Imagine writing something just because you wanted to, because the words were like dancers there to follow your commands. Imagine feeling free and easy with these straight and curved lines, enough that a glance around the room could be quickly captured in a flash of code and meaning, sent out to the far reaches of the reading universe. Suddenly a man at a Turkish cafe looks over from his backgammon game, reads his phone (much to the annoyance of Orhan), nods, wipes away a tear and rolls the dice. Life changing? Perhaps not. But liberating.
First attempt. I had blindly printed up a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa and added the ingredients to Amy’s shopping list. Now I settle into my laboratory today to make this sandwich for the first time. Only now do I notice such phrases as “place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes” followed by “set aside for 30 minutes” followed by “refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.”
Blend this, buddy. You think I’ve got all day? I’m hungry now. This freaking thing has you roasting the red peppers whole and then, presumably, reaching into their burning flesh and tearing out burning seeds, ripping off volcanic stems, then shoving them into the deep freeze, then pulling them out to marinate, then in again…
I decide to go with what I know.
I cut up the peppers intro strips, of course carefully clapping the halves of the peppers together over the compost can to send seeds flying into the sink, the floor, and onto the wall. I dump them on a pan, oil, salt, pepper, and mix them all up. As usual, I’ve used way too much oil, so I wipe up a bunch with a paper towel and chuck that as well.
I slide the pan into the oven. The recipe called for 500 degree super roasting of the whole peppers. Normally, I’d roast the strips at, what, maybe 450 tops, but I’m too lazy and just leave it at 500. After a while, I check them and they’re quickly blackening. I give the pan a shake, which does nothing, and close the oven door, clapping my hands together like a real chef. I think about it and then remember that in the past I’ve decided that it’s actually worth carefully flipping flippable roasting things in the oven to get them roasted just right. I pull out the pan and use tongs to flip each and every pepper. Must have been 27. I put it back in. A master chef.
I’m supposed to use a delicious loaf of ciabatta but yesterday Amy went to the store late in the afternoon and all they had left were baguettes. I could criticize Amy’s choice of store-going, except she was hoping I would go earlier and I didn’t. Somehow I end up getting out of going and it involves teen logic as Maya wants me to catch up to them in watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” so we can all properly binge. The baguettes give me an out when the sandwich doesn’t taste right. This is known as the baguette clause. So I cut the baguette and toast it.
I mix up the olive oil, balsamic, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for two heaping tablespoons of salt. I cut that in half, which still seems like a lot. Now I pull the peppers out and mix them around in this little vinaigrette, stirring in capers. I can’t say I’ve ever added capers to something before (I’ve also never spelled vinaigrette before. Quick, close your eyes and spell it.)
Now it’s time. I slap on a layer of goat cheese to the bread, add a layer of roasted peppers with drizzled vinaigrette, some fresh basil leaves, three thin strips of red onion each, a dash of salt and pepper, top bread, and there it is! Sounds good, right? I serve one to Amy and one to Maya and we eat them without comment. No “Oh my god!” No “Wait, is that vinaigrette?!” They just munch on the day-old baguettes and finish off the sandwiches.
I shake my head and laugh. “Baguettes! Am I right?”
Every night I think about writing. My fingers twitch. I wake and go through another day, riding that mechanical bull, thrown back here on the couch. Fingers twitch.
I tell myself I just need to get this new teaching gig under control. Just need the kids to get a little older. I just need the days to go to about 26 hours. Fingers twitch.
I’ll be walking somewhere, or pedaling my bike, and I’ll have an idea. He was a taxi driver but now he drives for Lyft but he’s the only guy who knows the city when the grid goes down. He saves the day. Even as I have the idea I know it’s probably not the idea idea, just the fuel you pour into the Whisper Lite, let it burn down, and then you light the stove.
What I’ve written above is the longest story, those three sentences? That’s the longest story I’ve written in I think months. Heck, I could even say the guy has hairy arms. Now I’m at four.
Amy, walking the lake, sends me a photo of a trash can with the mosaic words, “Read! Write! Revolution!” and says, “This should be your motto!” In a flash, though I’m riding an Amtrak train to Bakersfield at the time, I create a brand new blog: readwriterevolution.wordpress.com and think this it! The next day, driving my mom and Sochi the wonder dog north on I-5, we stop at a burger join in the middle of nowhere and open the doors to tables filled with firefighters. They are returning home from the Ventura firestorm. It doesn’t occur to me to even jot a note on my new blog. I’ve already lost interest. We drive the remainder of the 500 mile trip listening to Carole King, Ira Glass and E.B. White. My fingers grip the steering wheel and occasionally pinch my cheek to stay alert.
