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

Guard Dogs

cerberusThe two big news stories since I moved from Missouri have been: anti-Semitic lunatic shoots up the Jewish Community Center, and cops shoot teenager who is black and unarmed.  Is that where I am from?  Well, yes.  It is a place that struggles with fear in its own ways.

We will always have trouble with people in authority and how they scare themselves and other people.

Terrible things happen when people get scared.  I was scared of Kansas City’s east side, the black side of town, until I went there for work, until I knew and loved so many people who lived there.  I’m still scared when alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods that look uncared for, neighborhoods where kids aren’t out playing or there is no one to see what happens to you.

I am scared of being alone, although I like being alone.  I am scared of not having enough money.  I am scared of falling down steps.  I am scared of thinking I am being funny but people are offended or think I am weird.  I am scared of not having enough time to think.  I am afraid of looking back on my life and thinking I was a coward.

When I get scared, I watch a lot of television.  I make a plan that involves begin to list things that are wrong with other people in comparison to what is right with me.  Being a hard worker, or laid back, or smart, or ignorant, really, anything will work.  I used to work a lot with logic, having faith in the logic of the world, the logic of other people, or even in playing the odds, how likely is that to happen?  Also, I think about how to make myself so okay that I will never need anyone else and then no one can ever disappoint me again.

These strategies are actually rather effective and thus it is hard to stop.

When cops get scared, really bad things happen.  Either cops are scared, or they are stupid.  They know people hate them and want to kill them.  They have a lot of fear to manage.

When teenagers get scared, and they are scared almost all the time because you may not recall but their whole selves are construction zones where heavy shit can fall and they aren’t even the foremen, usually.  Teenagers who are black have particular and real reasons to be scared.  Especially the ones who live in neighborhoods that give them PTSD.  This is still gunshot season, until about the first frost.  Then things calm down until Christmas when people have to deal with their families, or realize they don’t have money for presents they want to give.  And then you know the people who are supposed to protect you are people who even if you want to, you have trouble trusting.

Really bad things can happen when teenagers get scared.  Not necessarily the things people think of, running away, withdrawing, but often counterphobic stuff like stealing a car or borrowing a gun or cussing out a teacher or throwing a book at her.  (Said book was nowhere near aerodynamic enough to be anything more than a gesture, don’t worry.)

I think scared people are helped by sitting in a quiet room with someone who is either not afraid, or pretending not to be.  I am very good at the latter, not to brag.  Posture is important, too, that is, sitting next to someone, side by side, is usually good.  Lots of quiet is good.

I have plenty of fear experience, both of the average type, like, I am too afraid to move to New York, which is something I still think regularly although it’s hard to have faith in now.  And the pathological type of the anxiety disorder, which is a different species.

For religious people, repetition helps.  Chanting and praying the hours and ritual helps.  Singing helps.  Letting yourself feel your feelings helps, but this is very hard.

For many fears between people, conversation about food and annoying parents or annoying children helps.  The weather is a place to begin.

I had no great interest in the movie “Big Fish,” but I remember a scene with a big black dog.  Someone had to confront this very scary dog, and when they did, the dog ran away.  This doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes bullies don’t back down.  Sometimes they beat the shit out of you.  Sometimes they kill you.   You may be better off, though, working on your happy medium of not running away, not becoming aggressive, something in between, whether it is jokes or silence or shifting your weight.