Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Ultimate Jerk Chicken

or, We Could Be Having So Much Fun

        “There is no sin except stupidity.”
                —Oscar Wilde

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

This Sunday morning your Miss O’ awoke around 2:45 AM (following a few weeks of that ol' one-two combination, depression and writer's block) thinking about Preston, the super of her building in the first three years she lived here, who would not get to know Miss O’ at all, try though she might. Preston was a tightly-built black man of indeterminate age, but in those three years, he aged a lot. I hardly ever saw him on my side of the building, but when I did, he was usually sitting on my steps having a smoke. He’d jump up, as if embarrassed, and walk off, and I never knew why that was. The longest encounter I ever had with Preston occurred around 5 AM one day, when I awoke hearing him say angrily to someone outside my bedroom window, “Who’s doing this? I think it’s that first apartment,” and a moment later my bell buzzed. I raced to the door, and there Preston stood, shaking with rage. He fairly growled, “Why are you leaving your trash out here on the sidewalk? We get fined for that!” and I replied—because even at 5 AM I know how to talk like a poised, veteran teacher, “Hi, Preston—that trash isn’t mine. I take my trash out through the basement and put it in the trashcan. I don’t know who is leaving trash.” He said, “Well, someone is!” and I said, “It isn’t me, and I’m sorry about that.” And he marched off.

About a week later, Preston collapsed and was taken to the hospital by the wife he spent his days avoiding by watching television in our co-op’s basement boiler room, when he wasn’t sweeping up and bagging our garbage. (Our small building only has a part time super, a couple of hours a day is all that’s needed, tops, and when a new owner asked of our current super, “Why isn’t José around more?” a longtime resident quipped, “He likes his wife.” The new person just stared as the rest of us chuckled.) Preston, as it turned out, was diagnosed with lung cancer, chose to go home, and died two weeks later. Everyone was stunned. When I think about that exchange of ours that morning—the level of his anger out of all proportion to the event, and the ungodly hour of his doorbell ringing—I can only step back and marvel that somewhere, somehow, Miss O’s writer’s brain had grasped his decline, his physical pain, and knew that his rage that morning was not about the trash, or even directed toward her. Preston knew he was dying, I think. He was afraid. And whatever inconvenience I may experience at such moments, it’s odd how so many people know that when it comes to venting fear, they know they can throw it at me, and get compassion back. Unless they are total jerks and assholes, and then, fuck it: Hell hath no fury.

Try to See It My Way

Miss O’ spends a lot of time with this tension: Is teaching the same as evangelism? When does the sharing of information and opinion cross over into proselytizing? And is enjoying alcohol the same as being a drunk? Because several recovered (recovering) alcoholics I know say there is no difference, and I cannot help but think that this leads me back to the first question.

Story One: Many years ago now, a Christian (now ex-) friend invited Miss O’ to a First Baptist Church to hear a bluegrass band (and bluegrass, as we know, is rooted in Christian country songwriting). She wanted us to sit on the front row of the church so her pastor could see that she had brought in a potential convert (nothing like Christian humility). The pastor, though, took one look into the steely yet loving grey eyes of Miss O’ and knew that won’t happenin’, as we say in the South. Still, the music was just fantastic, and possibly because I was the only non-Christian in this white congregation, I was also the only one who seemed to be moving her body to the music, at least in that long front row (I’d be much more at home in a black church). At the break, the pastor came out to the stage, clapping his hands and, with too-large a grin, declaimed, “It’s a joyous thing to be a Christian,” thus sucking all the joy from the occasion by assigning this musical uplift to an agenda, and when he then looked at me, I said—drowned out though I was by the cheers of the congregation, “It’s a joyous thing to be a human.” My (now ex-) friend was disappointed.

Story Two: Many years ago now, a Communist (now ex-) friend came home to Virginia fresh from his first blush feelings of fanatical love for Noam Chomsky and Chairman Mao, which was but the beginning of a 20-year academic pursuit toward his Ph.D. He asked Miss O’, “What do you think of American democracy?” and unschooled as she was in agenda-based political baiting, Miss O’ attempted to answer as best she could, really pleased to enter into a discussion like this. After remarking on the revolutionary vision of the Founding Fathers, and the stabs that the various nations of the world had made at governments of the people and by the people and for the people, and you know, the flaws of the whole thing, what with the greed and corruption of capitalism and the Indian genocide and African slavery, but it’s a process, and on the whole, it seems to be beneficial, because we the people keep working to make it better—you know, first thoughts—the Commie cried, “You’d think that, but you would be wrong!” and launched into what can only be described as an evangelical tirade against all things American, and capitalists in particular, thereupon working up to his pitch for me becoming a Communist. Jerk. Miss O’ was disappointed. 

