April 23, 2009

short - really short - fiction

(Not my style I know. But I wrote it, and there's not sense in writing it unless someone reads it. So here you go... Thoughts?)

Baby Grand

She lies in bed each night and drifts into sleep, under personal symphonies from the room above. Each night, same time, when the news has finished with the important stuff and switched to sports and weather, the pianist sits down to his instrument, anchored firmly to the wooden floor, and plays dreamy melodies, unknowingly serenading the girl below, the one with the tired feet. She’s come to expect it, to miss it if it’s gone, because the tones resonate through the floorboards and down the walls, into her ears and pull her slowly from the waking day into the soft, short night. It’s a fine way to end a stressful day, full of books and classes then dishes, trays and glasses full of beer, and customers who demand more, so much more, than she can deliver. And as she drifts, she forgets them.

Tonight, it’s the woman with the Prada sunglasses who visits every Wednesday to sit silently with her husband and reveal nothing, only that she and he hardly talk, and that she lives in Cicero, and always keeps the glasses where she can see them.

And she forgets the man in the tux, with his bowtie hanging limp over his lapels, who asked for drinks she’d never heard of, and had it in for her and let her do nothing right and made her fill the break room with awkwardness when she cried to the cooks. And when he left, he signed his name on the credit slip and drew a line through the tip and went home to watch the news and practice his baby grand.

April 17, 2009

The 2009 Tea Parties

Do you know about the Tea Parties? You probably heard about them. I didn't go. There was one in Grand Rapids, and I thought about it... I'm frustrated with my government, and if this is a way to show it, you could probably count me in. But I like to be sure. I don't want to half-heartedly protest anything. In case, you know, some counter-protesting occurs and someone hunts me down, gets me into an argument and finds me ill-prepared to defend my presence and inherent support, and converts me to a communist. And I do not want to become a communist. So I didn't go to the Tea Parties.

Plus, I was working.

So I started to look into them. I followed a little bit of the media coverage, and sure enough: There's some counter-protesting going on. And plenty of mockery. On the surface, the tea parties are a bunch of people who are angry about tax increases, many of whom haven't seen a tax increase, probably won't for a while, and maybe never will. People at the bottom end of the tax bracket pay only a small part of the federal income tax - I've mentioned this before. So I'll admit the protesting seems a little ironic.

But I think there's more to it than tax increases. You see, there's a small chunk of people left who actually want the government to take less money and do less stuff. I count myself among them. We're fiscal conservatives who want to take care of ourselves, and we want the government to do less. But we see the government getting bigger. Yeah, I know, it started under George W. Bush. We're mad at him too.

We're mad about - I shudder at the word - bailouts. Remember when GM got too big to fail? Remember how Bank of America got too big to fail? What happens if our government gets too big to fail? The more the government does, the bigger it gets, the closer it gets to that line. People see their freedoms shrinking, and the government growing, and that's why they're getting upset.

I'm not going to sound the Socialism alarm. Maybe we're there, maybe we're not, maybe it's the worst thing ever, maybe no one's really going to care or notice in fifty years. That evaluation is far beyond me and the B I got in three credit-hours of undergraduate macroeconomics. I can't begin to tell you the basic merits and demerits of socialism, but I'm pretty sure they don't entirely jive with this wacky but unshakable idea I have that the government should do less and take less money.

My financial life is okay in this system. But it's the trajectory that bugs me. If the government is getting a little bigger today, where will it be tomorrow? In a year? In ten years? If I'm a little annoyed and curious about it, imagine how many more people are scared and angry and marginalized enough to get organized and to raise a ruckus and dump tea in the Grand River. And all over the rest of the country.

There's a significant number of people who don't feel well-represented by their government, and they have every right to protest. You can protest whatever you want. You protest when your rights erode, hopefully you start doing it before they're gone. It makes sense for people to protest a tax increase.

