Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 57 titled “Middle America Hates My Household” riffs on a thought I had the other day while watching my landlord show me to open our new door lock.
Middle America hates my household, is terrified of it, wants to bomb and shame its inhabitants. OK, I admit maybe not my literal address in Queens, but rather people who look like the men, women and children who reside in our narrow slice of a two-story brick rowhouse, worship the same old gods as them and obsessively watch and critique RuPaul’s Drag Race like them.
This epiphany struck me last week while watching my landlord’s step-by-step tutorial on how to open our new front door lock. Just press in on the door as you turn the key, Mohammad repeated, loudly, as if reciting winning lotto numbers. I stared at the crown of his bald brown head, gray and black hairs cloaking the sides, as he pressed on the door. The wooden door opened and I saw his door in front of me, a square piece of cloth with Arabic written on it hanging in the door’s center. Truth is, I kind of hated Mohammad at that instant too. Not because he was Muslim, but because he believed me incapable of opening his new lock – the one he purchased after the old lock stopped turning and locked me inside the house. I nodded when he asked me if I understood his teachings, walked through the open front door and inserted my keys into the inside door to the left of his – the one to the upstairs where my gay dance choreographer roommate and I reside.
Gays and Muslims. Muslims and Gays. Two groups Middle America hates, fears, despises, believes are sending this country to hell in a handbasket. And then there’s me, a ginger. God, whoever you consider God, put me on a planet circling the Sun without the slightest ability to tan. Either God took that day off or God wanted to fuck with us gingers, see if we could withstand all the sick burns – the insults from our fellow humans and the sun, alike. (It’s worth noting here America has a much more favorable view toward gay marriage than it does Muslims, a population some estimate to number one million in NYC. Middle America and Republican presidential candidates like Rand Paul and Jeb Bush who oppose gay marriage compromise the minority voice on this issue.)
No doubt you’ve heard the New York City melting pot cliche. It’s sort of true, sort of not. There are people from every nook and cranny of the Earth here. Yet they often live en masse in their own divided quadrants with people who share their culture, their beliefs, etc. In this way New York City can be viewed as a city of many different ingredients and many different pots. Chances are though if you ride the train into Manhattan on any given day the people standing next to you will look, speak and/or worship different than you. You might even, contrary to my earlier assertion, live with or next to people who are different than you in neighborhoods like Astoria, where I reside. So it goes in a metropolitan city of 8 million residents.
And what do you learn? What have I, specifically, learned?
That most people are decent regardless their ancestral heritage, their religion, their native tongue, or who they love. That goes for the West Africans across the hall from me in Spanish Harlem who cooked stews that stank like bodies decomposing, to the Dominicans in Washington Heights who packed the barbershop at midnight for that pre-club ‘cut, to Mohammad and his ceaseless questions of “Is this not true?” after he makes an innocuous statement for the 15th time. It’s the same for Steven when he dances around the living room to a Top 40 remix or obsesses over Disney or RuPaul like straight men talk about football.
New York City is overpriced, overcrowded, reeks of garbage in the summer and inspires a hibernation lifestyle in the winter. Taxi horns soundtrack the days and nights. The trains never seem to arrive on-time. The city challenges you, shapes you, kicks your ass from time to time. Lost amid the bright lights and the struggle is how the city makes you consider and appreciate people different than you – those same people, as I mentioned, who crowd around you on the subway or in your apartment building or sit next to you at the ballgame. Those same people who open doors for you even when you begrudge them for doing so.