Contributor is exactly Cristal Mendez
2020-10-28In March I was laid off from my full-time job of 6 years. Those first few weeks of unemployment found me struggling to stay productive and positive. With too much time on my hands I did what any well-adjusted person would do in that situation—listened to sad music to make myself feel worse. Tom Waits – More Than Rain Like many Americans, I live paycheck to paycheck. I knew that missing even one pay period would mean falling behind on several bills. I get paid weekly which means that even though I don’t make a lot of money, I at least always have enough to make it through to next Friday. Being broke made me feel like a failure. I resented my pre-pandemic life of always being so busy and going the extra mile at work. What did I have to show for it? “None of our pockets, are lined with gold Nobody's caught the bouquet There are no dead presidents we can fold Nothing is going our way” The “our” in this song made me think of all the other people who were in the same situation as me. I was sad not just for myself, but for everyone else who was out of a job. It reminded me to be grateful for the things I still had. Tom Waits is someone who I admire for his humor, but this particular song is void of any playfulness. The best way I can describe this song is to call it a cross between a lullaby for pirates and a circus ballad for depressed clowns. It features a melancholic vocal and a wearisome accordion sluggishly making its way through the song. “It's more than rain that falls on our parade tonight It's more than thunder It's more than thunder” The pandemic is much bigger than what we initially took it for. It’s poverty, depression, isolation, death… The Specials – Ghost Town The Specials are my favorite band, and this song which is perpetually on my playlist took on several new meanings for me. “Ghost Town” was originally written in response to unemployment and racial tensions in Thatcher era England. Now the song seems as though it was written against the backdrop of Trumpism. “This town, is coming like a ghost town All the clubs have been closed down This place, is coming like a ghost town Bands won't play no more” Driving around downtown San Antonio during the early days of quarantine was incredibly eerie. All the usual sights had vanished: tourists waiting at crosswalks, work trucks driving to their next job sites, bicyclists slowing down traffic, mariachis playing at restaurants, and people strolling the Riverwalk. San Antonio was dead. “This place, is coming like a ghost town No job to be found in this country Can't go on no more The people getting angry” The harmonized ghostly screeches in the chorus set the spooky tone for the song. How can we possibly live in a city that is dead? When everything was closed, I felt like a ghost--dead and unable to enjoy my favorite hobbies. I couldn’t visit friends, travel, or waste time browsing clothing stores. I had a difficult time figuring out how to enjoy life. Ginger Rogers – We’re in the Money Of course a depression era song would resonate with me. For the first time ever I had money in my savings account. This was only possible because I was temporarily laid off and able to receive unemployment benefits. I begrudgingly went back to work when my boss received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Not only did I have to work in-person putting my health at risk, but I also had to do so at my regular pay rate which was much lower than my unemployment benefits. Body Count – Body Count I discovered this song while watching a video montage of BLM protests on Instagram. I was immediately drawn to Ice-T’s angry vocals complemented by an equally aggressive punk rock backing. The lyrics sound like they written this year, but they are from 1992—a year after the Los Angeles riots. “God damn, what a brother gotta do To get a message through To the red, white and blue What? I gotta die? Before you realize I was a brother with open eyes” The Specials – B.L.M. Just like Ice-T, The Specials have been singing about Black lives for decades. In 1980, Specials guitarist Lynval Golding wrote a song called “Why?” after he was violently attacked because of his race. In that song he seeks understanding and asks his attackers “Why did you try to hurt me?” Almost 40 years later, Golding wrote another song about his experiences with racism. Again, he takes a gentle approach by telling the listener: “I'm not here to teach you I'm not here to preach to you I just want to reach out and say Black lives matter” Cher – Chiquitita These days everything exhausts me, and I feel like I have no time to rest. As soon as Cher opens with “Chiquitita tell me what’s wrong?” I start crying. Thanks for checking up on me, Cher. As with most of her songs, I get happy when her music comes on because I know I’m about to do an ugly sing-along. Nowadays this song just hits different. “You were always sure of yourself / Now I see you’ve broken a feather” I have never felt so uneasy and uncertain in all my life. I used to be the shoulder to cry on when my friends needed comfort. I no longer have the energy to offer my strength. Lila Downs – Una Cruz de Madera Despite being a song about death, the Lila Downs version is a happy, upbeat tune. She turns it into a party song. The overall translation of the song captures how I want my loved ones to handle my passing. Instead of a fancy funeral, I’d prefer a big party in my honor. I don’t want my family and friends to shed tears, or feel any sadness. The only thing I want at my wake is a serenade in the early morning. Toots – Got to Be Tough Toots is one of those artists who radiates positivity. