One windy day in May 2002, my young children, Jasper and Daisy, who were 8 and 5, spent the morning cutting, pasting and coloring notes and welcome banners for their brother’s homecoming. They had not seen Nick, who was arriving from college for the summer, in six months. In the afternoon, we all drove to the airport to pick him up.
At home in Inverness, north of San Francisco, Nick, who was then 19, lugged his duffel bag and backpack into his old bedroom. He unpacked and emerged with his arms loaded with gifts. After dinner, he put the kids to bed, reading to them from ”The Witches,” by Roald Dahl. We heard his voice — voices — from the next room: the boy narrator, all wonder and earnestness; wry and creaky Grandma; and the shrieking, haggy Grand High Witch. The performance was irresistible, and the children were riveted. Nick was a playful and affectionate big brother to Jasper and Daisy — when he wasn’t robbing them.
Late that night, I heard the creaking of bending tree branches. I also heard Nick padding along the hallway, making tea in the kitchen, quietly strumming his guitar and playing Tom Waits, Bjork and Bollywood soundtracks. I worried about his insomnia, but pushed away my suspicions, instead reminding myself how far he had come since the previous school year, when he dropped out of Berkeley. This time, he had gone east to college and had made it through his freshman year. Given what we had been through, this felt miraculous. As far as we knew, he was coming up on his 150th day without methamphetamine.
In the morning, Nick, in flannel pajama bottoms and a fraying woolen sweater, shuffled into the kitchen. His skin was rice-papery and gaunt, and his hair was like a field, with smashed-down sienna patches and sticking-up yellowed clumps, a disaster left over from when he tried to bleach it. Lacking the funds for Lady Clairol, his brilliant idea was to soak his head in a bowl of Clorox.
Nick hovered over the kitchen counter, fussing with the stove-top espresso maker, filling it with water and coffee and setting it on a flame, and then sat down to a bowl of cereal with Jasper and Daisy. I stared hard at him. The giveaway was his body, vibrating like an idling car. His jaw gyrated and his eyes were darting opals. He made plans with the kids for after school and gave them hugs. When they were gone, I said, ”I know you’re using again.”
He glared at me: ”What are you talking about? I’m not.” His eyes fixed onto the floor.
”Then you won’t mind being drug-tested.”
When Nick next emerged from his bedroom, head down, his backpack was slung over his back, and he held his electric guitar by the neck. He left the house, slamming the door behind him. Late that afternoon, Jasper and Daisy burst in, dashing from room to room, before finally stopping and, looking up at me, asking, ”Where’s Nick?”
An American businessman, traveling in India when the planes struck the towers, made his way back to the U.S. the following week as quickly as he could. That meant hopscotching across the Middle East, stopping in Athens overnight to change planes. He spent the evening having supper in a local taverna. No one else in the restaurant spoke English, but when the owner realized he had an American in the house just two nights after 9/11, he asked his guest to stand up, face the other diners and listen to a toast.
And indeed, the entire room stood up, raised their glasses and said, as one, “Shoulder to shoulder, until justice is done.”
A decade or so ago, Africans got the notion that tourism might be an answer to their continent’s desperate poverty. What model did they have in mind? Mediterranean resorts, mostly. So they built vast beach complexes in Kenya, South Africa and other countries with ocean frontage. Charter flights poured in, carrying Germans and Italians with hopes of an African experience while still enjoying sauerbraten and the other comforts of home.
That was then. A new kind of travel is in vogue now. Savvy tourists are abandoning Eurostyle high-rises for more authentic holidays. (Newsweek)
Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Curt Schilling thinks twice before giving a teammate the traditional slap on the butt for a job well-done. “I’ll pat guys on the ass, and they’ll look at me and go, ‘Don’t hit me there, man. It hurts,'” Schilling says. “That’s because that’s where they shoot the steroid needles.” (Sports Illustrated)
My mother’s copy of The Settlement Cook Book (1948 edition) begins, as cookbooks used to, with instructions on the proper way to run a household. To air a room: “Lower the upper sash of one window and raise the lower sash of an opposite window.” To remove a glue stain: “Apply vinegar with a cloth.” There are sections on the feeding of infants and of invalids: “Use the daintiest dishes in the house. Place a clean napkin on the tray and, if possible, a fresh flower.” My reaction to these household rules—and especially to the daily schedules for small children, which suggest thrilling mini-narratives of carefully lived days, of cooked cereal at seven o’clock and diluted orange juice at nine o’clock—is in the nature of avidity. The way a lonely man in a motel room pores over Playboy, I pore over descriptions of ironing and kitchen routines; I have never made a solution composed of one part bleach and nine parts warm water, but the idea of such a solution and its many practical uses—wiping down an emptied refrigerator once a month, sanitizing a kitchen sink—commands my riveted attention. The notion of a domestic life that purrs along, with routines and order and carefully delineated standards, is endlessly appealing to me. It is also quite foreign, because I am not a housewife. I am an “at-home mother,” and the difference between the two is vast.
