Sketch and impression from a morning 8/8/11

There was always some bastard who had to send something back.  It didn’t really seem to matter what; the silverware was not clean, a steak under or over cooked, a sauce not just right.  Where did they think they were?  It was all a show for whomever the jerk was with.  Somehow trying to show his (it was usually a he) refined taste, when all it really proved was what an insensitive asshole he was.

She breathed deeply of her cigarette ration for the morning.  It was a beautiful day, just before it got too hot.  Sitting out back not far from the garbage didn’t seem so bad today.  She knew she should quit.  It wasn’t just the uneasy feeling of being a social reject (the exponential decrease in places where smokers could partake of their addiction was part of that feeling), she knew it would kill her and she wanted to stop.  But it was her only vice besides the occasional sweet and swearing.

The sounds of the restaurant china and voices made a pleasant background noise.  She stubbed the cigarette out and tossed it into the garbage bin.  She smoothed her apron and walked back inside.  It was a busy Monday morning, and all the FIBS (Fucking Illinois Bastards) were eating early before they hit the road.  It was like this with the summer crowd; moving to the lakes, the campgrounds, the restaurants in hordes and then disappearing.  In the winter it was a smaller bunch, no less transient, of bobble- (the men) and bubble- (the women) heads.  The locals called them this due to the constant wearing of helmets even when not on snowmobiles.

“I thought the sausage tasted like shit today too”, Erin called across the coffee station to Mary.  Mary nodded, took a long drink of water, then balanced a full tray of plates as she walked away from the pass towards tables.

Surveying the crowd she could see the regulars at the big round table (all men) having their morning coffee klatch.  The rest were the tourists, many with gaudy tee shirts and hats stamped “Eagle River” in various fonts.  As a child, she had seen the same junk shops that sold the shirts come and go.  The main drag was a four-block strip of the usual crap, and always had been.  But two fudge shops, really?  She wondered what made fudge a particularly tourist food.  Fudge and taffy.  Everywhere she had ever gone that was a tourist trap had fudge and taffy.  She shook her head.  The tackiness and gullibility of tourists never ceased to amaze her.  Perhaps there was a comfort in knowing that no matter how different the place, there would always be something the same.  Sort of like the RV’ers who counted on the constant string of Walmarts and McDonalds as they inched their ways across a map.  The morning crew took great pleasure in comparing the ridiculous names on the RV’s that came and went.  Interloper (no kidding did in-laws buy these?), Cougar (what RV looks like a cougar?  Maybe the middle aged women who drove them thought it was funny), and dozens more.

She put on her brightest smile, trying to hide any trace of sarcasm.  She took another order of potato pancakes (the cooks managed to turn them out in the worst possible way, but they were the last restaurant in town that served them) and bratwurst.  She usually made little bets in her head about what customers would order just by looking at the people.  She had been at this so long, she was rarely ever wrong.  She was just glad they had taken the cheese curds off the menu.  Every shop in town (even the tire dealer!) carried them in a cooler.  They did not need them here.

Folks assumed she was a local, and she was.  Sort of.  She had spent the big middle part of her life in Santa Fe, and only just returned.  Divorced, the graphic design business she and her husband had shared gone bust (most companies did their own printing work now with all the computer programs available) and trying to raise a part Indian child had just worn her out so she came home.  The schools here were better, and there seemed to be less trouble George could get into than in Santa Fe.  And there were Indians up here.  Half the cooks were Latin, the other half from some tribe with a casino.  Getting George to feel good about his heritage without becoming militant was the problem.  She sighed.  He was a smart boy, but she was never quite sure what he needed, or that she could help him.  Maybe that was just the way it was with teenagers.  She was sure her own mother had felt that way about her.  Mama had a way with George, she could make him laugh.  That was good.  Sometimes the skip in generation helped.

She put all her orders through the pass and checked the coffee pots.  She grabbed one and gave refills to the loners sitting at the counter.

It worked like a well-oiled machine, this morning crew.  When afternoon came, there was a slow down that left them all at an idle.  The evening could be unpredictable, depending on the weather and whatever week in August it happened to be.  Afternoons were a good time to clean, organize, refill, and breathe.

She would leave at three, go home and kick off her shoes.  She might go to the Remorseless Inn, sit by the lake and have a beer.  Maybe Eileen would be up for an evening at the lake.  If not, she would surely be alone in the middle of the college students, families, and retirees.  Men up here were mostly taken, and comfortably numb in marriages that allowed them to behave exactly as they had when they were eighteen.  The only difference was what time of year they were active.  Play ran the gamut from ice fishing and snowmobiles to lies about the size of the muskie that got away and speed boating; that and a generous amount of alcohol thrown in.

For now there was a steady stream of customers flowing through the door needing breakfast.  Raise an eyebrow at the length of a pair of shorts (or lack there of), share a grin at the comb-over on table nine, bus the china and refill the cups.  Grab the errant plate of wheat toast and drop it off as you glide by to take an order from table ten.  There must be a waitress in every café in every tourist town from Bellingham to Savannah taking orders this morning, she thought.  Good luck to them and every Griswold they serve, and hope the heat breaks soon.

Snapshot

A beautiful day in July.  Not too hot, with a strong cool breeze.  It is meat pick up day.  We got our postcard and friendly call from Polyface farm last week telling us it is time to come get our order.  T&E meats had called to ask us how we wanted our beef butchered.  I recalled mom and dad doing this, but as an adult I was bewildered.  I checked their web site, and found that the Salatins had been behind the resurrection of T&E (the former owners had been past retirement age and needed to sell).  Local butchers have largely gone the way of many animals in the world- extinct.  The folks behind Polyface and some of their friends knew this was a mistake, and managed to save one of the last in the area.

So we blundered our way through a cutting order with the help of a funny and kind young butcher.  Then we waited. We got the call, and this morning we loaded kids and coolers into the van.  The quality of the sunlight bouncing off of the cornstalks as we drove the “back way” was amazing.  The coolness of the streams and woods blew into the open windows when the road curved into a hollow.  The buzzards were out- garbage men for the road kill, and the bright yellow tits moved so fast in front of the hood that all I would see were flashes of yellow and black.  The farm itself does not distinguish from any other on the road.  There is one small sign, nothing else.  No fanfare, and to get to the shop one has to drive around back of the farmhouse itself.  Evidence of the recent conference, confab/shindig that drew over 1600 people from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, France, and other points on the globe was no where to be seen.  Two beautiful, tow headed boys bounded of the shop screen door and stopped short eyeing my boys.  They were the same ages, and struck up a quick conversation about the white mountain of a dog panting on the concrete porch.  After a short sizing up, all four boys took off.

