Sunday, January 7, 2018

Made In Mexico

Apparently my friend’s fiancé thinks I’m a ho.

I once found a really great flight deal to Rio de Janeiro and asked a friend if she wanted to join me. She took a few days to respond and then told me she couldn’t make it. A few months later she confessed that her fiancé didn’t want her to go. He was worried that if we traveled together, I would convince her to sleep with random men.

Now there’s no denying that Rio is full of good-looking guys with cute accents and tight soccer bodies. And yes, some of them are just waiting to catch you when you trip on your beach sarong and impregnate you on the sands of Copacabana as a live samba band plays in the background. But this is why stereotypes can be dangerous: Plenty of them don’t even play soccer.

Honestly, I was truly shocked that her fiancé would think I’d get her into trouble and racked my brain to figure out why. I urge my friends to take solo trips and at the very least to eat their steaks medium, but I have never encouraged them to cheat. If I could get people to have affairs, that weren't already planning on doing so, I'd have a lot more money in the bank than I currently do. Coercing someone into having an affair against their will has got to be a marketable service to opponents of people running for public office or those who have signed air tight prenupts.

The most deviant thing I’ve done lately is eat in bed, and it wasn’t even off of someone’s naked body

I’ve been on vacations, I’ve been on work-cations, but I have never gone on a trip with the sole purpose of hocationing. Of course between you and I, I would definitely do some deviant things to Jason Momoa if he politely requested me to. If he dressed as Khal Drogo in a loin cloth, with body paint smeared across his chest, he wouldn’t even have to ask. However, to the dismay of dudes who occasionally slide into my Instagram DMs, I am in fact, not a ho. Or at least not as much of a ho as they’d like me to be, since being a ho is subjective. As Kendrick Lamar so eloquently stated, “There’s levels to this”. 

How Kahl Drogo convinces me to do just about anything 
Looking back, I do remember telling my engaged friends about one crazy drunk night I had after the Chicago Auto Show. I suppose after telling that story, I became somewhat of a travel liability. But wild boozy nights are not really my thing. Besides, after JC stopped talking to me, I told myself I wouldn’t date anyone for a while. Mexico City had other plans for me though.

When I arrived at the airport, I was so excited to be in Mexico that I almost didn’t feel tired after traveling for 12 hours. I was still floating on a cloud from my sweet goodbye with Hot Passenger and slightly buzzed from our shots of tequila. When I got into my Uber and headed towards the hostel, I gulped in my surroundings like a large glass of water. From a stoplight I watched an older man closing down his elote cart for the evening and I started to anticipate all the amazing food I was going to try over the next 4 days.

We drove past Zocalo Square and it was nearly dead except for dozens of candlelit trajineras and a few party goers on their way home from clubs. Windows of weathered stone buildings were darkened, the cobble stone streets were littered with confetti and papel picado zigzagged from light post to light post.

It was the first night of Dia de los Muertos. 

Papel Picado, paper banners hanging
from building to building

Trajineras are like party/eating boats that hold a lot of people.
Most of the restaurants in the Zocalo district were closed for the night but there was a pizza place near the hostel with a convenient store attached. In my rusty Spanish, I ordered a cheese pizza and then walked around the convenience store while I waited for it to be ready. In the snack aisle next to the Takis and pulparindo, I met some guys with their faces painted like sugar skulls.

Wow your makeup is so amazing. Where did you get it done?

The guy with red and white paint around his eyes told me, “You can get your face painted almost everywhere since it’s the start of the holiday.” He sounded like he was from France.

”, his tall friend added, “A woman in the hostel lobby was charging only 200 pesos. I think that’s about 10 American dollars. You’re American right? You sound American.”

Whenever I travel to a new country, most people don’t guess that I’m from the US right away. Many assume that I’m a dark skinned Afro-Latina from anywhere in between Panama and Brazil. Once, some nuns in Rome even asked me if I was from Sri Lanka. To their defense, I had a fresh Dominican blow out that made my silky hair blow in the wind like Beyonce with a fan pointed in her direction. When people from other countries think of (North) Americans, they think of white people. They don’t think of Black women with natural hair and American accents. They don’t think of me.

