Chapter Sixty One I
Question your thoughts, or suffer.
There is no third choice.
“Susanna Altermann told Zipper that you inspired Elle to break out musically. I know you sat with Elle, and I know she made some sort of breakthrough in her playing. I didn’t listen in on your conversation and I don’t need to know any details. Can you describe the process of what went on?”
Janah, “I didn’t go into anything deep. Elle was letting some thoughts about her family situation block her. She had gotten confused, and the thoughts just kept spinning around in her head.”
“She was in that mental loop you talk about?”
“Yes, we turn thoughts over and wind up in the same place, confusionville.”
“We don’t stop and examine our thoughts in a sensible way. If we’re stressed, we look for something outside ourselves as the cause. That’s when the stories start.”
“So you’re saying the stress is not outside, it’s inside, and inside is where it can be dealt with?”
“Yes. We decide things went wrong because something happened or didn’t happen. What really goes wrong, the only thing that really goes wrong, is how we think about what happened.”
“You have to explain that.”
“People tell themselves they’re stupid, that they’re incompetent. Or they have grandiose opinions of themselves and their abilities. All of this thinking is unexamined.”
“So, J, the thing to do you’re saying, is to quit examining life’s events, and start examining how we think about life’s events. The thoughts themselves.”
“Yes, examine if they are true. Do you really know they’re true? The easiest and most revealing way to do that is to find out if they’re false. Even to open up the possibility they might be false. Doubt your thinking. Particularly doubt your psychological thinking. The ‘becauses’ we concoct to explain our feelings. We take these thoughts to be true just because we’re thinking them. There’s zero evidence.”
“I need an example, Ange.”
“A girl gets angry at her mother because she can’t go to a party. She’s grounded because she flunked a test. She tells herself she flunked the test because she was stressed out about some problem with her boyfriend. Now she can’t go to the party that her boyfriend is going to.”
“And she gets in a further frenzy because she’s certain every other girl at the party will be after her boyfriend. So she’s mad at her mom, at herself, at all her girlfriends and her lying cheating boyfriend. You’re saying she thought herself into all this emotional frenzy, Janah?”
“Let’s look at it. Even if it’s a made up example, it’s plausible enough. We don’t know why she’s had the original problem with the boyfriend. Let’s suppose it was a real argument. Maybe he said he liked another girl, or wanted to date other people. There were words, our girl goes home and starts to ruminate. She doesn’t study for her math test, now here she is.”
“Where did things go so wrong?”
“She concocted all the typical reasons. He’s a jerk, she’s not good enough. She gets caught up in mental gymnastics and doesn’t study.”
“So how might it have gone, if she’d thought about her thoughts?”
“She could start with, ‘Do I know for a fact that us breaking up is the end of the world?’ Then she might think about how she feels when she thinks it’s the end of the world.”
“Isn’t she just going to feel even crummier?”
“She already feels crummy, look where it got her. Failed a test, got grounded. Her thinking is creating the world she expects. The world isn’t doing anything but what it does.”
“Okay. She thinks about whether splitting with her boyfriend is as terrible as she thought at first. Now she’s thinking about how she feels when she thinks this.”
“She’s angry, she wants him to stay with her. She asks herself what did I do wrong or what did he do wrong?”
“She’s expanding the battleground.”
“Yes. She’s feeding the thought virus. Can she stop and understand that it’s not breaking up that’s creating her misery? It’s her thoughts about breaking up that’s creating her misery. She doesn’t really know how things will be if they break up. Her mind is imagining all sorts of terrible consequences. She has no idea if any of them are true, or if they turn out to be true that they would really be so horrible.”
“So when she examines life’s external events, she gets caught in everyone else’s behavior and worries about events she can’t control.”
“And when she examines her thinking, she realizes that it is creating all these hypothetical, often irrational, problems. Aside from young children, who aren’t fully formed, or torture victims, we need to understand there is no one out there who can do anything to us psychologically without our cooperation. We do it to ourselves by making the assumption that our thoughts always reflect reality. They don’t.”
Chapter Sixty Two I
You must realize, first of all, that you are proof of everything, including yourself.
None can prove your existence, because his existence must be confirmed by you first.
