Blog Post July 16, 2015

Peyton & Petey
I’ve got the “isms” on my mind lately. They seem to be in my face everywhere I turn. Having said that I know I’m not alone in my thinking or processing any number of them: racism, gender-ism, sexism. Take your pick or, as the saying goes, pick your poison because truly they are all poisonous.

It’s the sad truth that nothing really becomes real for us until it hit’s home. Many people are homophobic until a beloved son announces he’s gay and his parents have to look at who he is, who he’s always been and how that affects their love for him. How many politicians have we read about who were staunchly homophobic until someone in their immediate family came out and then they started changing their tune.

It’s kind of human nature (kind of because it really isn’t intrinsically so) not to take something to heart until it happens to you or a loved one. Maybe that’s called self protection. So much goes on that taking it all in could surely break our hearts into un functioning bits.

Like so much else our opinions and prejudices stem from our earliest experiences and the dialogue and examples we were raised with. People and situations then come along that make us stop and look at our beliefs and opinions, hopefully dissect them and then decide to own them or discard them. Is it real or Memorex?

The common query I’ve heard and read most of us know by now:

If you are a white person walking alone on a dark street at night with a black man walking down the street towards you would your first instinct be to cross the street? Would your first emotion be fear?


Depends where, how, and by whom you were raised is my answer.

When I was very young, pre concrete memory but total sponge young, the adults I felt  safest and most secure around were  black in color, a couple, Carol and Jackie who worked for my parents at our house in Long Island for a few years, Ellen, my grandfathers housekeeper, and a funny woman named Hester who cleaned our house for years. They were all African American or Black as we say today. They were called “colored people” back then. I can still see these people in my mind and feel them in my heart. They took care of me and my sisters. I could count on them. I can see Hester walking in our front door now big smile across her face saying “Hello Miz OHNell ( the way she pronounced O’Neill), What you girls been up to?” I can smell Ellen’s breakfast wafting up the back stairs of my grandfather’s house to day and want those bacon and eggs.

 I was age two and three when Carol and Jackie worked for us, but I have a distinct memory of playing ball out in the back yard with Jackie, and hanging on to Carol’s legs in the laundry room one summer day. 

I loved these people. I loved the other two adults in my household too; my parents. I loved my mother in particular more than words can convey. But it was the others, the “colored people” in my life who I knew were taking care of me.

My parents, good, smart individuals that they were, had the Irish curse. The Drink. They loved it, probably hated it, and surely couldn’t handle it.

Enough said but one can imagine how when the demon was around and kicking things could feel shaky at best.

But because I had Carol and Jackie and beautiful Ellen who had raised my mom and her brothers and sisters, and Hester who always arrived joyfully, I don’t feel fear when a Black man walks towards me at night.

I’m more likely to cross the street when a beefy red head‘s heading towards me a bit off balanced.

The things or animals or people of different races, genders, non labeling genders, people with different body types than ours, different ways of talking, walking, dressing from ours that we fear, we fear them from personal experience or being taught. Belief . Reacting from a belief that may not be true at all.

Yesterday I read a HuffPo piece by a writer I like that I’m going to share. It tells of a moment we all can relate to; when something is ignited  that needn’t be ignited. I found it both thought provoking and helpful.
The author writes about being one of the first on the car wash line at 8AM on a Saturday morning and how the cashier, a young white woman, is brusque with her and doesn’t look her in the eye. The writer, who is a black woman, wonders if the young woman behind the counter has treated the two white women in front of her the same way or if it is yet again because of her color.

She sits down in that waiting area and it’s gnawing at her, this question. Was it or wasn’t it. She decides to deal with it gracefully and use it  either as a chance to get the conversation started , a chance for healing,  or to just put her mind at rest. She approaches the cashier asking in a non threatening way if she has offended her in any way. This gets the young woman to look up and make eye contact and apologize. The woman goes on to say that she’s just not an early riser and hates this Saturday morning early shift and is really sorry. The cashier says she’s working on herself to be better. The author accepts her apology and walks back to her seat in the waiting room able to put her bad feeling to bed and move on with her Saturday.

Her story makes me think of the times I’ve walked away from a perceived slight, a look, or a word that got to me and churned up an old wound, labeled it incorrectly and allowed it to ruin my day.

