Nursing Home Romances and Critics Who Wear Hijabs

oldhandsinlove-b102366ee923ca3e0ed6fc7e2bfd09627ca0b226-s300-c85Life has been cracking me up a little bit lately.

First, my sister Alexa called to tell me our mother, who as been in a nursing home since a massive stroke a decade ago, found herself a boyfriend. It was the last thing I would ever have expected to hear about Mom. On top of that, he’s the resident bad boy.

For several weeks over the summer, Alexa was out of the country at a family wedding. In those few short weeks, Mom fell in love with another wheelchair bound man, snuck a cigarette with him inside the nursing home, met for movie time at unscheduled hours late at night, and has totally become like a sneaky teenaged girl. Alexa has one kid, and it’s a preteen boy. She started off the conversation by telling me my mother was out of control. It was hilarious. Mom eats her meals with him in the dining hall, and holds hands with him while they watch tv. Personally, I find the whole affair adorable, and surprisingly, hopeful. I have always wondered about Mom’s quality of life in a place like that. Now, I feel a bit better about it.

Rebekkah, my daughter, has found her stride at the University of Texas. Her best homie is a girl we’ll call Athena, and she wears a hijab. I had no idea what that was until today.

Behold, a hijab:

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If you guys weren’t aware, Austin just loves its food trucks. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one around here, and they congregate en masse around UT. Athena, a Middle East native, chose to eat a falafel —  defined as a  deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas,fava beans, or both — and found it unauthentic and poorly textured. She and Rebekkah had a small discussion about the dissatisfying falafel, and the matter was quickly forgotten about …by Rebekkah. A few days later, though, Athena told Rebekkah that she had gone on Yelp and reviewed the Mediterranean Food Truck.

“I gave it 3 stars, ” she told Bek, going on to read her review aloud, ” ‘I ordered a falafel but the texture was all wrong. It’s supposed to be crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside. My friend ordered the <insert whatever weird food Bekkie told me she ate here>. She said it was good, but I doubt it.”

The harshness of the review surprised Rebekkah because, of course, people who wear hijabs aren’t harsh or leave Yelp reviews.

“Sometimes,” Athena said, ” I like to play the critic.”

Alexa went to Morocco over the summer. Turns out, she wasn’t prepared for the heat. She told me it gets to be 120 degrees over there, and there weren’t any air conditioners where she was. I won’t go into the many hilarious things she told me, except when she and her husband finally got to a hotel where there was air conditioning, she asked the front desk if they’d bring her a fan. We like the air to be moving around us.

When they finally arrived with her fan, this is what they brought her:

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It’s been kind of fun around here lately.

I’m happy tonight.

~ Bird

Homelessness in Austin

AustinSkylineLouNeffPoint-2010-03-29-bAbout a month and a half ago, I started a new job. One of the cool aspects of it is where it is located – downtown Austin. I work almost everyday a couple of blocks from the Capital Building. As downtown’s go, Austin has one of the best. It’s clean. It’s historic. It’s beautiful….And, it’s got the most expensive parking I’ve ever seen.

The company I work for, though, pays for us to park in a parking lot located about 3 blocks away. It sits right next to the Salvation Army where you can see  hundreds of the homeless people lined up along the buildings and roads every single day, wandering through our lot, sitting in the shade of our various cars, and from what I have witnessed, just existing, not living.

It’s a heartbreaking thing to witness every day. Austin has become a kind pols_naked-37254of mecca for the homeless. It stays pretty warm here throughout the year. It isn’t illegal to panhandle along the lines of literally thousands of cars that exit IH35. Because traffic here is so congested, you can find yourself hit up for money by several people at almost any of the major intersections, and if you find it hard to make eye contact with them, this is torture because they have plenty of time to get you to pay attention to them.

I have always had a soft spot for homeless people. When I imagine what that must feel like, it literally terrorizes me. But then, I started a job downtown.

18_3-smThe first week I started, as I was walking the three blocks to my office, a homeless man jumped right in front of me from nowhere and screamed at me to give him a cigarette. He’s seen my pack in my hand, and he decided scaring me was his best bet at getting one. It was, because I didn’t want to die some retarded death over something that ironically, is slowly probably killing me but in a much more enjoyable, non-bloody way.

I like to think I don’t judge any one group of people by what a few of them do, so I chalked that one up an isolated occurrence and a good learning lesson for me. Don’t carry something out in the open I don’t intend to share with them. But then it began happening daily.

cn_fairchange_comp1Since that first time, I’m kind of bullied by some of the homeless around downtown. Some of them demand I give them my lunch, or go buy them a bottle of water, or give them money. Never am I asked please, or even asked much at all. And I’m not the only person that gets accosted when they walk to and from their cars over there. I’ve never seen displaced people be so threatening.

The situation made me think though. I used to think that Austin letting people panhandle anywhere they wanted was kind of cool. You know, compassionate and all that. But now, I wonder if we are doing these people a disservice by not actively trying to better their situations instead of allowing them to congregate in large numbers downtown. The competition for a measly dollar or someone’s leftover lunch is making these people desperate and surly. I can’t think competition is healthy when it comes to the homeless. What I thought was compassionate and patient is really overwhelmed and helpless on the part of Austin.

It’s been really, really tight financially lately for DJ and I, which has meant we can’t give out money to beggars like we would like to. But by being called names, or screamed at, or threatened by the few, I’ve come to find I’m no longer making eye contact with people who hold up signs asking for help. I find I only want to give to people who ask nicely, or who don’t ask me for anything at all.

jobI wonder why we tend to feel instant guilt when we look at someone who has ended up on the street. Do we all silently give ourselves excuses for why their problems aren’t ours to fix? Because I do. Because of these last few weeks, I find myself struggling to find compassion. I find myself angry every time a hungry person curses at me for my apparent lack of concern for another human being’s welfare.

I gotta tell you. I don’t like feeling like I’m getting desensitized to the suffering of another person. But how exactly does one keep themselves from it?

~ Bird