Monday, August 06, 2007

A Proper Goodbye, with a Mouse

I’m sitting at JFK airport at an empty gate, just me and a mouse. “Um, excuse me, did you know there’s a mouse running around in there?” I say to a security person outside the gate. She answers, “Honey, if there’s only one mouse in there, then we are doing good.” It’s OK, though, because mice are so cute compared to rats. I would take a mouse over a rat any day—that rodent species has not violated my sandaled feet. But my feet are up and so I can just watch him weave in and out of the chairs. The Carpenters are on...the song is “For All We Know,” so I am as content as possible at this very ghetto airport, waiting because of a four hour delay...I guess the air traffic controllers are overwhelmed or something.

This seems to be my travel pattern: not a glitch getting to where I’m going, but coming back, it’s always tornadoes or liquid terrorists. I was supposed to fly out at 7, but now it looks like 10:30, and they keep moving the time forward in increments of thirty minutes.

So, anyway, here is my true New York goodbye story: I gave my air conditioner to Elsa (we didn’t realize that the $200 we paid bought them) and she called this morning and said, “I’m taking you to Chicken and Waffles.” Again, do I need to tell you why I love this girl? So we (along with Lorena and Noemi, the last survivors of the program) took a cab to Harlem where Amy Ruth makes them best, according to Elsa. A few more details about Elsa: the other day when I tell her how conflicted I am over not making it to Ellis Island, she shrugs and says, “Oh, I haven’t been there, either.” She’s lived here for years...born in Taiwan, raised in Southern CA, but went to school at Cornell and now teaches near Chinatown in a dual English/Mandarin school. She hasn’t been to Ellis Island, but she knows almost every eating establishment in Manhattan, which seems so much more relevant to life. The other day, Noemi (born in the Philippines) is describing a place where she ate oxtail in peanut sauce (“it’s pretty true to the real stuff” she says) and Elsa literally jumps out of her chair and says, “Let’s GO. Right NOW. C’mon everyone, let’s GO!” So, the chicken and waffles? Yes, go to Harlem just to eat at Amy Ruth’s, and go with people...remember it is wrong to go alone. In fact, try to go with Elsa. Look at Noemi's face and you will see how good they are:

Here are a few more stories to introduce you to people from my program:

I took a cab to the airport with Lorena from San Diego, and here is the story she told me: She was raised in a very traditional Mexican home where she was expected to stay until she married, which is exactly what happened. She was married young, at 22 or so, but she told her husband that they would not have children until they traveled to Europe. I love the way this idea got placed into her head...from Madelaine books. I only have a slight idea about what a Madelaine book is, but evidently this character travels all over the world, and Lorena could see herself in Paris and Madrid--anywhere Madelaine went. Anyway, she went to school, they worked, and they never got to Europe. At seven years, "he got the seven year itch" and told her he was leaving just a few months before her 30th birthday. A hard few months, yes...but what did she do? She booked a trip to Italy for her 30th birthday. “The first thing I ever did by myself.” And ever since, she has traveled, just like Madelaine.

Another one: Bec from Raleigh, North Carolina. You met her at her 24th birthday party during the first few days of the program. I thought of a great way to describe Bec the other day...seeing her walk into a room is the equivalent to entering a room full of balloons. Colorful balloons. She has only taught for two years, and has not only completed this NEH program, but also went to China on a Fulbright last summer. She is sharp, and fun. She didn’t sleep the entire month. I'm pretty sure she took taxis to class on more than just a few occasions, but she never missed and was never late. If Elsa was the restaurant resource, Bec was the wine bar expert. We even made her into a verb. “To be Becked” is to be taken out and dragged from bar to bar until early in the morning with class the next day.” One night I was becked to The Knitting Factory to hear a reggae band because she had met one of the band members at another concert and he had invited her. “Which one is he?” I ask her. She looks all of the band members over for a long moment, then says, “I think it’s him,” and she points to a dark, Dominican looking guy. “Wait, though.” She looks them all over again. “It may be the guy in the gray shirt.” The guy in the gray shirt is white. Granted, it had been dark when she met him, and she may have had a few beers, but isn’t that a beautiful story? It was the Dominican one. Another time, at a blues club during the band break, the saxophone player tells her he likes the way she dances and asks if she is going to do some more sexy dancing. “Oh, no, I’m more just awkward and cute.” Which is the best response to an uncomfortable advance I’ve ever heard.

We came up with other verbs, too. “To Melissa” is to ask a very good question right before the break that elicits a twelve minute answer from the speaker. And “To Gordo” is kind of like “to Google.” Gordon knows a lot about New York and we could just go right to him with our many questions. Gordon, are you still reading? “To Jane” is to turn every sentence into an innuendo. A funny Jane story...we had a speaker in who was talking about the Chinese calendar. “Do all of you know which animal you’re compatible with (animals correlate to the year you are born)?” she asks, and Jane, also from North Carolina, with bright red hair and one of the veterans among us, says, “I know who I’m not compatible with. I’m not compatible with rats, dogs, or roosters.” Her answer was so quick, it was true comedic timing. Jane, evidently, has been married to three incompatible animals.

