Happy Damn Halloween

I used to love Halloween. I love costumes and the excuse to wear them. I loved all the little princesses and spidermen, all the knights and ninjas. I still love them. But this year it almost wasn’t worth it. What is wrong with me? I got really mad. But maybe I get mad every year. It’s just starting to occur to me that I love the idea of Halloween. Not the reality. Or maybe I love suburban Halloween.

Let’s go over what I loved about tonight’s Halloween and see if it adds up to doing it next year or not, shall we?

My neighbor Terry will certainly not agree with me. I will say, “I’m sick of caravans of kids I don’t know getting driven to my house without costumes. I’m sick of their two bags (for my little brother, he’s in the car), their mom smoking and talking on her cell phone in the running car. I’m sick of teenagers and adults without any costumes, snapping their gum and holding out their bag like me giving them candy is the law.”

Terry would say, “Lisa, what’s the big deal. You’re giving them a 20 cent candy bar. Coming to your house and demanding candy on their own terms makes them feel like they have control in a world where they feel like they have no power. Couldn’t you just give them the candy and not be mad? You still have so much more than any kid whose parents feel compelled to bus him into your neighborhood. More than any group of teenagers.”

He’d be right, of course. I’d sigh and say, “Thanks Terry, for being the voice of kindness and bliss again. You’re right, I guess. It’s just a freaking candy bar. What do I feel like I gain by telling the costume-free teenagers to keep on moving if they don’t have either a costume or a really good story? What’s my problem?”

Then I’d ask what he gave out for halloween and he’d say, “We didn’t do trick-or-treats. We turned out the lights and watched a movie.” He frequently outsmarts me by taking both the high and the low road.

So I’m talking myself down from a ledge, here. I have no right to be upset at the Suburban idling for 30 minutes in front of my house while the dozen kids who piled out of it go trick-or-treating. I am trying not to pass judgment on the mom rolling down the window of her car, driving slowly down Holly Avenue, following her kid. When she says, “Latte! Don’t you cut through that grass. Use the stairs. Latte! You hear me?”

I’m only reporting what I saw and heard. Latte had a princess costume on. She was adorable.

But there’s one mom who sent her three kids up to my door while she sat in her car, driving from house to house. I have passed judgment her. Only one of her kids had a costume. Two girls and a boy, it was. The boy was gorgeous. Huge anime style brown eyes, milk chocolate skin and cherub cheeks. He was probably around 8 years old. I grabbed my candy and started to chat, as I do with all the hollow wieners. “Hey buddy, where’s your costume?What are you?” It was cold enough tonight, about half the kids opened up their parkas to display spiderman or ninja clad chests.

This kid tilted his head back like a baby bird and said, “Bweeeeeeeeh!” while looking me in the eye. I’m sure you’d handle this better than I when it happens to you. Quickly I thought about whether this kid was retarded, messing with me or giving me a clue to his identity. I was starting to see that he didn’t have a costume (but the younger kids get a pass from me, because it’s their parents’ job to make sure they have a costume). My answer to his weird response was, “Yeah… OK kid, but what are you?”

He kept right on looking at me, dead in the eye, not cracking a smile. But this time he clamped both hands over his ears. As he did this, his mom rolled down the car window, and yelled, “He can’t hear you, he’s totally deaf.” Ok, he’s deaf. I am so dumb. So totally cloddish and stupid. I looked at his sister who was maybe 12, “So what is he?”

She looked at me and said, “He ain’t anything, he deaf. He can’t hear you.” The middle girl, piped up, “I’m a kitty!”, and showed me her ears.

Maybe you all went to planet deaf child, but I was still fixated on planet Halloween. The boy had figured out what I wanted to know by his sister’s reaction. He started to tug his shirt out from under his jacket, still looking at me, but smiling now.

I should tell you right now, in the interest of full disclosure, I had three pieces of candy in my bowl. I gave one right up to the kitty while I checked out the boy’s shirt (which didn’t look like a costume to me, but I was feeling not up to the task of evaluating the situation). The older girl without the costume got nothing and I gave the deaf boy two pieces. I immediately decided that was the wrong thing to do. But it was too late.

