Monday, July 21, 2014

An Evening with Grandma and Grandpa (A Parable)

The year: 2044. (This is important.)

The kitchen, as grandparents' kitchens are wont to be, is scented of chocolate chips and sweet oven-crispness. Grandma is wobbling about in her apron, cleaning up the crumbs and spills of young bakers. Grandpa sits at the table with said bakers, ages seven and nine. Grandpa looks tired, his chin in his hands, his elbows on the table. 

"F#$%ing, A, Grandpa," says the seven-year-old. "These f#$@ing cookies are bangin'. Grandma," she yells over her shoulder, "you can bake your f#$@ing a#$ off, b#@ch!" 

Grandma sighs. "Thank you, dear." She drops a glass that shatters in the sink.

The nine-year-old grandson gets up and goes to the sink. "Sh#@! Are you alright, Grandma?"

"Yes, dear," she says. 

"Thank f#@#$ing #@#$%," the boy says. He goes back to sit with Grandpa. 

Grandpa rubs his face. Pats his grandson on the shoulder. "How's school been?"

"Okay, I guess. She gave me a C in math. Mom says the f#@$ing teacher sucks. She's gonna get the grade changed or call her lawyer."

Grandpa looks over and Grandma. Their eyes meet. Grandpa says, "Uh...good. Good, I guess."

"Damn right," the boy says. "I don't get Cs. Cs are no good for getting into college."

Grandma brushes the broken glass into a can, "But, you're only nine. College is not really a worry now, is it?"

The two kids roll their eyes. "You just don't f#$@#ing get it, Grandma."

"No," Grandma says. "I suppose I don't."

"You know," says Grandpa, "when I was a young man, there were situations in which profanity was inappropriate."

The kids look at each other and reply in unison: "What the f#@$ is profanity Grandpa?"

Grandpa rubs his neck. "Have some more cookies. I'm gonna go wash my f#@#ing car."

"Benjamin!" says Grandma.

Grandpa walks over to Grandma, kisses her on the cheek. "Sorry dear."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Know Not "Seems"

For years, I have heard people say that "confidence is sexy."

But, like, confidence, itself, right? Not confidence that one is sexy... 

Like...a professional who trusts in his or her instinct; who enters a room and sort of gets looked to as the leader; who walks upright and who isn't afraid to take responsibility or to speak out. This person can be sexy as a result of his or her sense of personal command or confidence. But, not the person who brags about his or her physical perfection in either words or selfie...

You know? 

To me, anyway, there is nothing less sexy than someone who thinks she is. (Insert your favorite pronoun/s here...ayam what ayam...)

I follow a local radio show on Twitter and they have "selfie Monday" -- which might just make me stop following them. Almost every selfie (that gets retweeted, anyway) is of a girl who makes extra sure to get all the best bits in the shot. Each girl has a manufactured smoulder on her face.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weeping Over Indiana Jones: On the Young Hearts of Wannabe Knights

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there is a scene near the end in which, when the whole place is crumbling, the knight who was the guardian of the Holy Grail salutes Indy through the falling debris and dust.

I wept when I saw that scene in the theater in 1989. I like that. I was 21.

I could list a whole bunch of other films, books, poems and works of art that made me get all emotional. (I do that.) To me, it is the highest effect art can have: to move someone to tears, to chills or to laughter. No, I'm not a fan of empty sentimentality; I am a seeker of the sublime. The sublime can only exist when the wind of intellect blows through the aeolian harp of emotion. (I know -- I'm getting all Coleridgean.)

Anyway, if I listed those works that "moved" me, some would be no surprise: "Afternoon of a Faun," by Debussy; The Pines of Rome, by Respighi; Miller's The Crucible and Death of a Salesman; Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea; Ravel's Mother Goose suite... I could do this all day.

But...Indiana Jones?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Courtesy of Control?

I rode the train for many years into Camden, to Rutgers, for most of my undergraduate work and for all of my graduate work. Sometime, I would be on crowded rush-hour trains and sometimes not so crowded. But the rush hour trains provided the same challenges: proximity and social graces.

For a week I have been as I previously mentioned, riding that same train, but to the end of the line in Philadelphia. The same challenges exist. People are boxed in and they are close to each other and they glance around nervously. Or, they poke their heads into books or newspapers to avoid talking; some people shut themselves off with ear buds, listening to music. 

It was the same in the late eighties and early nineties, except the tunes were on CD Walkmans and no one had an e-reader. But there is a level of uncertainty now, on one level, that didn't exist then. 

Even as late as the nineties, it seemed to me it was a given that a man would give up his seat for a woman, if she was standing and holding the seat handles. Now, it seems less like a loss of "manners" than a guessing game.

A few days ago, a college student, a few rows in front of me, offered his seat to an older woman. She graciously accepted and sat down with a sigh.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

White, Middle Class and Middle-Aged

Hi. My name is Chris. And by some accident of fate and genetics, I was born a white male, into a world that gives us more breaks than it gives to many others.

This week, I fell into an unusual routine, as I alluded to in my last piece. I have been riding a crowded commuter train, into Philadelphia, to teach a writing course at The University of the Arts. This means walking through stations, standing on both crowded and semi-deserted platforms, and sitting next to strangers.

Looking around me, I am realizing that being white, middle aged and middle class is a pretty helpful thing, in terms of other people's perceptions of me, in a world where perceptions are filtered through so many presuppositions. I'm safe in a way that, say, African American guys never are. Prejudice can lead to hard fate for, especially, young men of color, as Brent Staples once pointed out in his brilliant essay, "Black Men and Public Space."

If I walk onto a train platform and a white woman and I are the only two there, she will look at me and probably think: "Well, he's over forty; he is dressed okay so he has at least a job; he is carrying an academic-looking brief case and" -- sadly, this may often be true -- "he is white."

She's not likely to panic, like this young, white woman in Staples's piece: