Diving Into Afro-Caribbean Religion: I WILL BE the Greg Louganis of Santeria

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. I apologize, but I’m still* in the process of moving into my new apartment. Just now, I finished emptying some boxes full of books.

I’m a bit worried about my life right now. Have you ever seen Lost? Well, I feel like Hurley: I feel like someone has put a curse on me. I mean, what are the chances the following situations happening to someone in just three months:

–November 2011: the toilet in your apartment explodes with waste water from the floors above you; suddenly, your apartment is inundated with an ocean of waste; caca sailboats are everywhere; there is actual tidal activity and simple harmonic motion in the black water that has become your home. Turns out your apartment was the only one affected with this problem. Your landlord doesn’t want to take responsibility [even though the toilet-gate has to do with the ancient 1970s plumbing in the building and with nothing you yourself have done to the toilet], so now you’re living in an apartment that is a health hazard: everything in your apartment (except the kitchen) may be contaminated with Hepatis A, B, C and the eight kinds of Herpes along with malaria, salmonella, dengue and of course, our favorite bacteria: E. Coli.

As a result, you end up sleeping on the kitchen floor from November 2011 to January 1, 2012, when your lease ends.

–January 1, 2012: you have no place to live unless you renew your contract for the caca-laden apartment. Obviously, you’re not going to renew the lease, unless you’re a masochist. So your choices are: It’s either shacking up with your uncle, who thinks that the bidet is a contraption made exclusively for men who need to to make #2 [he leaves the bidet rimmed with his own waste], or living in your car in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Hospital, a place people go to die. But if you live in a car, where do you go to the bathroom? Where do you shower? In essence, you have no place to live, because you’re LITERALLY surrounded by shit by the choices available to you at the present moment.

SO you create a third choice: end up shacking up in an uber-clean guest house for a month and work as a waitress, but the net effect is: you lose a lot of money in the process. However, the psychological effect is better: you can now sleep on a bed and not worry about fecal-oral route diseases for you and your dog.

–January 26, 2012: since it’s high season in Puerto Rico, you need to vacate the guest house to make room for tourists. So you shack up in a friend’s parents’ apartment…without her parents’ knowledge. Once you get there though, you find that the apartment comes with a housesitter who is a pervert and arrives at the apartment every morning at 5:45 a.m. to make sexually suggestive comments. This is really bad, especially when you partly work from home and you have to *share* the apartment with a pervert who just won’t stop talking about horse sex. “Have you seen horses have sex?” Sorry dude, while I have seen horses have sex, it really doesn’t excite me. I love horses, and I just see their act of reproduction from a purely biological point of view. OH and by the way, I have four jobs so SHUT UP, so I can get shit done.

–February 14, 2012: This is your deadline for finding permanent housing. Why? Because at this date, your friend’s parents are returning to their apartment from a trip to New York, and if they find you there, you’re going to get arrested for “squatting.” Getting arrested is currently not on the agenda for February 2012.

However, the future apartment that you and your dog are holding out for is actually under LITIGATION. Why? Because the former tenant decided NOT to pay his rent for 3 months, along with electricity and water. At one point, he flees to Venezuela. The landlord is going to war with the tenant, who [after coming back from Caracas] has decided he is going to STAY* in your future apartment illegally just because that’s the kind of person he is.

–February 6, 2012: In order to avoid bumping into your friend’s parents [now it turns out they’re returning on February 8, 2012], you join forces with your future landlord to get the criminal tenant out of your future apartment. You succeed….only to find out that the tenant has DELIBERATELY chosen to destroy your future apartment–everything from the furniture to the washing machine to the iron to the air conditioner remote controls (out of spite, he has emptied every single remote control of its batteries). He has also connected the waste pipe to the shower pipe, so that when you take a shower, you smell like shit. Oh and by the way Mrs. Landlord: I demand to get my security deposit back.

Who IS this guy?

–February 7, 2012: You finally move into your new apartment…your future landlord has been working hard to fix the apartment as much as possible…but there’s one thing she forgot: there’s a severe roach problem in your future bedroom because the former tenant has deliberately left corn bread on the floor, on the bed, and inside the bathroom’s medicine cabinet. I hate corn bread.

The corn bread is not the issue, though. The issue is that you suffer  from a debilitating cockroach phobia that leaves you rocking back and forth on a chair with severe panic attacks that activate your latent childhood asthma. So…even though you have a new apartment, you really don’t have a place to REST OR BREATHE. So you spend the next several weeks fumigating and sleeping on the couch in the living room with one eye open, ready to attack any cockroach that falls on your head from the ceiling. (Since it happened the first night in the apartment, the chances of this disturbing event happening again are rather HIGH given your bad luck in the past months.)

–February 2012: you spend the entire month not resting because of the cockroaches AND balancing four jobs at once: SAT instructor, copy editor, waitress, and tutor for elementary school children. Every time you wake up in the morning, you look sub-human. Your curly hair is frizzy, your face has broken out in cystic acne, and to top it off, your teeth are sporting braces. Bonus: your hyperthyroidism is making your hair fall out, so you’re going bald in your thirties. You’re even losing hair from your eyebrows.

