Tightrope Walking

So close, yet so far once again, he was on the roof of the wrong building. He tried to open the door leading back downstairs; locked.

His back lay on the gravel and grit of the pebbles spread across the roof. Hands behind his head, the grey sky creeped along. Feet crossed, jacket unzipped and jeans ripped, he closed his eyes as the rain fell.

He awoke after what felt like an eternity. His surroundings hadn’t changed except for the sky, a smug grey now a cloudy black, save for the streetlights near and the skyline from afar. He turned his gaze from Manhattan’s lights to a solitary window, directly across from his rooftop sanctuary.

Window closed, lights on, white curtains parted, he began to regain hope. He knew those picture perfect curtains, just as if he had seen them yesterday.

The temperature was dropping. The cool Autumn wind was now a stinging gust, sure to be below freezing. His socks had some holes; his shoes had more. Underdressed, malnourished, and down to his last few cents, his long journey had come to a halt right at the end.

They had made arrangements before he left. Every night at 11:11pm, she would look out of her living room window, onto the street, waiting for him. Before he made the jump. Before he turned all his pesos into dollars, stuffed whatever he could into a tattered backpack and took off.

He said he would be there by September. Before he got beaten and robbed in Alabama. Before he narrowly escaped ICE in North Carolina. Before traveling from house to house, doing odd jobs for next to nothing. Before begging in broken English for 5 weeks in DC. He scraped money together for a Chinatown bus and a few calls to her on payphones.

As the November winds frosted his young face, she prayed and prayed, prayed and prayed again for him to get to her safely. A love she may have lost, but hopes to God she didn’t. She worked at the daycare in the morning and at the hotel in the evening. She said a prayer whenever she could for her love to come, but hadn’t heard from him since his troubled lips whispered “Te quiero tanto” on the phone two weeks ago.

Stuck on the roof, there he was, beginning to shiver from the frigid Northeast winds. He looked across to the white-curtained windows. He knew. He knew it had to be where she lived. He memorized her address, for the most part; he knew she was in apartment 5C. One street off makes a big difference when it’s below 30 degrees and are stuck on a roof.

He saw the roof doorway of the building across slightly ajar, light peaking through the cracks. A solitary cable ran from his roof to hers. He hoped with all his heart and soul it was hers; deep down, he knew.

He approached the barrier surrounding the rooftop. The cable connected the two buildings over their wide, adjacent alleyways, about forty feet apart. Looking down, he saw a 5 storey difference between the roof and the concrete floor.

Slowly, timidly, he placed both hands on the freezing cement ledge, brought both legs over, now sitting on it. He tapped one foot lightly on the cable; a thick cable, no shock, not slippery. He planted his right foot as firmly as he could. He felt his weight depress the cable. Adrenaline and fear consumed him unlike ever before. He knew the cable would bend, but not break under his weight.

He remembered the one time he went to the circus as a child, and cautiously lifted his left arm while holding onto the ledge with his right. As the sky decorated his filthy hair and clothes with light snowflakes, he knew that he had to find shelter. The shivering young man planted his left foot in front of his right, and let go of the ledge.

Before he knew it, one foot had stepped in front of the other; right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. Small, balanced steps, he took, each leading him closer to the roof ahead. Arms spread, legs moving, he found an unexpected rhythm in his footwork. He focused on the cable ahead, not on the concrete floor below, and recited prayers to himself over and over. Right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. A gust picked up over the alleyways, but he was not deterred. He had come too far to fail.

He reached the opposite ledge. He climbed over, arms chilled to the bone, and fell onto the opposite roof. He hurried into toward the door, not looking back at the aerial gap he had just conquered.

He ripped the door open to the warm, well-lit building. Down the stairs one flight, his stiff, wet legs descended, and he was on the 5th floor. He slowly approached the door marked ‘5C’, with tears already falling, warming his frozen cheeks. He rang the bell several times and yelled her name, a faint cry at best. He heard frantic footsteps and many locks unlocking.

The door opened. There she was.

They embraced like never before, with more passion then they ever would again. She had a rosary in one hand, cell phone in the other, with the time on the screen reading 11:11pm.

Who Am I? – Poem from 2010

I found this poem while going through an old notebook from college. I wrote it when I was 20 years old as a junior at St. John’s University. I intended it to be a spoken word piece, but never performed it. It’s interesting to look back at it now, over 5 years later from 2010, a time when my identity was forming in many different ways.

Who Am I? – by Ruben Muniz

I am who I am, I am who I was, and I am who I will be.

I am my family, my friends, and all my associations.