Naturally, they got mocked. And of course, the easiest way to make fun of tea-parties is to make a tea-bagging joke. If you don't know what that is, and you really want to know, go ask the Urban Dictionary. Suffice it to say it's an innuendo that would draw snickers from frat boys. And some of the rest of us, but only in our weaker moments. I swear. And apparently, Anderson Cooper, too. Dubbing a tea-involving protest as tea-bagging is an easy joke, a comparison expected from anonymous, edgy political bloggers and humorists like Jon Stewart. Likening a movement to a sex-act is a convenient way to devalue it. It bugs me to see otherwise professional journalists slough off a widespread, reasonable protest.

I'm amazed at the ease with which some people are laughing it off. A bunch of white, rich tea-baggers want to keep their money and they're finally raising a stink about it, right? Is someone out of touch here, though? Is it the people protesting out of concern for a government growing too big to fail? The same legion of people who choose Fox News over CNN, the ones who built the conservative talk radio audience? The wealthy ones who bear the load of the tax burden, who feel underrepresented and have reached a tipping point and are taking their frustration to the streets? Or is it the people making teabagging jokes?

From the movie Network

April 15, 2009


When the Braves game ended on Saturday night, we took the bus to the MARTA station at Five Points, and waited to take it south to where we'd parked. On our side, waiting for the southbound train toward the airport, were me, Joel, and his wife Katie, along with a handful of black people. On the other side, waiting for the northbound train, was a huge crowd, mostly white, decked out in Braves paraphernalia. The MARTA tracks divided us.

As I understand it, this situation sums up Atlanta fairly well. The city has one of the fastest growing white populations in the country, and they mostly live on the north side, while the south side is predominantly black. In the few days I spent in the city, I didn't see enough to be able to make such a claim. Joel told me it was so, and Google helped me find a few other sources to confirm it.

I don't know if you've been to Atlanta, or what it conjures up in your brain when you think of it, but I got off the plane there thinking it would be a pretty modern, progressive, cosmopolitan city, without really knowing for sure. And it is. But it's still decidedly southern. Within a few minutes in the airport, I was inundated with southern drawl, and I knew I was the one who talked funny.

The south is interesting, and I'd like to spend more time there someday. After all, I was born in Alabama, not far from the Gulf. (And I can't help but think this is why I like Bluegrass.) But I was whisked away before I was old enough to convince my parents to stay away from the snow. I can't fathom how different it would have been to grow up there, missing out on real winters, eating breakfast at Waffle House, and hearing an entirely different perspective on the Civil War and General Lee and Jefferson Davis. They're still heroes down there.

There's a giant carving of them, along with Stonewall Jackson, on Stone Mountain. It's like the Mount Rushmore of the south. Stone Mountain is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state, just 20 miles east of Atlanta, and you can climb it in about a half hour if you're good. We did that on Sunday, when it was perfectly clear and 70 degrees. From the top we could see all of Metro Atlanta, including the downtown and midtown skylines and Buckhead.

Of course I did all of the other touristy stuff, too. I visited the World of Coca-Cola, the CNN Center, and the Georgia Aquarium. They're all worth checking out, but go on a weekday morning if you can because they'll be crowded on the weekends. We hung out in Piedmont Park and went to a Braves game on Saturday night. We went to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, in the east shadow of the skyline. Since it's a national park, it's all free. Also worth a look: A trip up the Westin hotel to its rotating restaurant, the sorta-cleverly titled SunDial. If you eat there - I can't afford to - it's free to go up. If you don't, you have to bribe them five bucks. Or, you have to pay five bucks for a ticket. I paid for my ticket and got a good view. If you want to get your bearings, do this first. Or just go up in the Marriott Marquis around the corner. It's not as tall, but it's free. We visited the Starbucks inside on Saturday and killed a few hours playing cards in their lobby. Probably the coolest lobby/atrium I've ever been in.

I don't usually think of Atlanta as a big tourist draw. It's just another big city, right? I went because I know people there. Back when I was in Tanzania, salivating at the thought of touring my country, I told my friend Joel I might want to visit. He invited me down, and when I got cabin fever in March, I decided to buy the ticket and go. It was worth it - there's plenty to do in Atlanta. It wasn't the most restful vacation ever, and there was no beach, but it was a change of pace. And I guess that's what I needed.