We walked in and let the folks at the counter know we were there for our order.  As usual, a friendly conversation was struck about the success of the shindig, the abysmal small organic farm rules, how the Valley is a lot like Napa before it became overhyped, and getting local farms to cut back on pesticides and the like to lower the skyrocketing nitrogen counts in the rivers.  The pork and chickens got loaded first, then the side of beef.  Once in the van, the boys could not be found.  All four were seen playing near the house after some searching, and ran up to announce that they were going to see the new chicks.  What could we do but follow?  The boys gently held the chicks, and laughed about their behavior.  Then it was time to see the bunnies.  Off they zipped, and again we followed.  The impromptu tour was wonderful.  The boys were gentle and kind to the small creatures they got to hold and observe, then off again to some new site.  Rocks HAD to be thrown in the stream, and old baguettes that were intended for the big brown chickens became quick swords.  We had to leave or the meat would begin to get warm, but walking toward the van was not without some wistful whining.  My eldest quickly invited the Polyface boys to come visit when they were in town saying, “Like city mouse and country mouse!”   An airplane toy gotten last year at the Smithsonian, which had fascinated one of the Polyface boys all along the tour, was spontaneously given with a “You can keep it”.  I nodded in agreement.  Thank you’s and waves, and we were off.

Right now the smell of cooking coq au vin fills the house, the basement freezer door will just close, and we are off to pick up grandpa for an antique car show and antique tractor parade.  The zucchini and tomatoes need to be picked, and I have given over a patch of parsley to the monarch caterpillars.  The pumpkin vine almost spans the whole length of the garden, and tiny pumpkins have sprouted. The new pop-up camper sits waiting for a last summer trip to visit to relatives, and the creeping morning glory has made a full assault on the lavender bee garden.   Robotics camp has another week, and the pool still echoes with screams in mid-afternoon.  This is mid-July, 2011.

That old feudal feelin’

A Washington Post journalist writes this week that his time at Davos (the world economic conference) surprised him.  He found a form of “populist” rage simmering in the most powerful and monied people of the world, and it was spurring many extreme conversations about what should be done to fix world financial systems (one such suggestion was global labor laws).

Yet the anger he observed is significantly different from the populist rage and anxiety of the powerless (which means most of us).  We are angry because everyday basic transactions of life have been and continue to be violated, while we are expected to conform to “rules” and at the same time be suckers- at the loss of home, health, family, and life in many cases.  Some predict a French revolution style acting out- but the very wealthy know better.  They are angry because enough nouveau riche (newly rich), many of whom are in banking, designed systems to get rich quick, without thought for consequences, and made the very rich feel threatened, robbed and worst of all- duped.  My father told me once not to taunt a big dog, you’ll get bitten.  That newly rich man with ties to Madoff found floating in his pool?  Get bitten indeed.  The worst thing a very powerful (which is synonymous with wealth in our world; money being necessary, but not the whole definition of what constitutes a powerful individual) person feels is to be duped, taken advantage of, treated like a fool.  It is the highest form of insult, and retribution is always swift.

 Those who were at Davos now talk about “fixing” the series of problems that have brought us to our current global economic insecurity, and in ways that circumvent a revolution (because those are bad for business) and consolidate their power even more, so that such recent financial events do not happen again.   I am not a fan of “runaway” capitalism.  Quite the opposite.  But it fills me with feelings of foreboding to know that the super powerful are trying to find ways to change things, and not in ways that mimic socialism, communism, or capitalism.   The discussions at hand are filled with the knowledge that to maintain any economic stability, the vast majority of people must feel safe, or at least not threatened.  Thus did the discussion of global labor laws arise.  The uber-powerful already consider themselves the care takers of the rest of us, if for nothing more than the fact that to do so stabilizes their own positions. But how much care?  How much cost-benefit analysis must be done?  There will be complex formulas, there will be intricate arguments.  But what these proposed changes at the very highest levels will mean seems to be a new feudalism.

 Let’s consider this for a moment, shall we?  There have been many societies in history that had explicit class levels (Thank you William the Conqueror, and India for examples).   Consider the warrior/military class; think the new global Blackwaters, er, newly named Xe, that have taken over global military function.  All else, at the national level, is a form of employment that takes the lower class (as defined by education, intellect, money, family, and regions) and gives them a job- makes them a National Guard so to speak- that does domestic work.   Think of recent events around the earthquakes in Haiti.  It is a textbook example of one of the poorest places in the world (and hence not of high financial stakes, such as Iraq, that require explicit military “intervention” to “secure”: control for the profit of specific people).  The fast, very public response to the events was amazing.  How many photos, tweets, essays, videos, and general information moment to moment got circulated?  With no invested entities to curtail it (as was in the recent Iranian elections), the information flowed and then did resources.  Will this become a global pilot model of support to shape the future from?  This model allows us all to feel involved, puts resources in poor places, and happens globally, not just locally.  Interest dies in increments of time out from event, as information overload leads us to believe things are being taken care of.  What a machine!

 Will the new skilled/crafts class be our doctors?  Our lawyers?  Engineers?  What will the business class be, and how much will they be allowed to do?  Will there be a rise of the sanctioned social services class (teachers?  nurses? city planners?  garbage people?  mail persons?) generally labeled as government workers?  Will there be untouchables (with the complete privatization of prisons, will they become workhouses to be “productive” and contribute to the overall system?  Will there be degrees of this class on a global scale?  Will execution of the very worst be a global standard?)?  What will the new global legal courts look like?  Will the aristocracy maintain the highest levels of judges and law?  What will the religious/priestly class look like?  What will their sanctioned roles of control be?

 Most of all, are we kidding ourselves if this is not implicitly, if not explicitly, already the case?   Those at Davos will do what they will do, hash out compromises among themselves, and agree upon ways to squelch any reaction in ways that will not be overtly violent (China is learning the backlash of that approach).  They will find ways to garner our support, throw us bones.  We will be more organized, we will possibly even feel “more” free.  We may not fear global war anymore.  We may not fear for our children’s lives.  I do not know what the specifics will look like, I can only imagine possibilities.  But I wonder, will George Orwell’s books quietly disappear?  Will all the IPads and Kindles just not carry them, and then our collective memory of these books and what they posit simply evaporate into history?

 Post Davos, post 2010, what does the future look like?  I don’t know.  I may be in the intellectual class now, but we are only allowed access to certain information and means of expression.  I am ignored by those who would rather happily munch toxins and watch quasi-violent entertainment, and am segregated by those who would rather have their ideas promoted, not mine. In sum, my class has some cultural capital, but we are wage slaves none the less.  Perfectly contained in other words.  Now if I could only get my hands on some Soma, I’d be fine.  But I’m sure the CEO’s of Glaxo are working on that.