–March 2012: you decide that enough is enough. After contacting an exterminator used by the Puerto Rican government to clean its piers, and placing roach motels everywhere, you have lost 10 pounds and look like you’re about to die.

Something needs to be done  because it’s survival of the fittest and prettiest, not survival of the dumbest and ugliest.

There will now have to be a tradeoff, in order for you to survive.

A job has to be given up, and it has to be the most unpleasant (and least productive) one: waitressing. While I love waitressing because you get to meet a lot of interesting people and you learn a lot about human nature, it’s hard to wait tables at a restaurant where the chef shows up whenever he feels like it [sometimes it’s 8 a.m., even though the restaurant opens at 7:30 a.m., and sometimes it’s close to 9 a.m.] AND there are no ingredients in the kitchen. That means: telling your customers that there is no milk for your coffee and no onions for your omelette. As anyone who has worked in the service industry knows, you become the target of the customers’ vitriol, while the chef and cook in the kitchen don’t have to deal with the unpleasantness. At one point, a customer leaves you a tip of $1.35 for a meal that cost $40.00.

This is when your inner Steve Jobs comes to the surface: I took the tip and returned it to the customer. Surprising myself, I calmly stated: “I have done everything I could to make your experience here pleasant. It is not my fault that we’re missing ingredients. So please give this to someone who actually needs it. In fact, please donate it to UNICEF. But my sense of dignity does not allow me to accept this oh-so-generous tip.” The customer and his wife, both trashy-looking people, are speechless. I’m glad I have done this, because all throughout their meal I have heard them make racist comments about Puerto Ricans. I will not tolerate ANYONE making racist comments about my people or anyone else.

You leave the restaurant job on your birthday, March 8th, and finally feel a lot better about life. No more upset/racist customers, no more irresponsible chefs, no more non-existent restaurant management living in Philadelphia. How you manage a restaurant in Puerto Rico from Philadelphia is beyond me.

Why am I stating all of this? Because like Hurley, I think I’ve been cursed. So tomorrow I’m pulling out the real guns: I’m visiting a botánica and talking to a Santería priest/priestess, so that he/she can get rid of the curse someone (or something) has put on me. I cannot accept the fact that I may be a statistic outlier, so I’m going with the mystical explanation. It’s obviously a curse, a juju, a malediction, an execration, a malison, and what the Scots call a “winze.”

What is Santería? Only the most awesome syncretism of West African religion (particularly from the Yoruba people) sprinkled with a sci-fi version of Roman Catholicism. It has some loose ties to Haitian voodoo, a religion I find fascinating. I’m going through with my visit to the botánica because I am gathering every single supernatural force to extirpate this curse out of my life and soul.

I refuse to give up. Losing is not in my dictionary. Enough is enough. I have no other recourse but Santería.

I Sleep With a Stun Gun

I’m up, and it’s 12:14 am. This is a shame because I have a long day tomorrow. I open a restaurant at 7:30 am, which means I need to be there at 7 am, which in turn means I need to get up at 5 am, so I can walk Lucas, feed Lucas, feed myself, and take a shower.

I’m not a morning person, so I have to get up early because I do things really slowly in the mornings. I’ve been known to fall asleep while brushing my hair in elementary school at 6:30 am, with brush in hand. I had a record of 57 tardies for fifth grade.

I got a joke medal from my homeroom teacher. This did nothing to ameliorate my tardiness problem.

After I’m done at the restaurant at noon, I have to rush to the mall to buy a new phone. Why? Because mine died tonight. It just died, which is a most unfortunate event because I just heard a big thud in my apartment.

Yes, a very big one, and now I can’t sleep. It sounds like someone bumped hard against a wall, or a window slammed shut. The problem with the latter theory is that all of my windows are shut, which leaves the first theory possible.

So I’m sitting here, with Lucas—who’s also up due to the thud and is on alert watch—with a stun gun. Ready to attack whomever (or whatever) comes out from the other side of the apartment. It’s really too bad my phone died, because I won’t be able to call for help.

There is, however, a third theory, which I’ve always believed in: It could have been me, but in a parallel universe.

You see, this history you’re presently living out is just one of an infinite number of histories being played out simultaneously by the different choices you’ve made in each universe. Perhaps, just perhaps, in a parallel universe, I shut a window, or I bumped against a wall, and whatever separates parallel universes from each other suddenly thinned and made two (or three or more) universes merge together.

In which case, another Pola (or Polas) is/are in my apartment. Should I stun her if I see any Pola?

The answer is yes. Completely. I’m stunning that bitch for depriving me of sleep, since my day tomorrow starts at 5 am and doesn’t end until 11 pm.

You see. My day is just beginning after I’m done at the restaurant tomorrow. Immediately afterwards, I need to buy a phone that works (thanks T-Mobile for nothing) to THEN go teach a 3-hour SAT class in school far away from here. Like almost 2 hours away. So that’s 3 hours of class time plus 4 hours of commute = 7 hours.