And this brings me to Saturday: As of 9:27 AM, March 23, 2013, in the 98 days since the Newtown NRA-endorsed massacre of 20 first-graders, there have been 2,243 additional gun deaths in the United States of America. (Immigration reform? Seriously? Who wouldn’t want to move here?)  I found this horrific statistic on The Huffington Post front page this morning in a frighteningly effective graphic. While The Huffington Post too often shames itself by its misogyny and tabloid coverage of Hollywood starlets in skimpy clothing—thereby reminding all the little fillies out there that you are only as worthwhile as your outfit is attractive to judgers at The Huffington Post—often they post stories that are vital, most a digest from news services around the country. This day, Jason Cherkis wrote a piece featuring in-depth accounts of five very specific gun deaths in this country, showing the range of forces behind gun violence. So I posted this on Facebook with a plea to work toward more gun control, and my cousin Bill in Iowa, who changes the subject as only Republicans can, commented, “And there were about 322,000 abortions.” Unless these abortions were performed at gunpoint, I have no idea how this is relevant. Jerk. Miss O’ was disappointed. 

This week on my Facebook wall, I posted a graphic meme showing a photo of John Lennon’s blood-splattered glasses, along with this text: “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.” The site from which the meme was taken included this information: An average of 31,537 people are killed by guns in the USA every year, along with a call for stronger regulations. The ensuing exchange with a former work colleague began with her outrage: “How many times do we have to say it???!!! guns don’t kill people people kill people!!!!!!” Sigh. First, you cry, and not just at the lousy capitalization and the punctuation overkill. You think, snarkily, “Yes, guns just walk around freely, going off on their own, firing at will,” but what’s the point? What I finally was able to get through to her was that GUN REGULATION is what we all agree on, and when she in fact read the article, and noted she really does agree with that, and says she doesn’t know what the hold up is—how do you say, “Well, YOU are the hold up, because you drink the NRA Kool-Aid, not realizing that the NRA is controlled by the gun manufacturers, for whom gun deaths are a boon to sales to the paranoid.” This game is so exhausting. And yet, as the play set in Hell, No Exit, ends, “Nous continuons.” Everyone remains disappointed. Because of jerks.

What else on Facebook? Drano bombs, computer viruses, email hacking…as my friend George says, “We are all going to be inconvenienced to death.” I’m starting to think that everyone who isn't otherwise starved, eaten with cancer, foreclosed upon, denied water, shot, or tortured will be disappointed to death.

Books of Revelations

My mom, Lynne, went back into the public workforce in 1980, when I was a sophomore in high school. She applied for and got a job as an assistant manager at a new book store, Crown Books, which had just opened up a location in our town (which is not a town so much as a giant suburban mailing address 20 miles outside of Washington, D.C., a strip along Rt. 1)—and this surprised her, because she’d gotten her degree in English way back in 1956, and her naval career, and last paying job, ended with Miss O’s birth in 1964. Still, Lynne was an avid reader, read the Washington Post’s Book World section faithfully every Sunday, and was just, you know, really smart and sophisticated, and anyone could see that. Even gray hair couldn’t conceal it.

And Lynne’s favorite genre is detective fiction—so it’s not surprising that her naval job was cryptography, or the writing and deciphering of codes. It’s also of a piece with her habit of people study (something her daughter inherited), which observations she shared over whatever meals our family managed to have together each week. Mom’s real shocks about humans came from the realization that the people who frequented that book store were no longer her kids’ former teachers or her neighbors, but rather, upon entering that store, became that dreaded subspecies, customers. And more specifically, customera horribulus. Which I just made up.