It’s a Thursday and school is almost out for the kids. Today I took my mom to a cobbler in downtown Oakland to fix some shoes she brought up from San Diego. She said she took them to a place down there where the guy looked at them and said, “There’s nothing we can do. Throw them away.” She was furious. She loves those little shoes. The cobbler in Oakland looked at them and said, “Unfortunately, we can’t repair these and I’ll tell you why.” She pointed out the dried out, cracking sole, the erosion of the heal, and carefully explained some other problems, looking over the glasses slipped down her nose. My mom didn’t like it, but she accepted it.
My daughter is in the other room taking old books on Electrical Engineering and ripping and pulling and cutting and folding, turning them into gifts with secret compartments. Everyone else is in bed. As I head that way myself, I pause and listen to the quiet night. Driving up the great San Joaquin Valley I watched to my left as the sun fell behind the coastal mountains and the moon rose more full bodied than I’ve ever seen it, hanging just above the dry rocks with a belly of sunshine.
Now, I think about that. My fingers twitch. I begin to write again.
He appears behind me alongside the train tracks. Says, “Yeah you gotta be on your guard out here!” Catches up beside me keeping pace. About six feet. Scruffy. Short haired and a bit weathered. Looks at me hard and adds, “Every day in this town.”
“You live here?” I ask with a manly quiver.
“”Unfortunately. Today’s my birthday. Almost made it my last. I’m a veteran. Trump pisses all over us and still they support him. Course I got no love for liberals.”
I nod knowingly. “That’s my mom’s train,” I say (again with the manly).
“God bless,” he says, moving quickly into sliding doors and vanishing.
This life. This parenting life. This teaching life. This digital life.
It’s so hard to find a clean moment, to feel the real cool breeze. Those thick drops suddenly fall from heated skies and I’m out at the top of the stairs, arms outstretched, watching my work shirt turn dark with wet, feeling cool wet realness in my hair. Glorious, beautiful rain.
She walks into the home. Hello? And two laptops are flipped open and I’m staring at a desktop. There are screens charging here and there. Later we walk the warm night, wet breeze, conversation healing us, and I watch lightning strike in a snappy circle over the San Francisco Bay.
All the dots connect.
The black cat is curled in a little ball on the green couch. He has no use for screens. He tells me he is hungry by rubbing against my leg. If times are desperate, he wraps his paws around my calf muscle and my achilles leaps in fright. He meows. He doesn’t tweet. He wouldn’t mind eating a tweet.
The other day the black cat caught a hummingbird. Somehow Milo knew and we rushed to the back door. We brought the cat in and I lifted the tiny bird on some newspaper. Shocked, it shot off in a straight line right into a wall above some steps, dropping again to the ground. It seemed to have lost its ability to control altitude or perhaps its reason. How terrifying to taste the slow motion world with such a heart. I ran over and lifted it up again. This time it turned and shot straight into the open kitchen door, literally landing on the stove. (The cat, suddenly wearing an apron, added salt and pepper to taste.) I brought it outside once more and it shot towards the side of the house. We have found not a feather since.
This digital life can feel rudderless, liftless too. We fly at great speeds in a straight line.
Out of the open air.
Into the frying pan.
Today I waited in line for about an hour until I got to a counter where the nice woman took my phone. Then I waited in another line which led to another line to an elevator to a line in a long hallway. A stranger said, “Great, now we’re stuck in a hallway for who knows how long without our communication devices.” We were in the nation’s capital in the nation’s capitol, waiting to enter the Senate gallery.
Up and down the hallway you could see fingers twitching and a look of concern on the faces of my fellow Senate visitors. No phones and time to kill. Eyes widened and people scratched their heads, made calculations, and began to reflect on their life’s purpose with a newfound analog clarity. Soon the line moved again and we were led in silent groups into the Senate gallery.
I was given a seat in the front row, up behind the front of the chamber, where the Vice President and others would sit, so I could not quite see down there directly, but I was near the sound and video man (for C-Span?) and could watch his monitor to see if there was anyone up there under me. Otherwise, the entire Senate chamber was empty except for an older man in the back, behind the last desk on the Democrats side (to my right). He wore a dark suit, with his light skin, and chewed gum without much motion. There was a younger guy off to the left in the back, Republican side, sitting in a chair. No senators were present.
