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August 2012
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October 2012

September 2012

Short Fiction: The Game of Life

Life"Go into your room and play."

The house was swarming with serious-looking strangers who moved with urgency, though all they seemed to be doing was waiting. There had been nurses at our home for weeks, ever since Grandfather was moved from the hospital into our spare bedroom. But this was different. Suddenly strangers were milling about in pockets across the house. One of them wore a priest's collar even though my parents had never taken us to mass.

"Go into your room and play. And shut the door. Go on."

My mother's request was not urging, it was a demand.

I went and took my brother with me, but I made sure to slam the door a little, just loud enough for all those strangers to notice.

My brother and I shared a bedroom, even though there were three. My mother insisted on keeping a spare room for guests no matter how many times I pleaded for a room to call my own. We never had any guests.

The strangers in the house didn't bother my brother. He didn't notice the puffiness of Dad's eyes. He also never heard the late-night moans, when the morphine had worn off, coming from the spare bedroom.

"Let's play this."

My brother Ace dragged a tattered board game from the shelves, each corner of the box rounded and frayed with time.

"I don't want to play." I didn't want to play because Mom told us to go play.

Ace lifted the lid of the box, grabbed the small plastic bag of playing parts and began counting the pieces inside. "One. Two. Three. Four…"

He was counting for no good reason. He could only count to seven or eight, so when he got to seven or eight he'd start over again at one. I considered urging him on to nine and ten, but only he would be praised for it later.

I took the board from the box and smoothed it onto the floor. The tall threads of the carpeting made for an unstable surface, a soft, fragile base. There was a tangle of paths your little plastic car could take.

"Let's play!," Ace clapped. I refused just to upset him.

While he cried on his bunk I grabbed tracing paper and a pencil from my backpack. I placed the transparent paper over the playing board and traced the outlines of the make believe roads. While I moved the pencil over the paper I heard my mother tell my father she'd make the arrangements. Then she told him to quit the crying, Ace might hear.

[photo by Chris Orbz]


Amen, Good Sir!

Sexpigeon:

Here is a thing of commuter trains that pass through affluent areas: there are besuited and groomed men who not only commit the sin of hogging the outside seat, they also slop the inside seat with their bag, their briefcase, their repellant backpack. They then insert headphones so that you must ask them to remove their headphones in order to then ask them if you might take that seat that their accessories are currently occupying. Men of less careful habit, who are suitless and of ordinary grooming, find themselves intimidated to ask this series of questions, and so they stuff themselves standing into the vestibules at the end of the carriage.

Men who hog seats are no men at all. They are babies who swapped their onesies for threesies, brats whose brattishness has no doubt benefitted them in business. They are jerks whose livelihood is making pushy yakkity-yak. Why do our businesses continue to pay for the bluster of assholes? When will us wussies claim our rightful seats?

Hear, hear! And I bid you GOOD DAY.

 


Last Summer's Cooling

When the thick cream infiltrates the iced coffee it creates a black and white sex scene in my cup. The liquids--one creamy, one thin--meld themselves together in unctuous streams, tripping and falling over ice cubes, until they mix to form a milky brown oneness. I am eager to consume the sex scene in my hand, but will only do so after holding the sweaty cold drink to my forehead.

I used to place iced coffees on my face when I lived on an island called Manhattan. On this island there was no where to escape the endless spankings at the hands of a brutal summer sun. Iced coffee became a portable cooling device. I'd stick the chilly cup under my arm pits when no one was looking, even though on that island of Manhattan someone is most certainly always looking.

I lived in a high rise apartment I couldn't afford and would stay inside the small studio most days, propping my ass up on the narrow vent of the air conditioner by the window. I could see all the way to Brooklyn from up there. I'd sit on the air conditioner until my thighs grew raised bumps, cheap binoculars pressed to an unwashed face.

Ice Coffee

Twenty dollars is not enough to spend on binoculars if you really want to know what's happening inside your neighbor's home. You should probably spend at least $75, unless you can find some heavy, old binoculars at a flea market and flirt yourself into a good deal. The heavier the better, because when you are holding binoculars to look into the windows of strangers your hands shake. The fight the tiny Asian lady is having with her meathead boyfriend becomes blurry. You can't tell if the makeup session at an expensive dressing table is for her or the man who might come later. Splurge on a telescope, I say, with all the money you save staying in.

