Sunday, October 24, 2010

No, he's NOT a pimp

Many years ago a friend told me he saw this guy in New York dressed in a top hat and tails, head-to-toe in the color red; even his walking stick was red. My friend assumed the man was a pimp and invited him to have a burger with him at French Roast. And the man did just that.

Not long ago, when I first started living in downtown Jersey City I began to see a man who just had to be this same character. He was an older African-American gentleman, always dressed in one color, head-to-toe. Once I was walking up the stairs from the PATH train behind him and saw that even his socks were the same azure shade as everything else on his body.

"What a dandy!" I thought. I wanted to know more about him and remembered that my friend had assumed he was a pimp. But there was something very sweet and friendly about this man that didn't fit at all with a "pimpish" attitude.

His color sense was extraordinary. He was resplendent in yellow, vibrant in tangerine, breathtaking in sky blue - and never did he omit the hat nor the walking stick.

One afternoon I was walking down Grove Street with my kids, when I spied the Dandy again. I said hello to him, as I had begun to do, but this time I thought, "I've got to talk to this guy once and for all."

I mustered up the courage, because he is a teeny bit daunting in his splendor, and said, "Excuse me, sir....but I've seen you around and always admired your excellent sense of style. I was wondering...what is it that you do? Are you rock star? A jazz musician? Or just a fanciful fellow?"

He looked at me, eyes twinkling, and replied: "Ahhhh, I am the last one, I think..."

I took this opportunity to praise his color sense and pointed out that I too, am not shy with colors (I happened to be wearing my own technicolor dreamcoat). Then he continued the conversation - but completely in metaphor. Nothing he said had any relevance to the subject I had broached and I was suddenly held rapt trying to decipher his meaning. The metaphorical speech was all about babies, but more specifically about birthing babies. Given my interest in childbirth education I stood listening attentively.

"It's like the baby being's gotta get OUT...its head is pointing down and the water BREAKS and then that baby gotta come out...but FAST!"

"Well," I said, trying to absorb his vision, "that happens to be very appropriate for me at this point in my life." I reacted to him as though he had just accurately read my tarot cards. Then, almost as an afterthought, I asked, "But what does this story have to do with you?"

"I," he said, with a flourish of his cane, "AM the baby!"

I beamed back at him as though I had just been given an audience with a revered guru and went on my way. Not before learning that he was in fact named Elijah the prophet.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"Hey kids! It's time to read the Bible!"

"Mommy how old were you the first time you DID sex?" my precocious seven-year-old asked. I burst out laughing and before I could answer, my eldest stepped in and said, "Oh! I know - just do the math! I'm nine so...counting pregnancy - it was about ten years ago."

This made me laugh even harder. I managed to side-step the question but I did explain that not everyone has sex in order to make a baby. That answer prompted this question: "So, how long do you have to DO sex for? Like just a few minutes? How do you know when its done?"

Oh brother. I really backed myself into a corner here. Sex-ed and The Bible. I'll get to that in a moment. I tried to describe to them - without getting too graphic - that it's not a painful chore to "do sex" and that it needn't be over-with in a matter of minutes either. This mystified them. The questions came up because we were reading our "Isn't It Amazing" book which explains how babies are made and covers the mechanics of sex in the process. I want my girls to know what happens on a clinical level but discussing the emotional components to sex is definitely trickier. My friend said to me later, "Why didn't you say - it hurts a LOT - like getting stabbed with a knife - until you're 21." He thought I ought to be lying to them in order not to foster a premature curiosity.

But my whole agenda is 'knowledge is power' and sex-ed, along with menstruation, goes in that category. But where does The Bible come in?? you may wonder.

Recently, I took an idea from a respected home-schooler. Her feeling was that it was important to read The Bible in a secular and educational way. After all, there are countless stories and references in The Bible that have spilled forth into world culture for centuries. When you don't KNOW where these references originate it creates a gap in your education and certainly your literary knowledge. I prefaced our reading (an age-appropriate illustrated Old Testament hard cover) by saying - these stories are very, very old; but you'll see as we read them there are all sorts of references in today's stories, our language and even movies. No sooner had we zipped through Creation when we were upon the case of Cain and Abel. I didn't remember this part (as though I even cracked a bible open other than in a motel room night table) but after Cain slays Abel, God marked Cain with a scar or stain on his forehead. I looked at the girls who were wide-eyed at the violence of that tale. "Who ELSE has a permanent mark on his forehead that we know of?"

"Harry Potter," they gasped.

"That's right; so you see, J.K. Rowling did her homework and knew what stories she could allude to from The Bible itself."

The following day Bebe was reading about the Tower of Babel by herself - before we even got to our nightly ritual. "Oh, I get it," she said, "When people say, 'Stop babbling and speak English' it goes back to this story about Babel and everyone speaking in different languages!"


Doing nightly bible reading makes me feel a bit evangelical or Mormon-y. So to balance out the religious side of things I spice it up with the sex-ed for 7 - 10-year-olds book. That somehow makes the whole thing line up with MY particular belief system - as oddly subversive as it sounds.