Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Double/triple Standard

As many of you know, I am a walker. Pretty much everyday, I take a long walk around my town. By long, I mean an hour or so. Occasionally, I have a walking partner, but mostly, I'm on my own. Occasionally, I take my cell phone and chat with my daughter or sister or friend as I walk. But mostly, it's me and the inside of my mind and the world itself. Sometimes, I have small adventures. Sometimes I pick up litter, especially plastic and glass bottles and drink cans. Sometimes I notice things that make me wonder . . .
      One thing I saw a few months ago that made me wonder--about myself as much as the thing I saw--was a woman in a yard who had climbed up on a window sill and was trying to open the window.
I am a responsible person who has been known to report suspicious activity (although I'm never completely certain what qualifies as suspicious), but I immediately noticed that I was continuing with my walk rather than doing something along the lines of calling the police. I'll say right here that the woman was white. And, of course, the woman was a woman. But if she hadn't been either of those things, I realized, I might not have so blithely walked on by. (So finally I am getting back to the topic of this blog--discomforts of diversity, or assumptions related thereto).
      A few days later, again while out walking, I saw a woman burying a small box among a row of box hedges next to an apartment building.
Again, this was not a usual thing to see. But the woman was doing this in plain sight, right next to the sidewalk, making no attempt to hide. The woman was white. And again, the woman was a woman. But what if she had looked Middle Eastern? or been a Middle Eastern man? In either of those cases, the burying of a small something near an apartment building might have seemed suspiciously scary.
     I wish I had a magic photo wand I could wave to show the difference between what I actually saw (white woman at window; white woman burying small box) and what would turn that odd but supposedly benign sight into something supposedly suspicious. I guess that's what you call profiling. When one kind of person does something, it's probably okay. When another kind of person does it, it might not be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Continuing the Sentimental Journey

Okay. Maybe it's because of the holiday season. Maybe it's the dream I had last night about being back in my parents' house, which was about to be lost or was already lost (hard to explain this in non-dream reality). Maybe it's the latke fumes still in the air. But sentimental thoughts . . . And then I was sorting through some papers over the weekend, and I came across this.

That is my father's turkey recipe. Note that first he gives the standard recipe, taped to the page. Then he gives his own (typed at the bottom), which is the opposite of the standard way. I bet the typing is my mother's, as she did most of the typing. I love the typewriter-ly look of it with the corrections and the uneven line spacing and left-hand margin, and especially the crooked last line. I love the dark imprint of the scotch tape. And of course, we have the handwritten addendum, about the book group discussion (Wide Sargasso Sea, which I've never read but now am feeling inclined toward) and the potential suede jacket. He mentions Elaine, who is my sister. And he mentions "all three of you," which would be me and my two sisters. So he sent this to all three of us. Elaine tells me she has a copy hanging in her kitchen.
     How long has it been since someone wrote to you and said they would love to buy you a jacket? My father was not a Saks kind of person by nature, so it's interesting that the jacket was from Saks. I did let him buy it for me, in the green. My mother got one in the tan. I wore it for years until the lining was completely shredded.
     My husband makes the turkeys in our house, and they are quite delicious. He does not use my father's method, but I will say that my father's turkeys were remarkably delicious as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Auntie X and Auntie Y

Every time I sit in on a discussion of my novel, I learn something new. Last night I attended the meeting of a local book group, and it was no exception. This was a group of perhaps ten women who have been meeting monthly for over ten years. I was invited because one member emailed me while she was reading the novel. She grew up in Detroit, in all the same neighborhoods and schools and synagogues that inhabit my book, and she was moved to contact me. One thing led to another, and there I was in another warm living room with people who have rich, interlocking relationships with each other, who love to read books, and who take the time and trouble to gather to discuss them. It's enough to give one hope for the world.
     The discussion ranged widely around social issues and urban issues and "white flight" and migration patterns in Chicago, New Haven, and other parts of the country. The book group members discussed Harry and Ruth and Curtis and Alvin, asked questions about my process and my background, and shared stories of their own. Then, one woman mentioned the Chanukah party that takes place in the chapter called "Family." In particular, what she focused on were the latkes--the "good" latkes and the "bad" latkes.
     In the picture above, you see what I think of as good latkes. One sign of a good latke is that the batter was grated by hand (not in a food processor or from a mix). How can I tell that this batter was hand grated? The well-defined potato shards. This is essential to a good, crisp latke. The latkes in the above photo are also golden, and you can thus be sure that they are very crisp. Now . . .
the soggy (bad) latke. You can see from the way these latkes drape over each other that they are not crisp. And you cannot not see the well-defined potato shards, so these latkes were likely derived from a mix or a food-processed batter. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I try very hard to be tolerant and empathic and understand differences/diversity. But on the point of good versus bad latkes, I am rigid.
     The issue that the woman in the book group raised is that when you are seated at a table with these two plates of latkes, which are you going to eat? Are you going to be polite and eat one of Auntie X's soggy latkes so that hers don't sit untouched? Will you forgo Auntie Y's golden crispy ones just to make Auntie X feel appreciated? Will you forgo Auntie Y's crispy ones and settle for Auntie X's soggy ones so that others can enjoy the superior product (the martyr approach)? How will it look if the crispy pile disappears in a minute, and the soggy pile remains all evening? Perhaps more important, how will Auntie X feel about Auntie Y (perhaps they are sisters) as a result of this latke affair, and vice versa? There is always the possibility, of course, that some will prefer the soggy latke, that they don't see them as "soggy" at all but pleasantly accessible.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


You know how it is sometimes, when you start to say something, and you've got so many competing thoughts and feelings, all jockeying for position in the funnel that leads down from your brain and the funnel that leads up from your heart, all simultaneously toward the tip of your tongue and/or the roof of your mouth or wherever speech comes from? And it's so much at once that whatever it was you thought you might say comes out kind of like ba, ba, ba, a motor boat that can't quite get started, a babble of confusion, a twirling tongue? Well, that's me and Chanukah. At least this year. I mean, I don't even know where to begin.
     With the annoying opinion piece in yesterday's NY Times by Howard Jacobson, recent Man Booker prize winner trying to be funny? They say his award-winning novel is funny, and I had been anxious to read it until I read his NY Times piece yesterday, which I did not find at all funny or even clever.
     With the story of the time (years ago) when my mother called me to say Happy Chanukah? And it was a time when I didn't care (or didn't think I cared) about Chanukah, and she started singing Chanukah songs over the phone, and I felt annoyed, but then something clicked in, and I started singing with her, and soon I was crying.
     With the Chanukah song sheets, which I have in a folder in my file cabinet downstairs? These are song sheets that my mother mimeographed (yes, this was pre-Xerox), so the print is that purple color, and the letters are slightly swollen. She always brought them out on Chanukah, and we (the rest of the family) always acted annoyed. But I saved them. Okay, I know it's hard to see, but you get the idea. That's her staple in the upper left hand corner, and that's her hand writing, and that's probably her wine stain near the bottom right. A family heirloom?
     Okay, call me sentimental. Fine.