“Still Don’t See the Arab”

When you meet new people in New York, it’s not uncommon for them to ask something along the lines of “What’s you mix?” Crude as the phrase may be, it’s a valid question for residents of an ethnically mixed city like New York. If you stand on a street corner in this city, it’s almost 100 percent guaranteed that you will hear five different languages spoken in the space of one minute. Everyone here is from somewhere, and lots of New Yorkers throw political correctness to the wind when making acquaintances and just delve right into ethnic/cultural/racial backgrounds.

Of course, you also have your cautious, extremely PC people, who either play the “color-blind” card and act like they aren’t interested, or are just too nervous to ask. The ethnicity game is always kind of funny for me because to most people, I look either straight-up white, or ethnically ambiguous. (I am half Arabic and a quarter Italian.) Today I had a few pointed experiences related to my ethnicity. First, my professor stared at me and said, “I still don’t see the Arab.” (There was some context, but not much, so the comment was pretty much as out-of-the-blue as it sounds.) Later, some of the sixth-graders at the school where I work asked where I’m from. When I told them, they literally went “WOAH” as a group. They were shocked because they too are Arab, and they couldn’t believe that this whole time I had been, as they saw it, basically hiding in plain sight.

These interactions sort of cracked me up because, even though they could arguably be perceived as offensive or at least awkward, I am happy to live in a place where 1) the population is not so ethnically homogenous that such conversations are unnecessary and 2) people are willing to engage in those conversations. Talking about race and ethnicity can be awkward because they are such personal concepts; they’re so wrapped up in our senses of self, so when someone questions our race or ethnicity, it can feel like he or she is questioning a very intimate, inextricable part of our identity. And yet, I feel like it’s far better to have transparent conversations and risk awkwardness than to ignore the conversations altogether.

When sixth grade first started this year, lots of the kids were meeting one another for the first time. It was a new school, new peers, new grade—a lot to adjust to. And there were some uncomfortable moments. On the first day, one of the few black kids (I’ll call him ‘J’) started calling one of the few blonde, white kids (I’ll call him ‘Z’) albino. Z is not albino, and obviously nobody should be called names, but J’s nickname wasn’t meant as a pejorative term. Rather, he was calling Z albino because he wanted to acknowledge their differences but didn’t really know how to navigate that. And even though Z was unhappy with the nickname—which quickly was extinguished, by the way—having to confront his whiteness really wasn’t the worst thing. Now I see all of these kids hanging out together, teaching each other words from the languages they speak at home and arguing about whether or not God is called “God” or “Allah,” and I feel excited by the fact that they’re being exposed to different cultures so young. When my professor told me he still doesn’t see the Arab in me, I told him he probably just doesn’t know enough of us. And these kids—despite some bumps along the way—will never have that problem.

Gender and The Good Wife

Image

I want to kind of unpack my reaction to this week’s The Good Wife because I’ve noticed sort of a disturbing trend. Those of us who love TV have heard a lot about the era of “difficult men” that The Sopranos ushered in—that is, the largely white, male antiheroes that anchor television’s most acclaimed dramas (Walter White, Don Draper, etc.). I love those characters, particularly Don Draper, which is what led me to question my response to Alicia Florrick’s defection from Lockhart/Gardner on The Good Wife tonight.

By all accounts and purposes, this is a feminist move from Alicia. Even though it wasn’t really acknowledged in this episode, the viewers were led to believe that Alicia was leaving L/G in part because she wanted to get out from under Will (figuratively and kind of literally). She wants to strike out on her own and really fight for the ideals she believes in as a lawyer, because we know that Alicia has often felt ethically compromised at L/G. And her strength as a woman was on display not only through the savvy business moves she made throughout the night’s episode, but also through her sexuality. Sure, she was forced into leaving once Will found out about the new firm, but she was still taking a lot of ownership in tonight’s episode on multiple fronts.