American capitalism infects some people, as we see daily, with miserly, entitled behavior that baffles. For example, Mom recounted how one of my most beloved teachers returned a paperback book two days after she’d bought it, claiming she’d decided not to read it. The spine, my mom reported, was destroyed, as might be caused, say, by the repeated opening of the cover and the turning of pages. Presumably this act of turning each and every page had caused my former teacher to decide not to read it after all. The store policy was to accept all returns (though this book could not be sold again as it was), and so my mom did it, but ol’ Lynne gave her the eye of shame—it’s Miss O’s same eye of shame, for all the kids out there, only scarier, and now you know where I got it—and yet this same teacher, while clearly ashamed, continued to treat the bookstore as a lending library for years.

Another customer was the father of a childhood friend, and his wife was a teacher all our friends knew. He was tall and handsome, and I remember him as being very nice. “Lisa,” my mom reported—not as a gossip, but more like Poirot on a case—“he comes into our bookstore all the time—and it’s a discount bookstore, we buy popular books in bulk to sell at a discount, and all the signs say so—I know you know this, but this is what I’m thinking whenever he comes in—and he asks for the most obscure books you can imagine. Philosophy textbooks or some specialized economics monograph or some such, and when we don’t have it, he rolls his eyes, and says, ‘And you call yourselves a book store?’ He’s always wearing an expensive suit, and all I can think is, ‘We’re all really impressed by your prosperity and erudition. Now why don’t you go to a college book store?’ What a cheap jerk.”

The stories are endless—Miss O’ has discoursed on retail life in previous posts—and the outcomes of these encounters are so depressing. And disappointing. My friend Quinn and I were sitting at Bar Centrale here in New York a couple of weeks ago comparing our lives in our various jobs, and we both asked the same question: Why aren’t we having more fun? All of us are miserable in the United States: We get up, work out, commute, and work, though all too often there is nothing to look forward to in the day-to-day of our workaday jobs, and nothing anyone wants to hear on the news, and few movies we can’t wait to catch, and everyone hates everyone, so what the...

We Interrupt This Conversation to Change the Conversation

I am trying to understand my own feelings of dread and nausea when I am faced with extremists, whether in the news or on Facebook or face to face. Whenever, for example, my (now ex-) friend Commie Boy called to say he was in town, as much as I loved him, I dreaded seeing him. At the other extreme, I have the Conservatives—the ones I have to fight on Facebook or the ones I avoid visiting in Virginia. Commie Boy is, as I said, highly educated, and no doubt he is smarter than I am and has a higher IQ than I do, and yet his knowledge seems filtered through one lens, the lens of Marxism; and if there is another lens, it is, curiously, world music (which you'd think would make him more, I don't know, accepting)—any other lenses (of, say, nature, religion, theater, democracy, classical studies) are dismissed, or worse, mocked for being “irrelevant.” I think his attitude is stupid. As for the Conservatives I take on, I have no idea about IQs, but their ignorance of basic facts (about female reproduction, evolution, health care laws (they think “Death Panels” are real), important people (they really think Obama is not a citizen), public organizations (thinking the only thing Planned Parenthood does is provide abortions), GMOs, civil rights, pick a subject) is so staggering in its breadth that it can only be called stupidity. Some claim to be “fiscal conservatives,” which is even more breathtakingly stupid, given the daily proof we have endured since Bush. I'm beginning to think that the constant ingestion of their stupidity is melting my intestines.

In my opinion. So I have opinions: This raises another question, because I really do worry about this.

Am I Opinionated?

From Merriam-Webster online:

Definition of OPINIONATED
: unduly adhering to one's own opinion or to preconceived notions
opin·ion·at·ed·ly adverb
opin·ion·at·ed·ness noun

I reject this adjective opinionated, as it applies to me, and am frustrated when I hear myself thus described: “You are opinionated.” It’s the words “unduly” and “preconceived” in the definition that I draw your attention to. I have come by my opinions, such as they are, honestly—mostly. Certainly I have been influenced by my dad, Bernie, a lifelong union member and liberal; and my mom, Lynne, a lifelong liberal and lover of poetry, archaeology, science, and murder mysteries, who demands research and proof for anything you say. The combination of parents has been fascinating, because my dad is, if I had to quantify it, 80% intuition, 20% research; my mom is 20% intuition, 80% research. Both, however, are more or less empiricists, which is to say their knowledge comes mostly from sensory, lived experience. Both of them wrestle with information, and once they arrive at an opinion, it’s mostly been formed through brute contact. Debate in my family is a contact sport. (On one of his many “death beds,” my crippled-with-arthritis Grandpa O’Hara was known to have risen and recovered just to take on his conservative brother Jack in a fist fight and wrestling match over politics. I know: You cannot imagine gentle Miss O' coming from such warrior blood.)