Your being and knowing, you owe nobody. Remember, you are entirely on your own.
You do not come from someplace, you do not go anywhere.
You are timeless being and awareness.
Nisargadatta, I Am That
Janah had clarity from her beginning. She never had to learn to undo anything, to drop her misconceptions, to be aware of her conditioning. She understood this to be her good fortune. While it would not occur to her that she was better, she was aware that she was different.
Is Janah unique? Could a person like this really exist? There are over six billion people on the planet, why is it improbable that one is Janah? It’s more improbable that there is only one.
Do you even know how much a billion is? Think of it this way. How long is a million seconds?
It’s about twelve days.
How long is a billion seconds?* (Don’t hurt your head, I’ll answer at the end of the chapter.)
I know it touches her heart that the bliss that comes to her is freely available for everyone, yet people cannot put away their self to receive it.
The moms and Lacy, who had been coaxed out of her home several times now for something besides lunch with Kara, were having a session with us one rainy Sunday afternoon. Everyone had lunched, napped and now they gathered around the big table for coffee and tea.
Lacy, “Janah, you’ve talked before about people putting away the self. I’m not clear on that. Do you mean there’s something we can do? Or should do? Or that the self isn’t real? It seems real. It even seems to sort of keep changing, morphing, as we go along in life.”
Janah, “Some psychiatrists say the self is merely a collection of defenses, reactions to things that have made some emotional impact on us. The self emerges as the brain’s way of dealing with a constant assault of environmental and psychological influences.”
Chris, “So we’re just a pile of reactions, self protective mechanisms to help us deal with the world?”
Janah, “To some degree, it must be so. We are not born a complete self. We are born male or female, genetics determine eye and hair color, general body shape, much of our physical self. Other things are more opaque. Sexual preference seems largely genetic, sexual behavior seems learned as we go. I doubt people are born masochistic, or pederasts, or strict missionary position. While most people are straight or gay, there is clearly shading. Psychologically, are we are born largely blank and we become ourselves along the way.”
Susan, “But some temperament must be genetic. I mean, some kids seem naturally calm, others more anxious. Even as infants.”
Janah, “And then how much is that trait reinforced by the parents? The baby is temperamentally calm, the parents may not get so anxious. A hyper child may create more anxiety in the parent and the baby’s behavior is reinforced. The whole interaction must be taken into account. Each of us is influenced by and influences the other.”
Chris, “The whole thing seems like guesswork. What’s a mom to do with a cranky child? She’s going to worry if she thinks the baby is sick, or maybe get frustrated with constant crying. She gets in a tizzy, the baby feels that and responds with more anxiety.”
I add, unhelpfully, “Sounds like people should only have calm babies.”
Lacy, “Or only calm people should have babies.”
Susan, “That’s a lot of help. People are who they are, they have a child, the child is who he or she is. What are you going to do, stress test everyone before they can get pregnant?”
Chris, “Ve vill build ze perfect zoziety. Vhere zhere vill be no stress or any exzitement.”
Lacy, “Sounds like Sweden.”
Janah gets the giggles, she mentals, “May I have more tea please? I’d make it myself but…..”
“Then I would lose the pleasure of making it for you.”
I put the kettle on, collect cups and glasses from the table and freshen coffee for Susan and Lacy.
Kara, “I want to know more about this no-self business. How the self arises is interesting, but since we all have one, why would we now try to get rid of it? I see this theme running through a lot of religious and spiritual literature. Why? Do they think the self is some sort of evolutionary mistake?”
I set a cup of green tea in front of Janah, who mentals thank you in Chinese, “Xie, xie ne. I need the extra juice, Lacy and the moms are digging in deep here.”
Janah, “Good question. Maybe the self is the appendix of consciousness. If we were conscious without a sense of self, what would that look like?”
Kara, “Isn’t that what most animals are?”
Janah, “Yes, conscious, with little or no frame of self reference. The self seems to be positive to the extent it helps us plan, recall how to do something, learn abstract concepts. A lizard might know, if know is the right word, that it is different from another lizard, but does it know it’s a lizard, does it contemplate its lizard-ness?”
I flick my tongue, “I catch flies, therefore I am.”