There were several sections of us up there in the gallery: four rows deep, about 6-9 in a row, depending. I’d guess around 150 visitors. We sat in silence, looking down on the empty wooden desks. It was like someone had said, here’s how you get tickets to the Senate gallery, so we had marched into our senators’ offices not far from the Capitol, and gone through the metal detector and tracked down their office and walked in and said something like Amy did: “We’re constituents of Senator Harris. We’re also big fans.” Then the interns gave us passes to the gallery. We took those to the Capitol, dumped our water bottle in the plants, went through that metal detector, climbed the steps and got in line for the gallery. One line led to another and so on until we found ourselves sitting here with 149 others, looking down on an empty Senate, thinking, now what?
Just around when all hope was fading, a door opened and in walked Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer. He walked in and sat down at his desk. I felt a momentary lift of hope. Are you kidding me? That’s Chuck Schumer, the man charged with leading the Democratic resistance. If nothing else, you’ve got to give him credit for some pretty solid Democratic legislative unity and resistance of late.
A moment later, a different door opened and in walked Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. As he walked down the aisle, Schumer rose and headed towards him. Are you kidding me, the leaders of the two parties headed for each other on the Senate floor?! Would they exchange choice words? Take a swipe at each other and have to be dragged apart? Instead, they stood face to face and McConnell put his arm on Schumer’s shoulder and they laughed. Nothing breaks up the good old boys club, not even health care.
They chatted for a while, down there in the dollhouse, while 150 of us peered in through the open roof. What could they be talking about and why had they waited until they were on the Senate floor? Eventually they sat down and McConnell went to work, quickly boring everyone in the room with some technical statements about appointing a few people including a federal circuit judge. There would be a call for Ayes, which was just him and Nays, which was silence (Schumer just looked up and smiled like they’d already worked this all out). Then McConnell high-tailed it out of there.
Next, Schumer got up and began to grandstand a bit to the even emptier room. He told the wooden desks and empty seats about the danger of a president interfering with an independent counsel’s investigation. He talked about this threat of Trump’s to withhold subsidies and let health care “implode.” He pointed out in specifics how this would affect the American public and gave the example of a 20% spike in premiums for the good people of North Carolina. He called it a “Trump tax.” He called for a bipartisan solution. He was well spoken and articulate. (Side note: a quick search on Wikipedia reveals Schumer received a perfect 1600 on his SATs and served 18 years in the House before his 19 years in the Senate).
Then he beat it too.
I stuck around long enough to see the senator from Florida, Nelson, get up and speak about the recent election in Venezuela and what a sham it was. I listened a bit, then beat it out of there myself.
Pretty amazing though to see the Senate in action, even (especially?!) if it was just three senators with 97 missing. Was I a bit moved?
And there I was, in black cap and gown, sitting on stage at the beautiful Paramount Theater, downtown Oakland, surrounded by my new colleagues of Merritt College, looking out on twenty rows of blue-clad graduates and a theater full of families and supporters. A few rows up, my dean, Siri Brown, had just given a rousing keynote speech about overcoming all challenges to earn this moment. She worked the large crowd and, it being Oakland, they gave back, shouting down from the balcony, “Get it, Girl!” and up from the packed orchestra, “Tell it!” Near the end, she instructed them to “Love the haters!” and not let anyone’s low expectations stand in your way. They roared their approval.
Students, dressed in blue, were having their culminating moment under the spotlight, approaching the stage, handing a card to the two readers, waiting for their name to be read. From the back row, I watched their faces as the audio waves carrying their name soared out over the crowd. Some of them danced across the stage, some strutted, some quietly shuffled, but all of them, from 20 to 80 years old, of every background, held something in their eyes, their cheekbones, their straightened backs and lifted chins, that suggested a wonderful mix of relief and joy. Some held fists high. Some pointed at their families deep in the balcony. Some turned and waved to a faculty member who was calling out their name and cheering for them.
I knew almost no one in the entire theater, not the students (most of mine won’t graduate for another year or ten), not their families, not even most of my colleagues, but it didn’t matter. This was my new job, helping students reach this moment, as part of this community. The shouts and excitement of the students and their families was enough to put my feet firmly on the stage, my back against the seat. Afterwards, the faculty and staff all lined both sides of the gilded hallway of the Paramount, and the students and their families paraded down the middle. We clapped and cheered for them as they opened the many doors at the end of the hall and headed out into the world.
