Diary of a Marked Woman
Philadelphia, Pa., Sat. the 1st: Early walk on Market Street in Philly. Dismal parade of men dressed in white skirts and gold, bad show and music. Lunch at classy hotel with NY Times then walk down Broad St. Stop at Dunkin's to go to bathroom, which is occupied for 15mn by woman who says she has the runs. I try the door several times and she yells back something I don't understand. Finally I ask the woman at the counter to let me use the men's room. Realizing all the trouble I risk getting into (argument with the black woman who's inside then long talk) I say "It's not my day".
Sun. the 2nd:Take PHLASH bus to go to Art Museum. German tourist who stays at hostel gets on board a few stops after me. Seems that he has a problem with paying fare and I contain myself not to offer to help. At museum coat check man asks if we're together. I say that we just happen to be in the same hotel. Coat man says that he'll put our coats together and I get the token. German and I take a guided tour of the museum then each one goes his own way. I have lunch at cafeteria and wonder how German is going to get his coat back if I have the token however I don't want to start looking for him. Museum closes at 3 and when I go get my coat I realize the German has already left because his coat is not with mine anymore. I wonder how he managed to ge this coat without it.
Mon. the 3rd:Go to City Hall to visit. It's the day of the inauguration of the new mayor Street so we can't visit some reception room on the fourth floor where the reception is held and the guide keeps repeating how unlucky we are to be visiting that day. A man who keeps apart from the rest of the visitors draws my attention because he seems to look, like I do, at things other than what the guide tells us to look at. At one point I ask him if he noticed a certain staircase and he replies rather gruffly. Later we all go to the top of the tower where the statue of William Penn dominates the entire city. We are split in two groups because the elevator to the top is small and that man and I are in the second group. While waiting he remarks that the similarity of this city hall to French architeccture is striking and I agree with him, citing the shape of the roof, the copper ornaments and other features. He says that he loves Paris and would love to live there. He even speaks French pretty well. He says that he's from Philly and is returning because he's writing about his life and needs historical background and it's the first time that he actually visits the landmarks of his city. On the circular balcony I ask him a few questions then he interrupts our conversation to speak with a woman apparently in her fifties who says that she came here to look at her business from above. I understand that she owns a business in Center City. I find this statement rather arrogant. The woman is well dressed and groomed, with her blond hair pulled tight into a bun or braid at the nape of her neck and a decenty amount of make up. I feel as if she is here only to make me want to be with the man. After a moment she leaves and I and the man resume our previous conversation. He says that he's a journalist and travels a lot in Europe and that his articles are published in trade film magazines, so I suppose he's not a film critic but on the other hand it seems that he is. Later he mentions in passing something we could do together without explicitly inviting me. I say I recently saw the movie called "All about my mother" by Almodovar and that I didn't like it much because it seems implausible that a nun would have sex with a transvestite and get pregnant by him. He replies that the reason I didn't like it was because the English subtitles were bad and if I spoke Spanish I would have been able to better appreciate the humor. So he made the asumption that I didn't speak Spanish, which rang an alarm bell, because it seemed to me that he was only pretending that he didn't klnow that I did speak Spanish. Earlier, another thing he said that rang the same bell was when he spoke about the train station in Philly and said that it was a wonderful building and a historical landmark, again as if he assumed that I didn't know it. I replied that I had come to Philly by train and that I had seen the station. When we get back to street level he says good buy in French. I see him walk towards the visitor's office and after a few moments follow him there. He's watching postcards with a magnifying glass. I feign surprise at seeing him and buy two postcards too, then ask him where the library is. He says he goes there quite often and could show me where it is then he starts a long conversation with a woman of the office, then with a man. Somehow he lets it be known that his last name is "De Leon-something, the something being a Jewish-Polish sounding name. He speaks again with the woman and calls her "Mrs Greenberger" with a French accent. I go out and wait for him. It's another few minutes before he comes out and we're on our way. He stops at a hot dog stand that says it sells the best hot dogs in the city. He says that he loves to eat at those stands. I follow him to the cart and he buys one for himself and one for me. He pays for mine with ostentatious liberality and makes me feel that I tricked him into buying me the one dollar piece of junk food. We find a low wall and he sits there to eat. He says that his family didn't love him, his cousins are only interested in money, he's the black sheep of the family, then he asks about me, what I am dong. I say that I write about crime on spec (since he had said he was a journalist I assumed that he would know what it meant) and I say that I live in the US because of problems with my family, without being specific, but I say that my mother is evil. He interrupts me and uses a french word with a meaning less absolute than "evil" as if to correct me. He says that what we have in common is that we are two black sheep. Then he digs into his bag and fetches a small bottle of orange soda. He drinks from it almost to the end and when we're all finished eating and about to start again he asks me if I want what's left of the soda. I accept and realize too late that it's a put-down for him to offer me his left-over soda. There's hardly two mouthfuls left so I say "You're offering it to me just because you want to get rid of it!" While eating he said that he was the only son born out of wedlock to a Jewish woman and a Cuban father and that his mother had died when he was less than one year old, that he had been raised by his grandparents and that his extended family blamed him for the scandal. He speaks in glowing terms about the other hostel in Philly. I ask if he's talking about Chamounix and he agrees.