My decision was reinforced by the reaction of the little boy. He grabbed the candy, held it up to his face and looked at his sister. He stuck his tongue out and did a little “ha ha” dance at his sister.

What kind of fucked up world do we live in? I’ll take responsibility for not immediately recognizing what must be a universal symbol for deaf. I’ll take responsibility and beg forgiveness for taking my anger at the mom on the girl. And I do feel bad about doing that. It won’t happen again. I’ll try harder.

But what kind of mom dumps her three kids off in a strange neighborhood on Halloween without costumes? Not so good of a mom, OK. But one of those kids is profoundly deaf and she’s sending him without a costume to go ask strangers for candy? While she sits in her car? What the hell is that? She can’t paint an eyeliner mustache on the kid? Give him a football helmet? She can’t park the car and walk with the kid from door to door? Jesus.

A group of teenagers I did not know smashed the pumpkins of the 3 and 5 year old next door. Those teenagers headed to my house for candy, although they knew I saw them. I hollered at them and warned the other side neighbors not to give them candy. When my neighbor boys came home, they cried. They couldn’t even begin to understand anything except that their pumpkin was smashed right on their own porch.

After that, I walked down and looked to see how much longer Halloween was going to last. My entire street was awash in head and tail lights crawling along with their kids. I’m watching a movie next year. Fer real.

Peggy the Painter

This is so typical of me. I try to be smarter and nicer than the next guy, and what do I get? Outsmarted by my own stupidity.

I got this flyer on my door. It said in broad, swooshing strokes, “Peggy the Painter!”. The text wasn’t totally centered and the copy was of crappy quality. Too many fonts, too many exclamation points and not enough class. On the bottom, sort of crooked and also off centered, was a gold foil stamp, obviously applied by hand. Some sort of Asian symbol, I think.

It boasts a “free color consultation with every job”. Nice.

Do I throw it away? No. I do not. I look at it and think to myself, “Poor Peggy, she’s probably trying to just get started. Spent her last money on printing these crappyflyers and delivered them by hand.” I set it aside and wait for my good sense to kick in. It never does. I have two painting jobs that need doing anyway, and why not slide this budding entrepreneur a job?

“This is what keeps America great”, I think. Grease the wheels of this economy. Give someone a chance so they can stay self-sufficient. Even if they’re not totally a class act. Am I? No I am not. Would I print something slightly off center? Yes, I might. And I would want to be given a chance. I think this might be where I went wrong.

I called Peggy and asked her to come and bid a couple of jobs for me. One is my living room (the parlor, actually), the other is the ceiling at my rental house. After talking to Peggy on the phone and in person, I decide it would be a good idea to have her work on the rental property (this is the voice of my inner intelligent person directing me) first. See how she does at painting a ceiling. At someone else’s place.

She is nothing like the chipper feminist with paint in her hair that I have imagined. She’s somewhere north of 50 with an immense cascade of thick blonde hair, skin that has spent way too much time in the sun, and blue eyeliner. Because her hair is the wrong color for her age and because of the eyeliner and the fact that she seems hyperactive, I have trouble gauging her age.

The fact that her hair and makeup is well coiffed but her pants are splattered with paint seems weird, but because she is generally very weird, it isn’t my biggest concern. When I tell her I am hoping for a warm color for my parlor because it faces north, she nods. She thinks for a minute, hand holding her chin. “I have it! You’re gonna think I ‘m crazy, but I know exactly what you need in here. This is so weird, but sometimes I have a feeling about things, and man! This is going to be so great.” She’s pretty excited.

“What you need in here is a pewter color, or a steel gray. And I think we should do some stencils, too. You know that one design, the one the french like, it’s on lots of stuff.”

“A fleur di lis?” I venture.

“Exactly. Pewter, with tone on tone stencils of fleur di lis. Oh I have to do this job, now. Once I get an idea about something like this, I won’t rest until I see it done. My last customer told me what she wanted, and I told her I had this good idea. I told her I’d re-do it if she didn’t like it, but I insisted on doing this really cool orange and black thing. She loved it.”

