Anxious Dog, Bad Shopper

I’m bad about putting goods back where they belong when shopping. If I’ve got regular carrots in my cart, for instance, and then find some tri-coloreds across the way, I have no problem leaving my first selection where they don’t belong and continuing on my merry way.

I’ve been known to stuff a loaf of bread in with the canned goods or to leave chips in with the baking supplies. On occasion, impatience dictates that I abandon the venture altogether. That might mean dumping four or five items in the clementine display before walking out of the building.

I know — I’m bad! I’m not so terrible that if a garment slides off its hangar I’ll leave it on the floor, but close. I certainly have no compunction about stowing a medium in with the larges and judging by the near-random sorting of sizes in places like Marshall’s, clearly I’m not the only one.

(Just so you know — I’m an excellent tipper).

My most recent delinquency occurred on Friday in Walgreen’s and had everything to do with my anxious dog. He was waiting in the car while I was waiting (and waiting) for a flu shot.

Even though it’s mid-January, I decided to get this done. There was a line at the pharmacy and only one cashier open. When finally my turn, there were the usual delays inputting insurance info. And then there were two people ahead of me waiting for shots.

None of that got to me. But when I noticed that the shot-giver disappeared for inexplicably long periods after administering each vaccine, I decided to hold it against her.

The woman immediately ahead of me had lots of questions, tugging her germ mask down to ask. She needed instruction on how to expose her shoulder.

“Wait,” said the pharmacy worker. “Have you already gotten a flu shot?” Well, yes she had. It was supposed that a second shot couldn’t hurt but it couldn’t be stated with any certainty that it’d afford additional protection, either. Ms. Two Shots was making me wait? I knew Finn was on high-alert out in the parking lot, probably drooling all over the back seat. I paced a polite distance away, occasionally wandering down the head of an aisle — never far enough away to lose my place in line. I selected a pill box (having determined that my improvised chocolate box insert was problematic) and a sporty new headband (god forbid I should spring for a haircut).

The folding screen was wrapped around the two of them but it didn’t stop me from hearing everything. It also didn’t stop a clueless shopper from peeking around one panel to ask where the hair dryers were. She was probably four foot ten (giving her the dubious distinction of being definitely shorter than I) and Russian.

“Look with the hair products,” said the shot-giver. That wasn’t enough. Where were the hair products? “I’m with someone right now,” the white-coated woman sniped. I didn’t blame her, what with pains in the asses on both sides of the screen and a third woman pacing in circles nearby.

I directed the woman to the proper aisle. “There they are,” I said pointing to the bottom shelf. She still didn’t see them. Was it a vision or a language problem? She certainly was close enough to the ground for a good vantage of the lower shelves (hey — I’m allowed!). Since I’ve been blind even when being helped, I added, “Bottom shelf. Pink and blue boxes.” Yes, okay, now she saw.

The folding screen was flapped open, the shot-giver disappeared again and the woman with the mask trundled off. I sat down and pulled my sweater down over one shoulder. No instruction needed for this shot-getter!

Two middle school girls wandered around in a state of bored contempt. It was an odd throwback. I mean, when I was in eighth grade, everybody did this sort of thing: riding your bike to Friendly’s and hanging out; haunting the Goodwill on North Street; looking at cosmetics at England Brothers with no intention of buying any. But here, in 2018? They were so very retro by not being at gymnastics, or studying for their Bat Mitzvahs, or getting better at trig with a tutor. Their gaze made me uncomfortable, as I’m sure it was meant to. I felt both middle-aged and very relieved (not for the first time) at not having daughters.

Finally, Ms. Pony Tail in the white coat re-emerged after presumably doing nothing that could possibly have taken up that much time. For some reason, she flapped the privacy screen more open instead of closed. The middle school girls looked again. I wanted privacy, but wanted to get out of there quickly even more.

I mentioned the waiting dog. She earned points for having two herself, one of them a puppy and also anxious. We bonded over this, as dog-people will, until she went all vegan on me. I had just laughed about puppy training, asserting I’d never adopt a puppy again. “There’s so many good middle-aged ones out there,” I added. Was this also a signal to the snide attitude coming at me from two eighth grade girls? No, I’m not that clever.