Where’’s my dime bag of Garam Masala?

Have you ever seen two grown people searching feverishly for a small bag?  Calls of “Look in the pantry!”  “I did!”  “Look behind the backup flour and sugar!” and  “I DID ALREADY!” ring through the hall.  In our family, creating food is our central addiction.  Husband may say books are my dirty little secret, but I have dislodged many, many volumes from my stash since we met (don’t look too closely at the basement storage room, those boxes I can’t part with). 

The food processor, ice cream maker, and KitchenAid mixer are three of my favorite objects.  They do not sit on the counter to display any expertise, but are usually covered with schmutz, cords flung awry.  These are working tools; metal machines with big motors.  This is my version of Tool Time, and when seeing muscle machines I find myself drooling and muttering ‘Gruh, gruh”.  But I am not a cooking wimp, given to throwing any little spice into my coffee grinder.  I use the granite mortar and pestle as well, pounding and grinding, then mixing, cutting, and warming over a small flame (Toasting spices can be very effective, especially before pounding up).  It is not just the consumption of our creations, these infusions into our body chemistry that we enjoy.  Making food is a creative pursuit for us, and as Anthony Bourdain has said, an expression of love.  Love for a process, materials, and ultimately the experience of sharing a meal.  There is a reason “home food” is a term we associate with our mothers, fathers, aunts, and holidays.  It is an expression of simple pleasure, and of love.

We do not have an orderly kitchen, but usually a clean one- a distinction people who like to cook, or have small children understand completely.  The cycle of used dishes and pots is constant, and each new day brings cleanliness, clarity, creativity, then clutter.  The cycle of addiction is truly hard to break.

Part of the reason the West has food and appearance issues is the weird juncture of the love of food and the crappy food we are marketed, and subsequently buy.  The movement to buy food locally, and as organically as much as possible is one I applaud.  I never used to like red meat much, and did a simple comparison test recently.  Steaks of the same cut were purchased at almost even prices; one from the usual feed lot “finished”-cross country shipped- hormone stuffed-mega grocery chain bin, the other of the grass fed, pasture living, little drugs, recently butchered, organic variety courtesy of one of our local farmers market people.  Husband, the defacto grill cook, cooked them rather rare and slapped them on a plate with a slight dusting of salt and pepper.  I usually don’t like rare meat.  A few bites of each and it was clear:  the local, “happy cow” was significantly better.  I don’t like the metallic taste red meat has, and it was missing entirely from the happy cow.  The other steak was metallic tasting, and had a strange other flavor too.  I am told the manipulations animals go through in our modern “production” (from embryo to flesh stripping) cycles creates high levels of stress hormones in the flesh that do not taste good.  I believe it.

As a child we had a steady number of nine cows.  One a year was hauled off to the local butcher (and usually one of the cows had a calf to replace it) and in return we got the standard small white packages with scrawled writing to identify the parts.  The first bull Dad took away, Red, was a bit of a shock.  Try explaining to a six year old where one of her favorite animals went, and expect some surprise.  I did not speak to Dad for several days.  It didn’t help that I abhorred (and still do) liver.  After waiting for what seemed an eternity for a meal one day during one of my growth spurts, Dad sauntered into the living room with a hunk of cooked meat in his hand, greedily taking bites out of it.  “This is that bull you won’t eat.  Mmmmm.  Good steak. . .you want some?” He hands me down the hunk, and I took a big bite.  “Bleah!”  I spit the bite out yelling,” That wasn’t steak- that was liver!”  He and mom laughed about that for years.

We had a garden, and every year it was more of a circus than an orderly enterprise.  One year my previously urban mother planted rows and rows of melons, not realizing how they reproduced.  Most rotted in the field, or were stealthily stacked next to the doors of friends and neighbors.  One year all the corn fell over, and another year the onions all rotted.  By contrast, mom’s baked goods were never in doubt.  The granddaughter of a professional baker, she had picked up many of his ideas and skills.  Her recipes are sparse notes, missing the changes and footnotes she held in her head, like most cooks.  I have yet to have at any restaurant, bakery or home the equal of her cakes, pies, cookies, or especially, her éclairs.  No matter how poor we were, she could manage to whip up an amazing dessert.  It was as if, in the vast rural wasteland into which she found herself, she would create her own small, private oases of momentary bliss and offer them to us.  Her offering of love.  She wasn’t always good at saying it, but she could show it.  The battered red apple cookie jar was never empty, and now it sits proudly on my counter tempting my little boys with what lies hidden inside.  It had been my Grandmother’s, and she had given it to my mother.  Love can come in the most subtle of ways, and remain in memory through the tokens we live with.

Of course the abundance of food we have in the US is a double-edged sword. There are enough articles clogging the newspapers about obesity (but don’t look too closely at how the BMI index was created or how it’s used), and not enough about how to can veg and fruit, and eat locally.  When talking to a fresh young Coop-extension agent recently, he admitted he knew little to nothing about the local food movement in all it’s manifestations, or organic produce and meats.  Still worse, he came from a mega poultry and beef industry family in TX, and had learned nothing from his grand folks about the small doing, of raising food, processing it yourself, and keeping it.  I find his educated, empty mind a travesty, if not a waste of my tax dollars.

We are not foodies who seek out the truly exotic.  I get my highs from small things, like the basil fresh from my garden with my fresh red tomatoes (no cast iron tasteless rocks), or in winter the fresh rosemary that grows near the lavender bushes sprinkled on a locally obtained pork roast; or eating breakfast eggs from “happy” chickens, as our neighbor likes to call his crazy bug eating, free range dinosaurs.  We share our tools, our materials, and the results with our friends.  In kind, we have had the luck to taste real Korean fish stew, exquisite Japanese vegetable dishes, Thai carrot butterflies, a northern Indian curry, and other dishes I am not well versed in cooking, or know how to tweak myself.  This is love: taste, experience, creativity, community, memory.  Who wouldn’t do unusual things for love: satisfy the addiction for sensation; slake thirst and hunger, while having substantive human connections?  Remember that the next time the anonymous dealer who parades his wealth via TV ads entices you with the promise of crisp fries, or easy satiating.  With just a little more effort, you could have so much more.  One more trip to the local international food mart and I’ll replenish my supplies.  I’ll scrounge my change dishes and get that small bag, that magic that will help transform the daily habits of life into bliss.  Who needs big pharma or illicit drugs when we can cook?

 

What does critical discourse have to do with my floor?