Sometimes I'd imagine someone was watching me, too, so I'd put on productions in my apartment. I'd pretend. I'd pull the blinds all the way to the top and open my laptop and stare at it, unmoving, for hours. 

In Manhattan, you can have a single iced coffee delivered to your house.

[photo by Duncan Spalding]


Goodbye Apron, Hello (Again) HootSuite

You either make time to write or you don't. It's a priority or it's not. Having an excess of time one one's hands does not compel one to write. I still don't have it narrowed down exactly what compels people to write, but I'm highly suspect that an excess of free time is a motivator to sit down and put words down.

Several months ago I gave up my media job in San Jose and began waiting tables. The goal was to spend a couple of years carving out a career as a freelance writer. I was going to go back to my roots to put that magazine journalism degree to good use. I was taking a leap of faith in my own abilities, discipline and drive. I was prepared to be poor. I was asked what I wanted to do, decided, then threw myself into it whole-hog. I was going to write.

I've published nothing since. In 7 months I've earned not a single byline. It's not for lack of writing. There has been lots and lots of writing. But when I began to explore what I wanted out of this endeavor, what I was best at, where my strengths were, I discovered I didn't want to write articles for newspapers, websites and magazines. I didn't want to be a freelance journalist.

I want to tell my own stories.

Whether in raw essay form or barely hidden behind the veil of fabricated characters, the power of my voice exists within the stories I have accumulated. Telling you what happened, secrets and all, is what I'm best at. Telling my tales is where all the impetus lies, the real reason I sit down to write most days. Everything else distracts from this best goal.

Of course, coming to terms with what I am supposed to be writing meant coming to terms with the knowledge that people will be hurt. Telling one's stories means being brave and taking huge interpersonal risks. It means pushing down the voice inside you that demands, "This is off-limits. Stop your story." And that voice is very loud.

Deciding to tell my stories also means finding myself in tears on a regular basis. Or as angry as hot lava as writing a passage reveals more about that incident than I had previously recalled. Or dripping in self-doubt. Telling one's stories is a constant therapy session. It's exhausting.

Much like waiting tables is exhausting. I had forgotten how much it takes out of you.

Waitress

 

I just remembered that I waited tables and tended bar while going to college. Surely, I could do that again and write on the side. Waiting tables would free me up to carve out that freelancer writer life I thought I wanted. Waiting tables would pay the bills while I created a sustainable income for myself doing what I love.

But waiting tables is fucking hard! Even working part-time, the work leaves me both mentally and physically worn out. It's stressful, high-impact and it leaves this nearly 35-year-old beat and with a backache. And it's certainly not as lucrative as I had imagined. You don't get to come back to the restaurant industry after a decade away, now living in one of the most acclaimed dining cities in the world, and get primo shifts at Michelin-star rated restaurants. I have friends who pull 80 grand a year waiting tables, but they have been working their way into these choice positions all along, and they are absolutely phenomenal at their trade.

Truth be told, I'm just a mediocre server. I was told by my dear friend Leo, a friend I made at the restaurant where I work now, "you're not a restaurant person." At the time I was offended. He refused to go into detail; that's how Leos do. But I thought about it for days: "How am I not a restaurant person?"

One beer-soaked evening (for those in the industry there are many), Leo indulged me and expounded further: "You care too much. You let people get to you. I can see you standing at your tables with Pissed Off written all over your face. If you let your tables get under your skin, you are not a great server."

He was right. And putting it that way made me feel less like a failure at serving. I'm decent at it. But I'm never going to get a gig at The French Laundry. Not happening.

And so, because freelance articles were not where I was focusing my writing efforts and because it became apparent that, for me, waitressing was a dead-end enterprise, I began to panic. OH MY GOD, I thought, I'm going to be a 40-year-old waitress barely scraping rent money together. The idea kept me up at night. How was I going to retire someday? Ever take a vacation? Have adequate health insurance, for fuck's sake?

Lucky for me--I am often lucky for reasons beyond my comprehension--a career angel came knocking at my door. A position for CBS Local Digital Media became available: Social Media Coordinator. And the guy who recruited me to come out from Tennessee in 2007 asked if I wanted to come back to the world of Twittering and Facebooking for the media.

It was an offer too good to refuse. It includes a 401K, sick days (!), vacation time and the most precious thing of all: subsidized health insurance. Mr. Dentist, it's been too long, here I come.

