Tuesday the 1st:
In the evening I go to the bodega. Felix tells me that Mike is in the backroom. I go there. He's with Manuel and Tony. Tony offers me a seat and asks what I'd like to drink. He acts like an attentive candidate to my favors, as if he was in a contest with Mike and wanted to surpass him in gentlemanliness. I say I'd like a soda. He insists that I have a beer but I insist that I want a soda. I don't know what to say to Mike, I feel very uneasy but don't want to let on too much. I tell Manuel that he was very fresh the other day, asking me to go to his room, then I leave.
Wednesday the 2nd:
As I go to the bodega around 5PM, Mike is sitting on a chair without a seat, where he has placed a board that overhangs about one foot. Felix comes out instantly and makes me sit next to Mike on the overhang although there is another vacant seat around. I had not intended to speak to Mike, much less sit next to him but here I am, and if he gets up I'll fall on my ass. His breath could kill a horse and I have nothing to say to him. A woman with big flopping breasts passes us and he says "Look at this!" We exchange a few words and then I get up before he does.
Later in the evening he and Tony are on the stoop and again Tony acts as if he was trying to "steal" me from Mike. He asks which of them I prefer. I say I like them both the same, which means not at all. Mike says "But I'm different!" I feel betrayed that now they are playing this game of seduction when our rela- tionship was initially based on music and make a disgusted face to Tony. Besides they sound totally insincere. They're probably trying to make it look like Mike's desire to go with me to Riverside Park was motivated by a romantic interest.
Thursday the 3rd:
I've been trying to find a music store that's within walking distance so I won't have to pay $3 in transportation for a two dollar guitar string. I learnt that there is one at 106th and Third Avenue, which means across Central Park. So today I decide to go and have a pleasant walk across the park and I start on my way around ten after buying my banana-and-brownie breakfast.
There is a creek that flows from the Pool at 103rd to the Meer at 110th across the park, and it flows in a lovely gulch full of birds and silence. It's my favorite itinerary to go to the East Side. But just when I enter the park I see a van that's stopped at the wooden bridge right where the path and the creek start. It's not a van from the Parks Department, it's a private van that has no right to be here, and it has lights flashing on the roof. It blocks the way to the stone steps down the waterfall and I have to pass the van sideways to get to the steps. Still I go and when I reach flat ground I resume eating my breakfast. Then I reach a fork in the road just when I find myself with an empty wrapper and a banana skin in my hands. I could keep going along the creek, either holding on to my little garbage or dropping it but neither solution appeals to me. So I decide to leave the path and get to the road where I will certainly find a garbage can. As an afterthought, I realize that the path is totally hidden from the roadway by the luxuriant vegetation, the trees thick with leaves, and that if anything happened to me down there nobody would notice. It's not a good idea to take a chance at this time, I think, so I climb up to the roadway, find a garbage can right there and continue my trip on the road more traveled. When I reach the swimming pool, I see the same van parked there.
As soon as I find myself on the East Side I hear a voice calling "Brigitte! Brigitte!" I don't have to look to know who it is. It's this fat black guy who, last year, as I was passing in Central Park, invited me to a picnic when I had neither money nor food, pried my phone number from me under pretext that he needed a friend on the outside during his drug rehab and later bothered me until I told him unambiguously to leave me alone. "Am I bothering you?" he asks from a distance. "Yeah," I say and keep walking. I find a guitar string for one dollar and return by a different way, enjoying the park.
When I arrive at the Pool, a tenant of my building is sitting on a bench and calls me. He tries to pick my brains about what I think of this or that person. I tell him that Ruben is an asshole and Mitch a two-face motherfucker. He jumps on his seat. He says that people are really inconsiderate, they drop their garbage right in the middle of the sidewalk when they could hold on to it until they find a garbage can. So I know that I was being watched when I crossed the park.
When I put the new string on my guitar the string breaks. I think it's because it's a cheap string.
Friday the 4th:
I receive a letter from Mina MacFarlane.
Mike and Pepin are sitting on white plastic chairs and there's an empty chair that Mike invites me to sit on. I say to the people assembled around us that Mike doesn't want me to play the guitar. I also complain (to show that I'm not intimidated) that he tells everybody that I'm an American, but in fact I'm French, and that the French language comes from the Latin like Spanish does, and that I'm proud of my culture. We start playing, me on the maracas, but the music is boring and I feel depressed. After a while I get up and go to the bathroom. When I return the chair is gone. Mike and Pepin are playing a walz so I start dancing the walz, exaggerating the steps. Tony asks me where I was. I ask him "Does everybody have to know when I go take a piss?" Then he asks me suspiciously why I am dancing. I want to say that I'm dancing because my chair is gone but I say that I like the walz. He seems to believe that I'm dancing because of something nice that happened while I was away from the group and he acts jealous!