We wanted it.  I reminded myself of that this morning.  We wanted it.  The dirty floor that only stays clean every morning for half an hour.  The dusty shelves.  The sweet little face coming to crawl into my lap, while smelling of an open sewer.  Ok, I am really ready for this child to learn to use the potty.  But the whole scene, the whole reality, even if we didn’t know the stressors, and the surprises good and bad- we wanted it.

I don’t think you can ever really know what you are getting into when you have children.  That’s probably why so many of us see it as a clear line between being in the club and not.  It’s not purposefully exclusionary.  People who have not had children simply can’t and don’t “get it” about kids.  The time management, the responsibility, the stress, the guilt, the failures, the groundedness, the day to day subtleties.  We didn’t know the totality either before we had kids and we were well into our late thirties with four advanced degrees between us, and two bachelor degrees.  We were not DINKS (double income no kids, if people still use that acronym), but rather WEMIS (well educated marginal incomes). 

I was reading a series of essays and rebuttals this week regarding stay at home moms.  One of the irritations I had was that I know two very smart, capable men who are stay at home parents.  I also know two couples that use a blended approach- each works ¾ time, much of that at home, and they both handle childcare.  None of us are rich, and everyone I know is a WEMI.  I fully admit my life experience is anecdotal.  I have trouble mapping on many of the points of view I was reading into my communal reality, these “expert” points of view which strive to express profundity and summarize a social phenomenon. 

There is a popular critique that somehow stay at home moms have copped out.  That we should be blamed for holding back other women, for reinforcing stereotypes.  Little mention is made of the fact that on average, women still only make about seventy cents for every mans dollar when we work- regardless of position, or income level.  One essay detailed the difference between stay at home parents today and those of fifty years ago, summarizing by saying a clean floor was her last priority, and she was ok with that.  For many of us, having a parent provide early childhood care is a necessity and a luxury as well.  We can’t afford daycare, and the pre-school programs we so enthusiastically enroll our children into only meet a few days a week for a few hours at a time.  We are also lucky that we are not having our feet held over a fire by government authorities to work or lose our children, and our lives- subsequently having to put our children into dubious situations while we work body and mind numbing jobs for minimum wages that won’t cover diapers.  Even extended families are a luxury now.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins- the stuff of legendary loyalty, strife, and support have gone the way of RV’s and the global moving workforce.  The very poor may have relatives near by, but those of us who are WEMI’s may be caring for children as well as aging parents at the same time (we waited so long to have kids the distance in age between our children and our parents is the same for the very poor between four, even five generations).

I am not complaining, it’s just the facts.  The choices we make to “stay at home” are not nearly as clear-cut as many of the writers I have read seem to think.

I also do not think stay at home parents can be categorized so easily into groups anymore.  Just as some women who stay at home are more educated than those of fifty years ago, women do not feel the need (or guilt) to greet their suit wearing man at the door with a martini.  The WEMI’s I know all had jobs before they had kids, and male or female, chose to be a partner in the whole family process.  Stereotypical roles simply do not work, and each family has to figure out what makes sense for them.  Usually, that means a clean floor ends up being a low priority, included in the team-family barrage of Saturday cleaning.

The anxieties we suffer are more about preparing our children as best we can to get along in the world, get good educations, and be happy, balanced individuals who can fly from the nest and manage a checking account, bills, taxes, their bodies, social situations, read at the twelfth grade level, have solid moral character grounding, and problem-solve with strong core mental tool boxes that include three R’s as well as science, the arts, philosophy, and history.  We worry about money, about our own health, and having stable, equitable communities at all levels.  We also worry about mundane things, like getting enough sleep and if our pants make our butts look big (men too).  We have the same problems our parents had, but we have significantly more social flexibility to meet those challenges as partners than at any time before.  As Husband recently replied after a barb from his friend for liking the drink lemon drop during guys night, “Do I look like a man who is insecure in his masculinity?”  His friend thought for a moment then said, “No.  No you don’t.”   I don’t think we need to worry about whether or not we fit into roles, represent our genders well, or are reproducing stereotypes that keep others down.  When it’s important and explicit we do what we can to make the world a more balanced, fair place.  Post-modern sociology has made it clear that the personal is political, and that the implicit, the subtextural, matters in the big scheme of things.  Yet in our daily lives we do the best we can, and are revolutionary for simply doing things differently, trying to meet the challenges of parenting with as much creativity and honesty as we can.

We chose it.  We wanted the knowledge of family.  We wanted the day-to-day demands, the reality of having children in our lives 24/7.  There are bigger sacrifices ahead, challenges, and surprises with this choice.  We expect that.  How we respond is something I can’t forecast right now, but I do know the last thing we need is academic criticism, social constraint, or institutionalized religious guilt for things that don’t matter.  We all need support.  We need to laugh, and have our sense of humor reinforced.  We need others to know we are doing the best we can, and when we don’t, we already know it.  So back off analysts.  No saints or sinners here, just parents trying to get along in life- put your energies into getting fair wages, parental leave, and nationalized early childhood education.  Do something more productive than glamorizing or demonizing those who stay at home. 

For a start, you can come on over and clean my floor.

A new project

It seems fitting to post this on super tuesday.  Do you know your doctor?  Do you know your post-person?  Do you know your plumber?  Are there six degrees of separation between you and anyone interesting who is not a celebrity?  Do you want to begin to do something small, to participate without baggage, to begin to learn and care about the things that may only be superficial right now?  Pass it on. Expect to be rejected most of the time.  And keep doing it. Breakfast.Lunch.Dinner.

Equals across the table

Your family is invited to a meal at  (your name)  home

on the date and time of your choosing.

Please RSVP to:  (email, phone and mailing address)

at your earliest convenience.

____________________________________________________

 

When was the last time you made an honest effort to talk with someone very different from yourself?  How might a casual meal and conversation shared between disparate people bridge distances of position, diversity, opinion, and inform both?  Can a simple meal connect strangers, neighbors in a global community?

Our current world is both a small and complex place, often isolating and intimidating.  With a simple, sincere, transparent, and curiosity-based exchange such as a meal we believe we can begin to cross boundaries and learn about others.  There is no publicity, no material gain to be had, no hidden agenda.  What is intrinsically exchanged during the meal is the reward, harkening back to the most basic social meaning of breaking bread together.

We are opening our home, our lives, and ourselves as part of the experience and expect nothing in return but respect and sincere engagement.  The basis we work from when meeting strangers is to treat them as we would neighbors; people we are tied to as community members, but do not really know.  It is the effort to know and understand someone, and explore our combined worldviews that is the point, the root purpose of the meal.

Food restrictions regarding health are respected, but otherwise guests are offered “home food”; that which can’t be had in restaurants and is by its nature special.  We serve what we usually eat, using mostly local, organic materials.  For example, pot roast and mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, pies and cakes made from scratch, or omelets, toast and coffee might be offered depending on the meal.  Our core family members (4) are your hosts, and no other people but your family will attend. 