Five minutes before we boarded the plane to Africa, Al Sharpton called the group into a circle to pray. It struck me as a fine idea. Sharpton’s plan to lead a delegation of American civil-rights activists into the middle of the Liberian civil war clearly was going to require some divine support. And that was assuming we even got there. A man in the departure lounge at JFK had just finished telling me a long and disturbing story about Ghana Airways, the carrier we had chosen for the eleven-hour fight over. Apparently, much of its fleet was in Italy at the moment, impounded for debt. The rest was aging, creaky, and, given the virtually bankrupt condition of the company, spottily maintained. “Ghana Airways probably won’t even exist a month from now,” the man said. I was all for praying.
Fourteen of us gathered across from the gate one afternoon in late July and held hands. On my left was Sanford Rubenstein, Abner Louima’s lawyer in the NYPD brutality case. On my right was His Eminence Franzo W. King, D.D., archbishop and lead sax player of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco. Across the circle was former D. C. mayor Marion Barry’s wife, Cora Masters Barry, and three guys from the Nation of Islam, two of them named James Muhammad. Cornel West, the writer and scholar, led the prayer. “Lord, keep us safe,” West intoned as we bowed our heads. “But more important, keep us soulful.”
One July morning last year in Oklahoma City, in a public-housing project named Sooner Haven, twenty-two-year-old Kim Henderson pulled a pair of low-rider jeans over a high-rising gold lame thong and declared herself ready for church. Her best friend in the project, Corean Brothers, was already in the parking lot, fanning away her hot flashes behind the wheel of a smoke-belching Dodge Shadow. “Car’s raggedy, but it’ll get us from pillar to post,” Corean said when Kim climbed in. At Holy Temple Baptist Church, two miles down the road, the state of Oklahoma was offering the residents of Sooner Haven three days of instruction on how to get and stay married.
Kim marveled that Corean, who is forty-nine, seemed to know what to wear on such occasions. The older woman’s lacquered fingernails were the same shade as her lipstick, pants suit, nylons, and pumps, which also happened to be the color of the red clay dust that settled on Sooner Haven every summer. The dust stained the sidewalks and gathered in the interstices of a high iron security perimeter that enclosed the project’s hundred and fifty modest houses.
This forbidding fence, and the fact that most of the adults inside it were female, sometimes prompted unkind comparisons with the old maximum-security women’s prison five minutes up the road. But Kim and Corean believed that they could escape Sooner Haven, and so were only mildly irked by what one of their neighbors called “our cage.” Besides, other low-income areas had fierce borderlines, too. The distance between Sooner Haven and Holy Temple Baptist Church edged the territories of the street gangs Hoover Crip, Grape Street Crip, and Rolling Twenties. Kim’s brother had been murdered by a gang, but she couldn’t keep track of their ever-mutating names, boundaries, and affiliations. And Corean had refused to learn, even when Hoover Crip members started shooting at one of her five children. It was Corean’s contention that you could be in the ghetto and not of it. Ignoring the stunts of heavily armed neighbors kept your mind free for more enriching pursuits, such as the marriage class for which Corean had roused her young friend from bed this morning.
Oklahoma has rarely found itself in the vanguard of antipoverty thinking, but the class to which the two women were heading embodies a vigorous new idea-something known locally, and archly, as “the marriage cure.” Traditionally, singleness has been viewed as a symptom of poverty. Today, however, a politically heterodox cadre of academics is arguing that singleness-and, particularly, single parenthood-is one of poverty’s primary causes, for which matrimony might be a plausible tonic. For the past few years, the state of Oklahoma has been converting this premise into policy. In an initiative praised by the Bush Administration, which aims to seed marriage-promotion programs nationwide, the state has deputized public-relations firms, community leaders, and preachers (among them the pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church) to take matrimony’s benefits to the people. Last summer, that marriage drive reached Sooner Haven. “Come learn about relationships!” said the recruiter who knocked on the housing project’s beat-up doors.
(The New Yorker)
I’m looking forward to working with everyone this semester. I’ll see you in class on Tuesday, and we’ll get going producing the best student magazine yet!