And after THAT is over, I’m taking an MCAT physics class for 3 hours.

So I don’t really care whether it’s me who’s doing something in the kitchen at this hour in another universe. She is going to get it, and it won’t be a Care Bear stare, and it definitely won’t be a hug.

And…now we have a thud coming from the study. Fan-fucking-tastic. Apparently, there’s a convention of burglars in my apartment. Or a convention of Polas, which still falls under a convention of burglars as far as I’m concerned.

Question: at which point does sleep deprivation start causing hallucinations? I haven’t slept in 5 days; could it be that I’m imagining all this? At which point, I ask you, at which point, do we start losing our sanity, and do we only become aware of it when it’s too late, i.e., we start thinking there are other copies of ourselves running around our apartment with far better lives because they have made better choices, they have taken the hard road, the good road, the road less traveled?

Kind of depressing, isn’t it? However, I just realized that I can make THIS universe the best possible universe, not for my own sake–that would be too mature of me–but because I like to compete with myself.

I’m pretty close to insanity now, I’m sure of it. But the problem is I feel so incredibly sane. That’s where the problem lies, I think.

How I Learned English and Came to Love Animals

While I spoke strictly Spanish at home, I learned English not through my bilingual Catholic school.

No, I learned it by watching Dallas, Dynasty, and Disney.

The opening credits for Dallas had the catchiest tune I had ever heard (it’s still the catchiest tune ever dreamed of).

But Season 7’s opening credits were the best because they showed cows running through a pasture, and I thought that was the coolest thing because I had always thought of a cow as “stationary animal.” It just sits there, munching on grass, swapping flies lazily with its tail.

But not the cows on Dallas. The cows on Dallas ran, and they ran fast. See the the cow run in in the first few seconds of the credits (if you watch closely, you can see a galloping cow): 

Dallas got me interested in cows. It also got me interested in Larry Hagman’s cowboy hat–it had a baby blue tint to it and it never fell off his head. I have yet to see a cowboy hat in baby blue again.

Then, there was Dynasty. I love John Forsythe and Linda Evans. But ohh, its opening credits: John Forsythe drinking cognac from a snifter, Linda Evans walking down a stairwell in a lavender gown, and my favorite part came when Pamela Sue Martin was introduced: you can see a beautiful chestnut horse running while she is wearing an uber-sparkly red evening dress. I didn’t care for Pamela, but I did care for the horse.

Witness the poetic solo equine run:

Dynasty got me interested in horses. Since then, I’ve always wanted to have a horse that looks just like that. As a result, it’s one of my life’s goals: to have a chestnut horse that looks exactly like the one seen in the opening credits.

Dynasty also got me interested in how to do a CAT-fight correctly. Thank you, Alexis (Joan Collins) for being the perpetual instigator. “What broach?” Indeed, what broach:

Too bad you didn’t see the spare mannequin arm that Krystle (Linda Evans) picked up to hit you squarely on your ass, I mean arse.

But let’s get back to that horse and ignore the cats. All I wanted was to learn how to talk about horses in English. I already knew how to do this in Spanish, but I wanted to talk about horses in English, thank you. Disney heard my plea and gave me a gem: a cartoon about a horse with a song AND English subtitles, which you could follow along with a bouncing Mickey head:

And boom went the dynamite.

Memory arch

This picture haunts me. I am reblogging it to http://polamiro.com. I just love looking at it and losing myself in it and thinking of “what ifs”….

Davide Capponi photography

This is a gate from a building in the countryside near Milano. This has been shot with my iPhone 3gs. The app used to shot the image was HDR Pro, cropping and adjustments were done using Snapseed, further editing was done using Dynamic Light, Pic Grunger and PhotoToaster.

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When English Is NOT Your First Language: Mispronouncing the Word “Focus”

I didn’t start learning English until I was five or six years old. Before that, it was all Spanish.

But in pre-kinder, I was deposited like a cashier’s check into an American school, which was formerly a British school in the 1920s, and I almost had a conniption.

Suddenly, I had no idea what was going on. Not only that, but if you had to go to the bathroom, which for some reason you always have to go when you’re five or six, you had to ask Mrs. Borrás in English. If you asked her in Spanish, she would narrow her eyes at you, shake her head, and say: “No ticket, no laundry.”

It was terrifying, but I learned English out of a physical necessity to empty my bladder after drinking one too many Capri Suns during snack time. I didn’t want to undergo my friend Hugh’s embarrassment: he couldn’t ask her in English, so he peed on himself in class.

English is a cloak and dagger language. It’s not like Spanish, Italian or even Hebrew, where what you see is what you get: No questions asked, and no prisoners taken.

English takes prisoners, because it’s not phonetic. English derives a sadistic joy in taking prisoners whose first language is Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Romansh, and Romanian. English is not someone you take out on a romantic date.