So why, as a regular viewer and as a feminist, did my sympathies lie so squarely with Will? To the point that I was really getting mad at Alicia as I watched, and actively rooting against her and the new firm? I don’t think the show was pushing me that way. This is The Good Wife, after all—it’s her story, so by virtue of that alone, we as viewers should be predisposed to siding with Alicia (which I often do). I don’t think the show was pushing us to take Alicia’s side, but I do think the Kings expect the viewers to celebrate her show of independence.

On the other hand, we also were not pushed to side against Will in this episode. Interestingly, we begin squarely in his head. First we got that long beat where the camera settled on Josh Charles as he let Will absorb the news from Diane, which was a moment that clearly engendered sympathy for the betrayed Will. Then we went right into his head; we literally saw things through Will’s eyes through the point-of-view shot as he approached Alicia. That was an interesting choice, because it put us squarely in Will’s frame of reference. And a great direction note; the POV shot gets the audience right up in a character’s mindset, but it’s also used very effectively in some horror movies, like “Halloween”, to unsettle the audience by placing them in the serial killer’s head as he or she stalks or watches the victim. So in that beginning scene of the episode, we were recognizing Will as a threatening presence to Alicia, but we were also sharing a very intimate moment with him.

Beginning aside, Will and Alicia very much operated in grey areas tonight, so it’s hard to argue that the show took sides. Will’s darkest moment was also literally the darkest moment in the episode, when, barely lit and shrouded in black, he told Kalinda that he would essentially stop at nothing to take the competition down. That was an ominous shot that put him in some shifty territory. But he also had the beats related to Grace’s phone call, which humanized him and gave us a respite from his anger. Alicia also went to some dark places, but she had the wrenching elevator moment. Overall, I thought the show was quite objective, which leaves me questioning my anger toward Alicia. Sure, she did some ethically questionable things while maneuvering out of L/G, but Will has been shady through the show’s entire run. Furthermore, how can I as a viewer not just tolerate but actively root for Don Draper—who is frequently a misogynist pig—and yet actively root against Alicia Florrick as soon as she makes one ethical transgression?

I have to wonder if even I, an avowed feminist, am uncomfortable with the depiction of female power, or of a woman in a morally grey area, a woman willing to make moves for her own benefit. That woman kind of already exists on The Good Wife in the form of Kalinda, but for me I think it’s easy to not react to Kalinda very strongly because 1) she’s such a heightened, over-the-top character anyway and 2) she’s so emotionally opaque that I rarely react to her with any strong emotion, unless it’s related to Alicia or some other character on the show. But Kalinda also doesn’t toggle identities the way Alicia does. Alicia is mother, wife, lawyer, lover, and so on. And maybe part of the discomfort comes in watching a woman really wear all of those different masks; maybe we don’t want to think that a woman has those masks at all. We want to imagine that she is some pure presence—St. Alicia. We can celebrate Will Gardner and Don Draper because despite their transgressions, aren’t these the archetypical American males? Aren’t they—in their well-cut suits, surrounded by  the signifiers of power—filling idealized male roles? And yet when we watch a woman adopt their strategies in order to seize power for herself, there’s a certain discomfort, for me at least. I don’t know exactly what it says about my biases or societal norms, but I am happy there’s a show that’s even challenging me to consider it.

Currently Reading

So, I finished the Eggers book and I feel conflicted about it. On the one hand, I tore through it and was intrigued by the central mystery, or maybe more the heavy feeling of doom that hangs over the text. I liked the main character’s descent into, virtually, madness, and the development of her addiction to social media.

But the book was a bit preachy; and I am not speaking from some place of defensiveness, like “Dave Eggers is attacking my generation’s way of life!” Not at all. I blog intermittently on WordPress or Tumblr, but I have never had a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I am not morally opposed or anything; I just never saw the need. So it’s not that I think the book is too harsh on social media or something like that—if anything, if you remove the social media element, it still reads as an interesting analysis or depiction of mass fervor, of the way a society slips under one tyrannical thumb.

