Not for sale

Not for sale

Gogo was raised by her uncle after her mother died and her father left for Africa. Her father never returned from Africa, and whether he was alive or dead she never knew. Neither did anyone else. Her uncle was large and had a strong jaw – a head shaped like an anvil. His words had the same sort of weight. But he didn’t say much, thankfully, and his house on the edge of the river was large enough that they could (mostly/almost) coexist without crossing paths. Gogo always said that she could dissolve into a glass of water when he yelled for peace and quiet. When I visited her we stayed in her room. If we were hungry we left the house. If her uncle was in a particularly foul mood we stayed at my place, hiding beneath the covers of my bed so that my parents wouldn’t know I had her over. We were safe there, beneath the covers, holding each other and whispering about where we would go tomorrow, next month, next year, forever. We read books to each other. Great tomes of Russian literature and the American classics. We tackled “Waiting for Godot” which was one of her favorites: We said we would go and see it performed one day when we had the money. We read poetry and wondered how so much could be said with so few words. My parents never caught us. Gogo always slipped through the window before sunrise and before my dad started making jokes at the breakfast table where I pretended to laugh. My dad always said, “You can’t be...
It would be safest if you ran

It would be safest if you ran

There is a focus on borders and walls in these current times, and consequently, a rise in xenophobia. Or is it because of xenophobia that there is a focus on borders and walls? Populism has always been around, but the sentiments that elected the current administration are the result of a “chicken or egg” conundrum: Are people scared because the world is scary, or is the world scary because people are scared? The rhetoric itself has changed: The denial of the United States as a “country of immigrants” and open borders has been the guiding force behind recent policy in the White House. The conversation is not about coming together as much as it is keeping out (anything/something) unfamiliar. The notion of community becoming something more defined: who belongs, and who doesn’t. Perhaps it was always there, as has been suggested by the Washington Post’s America has always been hostile to immigrants, among others. The United States of America has always had a nativist streak – a populism as inward-looking as today’s “America First” mantra. But people can’t really be to blame for feeling scared, can they? When something terrible happens? When lives are lost? Especially when they feel powerless to do anything about it: As humans we pride ourselves on our autonomy; our ability to be in control, to conquer, to rise above. We are in control. We need to be in control. And when we can’t give the enemy a face… So, a face has been given: Muslims. Illegal Aliens and Welfare Queens. Them. It’s not an abstract problem, under Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s a tangible one, and there they are....
We’re always searching, our culinary tongues, for something new to taste

We’re always searching, our culinary tongues, for something new to taste

Going out to a restaurant, i.e. going out for breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner early and late, is not only about the food on the plate in front of us: It’s a culinary adventure; an experience designed to create sensations we don’t have, will not get, and cannot recreate, at home. The pros: Many new restaurants doing many new things, changing, every day, and always. The cons: Well, we don’t always need these things. Sometimes simplicity is enough. A man is hungry A friend told me once that he was very hungry for Chinese food. We rattled off for him a long list of Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities. Does he want takeout? No. Something fried or something fresh? To sit down for dim sum? Does he want noodles or does he want rice? No. He wanted something he had never had before. We looked at each other and shrugged. He wanted a trip to China, deep into the heart of the country’s largest cities to find foods that hadn’t yet made it across the ocean and probably never would. He wanted to go deep into grain fields  and pastoral settings where a full meal is something to be cherished and respected. The flavors that can only be found where they come from; the things that can only be had where they grow and have grown for thousands and thousands of years. Global cuisine has allowed us to have so many things at our fingertips. So many tastes and dishes, so many cultures recreating their homelands right in front of our noses. Should we celebrate eating...
Lazy days, falling asleep, stuck in school, dreaming

Lazy days, falling asleep, stuck in school, dreaming

I don’t want to be here, my eyelids getting heavy. My back starting to hurt. I don’t want to stay sitting, stuck at this desk in this classroom of this school that smells like old wood and grandma’s books. Mr. Jalle up front talking about history and politics and why we are where we are. But he can’t explain why I am where I am. I think sometimes about climbing the trees outside, climbing to the very top, then jumping off with my arms outstretched because I think I can fly. My eyes are open. I see something in front of me. Dark green, watery green, swamp. I’m underwater. My eyes are open. The water stings my eyes. I reach forward with my hand. There’s nothing. I’m choking on swamp water that tastes rusty like old nails and tonic. “You’re blind,” the voice in my head tells me. Mr. Jalle’s voice up front is like a hum, steady, like low-fi bass reverberating in my ears. I don’t hear anything he says. I’m listening. I don’t hear anything except for the sound in my head. Chatter, like radio static, noise. The bass low and steady in my ears. I’m blind, I think. I’m blind. I don’t need to learn any of this. What good will it do me if I understand the Emancipation Proclamation? I can’t run for president if I’m blind. There’s never been a blind president. How would I get to the podium to give the speeches like I see on TV? With someone helping me every step of the way? Holding my hand? How would I negotiate...
The cruelty of children

The cruelty of children

There are some who say that cruelty is learned, and not inherent – the result of trauma and abuse early in life. Freud’s view was that cruelty is natural; that sadism (the want/need/desire to do harm to others) is the forgotten child of sexual desire and aggression, based in biology and psychology and a deep-rooted part of human nature. I’ve always liked British psychoanalyst and author Christopher Bollas’ view: He believed that beneath hatred and hateful behavior lies a pure and simple emptiness; that anger and hatred and subsequent cruelty are nothing more than ways of filling that emptiness. And, he said, importantly, that it is better to feel cruelly than to not feel at all. Cruelty among others Johns Berry came to live in our neighborhood the summer before we started eighth grade, and only a few days before my 13th birthday. He lived in the house across the street from mine. A house with three stories. Mine has only one. The third story is just an attic for storing things you wouldn’t be sad about never seeing again, but it was nice. It has big windows facing the street and pillars like Old Rome across the porch. Nobody else in the neighborhood cared about his house, though. They cared about his face. There was a rumor going around that that Johns Berry’s face was burned all the way through, caught in a fire when he was a baby, and now he wears a mask to cover it up. A hospital-blue mask that hangs loose around his skin. There was always spit running down his neck because he...