My trips to English jail started in 1985, on a daily basis, but in the 1990s, they trailed off (although they still happen once in awhile).

But the word that landed me in English jail for almost a decade was: “focus.”

There were two competing pronunciations for this word in my life: the way my parents pronounced it at home, and the way it was pronounced by Mr. Ralph Manon, my history teacher from NYC.

Ask my mom to pronounce it, and she will say: “FOH-Qs.” Then, she’ll “correct” herself and say, “Fuck us.”

To this day, she actually believes that the word “focus” is pronounced “fuck us.”

At first, I thought I was alone in this travesty. I tried all through high school to get my mother out of English jail, but she was suffering from a severe case of Stockholm syndrome. But how could I get her out of jail when I was also in jail? I had no source of inspiration. The Shawshank Redemption hadn’t come out yet, thanks Morgan Freeman.

Meanwhile, privately, on my own and in shame, I would sit in my room and pronounce “focus” over and over and over, trying to imitate Mr. Manon’s pronunciation. Sometimes, all that would come out was “FOH-Qs.” But sometimes, almost like a miraculous apparition of the Virgin of Fatima, the American pronunciation of the word would come out.

But as soon as I had triumphantly pronounced it, the word had already escaped through my bedroom window at the speed of light, and I couldn’t get it back again. As a result, I stayed away from the word “focus” for my entire junior year of high school. It was too much of a gamble.

I thought I was alone with this Greek tragedy: at one point, I considered ripping my eyes out like Oedipus to drive the point home (to whom, I don’t know.)

But then, the summer of my junior year, I finally learned how to pronounce the word AND with different intonations with the help of Brooke O’Neill (Michigan), Howard Tong (New Jersey), and Richard Wildman (California). These gentle souls taught me how to pronounce the word by sitting down with me and literally giving me speech therapy.

After that, “focus” ceased to torment me, English gave me the finger, and I retaliated by giving English two fingers.

…that is, until sophomore year of college, when someone recounted the following story:

A friend’s mother was Puerto Rican and a kindergarten teacher in New Jersey. Apparently, there was a hellion in her class by the name of Jimmy, who would not sit still, would not sit down, and would not shut up. Finally, she had it.

“Jimmy! Hey Jimmy! Yes, I’m talking to you! Do you want to go on to first grade? Or do you want to stay in kindergarten for the rest of your life?”

Jimmy screamed. “First grade first grade first grade!”

“Good,” my friend’s mother said. “But if you want to go on to first grade, you need to fuck us.”

For the first time in his life, Jimmy sat down and shut up. He looked stunned for the rest of the day, and my friend’s mother was so happy. Jimmy looked like he had been injected with a horse tranquilizer.

That is, until she was called to the principal’s office the next day by Jimmy’s deranged mommy. Apparently, Jimmy came home and informed his parents that he needed to fuck the teacher in order to get to first grade, and he wanted to know whether “fuck us” was some kind of project he had to do with construction paper, Elmer’s glue, scissors, and could he please use red Crayolas?

After I heard that story, my brain unraveled, and I couldn’t pronounce “focus” for about a month. Somehow, my brain reverted to “FOH-Qs.”

But I learned something else in kindergarten: you never give up. So when English punches me in the face with the word “focus” I watch this inspirational video:

“It’s not about how hard you hit; it’s about how you hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s about about how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!!”

Thanks, Sly.

And English: I’m coming for you, when you least suspect it. I’m known for my element of ninja surprise. I have also been working out, and I’ve been told that I hit hard. I’ve got pepper spray, a stun gun, a taser, brass knuckles, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And if I go down, I’m taking you down with me.

Say hi to your mother for me.

Remember When People Used to Send Handwritten Letters Instead of Email?

Yes, you remember, because I remember. I’m Generation X, ok? I remember a lot of stuff.

When I went off to Camp Matoaka in Maine back in 1992, I couldn’t wait* to receive letters from my mom and most of all, my grandmother, who had the most splendid handwriting ever known to man. The fact that she had beautiful handwriting was actually very impressive, since she was born left-handed. But alas, in a Catholic country in the 1900s, if you were born left-handed that meant you were marked by the devil.

So a nun would strap her left wrist to her desk with a rope and force her to write with her right hand. My grandmother did like she was told in school; but at home, she kept doing things with her left hand. She was one of the very few people I know that were perfectly ambidextrous.

Like David Ortiz, who is famous for switching batting stances.

But enough of that. I’m frankly quite tired of email. You can’t tell tone, emotion, nothing. And don’t get me started on all the misunderstandings that can inadvertently occur in an email because you are deprived of the person’s prosody.

There is a certain magic, longing, nostalgia, excitement, romance, angst, fervor, mystery in waiting for a handwritten letter. Plus, you can tell how the person is feeling from the slant in their handwriting.Even more, since you’re waiting, there’s no instant gratification from getting a response to an email right away. So writing letters and waiting for a response cultivates self-discipline.

Therefore, tonight, I’m going to order personalized stationery and stop sending emails. From now on, it’s back to the 80s: phone calls or letters.