I am who I am! Do you need a further explanation?

There’s more to me than the eye can see.

I am who I am, nothing more, nothing less,

and who I am is me.

 

I am my family.

My family comes from Puerto Rico, so I must be Puerto Rican,

But I’m from New York, so I guess I’m Nuyorican,

But when I’m outside the country I’m Ame-rican.

American, if you will, born and raised in the USA.

Puerto Rico is under the US’ flag, so I guess I’m American either way.

 

But what is “American?”

Does anyone even know?

Puerto Rican is a mix of Spanish, African and Taino,

Among a dozen other nationalities brought together

by war and political irrationality.

Question: does nationality make personality,

or is it merely a formality?

I prefer the latter to the former, others disagree not so discreetly.

No matter how I put it, if I say it harshly or sweetly:

I am who I am, I am who I was, and I am who I will be.

 

I am who I am, nothing more, nothing less,

and who I am is me.

 

I am my friends.

I am the kids who I grew up with;

Many of them have become the young adults that are my friends today.

I associate myself with good people, so when people ask about my friends

I have no bad things to say.

This doesn’t go without exception, and it all really depends on perception.

Is she doing well? Is he a bad person?

Which actions improve the reputation of someone?

Which actions cause it to worsen?

 

Nonetheless, I am the kids from my block.

I’m the kids from my high school, both the nerds and the jocks,

I’m the young adults from my college, in New York and Europe alike.

I enjoy time with new friends, even more so with old friends,

but my best friends are my life.

I am who I am, I am who I was, and I am who I will be.

 

I am who I am, nothing more, nothing less,

and who I am is me.

 

I am my associations.

I am a New Yorker, I am a Bronxite.

I am the apartment building I lived in my whole life.

I’m a high school graduate who goes to college at St. John’s

I’m a brother to my sister, nephew to my uncle,

cousin to my cousin, and a son to my mom.

 

I used to work at Key Food on my block,

and at Cold Stone in Times Square.

To a few girls, I am an ex-boyfriend…

but I’m not even gonna go there.

To some I’m good, to some I’m bad,

to some I’m happy, to some I’m sad.

Right now I’m my dad’s son,

One day I’ll be my son’s dad.

 

I am me by association.

Whether it’s a person, a thing,

my home, or ancestral nation,

I am who I am, I am who I was, and I am who I will be.

 

I am who I am, nothing more, nothing less,

and who I am is me. So who am I?

 

To you, that depends on who you are,

and how you see me.  – RSM circa 2010

 

Solitaire Revival x Savage Strawberry Jam Sessions

Myself, representing Solitaire Revival along with Savage Strawberry had a little get together in The Bronx. Please excuse how fuzzy it sounds, we were playing so loud my phone couldn’t record it properly:

Special thanks to Freddy, Savage Strawberry and their whole crew. Such a badass night-RSM

September 11, 2001 Revisited via The 9/11 Memorial Museum

A few weeks ago I went with my father to the 9/11 Memorial Museum at the base of the ‘Freedom Tower,’ the nickname given to the new colossal building at 1 World Trade Center.

It was a more bitter than sweet experience, which of course comes with the territory and history of that tragic day. Everyone who was in New York City on September 11, 2001 has a story to tell, whether they had lost a family member or friend or not. Most stories involve unexpected tragedy at a very unfortunate level. Luckily for me and my family, no one was hurt. I will forever be grateful for that. As for my friends at the time, we were mostly 6th graders in the same school, so it goes without saying we were safe. My uncle had a close call, but a personality trait of his ironically turned what could have been the end of his life into just enough time to get outta Dodge. Here are the details:

My uncle was working nearby the Twin Towers in 2001. He was running late for work that day. I wasn’t surprised to hear this considering he runs late to family gatherings and it has become a running joke that he’s never on time. On 9/11 my uncle walked out of the subway and to his surprise there were hundreds of people, everyone from Wall Street suit looking types to delivery boys running full speed uptown. My uncle was born and raised in the South Bronx and told me he knew from his childhood to run with a big crowd and not against it, because it usually means they’re running from a dangerous situation. He took off with the herd of New Yorkers fleeing lower Manhattan before he even saw or knew what had happened to the towers. He ran for dozens of blocks, and turned on the jets when he saw the flaming North and South towers at a distance. His street smarts and tardiness may have made the difference between life and death on Septmeber 11, 2001.

twin-towers-on-fire
The North and South Tower’s last moments standing.

