What I Love About Living in the U.S.

Here I am on July 4th, Independence Day here in the U.S. No big plans today except to go watch the city’s fireworks tonight.

I’m a sucker for all the holiday accoutrements, though, on any holiday. So I’m wearing red capris and a blue t-shirt with some white print on it. It’s only a matter of time until I own a Christmas sweater, I suppose.

I had some actual paper letters to mail and the temperature was pleasant, so I walked to the post office this morning. Here’s the part where I say what I love about this country, and more specifically the location of my home. On my 2-mile round-trip to the post office from my house, I passed a public library, a public school, a Baptist Church, an antiquarian book seller, an auto mechanic, a bicycle store, a School of Metaphysics, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Mediterranean restaurant, an Indian restaurant/grocery and an old-fashioned diner where the menu is heavy on biscuits-n-gravy type fair.

Here are a few places I didn’t pass this morning, but are within a mile of my house: a Mosque, a Unity Church, a Christian Science Church and a community center that has programs for residents who live in public housing, and a brew-pub.

I don’t always think about it, what a richness of experience and culture is all around me. But I noticed this morning. I thought about it, walking along in my red, white and blue. This is what the United States is about. This is the kind of thing that stirs my feelings of loyalty and love for my country. So many people from so many different backgrounds, and here we are together, making a city, a community, supporting our public libraries and public schools.

I know many towns and communities are a lot more homogeneous, but my midwestern metropolis has a population of only about 120,000. So it doesn’t take a huge urban area to live the dream. This is the American dream I want for myself and my kids — one that includes a place for all of us.

RIP Glenn Frey, Hotel California Alt Lyrics

I’m increasingly concerned for performing artists in their sixties. First Lemmy, then Natalie Cole, followed by David Bowie and Alan Rickman. And today’s announcement of the passing of the Eagles’ Glenn Frey.

Frey holds a special place in my life, having composed “Hotel California.” Way back in the mists of prehistory, when Mr. Nomadic Noesis and I were only dating and not yet married, I often found myself driving home from his house late at night with my car radio blasting to keep me awake. It tended to be around the same time and, not saying whoever programmed the radio station was lazy or anything, but I could pretty much count on hearing the same songs. Almost without fail, “Hotel California” finished up shortly before I pulled into my driveway.

A few years ago on our wedding anniversary, I wrote a poem about this. Here it is:

Driving to the Hotel California

On a dark urban highway, Eagles on the radio.
I thought the lyricist smelled the lieges, since I’d
never heard of colitas and the story made no sense
anyway. The heavy head, though – that part
I understood, for the evening
was not young when I left his doorway.
I had a long drive home
and I was thinking to myself,
“They play this same old song every night
while my headlights light up the orange barrels
lining this construction corridor.”
And I knew the next day I would still hear them sing

“Welcome to the Hotel California”
Every single place
I went all day long
in my head — the Hotel California.
No matter what I did, it’d be there.

My mind was definitely stuck on the song again again
but every time I thought of it I thought too of the man I’d seen –
how we danced and we courted on those hot summer nights.
The song makes me remember; I’ll never forget.

So I called up the station
“Please play me my song,”
They said “We haven’t had that request since I don’t know when.”
Still I can hear those voices sing to this day,
wake up in the middle of the night,
next to me he breathes.

The rhythm is Hotel California
I look at his sleeping face
recall driving from his place
to the strains of Hotel California.
What a nice surprise, our love’s still alive.

Water stains on the ceiling
Legos strewn underfoot.
Sometimes feel like a prisoner to home repair and clutter
and in the middle of it all
I cook the evening feast,
try to find something everyone will like
something they all will eat.
Then I stop and remember
those times leaving his door
how I never wanted to go back
to the place I lived alone.
Legos will get picked up
and ceiling fixed eventually.
This is the life I’ve chosen
and I don’t want to leave.

 

Politically Correct: Musings and a Poem

Several years ago I wrote a poem about a phrase I kept hearing: politically correct. Or political correctness. Or PC. It was used to shut people up, like duct tape over the mouth. Espouse a position that makes someone else feel guilty or uncomfortable? You were likely to hear that you were “just being PC.”

For a while, the term faded away, at least in discourse to which I was privy. Now it’s come roaring back. All over the place, I hear people proudly proclaim “I’m not politically correct.” The implication being, I suppose, that anyone who has a different opinion on the issue at hand can’t really be sincere. The implication being: “Deep down, you know I’m right. It’s simply inconvenient for you to admit it.”