Oh, and by the way, by phone calls, I mean landlines. No cell phones. I don’t like people reaching me in the middle of the day with some “emergency.” Since when is not being able to find a writing utensil in your purse an emergency? I can’t go to Walgreens for you right now; I’m in the middle of serving coffee to Bill Nye.

Also, remember when no one had cell phones and if you had an appointment, you had to BE THERE AND BE PUNCTUAL, because you couldn’t come up with a flimsy excuse like:

“I’m stuck in traffic” [translation: I haven’t woken up yet. And why do I hear your dog barking in the background? Oh, because you haven’t woken up yet. Got it.],

“I’m running late” [translation: I know I have a cell phone, so I can make the person wait for me.],

and “A pigeon just pooped on my head, and I have to go back home and shower.” [translation: I’m running horrendously late, and there is no way I’m going to get there on time.]

So to sum that baby up, use of landlines cultivate responsibility.

From now on, it’s all personalized stationery with confetti stuffed in the envelope, for that element of je ne sais quois magical 80s Rainbow Brite/Care Bears elegance.

Finally, I am formally reinstating the use of silver trays to deliver letters. Remember when letters were brought in by butlers on silver trays right to your parlor? I don’t. I’m Generation X, not Generation Edith Wharton. But I do want an English butler, preferably Anthony Hopkins, to take the letters from the postman and deliver them to me on a silver tray, while wearing white gloves.

I am formally calling for a revolution. Occupy Gmail. Occupy Yahoo. Occupy Hotmail. We are the 99%.

Guns and Jesus*

Or What Happened on February 4, 2012

I can’t find a Starbucks open at 6 a.m., so I sit in my car and think. I can’t go back to my apartment. Paco is there, all white teeth and ready to sink them into me.

I know, I’ll take Lucas for the longest walk of his life.

So I go back to the apartment building, park my car, and start walking Lucas in Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera, which is right across the building and it’s absolutely beautiful, and you should visit, ok? The first female governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderón, did a damn good job of revamping it.

So I walk and walk and walk. Lucas is at first, dumbfounded. But then he is schnauzer elated.

He can chase iguanas to his heart’s content. He can mark every single tree he can see. He can fart to his heart’s delight. He can sit down and look up at the sky (something he does periodically) to watch a helicopter or an airplane go by.

I swear my dog is a freaking genius, but I’m getting tired though, so I decide to go back to my prison of harassment.

When I get back to the building lobby, I bump into a guy that is bearded and wearing a blue bow-tie. He looks familiar, he’s in his 70s, but I can’t quite place him. I know I’ve seen him before though.

He starts asking about my dog: “Is that a schnauzer? He’s too big to be a miniature, so is he a standard? What kind of dog is that? Does he bark a lot?”

I answer his questions and keep examining him: he looks like someone I know (or knew). He also looks like a professor from Oxford…but Puerto Rican style: shorter, hairier, darker skin. All he’s missing is some kind of ceremonial academic robes.

Next thing I know, he asks: “Do you want to buy my apartment?”

“Well…um, right now, I have no money, and actually, the apartment I’m staying at is also for sale, and I’m looking for buyers for THAT apartment.” [this is all true since this was part of the deal with Lisa]

But he goes, “Excellent! Then you should see my apartment and look for a buyer too! You get the commission if you find me a buyer!”

And I think, Well, what the hell? Might as well, right?  It’s a buyer’s market, no one’s buying, but what the hell, right?

Then again, this is a total stranger. My mother warned me of these.

Suddenly, Paco appears in the lobby and mouths at me: “¡Tu café está listo!” [“Your coffee is ready!” I never asked him to make me coffee]

Paco is now gyrating his pelvis at me in an obscene manner, and my decision is final: I’ll go with the bow-tie.

The bearded bow-tie shows me his apartment. It’s huge: it’s a four-bedroom. He’s all self-effacing, saying things like, “Pardon the mess, it’s a bachelor pad….” and “You know how we men are, very messy.”

It’s not that messy, but there are stacks and stacks and stacks of papers in a few places. Fine, it’s a bit messy.

The place though is decorated with a trillion crosses: crosses made out of wood; crosses made out of sterling silver; crosses made out of Travertine marble; crosses made out of palm leaves; crosses made out of cardboard; crosses made out of plastic made in China, and crosses made out of dried pineapple and coconut fruit chunks.

There are also images of every kind of Jesus imaginable: Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes; Jesus with brown hair and brown eyes; Jesus with a beard; Jesus without a beard; Jesus as a baby; Jesus chastising people in a temple (his mouth is open, he’s pointing at something, and he’s screaming); Jesus in the manger; Jesus with a flock of sheep; Jesus sitting on a rock reading science fiction stories to children; Jesus being kissed by Judas on the cheek; Jesus walking on water; Jesus alone in the desert with a serpent, looking defeated, following him; Jesus on the cross with his ribs showing and looking quite upset with his situation.