I resume playing the maracas and Tony says to me "Parley-voo?" and other phrases that people who don't speak French like to show off. Of course I speak French you stupid! He keeps acting posses- sive. He asks me if I'd like him to show me some tunes and I say yes. He says that we could go to my room. I say that I'd prefer to do it in the park like I did with Mike. "Why not in your room?" he asks almost indignantly. I say that people around here are quick to gossip and that I value my reputation. "Your reputa- tion doesn't matter!" he says with contempt. He's really getting on my nerves. Then he asks me if I have a boyfriend. "That's MY business!" I say angrily. After that he leaves me alone.
Towards the end of the session I pick up the guiro. I haven't played it for about fifteen years but soon I find the correct hand movements that I learned from Carlos PATATO Valdes, my Cuban boyfriend (and that nobody else does) and I produce the satisfying chuueee chac-at chuueee chac-at...
Mike didn't put his instruments in the bodega before it closed. As I leave he asks me if I'd like to practice tomorrow. I say "Sure, what time?" "Twelve," he says. Then he asks me if I could put his instruments in my room until tomorrow and I say no problem.
Saturday the 5th:
At noon I bring Mike's instruments to the bodega. Manuel tells me with his hypocritical face that Mike went to the East Side to help a woman move and that he'll be here later. I leave the instruments in the backroom. I go out around 3. Mike is here and ready to go. I say I have to eat first and will be ready in half an hour. While I'm drinking coffee Mario knocks on my door and asks me where I put Mike's instruments. I tell him. He says Mike can't find the case with the maracas. I go to the bodega holding my coffee mug and find the case almost exactly where I put it. I return ten minutes later with my guitar. Mike and I start to the park. Mario follows us with the maracas case, then he says that he forgot something so we wait for him. When he's back we start again, then a guy from the neighborhood calls Mike and they start talking a good five minutes while I keep waiting. When we arrive at the park Mike chooses a bench down near the water. A man is sitting on the bench next to ours with earphones on. I tell Mike that the string I bought broke again. He says that I should have told him (I did) and acts really upset. I tell him it's ok, last time we practiced I didn't have the treble E either and we played still. He opens his case and shows me a metal string and offers it to me. How can he offer me a metal string to put with nylon strings? But he acts as if it's not a problem at all and insists that I take it. I don't.
He starts tuning. I wait. When he's done I ask him to give me the A but he doesn't. Then I ask him to play a chord in E and he still doesn't, pretending that he doesn't know. I'm getting nervous so I want to smoke, but I realize that the cigar I just bought is not my brand. And Mario is shaking the maracas aimless- ly. I ask again Mike to let me tune my guitar to his instrument but he acts stupid. So I put my guitar back in its case and leave. Mike says that he doesn't know what's the matter with me. I go change my cigar and after taking a few deep breaths I return to the park where Mike is.
Since he's not playing anything, I play and sing two bossa novas and he interrupts me at the end of the second one and starts plucking his cuatro. But he's not playing anything and I wait. After a moment he says that he's not playing anything, only a routine to warm up. Then the man sitting on the next bench starts laughing hysterically in short bursts, as if he was laughing at something he was hearing on his headphones. It's very disruptive. Mike says that he's a schizophrenic. "But he wasn't doing this before we arrived!" I say.
. Mike says that he has to take a leak and leaves us. Mario asks me to let him play my guitar and I flatly refuse. He gets angry and leaves. Mike returns and still he doesn't start to play. After all this time, we leave the park without having played a single tune. At the entrance is an aged couple of the neighborhood. Mike introduces me as an American. The woman asks us to play but I'm depressed and go home. Mike stays with them and plays.
In the evening Pepin plays the cuatro, another man plays his guitar and Mike plays the guiro, as if he wanted to prevent me from playing as I did the night before. I lean on a car and listen. I'm depressed, the music is boring, Pepin's high pitched croaks grate on my nerves but it's still a little beyond me to give up and turn the page. At some point I ask Mike why he doesn't sing more because he has a nice voice. He answers that he likes me but he doesn't like my voice!