In Amsterdam there are boats in canals. Sometimes they slide beneath ornate bridges, emerge from narrow tunnels, create lines in the water. Mostly they sit tethered to the side of the canal, beneath skinny tall painted faces and trees and sky and the smell of waffles. Little old ladies emerge to water lovely flowers, except they are not little or old, in the sense we might think. They are old like Maude, happy in their skin, chuckling softly, gripping a mug of something warm, chatting with a friend, and, let’s face it, they can hop on a bike and whip your ass in a mad dash across town down alleys, pumping hard over bridges, accelerating into the distances. Despite unfounded rumors of sneaky e-bike use, I found no elderly on the bike paths of Holland. Young and old zoomed past me like fish to my snorkel, smooth, easy, no longer thinking of pedalling. Mount, dismount, lock, unlock, ring if you have to.
In Amsterdam there is a boat filled with cats. You may stop in for a visit when you son misses his little black Wednesday. Some cats on the kitty boat have wanted posters posted on beams with warnings not to pet. Others sit waiting in a basket, gazing out at the canal while you stroke their soft little heads and backs. Outside it is a madness of bikes and cars and pedestrians. Here, only blinking eyes and soft tails, padding feet and curled sleep.
In Amsterdam there are boats in canals, red, blue, white, gray, yellow.
All week I’ve been driving kilometers per hour. Some button-pushing child maniac switched it and I only notice it when I’m speeding along on the freeway and can’t take a moment to scour the dashboard for the button, one of those buttons I can never remember between scourings.
I first noticed it had been switched about five days ago. Amy and I were zipping off to a rare movie. As usual, we had left too late and were destined to sit in the front row or, tragically, apart. I was just getting on the freeway, rolling along in the slow lane behind another car, when I suddenly noticed I was going 90. Holy crap! How could this be 90?! We were all going 90. And faster too. That guy must be doing 100!
At first I blamed it on Trump. Stress. The new apocalypse. I thought, this is what we do now, drive around at 90 just to end up in the front or row or tragically apart. Eventually my brain caught up, cleared its throat, and said, “Those are kilometers, Nimrod.” (Why Nimrod? Isn’t it supposed to be Dimwit or Nincompoop?)
Since that glorious moment, there have been several times this week that I’ve found myself back in the car, zipping along, and suddenly I’m going 80, 90, and I think, need to find that dang button. But then I arrive (as I just did, moments ago, at my office here on campus), and the thought vanishes. It’s not unlike the missing soap problem in the shower. When I’m in the shower and discover the missing soap, I’m not going to get out, sopping wet, and rifle through the baskets and shelves to find a bar of soap. When I’m out of the shower, I forget. This goes back to ancient times: when it’s not raining, the roof is as good as any other.
I have to say there’s a certain badassness to driving around at kilometers per hour. Going 70 through a school zone? Love it. Out of the way you little bastards! On the freeway hitting 100? What the F&%$ do I care? I’m the fastest slow car in the slow lane you ever saw. Don’t make me go 105, Motherf$#%$#!
There’s also a certain escapism to it, disappearing down global backroads. Hey, I’m not American! I’m doing kilometers here! I play football, you know, with my feet! I speak multiple languages! I live in a small house and I’m fine with that! Fill her up, lads!
Wait, why did that last tank of gas cost so much?
The logic goes
if you want to change politics
elect someone who doesn’t know politics
if you want to change the environment
hire an oil man
if you want to house the people
hire a surgeon
and if you want to educate the masses
nominate an idiot.
Well, Republicans, you’ve really buckled your seatbelts
on that meteorite you’re riding down
It would be fun to watch
if it weren’t going to burn up so many innocents
underneath the crash
I have to keep reminding myself
We knew this was coming
from that moment of incomprehensible result
We knew the era of pillage
would be upon us
in all its hellfire
and we would have to fight and fight and fight and fight
and fight and fight and fight
and get knocked on our asses
and fight and fight and fight
But what I didn’t know…
Was how much beauty would be in the streets
from the pussy hat millions
pouring onto the streets of the world
too many to march!
to the airport lawyer army,
holding handmade signs,
to the indivisible heroes
popping up wildflowers in the weeds
Shame on you!
You spineless chickenshit bastards
Lighting up phones
Showing up in offices
and calling out in public squares,
Shame on you!
You cackling idiot ghouls
Shame on you!
I have to remember
We are everywhere
sitting on shoulders
rolling in chairs
wanging on guitars
pouring out of public trains
making late-night desperate calls and emails
We are everywhere
face scrunched with determination
fist in the air
and there ain’t no power like the power of the people
’cause the power of the people don’t stop
Fight on, my brothers and sisters!