But there are some parts that are just heavy-handed. For one thing, the shark. The shark metaphor was clear enough, probably too clear, before Eggers went ahead and spelled it out in the final chapter. And while Eggers’ post-private world felt well-realized, did his characters? This was the big struggle for me. The main character, Mae, is so intensely unlikable, selfish and, worst of all, stupid. But does that make her not fully developed? And if she feels empty, wouldn’t that be a realistic symptom of the character traits valued in the book’s world? I keep thinking of this novel I read a few months ago, The Art of Fielding. It was so excellent because the characters were, whether likable or not, living and breathing people. I could imagine talking to them in real life. They felt like they would exist in the real world. Eggers’ characters never approached that for me, but again, maybe that’s because nobody really exists in the Circle’s world—except for digitally. The people are so focused on the construction of their identities that they are not fully alive. They are like impressions of human beings. Which is exactly how they felt on the page.

So while the writing may have been good, the character work logical, it put me in an uncomfortable place as a reader; because Mae was so self-absorbed, I acted as judge or scolding parent. Making the reader her friend, pulling the reader into her world rather than simply letting us judge it from a place of moral authority, would have the greater challenge, I think.

Home

Home

“ID,” the soldier said in Hebrew. There were two of them. The tallest one, the one speaking to Sinan, had sunglasses on even though the sun had long since set over Jerusalem. Streetlights cast shadows over the four figures on the road—the soldiers, Sinan and Kate. Sinan could see himself reflected in the soldier’s glasses; he looked shrunken, like the wire dolls his sisters Khowla and Helema used to make. They would make a cross out of two wires for the body—the horizontal piece the arms and the vertical the chest, torso and legs. Then they would swaddle the wires in cloth embroidered with bright colors to create the thawb. A piece of stuffed fabric fastened atop the body became the head. Most of Sinan’s brothers liked to play fedayeen, freedom fighter, but the girls spent all day imagining their dolls were farmers in Ramallah, just like their father’s mother, and her mother before that, and hers before that. The dolls tirelessly lifted their little wire arms up and down, picking imaginary olives and placing them in imaginary canvas bags to be pressed for olive oil. Sometimes Sinan’s father sat beside them and smoked a cigarette, describing their grandmother’s land, the rolling hills lined with trees, their trunks as brown and gnarled as her sun-baked skin. “She was the land,” he would say with faraway eyes. The girls could only imagine—the Israelis had taken the land years ago; the trees had been demolished.

Khowla and Helema would play until mama called them to help prepare za’atar for breakfast the next day or knaffeh for dinner. Sinan and his brothers usually destroyed the wire dolls, abandoned on the floor. Arms and legs were splayed across the carpet and heads rolled underneath furniture. Khowla and Helema would run out of the kitchen to mourn the dolls, fingers sticky with lemon juice and sugar for the pastry as they gathered the delicate, disparate parts.

***

 “ID.” The soldier’s Uzi was slung across his shoulder like a purse. He nodded at Sinan, offering an expectant palm. He removed his glasses, revealing a dark scar, half an inch wide, running from his right temple to his jawbone. He had slate grey eyes. It had to be his first year in the IDF, Sinan thought. He looked like Sinan’s youngest brother, Musab. The same proud, puffed chest—the irrational pride of youth. Eighteen or nineteen. Too young to have such a hardened gaze. But then, the intifada could do that to a soldier quickly, Sinan imagined. Grey eyes like the stones pelted at him.

The soldier shifted his Uzi and told his comrade, a shorter, fidgety man, to “talk to the girl” in Hebrew. The second soldier gestured for Kate to follow him across the road. “Come on,” he said. She glanced at Sinan, her green eyes flashing a stop sign. Just a minute ago the two of them had been laughing, walking back to the Muslim Quarter after seeing a movie at the Cinematheque Theater on Hebron Road. Kate wore a long white skirt that danced in the nighttime breeze, revealing hints of skin beneath. The click of her cowboy boots on the cobblestone streets echoed through the Christian Quarter along with her laughter. American girls laughed loudly, Sinan noticed.

“What’s your name?” Sinan heard the second soldier ask her in Hebrew.