The man who liked my guitar playing leans next to me against the car. He starts asking about my former boyfriend Arturo, "you know, the one who stayed with you when you had your accident..." "Oh I see," I think, "my accident! Either the man knows it was
notan accident and he's trying to convince me that it was, or he doesn't know and I'm not going to straighten him out.
Sunday the 6th:
Around noon I see Mike go to the park with his girlfriend, both loaded with picnic paraphernalia. Around five I go to the park to take a walk around the pond but Mike, his girlfriend, Mario, Manuel and others are right there and Mike puts a beer in my hand. As soon as I have joined them, they move all their stuff to a bench and the girlfriend installs her videocamera in front of us. I don't sit next to Mike but later, after I have done a few salsa steps to the tape that's playing, I am next to him, and it's not long before he calls my attention to what's going on behind us: on the sloping lawn, there's a woman straddling a man as if they were having sex. The camera is probably catching this too. I get up to do my tour around the pond. "Where are you going?" Manuel asks me. I stay away for about a half hour and when I return Mike and Mario are playing maracas and guiro, but they don't look like they're having fun at all!
I go to the girlfriend because I don't want to be filmed, and ask her about this tiny camera. Then she says that she says that she plays percussions. "Oh, you play percussions!" I say with enthusiasm. She says that she loves the conga but she sold the one she had and is looking to buy another one. So we speak about conga playing. I say that I learnt to play but realized that the salsa world doesn't welcome women, much less conga-playing women, and that anyway it takes a lot of muscular strength to play loud enough to be heard in a band and that I went back to playing the guitar. She says that she wants to learn how to play (I had understood she already knew) but at the school where she went they charge sixty-five dollars. Then she adds "for one half hour," and it seems that she expects me to jump on the occasion to make a little money by offering to teach her because the price she quoted is so easy to beat. So I say "Anyway you Latinos have the rhythm in your blood. Once you know how to play the guaracha, the guaguanco, the montuno and the cha-cha-cha on the congas, there's nothing else to teach. You have to keep time, even when some crazy piano player is improvising, but nobody can teach you this, you can or you can't. As to improvisation, you have to express your emotions with the vocabulary that are the sounds of the conga and learn not to think. As far as speed goes, it takes a lot of upper body strength. Maybe weight-lifting can help. But to do a fast roll, it's a matter of practice, you don't need a teacher for this." I leave her. A man is playing beautiful boleros on another tape player and I sit next to him. Twice he puts his arm on the back of the bench behind me and touches my shoulder but I can't believe it's deliberate. He knows the lyrics of all the songs and sings them, but he always starts a half second before the singer. So that's it. I'm not going to hang out with Mike or his friends anymore.
Monday the 7th:
I call MacFarlane. I protest against the involvement of my niece's husband into my affairs. I tell her also that she is wrong to say that I don't have any rights, because I'm protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and I have a right to due process. She says that I don't. I ask her to re-read the text of the 14th Amendment, and recite: "... nor shall any State deprive
any personof life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdictionthe equal protection of the law." "Yes but it doesn't apply to you because you're not a citizen." "But I'm a person! If you're saying that non-citizens are not persons, it means that it's not a crime to kill a non-citizen!" (I had re- flected long ago about that, knowing that it was my mother's last ditch defense.)
She changes the subject and says that my mother claims that the estate owes me only about FF50,000. I say "What!? I can show you estate papers that say that my share of the estate is of about two million francs." I also protest that she doesn't have the power to act in my name because she has not been lawfully appointed guardian ad litem. I remind her that the judge has not entered the order, and that the order is not enforceable until it is entered, and that if Judge Milin cares to enter it I'll appeal it immediately. There are more things to discuss in her letter but I run out of change.
Tuesday the 8th:
I'm going to the park around 4. Mike and Manuel are sitting on a bench near the entrance. When I approach they call me but I ignore them. I have a court date tomorrow and I don't need any aggravation. Because let's face it: what else can I expect from Mike and his friends?
Wednesday the 9th:
Outside room 855 MacFarlane starts by explaining the money situation: she has asked my mother not to send me the FF20,000 (about $3,500) by Western Union but only $1,500 so that I can open a bank account, then she'll send the rest to the bank account. OK, so she has asked my mother to send me less money. And when will she send it? Probably next week.
