Thursday, February 24, 2011

The bravest people I know

In spite of all of its faults the subway in Boston offers a wide view of the human condition. A man, who looked Chinese, caught my eye on the 70 minute ride home tonight. He was petite, appeared to be in his late 50s, dressed practically and appropriately in brown corduroy trousers that were rolled up at the the ankle, and he had the front jaw of someone who didn't have stellar dental care over his lifetime. Most interesting was that he carried a bundle of six empty soda bottles tightly shrink wrapped in plastic.

As we traveled to the suburbs South of Boston I wondered who he was and what reason he could possibly have for toting around a bundle of empty redeemable bottles. It isn't unusual to see men pushing shopping carts on neighborhood streets, pulling bottles and cans worth $0.05 each from recycling bins, to be redeemed for their daily income. I've seen Chinese women with wide brimmed straw hats walking up the middle of minor highways dragging shopping carts in both hands piled high with bottles in filmy garbage bags. Never have I seen someone carrying six bottles as if it were a lap dog.

"There must be something special about these bottles," I thought to myself, "or this man is so poor the $0.30 he has in his lap is like gold."

Still wondering what story guided this man's life as I poured out of the train station, I espied an elderly African American man selling copies of the Boston Globe to evening commuters. He had no obvious teeth, the hood of his worn and frayed winter jacket pulled up over his head. He wasn't talking, just holding a hand written sign that read "Boston Globe, $1.00." He was a different seller than the white, heavy set but gnome-like man I'd seen selling the paper in the morning.

"I didn't know the Globe had an evening edition," I mused. The dialogue in my head continued. "I've lived in Boston for nearly 18 years, I'm not aware of an evening edition to the paper. Is he just trying to sell papers that no one bought this morning? Sheesh, are things that rough? Are people that desperate or scrappy or stupid?"

Walking towards the next stop on my way home I realized that immigrants and poor people are among the bravest people I know. There is no way I could imagine picking up my life here - whether it was a comfortable one or not - and moving to another country where I might not have (a) documentation legitimizing my presence, (b) money or other resources, and (c) the ability to navigate my way culturally or linguistically. And, if I had the cojones to do this, I don't think I have the creativity or resilience to try everything to make it work so that I could have the better life I was seeking. I don't imagine I'd sell discarded newspapers, or spend all day looking for bottles to earn a meager $0.30. I often see the glass as half empty, and can't imagine having the vision to believe that one day I'd be selling real newspapers rather than old ones I fished out of a recycling bin, or the desperation to try to sell discarded papers because nothing else I was capable seemed to work to put food in my belly.

I pitied the Chinese man I saw on the train and the African American paper vendor. And I also admired them. For their imagined scrappiness and hopefulness. These two men are some of the bravest people I know.

Who are the bravest people you know? Why?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Park and Shop (or structure binds anxiety)

I lay awake in bed this morning anxiously running through my list of errands:
  • Post office - mail packages, buy stamps

  • Gym - exercise

  • Transfer station - trash and carboard recycling

  • Library - return books (get more?)

  • Bank - for cash

  • "In-laws" - return book, leave newspaper.

I also want to go shopping for a new wallet, check out the possibility of getting new gloves (on sale) and look at late season winter coats. The house needs to be cleaned, dishwahser unloaded, laundry started, cats' nails trimmed, and homemade bacon smoked.

By now the horse is out of the gate and my mind starts to race.

If I really wanted to go nuts I could also mention that I want to return a book I borrowed from my sister and send her that t-shirt I don't want anymore while I'm at it, stash the spare buttons from the new suit jacket, and find a place to store all of my pashminas.

Am I going to hook up with that guy who wants to buy my mom's old beer steins?

I probably should start getting my tax receipts in order too. And research plane tickets to Orlando for May, And return that Christmas gift, and look for an olive oil vessel for the counter.

I could go on. But I'm getting anxious.

So anxious that I just ate dinner for breakfast.

And I haven't even finished one cup of coffee.

Stop. How do I manage this?

Structure binds anxiety. What this means to me is that the more boundaries I create to control my life - my day - my errands - the less likely it will seem out of control. You know the feeling - like you can't relax until you've cleaned the house, or you can't get started on that paper for school until your desk is straightened up.

To manage the anxiety about "everything I have to do" I turn to Park and Shop.

This is a board game that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. My siblings and I played it when we visited Gramma, and eventually it made its way to our home. The object of the game is to run your errands downtown more quickly than anyone else. You start in your car at your house on the game board. You drive to a parking garage and then start your errands on foot. Your errands are assigned to you by the dealing of yellow errand cards labeled "Fish Market," "Laundry," or "Haberdasher." The idea is to find the most efficient walking route, grouping your errands together and avoiding "red lights" marked on the board.

My siblings and I use the phrase "park and shop" as a verb i nour adult lives.

How will I park and shop my errands.

The Post Office, gym and bank are all downtown. I could go by way of the transfer station. (Ugh, if I carry trash in my car then I need to add "car wash" to the list of errands.) I really want to get the gym over & done with. But, if I do that first I'll be sweaty and likely cold when I run my other errands. Augh! In the amount of time I've been fretting over this I could have had all of these shenanigans done.

Deep breath. This is what I'm planning to get me through the first (functional) 2.5 hours of the day.
0. Write a note to put into the book package for my sister.
1. Post office
2. Gym
3. Library - drive through book deposit
4. Bank - drive through
5. Transfer station.
When I come home I'll get the pork belly being magically transformed into bacon out of the over. Then I'll shower. Then I'll make another list to get me through the next part of the day.

Easy does it, one step at a time, park and shop.