I am from the United States,” I smiled. “Is it okay if I take your photo?”

As long as you take one with us!”

The nice gentleman I met at the c-store that night 
You are staying at our hostel, no? We saw your afro in the lobby when you came in.” He patted the air around his hair with his hands.

Black people subconsciously do this thing where we count the number of other black people we see when we’re out in public. We’re even more likely to do this if we’re in a foreign place, or a place where we’re sure there aren’t going to be a lot of us to begin with. I hadn’t seen any other black people that night and I guess they hadn’t either.

We took our food back to the hostel and the face painted gentlemen shared their Tecate with me. They introduced me to some beautiful French women who were language teachers, a fashionable Japanese girl named Sariko and a quiet Vietnamese American guy named Huey. After the Tecate had run through me, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a Black guy sitting on the couch next to Sariko.

So there are two of us in this town now I thought to myself.

He looked stressed out.

Are you ok? Do you want a slice of pizza?

When did I turn into my mother?

He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.

Thanks but I can’t think about food right now. I have $20 on me, my debit card doesn’t work here and I lost my credit card.” He put his cell phone on the coffee table separating us. “I’m James.”

I felt James’ pain. I have lost debit cards in approximately 65% of the countries I’ve visited. A slightly higher percentage of my shoes have been lost in foreign countries as well.

Dang that sucks. The same thing happened to me when I went to Brazil last year. If you have Venmo or Paypal, you can just wire me cash and I’ll take it out of the ATM for you.”

"Seriously? It wouldn't be a hassle?"

"Not at all. I don’t have foreign ATM fees. I'd be happy to do it."

"Thank you."

James looked so relieved that it made my heart melt a little. 

I have to admit, it felt really good to help out a fellow traveler. I have lost my debit card in Budapest, misplaced my shoes at a temple in Bangkok and had my journal stolen in Singapore. I know what it's like to be across the world and lose something valuable. But thanks to some kind people, I also know what its like to have perfect strangers help me out of a sticky situation. 

James and I traded phone numbers and made plans to go to the ATM first thing in the morning. Our little group of world travelers spent the rest of the night, lounging on comfy suede couches, looking at each other's passport stamps, and sharing things we wanted to see in the city.

Mexican Beer, Snacks & Passport Stamps

"Do you speak Spanish?" I asked James

"Yea, even though my parents are Mexican, I taught myself Spanish by moving to Chilé for a while."

"Oh, I thought you were Black."

And then there was one

"I get that alot."

The common area of the hostel
One by one people said their buenas noches and started to go to bed. It was nearly 2 in the morning when just James, Huey and I were left sitting in the common room.

I’m exhausted from traveling guys. I’m going to bed.”

You sure you don’t want to go get a drink?” James suggested. “Now that I’ve got my money situation figured out I could definitely eat too.”

Huey put his hand on his stomach. “I’m always down to eat.”

I’m still full from pizza, but you guys go on with out me. I’ll see you in the morning.”

For the next 4 days we were nearly inseparable 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ghost of Christmas Past

The best kiss I’ve ever had was in the empty parking lot of a Japanese restaurant. I was back home in Charlotte for Christmas and this was the third night in a row I had met up with JC, an old acquaintance from high school. You may remember JC from my post “Welcome to My African American Home.

The first night we met up I was nervous. Not because I had a crush on JC, but because I thought we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Of course this fear was ridiculous because

1. Who is a social butterfly?

2. We had also been texting and occasionally talking on the phone for hours at a time over the past 2 years.

That night was unseasonably warm for December, even in North Carolina. It was so warm that I was able to wear a short black dress with knee high boots and no stockings. After dinner, I sat in my car with the driver’s side door open, bare legs facing JC in the parking lot. We talked a little more about nothing in particular, like people do when they don’t want the night to end. Suddenly the floodlight illuminating the parking lot went out and surrounded us in darkness.

