It was all a function of the hand, you see? Started the great chemical drama that sent The Baptist out, collecting stars and galaxies whose light is still on the way, sent him out in the first place to render time and space irrelevant, you see? Circles diamonds squares lights in the sky, you see? One minute they’re there next minute gone but I guess that’s all of us in a nutshell. You see?
“I need more dimes,” she pled
as neon t-shirt clad laborers
cued up before her.
A river of Pantone 802 C,
shoving tiny plastic bottles
into pockets of jeans,
speckled with the appropriate
residue of their trade.
the muslin sheet
revealing relics you so
desperately tried to conceal from
the unforgiving light of existing time
“I don’t understand these made up names, like LaWanda or D’Quisha. You’re not helping yourself out. When they send a resume or apply for a job, people aren’t going to take them seriously.”
Racism is at its most dangerous when it is couched in everyday actions, familiar statements and sentiments, and seemingly sensible statements. This is how it is passed along, how it becomes normalized. The above quote – paraphrased, as it was a while ago and I don’t recall the exact wording – comes from my mother-in-law. If pressed, I’m sure she would rationalize it with a perfectly valid explanation in her mind as to how it’s not racist, possibly twisting it into being helpful advice. (Aside: she can rationalize anything. An. Y. Thing.)
It struck a chord with me because it is pure victim blaming. She’s putting the burden of avoiding being a victim of racism squarely on the victims. “Don’t use those names if you don’t want to be judged by them.” It’s not far off from saying that women shouldn’t dress a certain way if they don’t want to be harassed or worse. But there’s no way she’d see it that way, sadly. The whole “made up names” idea is another thing. As opposed to what – those naturally forming names? All names are made up. What she really means is names we don’t use in white American culture (if that’s even a thing).
The difficult thing is that my wife and I just had a baby girl. My wife technically had her, all credit due, but I did hold a leg and offer words of encouragement. They both did great, but that’s another story. And of course my mother-in-law, or Babcia as grandma’s are called in Polish, has a right to get to know her granddaughter. So she’ll be around, but at the first sign of her spewing latent racist garbage there’s going to have to be a serious reassessment of the state of affairs.
She goes to church at least once a week, loves her family, and sees herself as a genuinely good and caring person. And in some ways she is right. And that’s one of the hard truths of life, that there are no pure heroes or villains. There are, however, subtle undercurrents that we must be aware of, lest we be doomed to repeat ourselves. I want better, not just for my baby daughter, but for her the entire generation. The status quo is unsustainable.
A void was left by the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, a giant in seemingly whichever field he chose to work. I felt a connection to this man whom I never met. We shared physical stature, geography (I live not too far from where he got his culinary start in Provincetown, MA), and the love of both cooking and writing. Less superficially, we both became fathers to daughters later in life, fought battles with substance abuse, and as it is now painfully evident, struggled with mental health issues.
The outpouring of grief following his suicide suggested that I underestimated how many people also felt a connection. I shouldn’t have, as he was a supremely gifted raconteur. Bourdain began his professional career in the restaurant industry, one known for attracting outsiders, oddballs. And it was this fresh perspective that made his observations so captivating. Edgy, often sarcastic, always brilliant, he held up his own brand of binoculars to our eyes so that we could better see not just foreign lands, but parts of our own cities we often overlook. As a writer, his voice was strong and consistent throughout whatever he touched. As I read (and re-read) his breakthrough account of a working chef’s life, Kitchen Confidential, many years ago, I couldn’t help but hear his voice in my head as if it was an audio book.
It’s no wonder that food and drink were such potent vehicles for Bourdain’s storytelling. Wine can offer a window into a place – from the soil and geography (or terrior as it is known) to the climate. Food is the history of a region, amalgamations of the cultures who have came and went, served up on a plate. The other pillar of his works was travel, which is a bit of a different animal. Travel is about your story; it’s your experience and it can only be truly appreciated once you stop listening to tales of others and open yourself to the world. I feel that Mr. Bourdain’s legacy is best honored not by “likes” or retweets, but when you put down the phone, get off the couch, and go out there and live your own stories.