I start next Monday. I'll be back at Broadway and Battery where my tenure in San Francisco began. I'm thrilled. It's the smart, responsible path to take, and I'm so much more secure in my well-being knowing something more financially stable is around the corner. At present I fear a bone break or sudden illness like children fear closet monsters. A hospital visit would put me back so far I'd never recover.

And I'll make time for writing. If I want to get it done, I will. I don't need a part-time job to tell my stories, just the wherewithal to get my ass in the chair and put the words down. John Grisham managed to pump out best-sellers while working 100 hours a week as a practicing attorney. I can tell my tale and also work 40. A media career path does not preclude literary accomplishment. I'm going to prove this theory.

October 1st I'm back to an office job. My desk is huge, my co-workers awesome and my bank account is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm excited. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity.

For now, that's all the life news that is fit to self-publish.


Overheard in the Bay Area

Birds

Young Guy #1: "Where did you stay last night?"

Young Guy #2: "Bodega Bay. It's where some movie The Birds was filmed. Have you seen the movie Birds?"

Young Guy #1: "No."

Young Guy #2: "Thank you! Me either. We stayed there, and everyone kept talking about it. It's made by some old guy, some Arthur something."

Older Lady at the Same Table: "Alfred. It's Alfred Hitchcock. It's an incredibly famous movie and director."


The SFPD & Me: A Follow Up To My Story About Sexual Assault on Muni

When my post about my sexual assault on Muni and my subsequent experience with SFPD gained traction (starting with lots of RTs to the link and ending with posts on SFist and SFGate), I was glad. Some of the comments were hard to stomach, but by and large I recieved and outpouring of support and empathy that made me feel less alone. I thought it was important to see how many women replied with some horrific version of, "This happened to me, too." And if it meant one more person might report their own assault, then even better. I expected people to say that I was making ado about nothing or that I should have done X, Y and Z to avoid being groped by a stranger on the bus or that I was wasting the police force's time. What I did not expect was two suited inspectors from the Special Victims Unit at my front door one day after reporting to them my sexual assault on Muni.

Let me back up.

I was headed out the door to go bike shopping when I saw an alert from Facebook saying I had a private message. I opened the message to see that it was from a former colleague at NBC Bay Area. It said, "The SFPD called here looking for you. They said you are not in trouble but that they want to talk to you. I don't know how they know you used to work here." She did not feel comfortable giving out my contact information and instead sent that Facebook message along. It included a phone number.

I looked down at my phone to see I'd missed two calls from two blocked numbers, and that I had two unheard voice messages. One was from an inspector with the SFPD SVU, and they other one was, too. They wanted me to call them. I did, but got no reply.

I then dialed the number given to me in the Facebook message and spoke to a nice man who said he was in media relations and that they'd read the blog post and did I mind if he hung up and had SVU call me directly? I said I did not mind.

While waiting for the return call the doorbell rang. It was two inspectors from the Special Victims Unit in suits carrying briefcases. They were there to interview me about the 9-San Bruno bus groping.

I was a little taken aback to see them at the front door. Obviously, I invited them in and they began a recorded interview with me, a very thorough one, about what happened on the bus and where and what time and did I think I could remember what he looked like enough to be sketched. I said no.

These gentlemen were very respectful and professional and stayed asking me questions for 15-20 minutes. At the end they asked if I had any questions for them.

"I guess my only question is 'why are you here?' The man I spoke with yesterday made it sound like nothing would happen."

"I'm going to tell you what happens," one of the inspectors said, "but we're going to end the interview." And he turned the recorder off.

He told me more specifically about how the case would be handled and how they are going try to find video from the bus, if it's available. They also managed my expectations respectfully, telling me that the odds that he would be arrested are slim, but that now they have probable cause. 

They never addressed the blog post, though they did say, "we read your tweets." I'm not sure if every woman who reports a groping gets a house call, but I got the distinct feeling that the tweets might have had something to do with mine.

After showing the inspectors out, I returned to my laptop to find this comment on the blog post about the assault and the police report from San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr:

Brittney,
I am sorry to hear about your experience at our district station. We regret the traumatic and humiliating experience you underwent, and we agree that your encounter with the station counter officer could have and should have been handled differently. The SFPD prides itself on treating sexual assault and battery victims with concern and sympathy. The experience you have described is not to the level of service that SFPD is known for.