Later that day I met my two good pals for a quick bite before choir practice at “our place,” El Chollo’s, on Western Ave which I’ve come to love. Best guacamole, made fresh in front of you and best fish tank at the bar with gorgeous fish and a bartender who’s been there for 40 years. My friend Granny shared a story of something that happened to her years ago when she was a bank teller. Envisioning Granny years ago behind a bank tellers grate I see the same 82 year old woman sitting in front of me only younger, darker haired, maybe a touch sassier, but the same beautiful face and  generous spirit embracing everyone. She is a one of kind Child of God, an  Amazing Beauty inside and out if there ever was one.

Granny  Click on to see Rappin Granny’s You Tube video…WAY COOL!

Anyway Granny tells the story of how when she was a bank teller there was this big fat (I’d like to add “ugly ass” not because Granny said it because she didn’t, I just love the way it sounds) woman who came in all the time wearing what looked to be home sewn clothes. None of the other tellers wanted to wait on this fat woman. They’d all pretend to be busy to avoid her and made no secret about it so the woman just headed to Granny’s line all the time since Granny takes them all in… big ,fat, smelly, wearing ill fitting clothes, Granny she’s good to everyone. Ok so time goes on, and this remember is back in the day before digital banking when people went to the bank at least once a week, knew the tellers by face if not name etc.,  so one day the woman goes in and Granny’s not there . She asks about Granny, finds out she’s home sick with the flu and asks the manager for her address. Low and behold she shows up “in a great big brand new El Dorado with two bags of groceries so heavy she couldn’t get up the steps even though there were just two of em”

She also invited Granny to her house for her family’s annual Christmas party. The fat lady in homespun was married to a doctor, lived in a huge house with seven bedrooms in a fine section of town with a beautiful view with beautiful furnishings Granny said anyone of those tellers would love to have.

They lost out, those others tellers. They made up a story in their heads about that woman being fat (sloppy and lazy perhaps?) and poor because of her clothing and wrote her off. Who, if any one, brought them groceries when they were out with the flu?

How many elegant homes have they been entertained in?
Those other tellers were people of color like Granny and the shunned fat woman, by the way. They had other prejudices, other assumptions, based on exteriors other than color.

Needless to say both the article and Granny’s shared story collided in my mind last night driving the hour home along PCH. It is a thought provoking beauty at night, that strip of ocean along Pacific Coast Hwy is. 

So I thought of the similarities and consequences of both stories.

Last week I came up against one of the newest editions of our isms when my eldest daughter’s transgender friend came to visit for a few days. He visited us last summer as a gay man. He was lovely to host then, we enjoyed having him around and getting to know him a little. He was a sweetheart as well as a thoughtful guest who gave me a beautiful gift upon leaving and sent a follow up note. This time he came as a she with a new name and a new look, but was the same lovely house guest. I enjoyed having her around and she is the same sweetheart. The only big changes noticeable being her face which is much more chiseled now and has a feminine Asian beauty with great cheekbones, hair which is longer and in a girl “do”, the make up which she does subtly well, and her clothing.

She dresses in tight leggings and long tank tops (sort of like my daughter) and silk tops and shorts that look more like culottes. 

She also feels like a happier much more relaxed person. She feels like a person comfortable in her own skin.

This I didn’t get about him last summer. This was really the biggest change.

We had several sets of friends come in and out while my daughter’s friend was visiting. A few of their reactions to her were surprising to me. 

It’s set my mind to processing like a hamster zooming around a wheel.

Yes we, my friends and I, are old. We are the over 60 generation, the baby boomers with liberal politics, pot prescriptions, who never skip a Maureen Dowd column. We are all for gay rights, but Caitlan Jenner and her friends make some of us uneasy. I know this by the emailed jokes I’ve received about Ms. Jenner.

So to you all, my peers, my friends, my contemporaries, let me say this: Just because we don’t fully “grok” something, there’s nothing to be afraid of or to put down.

Didn’t the Beatles teach us that “all you need is love love love …”

I’ve been thinking about my daughter’s friend and putting myself in her shoes. Her Jimmy Choo’s, I’d say. It’s one of the things I’ve said repeatedly to my kids over the years. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and walk around for a while.