Janah, “You have the reflexes for it, where was I? Oh….sometimes they test chimps or other primates with a mirror, to see if they recognize themselves, or fight with the image, or look behind the mirror. I’m not sure that’s a sense of self, or ignorance of how a mirror works. Regardless of whether it’s a chimp or a lizard, the animal isn’t going to learn to make plans for the day after tomorrow. We can’t do those things without the complex frontal cortex that differentiates us from other animals. We can conceptualize a house with running water, then talk it over with others and work with them in an orderly way to build it.”
Susan, “Don’t ants do much the same thing?”
Janah laughs, “I’m thinking of how high rise buildings in Manhattan resemble ant colonies. You ask a good question. We say they do it from instinct, not as a result of a conversation with an architect, a contractor and a bunch of immigrant ants to do the labor. Perhaps they do and we’re too dumb to figure it out. On the other hand, they never improve on the design, it’s always the same, at least for the same species of ant.”
Kara, “I still have my question. Why the emphasis on losing the self?”
Janah, “Why attempt to lose the thing that makes us unique?”
Kara, “Yes. It seems like a reversion, going backwards.”
Janah, “There is a phenomenon that runs though the mystical experiences of all religions, shamanism, the Buddhist notion of non-duality. That we are all connected, and when the sense of self disappears, this universality becomes apparent. People who experience it feel connected to everything. It is mostly reported as a feeling of bliss. Although there are also many reports of a feeling of absolute terror. People report they feel like they are disappearing or dying.”
Chris, “So is it good or bad? Daphne says you experience it.”
Janah, “I experience what I call bliss. My question is, if I feel it, then there must be some sense of a me that experiences it. So is my ‘self’ really gone? Or does it just have a different perspective?”
Chris, “You’re not normal.”
Chris, “I don’t mean it in some flip way. I mean you have unique gifts. Your brain doesn’t operate like everyone else’s. What about the rest of us?”
Janah, “I don’t know. My guess is that there are others in the population of six billion people that have similarities. If they are experiencing some of the things I do, they mostly don’t talk about it. The very sense that we are humans in the world precludes thinking that we are all that different.”
Chris, “But people do think they are different.”
Janah, “What they think and what’s actual are not the same. There’s little difference between one human and another. Everyone has feet, hands, a brain, a heart, can walk, run, see, hear, barring a physical infirmity. One runs faster, another sees better, but it’s all the same capability in a range of capacity. It’s a dichotomy. I know I have experiences others don’t. What I don’t know is that I am doing something others can’t. If I assume that I am, then I’m denying the experience.”
Susan, “Wait. I have to digest this. You are saying that by seeing yourself as special, then that’s you over here, and the rest of the world out there, that would be duality. If you experience non-duality, then there’s no you one place and everyone else separate.”
Susan, “Okay, let’s see then. How can you be special and not special at the same time? That’s the dichotomy?”
Janah, “I haven’t got a conclusion, only a theory. My theory is that there is no duality in Truth. Seeing ourselves as an individual self allows for an experience of contemplating our own consciousness. To think about why we think about what we think about. To the best of our knowledge, animals don’t do that. Consciousness, at the human level, is an evolutionary advantage in the sense that we can think about taking care of ourselves for longer than the next twenty four hours. However, out of this has arisen the sense that we have choices, volition, that we can control what we do. This sense of personal control interferes with, masks, the sense of non-duality.”
Lacy, “The human capacity for self contemplation, which gives us advanced planning and organizational advantages, comes with a drawback. That drawback is the feeling of separation?”
Kara, “I still don’t see why we want to lose the self.”
Janah, “Want to lose is a wrong way of looking at it. First, I don’t think we can. I think we can suspend it, but not in any proactive way. Well, let me rephrase. I think that certain drugs can give us the same effect. The brain is chemical, thought is the consequence of chemical interaction. Drugs may be able to do the same thing as long sessions of meditation.”
Susan, “Seems like cheating.”
Janah, “Perhaps. Drugs may shock the brain before it’s ready to suspend the self. Perhaps it’s why so many people freak out when they take hallucinogens. That doesn’t answer K-mom’s question. Why do it at all?”
She is letting them think it over. She doesn’t presume she has a handle on the whole topic, or a few simple answers. Janah has her own concerns about the search for states of bliss.
