Monday, March 7, 2011

My First Time (part 1)

It all started when I was 20 years old. I was finishing up my first year at San Francisco State University, and as I was walking through the art department after class, I noticed a poster for NYU on the bulletin board. It said something to the effect of, "Study art this summer in New York City!" New York City. I was a born and bred California girl, and the thought of living in another state had never crossed my mind. My big leaving home and going off to college decision had consisted of deciding between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. But for some reason, at that moment, I decided what the hell? I had no summer classes, no summer plans. I signed up for a summer painting class and a creative writing class at NYU.
The morning I was to leave, I felt sick to my stomach. Sick to the point where I was dry heaving over the toilet while my mom shouted from downstairs, "Marissa let's go! You're going to be late!"
Since I was headed all the way across the country to a city with a reputation for being tough, my mom sent my dad and my older brother to help me get settled in the first couple of days. I think some kids would have been annoyed by that kind of a proposition, but my dad and my brother were kind of a riot when they got together, so I was happy for them to come along.
We got to the city and my dad and brother checked into a hotel in Chinatown. Then we set out to locate my dorm, which was in the East Village. As we walked down Canal Street, it suddenly began to pour. Out of every corner came the umbrella salesmen. "Umbrella! Five dollar!" We bought 3. Then, just as quickly as the rain had started, it stopped. I remember chuckling at the women walking around with plastic bags tied around their head to save their hair from the rain. I'd never seen anybody do that before. The closest I'd seen was folks in Watts walking around with plastic shower caps to keep their jheri curls juicy.
We hopped on the N/R line and headed for my dorm. This old blind Black woman with no teeth got on the train jingling a cup full of change. She began to sing and literally had the voice of an angel. It was incredible. I pulled out the spiral bound notebook that was my constant companion and began to scribble a poem about her. My brother cut into my daydream. "Maybe you could check the map and look where we're going instead of writing bad poetry about that lady." This is my brother's warped sense of humor. I can't just be writing poetry, it has got to be bad poetry. I told him it was no worse than his poems that I read on the home computer when I was little. "You read my poetry!?" That shut him up.
We got off the train somewhere near Saint Mark's Place, and started making our way towards my dorm on East 10th Street. My dad and brother kept trying to navigate with their big long umbrellas, standing on the corner pointing them this way and that. "I think we should go this way." I told them they were going to smack somebody in the face if they kept that up. As they debated which way to go, I turned around and saw one of my favorite things in the whole wide world: A secondhand shop. I saw teeth through the window. Somebody inside was smiling at me. I told dad and brother I wanted to check out the shop real fast. I walked inside and found two young guys, a Black guy with a huge unruly afro and a Dominican dude with a beard and a mohawk, the teeth behind the smile. I don't remember that first conversation, but this was to become my new hangout, and they would become my first friends in the city.