I guess that’s our cue to go home,” JC said, opening his arms, inviting a hug.

I scooted to the edge of the leather seat, adjusting my dress so I didn’t show off my goodies. Goodies meaning granny panties, which I am not ashamed to say I wear. They are comfortable, affordable and last longer than the overpriced lace held together by post-it note glue that’s for sale at Victoria’s Secret.

JC moved towards me and enveloped me in a huge bear hug. I immediately thought to myself, When I back away from this hug, I’m going to kiss him on the cheek.

But he beat me to it.

Right before we pulled apart, JC turned his head toward mine and softly kissed me. He stopped and lingered at my lips for a moment, literally causing me to lose my breath.

I hope that wasn’t inappropriate,” he apologized. “I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”

My flight back to Chicago was in the morning.

It wasn’t inappropriate,” I said lowering my gaze to the asphalt beneath his wheelchair.

And sorry if it was bad, I’m also out of practice.” He laughed nervously.

His hand rested on the metal rim of his chair, and I noticed the moonlight shining off of it. Without making eye contact I said, “You could kiss me again. You know, for practice.

At this moment, JC slowly reached out his hand and cupped my chin. He brought my face up to his, leaned in and parted my lips with his own. I think this is what old people mean when they say, “I felt my love come down.

I promise ya’ll it was like I had bit into a York peppermint pattie and was instantly transported into a shampoo commercial.  As he kissed me, a light breeze wafted the scent of Herbal Essences in a cloud around us. In my head I started yelling “YES, YES YES!
It was soooooo nice to be kissed. And even more so by someone I actually liked. Who also happened to smell like reasonably priced hair conditioner!
Thanks Santa!

I was so excited that of course I told all my friends about it.

But 8 Months later, in a different parking lot from where we shared our first kiss, I sat alone in my car. My tears splashed onto my Texas toast, making it a soggy mess, while I chanted positive affirmations to myself.

“If he liked it, then he would of put a ring on it.
Don’t be mad. Hopefully, you can grow from it.
You’re a single lady. You’re a single lady." 

To this day, I can no longer eat at the Zaxby’s on Highway 74 because that’s where I went after my heart was broken. The memory is too much for me to even use the bathroom there. That night I held back my tears long enough to order a #5 with Zax sauce at the drive-thru window and then I parked in the back of the restaurant to eat my woes.

I’d like to say I ended up at Zaxby’s because chicken fingers give me clarity, but it was mostly because I was crying so hard that my eyes started stinging and I couldn’t see the road clearly. I also didn’t want to die in a fiery car crash on the same day our friendship forever changed. To add insult to injury, JC told me he would no longer be my plus one at my best friend’s wedding that same weekend.

That was the last night JC and I spoke to each other. He stopped answering my phone calls and he stopped replying to my text messages. After years of friendship and months of dating, typical of an Aquarius, he ghosted me.

Speaking of ghosts, earlier in the relationship, JC and I had planned a trip to México City to experience  Día de Muertos. The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration is when families and friends come together to remember their loved ones who have passed. There are elaborate parades and church services, tombs are decorated with colorful flowers and special foods. Ofrendas or alters are arranged with offerings and photos of ancestors.

I was so excited to see it first hand, but I was extremely anxious about the outbound flight to México too. I hadn’t heard anything from JC since the night I was left crying outside of his hockey practice, 3 months prior. When I got to the airport I didn’t see him. He wasn’t at the gate and he wasn’t on the plane.

I didn't know how to feel about him not being there. Should I be mad or should I be relieved? Part of me hoped for reconciliation. To sit next to each other on the plane and talk about any and everything like we used to do as friends. Maybe even get caught up in that Herbal Essences cloud again, heavily kissing under our jackets and banned from flying Delta Airlines after a viral Twitter scandal. 

But even with slight sadness about my travel partner/ex boyfriend abandoning me, my trip to México started off on a high note when I got bumped to first class.

After I settled into my seat, the flight attendant brought me a mimosa and asked if I thought the passenger sitting across the aisle from me was cute.