Kate opened a small leather bag resting on her hip, just where the soldiers’ guns lay. Sinan knew her reporter’s notebook was inside. Earlier that day she had scribbled notes from a refugee camp he took her to in Gaza. Gaza was boiling; all of Palestine was, but in the camps you could feel the restlessness of the brown-eyed, fatherless boys. Earlier that week a nine-year-old was arrested for throwing stones. One stone struck a soldier in the cheek. Another bounced off a soldier’s metal helmet. In response, the whole camp was put under house arrest for three days. There was no opportunity to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. Jaws ached with hunger.

Kate and Sinan watched on the fourth day as the gates to the camp were opened to welcome a bread truck. The children ran from their front doors, forming an eager circle around the truck. Three Israeli soldiers climbed out and unlocked the back doors. The smell of fresh bread invaded the air; mothers readied their tables. Suddenly, a title wave of loaves came tumbling out of the truck. One child started for them, but the soldiers stepped in, driving the fallen loaves into the mud with the heels of their combat boots. The children stood still. The soldiers got back in the truck and left.

***

Kate handed the soldier her American passport. “My name is Kate,” she said in English. “What’s yours?” The soldier said nothing. “Ma shimkha?” she repeated.

He was taken aback—by the question or her Hebrew, Sinan wasn’t sure. “Mikhail,” he said, glancing back at his cohort uncertainly.

“You’re Russian!” Kate replied, smiling.

The grey-eyed soldier clenched his jaw. Kate’s soldier gestured at her purse hurriedly, telling her to hand it over.

Sinan turned to his soldier. “Leave her alone,” he said in Hebrew.

His soldier chuckled. “Maybe. Let’s see some ID.”

“I live here.” Sinan felt heat rising in his belly and a tingle in his hands. In the background he could hear the other soldier asking Kate what was in the notebook, what their business was in Jerusalem. Her Hebrew was weak. “Movie, movie,” she kept repeating in English.

“I live here,” Sinan said again. He opened and closed his hands rapidly. They felt like they were going numb.

The soldier spoke slowly. “Give. Me. Your. Identification,” he said.

Kate had stopped saying “movie.” Now she said “journalist” over and over. A cat ambled past, its tawny hair matted, ribs poking through taut skin. It paused in front of Sinan and the soldier and let out a hoarse, pathetic wail, as if to admit to them that it had no home. It limped off to nowhere.

“We went to a movie; now we’re walking back home,” Sinan said. His Hebrew was flawless. He learned it as a boy, when he would turn lights or heat on or go buy bread for his neighbors in the Jewish Quarter on Shabbat. Sometimes they would pay him later, or direct him to a drawer where the money was waiting. David Cohen, one of his neighbors, would always teach Sinan a few words in Hebrew on those days and send him off with some challah. “You’re a good boy, Sinan,” he would say, cuffing Sinan’s neck with a friendly chuckle. “You see people as people.”

David had been there for the first suicide bomb, years ago. Sinan was passing through Zion Square after a visit to West Jerusalem when an explosion cut through downtown’s everyday rush. Sound disappeared, but for a high-pitched whine in his ear. Sinan always remembered the eerie sight of children’s mouths widened in anguish; friends’ lips moved rapidly as their heads swiveled every which way in search of missing companions—but no sound, like he was watching a muted movie.

David Cohen worked as a lawyer a few blocks away, Sinan knew. He ran to the office. David’s eyes widened when he found Sinan standing in front of the building. Wordlessly, David ripped off the checkered keffiyeh tied around Sinan’s neck. When he spoke, Sinan read his lips: “Nobody can see you here. I’ll take you home.” David placed an arm around Sinan’s trembling shoulders and shepherded him through the chaos, back toward the Old City. Later they learned that a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization had stuffed a refrigerator with explosives. 15 people were killed.

Next Shabbat, David gave Sinan a Hebrew grammar book. “I think it’s important you learn as much of this as you can. For the future,” he said. His eyes were downcast, his expression wounded and searching, like something had been lost.

***

“Where’s home?” the soldier asked.

“What?”

“You said you’re going home. Where’s home?”

Sinan pulled his identification card from his back pocket. Its light blue sleeve protected him. Orange told the soldier “home” was the West Bank. Green told the soldier “home” was the Gaza Strip. Blue told the soldier “home” was Jerusalem.

