Two Looks At Minorities

Couture, Cheap and Charitable

Housing Works is the nation's largest non-profit minority-controlled AIDS service organization. Our mission is to reach the most vulnerable and under served among those affected by the AIDS epidemic in New York City, primarily homeless persons of color whose positive HIV diagnoses are complicated by a history of chronic mental illness and/or chemical dependence, and provide them with a comprehensive range of services designed to help them gain stability, independence, and dignity, and improve their overall health.

On first read, the mission statement of this extraordinary organization reads wrong. "minority-controlled...organization?" All I could think of was that the Board of Directors followed some sort of Parliamentary Procedure gone wrong. But I'll forgive them the error in the name of brevity.

Go to They are the most amazing thrift shops I've ever encountered. Ever since my beloved and I — wait, my beloved — found the one at 90th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York we've been re-visiting it weekly, because the goods change on a weekly basis. They apparently only take (or are offered) the cream of the donation crop. I never thought that I'd find shopping enjoyable. I never thought that I'd find shopping with my wife enjoyable. Well, both happened since we've found Housing Works. These chic, delightfully decorated shops feature professional window-dressing (featuring the best of the best "finds," available at They're very clean, aesthetically pleasing and, well, fun.

I bought a Gucci tie there today for $30; nary a stain, crease, etc. I priced a Gucci tie once (at a Gucci store) and suffice it to say the amount they want for one new is enough to feed a family of six for a week. A month ago my wife picked up a Coach bag that she'd really wanted for awhile for $10. It'd been used, we surmised, because it had a tiny scratch near the clasp. I have picked up the coolest things with which to add flair to my restaurant: (stainless-steel jumbo martini glasses, a gorgeous wooden tray with exotic wood inlays, a crystal wine cooler, a couple of really nice decanters, and enough artsy plates to fill a cupboard).

Their predominately-volunteer staff are absolutely charming. I've met a former architect (he made his bucks and now lives a bohemian lifestyle and volunteers every week). There's a transvestite (she/he volunteered it after I called she/he "miss" one day; we decided it was cool because I thought her clothes were gorgeous and she/he concurred) who is on the A-list of the who's who of New York nightlife currently. There's a big, wonderful blonde woman with whom I share cooking tips. There's a big, militant-looking black woman who laughs at me and says "You're back again; all the way from Connecticut. How're the white folks doing up there?"

The shoppers range from people who appear not to be able to afford anywhere else to shop (not all of the offerings are haute couture, mind you), to society women who plan where to have lunch after they shop (I swear some of these women are related to Fran Drescher). Plenty of college kids can be found there, too, at the right time, picking up the most delightful outfits.

If you're too far away to enjoy shopping there, and have a couple of extra dollars, why not donate? After all, this cause is worthy. This organization is the "net" which catches the souls who fall through New York's Social Service System's "cracks."

Racial Profiling

Was it something in my coffee? Was it the pollution? I nearly called my psychiatrist today to tell her I'm having very strange thoughts.

You see, this afternoon I was driving down Second Avenue in New York City. A few blocks before the 59th Street Bridge, I spotted a group of men, all burdened with heavy luggage, standing on the sidewalk. Oh, they looked like they were from the Middle East.

Now, the United Nations General Assembly has just re-convened. Dubya left yesterday, but there're still plenty of people who hold high office in their respective countries staying in the City. Suffice it to say that the city's Homeland Security color is orange, or yellow, or some kind of color that Martha Stewart would identify with autumn.

It crossed my mind to call the terrorism tip line (which I'd have had to obtain from directory assistance) and tell them that there were a bunch of guys who bear a striking resemblance to the 9/11 hijackers hanging out on a street corner accompanied by large parcels. I chose not to make the call for more reasons than that one should only call if you spot an unaccompanied large suspicious parcel in a public place. These large (semi-suspicious) parcels were accompanied. By guys with names like Mustafa, Ackbar, Halvah, and Farshid.

All I could think of as I drove over the bridge was the tremendous guilt I'd feel for the rest of my life after seeing a huge explosion in my rear view mirror, and a high-rise apartment building crumbling. Or perhaps a small mushroom cloud. (Yeah, this is what actually went through my mind.)

Now, there are plenty of police in New York. So I left it up to them whether or not to engage in profiling with regard to this rag-tag bunch (they were archetypal taxi driver kinda guys; bearded, curly hair too long, polyester slacks, sneakers, and sport coats which didn't match the slacks).

The silliest though crossed my mind. Pull a U-turn at the end of the bridge, go back, stop in front of them and ask them a question.

Oh, the question: "Do you believe that you'll live in Heaven at Allah's side with 72 virgins at your disposal if you martyr yourself in the name of Islam?" Then something even stupider crossed my mind. Are suicide bombers intelligent enough to actually lie about something that serious, their core belief; in order to carry out their plan? So therefore (as wifey slept comfortably in the passenger seat) I ran over in my head what I'd do if they said "oh, no, we don't believe in martyrdom." Would it be a trick, or would they just be residents of Elmhurst or Astoria who stayed on the 7 train (or watever the heck train runs through Elmhurst) too far?