Good evening, I’m Vonda. I picked you two to come to first class to balance out the plane.” Then Vonda lowered her voice, leaned down and whispered to me, “I also thought you two would make beautiful babies.”

I almost choked on my mimosa
I didn’t see a wedding ring on his finger honey. You should talk to him.” She raised her eyebrows at me before walking away.

To a different person, Vonda’s words may have been seen as unprofessional or too forward, but to me, they were right up my alley. In fact, fowardness was one of the things that made me like JC. On our first date, he said I could have his children.

Sometimes you miss out on what’s in front of you because you’re too busy thinking about what’s behind you. So after Vonda went to service another passenger, I made a big show of taking off my jacket so that I could check out my first class neighbor without being too obvious. I peaked over and saw his face. I can not believe I didn’t notice this guy sooner.

Hot Passenger (as he will now be called) looked like what happens when God takes his time to expertly craft an individual instead of just throwing together a torso and random body parts like most of the men I normally see walking around. 

When Vonda came back with our meals, she stood in the middle of the aisle, between our seats and struck up a conversation with the both of us.

How old are you two and what do you both do for a living? Are you traveling for work or traveling for vacation?

I don’t know if she had a bet with the other flight attendants but she was trying really hard to make a love connection.

At one point she brought us complimentary shots of tequila, because Ayyyyyeee, Viva México! Not gonna lie, I’m kinda surprised she didn’t give me a lime and some salt to lick off of Hot Passenger’s expertly crafted torso.
I'm almost positive that if I had asked Vonda if Hot Passenger and I could join the mile high club, that she would have found a way to arrange it.

When we landed at Benito Juarez International Airport and deplaned, Hot Passenger grinned at me and helped me with my carry on luggage.

I’m going to visit family in Monterrey for a few days. How long are you in México City?” he asked,  handing me my bag.

 I couldn’t help but notice the visible veins on his muscular forearms. They were like a road map to mi corazón.

4 nights and 3 days,” I said while trying not to get lost like Nemo in his dark brown eyes.

He looked up at the flight connections board. “My connecting flight is boarding. Ay dios mío, I have to go.

Oh. Ok. It was nice meeting you.

Hot Passenger grabbed my hand and kissed it. Then he flipped it over and pressed his business card into my palm in one seamless move.

Damn they suave like that out here? Orale? I better be careful before I end up pregnant in some Mexican man’s kitchen, hand-pressing tortillas with his mom and sisters.  

Nos vemos, que te vaya bien morencita!” he yelled as he ran towards his gate.

I waved goodbye and stuffed his business card into my back pocket. Dragging my bags behind me, I stepped outside into the humid night air and ordered an uber to my Hostel.

This was going to be a fun trip. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

My Ex Boyfriend and the Chamber of Secrets

There is a bangin' sandwhich shop in my old neighborhood near Northwestern University called Soulwich. This one time I didn't have that much cash on me, so I lied to the restaurant owner about being a college student to get the discount meal. Whenever I would come in, either him or his wife would always ask me how my classes were going. If friends came with me, the owners wanted to know what their majors were too. It took a lot of thinking on my feet and nudging in the ribs to keep up those discounted meal lies. I eventually told the owner I graduated, but then he wanted to know where I was working. To this day I still feel bad about it because if I had just told him I was low on cash the first day, I'm sure he would have let me pay him back on the next visit. So below is a story about why honesty is the best policy...

I decided I wanted to live in Chicago after watching the movie, What Women Want. I planned a trip to the city for my 21st birthday, had my first (legal) alcoholic beverage at Navy Pier, and then saved up the funds to move by the time I was 24. About a year later my boyfriend who was still living in North Carolina joined me. Girlfriend Achievement Level 10 Unlocked!

The plan was for him to stay with me until he got a job and his own place, mostly because his parents didn’t want us living together without being married.