The soldier examined it. “Stand still so I can make sure this is you,” he said, holding the ID to Sinan’s cheek. “Smile,” he said.

Sinan grimaced.

Kate returned with the second soldier, who shook his head. “Nothing,” he said.

“Don’t waste time,” Sinan’s soldier told him. “Just go home.” He handed the identification card over. As Sinan reached for it, the soldier let go. The card fluttered toward the ground for what seemed like minutes, finally landing between them.

“Pick it up.”

Sinan stared at the card’s blue jacket. He could see the picture of himself. Tiny, again. His hands tingled. He could feel Kate’s green eyes.

“Pick it up,” the soldier said.

“No,” Sinan said, in Arabic.

He closed his eyes for a moment and braced for the impact. He, like all his brothers, had been in Israeli prison before. He could do it again. He waited for something, for yelling, for a fight.

Nothing came.

He opened his eyes. He looked at the soldier’s scar, a twin of his own. His eyes met the soldier’s gaze. The strap that held the Uzi slipped down his shoulder, which was sagging as if suddenly sore from the weapon’s weight. A shadow came over his grey eyes. For a moment he looked at once far older and far younger than his eighteen or so years.

Silently, he turned away.

Thanks, New York

Sometimes you are having a horrible day. Like, you go to your first job and work straight through, then go straight to your second job. Then you have to go shopping at Target for an all-day job interview the next day. And you hate shopping, and it’s stressful, and you try on three different outfits and variations on those outfits and ruin your done-up hair, that you paid fifty dollars for so you can look professional at the interview.

And then you get home, back hurting, train delayed, exhausted. And you realize you forgot to print out something crucial, something you need for the interview. So off you go, at ten o’clock, to Staples all-night copy shop. And of course none of the machines are working. Your debit card gets eaten up and a manager has to be called. You spend thirty dollars on copies, of which you accidentally make too many.

You leave Staples at eleven-something. You feel just about ready to give up, and you know there is reading and preparing to do for the interview. Then your best friend FaceTimes you, so you sit down on the steps of Union Square, eyes tired, copies in hand, purse weighing heavily on your shoulder.

Your best friend’s big birthday dinner was yesterday, but you missed it. So you talk about the birthday dinner with her, and you watch people amble to and from bars and dates and work. You hear a coarse male voice in the background: “Damn, she FaceTimeing.” He likes the technology; he thinks it’s cool. You turn and he is about what you expected: a middle-aged Black man, an MTA track worker who has risen from the depths of the subway tunnels to have what amounts to lunch with his coworkers. Your back hurts, but you can’t imagine running around the tunnels all night with the rats, taking a lunch break at eleven-something. And yet, he’s so jolly. He smiles widely and peers at the FaceTime.

“Say hi!” you exclaim. He laughs. Your best friend gets embarrassed, but you turn the screen so that he can address her.

“Hi gorgeous,” he says to her, waving. She giggles. “Where is she?”

“Brooklyn,” you answer. “It’s her birthday.”

Your best friend is saying something like “Why would you tell them that?” in the background, but suddenly the whole construction crew, ten or fifteen men in their neon orange vests and plaid, are peering at the rectangle where she resides. They all wave and grin and laugh. “Can she hear us?” they ask. You turn an earbud toward them and they all serenade her with ‘Happy Birthdays.’

“She can see us?” one of them inquires, incredulous but delighted.

“Yeah!” you reply. Everyone in the square is laughing, and then you place the earbud back in and they gather a few feet away to eat. It’s just one of those moments—like the other day when you stopped to stare at a new Banksy, and strangers gathered around to discuss the additional tags, and what they would do if that was their wall, whether they would tear it down and sell it or leave it there, not for profit. One of those moments you only get in a city, when the different spheres—the MTA nightcrawlers, the students, the barhoppers—intersect, briefly lift one another. It’s just strangers making strangers smile, but there’s something powerful in that.

You hang up with your best friend, telling her you have to catch the train. As you walk toward the subway entrance, another group—a group of girls that had been sitting a few feet away the whole time—call out: “Tell her happy birthday!”