I show her estate papers to prove that my mother's claim that the estates owes me only FF50,000 is false. One is not the best proof I needed, but it shows that, after my mother has taken the lion's share of the estate, the remainder has been divided among only six children out of seven, and that each of the six children owns only 6/7th of their share, the seventh seventh belonging to me, in theory only because it is actually in their possession. Still, each share amounts to about 1,5 million francs.
I say that my mother has sent me only FF350,000 which amount- ed, in 1994, to $63,000 and that I lived on that money for three years. So she still owes me the difference, and by living for three years on $63,000 I proved that I am able to handle my own finances without help. I wanted to add, but did not because it would have pissed her off, that I invested about $4,000 in law books and publications, which offered me a lot more knowledge than consultations with a lawyer for the same amount. But I say that if anybody needs their finances to be handled for them, it is not me but my mother, because look at what she is doing! It is because of her mishandling of the estate that I find myself in such dire straits!
To bolster my claim that my mother owes me my share of rent on rental properties, I show her an account summary that states that my mother has paid me those for 1990 and 1991 but nothing since. I want to point out the cruel irony that, because she owes me that rent money I am unable to pay my own rent, but MacFarlane interrupts me. In fact she's always interrupting me and I have to ask her constantly to let me finish.
Then she tries again to convince me to see a PSA caseworker and I flatly refuse. Then she says that as long as I don't submit to a psychiatric exam there will always be the suspicion that I am not mentally healthy. I refuse also, saying that such an exam would be a violation of my privacy. I look her in the eye and smile. "It would be a great help for my mother if I was labeled mentally ill," I say, "because then my credibility would be destroyed and everything I have to say could be dismissed as the rantings of a crazy woman. You know, it's not the first time she's trying this trick. Actually, I could say that all my life she has tried to drive me insane with all the horrible things she did to me, so that I would end up in a mental institution. Do I appear to you to lack self-esteem?" "No" she concedes. "Suppose there are two people in a relationship of authority, and the one in authority is always condescending to the other. Now if the person in authority was a mother and the other person a child, wouldn't you agree that this attitude can ruin the child's self-esteem?" "Yes," MacFarlane says, "but still there is this cloud hanging over you that you cannot dispel until you get a psychiatric exam." "But people are presumed mentally healthy!" I exclaim, "and it's not incumbent upon me to prove that I am mentally fit, it's incumbent upon you to prove that I am not, and there is no such evidence. "How can you treat me like this? My oldest memory of child abuse goes back to when I was hardly two years old, and my mother never gave up to this day. Somebody com- plains of child abuse and your first reaction is to treat the person like he's crazy? And what if it's the truth? Why are you persecuting me like this? What you are doing is hor-rible! I have spent more than twenty years recovering from the abuse my mother inflicted on me, and you find nothing better than to call me crazy! I have re-read my affidavit of November 27 and I admit that the tone was a little... halting." I wanted to explain that in the space of one week I had discovered the explanation to all the events that happened over the preceding two years, that I was in a state of shock and that I was pressed for time and didn't have the time to make a draft so I filed the first thing I wrote. I wanted to admit that there were inconsistencies in tense because sometimes the text was in the present, other times in the past but she didn't let me explain. "It's not HOW you said it, it's WHAT you said." "But it's the truth! It's exactly what happened! Don't blame me for what happened to me!" Not to mention that an affidavit is speech protected by the First Amendment.
"How do you support yourself?" she asks. She's been asking this everytime we met, and everytime I said that I had a friend who gave me a little money, about thirty dollars a week. Now I am angry at hearing this question again and at the whole issue and I say: "I sell my body to a seventy years old man who gives me money every day, three dollars at a time, and seven to ten dollars when we have sex. Apparently this doesn't disturb my mother and she's happy with the situation." "How would your mother know?" "Because she knows everything I do. Actually she even encouraged me to prostitute myself: when I went to say goodbye to her when I immigrated to the US in 1983, she said to me that if I had to prostitute myself, I shouldn't hate myself for it but do it like it's just a job. And you know why she said this to me? Because then I wouldn't need to ask her for money. Because money is the only thing that matters to her."
Steiner, the landlord's attorney is around. MacFarlane goes to talk to him. They talk in a low voice. After a moment I get up and join them. "What is the order of business today?" I ask. They don't answer me. Ronnie, the landlord arrives. He's upbeat as usual. He holds out his hand to shake. He says that he likes me and that he's very sorry that this is happening, but that he did everything he could to avoid it then we enter the courtroom and I sit at the back.
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