The shot was given and the pharmacy worker said, “Well, ours were rescues.” First of all: totally non-responsive. Did she think mine wasn’t? Why? And why would she assume I didn’t also want privacy? Second of all, there was that tone — you know the one — the superior sounding one employed by some to let you know that they don’t touch meat, cheese or processed foods.

She disappeared into the back again, toting her big red plastic needle disposal bin. With the hope that it would inconvenience her just a little, I laid my pill box and sporty headband on the table and walked out.

Deliciousness / Effort Ratio

Using packaged beef stock for this onion soup makes it ridiculously easy to throw together. It was so easy and so delicious, in fact, that it made me think that there should be a ratio of deliciousness to effort for recipes. This one would be off the charts.

EASY ONION SOUP

Sauté two onions (sliced in half moons)
add salt, pepper, thyme and
one box of beef stock.

That’s it!

Floating cheese toast nice but not necessary.

Mercy

After an early walk with Finn and a morning of writing, I listened to Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk, “We need to talk about an injustice”. He’s the author of “Just Mercy / A Story of Justice and Redemption” and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery, Alabama.

According to EJI’s website: Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned.

In his TED talk, Attorney Stevenson attributed part of the intractability of our race problems to our unwillingness to be uncomfortable. He said, “we’re unwilling to commit to a process of truth and reconciliation”.

I learned that Germany has outlawed the death penalty because, well, how could they consciously execute people given their history? Makes sense.

But, Stevenson asks, what about our problematic history?

(Did you know that in Germany it’s also illegal to display swastikas? Can you imagine an America in which our morals, our relationship to history, and our leadership were such that there could be a law clearly and unequivocally outlawing Confederate flags?)

To support his assertion that “mass incarceration has fundamentally changed out world”, Stevenson cited the following (horrifying) statistics:

1972 — 300,000 people incarcerated

2018 — 2.3 million incarcerated

plus 7 million paroled or on probation.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll be in Salem on Saturday which means I’ll be skipping the march in Cambridge as well as the opening for the Fuller Craft Museum’s show in Brockton, Mass.

I posted this on FB and instagram already, but in case you missed it — the hat that I knit (circled in yellow) for my cousin Ginny Mallon (who marched on Washington last year) is part of a show called: Revolution in the Making: The Pussyhat Project.

Early to work

Finn with one of his favorite treats: a whimsy (this one was an alligator). I gave him this whimsy before leaving the house for two hours but he held off enjoying it ’til I got back. So much for distracting him with treats! Poor guy. Is he that nervous while I’m gone?

It’s cold again. Finn has his walker today (which means off leash time with other dogs). I’m planning on a solid day of writing.

Finished this little piece while watching the series finale of Major Crimes. Wah! Not sure why, but I really liked the show (even tho it didn’t hold a candle to the precursor series with Kyra Sedgewick, The Closer).

PS. That moody background blue quilting cotton was a gift from Nancy.

Choose Listen

A fluffy snow fell. I slept late. Tried not to feel guilty. On our walk (trusty ear buds in place) a little of my soul was restored by the smart pundits behind “Pod Save America”.

(this morning’s main point: pleeeease people! It’s not the fucking profanity that offends, it’s the underlying racial animus).

Off to the page. This morning already written a few paragraphs wondering what it’ve been like to see your breath for the first time as an underdressed bondwoman from Africa?

I will leave you with with an excerpt from this week’s reading:

“We follow the speaker and their shifting states, look at their shirt (do I want it?) carefully examining their shoes, taking their pulse in terms of the rhythmic pitch, the seismic by which we know what is going on in the ocean on earth right here in the room in terms of information mattering. Each of us is a cell of that potential knowledge cluster, that mammoth great dog being lead right now through the cosmos.

More and more of us came and the patterns got swifter and the knowing entirely disassembled and we will never reassemble it again but instead we now return to knowing’s just before. It is attractive.

To add. I did this in my childhood too. And you too else you would not be here. In adulthood we must relearn the wisdom of the young who feels her inside while she is being taught she is wrong. To abide in the totalitarian, to survive one must look straight into the face of the nun or whoever and muse. Yet this brought so much upon me. Warily I learned not to absorb their enmity. Choose listen.”