Why Can’t We Be Friends (on TV)?

photo(14)

My best friend is Black. Her name is Diva, she was born and raised in Brooklyn, and her family is Panamanian. I am White. Not blonde, blue eyes, Blake Lively White—my father is an Arab immigrant, so I have what ineloquent guys at bars call an “exotic look,” but I am still, at the end of the day, White. That’s the box I check on the census form. That’s the color of my skin. Race might be a construct and all that, but my Whiteness and Diva’s Blackness have implications that play out in real-life.

For example, the N-word. I understand that it’s a reclaimed word, that using it is arguably empowering for people of certain races or cultures. I hear it every day, from Diva and our other friends and on the train and on the block and so on. Still, I am not going to use it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a White person to use it, but I usually don’t flinch when I hear it. It’s as common as “hello”, or something.

Except with the -er. For whatever reason—maybe it’s White guilt, even though I have zero Southern roots; maybe it’s some kind of cultural conditioning; maybe it’s political correctness—but when I hear the N-word with an -er, rather than the more common -a, I flinch. “Nigga,” to me, sounds like “bro” or “bud” or any other friendly colloquialism. “Nigger” sounds pejorative; it’s partly the abrasiveness, the sharpness, of that final -r. Spoken, it sounds like a weapon. Somebody on Urban Dictionary agrees with me because they wrote:

Nigga is a word which evolved from the derogative term “nigger”. Tupac best defined the distinction between the two.

NIGGER- a black man with a slavery chain around his neck.

NIGGA- a black man with a gold chain on his neck.

Diva knows I won’t say “nigga,” and she knows I don’t even like to hear “nigger.” She thinks it’s funny. Sometimes she tries to trick me into saying “nigga”, usually when I am rapping along with Jay Z. Sometimes, when we are out to dinner or on the train and she needs a laugh, she drops “nigger” into her sentence just to watch me cringe a little. This anecdote is not meant to preface some linguistic analysis or argue for or against the use of the N-word; it’s meant to capture the uniqueness of an interracial friendship, to underscore the fact that being a White girl with a Black best friend is not like being a White girl with a White best friend. There are cultural norms, there are social customs, that we contend with. And when we wrestle with them—when Diva makes me confront my race and our country’s ugly history and how far we’ve evolved, all through two seemingly innocuous graphemes—it strengthens us as individuals and as friends.

All this is notable to me because it seems that the reality of our kind of friendship has yet to make it into our media landscape. That’s not to say people of color don’t exist on television. When I run down the laundry list of television shows I regularly watch, there are many main characters of color. They are not always the leads, and they are vastly outnumbered by White characters, but they are there. My issue is less with the lack of color on television than with the lack of context around these characters of color. Think of all of the interracial friendships on TV right now: Bonnie and Elena; Jess and CeCe; Kalinda and Alicia; myriad Glee pairings; Carrie Bradshaw and Jill; Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins; Meredith and Christina; Olivia Pope and Abby. These platonic couples exist, but the realities of what it means to be best friends with someone of another race are rarely acknowledged.

Maybe Diva and I are an exception, but race comes up in some form or another anytime we are together, whether we’re discussing the merits of weave versus wig or she’s arguing that only White people have imaginary friends as children. I am not saying that the minutia of our friendship is interesting enough to be on television, but I know that television writers could mine drama or comedy out of the realities of platonic interracial friendships.

Consider Miley Cyrus, who has been sparking outrage for her blatant appropriation of “ratchet” culture. In response to her infamous VMA performance, some (misogynists) have argued that she’s just “too slutty.” Others have argued that she’s racist for treating Black dancers as props. Miley defended against those allegations in Rolling Stone, saying, “I don’t keep my producers or dancers around ’cause it makes me look cool…Those aren’t my ‘accessories.’ They’re my homies.” I can’t speak to the truth of that, but I do think there’s a connection between Miley Cyrus and, say, that other controversial White Girl, Lena Dunham. On her show Girls, Dunham follows in the footsteps of Sex and the City’s frank quartet of Manhattan mates and draws humor out of the slightly awkward realities of many twenty-something girls’ lives—weird dates, weirder sex, frenemies, text etiquette, body image, and onward. If Dunham were to further widen her scope, to honestly and entertainingly showcase the truths of interracial friendships, perhaps Miley Cyrus’ proclamation that she has Black girlfriends would feel less alien or unlikely to some.