I am not opinionated: I have opinions. I am not judgmental: I evaluate. If you can say your peace, hold your ground, provide researchable evidence to support your assertions, and keep to the subject, I may be swayed. I am open. You will never, I am secure in saying, convince me that a woman does not have a right to her own body, or that black people should not vote, or that the poor don’t deserve to live. I will have no truck with misogyny or racism or eugenics. Does this make me opinionated?

No. It makes me decent. Jerk.

What Would Shakespeare Do?

In Shakepeare’s tragedy, Macbeth (or, The Scottish Play, as it is known by theater people, as the witches’ incantations set down by the bard are reputed to have been real ones used by witches of the day, thus causing catastrophes to the companies that play this play), the poetry spoken by the title character (and his lady) is among Shakespeare’s finest. As a man of the theater, Will includes theater allusions and metaphors throughout, but these are not happy references—they are, rather, cynical and weary-sounding—and actor/scholar Tina Packer posits that Will himself was in a very depressed period in this life when he wrote this play, around 1607, nearing his retirement. He had no marriage to speak of (though he did return to Stratford for good in 1613, and to his wife), having abandoned his family for London years before; no relationship with his daughters, and his son having died at age 11 must have left a deep rent in his heart. Who knows the cause?

But out of this low ebb came Macbeth, where Shakespeare imagined a story of a regicide committed by a heretofore decent and loyal man and his wife, who have a good marriage and real sexual attraction, exploring how they could be so altered by the death of their newborn and the prophecies of some witches as to destroy the lives of their king, their friends, their countrymen. When he learns of the death of Lady Macbeth in Act V, Macbeth delivers one of the most gorgeous soliloquies written for the theater. That we the audience should be presented with an opportunity to be moved by this man who has killed his very good king, several good countrymen, and Macduff’s children, is a testament to the power of language, of the compassion of the writer, and of the talent of the actor playing the speaker.

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

When I am faced with the Extremists, with the hopelessly Stupid, with the Willfully Ignorant, the Hateful, the Deliberately Cruel; or am forced to hear arguments that molesting priests are now retiring and so the victims they molested need to be more respectful of the priests' reputations; or must watch as news reporters express empathy for convicted male rapists, thus ignoring the female victim's trauma—I say this speech over and over to myself. I say it not because I believe that this is what life is, however depressed I get; but rather because this is what life must be for them. Joyless, airless, violent, and ugly—"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more." Theirs really is a tale told by an idiot: It's the despairing cry of every tyrant in his death throes, and I wouldn’t trade places with any one of them for a kingdom. Or maybe I would if it would make them go the fuck away.

How Now Dow Jones?

Why in the name of fuck do I hear the trumpeted reports all the time—morning, noon, and late afternoon and evening and night—of the Dow Jones Industrial Averages? No one I know has a life that is made or broken by the reports and trades on the stock exchange, and yet plenty of people I know need to know, oh, gosh, I don’t know, how the new health care laws will affect their cost of and access to care; and EVERYONE I know needs to know about threats to clean water and safe food, and, hey, what about new JOBS?—and the reporting on all that is nil.

Nor does anyone I know need for America's "hard news" desks to report on Kelly Osborne’s seizure, Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, or Anne Hathaway’s Oscar™ dress nipple thingy. And yet even I know all about all of these so-called news stories.

And I haven’t seen one prominent news story this week on the latest findings about climate change or what we should start to do about it, nor heard one elected official beyond our president discuss how our government plans to address this catastrophe, but the other week I heard ALL ABOUT how Rand Paul spent 13 pee-free hours filibustering a CIA appointee because of the drone strike issue. Gun control legislation, rather than Paul's bladder control, would be far more immediately useful to take action on, especially as appointee John Brennan was going to be confirmed anyway.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,…

We Could Be Having So Much Fun

We live in a nation where the people who HATED school the most are putting themselves in charge of education, their goal being to make the hoops to jump through so strenuous, the teachers so discouraged, and the populace so worn down, that the public schools will FAIL, you see, and then they can close the schools. Step two is to destroy the economy so completely we can’t recover, and then they'll say, “Well, democracy doesn’t work,” and can become dictators, thus preventing the spread of thinking and knowledge, so we can reinforce prejudices and stupidity and all die not soon enough for them. They are jerks. That so many people are complicit in this is just asinine.