Another story about good timing: Jon from upstate NY, Kristin from Cambridge and I are all dressed up, walking from the Latino film festival to the Meat Packing District...remember, the place I felt very uncomfortable even though I was dressed up (by Seattle standards). We pass a stairway full of homeless men and one of them who is standing in front asking for money says to Jon, “Now this is bad luck. Here you are with two beautiful women, and I’m standing on this corner holding a cup.” Jon does not miss a beat and answers, “And this is a slow night for me, too – usually I have three or four with me.” Again, timing. His audience on the steps laughs and applauds him; I think a few of them even give him a standing ovation.

I just talked to my friend Dennis, who made me a little self-conscious about my blog. He said, “I know you enjoyed the food, but I have no idea if you enjoyed the program.” Dennis wrote me one of the recommendation letters, so I think he feels that maybe I didn't deserve the high quality education or something. Like he can talk, hello...refrig

erator story~. I loved the program, Dennis. It was well organized, thorough, filled with excellent speakers and activities. I’m coming home with tons of ideas, etc, etc. But I don’t know, I guess I wasn’t inspired to write about it too much. Now, be honest, don't the rest of you feel like falling asleep just at the thought of reading my thoughts on China lectures?


Venue change: I am now at The Ramada Inn, lying in a Queen sized bed (no plastic) with Conan on the TV, free wireless internet, and....this is the best part...a BATHROOM about ten feet from me. I have gotten out of bed about five times already just to go and stand in the bathroom because it is there. This toilet doesn't flush randomly. And you know what? I don't have to wear flip flops in the shower tomorrow morning! And I have also just made $400 and spared my good parents from a three a.m. airport run.

Yes, I got bumped. I had left my mouse friend to venture to my gate only to find chaos. 10:30 came and went and they finally announced that they were taking volunteers to reschedule for tomorrow. I am a great fan of being bumped; I have gotten business class

back from Europe, extra nights in Vegas, Amsterdam and Switzerland and a few flight vouchers. Tonight I got a $400 dollar voucher, a night at the Ramada Inn and three meal vouchers. When they announced this opportunity, the only thing that made me hesitate was that I really wanted to brush my teeth and didn't have toothpaste with me, you know, because they will throw all liquids away. People were all yelling at the poor counter guy, saying "Who the *&^% allows you to overbook flights?" "Who can we blame...the government? The city? The State?" I kind of felt like saying "Blame God" but instead, when the guy asked for the third time if anyone would volunteer, I raised my hand from the back of the line and I think he thought I was an angel in my white Columbia sweatshirt by the way he looked at me (not one other person volunteered). Since I knew I had a lot of leverage, I was going to barter for the addition of toothpaste, but chose to just be an angel. The only bad part was that I had to stand next to a wailing man from India while they worked out the details, who was crying and whispering, "I cannot go tomorrow, because tomorrow will be too late" since he missed his flight. He wailed for an hour before I discovered that his mother was on her death bed and he feared he would not get to see her alive again.

To transition from that I will just say that I did get toothpaste and a toothbrush here at the front desk, so now the $400 is really worth it. All I have with me is my pillow (thank God), an orange, and my laptop. Three essentials.

Dispersed among my above ramblings are pictures of the whimsical benches that circle the entire back of Grant's Tomb, right behind the I-House and in front of Riverside Park. I love the contrast of stately Roman columns with funky mosaic. The picture at the top is graffiti right next to Amy Ruth's in Harlem. And here is Grant's Tomb (I thought it was part of Columbia when I first got here, so it ended up in the Columbia University post).

Good night, my comfy bed is luring me to sleep! Oh, but did you all realize that my brother posted the last one...I don't talk about myself in third person!


The Norris Clan said...

Oh, for one more night in NYC. What a fantastic last blog! Even down to the wailing Indian man and Dennis's complaints, I loved every detail! That is what I love about you, Marjie. Your attention to detail. Brilliant.

I hope you are not in your comfy bed, and that you are walking around the city one last time...


Amy T said...

Marjii, I, too, thank you for the Bowker Tour of NY. (what does "to marjie" mean, by the way) Relish the compliments; tuck them under your chin at night and sleep well: You've brightened many lives. Hear tell Seattle's been a bit wet, but you're always welcome in So. Oregon (unusual cooling trend: 85 degrees)! Yours in the Muse, Amy

Ann Marie said...

Welcome home, Marjie! I discovered your blog way late but have been enjoying it as always. Brava! I was in Italy for a month but almost never near a computer, which is maybe a good thing. Looking forward to catching up with you; I should tell you that I have now had two more friends move to China; you can read about JP at jpgoestochina on this same blog site. Thanks for all the great NYC posts!!! AM

Kumma said...

I think Amy answered her own question:

"To Marjie" is to "brighten many lives..." you have done again, Marjie!

Mom said...

What a nice thing to say, Bill! And it's true, too. Marjie has certainly brightened our lives since the day she was born. Mom

Marjie Bowker said...

Awwww, you all are just too...I don't know...good. Can you see me teaching that verb to my classes in September? That should go over well! Thank you, thank you.