Now, of course, I might not be here writing this if they said, "Oh, yeah; we're all for martyrdom. As a matter of fact, in this suitcase over here, I've got some blasting caps and a whole lotta C-4; here's some duct tape, would you kindly tape the suitcase to my back?"

Recent Events

As you may, or may not, be aware, I've endured a long, uninterrupted fall from grace over the course of the past year. To sum up, I lost my job, which I'd held for over six years, in October 2006, due mostly to diminished performance caused by a bevy of medical problems at the time (some of which are still ongoing). I temped and contracted for the first several months of this year, but since my last contract ended in May, I haven't been able to find any work at all.

What little savings I had were gone by July, leaving me unable to pay my rent, and at the end of that month, I moved myself from New Orleans to Franklin, Tennessee, to share a house with my 59-year-old father, who himself has been out of work since May 2006 and who was divorced by my mother, after 33 years of marriage, in October 2006. The divorce settlement she received entitles her to about 90% of my father's retirement money (his unemployment came about due to forced retirement).

These things make for a particularly downtrodden atmosphere in the house of avalyn.

It gets worse.

With the end of my longtime job and the contracting that followed it, I find myself without health insurance. Without it, I've been slowly descending into madness as my prescription medications run out one by one, because I can't afford to refill them at uninsured prices. First, I ran out of Lyrica. Not a big deal, but it did lend a small hand in controlling my panic attacks. Then I finished the last of the Seroquel, which had quite a bit more to do with controlling panic and anxiety, and left me finding it difficult to stay asleep. Adding insult to injury, the Lunesta dried up next, leaving me unable to get to sleep at all; spans of seven to nine days of severe insomnia followed on an almost predictable basis. Have you ever stayed awake for over seven days? It's not something I can recommend unless you have a penchant for horrifying hallucinations, extreme muscle fatigue, inability to eat or to form complete sentences. A couple weeks later, I bid farewell to Xanax, which was more or less the last bastion of defense I had against panic attacks. Luckily, I had enough samples of Lexapro, my antidepressant, around thanks to the far-seeing diligence of my former psychiatrist, who gave me several months worth of sample packets the last time I saw him. Two months after I'd run out of everything else, I still had it, keeping me sane. As of last week, I've run out of it, too. As a result, I've gone into deep withdrawal. There hasn't been much depression yet, but I'm sure it's in the post. Panic attacks and unprovoked feelings of anxiety now whip me multiple times daily. Brain zaps, a common symptom of SSRI withdrawal, prick me with each move of my head, neck or eyes, or if I even find myself thinking too quickly. Sleep has become a bad joke, oft-repeated; it seems I'm capable of it for only minutes at a time. All I have to look forward to is months (at the very least) of this kind of thing as my brain slowly becomes accustomed to the lack of chemicals it's been receiving in daily doses for the past five years.

Some have suggested replacing my prescription drugs with St. John's wort, GABA supplements, melatonin or valerian root. Much as I'm willing to give these things a try (despite melatonin and valerian root never having much of an effect on me to begin with), I don't have even a penny to my name; my bank account is woefully overdrawn and I have to practically beg and plead with my father to get him to spot me even five dollars for petrol so I can drive to a job interview and back (not that any interviews I've been to thus far have been successful, of course), and said begging and pleading will occur only in times of dire desperation, because he doesn't have much money either, which is why I can't ask him for any money for food or to pay for refills of my long-lost meds. Getting five dollars out of him is like pulling teeth as it is, or at least it would be if guilt trips and disdain were parts of the normal tooth extraction process.

The Present

Even if I could find employment now, I honestly don't think I'd last too long, due to my mental state. Thinking things through has become impossibly difficult. The attention to detail that most work requires isn't something I'm capable of any longer (at least not presently).

With a bit of luck, my drug withdrawal won't morph into full-blown vertigo, which is what happened the last time I was forced to abandon an antidepressant drug regimen.

To top that off, I had a court appearance scheduled for August 23, due to a very minor car accident I'd been involved in early this summer. Since by that time I'd been in Tennessee for three weeks and I have no money, it goes without saying that I had no way of attending. As such, there's been an attachment for my arrest issued. I have no idea what to do about this, although at this point, there's nothing I can do at all other than hope for a complete lack of interaction with any police force in the future.

The only thing separating me and the homeless right now is the roof over my head, and I can't say with any certainty how much longer it will stay there. If I disappear from E2 abruptly, fear the worst.

I'm in a very large hole with very steep sides. Climbing out of it will be a major undertaking, and I don't know if climbing out of it is even possible at this point. My goose is pretty well-cooked. All that's left is for something or someone to come along and poke me with a fork. My only ambition now is to stay alive.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to curl up on my bed and cry my eyes out.

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