Eileen Myles, Afterglow (a dog memoir).

PS if you’re an SNL fan, there are strong echoes with Aidy Bryant’s recent Weekend Update performance, in which Aidy Bryant apologizes every other second and tries to craft her message about equality in a manner palatable to men.

Ward and Northup

I finished four books in the first week of 2018, a fact that’s a little less impressive given that I’d already read 2/3’s of one and 1/2 of another and that one of them was a slender volume of poems. And Shakespeare? The text is limited to the facing pages, so that went fast, too. Also: I tend to be terrific out of the gate, flag at the mid-range and die towards the end. The real test for this challenge (#theunreadshelfproject2018) will be mid-summer and fall.

Jesmyn Ward’s book, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” has everything (except sex): addiction, death, redemption, a road trip, one character’s coming of age, parenting (both deficient and exemplary), prison and release, the long shadow of slavery, and ghosts.

Set in contemporary Mississippi, the story features three generations and centers on themes of caregiving, racism, and secrets. There are acts of self-destruction and acts of mercy. The author also takes an interesting look at the porous line between death and life.

The elders, who are both African Americans, take care of their two bi-racial grandchildren. Their drug addicted daughter, Leoni, drives north to pick up her white husband, who’s about to be released from Parchman Prison. Leoni gathers up her 13 year old son, her toddler daughter, and a friend for the drive. That journey parallels two others that are happening simultaneously: the journey of her cancer-ridden mother toward death and that of her son, who approaches adulthood by grappling with the harsh truths around him, some of which have previously been secret.

I can tell you without spoiling too much that the novel features two ghosts. Early on, we learn that Leoni’s brother was “accidentally” killed by her husband’s cousin (we are meant to see it otherwise). She can see her brother’s ghost, but only when she’s high, a fact that made her addiction both more complicated and understandable. The other ghost appears to her son during the drive to Parchman. He is a former inmate and will be instrumental in releasing a long-held secret of Leoni’s father.

The 13 year old boy is a better caretaker of his sister than their mother, something that causes Leoni no end of defeated bitterness. The scenes of mother lashing out in frustration are rendered well and, for obvious reasons, hard to take. We see one of the costs of drug abuse up close and personal.

The author shifts point of view by chapter so that we get different perspectives throughout, but every chapter features haunting, gritty, and lyrical prose.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

To follow Jesmyn Ward’s book with a slave narrative made for powerful and damning echoes. [Trump’s “shithole countries” comment came two days ago, so there is no escaping the specter of white supremacy these days, said a person with white privilege].

One of the most startling parallels between Ward’s novel and Northup’s narrative can be found in the labor scenes. It was shocking but not shocking that the field work scenes depicted at Parchman Prison were barely distinguishable from those of a plantation (think: patrollers and dogs; unpaid labor. Think: Ava DuVernay’s “The Thirteenth”).

Both Ward’s novel and Solomon Northup’s story contain details of racially animated violence almost too awful to bear.

I won’t go more into the slim and eloquent “Twelve Years a Slave” because I imagine many of you have seen the film, except to say this : reading the narrative is very worthwhile even if you’ve seen Steve McQueen’s movie. To hear the words of this free black is powerful. To slow down and see the world through his eyes, also powerful.

Also read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an issue of the literary journal, Rattle.

Lament to writing prompt “burial”

These days, I could write a lament or a rant everyday (and some days, every hour). This one was a response to an in-class writing prompt on “things we bury”. At six minutes, it runs a little long (who do I think I am, anyway?). Tomorrow I’ll post the written version.

So just to place this in time. I wrote this four days after the Golden Globes and a few hours before learning about the “shithole countries” remark.

A couple caveats: the business about Oprah running for president is worthy of considered response. In this “Lament” there is merely a tossed off line about that. And though I’m sneering about the black gown business in this piece, I was actually moved and inspired by the solidarity expressed in the gesture.

Footnote: the Western referred to is “Godless“, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Dockery. Binge worthy Netflix viewing.