Chris, “Well, if it’s bliss, why not? Who wouldn’t want a feeling of pure joy?”
Everyone is silent. They know Janah doesn’t intend for that to be an answer. With Janah, there is always another question.
Lacy, “Maybe I should have had more coffee. My brain is grinding, but not coming up with anything.”
Janah, “What might our mind, thought, turn this experience into?”
Susan, “Ah. That might depend on the mind of the person experiencing it.”
Kara, “What does that mean? I thought it was bliss, non-duality, no sense of separation.”
Susan, “Yes, but after? When we come down off the high. Janah is asking, what happens then, I think.”
Janah, “And what are the alternatives?”
Kara, “I get it. One mind says, ‘Now I understand that I am the world and the world is me. I have an obligation to the rest of the world. My violence is the world’s violence. My greed is the world’s greed. To end that, I have to change, not the world.”
Janah, “And another mind?”
Kara thinks for a moment, “Another mind might say, I have tasted truth, I am universal truth and I must show the world this truth.”
Janah, “And then the whole game of guru, follower, I know and you do not, so follow me. I will show you the way. Not surprisingly, there is usually a price attached.”
Susan, “Does the mind ever quit screwing with us?”
Janah, “Unfortunately, no. That doesn’t mean mind is bad, or self is bad.”
Lacy, “Criminey, Janah. I thought the idea was eliminating self. I’m moving from coffee mode to wine mode.”
Chris, “I’m on it. Red or white? Forget it, I’ll open both.”
“I have to listen to this all the time, you guys need to do more brain aerobics.”
Susan, “Cue the violins. All she does is spoil you. Us she challenges with impossible questions.”
“I see the I am the world thing isn’t going to play here.”
Lacy, “Not a chance, honey. So, Janah, what? Self, or no self?”
Chris sets the wine bottle on the table, I spread around glasses, take a miniscule splash of red and sit next to Janah.
Janah, “Self awareness is a huge evolutionary advantage. Self interest, self esteem, self glorification, have clear drawbacks. To write off the self as evil is simplistic. To self gratify at the cost of another or, on a grander scale, humanity’s destruction, is stupid. The former leads to retaliation, the latter speaks for itself.”
Lacy, “Sounds fatalistic. I mean, that’s what we’re doing as individuals and as a society.”
Janah, “Yes, I know. I’m still not willing to concede, there’s no other choice, we press on. The way I see it is, the idea that there is no separation is too extreme; the idea that we are all completely separate is too extreme; what I suspect is that we are all separate, but intimately bound, interconnected. The value of seeing that we are separate, but all interconnected, is that we truly understand that when we change ourselves, we change the world. By definition, it has to be one person at a time. It’s the slow way, but it’s the only way.”
*A million seconds, as I said, is twelve DAYS.
A billion seconds is almost thirty two YEARS, there’s a vast difference between a million and a billion. Now you know.
Chapter Sixty Three I
Nobody touches Janah without her permission,
not the President, not the Pope, not God Herself.
We retire to our room. The moms need a break from heavy thinking and I know Janah was ready for us to be alone. I get her situated in a bubbling tub with lavender bath oil and return to the kitchen to organize dinner. The moms ordered a couple of monstrous pizzas and a pan of ravioli. I put three slices of veggie pizza in the oven along with ravioli wrapped in tin foil. When it is warm, I put everything on a big plate with grated Parmesan and Romano cheese and crushed red pepper, add a glass of Chianti to the tray for us to share.
Chris, “Need help?”
“I’ve got it. Janah’s finished bubbling, she’s making hungry noises. I know it’s early, but she’s getting tired. We have some things to talk over while we eat, then we’re going to crash. I’ll pop out to bring back the dishes and tell everyone goodnight. Can you excuse Janah for just retreating to the nest?”
Chris, “Nothing to excuse.”
“Well, Lacy’s just started coming around. We don’t want to be rude.”
Chris, “I’m glad you think that way angel, but Lacy’s the last person Janah would need to explain herself to. You take care of her.”
Janah is cross legged on the bed, she has on nothing but her best Janah smile, “God that looks good.”
I’m looking at her, “Yeah, it sure does,” she giggles.