It is too easy to assume we know how other people live.  Small snippets of information disconnected from lives cannot capture enough to understand each other.  The biases that result from our assumptions have far-reaching implications.  We know the effects of ignorance in our lives, and want to dispel it.  We know the joys of curiosity, and we want to engage it (and yours) as part of this life-long project.  Please come be a part of this effort.  Sit a while, relax, talk, and have a meal with us.

Why you?

(short description of why we find the persons interesting, and why we think they ought to know us in some cases, such as state senators)

Who we are (your info here):

Both of us come from modest, midwestern backgrounds.  We have been discussing who we would like to have dinner with for years, developing a loose list of people we think are interesting.  Further discussion of this led to the formation of B.L.D., which is a blend of the personal, social action, and art in a life-long pursuit.

We hope that this project might encourage others to go beyond their constraints, their contacts, and reach out into the world in a simple, deeply human way.  We are equals across the table, our preconceptions put aside, and connections to be made.  As part of our efforts, we take a digital photo of all of us together, give you a copy, and keep ours in the B.L.D. book.  These artifacts are not intended to be shared, or profit made from them, and we use the photos as neighbors would: to recall friends and events, and as documentation to track our lives.

The lure of a distant horn

As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed the sound of train horns at night.  On the farm as a child, the tracks ran on the far edge of our field, and the howl of the coyotes would often presage the rich sound of a train horn. Everywhere I have lived, I have heard these horns and found strange comfort in the sound.  As I sit in the calm and cold of my living room, I hear the horn from a train less than a mile away. 

I am told by my father that he took my great-grandfather to a central office in Kansas City where he had been ordered to turn in his gun and his badge from his days as a payroll guard on the trains.   The trains he worked ran the mining and lumber routes winding through southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas, Eastern OK and Kansas.  I was reminded of the old western films, where pay trains got held up, and men hopped off with hands in the air while the bad guys robbed them.  Most of this was a fiction, but guards on trains were not.  Great granddad cried as he slumped in the office chair, laying the items of his former self on the desk.  My father was embarrassed, and wished he could just jump up and grab the gun and badge, pull his grandfather along and leave.  It was one of the few times he says he ever saw the elder man broken.  Great granddad loved trains, and so did his son, my grandfather.  My grandfather had elaborate miniatures set up in his basement, and worked as a rail postal clerk, his dream job.  He died as an accident in the great train yards of Kansas City’s Union Station, during the height train travel and shipping.  I have often thought about all the blood, energy, and money that went into building the railroads of this country, how quickly they fell into disrepair, and how the rails are a viable means to again transport people and goods, in the face of a looming oil crisis. 

I can’t say I am obsessed with trains, but I am with the sound of the horns at night, and with travel.  I have what I like to call “itchy feet” (no relation to fungus).  It is a fascination with travel, the idea of travel, and the ever-pressing need to get out and go places.  I currently reside in a valley that is approx. 30 miles wideby 175 miles long.  It is hemmed in on one side by rows of mountains with 4,000 ft peaks, which take close to 7 hours to get through going west on narrow black top roads.  On the other, a single, long line of “mountains” barricades the valley, with peaks of about 3,000 ft. on average.  From there, the land quickly slides down into marshes, then to the Atlantic Ocean.  I have felt claustrophobic ever since I moved here.  The first year I back-roaded obsessively, coming to know the strange knots of roads that seemed to twist and turn without logic, always circling back into the valley.  I built knowledge of this geographic prison that rarely requires a map. Then, I got bored.  I traveled up into Pennsylvania, and into West Virginia.  It still seems like a very small region to me.

When we came here to find a place to live, we stayed in a KOA.  A nice woman and her family were in the pool with us and we asked if there was a grocery near by. “Oh yes!”  She replied, “The food line is just down the road” and proceeded to describe where the food line was.  I usually do not have trouble understanding people with accents, but I shot Husband a seriously perplexed look.  “Food line?”  I said.  “Yes-  foodline.  FOOD LINE!”  She smiled and said it louder as if I were either deaf or stupid.  Husband finally got it, “Oh! Food Lion!”  Grinning with relief and triumph that he had understood and I had not.  The woman just smiled and nodded (I thought to myself that Food Lion was one of the dumbest names for a grocery I had ever heard.  So too Price Chopper with the axe logo, and several other names, but that’s another essay about the identifying vagaries of regional stores.).  Later she asked where we were from, and said with pride that they always vacationed at the KOA’s around town, and that she had never been out of the COUNTY in her life. Yes, the county- not country. I clarified, believe me.  She was a nice woman, but honestly I can’t imagine never leaving the county.  Not by choice anyway.  Husband says my sense of direction is partly to blame for my itchy feet, as I don’t really fear any aspects of travel.  I take great joy in the packing-as-Tetris game, as well as the planning of a trip in such a way to leave room for random experience.  And yes, I have an excellent sense of direction.  Growing up my father used to backroad often, and say to me, “We are lost.  How do we get home?”.  We were never lost of course, but it was a good way to train a child to have a sense of direction and the skills needed to get around.

About 12 years ago on my first trip through the upper East Coast, I got off the highway at one point and wandered around a medium sized city and found a terrific restaurant in an out of the way place.  I was by myself for the entire trip, which took me up to Montreal, and through many cities.  Husband and I happened to be on a stretch of that same route a few years back, at a mealtime.  Without telling him, I pulled off as I had years ago and found a restaurant I had been to on the original trip.  No mistakes, but drove right to it through multiple back roads and turns.  Even I was surprised.  Dad has the same disease, and has made a competition out of trying to find a road I have not been on, then getting me to drive it with him.  He has yet to find a road I am not familiar with and it irks him to no end.  Worse, a couple of times I had not actually been on the road, but figured out where it was and what it connected to with enough accuracy that he was fooled.  No small feat in the always-curving roads (and changing names) of The Valley. 

Not that I don’t get “lost”, but as Husband assures me, lost is a relative term.  Lost for me is not quite being sure in a 5-mile radius of where I am.  I know the block so to speak, but not the detail within it. Hence, I can get to a point of reference pretty quickly by following my instincts and using my skills.  This happens when I am going someplace new, or after having studied maps. Husband still gets lost in our town.  People ask him for directions and he shrugs, saying, “Ask her”.  Or, he will try to tell someone he has a lousy sense of direction and they do not believe him.  He often has to explain the terror he feels when he gets a couple of miles out of town.  He has absolutely no mental map of where he is.  He tells me The Valley is especially difficult for him, and that he misses the Midwest, where he could count on the grid structure of roads.