After we've left the library he says that he has to go to the central library because he needs some research material that isn't available elsewhere. I say I'm going back to the hostel because I feel tired. He says that he'll be back at the hostel a little earlier than usual as if he would do this for me. He asks for my name and tells me that his name is Alex. After that I do not look for his company. In fact I haven't spoken a word to him since then and I'm writing this on the 21st of Jan.
Tues. the 4th: At breakfast young French men speak about someone who is pursuing a Ph. D. but they don't seem to know what it means. All I hear is "Ph. D., Ph. D., Ph.D."
Wed. the 5th:In the morning in the hostel just before time to get out (10AM) German tourist is standing next to manager who is sitting at computer, his back to me. German says "Hi!" as if he's expecting that I'll want to talk to him to discuss what happened at the museum last Sunday, and pretending to be falsely happy to see me but it's not him I want to talk to, it's the manager so with my index finger I show him the manager, tell the manager what I had to tell him and leave. It had occurred to me the night before that the whole business with the German had been set up so I delighted in ignoring him or being merely courteous.
Every evening one of the long-term residents of the hostels brings two or three bags of potato chips at movie-time and offers them around. And it's not just any kind of potato chips, it's the "barbecue flavored" variety, so I have to think that it's not by chance because it links with two previous events, the first one totally innocuous: back in the winter 98/99 I had bought for the first time in my life a bag of barbecue flavored potato chips, because they were only one dollar at the cheap store on Columbus Avenue where I also bought my shampoo and conditioner. The second event was last summer when Liza, this crack-smoking mother of six living at 19 W 103rd, offered several times to buy me food if I needed it. Since she was on friendly terms with Mitch I distrusted and had always declined, not only out of distrust but also out of pride. But one hot day last summer I wanted a beer I couldn't afford when she renewed her offer and I accepted. This time she specifically offered to buy me barbecued potato chips! Why was she so specific unless she wanted me to know that I had been observed buying the chips last winter, and wanted me to know in general that I was under constant observation? So I don't think I suffer from delusion of persecution if I infer from this and other recent incidents that even in Philly I am not left alone.
Thurs. the 6th: At breakfast I talk with a young man who says that he's studying astrophysics at Penn state. Humm... an echo of what I had said to Yogi, the young Indian man who worked at the coffee shop in White Plains last August. (I had expressed surprised that he was at such a low job since he had a high forehead and looked intelligent. I had asked him if he was a student and said that I thought he was studying astrophysics). I pretend I don't make the connection. We speak about student life, beer parties, drunk driving and nerds. I point the double bind where serious students find themselves when society and their parents are pressuring them to be good students and if they take their studies seriously they are called "nerds". Finally he says that his name is Ezra. Humm... Ezra. Echo of Pat Fleming, my guitar teacher back in 88/89, who said he liked Pound's poetry.
At the Barnes & Noble bookstore's cafe an old man with slogans about Jesus written on all his clothes and wearing a large placard saying "Jesus Saves" comes to sit at the table where I had just placed some books to reserve the table while I was buying a coffee. When I return with the coffee I tell him that he's sitting at the table I had chosen for myself and he reacts gruffly. He says "Well baby, I have news for you." Since I suspect another set-up I react with controlled anger and say "Well, from the way you're dress I already know that you don't have any news for me" an I take the books and go sit at another table. A few minutes later he starts talking about Jesus and I interrup[t him again and say: "I just knew that you didn't have anything new to say." He shuts up and leaves a few minutes later, beating the air in front of his face as if to dispel a bad smell. I knew he was doing this to tell me that I stankalthough I was too far from him for him to smell anything.