I put the tray on the bed, we attack the pizza with bites of cheesy ravioli in between and a sip of Chianti for flavor.
“You’re still dealing with things you didn’t go into with the moms and Lacy.”
Janah, “Remember the boys in the park?”
“Sure. They couldn’t get it into their heads that we weren’t captivated by their charms.”
Janah, “And they didn’t get it to the point that you had to physically get their attention.”
Janah, “Did you see any other way to deal with the situation?”
“We could have tried to leave, or reason with them, or screamed rape or something.”
Janah, “Except the one guy put his hand on me.”
“I see where you’re headed. There’s a point where something has to be done. Done as in action in the moment, not hoping some third thing will sort it out. Like screaming and them running away, or talking to them to convince them of their mistake. They, not we, took it past that point.”
Janah, “Yes. No amount of kumbaya, we are the world, was going to change their minds.”
“And you are wondering how you can sit in the bliss knowing others don’t have me to help their tormentor see the light?”
Janah, “You catch on quickly.”
“You already know where I am on this.”
Janah, “You answered that question in the park.”
Chapter Sixty Four I
I asked my other, “Are we practicing some kind of medicine without a license?”
Janah, “We don’t prescribe any drugs, we don’t charge any money.
And nobody from the Chinese community is going to go to any authorities.
Besides, you already know every cop and assistant DA in this part of Manhattan.
What would they do anyway, bust me for rubbing people’s shoulders and listening to their problems?”
Now past both our fourteenth birthdays, we are frequent visitors to Chinatown, where we shop for the herbs and liniments Janah uses for healing and pain relief. Janah’s sponge like ability to soak up information and my overkill sociability made us welcome fixtures. For the longest, only I was aware that Janah had begun speaking to the locals in their native language. I am also learning more Chinese, quizzing everyone on where they are from, how many children they have, their ages and how they are doing in school.
My sphere of friends widened considerably, which I considered the fun part. After the first three months I am familiar with shopkeepers, their families and their stories. Janah likes it, in part because the restaurant owners insisted on feeding us. Janah craves crispy Chinese vegetables, all the pungent spicy sweet sauces and brown rice, not to mention the endless cups of rich oolong tea. I’d find my way to the kitchen, helping prepare sauces or stir frying rice while I grilled the cooks on ingredients and preparation times. We’d get home at nine or ten at night with boxes full of exotic tastes; the family up until midnight sampling the delicacies and listening to stories we collected during day.
In Chinatown, it is easier for Janah to be Janah. Stories of the healing girl weren’t likely to make it out of the local area. No newspaper or tabloid reporter would appear to pry into her life. More than one baby was relieved of a fever, the aches of elderly parents soothed. Janah doesn’t try to cure cancer.
Her reputation quickly passes through the closed Chinese speaking community. We begin to go not just on occasional Saturdays, but every Saturday and then again in the middle of the week. One shop set up a makeshift patient room. She accepts no payment, other than a steady flow of strong tea. I help situate the patient so Janah can get to the affected area. She consults with the shop owners about various herbs and remedies, using what she thinks will be most applicable to the case at hand. Most of the time, she works with her hands and her attention, listening to the old people’s stories, asking questions, suggesting herbs and giving instructions for their use. She knows the healing is partially the placebo effect. Her gift, besides Qi, is time. Time for people to tell their story, to release their mind from some worry or strain. Attentive listening is a potent pain reliever.
After one long weekday session, we come in after nine. Janah waves a hello to everyone then goes to shower.
Daphne, “Thanks for getting dinner tonight. I could see we weren’t going to have time to stop."
Chris, “Good thing you called. You’ve spoiled us for Chinese when you’re down there. I’ve got pizza and Italian salad, all she can stand. You want a glass of wine?”
“Gosh yes, and pour one for Ange Blanc, I want her good and relaxed. Tomorrow she’s laying around until at least nine or ten. The Qi she uses takes energy, plus she’s on her feet the entire day and either holding a baby or manipulating a joint or muscle.”
Susan, “She looked pooped.”
“She must have seen thirty people today. If word goes any further, we’re going to have to rent an office.”
Janah comes in from the bedroom, her hair still damp, in a big robe and soft slippers, “I’m starved.”