Hmm. Let’s get that ceiling done, shall we? We agree that she should meet me at the rental house on monday. She’ll have to scrape the ceiling off before she paints, but she lets me know she will need some money to buy paint before she can start the actual painting.

I brought her over a check for half the job. She was excited to see me so she could show me pictures on her phone of, “This table I painted, wait till you see it. You are gonna freak out! Here, look at this picture! Is that just the shit? Those colors, aren’t they wild? My boyfriend says I should sell it for a thousand dollars onEbay. Isn’t it just the shit?” It was, in fact, the shit. As near as I could tell by the cell phone photo.

She worked all day, scraping the ceiling and then patching where it was needed. The next day she called to say she’d be late. Imagine the smokiest hippie voice saying, “Ahh man, my friend Mike… He’s a great guy, but he broke his arm. He’s always been there for me, you know? Well he needs my help hanging some ceiling tiles. With the broken arm, you know?” I allowed as to how it would indeed be hard for mike to hang tiles with one arm.

“Great, Lisa. You’re my kind of person, you know? You have a kind spirit. Can I say that? Is it totally weird? I know. It is. But I feel like I can say it to you, you know. Anyway, this tile is really great, I’m kinda curious about how it hangs anyways. It might be great in that one room of yours. I’m still really excited about that. I’ll probably be over at the rental around noon or so.”

Noon rolls around, two rolls around. I get a call. “Yeah lisa, Hey, I’m glad I caught you. This ceiling thing is turning out to be… Well, lets just say it’s nothing like what I thought it would be. Mike’s a great friend, but… I’m gonna have to go over to the rental tomorrow. Mike’s got this broken arm, I can’t just leave him half-done, here.”

When can she make it to the rental to finish their ceiling so they can move their furniture out of the hallway? “Ahhh man, I can be there tomorrow morning. First thing. It shouldn’t take me more than a day, anyway. Tell them they’ll be watching the news tomorrow night in the living room. With a nice new ceiling.”

Tomorrow rolls around. The renters call me to ask when she’s coming back. “She didn’t come this morning? FFFFff… Ok. I’ll try to get ahold of her.”

No Peggy. The weekend goes by. No Peggy. I send an email. I call again. Finally my brother and I go over and sand and paint the damned ceiling. Cursing Peggy’s name the whole time, because we got left with sanding and painting above our heads.
We speculate about what happened to Peggy. Not the least of our curiosity is because all of her equipment is at my rental house. All in tubs labled either “Peggy’s painting” or “Peggy’s Cleaning” Hmmm. We put it all in the basement and start watching the obituaries.

Three weeks later the phone rings. It’s Peggy. Alive. And out of jail. It wasn’t her fault. It was a misunderstanding, but they have her truck, so she can’t do any work. She’s still excited about painting my living room. I’m trying to talk myself into slate gray for my parlor…

Lee’s and Dee’s Barbecue

Last weekend we got the following:

Zach had the catfish dinner, corn coated catfish, fried up nice. Baked beans and cole slaw. Orange pop to wash it down.

Catfish being a scum-suckin-bottom-feeder, one’s expectations can’t be too high. I think it was pretty decent. Not greasy, but not very brown, either. Not a bad dinner if you’ve got decent hot sauce, which was provided, free of charge. This is important because on the take-out menu, extra ketchup is ten cents.

Andy had the half-slab dinner. Half a slab of beef ribs with the slaw and the beans and a Pepsi. Decent enough that he had to adjust himself in his seat to eat more.

The cole slaw was acceptable. There was the addition of cracked pepper, but that is acceptable in my book. As is celery seed which I have seen done as well. What is not acceptable is putting onions in cole slaw. That is the nastiest trick. I rank it right up there with putting walnuts into brownies.

The baked beans were eau de Ivory Soap. They looked so dang good. Obviously not from a can. Real chunks of ham in them. Not gelatinous chunks of pink rubber, but real meaty looking ham. Imagine my sadness at the addition of the fresh clean scent of Ivory. Now my dining companions couldn’t taste it, but neither of them finished their beans.


