What Does Racism Feel Like: July 2020

For as far back as I can recall I’ve been aware of my color – I’m not black, I’m brown, not even dark brown, but brown enough.

This first I can remember was when I was 5-years-old. I was in a park and another child called me a “dirty beaner.” I didn’t really know what a beaner was, but she had such an angry tone that I figured it was very bad.

You might ask, “How could you remember something that long ago?”

Anyone who has ever been maligned because of their race, will tell you that it leaves quite an impression. It’s something you feel in your gut, like you’re being looked at or treated differently with no explanation as to why. Quite often, you experience a sense of shame, a feeling that you aren’t good enough, that you don’t deserve the same place on this planet. Kind of like getting punched in the gut when you’re not prepared for it.

In high school, I was shopping for a graduation suit from a department store. In the store, I saw a rack of beautiful coats. A white clerk came up to me and, looking me up and down, remarked, “Perhaps I can show you something you could afford.”

She had a coarse tone in her voice and I had the sense she didn’t want me in her store. Again, it was clear I didn’t belong there, nor was I wanted there.

That same year, I was preparing for college. I met with my high school counselor who said, “You’ll have no problem getting a scholarship as you’re Mexican – foundations love minorities.”

Keep in mind I had almost a 4.0 GPA. I was so incensed that I told him, “I don’t want anybody’s money because of the color of my skin.”

Because of that incident, I did not apply for any scholarships, went to a state university – and paid my own way.

After graduation, I began applying for writing jobs. I remember interviewing for a position at a Christian publishing company. I spoke with two principals, both being very encouraging; they even asked when I could start working as they looked upon their calendars.

At the end of the interview I was asked to sit in the lobby which overlooked pools of writing cubicles. I noticed something – everyone in the room was white. I didn’t think much of it, until one of the principals came out and said, “You did a great job interviewing. You seem really talented, but we’re just seeing what’s on the market, not looking to hire. We’ll be happy to write you a letter of recommendation if you want.”

That was odd. Why write a letter when I hadn’t worked there? They thanked me profusely for my time. I really felt in my heart the job was mine, but when I saw the job reposted the following week, I had a good sense why.

As I matured, I came to better understand that the problem was not me, even though I happened to be the recipient of the action.

One time, while registering to vote, a person near the registration table uttered, “Don’t you need a green card to vote?” Another time while visiting a garden store, an old white woman looked at me while standing in line and said with disdain, “Well, are you going to help me with these bags or not?”

I know, you may be saying “Get over it already.” But, you see, when you experience things like this throughout your lifetime, it becomes very tiresome having to explain yourself or to be on guard that under certain circumstances you should anticipate a possible “situation.”

Yes, I am angry that people of color still have to feel this way.

I’ve written a novel about racism in the 1960’s, but am having challenges finding representation. I’ve learned the majority of literary agents are white females residing in and around New York. I’ve also discovered that 79% of publishing industry executives are white males. It may sound racist, but I have to wonder if these people have encountered what most minorities have. Could they possibly relate to my novel or see its merit? I won’t even get into the numbers of books published by minorities, but suffice it to say, it’s small, even though our numbers are large.

As I have gotten quite defiant at this point in life, I will not settle for being overlooked. If I have to self-publish I will, not just because of my ego, but because there may be some other young minorities out there who are just getting their first taste of what it’s like to be prejudged.

I want them to know, that they’re not alone.

And, with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”

A Scent of Normalcy: June 2020

One of the last places I visited before things shut down was Kohl’s in Palm Desert. I had earned some Kohl’s Cash from a previous purchase and I had heard that soon retail stores might be closing in response to COVID-19 concerns.

I initially thought the store had already closed its doors, but I called and actually spoke to a human. “Good thing you called today. This is the last day the store will be open for a while,” was the response on the other end of the phone. I know it’s silly that someone would be keen to spend $10 in bonus cash, but as everything was changing so rapidly, I had to cling to something familiar, to something I could control. I hopped in my car and drove the short distance from Palm Springs to Palm Desert

When I entered the store, I immediately sensed the change. It was much calmer, more somber and almost empty. The sparse shoppers glanced at each other with suspicion which seemed a bit odd. As the disease continued to spread, I became accustomed to these stares, to the turn of heads when someone sneezed or coughed in public.

But today, that day, I was on a mission. I had $10 in Kohl’s cash and I was determined to make a purchase. I perused the usual. Nope, didn’t need socks or a t-shirt. I wasn’t in search of any kitchen gadgets or mini-electronics either.

Finally, I walked by the candle section – Kohl’s always has a nice selection of wax goods. I smelled the usual assortment – the tropical stuff was too coconutty for spring, that is more of a summer scent, and although I love the smell of mulled apples, that was too Christmasy (in fact those were on clearance). I finally came upon a candle called Blue Citron. It had a nice, clean scent and made me feel invigorated. It made me feel fresh which was something I needed as everything was feeling pretty tainted and dank as each day the news grew more dim.

During the weeks that followed, I would light the Blue Citron when things seemed dark or unclear. I looked at it at times, realizing it was the last item I purchased in a department store, before everything locked down.