We sorely miss the orderly squares of the Midwest, the big sky, the rich soils, and the deep rivers.  The spaces between villages and the loud, powerful thunderstorms that can rage for hours.  I did not indulge in drugs or other vices as a teenager, with the exception of driving.  I lived on my bicycle until I turned 16, and then I backroaded, completing ever more distant trips.  There are very few dirt roads or blacktops in an approximately 150-mile radius of my old hometown that I do not know intimately, having taken great pleasure in random stops for food at diners, noting unusual architecture or geography, and reveling in historical, arcane, and natural sites.

The valley we live in now gets very little snow, and almost no storms.  My husband and I lie on summer evenings and listen wistfully when a small electrical storm passes by, whispering shared memories of great storms we have known.  We also listen to the sound of the train horn as it makes regular passes, and silently hold one another’s hand.

My sons get out their wooden tracks and build routes, putting their tiny engines and cars on the track and pushing them along with “chug a chugs” and an occasional “whoo-woo”.  Trains maintain strong symbolism, a battered romance, and an enduring promise that is evident even to children.  My father took his mother and our family with him on a nostalgic train ride this past fall through West Virginia.  The train was a pastiche of various old trains, some cars from the 1930’s, some the 50’s, and some later.  We had a meal in the dining car (a salvaged early 50’s model), and then adjourned to a cheaply refurbished 1930’s deco car, with wavy seating looking out wide windows.  It was an interesting trip, and the two little boys enjoyed themselves very much. The static scrambled voice on the loud speaker gave historical information as we wound through a valley, and the mostly geriatric riders all smiled indulgently at the boys as they hooted and walked about the train.  I only caught the faintest echoes of what rail travel must have been like, as if some ghost from the past were just out of the corner of my peripheral vision, never quite coming into view.  This was not the train of my imagination, of family stories, or of the horns in the night.  This was more like the wooden track and cars my sons play with.  It offered little insight into what haunts me about the sound of the horn, or helping to cool the itch in my feet.  I know trains are a faulty business now, mostly shipping goods across country, and not without the usual scary bunch of train “hobos”.  Amtrak is a sorry excuse for rail travel, not the least because the heavily federally subsidized system offers tickets to non-citizens at half the cost for citizens.  When I pursued this issue with Amtrak, I was told, “Well if you went to Europe you would get cheap tickets”.  This in no way explains the expensive and non-rational ticket prices.  I had been looking into getting Dad a ticket to visit his sister in Washington State, and was shocked by what I found in the limited routes and outrageously expensive tickets.  He did not believe me at first, recalling when rail travel was like bus travel, and about as expensive.  “That was 50 years ago, Dad”  I said, also telling him it made no sense to me either.  Call or write your congresspersons, your senators, people.  This is a rip off, and the whole system needs to be developed.

I grew up with autos for travel, not the train. The early oil “crisis” of the 70’s created the cars I drove, and I avoided owning a car (and came to know Greyhound very well in college) for a long time, and did not need one when living in the city.  It was not until I turned 27 that I owned my first auto, and had that truck for 15 years before I gave it away.  It was my buddy, my trusted companion who got 35 mpg in town and up to 42 on the highway, and never failed me mechanically.  It was my turtle, with the camper shell and rolled up futon in back.  It was a Mazda B2200, the stealth bomber in which I never got a speeding ticket, and I miss it.

When I turned 30, I made a trip to New Orleans to give my first paper and explore the region.  Many trips else where and a few years later, I was invited by some friends who happened to be from the Nambe pueblo to come and stay for a while.  I took off in my pick-up and drove out.  After a long visit, I decided to continue west, winding through Flagstaff, down to Phoenix.  I entered at night, and when I got up in the morning and looked out the window I was convinced I had died and gone to hell- the landscape looked like something out of my old Catholic school catechism, some woodcut landscape Dante had imagined.  Then I wandered west to L.A., along the whole route visiting friends and relatives.  When I headed east again I camped in my truck, but for Vegas one evening, which was enough to last this woman for a lifetime.  The north rim of the Grand Canyon was a revelation, and the blacktops out of the Kaibab into Colorado are burned into my soul. I camped and followed the “million dollar highway”, then the back roads down into the high plains of Kansas, always behind a string of huge thunderstorms.  I regret not being able to do that again, but keep saying I will soon. Husband is an excellent wing-man and CAN read a map, and I miss the days when we traveled together to the upper Midwest, out to Colorado, down to Georgia, and other points U.S.  Our eldest even remembers hotel rooms, cabins, and tents, saying,“Let’s go somewhere” from time to time, spinning out tales about when we traveled with him.

The train horn sounds again, and I feel the call to get up, to go. But it is late, one of our tiny guys has the flu, and the house needs to be cleaned in order to remove the small blue engines from the floor to avoid the sure pain they will cause if I step on them.  Money is tight, and I console myself with the knowledge of a conference trip in the near future. “Goodbye” I find myself whispering to the train.  Good night moon, bye bye train, some other time.  These feet will have to itch just a little while longer.

 

The unpopularity of kindness

 

I watched my son and his preschool group on the playground this past fall.  I saw a little boy filled with compassion, the only child who worked to not only acknowledge the tiny girl with Downs Syndrome, but to actively invite her into activites, and help her with her shoes.  His teachers commented on this at the teacher-parent meeting, and how the previous year he was known for not hesitating, running to hug any crying child and ask, “are you ok?”  He was 2.  This child, who seemed to wriggle out of the womb with a smile, who hardly ever cried, and can charm even the coldest stranger, this child who never takes a bad photo (he has even had photo development folks ask to copy his photo for their stands), I fear for him.  His greatest gift is that he has a well of instinctive compassion, and a skill for kindness.  He is a typical boy too- he competes with his brother from time to time, and has been known to recklessly throw a shoe at the cat in a moment of high enthusiasm to get her to pay attention to him.  But he feels instantly regretful, running up to her and telling her he is sorry.  I have cried at night when I have seen him earlier in the day rejected by another child, or treated with distanced curiosity by children who are not as open, enthusiastic, or kind.  He struggles with his impulsiveness and lack of focus (distractibility) to a degree that makes me fear he might be dyslexic (like his grandfather, and genetic links for dyslexia are becoming clear in research), or have attention deficit issues.  Yet at the same time he sings precisely in tune, and has lyrics memorized effortlessly.  He is altogether a normal kid, but for his outstanding ability for kindness.

I have given the notion of kindness a lot of thought in the past few weeks.  “Spontaneous/random acts of kindness” has become a hip bumper sticker, a phrase for talk show hosts to throw about; setting up the expectation that a single act gives an individual moral integrity, even authority–but the truth is, it does not.  Real kindness is not popular.  It does not make one popular, it is not profitable, it does not seek attention, nor does it offer clear long-term benefits.  There is no “sell advantage”, no advertising, that addresses real kindness.