My experience was far less life-threatening than that of my uncle, but of course was not void of shock and awe. Around 9 in the morning my school’s principal announced that there had been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center via hijacked planes being used as missiles to strike the dual skyscrapers. I remember in my 11 short years thus far I had always called those buildings ‘The Twin Towers,’ and didn’t know they were officially referred to as ‘The World Trade Center’ until that moment. The principal ended his emergency address and after 15-20 minutes of teachers going in and out of the hallways to sort out logistics, another announcement came. The principal then announced that one tower had collapsed, and the other was in flames and on the verge of collapsing. He also announced that the entire student body would be sent home shortly.

I could only imagine how many calls the secretary had to make in the main office, but within half an hour most students had been picked up by a parent or guardian. My mother is a teacher and couldn’t pick us up since her school was following the same protocol with their own students, and my father was on his way to Ground Zero, another new term I learned that day, to aid in sorting through the wreckage as an emergency responder with Con Edison. Since they were busy at work my best friend’s mother picked him and I up as well as his older sister who was in the 8th grade, and stopped by my sister’s high school to pick her up as well. From there, we had a chilled out afternoon at my friend David’s house. The boys played football, the girls watched soap operas and eventually all of us, along with the city and the world were glued to their TVs waiting to see what would unfold un the aftermath of this unprecedented event.

The "Tribute in Light" memorial in the years following 2001.
The “Tribute in Light” memorial in the years following 2001.

Last month the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened up exclusively to first responders. Falling into this category was my dad, who spent weeks as a Con Edison emergency responder at Ground Zero in the Fall of 2001. He invited me to come as his guest.

The mood was very somber within the walls of the new museum. Contained in the sleek walls and shiny new facilities were heavy hearts and teary eyes. One of the things that resonated with me was a pillar with quotations projected onto it that were accompained with voices narrating each one as they were displayed. A barrage of  reactions on the day were brought to life, some as simple as “Oh my God!” to news briefs describing the day.

Another interesting piece I saw was a charred and twisted cylinder of metal, about 15 feet long with a 12 foot diameter more or less. I looked at the sign accompanying the display and was taken aback to learn that this hunk of steel was  small part of the antaenna from one of the fallen towers.

They had a charred ambulance on display as well as about 3/4 of what was left of a firetruck pulled from the wreckage. I honestly did not meditate too long on these two emergency vehicles, because quite frankly, it was way too heartbreaking.

My 2nd favorite part of the day at museum was a room lined with a smiling portrait of every single victim of the attacks. This was room was more sweet than bitter for me. I’m sure if I had directly known one of the 2,900+ faces smiling at me I would not have been able to look around the room with such a positive attitude, but I felt it was a nice touch to show each and every lost life in their Sunday best, smiling.

So many people die of tragedies on a daily basis around the world. It’s nothing new. I did think to myself though that in recent times of emergency in New York City that I have lived through, be it 9/11, The 2003 Blackout, or Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Yorkers have a talent for coming together in times of need, regardless of any other issue. We have a reputation that precedes us to be fast-talking, tough as nails and often rude city slickers, but when our own streets and neighbors need a hand, New Yorkers are there for each other. With solidarity and reverence in mind it truly warmed my heart to see all the faces of these bright young professionals, building maintenance workers, and especially New York’s Finest and Bravest honored in such a way. I’m not one to usually give compliments to the NYPD, but I will say that every single illuminated face I saw in that room will forever be heroes in my mind.

I thought to myself that of all the tragic events in human history, this one was the most recent one that had affected not so much my life as an individual, but most definitely affected the great megacity where I have always lived and where my heart will always reside. It was nice to see the tradition of New Yorkers coming together and honoring and remembering their fallen sons, daughters, fathers and mothers. I only wish that whatever tragedy may occur anywhere in the future, somewhere there are photos of whoever’s lives were cut short and that they are shown, being happy.

My favorite thing I saw that day was not really a thing, it was a person. My dad, duh! He invited me to the museum with the thought in mind that I would write this article. Although my uncle was the one who had to run for his life, and I am eternally grateful that he came out unscathed, my dad thought of inviting me to the 9/11 Memorial Museum to do what he always has done: to inspire me to write. With this in mind, I only have one picture to display from my trip there. It’s this one:

me dad freedom tower

As my born and bred Bronxite fingers tap the ending remarks of this article, I find myself wiping tears off my cheeks and ultimately, being grateful.

My dad could have gotten really sick like many others in the years following his work at Ground Zero, but’s he’s as healthy as a suave-looking 56 year old man can be.