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when his upbeat tempos and powerful, soulful voice booms through the speakers. I saw him perform live a few years ago and watched him with awe. He would step away from the microphone and continue singing at an impressively loud volume—his voice filling up every corner of the auditorium. I was pressed up against the stage because he motioned for everyone to get closer. Toots came over to me several times and squeezed my hand and sang directly to me. In those moments I felt so happy and lucky to be alive. My best friend was right next to me and we both had tears in our eyes. How lucky we were that this Jamaican icon came all the way to perform for us in a stuffy San Antonio venue! We swore that we would see Toots again. I was excited when Toots dropped his new single “Got to Be Tough” earlier in the year. It meant that a tour would follow. The song itself was also a great comfort. “Got to be tough when things get rough You got to be tough and this is a warning You got to be smart, living in this time It's not so easy to carry on” Sadly, Toots passed away from Covid-19 two weeks after his “Got to Be Tough” album was released. Listening to the title single doesn’t bring me much comfort anymore. It makes me think of how excited I was that I was going to see him next year. Now it just makes me nostalgic for the days when we could go to shows and experience a more intimate connection with music. Nothing beats bonding with thousands of strangers who are singing, crying, and dancing to the same music as you. The song makes me miss being as happy as I was that day Toots held my hand and sang to me.
2020-10-27During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests many businesses were getting canceled left and right. Some business owners were being called out for not showing support of BLM, while others made apologies addressing their white privilege. Personally, it was a confusing time to be a consumer. I had to rethink shopping and eating at some of my favorite online stores as well as local restaurants. I’m very particular about where I spend my money, so I spent a lot of time considering my personal values and how I like to support businesses who share those same values. One business that I am proud to support is a San Antonio based restaurant that takes a clear stance on the Black Lives Matter movement. Binge Kitchen is a Black owned, family run, vegan restaurant serving delicious soul food. The restaurant had only been open for a few months before the pandemic hit. Their dining room has been closed since March, but they are still finding ways to connect with their customers while spreading the BLM message. On each take out box they hand write the names of people who died from police brutality. These messages help me feel connected to the owners who I was just getting to know back when their dining room was still open. While many businesses are too afraid to show full support of BLM, Binge Kitchen puts is values before profit. I have seen other companies receive backlash from the All Lives Matter supporters, and it’s understandable that some business owners want to avoid alienating their customers. However, in Binge Kitchen’s case I find that their clear stance (in addition to their tasty food) has gained them steady support. Every time I drive up to their restaurant to pick up my food, there are many other cars lined up to do the same. Customers share images of the to-go boxes on social media which drives even more people to the restaurant. I suspect many of them aren’t even vegan. They are just people who appreciate businesses who support Black Lives Matter. Businesses hesitant of supporting Black Lives Matter should give their customers more credit. They may discover that in fact, more people will support them if they find the courage to speak up in support of Black lives.
2020-05-15The photos show my friend Jacob who tried out a variety of masks to suit his personality. He is very crafty and likes to customize everything he possibly can. Unsatisfied with the poor quality of disposable masks, he made a very unattractive mask out of an old t-shirt. Although he liked the way the mask hugged his ear, the thickness of the fabric made it difficult for him to breathe. Jacob eventually sewed his own mask much to his wife’s chagrin. He was pleased that it provided enough coverage over 60% of his face, and that he figured out a way to make the straps adjustable.
2020-08-11The pandemic disrupted the frequent trips I take to visit my friend Chrissie in California. We planned on celebrating her birthday together in person, but since we both lived in hot spots we decided it was best to postpone our festivities. I used some of the money I would have spent on traveling to buy her some very personalized gifts. When she received her presents I asked her to meet me on the Houseparty app so that I could see her reactions. They were priceless. I commissioned an artist friend to draw her beloved cat Dulce which I then printed on a poster. To add a Texas touch, I also got her a James Avery charm bracelet with an inside joke engraved on it. Even though I would have much rather hung out with Chrissie in person, this celebration was still special. Being away from made me think about how much I love and appreciate her. Quarantine allowed me the time to reflect on what makes her unique and what gifts would put a smile on her face.