And then there are rosaries hanging every where else: from nails, from hooks, from red tacks, from doorknobs, from furniture, from the toaster, from the Krups coffee machine, and from a Saint Jude candle.

Most of the population in Puerto Rico is Catholic (I grew up in an extremely conservative Catholic household myself), but I’ve never seen anything like this. Not even my mother, who was educated by the nuns of Sacre Coeur and expressed a desire to become a nun right before I left for college, would go this far.

Bowtie shows me all the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the balcony, and even the Puerto Rican furniture (“This was made two years before the Spanish-American War. It was made in 1896.” I join him in his moment of silence) that he owns [“It’s made of caoba; this is worth thousands of dollars!”].

I notice though, that one room remains closed. It is also sporting what looks like a security key from Matlock.

“I assume this is the fourth bedroom, correct?” I say nodding toward the closed door.

“Ah!” he says reverently. “Let me show you this room. This is a very special room.”

He opens the door, and I see a beautiful wooden desk with a decrepit Tiffany lamp. There are more crucifixes on the walls and what appears to be an autographed picture of Pope Benedict XVI himself. (He who is infamous for wearing cherry red Prada shoes in Rome.)

Next to the desk is a kneeling bench. He had the windows replaced with stained glass, and there’s window with a South Rose motif from the Notre Dame Church in Paris. Quite beautiful really. The sun is coming in and casting sun squares and squiggles of all colors on the desk.

“Don’t be shy! Come in come in!”

I come in and make the sign of the cross.

“No no,” he chides. “Look look!”

He points toward the wall behind me. I’m waiting to see the sarcophagus of some saint that he stole from Rome.

But no. All I see are guns on pristine white shelves.

There are revolvers, rifles, shotguns, Falconets, Howitzers, AK-47s, M16s, M4s, a FAMAS, and personal handguns. There are no Nerf guns, but there are bullets of all shapes and sizes lined up according to size on every single shelf.

He takes a rifle delicately, with the fingers of a pianist, and opens its breech. Then, he moves the lever upwards and pulls the bolt as back as he can. He does this several times.

I take two steps back.

“Oh don’t be afraid,” he says kindly. “It’s not loaded.”

“Well, that’s good, but can you stop doing that?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. But I love guns. Here, hold it.”

“No thanks.”

“HOLD IT,” he commands.

So I hold the rifle. It’s actually heavier than I thought it would be. I quickly give it back to him.

“Now isn’t that grand?” he asks to no one in particular. He places the rifle back on the shelf. “Now, I want to show you something special. Oh wait, before I do.” He pulls out a gigantic thing, and I know I have seen this gigantic thing before. He places it at my feet in front of me.

I saw it on Terminator 2.

“This baby here, this is an MM1 Grenade Launcher.” He pulls out some body armor. “You never know, you want to be prepared. And these,” he takes out a string of grenades and places them around his chest, Arnold style, “go here because they’re easier to lock and load, you know?”

“Excellent!” I hear myself say. “Now, um…” I want to get out of here as soon as possible.

Too late: he has gone over to a safety deposit box and is entering a code. He takes out something wrapped in black velvet.

“Do you know what this is?” he asks, his eyes shining.

“Another gun?”

“Yes, but not just ‘another gun,’” he says smiling. He removes the black velvet wrapping just like Daniel Day-Lewis removed Michelle Pfeiffer’s glove in The Age of Innocence: slowly, sensually.

“This,” he says. “Guess what this is.”

I shake my head.

“This is a Colt Paterson No. 2. It was designed in the 1800s. It has the name of its former owner engraved here,” he says pointing to some illegible calligraphy on the shiny silver barrel.

“Touch it,” he urges.

“No, thank you.”

“TOUCH IT!”

“Fine,” I touch it with my index finger, he closes his eyes, and exhales slowly.

“Now didn’t that feel good?”

“Not really.”

He ignores me, but I am now back at the door. “Well, a good thing about this room is that I can sell it as a panic room.”

“Exactly what I was thinking!” he trills. He puts the relic back in the safe and leads me to the kitchen. “Here,” he says taking out a notepad. “Here’s my phone number, let me know if you get a buyer.”

I take the paper, fold it quickly, and place it in my jeans’ back pocket.

“Oh, and one more thing,” he says. Who is he, Steve Jobs?

He opens a drawer in the kitchen and pulls out a petite gun, the kind of gun a prostitute would use “just in case.” “This one’s loaded, you know.”

He points it at me.

I knew it. All my life has been building up to this: being shot by a 70-year-old man. All my triumphs and failures, my successes and heartbreaks have been preparing me for this very moment.

“Good for you!” I hear myself say. “Did you know that Stephen Colbert calls his gun Precious?”

He frowns. “Who’s Stephen Colbert?” The gun is still pointed right at me.

“It’s this guy that’s like super funny, and he pretends to love guns, and get this. He had ear cancer.” I keep looking back and forth between the gun’s barrel and the man’s eyes. I decide I need to keep contact with the eyes.

“Ear cancer?”