My uncle put his son, my cousin and basically my twin, Jason through high school and college, the same high school and college that I attended. My cousin and I graduated together in 2008 and 2012, and are now advancing in our respective careers. My uncle also got married since then and now has a 2nd child, a beautiful little girl, my cousin Layla. None of this may have happened if he had been on time to work that day.

freedom tower

All in all, I like the name ‘Freedom Tower’ for different reasons than most. If you take a close look at it, the new building at 1 World Trade Center kind of looks like a phoenix-esque combination of the Twin Towers into a brand new, 21st century reincarnation of it’s fallen predecessors.

The way I see it, whenever I look towards lower Manhattan I don’t just see the tallest building in the United States, nor do I see just another Manhattan skyscraper. I see everyone who I saw smiling in the museum who had passed on in the attacks of September 11, 2001. I see New York City reflected in all its posh splendor, it’s dreamy mystique, it’s gritty, hardworking everyday people and everything in between, from Staten Island to my home borough, The Bronx. I see everyone I have ever known or walked by in my life throughout the streets and avenues who survived and now live to tell about their experience that day. New Yorkers, just like me.

When I see the Freedom Tower, I see my family. I see my uncle, who had the biggest brush with danger, and my dad, who brought back his Con Edison helmet to my mom a few days after 9/11 with Bill Clinton’s autograph, as part of a running joke they had about my mom having a crush on the former president. Most of all when I see the Freedom Tower I think about myself, my own life. I think about all the ups and downs, thicks and thins I have been through and how grateful I am that my family and friends made it safely through the events of September 11, 2001. When I look at the Freedom Tower and think of all this, I feel free. I feel free, to worry about my everyday life, my career in music and writing, my family and friends, and I feel free to not worry about someone I had lost that day anymore than the occasional ‘What if?’ Most of all, I feel free to live. Not many people feel this unique freedom I feel when they look at the same building.

In all its infamously tragic events and all that followed as a result, September 11, 2001 will forever live in my mind as the ultimate day of grattiude for all the things I have in my life. I think of all that I have and how close things had come that day to having many of them taken away. When I’m feeling down, all I have to do is look up; it puts me back in a place where I always love to be: a New York state of mind. – RSM

Racial Ambiguity: Caught in the Middle of Gentrification in New York City

The changing demographics of neighborhoods in New York City is nothing new. The Bronx, my home borough, was originally home to Native Americans, then the Dutch, the British, Irish, Italian, and Jewish diasporas long before it is as today, with Latinos as the slight majority. Oddly enough, there are times when I’m on my home street and I can’t help but feel like an outsider. Allow me to explain:

I live in Wakefield, a primarily African American and West Indian neighborhood. I have lived here since I was 3, with the exception of my years in college. Looking back on my life, my friends, neighbors, and family as well have always been very diverse. I went to elementary school a few neighborhoods over in the Bedford Park area of The Bronx, a neighborhood far more diverse than my own. I grew up unassuming, open minded, and figuratively colorblind.

In retrospect, I feel like it took me a while to grasp the idea of ‘race’ and different ‘races’ of humans. I just didn’t see it that way. Seeing that my friends’ ancestries vary tremendously and some people in my family are of mixed races, I just didn’t take much heed as a child. I still don’t take that much heed at all nowadays….

 

My best friends and family on my birthday.
My best friends and family on my 24th birthday.

….EXCEPT when the topic of gentrification arises. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. When I walk through Williamsburg, Bushwick, or Downtown Brooklyn it’s almost as if there’s not humidity, but tension in the air. I can feel it lingering around every train station, bike rack, street corner, and every other public place where Native Brooklynites now co-exist and share public space with out of state, 20-something transplants, or ‘Hipsters,’ if you will. I feel that same tension pressing on my lightly tanned skin, dyed blonde hair, and casual/rocker style of dress as I walk through certain neighborhoods.

I’m a Latino who can pass as Caucasian, or even Pacific Islander depending on who’s guessing. It’s great to look racially ambiguous when you’re talking to a pretty young lady at a bar in WIlliamsburg, but once you leave that bar you become a hipster to the natives of the neighborhood, and a questionable figure to cops, wondering why they see some surfer-looking whiteboy strolling through the ghetto.

About 2 months ago I was headed down White Plains Road, the main avenue of my neighborhood and also the closest shopping district to my apartment. It makes sense that I would go down this street for an innocent afternoon of commerce, right?

Well, it didn’t make sense to the cops who saw me chatting with a tattoo artist outside of his shop.

They parked their patrol car, approached me and asked me “What are you doing around here?”

Kinda like they didn’t think I belonged in the neighborhood I have always lived in.