Since I arrived at the hostel there's been an old woman in a bed not far from mine, and a smell of old urine emanating from her has pervaded the dormitory. It's made the search for relaxation a dubious enterprise because the dorm is the only music-free place but when the ears are not beeing assaulted it's the nose! On that day I felt so miserable because of it that I knew I couldn't take it anymore and I had resolved to speak to the old woman about it, although it's a rather delicate subject. In addition one day I had heard her speaking to a young Asian tourist, saying that she didn't have a home and had given all her furniture to charity and I knew that she had said that for me (what young woman would subject herself to close proximity to this old biddy unless it was a set-up?) Since that day I had been resentful of her. She actually stank in both the actual and the figurative meaning of the term.
In the evening I go to the bathroom to wash a few panties, grateful that nobody's there but I've hardly been there one minute when the old woman comes in! She starts opening and closing the faucets, pretending to do something, and starts talking to me. Soon enough she broaches the conversation to the smell, asking me if I had noticed! "Yes," I say, "I have noticed a horrible smell of urine." "It's these young women who travel! They carry diseases and they don't wash! Look, since I've been here I've caught the flu and I've had to go to the hospital!" "But these young women don't stay more than one or two days, and I can tell you that they take showers all the time, and the smell of urine has been here all the time since I arrived here, so I thought it was you." Obviously she did not expect that I would be so straightforward. She is so taken aback that she leaves the bathroom and returns shortly. She says "If it smells bad it's because of the pissers!" I smile and don't reply. I have made my point, that's enough.
Friday the 7th: Incredible, I cannot believe it! The old woman is GONE! So it seems that she was there only to try to make me believe that I was the one who stank to embarrass me and undermine my self-confidence but she didn't expect that I would so positively identify her as the culprit!
On my way to the library I enter a home-and-body perfume shop but when I get out I take the wrong street. Instead of making a right I keep going forward. A young black man asks me if I know where a chocolate shop is. I reply that I don't know the city and have no idea. He goes away. Then I see that right across the street is a chocolate shop with huge stuffed animals in the window and not one chocolate, and a sign that says "Help Wanted". I understand that the young man was looking for a job and look to see where he is. He's talking to a white man who just stepped out of a Jaguar. I see the white man pointing in the direction opposite to the store so I start walking towards the young man and pass the white man standing by his Jag but he's one block ahead of me so I call him in a loud voice while he keeps going away. I realize that this must be a set up and give up.
Sunday the 9th: Go to Art Museum. At 2PM I take a break and go to the cafe for a bagel and tea. A woman arrives behind me at the counter and makes a fuss about what salads are available. The black man who is at the cash register rolls his eyes at me, then the woman buys one that comes in a plastic container, and a cookie. By the time she is through with the transaction I'm already sitting at a table next to the station where one gets sugar and milk and she drops her container just at my feet. She rants, gets down on her knee and picks up the scattered pieces of salad and puts them back in the container. She says that it's not her day (what I said on Jan. 1st at Dunkin Donuts when the bathroom was being squatted by this black woman) and throws the salad into the trash bin. To my amazement the counterman brings her a new salad. So although he had acted like she was getting on his nerves he was replacing the salad although it was the woman's fault. I pretend total indifference.
Tues. the 11th: I have found a place near the library where I can have a sandwich for about $5, about two dollars less than elsewhere. Another good point about the cavernous joint is that one can smoke and there is no music.
Today, a few minutes after I had sat down to eat three women, one old and two young ones, obviously office workers, came in and sat at the table next to me. Almost immediately they started talking about underage drinking and ID papers, including non-driver licence, passports and green cards. Obviously there was a reference to the conversation I had had on the 6th with "Ezra" concerning beer parties and drunk driving, and the references to ID's were only to remind me that my identification papers were expired or lacking. Meanwhile I was reading a thick tome about HTML I had just bought at Barnes & Noble.
In the evening, after the film ends I go out to smoke a cigarette. A young man is already there and we exchange a few words. He asks me if I've heard about the other hostel in Philly, he says that it costs only $11 a night and that it will open on Jan. the 15th. I let a moment pass and ask if he's talking about Chamounix. He says that it's the place he's talking about. I say that I've read about it and ask if it isn't true that it's in a park. He assents. I say that I think that it's outside of the city proper, meaning that it's not an easy place to leave and get to. Then I say I'm freezing and without adding a word, which surprises me, he goes back inside and I follow him. Later I realize that he's the 2nd person (after Alex) to talk about the Chamounix hostel and to encourage me to go there so of course I won't.
Wed. the 12th:: On my way back from the library I pass two young black women who are walking very slowly on Chestnut street. As I approach I hear them speak French and just when I pass them the one nearest to me speaks about "Philips", the first company I worked in after I graduated from the typing school, when I was new in Paris.