Top to bottom:
Carvings on Stone Mountain
Inside the CNN Center
Looking South from the Westin toward Turner Field
Olympic Park, from the Westin
MLKJr's house
Stoney Tangawizi, on tap at the World of Coca-Cola
Inside Turner Field
A "H8BAMA" license plate. They must really hate Alabama.
Looking north toward Midtown from the Westin

April 3, 2009

Adventures in Pizza Delivery, Episode 37c

Tonight was a historically bad night for tips, one that shattered a sad record that has stood across hundreds of nights of work. The specifics: Twelve customers combined to compensate me $18. It was an uttermost void of consumer benevolence. Epic weakness. So as all down-on-their-luck pizza men do, I got melodramatic and drew comparisons between myself and the Israelites. I stood there on the freshly-mopped floor, defeated and broken, wondering if somehow God was angry with me for my disobedience, or my lack of justice. And I realized I was blaming God, as I believe men are prone to do, when in reality I live in a broken world where the work is not always fair, nor the tippers generous, nor... nor my heart always thankful.

In a strange way, I felt better.

April 1, 2009

Michigan (State)

This is why I watch basketball. From the beginning of each season in November, I invest my time into watching and listening to the Spartans play basketball in the anticipation that maybe this year they'll go to the Final Four to play for a championship in front of the whole country.

And now they're there - just like my bracket predicted - and I have to watch. I have to see them play their final game of the season, whether it's Saturday night against Connecticut, the overdog, riding out a recruiting scandal, or Monday night against Villanova, another underdog, or UNC, the juggernaut with the national fanbase, the team of players who could easily have walked into the NBA but came back to win the national championship they missed last year, the team that drubbed us in the same building in December. I'll watch with as much enthusiasm as anyone, glued to the TV to see if my Spartans will get the glory I hoped they would when the season began.

And they get to do it all in Detroit.

Naturally, that's a story line for the national media. I knew, before MSU beat Louisville, that we were going to see stories about this being "a ray of sunshine" in a dark state (in the words of our governor in an ESPN interview today). I'm not surprised to see stories like this one and this one. They're good articles, and I don't deny the reality that seeing our guys play for a national championship will be a nice distraction for some people. But they still bug me a little.

I should tell you that I hate strongly dislike every article, story, anecdote, commercial, idea, sentence, paragraph, essay, joke, poem, eulogy, sermon and musical that starts with "In this economy..." We don't need any more reminders what it's like to live "in this economy." Michigan has been in our recession for almost ten years, and it isn't news anymore. The angle is tired and old and no one should be using it to sell newspapers, let alone siding and fried chicken.

But what really bothers me is that our fine state has been rebranded to align with Detroit's continuing decay. I can't speak from an outsiders perspective, but when every good thing to come out of Michigan becomes "a ray of sunshine" for us, I get the feeling people think we're all kicking empty bean cans around our doldrums, looking for jobs and sewing patches on our trousers while we wait for things to get better. So when this basketball game comes along, we all get to forget about how abysmal and unbearably awful our little unemployed lives are for a minute. Of course, on Tuesday reality will sink in and we'll go off to find our bean cans again.

All I know is that we're all going to rally around the home-town pride. Well, most of us are, save for a few proud Wolverine fans. But the rest of us are going to sports bars and ordering pizzas and buying t-shirts, like we always would, because we want to see our guys win, because we waited for it all season, because we want it anyway. Not because we need a distraction "in this economy."

So props to my Spartans. I've waited all year for this weekend, and I couldn't be more pleased to see them still playing. Besides, all of the other storylines are better. Playing 80 miles from home is good. The 30-year anniversary of their first championship is good. Seeing a team of mostly Michigan guys beat a team that unfairly recruited players using an agent is good. A potential rematch against UNC in the same building is good. Whatever happens, it has been a good season.