I was heartened by the message and felt much more at ease about how my local officers are trained to handle cases like mine. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I felt pretty overwhelmed by all the phone calls and voicemails and the house call.

My brain began to ask the question it had been asking since the beginning: Am I making too big a deal out of this? But all I had to do was recall the sensation of the violation and remember that I was only telling my story to know that no, I wasn't making too big a deal out of this.

I'll be honest, before I was groped on the bus I thought flashings and rubbings and grabbings on crowded subways were terrible things, but until I experienced it myself I did not know the real emotional trauma that can occur. The statistics about how many women have one time been molested or raped are ridiculously high; having some asshole grab your crotch can make a victim relive that all over again. Previously victimized or not, I now know that being assaulted in that manner by a stranger is a monsterous thing. I never expected it to feel so awful, but of course, I also never expected it. I admit I didn't go around steeling myself to an eventual groping. Though I do now, at least for the time being.

I want to say I'm impressed with the SFPD's response to my crime. They wanted to make it right, and for me they did. I do hope the same can be said for other women who experience the same thing , those who might not have what happened to them re-tweeted.


The Story of My Sexual Assault on Muni in San Francisco

Something happened to me yesterday that has happened to millions of women in cities all over the world. This is my story of sexual assault on public transportation, a bus in downtown San Francisco:


I was sitting in a seat by the window across from the rear doors with headphones on, listening to music, being careful to hide my loaner phone in my purse after I had my iPhone stolen out of my hand last week. A man sat down beside me in the empty seat.

I did what I usually do and quickly, discreetly sized up my seatmate. He was a disheveled middle-aged man with blonde hair that was either dusty or graying. He smelled strongly of alcohol on his breath, body and clothes. He didn't smell like piss and weeks upon weeks of not showering, like other unfortunate people who sometimes take the bus, but he looked like he was swiftly headed in that direction. This man was clearly intoxicated and behaving strangely. He swayed in his seat and repeatedly made the sign of the cross, which is highly disconcerting, let me assure you. When women would board and stand next to where he sat he would try to engage them. They would quickly move away. I should have followed them.

He tried to engage me as well. My defense was to aggressively ignore him on the very crowded bus by staring out the window and keeping my headphones on. I had just three stops to go. When he tried to talk to me (words I couldn't hear due to the music) I shook my head no and held my hand up, flattened, to signal that I wished to be left alone.

Muni Bus

The bus continued to lurch down busy Market Street. I pulled the cord to signal that I wanted off when the bus was due to stop again at 5th and Market.

I stood a few seconds before the bus came to a halt, a clear indiction that I was getting out and off the bus. When the bus stopped the man to my right swiveled his legs around rather than stand, so I took a wide step to get around him and as I did he grabbed me between my legs.

Without thinking I turned and swung my heavy purse containing a server's book, a hardback journal and loose, sharp pens at his head, but barely connected. I think the purse grazed his face. I screamed FUCK YOU, also without thinking, and fled off the bus.

I stepped down onto the concrete platform, my head swimming in a raucous tide. A young man beside me asked what happened. "He grabbed me between the legs," I told him. 

The young man shook his head. "And that man said, 'What?,' like he didn't do nothing."

My legs moved forward in spite of myself. I was floating down the sidewalk on Market Street trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was trying hard not to vomit. I felt ill; I was physically revolted. I shuddered and tears collected in the corners of my eyes. 

My lip quivered as I crossed the busy mall to the elevator that would take me to the restaurant where I work. Everything was foggy. My feelings were foggy and my vision was foggy and my mind was foggy. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't believe how awful it made me feel. 

As I hit the button in the elevator for the 4th floor I realized for the first time I'd been sexually assaulted. I'd considered whether or not this was a big deal, checked the facts against my feelings and decided that yeah, it kind of was.

I walked into the restaurant in a daze. I walked over to put my bag away when my friend Leo put up his hand to give me a high five. I blurted out, "I was just sexually assaulted on the bus."

I told Leo and Marc more specifically what happened and the embarrassment rose in my face and the revulsion in my gut. I sat down at Table 100, put my forehead on my forearm, burying my face, and cried really hard.

Poor Leo and Marc stood there mostly silent. "This fucking city," was certainly uttered, as were several I'm sorries. They were both very comforting in their presence, but they seemed at a loss for words. And who can blame them?