Can we not agree on anything? Bite me. Eat THIS. Suck it.

Then it hit me: I thought of the one universal. You know what is fun? Eating.

I like food. Don't you? One offering in my company’s cafeteria the other week was jerk chicken. I’ve always wondered why it’s called jerk chicken, and when I brought my delicious-smelling dish back to my grimy corporate cubical, I looked up “jerk chicken” on the Google. Well, it’s a fascinating history, it really is. And I thought, “You know, if we could teach children about the world not through Common Core Standards but rather through Delicious Dishes, think how much more fun school would be. For example, if Fourth Grade had a unit in Jerk Chicken, just look at how much territory a teacher could cover, starting with the ingredients (from Nigella Lawson’s recipe):

Homestyle Jerk Chicken

6 chicken breasts, without skin or bone (or chicken supreme joints, with the wing bones still attached)
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1 3/4 piece gingerroot, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 fresh red chiles, whole
1 onion, peeled and quartered
Rice and Peas, recipe follows

Let’s begin in Jamaica: You have word origins (“jerk” from Wiki: The term jerk is said to come from the word charqui, a Spanish term of Quechua origin for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became jerky in English. The term jerk spice (also often commonly known as Jamaican jerk spice) refers to a spice rub); cooking chemistry; spice trade routes (the stories of sugar and salt ALONE will carry you all over the world); cultural contact prevented by geography (or created by force); economics; war for resources; slavery (again, from Wiki: Though Jamaican jerk sauce certainly was derived from African ancestry, it is something that was adapted and modified over hundreds of years as various cultures added their influence. From the start, changes had to be made since the Cormantee slaves found themselves in new surroundings on the island of Jamaica and were forced to use what was available to them.)—it all has a reality, stories like this, and can be modified depending on the ages of the children. Teach everything in the world though the lens of food, and all the learning would be both practical and enchanting, not to mention memorable. And FUN. And it's delicious. Who didn't love a classroom "cultural experience"? Every kid knows that means food! (Oh, fuck me, there's the peanut allergy police...still, glass half full!)

If Miss O' could teach anything she wanted, what would she teach young children? WONDER. AWE. To me the most important thing to show children is that the world has marvels. I get really pissed off when we tell them only about problems, because it seems to me the adults should be solving those. (The best way to tell children about problems in the world? Fairy tales.)

Note: I don’t like the “adults” we have in power in Congress right now because they are incapable of addressing actual problems. They live in a fairy tale of evil step-everythings. Harry Reid gives me hives. Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, and John Boehner are jokes, obviously, of what informed, capable leadership should be. They are middle school punks playing, “Beat the black man.” And if that means destroying the nation, so be it. It's impossible to imagine teaching "wonder" to children in this kind of poisoned atmosphere.

What I'm saying is too many JERKS are playing CHICKEN with Americans’ lives, with this nation’s future, with the planet’s clemency, is what I’m saying. They are doing it out of fear. Fear and some kind of psychic pain are their motivators, and they are projecting their fears and pain onto the rest of us, out of, let's face it, stupidity. I think of ol’ Preston back there, who didn’t mean to be a jerk that morning, though he really was—yet there was nothing at stake in the event of an errant bag of trash on the sidewalk, whereas corporate and religious ownership of the nation is high stakes, the highest. 

The makings of this awful national stew remind me of Macbeth's Weird Sisters, the witches who in delivering the prophecy over their brewing cauldron of nefarious ingredients (seasoned with incantations) in fact planted the seed in Macbeth's mind, and in his wife's, that to reach the future the witches foretell, murder is the way to do it. And it is, in fact, exactly how they reach that end—and then, of course, they die (along with too many others to count, as happened in, say, Iraq). This sort of spell casting was and ever will be a recipe for disaster, and it's what Republicans are doing every day as a matter of policy. And why not? In America, we don't punish evil. We protect pillaging banks, molesting priests, war criminals, and football-playing rapists. George Bush and Dick Cheney are the Macbeths, and they're fine, thanks. You?

Don’t let ’em do it, is what I’m saying. Vote, boycott, march, write, organize. Cook up something we can all eat. Miss O' despairs. And we could be having so much fun.

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