Spoiler alert, he never got his own place

I had lived alone for a few years already, so living with a boyfriend was a new frontier. I liked inviting friends over to sit at the lakefront, having someone to kill spiders and turn off the lights after I had already crawled into bed. Our living situation was pretty great until his family wanted to come visit.  He sheepishly confessed to me that he hadn’t told his parents we were still living together.

During the time they were going to be visiting I had to go out of town for work and felt like this was the perfect time for him to come clean.

Unbeknownst to me, he didn’t think it was the perfect time

While I was gone, I get a call from my best friend. The BF had begged to borrow her apartment like an episode of TLC’s Wife Swap! He offered to thoroughly clean her apartment and buy her beer in exchange for living at her place while his family was in town. 

“And you just told him yes?” I asked in disbelief.

A lot of apartments in Chicago require you to schedule a time to use the service elevator so that you don’t hold up the regular elevator from tenants. So the BF hired a guy from Craigslist to transport his queen sized bed and whatever other belongings wouldn’t fit into his car up the stairs and into my best friend’s high-rise studio apartment for a week. He was doing the most, but his family was none the wiser when they came to stay.

Over the next few years, his family would forward magazine subscriptions of Eastbay, send birthday cards, and Christmas gifts to my best friends apartment in his name.

In my mind it was only a slight inconvenince that he’d ask me to go pick up his new driver’s license from my bestie’s place. I was headed over there to eat loaded baked potatoes and binge watch Korean dramas anyway.

I didn’t spend a lot of time with his family, because his mom didn’t like me, but the few times we were in the same vicinity, I never felt like it was my place to tell them the truth. It really tugged at my insides though because I felt like I was being hidden. Plus all of my friends and family knew the truth and it pissed them off.

“Does he think you're not good enough for his parents and that’s why he won’t tell them?”

“If he can cultivate that type of lie and keep it going for years, what else is he capable of?”

“He could have a wife and kids on the South side of a Chicago that you don’t know about.”

Honestly I wasn’t worried about him cheating on me. It would be very easy to stalk and kill him if I wanted to. I’m an excellent snooper, and he’s a creature of habit. He wakes up around the same time everyday, works out every Monday and Tuesday morning but only in the evening on Friday, and he farts at approximately 11:45pm every night before turning off Battleground 3 on the Xbox.  If he was creeping, let alone had a whole other family on the Southside of Chicago, I would know about it.

Fast forward 4 years later… I’m 28, he is 32 and we are living in a new 2 bedroom apartment, not far from the old one. He still hasn’t told his family we are living together, and they are coming to visit the next day.

With his cell phone in my left hand and my right hand on my hip, I force him to call them the night before they are scheduled to fly out. “You can not let your family get off that plane at O’hare airport, without telling the truth.”

He dials their number, closes our bedroom door and doesn’t let me hear their conversation.

And trust me, I tried listening at the door but in our apartment you can hear the slightest creak of the hardwood floors. Even ghosts can’t creep up on you, so I retreat to the couch.

When he emerges from the room, I pause Real Housewives of Atlanta on the tv and ask, “How did it go?”

“They were not happy about it, but they were glad I told them the truth.”

The next day I can tell a huge weight has been lifted off his chest. He actually added butter AND jelly to his English muffin and let me watch Scandal from DVR instead of hogging the tv and watching The Rundown on ESPN. I’m so happy we’ve had this emotional break through. Girlfriend Achievement Level 25 Unlocked! Things could only get better from here!

But things only went down hill from here

The BF picks up the parentals from the airport and they do some touristy ish like take pictures at “the bean” and eat deep-dish pizza together. For the record, real Chicagoans only
The Bean, or "Cloud Gate"
eat deep dish when their out of town family and friends come to visit.

I meet up with him and his fam after work and the plan is to go back to our apartment so they can check out where we live.

But things did not go according to plan

The BF and his dad go to the bathroom, leaving his mother and I sitting together in front of Panera Bread on Michigan Avenue. *Sidebar, people that go to new cities and eat at chain restaurants... Ya’ll are trash.