Chris brought out pizza and salad, and a glass of wine for Janah. The parents had eaten, it is going on 9:30.
Susan, “You had an extra long day today.”
“Someone brought a cousin who has mental problems. They don’t trust the mental health system much. Janah is becoming the therapist of choice. It takes longer, she has to sit with them a while. She gets them settled down by talking softly in Chinese. They feel more comfortable with her knowing the language.”
Susan, “Chinese? Don’t even tell me.”
“Okay, she doesn’t speak Chinese.”
Chris, “When do you have time to learn flipping Chinese? Jesus, I’m still using spell check for English.”
James, “Is there anything unusual about the problems? Do they diagnose like patients I might see?”
Janah, “Essentially yes. Some are schizophrenic, others depressed, like human mental problems everywhere. I try not to label them, it clouds my view. Their problems are compounded by an unfamiliar language, foreign faces, an imposing social service system. Most of the time they’re just kept at home by the old ones.”
James, “I imagine they do as well as patients in the system.”
Janah, “They seem to. There’s more caring in their community, also obligation. The faces familiar, it’s not as scary. I speak the language, and their relatives are there when they see me. I’m young, not too frightening. Daphne scares them a bit until I tell them she’s with me and I have a magic button to keep her under control.”
Kara, “She is pretty intimidating.”
“Actually, she’s an enormous help. She has an oriental look, those captivating eyes, more Japanese than Chinese, but the people don’t seem to care. They’re fascinated by the tall beautiful girl who comes to help. The kids flock to her. We have to make sure they stay out on the street or they’d overrun the shop. When I’m with someone, she goes out and plays with them, or they all sit and talk on the curb.”
I smile, “Those kids, they bring us small gifts. They’re shy until we start to talk, then they go a mile a minute. They know everything about everything in Chinatown. If we ever need to find something or someone, they’ll know. And they’re loaded up with technology, so they can IM or text 20 others in seconds.”
James, “What do you do for the psychological problems?”
Janah, “We talk. Once we get through the repetition they settle down. You know how it is, they tell the same stories over and over. After they finally burn out on that I can get them to give me pieces of themselves still connected to reality. I try to let them fully vet their fears. We discuss together how the fear feels to them, why it seems important.”
James, “You offer no advice?”
Janah, “No. If I let them go on long enough, some get insight on their own. They realize nothing’s behind the fear or they see what’s being covered up. I’ve been surprised, buried under all that confusion is a person trying to cling to sanity. It’s like they’re in the same room as the rest of us, except they see it upside down.”
James. “We don’t spend enough time with the ones in our mental health systems, do we?”
Janah, “You can’t. There’s not enough of you, too many of them. Even with the little I do, I have to end some of the conversations and hope they’ll come back the next time I’m around. Others with physical problems are waiting. Some of the psychological cases would talk for hours.”
Chris, “You guys are too much. The little you do. My God, you’re down there two days a week now, what are you going to do when school starts? Never mind, bad question. We’ve talked about not dwelling on tomorrow, here I am doing it. Can I get anyone anything, more food, wine?”
James, “I’d like another glass.” Chris cracks open a second bottle, then brings Janah more salad and another slice of pizza, her third. It was so loaded with vegetables she has to eat it with a knife and fork.
Janah, “That place makes the best Italian. I hope they never close.”
“Italian food from an Italian family, the Marconi’s. Jimmy and Dominic run the place, their father and mother still come around a lot. They told me they want to make sure the boys keep up the standards. Jimmy says that’s baloney. The restaurant is them and they don’t like sitting around the house all day. They were supposed to retire and actually moved to the condo they own in Florida. Jimmy said they lasted two months and his mother called and told him, ‘Your father’s driving me crazy. He’s got nothing to do. These old people with their endless board games and early bird dinners, all they talk about is their ailments and their horrible children. We’re coming home.’ And they showed up the very next week.”
Janah, “Dominic told me all his dad asked about when he called was, “How’s Daphne, she still comes around? What are they up to, they still love my pizza?” He finally put Daphne on the phone with his dad. The very next day was when his mother called and said they were coming home. Once a week, Daphne goes in and sits with him and they play dominoes or just talk. Jimmy gives me a taste of this and that until I can’t move.”