It does not take the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, or any text to determine and instruct anyone on kindness, though they have been known to help.  I argue that our current dominant culture pressures us NOT to develop the skills of kindness, from a very young age.  When moral and religious texts are used to popularize hate and war, kindness is gone from the message.  When money, prestige, appearance, and being first- and only first- dominate all forms of media and symbolism, there is no kindness.  Token PSA’s reminding people to drive with caution, to learn to negotiate instead of fight, fall on deaf ears.  Any instinctual, social drive to be kind is quickly eradicated by fear.  Fear of failure, fear of association, fear of rejection.

My in-laws are on a trip through the Southwest right now.  In the snow with night falling, they found themselves in desolate northern New Mexico with a bad tire.  A young Latin man stopped, made sure they were o.k., and helped them fix it.  When Pops offered him money, he shook his head with a smile, thrust his hands into his pockets, and got into his car and drove away.  Enacting kindness is difficult, but accepting it can also be hard.  It can make us feel weak, vulnerable, or needy.  Accepting kindness, especially with grace and sincere thanks, even pleasure, is none of those things.

I read a recent study reporting that even very small babies had a way to intuit who was kind and who was not.  This has clear evolutionary advantages for babies, but might it also be a sign of the deep need for compassionate social interaction- that lasts until we die?  Critics of the technological revolutions of the 20th century claim the worst that has happened is that our humanity has been diminished, that we have become even less communal and more isolated, reduced to cogs in machines, or passively vegetated in front of one.  While this is certainly true to some extent, it has also offered new ways to connect to people.  It is not a balanced picture, and not in a vacuum, separate from the bigger context of what has been happening on a global scale.  We in the US have of late bought into innuring ourselves from criticism or self examination with desperate exclamations of “fight for freedom”, “we are the free world”, and lots of other catch phrases intended to salve the fears of struggling people, reduce complexity to simple ideas, and most importantly, obfuscate any ability to show self-examination or self-knowledge.  We are, as it has been said, entertaining, or “Amusing ourselves to death” (Neil Postman, Penguin, 1986). 

When we crawl out from the barrage of media, objects, and activities we immerse ourselves in, what do we have left?  Do we surface, heads above it all for a moment, and see family members?  Good and true friends?  Do we feel hope, a shifting quality about life that is not immediately tied to anything in particular, but is a force in our lives we can’t live without (Hope dies last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times, Studs Terkel, New Press, 2003)? If we see or feel none of this, then it is a desolate horizon we turn from, sinking again into the obfuscating madness. 

How do I value, encourage, and nurture the ability for kindness in my son?  This thing which comes so easily to him now, and is only beginning to cost him emotionally?  How do I help him feel connected when he is inevitably rejected, when he is discouraged, and when he is lonely?  How do I remind him that accepting kindness is often one of the kindest things we can do? Who will be there for him when I am gone?

Perhaps if anyone had asked these fundamental questions early on about the children who perpetrated the Columbine massacre, it would not have happened.  It is just an idea, and the backlash can already be heard.  We don’t want to think about preventative medicines, preventative social efforts, or the what if’s that implicate us all in what we do.  We want to toss change into the pickle jar for the cancer victim at the gas station, make the donation to the United Way, wave a driver in front of us in traffic and let that suffice for kindness, and feel good about it.  We don’t want to think about these actions as less than the very baseline of action we ought to have in order to live real kindness.  We don’t want to risk that fuzzy place in the social order we fight for every day, risk being seen as weird or unacceptable, or weak.  We don’t want to ask why we fear these things, or think of them as risks at all.  Self knowledge is scary, and sticking your neck out is dangerous, right?

Who hugs the old man who waits for his free Monday breakfast outside the Co-op diner, alone and set apart from the cluster of chain smokers huddled at the other end of the walk?  Who runs up and asks the woman waiting at the bus stop if she is ok, and why is she crying?  Who helps the old couple stuck on the highway in the snow to change their tire?  Who asks the little boy playing by himself in the sand what he is doing and what he likes?  Who helps the little girl with the funny eyes struggling to put her shoes on?  And WHY AREN’T WE DISCUSSING THESE QUESTIONS?

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people

Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

–John Lennon, 1971

 

What do you do with a desiccated orange?

In my hand I hold a wizened orange.  It got lost behind a bag of cereal and the sugar jar, just under the kitchen window.  Said window, missing trim now for a year from a rehab project for which Husband has not found time to finish.  I could do it, but it was not my project.  Thus a few nights of cold dry air seeping under the window turned this lovely fruit into- what?

If I was Martha Stewart (and I am not) I would probably advise myself to “Go ahead!  dry out a couple more, hot glue them with bay leaves onto a grape vine wreath for a decorative piece on the front door”.  No offense to Martha, I admire her: the divorced mom- spurned even though she did it all like she was supposed to, jailed for fuzzy reasons, no-nonsense boss, funny, getting old with wit and style woman.  But I do not confuse the woman with the hype, the product, and the M.S. magazine reading, Oprah attending types for whom the new mothering magazine Cookie has been designed. These women I generally avoid comparison to.  You know who I am talking about- a largely affluent, white, appearance obsessed base, aged 22-55.  Living in those June Cleaveresque, strained superficialities of homes, no desiccated orange will be found. 

After 55 I think these women just get drunk, break a few dishes and emancipate themselves, shoving the magazines into the trash and going out for a walk.  At least, I hope they do.  Because we have no magazines or films or TV to tell us what they do, only our personal experiences, our own mothers.  Entertainment executives don’t think they merit attention, are off the collective cultural radar except for rare parody or soppy Lifetime snoozers.

This orange?  This once ripe fruit, bursting with sensuous scent, firm flesh and bright appeal?  No, decoration is not for this objet d’art.  I am compelled to take a knife to the hard skin, see if it still retains any smell, and sate my curiosity about what is inside.  Is it black?  Is it soft and rotted?  Or is it stringy and hard, all the moisture drawn away?  My bet is on the latter, given how much it weighs.  I could toss it into the compost heap, that big box of organic matter we started in the back yard.  Where that compost will go next year is in question.  Our lovely black walnut tree, offering such cool shade in the summer, so good at keeping down weeds, is I just found out a poisonous, selfish thing.  Easily one third of our yard is hostile to anything but grass and the off-spring of the Big Walnut.  The only stretch of yard that nurtured my crazy striped tomatoes has become another in-progress home improvement site.  So what of this orange, this possible compost?  I am not sure where it will go now.