Of course, the onus isn’t only on Dunham, though her show’s tone makes it the perfect vehicle for the discussion I’d love to see onscreen. For too long people have demanded that television be “color-blind.” Kerry Washington said in a recent New York Times interview, “I don’t want to be race blind or gender blind. They matter!” Someone’s race, like their gender or sexual orientation, is often central to who they are; by ignoring that, one is ignoring a part of that individual or deeming that part unworthy of acknowledgment. Television writers and showrunners would do all of us a favor by forgetting about being “race-blind” or “color-blind” and dealing with the beauty and humor in our differences. It’s been done right before; just check out New Girl’s Season 2 episode “Cabin”, wherein Schmidt decides Winston needs more Black friends, to hilarious results. It can be done again. We’ve celebrated Carrie Bradshaw and her gals for openly discussing anal sex; we’ve celebrated Shonda Rhimes for creating a show with a black, female lead; we’ve celebrated Lena Dunham for showcasing a realistic female body. These glass ceilings have been shattered; next, we need a show daring enough to explore the complexities of friendship and race. That would be something to celebrate.

New York Story

Everyone—or everyone who is anyone, according to some New Yorkers—has a New York story. It’s recounted at dinner parties like a couple’s meet-cute; the moment they, the subject and New York, fell in love. My New York story plays like a film’s dream sequence: high-key, soft lighting; Frank Sinatra’s rich, maple-syrupy baritone wafting in the background. The tropes abound: the little girl, eyes upturned and wide at the sight of this metropolis; and the friendly prophet, the Morgan Freeman God-voice, in this case the Christmastime doorman at Saks Fifth Avenue.

As I reflect on the memory, half-myth and half-reality like the city it’s set in, I imagine that the doorman, in truth, must have been incredibly  burdened. The line for the window displays wrapped around two city blocks. Saks rang out with all manner of languages, tourists beckoning one another and black-clad sales associates. The doorman must have been tired from standing on his feet all day, ushering the crowd back onto Fifth, his cheeks reddened by gusts of freezing wind.

In my memory, though, he smiles down at me like a benevolent Santa Klaus. I’m lost in this memory; perhaps Mom parked me somewhere while she sneaked off to get a gift. I am lost but not afraid. I have never seen a sight as beautiful as the snow drifting past the skyscrapers, which seem to extend upward like there is no sky, no place beyond this. The city is wet and shimmering as if it has just been born.

“I love it here,” I tell him.

“Here.” An arm extends like a sturdy tree branch bowing toward me in the wind; a wide hand swaddled in soft-looking gloves proffers a snowglobe. Within the little glass ball, the New York City scene outside is stuck in time, made permanent. The fresh snow will not melt and become grey sludge. The skyscrapers’ lights will not blink off. Frank will not stop serenading me.

It feels like the doorman has given me a fantasy, but really, he has given me the truth. The little scene in the snowglobe, like the city, is infinite. At Yankee Stadium they play Frank over and over until the last fan leaves, and it begins again the next night. “I want to be a part of it,” he opines, even when the team wins, as if there will never be a way to penetrate the glass. Gatsby, in that great New York story, thought he could capture the city—the country, really, but what was America if not this city’s pulsating streets?

But the city will move around you, and without you—always. Wind up the snowglobe. Start the song again.

“I wish I lived here,” I tell the doorman.

“It’s up to you,” he says. Or is that Frank? It’s up to you / New York, New York. “You” is not me. “You” is Fifth Avenue, the train, the scaffolding, the team, the city. It’s up to you.

Mom appears. We are on the move, out amongst the whirring mechanisms.

Wind up the globe again. Play the song again.

The doorman has disappeared from my sight, me from his. He is buried beneath the flurry of people pushing into the store, spilling onto the street. Joyfully and mercilessly, the door keeps revolving. It will never stop.