Chris, “No wonder we get such great service. Now I know why the pizza has more vegetables than pizza. They grill me every time I go in about you two, “You takin’ good care of those girls Miss Chris? You need to take real good care of them, they are good girls. You treat them right, okay, capiche?”
“Words to live by, C-mom.”
Susan, “So it’s not likely they’ll be selling out soon?”
Chris, “Not a chance. The two sons have families, sons and daughters a bit older than Daphne. Only one girl spends time in the restaurant, she’s like Daphne, loves cooking. One son is some kind of singer, the other in school in Brooklyn where they live. I think there’s an older one. Daphne will know.”
“Daniela is the budding cook. She’s really good, has the touch. Her grandmother was an Italian food artist, she really made the place. Christopher’s the singer, he’s got that whole operatic voice thing, it’s gorgeous. He sings to Janah whenever he’s around. He’s convinced she’s an angel. Donnie is the regular boy, he’s only 14 or so, just into sports, average student, the baby of the family. Another daughter is at college, she’s a smarty like Janah. She’s going to med school eventually and she’s totally gorgeous in that Angela Jolie way. The oldest son, Gennaro, is vaguely employed by people who aren’t supposed to exist much anymore. Technically he’s part owner of a club in Brooklyn, but that’s a hangout. His real job is organizing.”
Susan, “What’s he organize?”
“He organizes other guys.”
“To do what?”
“To lighten trucks and warehouses of their inventory. Then he organizes guys to merchandise it from temporary mobile department stores. Anything you need from electronic equipment to designer dresses and furs, I can get you a really good deal.”
Kara, “Get out, she’s making that up.”
They look at Janah, who shakes her head no.
Kara, “Daphne, how do you find these things out?”
“Dad says something, then later Jimmy makes a comment, Daniela mentions an incident. After a while it falls into place.”
Kara, “I’m afraid to ask who else you know, or what they do for a living.”
Janah, “Better you don’t. Just be comfortable with the fact that Daphne has more people looking out for us than the President. Several of which are with the police department and a bunch with the fire department. Floating around town is just not a problem for us. Nobody’s going to mess with De Seelk.”
Susan, “What’s De Seelk?”
“Daphne’s street name. One of the street food cart guys calls her The Sylk. The Jamaicans who sell miscellaneous clothing and accessories from a table on the same corner picked it up. Of course, to them she’s ‘De Seelk.’ I love that patois they have. They have great music going all day.”
“I have to drag Ange Blanc away or she’d stand there and dance with them all afternoon. Have you ever seen her dance? They get that reggae going and she’s heating up the neighborhood, the sidewalk has scorch marks.”
Kara, “You dance in the street? With the Jamaicans? On the corner?”
Janah, “It’s fun. Don’t let De Seelk off the hook. She’s got her own moves out there.”
Susan, “I’m going to start hanging with the girls. Why should they have all the fun?”
Chris, “If you go out there, they’ll have to call 911 for the heart attacks. Let’s leave your dancing to our club nights please.”
Susan, “Speaking of which, it’s time you took me out. The girls have gotten me in the mood.”
Chris, “My pleasure, Saturday night, you’re on. So, Janah, how’d the name get past the corner?”
“The Jamaicans are directly across from the Village Diner. Some Assistant DA’s we know from the diner stopped to watch the dancing. They picked up on the name and took it to the diner. Once it spread there, that was it. ‘The Sylk been around yet?’ is the number two question in the diner after, ‘What’s the special?’ Sometimes it’s De Seelk, depending on who they heard it from, she answers to both. I think she’s considering a career as a professional criminal, an assassin or something.”
“The money’s good. Tends to be a short career though. I’ll settle for carrying Janah’s bags and hanging out.”
Susan, “My daughter has a street name. Can I have some more wine please?”
“And now De Seelk is demanding Ange Blanc get some badly needed rest. If you folks will excuse us, we’ll see you in the morning.”
I get no argument from Janah. We give hugs all around and disappear into our room.
Everyone else is ready to turn in as well, Chris cleans up while they finish their wine.
As James and Kara go up the steps to their bedroom they hear Susan asking Chris, “Our daughter has a street name?”