My 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 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.