Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Detroit?




This amazing image comes courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory. There's that narrow place--Mitzrayim--and this is the first day of Passover. Appropriate, then, perhaps, that my review essay about Detroit was posted last night on the website of Triquarterly--Northwestern University's literary magazine. Go have a look. Dream the dream of liberation.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Snow ----

Snowflake, snowboard, snowman, snow shovel, snow boot, snowstorm, snowsuit, snowplow, snow ski, snowfall, snow drift, snowmobile, snow angel, snow fight, snow fort, snow sprite, snow shower, snow squall, snow, snow, snow ball.

Snow ball.

The past two days, as I was out walking, and because we now have so much snow, I decided to pick some up. Why not? I have been missing it. Now that we have it, why not interact with it? Many others have done so . . . with the variety of snowmen (with their hats and their carrot noses and scarves, coal buttons, eyes and noses) that stand or lean on the lawns and in the yards of these houses I pass.
     The weather is on the warm side (high 30s), so the snow is heavy, sticky, and when one picks it up, it easily forms into a solid ball. As I walked, I tossed it back and forth between my hands, and it became denser, denser. I ran my gloves over the surface, shaping it, and it became smoother, icier, more perfectly rounded. I carried it all the way home and kept working it, throwing it, hard, into one hand, then the other. Very satisfying, picturing baseball players with the balls and mitts.
    It had some destructive potential, I thought. If I threw it at close range at a window, perhaps the window would break. If I threw it at a person--into the stomach or the face, it would hurt. I felt that I was carrying a weapon, and what it would feel like to carry a weapon--a sense of power, of being able to defend myself if need be.
Then, the memory came swiftly. When I was a girl, I used to walk home from school with my friend Ruth, who lived across the street from me. There were some boys who walked in the same direction we did, and on snowy days, they used to seriously and sincerely bother and hurt us by following behind us and throwing snowballs, hard, at us. This became such a problem that Ruth devised a strategy by which we would move in fast zigzag patterns on the sidewalk to become difficult targets. I guess that telling them to stop did not work, and the walk home became something to dread.
     As I remember it, there were three boys who did this, but the only one I remember clearly was named Kenny. He was stout and red-haired and covered with freckles, prone to blushing, and his last name, which I will not repeat here for the sake of anonymity, probably caused some people to make fun of him. The reason, I believe, that he is the only one I remember is what happened next. One snowy day, when I could no longer tolerate the situation, I made my own snowball, and slowed down to let the boys come close, and when they passed, with an energy and force that seemed beyond my control, I slammed the snowball into the nearest boy, who turned out to be Kenny, and because I had my eyes closed (fear, I think), I did not have much sense of aim, and the hard snowball went right into the side of his head. I can still see the snow in his red, fleshy ear.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Entrepreneurship and Snow

We haven't had a lot of snow this year. Nor did we have much snow last year. And it has been unusually warm. People notice these things and talk about them--how odd it feels, to have a winter without snow. Not to mention the fact of last summer's drought and the overall need to have our earth drenched in whatever way nature wants to provide it, snow being one option.
     Because we're in the Midwest, where snow used to be a given, we have all kinds of routines for dealing with it--the big plows that the cities own, the huge storehouses of salt, the shovels and snow blowers and bags of salt and snow boots that we civilians have. What happens to all that equipment, and the industries around them, if the snow goes away?
     Well, we don't have to worry about that today, because we are having a very respectable and commodious snowfall--beautiful and fluffy, clinging to the trees and pine needles and shrubs and everything in sight. Also, collecting on the streets and sidewalks and making difficulty for travelers of all kinds.
But at least it feels normal.
Anyway, in my neighborhood, when it snows, men go from house to house, snow shovel in hand, asking for work shoveling. Years ago, I seem to remember that it would be neighborhood kids going around asking to shovel, but for a long time now, partly because of where I live (on the border with the West Side of Chicago), it's grown men, and I think they need the money for more than comic books and movies. But because we haven't had any snow for a while, I hadn't thought much about that whole topic. And then today came, mid-morning, and the snow was falling, and my doorbell rang.
     I looked through the window, and it was a young man--really, I would guess that he was a teenager (why wasn't he in school?).
     "Can I shovel your snow?" he asked.
     "No, thanks. I'm going to do it myself later." Which is true. I actually kind of like shoveling snow--the exertion, the cold air.
     "I only charge five dollars."
     "But it hasn't snowed very much yet. It's supposed to keep snowing, so I'd like it to fill in a bit." This was also true. The prediction was for 10 inches, and we barely had two yet. And as a sidenote, this whole conversation was going on through the locked front door, so we both kind of had to shout. I don't open my door to strangers. And especially, I'll admit, not to a teenage stranger who looks West Side-ish (whatever that means; I'll let you hypothesize).
     "Do you want me to come back later?"
     "Ahhhhh. Let's see how it goes." Which I realize is a bit of a meaningless statement. And he left. And it continued to snow. And then mid-afternoon, I went out and shoveled.
But I thought about that young man a lot. I felt that he might have some kind of business sense (stating a price like that, right off; offering to come back later) and that perhaps I should have rewarded him for that, encouraged him. On the other hand, I hadn't asked what the $5 included . . . front and back . . . just the walk up to our house . . . the whole public sidewalk in front of our house? I wasn't sure what I would do if he didn't do a good job. I wasn't sure if I'd want to open the door to him to pay him even if he did. By the end of the day, I was questioning whether his business model made any sense at all. Why come out and ask to shovel before hardly any snow had fallen? Even if you're trying to beat the competition, when you're too early, the gesture can seem or actually be meaningless. Which was it for him--a meaningless gesture or an entrepreneurial heart? Good grief. Life is complicated.