As I’ve explained to you guys in the past, the BF’s mother has never been warm and fuzzy towards me, but I thought I'd try to make the best out of this situation by starting up a friendly conversation with her. Girlfriend Achievement Level 50 Unlocked!!

“I’m so happy that you guys are coming to see the apartment”

“We’re not coming” 

I thought I must be mistaken. “Excuse me? 
What did you say?

“You heard me. We are not going to THE apartment”

Maybe it was in my head, but I swear his mom snarled at me, like a saber tooth tiger ready to tear apart its prey after an intense hunt.

“Why not?”

“We don’t support you living together. So my husband and I decided that we’re not going.”

I notice a vein in her neck twitch. I keep my composure the best I can, not making any sudden moves and talk slowly, as not to aggravate my predator any further.

“It was really hard for the BF to tell you the truth, especially after all this time. I know it would really mean a lot to him if you came to the apartment” Girlfriend Achievement Level 100 Unlocked!

Then she loses the last bit of chill she had left.

“I don’t know how you were raised, but my son was not raised to live in sin...”

I realize the couple at the table next to us has stopped talking and is looking over at us in eavesdropping delight. I’m almost certain this convo is being live tweeted. 

She continues through clenched teeth, “He never wanted to live with you. He wanted to get his own place and he should have. Its just wrong and I won’t discuss it further with you.”

Although I'm aggravated, I remember the couple sitting next to us and don't want to become a twitter meme. I still remain as respectful as I possibly can.

"I never forced him to stay with me. I always encouraged him to tell you the truth, and even suggested he move out if it made him uncomfortable to live together without being married."

She was acting as though I held her son hostage for 5 years, making him rub my feet and pay the rent against his will. He came to live with ME! Its not like I cocked a gun at his head anytime he mentioned moving out.

At this moment the BF and his dad come back from the bathroom. You can feel the tension in the air like an ice cold seat at the Bears stadium in January.

“What are you guys talking about” the BF's dad asks

The BF looks worried. 

“Oh nothing," his mother says. "Are you guys ready to leave?”

By this time the sun has gone down and it's a warm summer night. As we start walking away from Panera Bread down Michigan Avenue, my sandal's strap is digging into my foot. I'm walking next to the BF's Dad while him and his mom walk in front of us. I suggest we take a cab to where ever they want to go next.

The BF's mother whips her head around and says, "Why don't YOU take a cab home and we'll keep walking."

The BF is stunned into silence, standing there with a look of shock on his face. The BF's Dad however,  apologizes for my hurting foot, raises his hand and hails a cab. We all go back to their hotel to drop them off and after the BF says his goodbyes for the evening (I stayed in the cab), we make our way back home to our apartment.

“I’m so sorry they wouldn’t come see the apartment. I know you really wanted them to.  And after all this time, you’re finally honest with them and they don’t even support you. I’m so, so sorry.” Girlfriend Achievement Level 1000 Unlocked!!

I can tell the BF is trying to keep his composure too. Like he is fighting back tears, trying to remain masculine and strong.

As we make a left turn onto Lakeshore Drive, he quietly says, “My mom told me what you said when I left their hotel. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for you [making me tell them we live together]. Why’d you have to bring any of this up?

Girlfriend, GAME OVER!

Today I turn 33 and I share this story because I want my friends and any lovely strangers reading this to do what makes them happy and have no apologies. What we not gon do is pretend to be someone we aren't. When do you get to be the real you? When your parents die? When you reach a certain age or pay grade? 

*Whispers I'm not not a virgin* There I did it. I'm free. I’m not making fun of the Ex BF in this story for his actions. After all he was a young man of 33 when this happened, who am I to judge? Jay-Z didn’t get it together til he was in his 40’s. We live and we learn and it takes some of us longer than others to get there.

I have never been the type of person to lie about who I am or what I want. Ever since I was a child, if I’m tired I’m going to sleep. If I don’t like you, I’m not going to pretend that we’re friends. Its just never appealed to me to be anything other than who I am. It's exhausting to have to keep up the facade. 

I'm living my life for me and my numerology said this year gonna be lit. I’m ready