“Yeah, how odd is that, right? It turns out that you can get cancer anywhere, including inside your tympanum.”

He keeps pointing the gun at me.

“You can ever get cancer, get this, on your eyeball. Or worse, inside your cornea.”

“Really?” He takes out handkerchief and wipes his brow, and yet the gun keeps pointed at me.

“Yeah, and there’s this place in Boston called the Schepens Eye Research Institute where they research just that: eyeball cancer. In fact, I worked there. They made me give eye cancer to mice.”

“And did you give eye cancer to mice?”

“No, sir. I said, I can’t give eye cancer or any kind of cancer to a mouse. They’re just so cute, you know?”

“Good girl,” he says, and the gun wavers. “But who the fuck is Stephen Colbert?”

Shit, he just used the “f” word. This could now go either way.

“He’s on Comedy Central, and he fantasizes about Jane Fonda every night.”

The old man drops his gun. “Jane Fonda, huh? She’s hot.”

“Yes, she is. Have you seen Barbarella?”

“Of course I have seen it. I own it. Barbarella keeps me company at night.”

“Right, Barbarella is like your guardian angel, right?”

He lets out a laugh and says: “Something like that.”

He suddenly drops the gun and places it back in the drawer. He doesn’t close the drawer though.

I am an unstoppable word salad. “When Stephen was a kid, he got a tumor somewhere inside his ear, ok? A very very rare condition. He got an operation, and now he can only hear out of one ear.”

He’s looking at me pensively. “Interesting.”

“And get this,” I say trying to sound excited. “He had Jane Fonda on his show, and guess what she did to him?”

His eyes open in curiosity.

“She kissed him on the mouth, ok? And she told him that he has the softest lips she’s ever kissed.”

He closes his eyes for a moment and murmurs: “If only we could all be so lucky.” He closes the drawer. Perhaps I will live.

“What’s his name again?”

“Stephen Colbert.”

“Coalbear?”

“Yeah, that’s how he pronounces it, but it’s spelled C-O-L-B-E-R-T. He’s on Comedy Central. I highly suggest you watch him. I think you’ll like him. He talks about Jane Fonda all the time now.”

Then, I hear myself say, “I would like to know how to shoot a gun.” [What is wrong with me?]

“Great! You should, especially since you’re a woman. Every woman should know how to shoot, just in case. I can take you to the shooting range whenever you like.”

“Awesome,” I hear myself say. “Well, I’m going to go walk Lucas now.” I hurry towards the door, open it myself, and start running to my prison of harassment.

Finally, it hits me. The guy was my father’s lawyer during my parents’ divorce.

*Thank you to K. Genelin for suggesting such a wonderful title.

Harassment Starts Punctually at 5:45 a.m.

Or What Happened from January 28 to February 4, 2012

After having attacked my friend’s housesitter with pepper spray, and offering him a Dove chocolate in peace, he decides to strike back, all passive-aggressive style. And here I was thinking that I was going to get a standing ovation from him because I’m a woman armed with pepper spray and a stun gun.

For the next nine days, Paco gets to the apartment at 5:45 a.m. and just SITS THERE in the living room, while I either prepare for teaching my SAT classes, copyedit high school essays, get ready to go serve breakfast at the restaurant at 7 a.m, or study physics.

The days where I got to leave the apartment before 7 a.m. are my favorite because:

For the next nine days, Paco just SITS THERE in the living room asking me over and over whether I have a boyfriend, whether I have ever been engaged (I deflected that one with “engaged in what, exactly?”), and whether I would be interested in dating a man his age. (Mind you, he’s married.) And hey, do you want to go see Red Tails with me, Pola?

I give curt answers and continue working. When you have to correct 27 SATs, especially their math sections and let the kid know what and how he did the problem wrong, plus 7 essays, you really have no time to talk. Plus, I don’t want to talk to this guy because all he wants to talk about is sex. Witness:

“Have you ever seen horses have sex?”

“Have you ever seen a stallion’s penis? Lucky guy.”

“Did you know that a man got arrested in one of the Lesser Antilles for having sex with a mare?”

“Is it true there’s a photograph of your aunt naked on the Internet?” (huh?)

“You have a beautiful smile.”

“Nice cute little ass.”

Excuse me, sir? Aren’t you 58? Has it occurred to you that I could be your daughter?

I am beyond disgusted and horrified on a daily basis.

Here’s the problem, when you have no place to go, you really have no choice but to sit there. Plus, I have Lucas. I don’t trust leaving Lucas with this psychodirtman. At one point, he said: “Are you afraid I’m going to hurt Lucas?” Yeah, exactly.

If I hadn’t had Lucas, then I would have gone to a Starbucks and sat there with my laptop. But no, I couldn’t have done that either because I have so many books laid out in front of me when I work, that even that possibility would not have been a possibility.

On the seventh day, I thought Paco would give it a rest. But no. On the seventh day he drops the following bomb: “You have a great body. You look like a little porcelain doll. I think you’re sexy. A man would be so lucky to have sex with you.”