I have been told by a young friend whose family runs a large cherry farm in Washington State that we really don’t know fruit in the U.S.  Most of the “good” fruit gets sold to Japan, and most of our fruit is so engineered, so greenly picked, that it has no flavor, no textures, no taste.  Having read Epitaph for a Peach-
four seasons on my family farm (Mas Masumoto, Harper San Francisco / Harper Collins, June 1995), I knew fruit, like many things in the U.S., had become something other than the celebrated production of the fertile, ripened ovary of a flowering plant.  When I was pregnant, the only smell that could curb my nausea was that of a fresh orange.  Oranges revive the spirit, as well as the body.  Oranges glow, and color even the most drab scene- meriting its own crayon, a very own color concept.

My mother used to put an orange every year in our Christmas “socks” (those felt creations no more useful on a foot than the plastic fruit in her table bowl to our stomachs) and we would take the oranges out on Christmas morning, thinking to ourselves “What the heck is this about?” tossing them aside.  Later when she was clearing the torn paper, broken bows, and empty boxes she would sigh as she picked the fruit up and put it back in the kitchen.  Only once did she ever tell me that as a child, she had gotten an orange every Christmas, as had her mother before her.  Oranges used to be rare, a treat every bit as wonderful to a child as candy.  In the Little House on the Prairie books, I recall the iconic scene when Laura gets an orange and is thrilled.  Now days, if I can find an organic, reasonably fresh California orange (I have given up on Florida. The state ag powers are not interested in demanding decent worker conditions, restraining pesticide use, or ever offering anything edible) I am thrilled.  Hence my guilt at discovering this sad shriveled specimen.  My sons like oranges, and I had saved this one for them, putting aside my greed.  It silently slipped away, and was forgotten.

Excess at Christmas is more than just the toys, the noise, the lights and general public pandemonium.  It is as simple as having access to fruit everyday, even if it is not the best fruit, and forgetting it is there.  Once forgotten and now found, what does one do with a desiccated orange?  Alas, poor orange! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath been eaten but a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those pips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? 

This orange, like my mother, is gone.  All that is left is the memory of the orange, the knowledge of what a good orange is.  I place the desiccated wonder on the sill to ponder further, to remind me of what is passing.  Merry Christmas, mom.  The boys will have fresh oranges in their “socks” this and every year, as often as the fruit is available to us, and I will not wait to tell them all the reasons why.  I hope I never live to see the horrors of Soylent Green or Silent Spring, and I hope one of the last scents I smell when I go to meet you is that of a fragrant, fully realized orange.

Is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city?

Is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city? 

Today I suffocated under 4 consecutive hours of a crying 20 month old, and the usual domestic duties.  I told my husband, who came home at 6 p.m. intellectually on fire after participating as a mentor in numerous trying and yet exhilarating grad critiques, that I was jealous.  It had been so long since I had discussed David Byrne’s Big Suit, or the tricky route from symbol to meaning in creative endeavors.  So I cracked open yet another bottle of cheap red wine (now 0 for 6, the other 6 in the past two months having been relegated to cooking use after a first sip), surprised at the irony of finally getting a drinkable glass on this of all days.  Perhaps not irony then, but grace.

Ever seen the movie Network?

Of course you have.  If I have not completely alienated all readers of every stereotypical stripe, what’s left will understand.

It is a true life partner, it is true love, when one melts down and says “I just want to get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, throw the kids in the car and go to the city for the weekend and feed my head”, and partner says simply “Ok, let’s do it.”  After a moment adding with wry humor, “heck- is it any better to yell at your kids at home or in the city?”

I grew up working class- yes the word class.  The taboo word of not only the academy, but also public life.  Sniff at the socialist whiff, turn to the GOP fantasy and tell me I am obsolete.  My colleagues in academia have already beaten you to it, Race being the “good”, and strangely exclusive, concept of the moment (if 40 years is a moment).  I worked in pizza restaurants at 15, and a string of cheese factories (where I was not asked to sit with women my age at break, on the midnight to 7 shift because I was going to college- I was informed by the matrons on shift- and was perceived as having a way out), temp jobs, restaurant jobs, and other good working class girl wage endeavors while trying to rise beyond, explicitly so, the factory and receptionist life my parents were relegated to and hated.  It was not the honest work; it was the gradual decay of respect and evidence of respect (lost health benefits, wage stagnation, retirement raiding, lay offs and eliminations, dismissals of concerns, rudeness, invisibility) that wore them down.

What is this hybridized identity- so post modern, yet so not cool- that finds me university PhD educated, middle aged and female, discarded and invisible to most.  Bitter?  Angry?  Hell yes.  To a mutual friend of ours who writes “graphic novels” (not to over simplify, but a fancy name for comic books), I said my hero is the middle-aged woman who becomes a vigilante.  Say, have you seen the new series on TV about that?  Yea sure, those glamour pusses are my ideal.  As my niece would say, NOT.

Perhaps you could call upon women writers of 40 years ago, who had rage and understanding in spades.  Say I am “uninformed”, derivative.  I say, No.  I know them.  I have read them.  And that they are still relevant does not negate this space, this life.  After the first blog, I was told I was angry.  I laughed.  Oh yeah, you got it.  Acerbic?  Sarcastic?  Yet still sincere?  Oh my.  Fold another napkin on the fire, and let me apologize for my lack of tact.  NOT.

Think of this as the anti-Ann Coulter.  That scion of current journalism who has never worked an honest day in her life.  And yet, I say you go girl, savor it while you can, because when it all goes away all you’ll be left with is your nasty coke habit and wrinkly neck skin.  Those GOP puppet masters who romanced your rise to fame will run and hide, bounce your emails and treat you as the pariah you are.  You may want to have a feminist moment when this point comes, you may even think you earned it, but you’ll probably find yourself alienated.   Whisper to yourself that you are still good, you are still important, while the world shuns you.  Welcome to the real world baby- if you have not saved, you have not earned- as that female money guru Suze Orman would say.

You want placebo? You want sexy, palatable, mildly amusing mother? Read the syndicated folks.  Those who get paid to entertain.  Enter here, and enter another realm.  My hero Molly Ivins died this past year, and a little bit of my hope went with her.  When Studs (Terkel) goes, I don’t know what I’ll do.  .  . Scream, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it any more”.  Not that many will notice me without an AK-47, or other armaments- the standard attention getting (and economy riding) devices for all from Dub to the local sad teenager.  I guess middle-aged women are just not threatening or sexy.  Pass the Provigil and the written ammunition. 

Halleluiah. . .get your hands off the scissors!  Get in bed! Where is that damned cooler? 

See you tomorrow at the Smithsonian.