The other day, I lit Blue Citron. It had gotten pretty near to the bottom and I realized it was the last time I would be able to enjoy its sweet fragrance. I was watching the local news – we received word that Riverside County can now begin re-opening restaurants, etc.

I looked at the dying embers of the Blue Citron and said, “it’s time for a new candle.” I understand that it still might be a bit before things open up fully, but that’s fine. I can call upon the memory scent of Blue Citron to get me through.

And with that, I end this as “Poolside From PS.”

For the Love of Travel

This existence in a COVID cellblock has reminded me of my appreciation for and love of travel. And, at this point I’d really love to go somewhere – make that anywhere!

“Locally,” I have been fortunate to have been to 37 of our glorious states. Each one has been a gift of its own, and when I hear of a flare-up in Louisiana or see Bourbon Street looking like it was visited by an apocalypse, I tend to take it personally.

I’ve also been lucky to have visited five of our globe’s continents, having been to cities and countries like Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Melbourne, and a Whitman’s sampler of Europe, including Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and a two-fer in Rome.

Having seen the Great Barrier Reef, the Eifel Tower, the Great Wall and Sistine Chapel does something to you. Hearing an opera in the Sydney Opera House, a choir of school children singing “Ave Maria” in Mexico’s Shrine of the Virgin de Guadalupe, a Strauss concert in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, the “King and I” in London’s Palladium, or a gondolier serenading along Venice’s many canals, changes something in the way you hear.

One thing I have noticed is that wherever you are, in whatever country and whichever language they speak, human beings have the same inherent traits. We’re all pretty much the same, even though our languages and customs may differ.

Seeing a courtyard full of Italians dancing in the golden glow of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, listening to a collective “ohhhhh” in a Japanese elevator when an out-of-towner gets his armed banged by a door while squeezing in, or having a non-English speaking stranger on any street in any country try and provide directions, shows our collective commitment to wanting to help or at least to share in a community as a human race.

This spring we were slated to go to Egypt and Greece. I was genuinely saddened when we learned we could no longer travel abroad lest we run the risk of being quarantined on a Nile cruise ship for 14 days – or worse yet, being hospitalized in a country not known for its use of the English language.

Pre-COVID 19, I had spent the winter pouring over the internet and a book on Egyptian history and sites. I was finally beginning to understand why King Tut was such a big thing, and I was debating the desire to ride a camel. Then, somebody got sick, and then a lot of people got sick. A few travel advisories later, it was all shut down.

For now at least.

So, we’re making plans to go next year, and I’m already excited about it as I have done the research. I have a feeling air fares will stay low for a few years after this thing ends as folks may be timid to fly, so that will mean even more trips!

If there’s one thing, anything, that this pandemic has taught me, it’s the importance of being in the moment, the now. There have been far too many painful reminders of late that we are not guaranteed a tomorrow.

So, best to get on the back of that camel when you can.

And, with that, I end this as “poolside from PS.”

PS Posts

What Do You Resort to When Your Resort Town Becomes a Ghost Town?: April 2020

Achoo! Don’t fret, it’s just desert allergies.

Anyone who’s lived here for a while can tell you that come Spring the desert winds can blow pretty hard, and any Realtor worth their salt will likely refuse to show you a property north of Vista Chino during April. Still, Spring in PS is generally a booming and blooming time.

That said, Palm Springs, like probably many of your hamlets, has become a ghost town. During a time of the year when traffic on Palm Canyon Drive typically crawls to a stop, I find myself bicycling down the middle of the road with my hands off the handle bars and the wind blowing through what’s left of my hair.

I never thought I’d say this, I miss Coachella, Stagecoach, Dinah Shore – even the White Party.

Yes, Spring in the desert is more than frilly Easter bonnets, but also a major revenue source for this resort town.

Unfortunately this year we’ve all been on self-containment and the social distancing aspect has made all the snow birds distance themselves to their points of origination. It has really put a damper on everything that happens out here, and unless the virus peaks soon, it could be a chilly summer out here, rhetorically speaking.

When I first moved here, I remember going to a pharmacy. I was amazed at the “seniority” represented here. I mean, we’re talking really senior. I had to work myself through a maze of walkers and wheelchairs to pick up my prescription. I said to myself, “Self, these are your new neighbors, so get used to it.”

Now, I find myself fearing for these folks. Palm Springs is a RETIREMENT community after all, and if the COVID keeps up, things could get rather hairy. This thing has caused us all to resort to retire within our homes.

So, we’re all doing a little more gardening, home repairs and sitting by the pool – alone.

My niece wrote a really nice Facebook post recently and a phrase she used really stuck: “This is a time when we need to reset.” That phrase has stayed with me during many a sunny day of darkness out here, so I, like many of us, am re-prioritizing.

In a recent hike up the South Lykken Trail, I came across a heard of grazing rams. Their beauty and serenity helped to center and calm me. It reminded me we’re all in this together – and we will get through it together.

Just a reminder that beauty happens around us all the time and under any circumstance – we only have to look for it.

Until next time, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”