To me, answering someone’s challenge or question or opinion with a dismissive charge of political correctness is the laziest kind of ad hominem attack. Instead of considering the issue, you call them a name and are done with it. Uttering the phrase “politically correct” absolves you of the need to listen or reason or self-examine. It’s right up there with the antiquated practice of calling women hysterical every time they challenged the status quo.

Since the term is back in vogue, my poem seems timely once again. I had fun playing around with it. I hope you have fun reading it.

Parity Considerations

Politically correct?
Is the accusation a
pertinent criticism
or just a
peevish complaint?
Does it matter whether my actions
are a result of
passive compromise
or of a truly
principled cause?
Could it be that
persistent charges
of PC are no more than
panicked counterattacks
against anyone refusing to fit a
particular conformity?
Should I lay aside my
personal convictions
out of fear that some
piously corrupt
person might
possibly call
me names?
If someone else can
purchase compliance
from me with
pretentiously contrived
allegations of PC
does that make me
politically correct
or
politically incorrect?
Pardon my confusion,
but if you are
preoccupied constantly
with whether I’m “just being PC,”
whom does this say more about,
you or me?
Please clarify.

 

When the Refugees Came, or Why I Can’t Seem to Keep My Mouth Shut on Facebook

Memory from my childhood: I was about twelve years old, returning pop bottles for the deposits at a Safeway grocery store three blocks from my house in Kansas City. A wrinkled woman, not more than five feet tall, wearing a headscarf and a coat too heavy for the weather — probably someone’s grandmother — wheeled her cart toward the check-out lines. She had quite a bit of food.  I guessed she was shopping for the extended family.

The store was busy, lines at every register. I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but Saturday seems likely. I saw the woman stand still for a couple of minutes, scanning the scene, assessing the lines and then spotting one that was miraculously short. She rolled up to it and began unloading her cart of goods right under the sign that read “Express Lane. 12 items or less.” Continue reading

Tree Envy – Poem

Leaf

Tree Envy

Instead of dreary gray strands
threading subtly widening paths
around my head,
I want blazing red
for my autumn color,
interspersed with patches of
can’t-peel-your-eyes away yellow
and clusters
of an orange so perfectly sun-toasted
it holds its own as an independent hue,
not remotely a blend of the other two.
I want the colors to burst
out all at once,
so that people I meet
will feel a catch of breath
at the splendor,
the glorious culmination of my maturity.

Playing Ball

In honor of the baseball post-season and the fact that my hometown team, the Kansas City Royals, gets the award for most improved in the last few years, here’s a post about baseball. It’s a short memoir piece I wrote a couple of years ago. It originally appeared in Ducts.org.

Kauffman Stadium

Playing Ball

I’m five years old and there’s a baseball game in progress right outside my door. We live at the junction of Thompson and Askew. Our corner serves as home plate. The pitcher stands in the middle of the intersection. Very few cars drive by during a summer day in the neighborhood that Kansas City forgot. If a family owns a car, it means the father has a job, and the car is at work with him.

I watch the action from my front yard. Trudy, a teenager from down the street, invites me into the game. She asks if I’d like to take her turn at bat. She’ll help me. I hustle to the corner and take the unwieldy wooden club. I’m big for my age, but not enough to handle an adult-sized baseball bat. Trudy puts her arms around me, providing extra hands to hold the bat steady. Her long, wavy hair falls over my left shoulder. Continue reading

A Safe Place You Can Take With You

I recently re-read Neil Gaiman’s book, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It’s a quick and thrilling read. The narrator, an unnamed man now in his forties, comes home for a funeral and revisits the family who lived down at the end of the lane from his childhood home. While there, he recalls events from the year he was seven. The happenings included encounters with powerful and sometimes terrifying creatures.

Avid readers will identify with the protagonist when he says, “I went away in my head, into a book. That was where I went whenever real life was too hard or too inflexible.”

Without giving too many spoilers, I’ll stick with saying his situation gets to the point where even his home and family aren’t safe for him. But he still has his books. He reads about Narnia. He reads his mother’s old books about teenage girl heroines who save their country in World War II. He takes refuge with Dick Whittington and his cat. Here’s the really brilliant part. When he’s in danger and can’t get to a book, he keeps himself together by thinking about books he’s read. They’re still with him in his head. It’s even what he says. The safe place is in his head; books get him there.

This struck me because there have been a number of times in my life where no place felt secure, or when I was in a fraught situation where I couldn’t physically leave. But I could read. Whether I was visiting with literary characters who were experiencing the same things I was and thus made me feel less alone, or going on an incredible adventure completely removed from my corporeal life, I could take mental flight through books. Like the boy in Gaiman’s book, I discovered I could create a safe space in my head. I can carry my safe space with me. It’s a pretty good coping strategy. Honestly, I don’t know how non-readers survive.