In the evening, as I get into the women's anteroom to the dorm, the young man who told me about the Chamounix hostel is talking with Goldilocks, a young homosexual man who works here and is presently inside a storage room by the women's dorm. I hear the first one say to the other "Did you know that so-and-So has been arrested for shoplifting?"
Apparently whoever is working in the shadow for my mother tries by all means to intimidate me, embarrass me in order to attain a goal, but which goal? To make me leave the hostel and go to some cheap place where it will be easy to slit my throat while I'm sleeping?
This allusion to shoplifting is a reference to my own life obviously, and a really desperate attempt at intimidation. Indeed, I was arrested for shoplifting, but I was fourteen years old at the time and I had been set up by my mother, who had accepted to let me invite friends for a cookout but had given me only thirty francs to buy the food, or about five dollars. In fact this arrest helped me to return to the straight and narrow because I had been shoplifting everything I needed that my parents did not provide and the contact with the police and the criminal justice system, even as a juvenile, convinced me that I didn't want to take even the remotest chance of dealing with it again.
Thurs. the 13th: Around 3:30PM I have a coffee and roll on Market Street near the hostel, waiting for it to reopen at 4:30. Just before leaving I go to the bathroom and when I get out there's a tall black man standing in front of the ladie's, and I have to contort myself to pass into the dining room. While I'm paying at the cashier's, there's another black man speaking to the waitress and I hear her say that the restrooms are for customers only but it's ok for him to go this time.
In the evening an Indian-looking man with greying hair is sitting in the living room leafing through a picture book about Brittany.
Fri. the 14th: When I get to the kitchen-dining room downstairs, just when I arrive the same Indian man is speaking about classical music and jazz (so early in the morning!)
At night we watch "American History X" which deals heavily with a white man's racism against blacks and jews.
Sat. the 15th:
In the evening I go to Upstage for a beer. One man is finishing dinner and asks if it's ok to pay with a hundred dollar bill then he leaves. Two men arrive together, then another man by himself who sits himself away from the group of two, and very soon I can hear them talking about racism (which of course they say is bad) and they talk about it for the rest of my stay at the bar. I can't believe three white men would discuss racism so passionately that it would last a good forty-five minutes. I think they were trying to draw me into the conversation for the purpose of putting me down once I started on the subject or something equally unpleasant. After viewing the film the night before this conversation was a strange coincidence to say the least.
I return to the hostel around 9PM and later, one of the female guests says that she is jewish (there ensues a conversation on whether she speaks yiddish). Later still the fat girl says that she has been called a "nigger" only once (she does have some African blood, judging from her hair and a very slight tan). Should I feel sorry for these two women or what?
Sun. the 16th: When I get down from the dormitory the woman who said the night before that she was a jew is sprawled on the lap of Steve, one of the young gay men who works at the hostel, as if to plant into my mind the longing for some physical closeness with somebody else (the Indian maybe?)
Mon. the 17th:Fat Girl and Goldilocks give a small wave of the hand when they say hello to me. I used to do the same gesture to Mitch, I found it was more personal than a mere "hello" and when someone does it to me I tend to feel the gesture is warm and pleasant. Hold on! Hold on! Hold on, I have to say to myself. If they do this it's probably to manipulate you emotionally!
Tues. the 18th:Buy heavy 100% cashmere zip front sweater (navy) for $69 down from $369, and a pair of dark brown corduroys both at the men's department. When I leave the store the saleswoman smiles, says good bye and waves her hand at me!
I also go to "Nuts to You" to buy fresh roasted peanuts in the shell for myself and the squirrels. I ask for a taste because I'm not sure if I prefer the very dark or the dark roasted. The woman opens a bag for me (it was only folded close, not sealed) I have the taste and declare that these are the ones I want and I buy them together with a bag of lightly roasted ones for the squirrels.
I see a wallet lying on the pavement. I think it's probably a bait, some kind of trap. I tell myself that I'd better not get involved and keeps walking.
Thurs. the 20th: I go to the nut shop on Chestnut street looking for bird seeds. I ask a man who works there if they have them and he says no. I wonder where to go for them and remain in the store while thinking because it's freezing. A woman comes into the shop. She says that she wants to buy popcorn. The counterwoman puts a big bag (one pound) of popcorn on the counter and the woman asks if she can have a taste! The counterwoman is indignant and says that if the woman touches it it's hers whether she likes it or not. Obviously, I am being watched constantly as I am being reminded by this incident. Even the most trivial acts are recorded and replayed for me. It's very depressing.
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