again.

I filled a bowl with water and ice and put both hands in it.  Now that felt good, until the cold hurt in a different way.  It felt so good for a minute, especially when you could feel the cold in your blood vessels, sending that coolness through your whole hand.

I watched another episode.  I thought about how good it was that I was on vacation.  It didn’t really matter when I went to sleep.  But seriously, it was 2 am.

I turned off the light.  My hands burned like a Doestoevsky protagonist.

I squeezed the ice trays into a plastic baggie and held it between my hands and lay down again.

I would not google again.  It would go away.  Eventually.  I held my ice.  I kept the light off.

This is how things settled down in Crown Heights in 1991, again courtesy wikipedia:

A Jewish leader and a Black leader together in a pair [went] to public intermediate and high schools in the area to answer questions from the children about each other’s cultures.

[A Jewish group] helped repair an ambulance of a black-owned volunteer service.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum held an exhibit on the contributions made by blacks and Jews in New York.

 In 1993, a series of neighborhood basketball games were scheduled between the two groups, including a scrimmage held as part of the halftime entertainment of a New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers professional basketball game.

Also that year, Rabbi Israel Shemtov, whose anti-crime patrol had long been perceived by many black residents as biased against them, rushed to the aid of a black woman who had been shot on the street in Crown Heights, putting her in his car and taking her to the hospital.

On August 19, 2001, a street fair was held in memory of [the people who died], and their relatives met and exchanged mementos of hopes of healing in Crown Heights.

The next morning, I reread my writing about Ferguson, found it self-righteous and unhelpful.  My hands, however, were not only out and about, they were taking out money to pay for new headphones and a cup of coffee, were good for both deleting and typing.  They felt like I had slapped someone hard, about an hour before.

Wikipedia entry on Crown Heights riots


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