I told the 1st police officer that I had always lived around here while the 2nd proceeded to stop and frisk me.

He felt up my bookbag, which contained nothing but my netbook, a book I was reading and a few ‘Living Buddhism’ magazines.

“Whoa, you got a heavy bag,” said one of them, “You got a gun in here or something?”

So there I was, not even half a mile from my house, being questioned for being in my own neighborhood. I didn’t know whether to be confused or enraged. I was a mix of both, but I held my tongue. I knew better than to make the cops feel as stupid and racist as they were actually being, and I knew if I had said anything back to them things could have gone much worse.

After a few more patdowns and another “What are you doing around here?” they realized that I wasn’t exactly Tony Montana, and let me go.

This was a rude awakening to me. I never did mind growing up my whole life as a Latino in a mainly black neighborhood. I actually liked it very much, as well as the Bronx and New York City in general. I do find it alarming, however, that upon first glance nowadays I may be viewed as a neighborhood invader to my own block and as a result being on the NYPD’s radar. I usually get along with everyone I see; my friendliness and the reciprocation of such from most people I meet have allowed me to keep my inner-child’s eyes figuratively colorblind. As a child and adolescent I had always felt that I fit in everywhere. With gentrification on the rise in many minority neighborhoods in New York City, coming from a neighborhood that I’m the minority as a Latino has never mattered to me until recent years, and especially since the cops breathe down my neck as a result. Sometimes I feel like my notion that I fit in everywhere is a naive illusion; when I see an organic grocery store next to a bodega, I still feel like I could fit in at either place. There are times, however, when I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere, especially when I see a police cruiser around. -RSM

I was inspired to write this article by When Gentrification Brings Racism to the ‘Hood by Irvin Weathersby, via ebony.com.

What Makes A Hipster?

L train J train

You’ve heard the term before and have probably noticed an eruption in recent years of art, various movements of social awareness, reports of pomposity, a retro-chic style of dressing and a rekindling of interest of many things that have long fallen into the realm of nostalgia (including those gentlemanly moustaches that were so two centuries ago). The question “What makes a hipster?” enters the local dive bar of my mind every time I hear the term, and all it does is order PBR’s and talk about its new artistic venture when its there.

The term ‘hipster’ seems to be used more and more today as a derogatory term. Although it doesn’t carry a fraction of the offensive gravity of that of a racial slur, it still isn’t exactly seen as a compliment nowadays. Nobody wants to be labeled a hipster nor do most people who are considered hipsters by other believe that they are, YET THEY STILL EXIST. Whoa dude, that’s like, sooo trippy!

One thing I left out so far is the link between hipsters and gentrification, which although has created many an urban haven of young artists, musicians, writers, etc. it has also uprooted families from low income neighborhoods. Rent for apartments in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, for example (the hipster capital of the United States) has skyrocketed over the past several years due to increasing demand in the neighborhood. The general consensus among long time residents in neighborhoods that have recently transitioned from low income to American Spirit smoking, thrift store shopping 20-somethings is that hipsters are directly responsible for their neighborhoods being gentrified and ultimately is seen as a reason to greet their new stylish neighbors with hostility.

For some, it unfortunately takes a racial angle. Many low income neighborhoods in New York City that are being hipsterized are minority neighborhoods i.e. Williamsburg, Bushwick, South Harlem, etc. Many transplanted, floppy moustached New Yorkers who have recently moved to these areas happen to be Caucasian. Many critics of the hipster culture argue that the entire movement/trend (not sure which word to use there) is based on white privilege and that while recreating a neighborhood into a post-graduate conglomerate of art and dynamic culture may seem to be a beautiful idea, one must consider how this will affect those who already occupy said neighborhoods on a micro-migrational scale.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Ultimately, the hipster culture in my opinion has a good side and a bad side. In a rephrased quote from Chris Rock, I will explain:

“There are bohemians, and then there are hipsters, and hipsters have got to go!”

What I mean is both bohemian types and hipsters usually self identify as artists, but I equate the term ‘bohemian’ to a true starving artist who does not give off the snarling stench of pretentiousness and is actually making his or her own adventure rather then following a trend to be cool. A ‘hipster’ to me would be a cocky, judgemental poser who just wants to be accepted by the reigning ‘culture of cool’ in our present day.

Its hard to tell how long the era of non-prescription, clear-lensed Ray Ban’s and the vinyl record store resurgence will continue, but a word of advice to young artists: be a bohemian, and not a hipster. Nowadays, hipsters are just too mainstream. – RSM