"Do you want a glass of wine?," Leo offered. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking.

"YES," was my emphatic reply.

He went and poured a hefty glass of gruner veltliner, my favorite, and handed it to me. "Here. Slam this."

And I did. It helped immensely. My nerves were completely frayed and I was a mascara-y mess and I had a new two-top at Table 49. I freshened my make-up in the bathroom and by the time I took the couple's drink order the wine was kicking in and my nervous system began to unclench slightly. 

I made iced tea for the lady at 49 and waited for the bartender to pour a Trumer when I felt the first bubbles of boiling anger begin to rise within me. I was moving through the stages of grief very quickly. Suddenly I was fucking pissed.

I wanted to punch someone--specifically the asshole who grabbed me between my legs. Just typing that sends puke rising into my throat. I can recall with precise accuracy the sensation of his hand between my legs and I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It felt like wrongness and violation and horror and evil. 

Marc, the sous chef, sensed my anger. He stood watching me fume.

"Is it too soon to make a joke?," he asked, knife in hand.

"It's been 15 minutes," I said. "I think it's probably overdue."

He grinned. "I'm going to say I was sexually assaulted, too, because I could really use a glass of wine right now."

I laughed and laughed and was grateful for the levity. And the wine.

As my shift continued I thought more about what had happened. "I was just wearing my work uniform," I thought. "It wasn't even anything..." I stopped myself before I could think it all the way. I was about to consider what I'd been wearing in trying to process what had happened to me. 

After urging from others I decided to go to the police precinct and report the crime today. I was reminded that there are cameras on Muni buses and that there might be viable video of him touching me. Even if not, these crimes are grossly underreported and even one more record of this kind of assault might mean more police presence in the future.

So, after my short lunch shift this afternoon I took a cab to 6th and Bryant to the Southern station to file a report. I took a cab because the next bus was reportedly 47 minutes away and I felt unsafe walking. That happens when you've had your crotch grabbed on public transit and the police precinct is in a sketchy-ish part of town. 

I entered and told the security guard I was there to report a crime. He told me to walk to a counter where officers were protected behind thick plastic or glass. I had to use a phone to talk to the policeman on the other side.

"I'm here to report a crime. I was groped on the bus."

"What happened?"

"I was groped on the bus. He grabbed me between my legs as I was exiting."

"Where did he grab you? Sorry, but you have to be more specific."

"He grabbed my vulva." I tried to tamp down my embarrassment.

"Okay. What do you want to do? File a report?" His tone made his words sound more like, "Are you serious? You came all the way down here for this?"

"Yes," I told him. Yes, I wanted to file a report.

He asked for more information. I gave it to him. He told me to wait. Then he came out and spoke with me face to face.

"We have two options here. We have a Muni task force. We can give them this info and they can be on the lookout for this guy. Or you can file a full report, but it won't do anything."

He made sure to tell me this guy wouldn't be caught even if I filed a report. For a moment I hedged. For a split second I considered not filing a report. He nearly convinced me. Then I remembered what I came there to do.

"I realize this guy probably won't be caught, but this crime is underreported and I want to do my due diligence and make sure this one is. And if it means more police presence later, then even better." He did not agree with me; he said nothing. The amount of sympathy he managed could fit into a thimble.

I waited more. While waiting with no where to sit for many minutes. I considered the infirm or pregnant or elderly women who would be very physically uncomfortable waiting to file a similar report. With nothing to be said of the emotional discomfort.

Finally I was given a slip of paper with my case number on it. I was told that usually sexual battery requires "skin on skin contact," but that that was how my case would be labeled. He told me I could follow the case online.

I initiated a hand shake. He finally, finally mustered that he was sorry this happened. He told me to be careful. It sounded a lot like, "don't let this happen to you again."

A less confident woman would not have filed this crime report for sexual assault. I know this, because I nearly didn't.

I have a lot more processing of emotions to do before I write more about what happened to me and how the situation was treated by SFPD. Plus, there is more to be revealed with how this case will be handled. But I wanted to write about this now for my own therapeutic reasons, but also to shine a light on a crime that happens regularly and that just might be downplayed by the people in charge of our safety. 

If this happens to you I urge you to report it to the police. Do not let them convince you to walk away without filing a report. Being groped against your will on the subway or bus or anywhere is sexual battery, and you deserve to stand up and have your assault counted.

More soon.