So I walked in my daughter’s friend’s Jimmy Choo’s thinking about growing up as a boy. A boy of Asian dissent, growing up in America.  Growing up as a boy but not feeling like a boy. Feeling different sexually and socially. Maybe I’m gay, maybe that’s what I’m feeling. So I walk my Jimmy Choo’s into the gay life for a while but still don’t feel I’ve landed, walked into my authentic self.  So it clicks one day that I’m not a gay man, I’m really a woman. So yet again I muster up the courage to come out as someone other than my parents or the world as we know it intended.

Jeez, no wonder the dear girl felt more relaxed to me and looks so much happier. She feels more at home than ever.

 And let me tell you, those were some heavy Jimmy’s to stump around in!

Another personal reference, which will make my family cringe while reading, is my Blow Job example. Oh yeah I can hear my daughters screaming now, “MOM!”

They are texting each other like maniacs. “Couldn’t she just have stayed in the laundry room with Carol and Jackie!”

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk in study hall. I’m 17 and in the all girls boarding school I’ve attended for 3 years. I’m talking during silent hour, as usual, to my BFF. She tells me something she’s just heard about. It’s something sexual that a woman does to a man and she tells me it’s called a “blow job.” 

She describes it to me, and no longer hiding behind my history book, I yell “GROSS!”, and say with a vehemence reserved for the few things I feel strongly about at the time, “If my husband ever, EVER asks me to do that I’m divorcing him!”

All I’m sayin, folks, is minds are built to change.

Sharing and Caring today; 

My hero, Nick Kristoff’s, piece from last Sunday’s NYT’s on one of the Lost Boy’s of Sudan who came to the States , got an education and has gone back to Sudan and started a boarding school there believing that education is the best weapon. 

An amazing story I urge you to read.


The next is such a smart, powerful, book called The Book of Doing and Being by 

Barnett Bain. To me this book is The Artist’s Way, brilliantly written for grown ups.

Lots to say today, huh!

As usual, with love






5 Responses

  1. OK how beautiful is that baby we all love and with the dog…so beautiful and very magical!!! Your bank story reminded me of a woman who came into my store Laura M Jewelry. None of my girls (staff) wanted to help her. She smelled really bad and actually looked homeless. But no shopping cart…I was puzzled to say the least. But I felt sad for her, she still had a spark in her eyes! since my girls were not helping her, I got up from my back office and left my busy paper work and I asked her if I could help her. She said she would like to try on my beautiful pair of diamond earrings in my case. I said of course, and took them out ( I thought for a second I would have to clean them really well after she tried them on but OH WELL) She promptly tried them on. I told they looked beautiful on her , and then the sparkle in her eyes shined even more! I told her all about the quality carrot weight etc. my normal sales pitch. I told her that they cost $6,000. She smiled from ear to ear and went in her really dirty purse and pulled out the $6000 in hundred dollar bills. She then said with the sparkle in her eyes and her beautiful smile “you made my day”! My staff all watched the transaction and really were so disappointed in themselves because they realized their shortcoming in not helping her. If anyone of the girls would have helped her not only would they have made a homeless looking sparkly eyed elderly lady VERY HAPPY they also would have made their commission on the sale. I must say that after that day all those girls made it a point to help all the people who walked into Laura M.

  2. Karen Sweeney says:

    Annie Stein is a BRILLIANT writer…
    I love this thought provoking piece that she wrote.

  3. Kate Lipkis says:

    Lovely as usual, Annie. I am of your generation and gender, and am so appreciative of your reflection on race and transgender issues. Growing up in White Australia, the first person of color I saw was a gorgeous Jamaican girl when I was living in London at 15 years old. On the surface, everyone was straight and “cis-gender.” In fact, my brother was gay, my daughter is gay, my friend’s son has just become a woman… We need to see our childhood as just the start, and then find ways to change those early embedded stances when we know they’re illogical or mean or just plain wrong. And – were you in the chorus for the Justin Beiber Roast? I’ll bet that was you!

  4. Really gorgeous piece, Annie. Thank you. Inspiring. xoxo

  5. Susie Blaklely says:

    Beautiful article. I think it might be my favorite of yours…which of course is saying a lot.

Leave a Reply