And that’s when I almost had an apoplexy.

Let me tell you something about my physical appearance right now. I look like shit. I’m pretty honest when it comes to my own physical self-assessment. You see, I’ve been dealing with a serious thyroid condition since last year. As a result, I have lost 10 pounds of weight (and I am slim to begin with), my hair has fallen out (I have to use a wig sometimes to step out in public because it’s that bad), my eyebrow hair has also fallen out, and my overall skin has a sickly pallor. Not only that, but thanks to the thyroid, I’ve gotten back my adolescent acne. So I’ve been using Tazorac, which is a retinoid, to get rid of it. When you use Tazorac, your skin gets bright red, flaky, and sloughs off during the day. It also pushes whatever acne you may ever have in the future right to the surface of the skin in the present.

So, my face is full of cystic acne. And if you’ve ever had cystic acne, you know it’s the kind of acne that is extremely painful to the touch and to your face.

I also have braces, and I wear glasses all the time because my vision has changed drastically with the thyroid having gone haywire.

In short, I LOOK AWFUL. But it’s ok, because I know it’s going to get better. I have complete faith. Of this, I have no doubt. What’s that platitude? “This too, shall pass.” Thank you, platitude.

Now, you may ask yourself, “Why haven’t you spoken up for yourself during all this time? Why haven’t you done something about it?”

Well, let’s talk about the fact that I’m not supposed to be in my friend’s apartment in the first place. You see, the apartment belongs to her parents, and her parents abhor dogs and anything belonging to Nature. There’s a rule in that apartment: no dogs allowed, Snoopy.

Plus, let’s talk about the fact that Lisa has made Paco swear not to tell her parents that I’m there with a dog. If I were to defend myself, he would directly go to her parents (who are currently in NYC), and then they would have me thrown out, and then I would have to end up living in my car in the parking lot of the Presbyterian Hospital. Something I’m trying really, really hard to avoid. When you have nowhere to stay, you have nowhere to stay, so I decided I was going to put up with it.

But I couldn’t rationalize nor justify Paco’s last comments anymore.

I don’t answer him, but I do load up Lucas with his leash. I place my laptop in its case, take my purse, and walk out the door. It’s 6:00 a.m., and I hope to God that a Starbucks is open somewhere.

Why Mickey Rourke Named His Dog Loki

Remember The Wrestler? Remember Mickey Rourke’s comeback? Remember how all he talked about was his dogs, especially Loki, a chihuahua? Were you ever bored and thought, “Loki, now that’s a strange name for a dog.” Why would Mickey do that?

It turns out that Loki is in fact, a great name for a dog. Witness:

I highly suggest you read the poem Lokasanna (Poetic Edda), where Loki (a son of Odin that is a trickster, a jackass, a backstabber, and an all around grade-A a-hole) is not invited for a family meal with the other gods. He finds out through a third-party that he’s not invited (he kills the third-party as revenge), and then decides to crash the meal like a true berserk.

Once he enters the hall, he hurls scathing insults at every single Norse god there. He manages to call every male god either a coward, an idiot, a weakling, or a bastard. Not content with that, he calls every female god (including his own mother) a whore, a cheater, a seductress, and a liar. It’s just awkward moment past awkward moment past awkward moment.

Finally, someone says: “Now you see why we didn’t invite you? You always do this, Loki!” At which point, Loki starts a new insult at this person. During the insult, the gods murmur among themselves: “Wait til Thor arrives! He’s going to go crazy when he sees Loki here doing this!” Loki overhears this and starts talking shit about Thor.

And of course, Thor arrives at that precise moment. It takes Thor only a second to size up what’s been going on here.

Thor has had enough of his brother’s crazy, so he drags Loki out, and straps him to a rock with Loki’s own dead son’s entrails (his son was not very nice either; so don’t feel bad for the son nor his entrails), while another god placed a venomous snake above Loki’s head. You know what that snake did?

It dripped poison from its mouth down onto Loki on a daily, continuous, 24-hour basis.

Luckily, Loki had a wife (she must have been a saint) who stayed with him day and night holding a wooden basin so as to collect the venom. But alas, at some point that basin must get full.

And it did.  The basin got full, and she ran out with it to empty it someplace else, leaving Loki all alone.

So the poison finally reached Loki, and he writhed, struggled, and screamed in so much pain that he made the Earth tremble.

The moral of the story:

First, don’t hurl insults UNLESS they’re justified. Hurling insults just for fun leads only to trouble.

Second, don’t walk towards trouble, walk away from it.

Third, know your family. Some will not hesitate to place a venomous snake above you, while you’re strapped naked to a rock in the icy cold waters of Scandinavia.

Did you know that “loco” [“crazy” in Spanish] comes from “Loki?” Exactly.

Did you also know that he shapeshifted into a mare so he could have relations with a horse? Yeah, that’s Loki for you. He also  convinced Thor (Thor of all people! Thor, ok?) to be a cross-dresser at a wedding.

Fun times with Loki, right Mickey?