There is one group of women I envy so much that my jaws hurt. I’m talking about these fortunate, mysterious creatures who put on a white shirt, top, or blouse, go through a very busy day, and emerge at the end of it with the white garment looking as fresh and clean as it did in the morning. I just met a woman like that and I have absolutely no idea how she manages it.
Whenever I put on a shirt, I somehow manage to mess it up while walking from my closet to the front door. And I don’t live in a palace, so it isn’t like there is a long stretch to walk.
How do some people manage to stay put together, crisp and fresh while others gradually fall apart as they go about the day? And it isn’t just the clothes. I always discover that by the end of the day, my hair looks like puppies have been sucking on it (that’s a Ukrainian expression), my makeup has ended up all over my clothes and my phone, and I’ve acquired a new scratch, bump or bruise.
I come from a strictly monoracial society (which nevertheless has a history of slavery). This is why many aspects of the race relations in the US still baffle me. And I don’t know how to ask about these things without sounding like an insensitive jerk.
In class, I always feel very uncomfortable whenever we discuss slavery. There are people who descended from slaves in the classroom and, unlike in my country where slavery was not based on race, it is very visible who the descendants of slaves are. So I feel like discussing slavery in a cold and detached manner in the classroom is not something that I can manage. I feel intensely guilty for being white in such discussions and it seems like no matter what I say, it will sound empty and meaningless.
Then, there are daily situations that confuse me. I was shopping at Macy’s in St.Louis today and the store assistants were black. Not only were they about a hundred times nicer than any white store assistant I had ever encountered, they also kept calling me Miss Clarissa. Nobody calls me Miss Clarissa. This form of address sounds like “Miss Scarlett” to me because Gone With the Wind is the only place where I encountered it. So, again, I felt very weird. And not in a good way.
So I decided that what’s a blog for if not to share things that bother one, right? Maybe my readers can offer some sort of a perspective on this issue. Or maybe there are books I need to read on the subject.
P.S. I know that people who read my blog are enlightened, intelligent folks. Just to be on the safe side, though, I warn everybody that arguments as to how slavery has been over for a long time, so why does it matter any more, are completely unacceptable. As a descendant of slaves, I can tell you that it matters a whole lot and it always will.
The security officer at the Immigration building who cannot possibly be older than me addressed me 3 times as a “young lady.”
How is one supposed not to giggle?
I have to say that even though I’m a great fan of the Kindle, nothing – and I repeat, nothing – beats being inside an actual bookstore and browsing for books there. Bookstores should continue to exist. And used book stores even more so. The very idea that a book passes from one person to another and acquires a second or a third life is magical.
There are relationships that just happen and then there are relationships that require hard work. Such is my complex relationship with St. Louis. I still haven’t been able to feel this city as my own and integrate it into my way of being.
Today I’m in St. Louis to have my fingerprints taken for immigration purposes, so I decided to use this opportunity to walk around the city and try to figure it out. Right now I’m having a raspberry mocha in a non-chain, real coffee-shop and planning my classes on my Kindle. Then I will go to the legendary Left Bank Bookstore because if there is anything that can reconcile me to a city, it’s shopping for books.
Another city I always had an uneasy relationship with is New York. Before visiting it, I spend several years watching Law & Order reruns with my sister. As a result, we became convinced that New York was a city where there was a corpse under every bush and a rapist or a killer around every corner.
The first time I went to New York, my sister was so worried that she told me to call her on the phone every half hour. “If more than 30 minutes pass without you getting in touch,” she said, “I will contact the police and they can start searching for you.”
My friends and I got to New York on a beautiful September day. My friends were eager to show me the city and suggested we take a walk in Central Park.
“No!” I almost screamed. “I’ll never go to Central Park because that’s where all the rapists are!”
Eventually, I realized that one can spend a day in New York without becoming a victim of violent crime but the sense of unease I associate with the city never entirely dissipated.
The cities where I felt immediately at home the moment I arrived there are Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, London, Kiev, Coimbra, Lisbon, and Seville.