Years ago when we got Lee’s and Dee’s for the first time and shared it with my mom, she said the food would be good but for the distinctive perfumey taste of Promise margarine in everything. I wonder it that’s what I was tasting?


I had the 6 wings with rice and a strawberry pop. Strawberry pop is something not found in just any restaurant. Points given for that. Shows a level of comfort with one’s self that I find admirable.


The rice was definitely weird. Coated and completely shiny with margarine. I think it was converted rice. Each grain was way too aloof. Like the rice was pretending to be rice and over acting.


Here’s my theory about rice. Usually you want rice to either soak up grease, to add bulk or to stretch out your enjoyment of some yummy sauce. In this case, we were definitely looking for grease control. Converted rice with margarine coating it is mostly plate decoration. It meant I couldn’t eat as many wings as I wanted to.



And let me tell you, the wings were awesome. They were crispy and salty and browned like I haven’t had them since I was a kid. That wonderfully crispy fat, oh my god it brought me back. Reminded me of when sometimes we’d have fried chicken. I think my mom fried it on the stove-top and then baked it in the oven. Whatever she did, it was good hot or cold. I would go back just for the wings, but I would bring my own rice.


The guy who owns the place stands outside pretty consistently every day. I think he goes out to smoke, but he ends up being a kind of Victoria Street Ambassador. He waves to people driving by or stopped at the 4 way stop at the corner. He looks like a bald black Colonel Sanders. He’s very personable, if not overly warm.


His wife seemed angry at us. I think we interrupted CSI or something. Because the TV was blaring the whole time we were there.


Here’s my recommendation. Get the ribs and the wings, with a little slaw. Call ahead or wait for them, but make your own rice, get your own beans if you must have them. Bring it home and enjoy.

Just Because It’s True…


I keep trying to explain to my kids that just because something is true, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Not only do you not have to say it, sometimes you absolutely should NOT say it. I understand the urge to purge. I have a major problem disconnecting my thoughts, however fleeting or stupid, from my speech. Sometimes I figure people will forget the stupid things I say, but I know better.


There’s a family in my neighborhood who has a small child, a girl. She looks uncannily like Gary Busey. Go look up Gary Busey right now, and see if you think it was a mistake of me to tell the mother her daughter looks like this guy(I’ll wait). In my defense, come and look at their Christmas card (photo of the kids) and see if it isn’t the truth. Also, I really didn’t think of what I was saying, ie, “Wow, she looks just like Gary Busey!” as being an insult. That was a mistake on my part, I think.


I was at book club a while ago and I had another slip-up. Thank god I’m a woman, or I think by now I’d be seriously a pariah in the neighborhood. One of the women at book club was newly pregnant. At a book club meeting, she had a lovely red, low-cut shirt. She had the kind of breasts that can only be gotten from pregnancy, plastic surgery or comic-book superheroines. She is a lovely woman, very pretty, but she was obviously walking the line between , “Check out my awesome new boobs!” and “Is this shirt too revealing?” She wore the shirt (and we’re all so glad she did). I stopped her on my way out and told her, “Your cleavage is fabulous.” It was true.


I don’t know if I regret it, but I didn’t need to say it.

My sister’s daughter looked very much like Rick Moranis at a certain age. It’s passing, but maybe I never should have pointed it out. It’s an issue.


The thing is, you can’t un-say things. And if you’re me, the things that flit through your mind are not always fit for public consumption. Even if they’re true. Sometimes the truth changes, but what you said doesn’t go away. The way you say it would probably have been better if you had written it, put it away and looked at it again the next day. Because for some things, the more true it is, the worse it is to have someone speak it out loud.


Race part 3

Step 2

Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Well, my power greater than myself is ah, the blog. See I confess, process and profess all this stuff on the blog. Damn. In all the 12 step programs I’ve tried, this step and step three always seem like ths stupidest ones. I don’t believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I’m not sure anything can, but I’m trying every day.

Step Three

Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

And I haven’t made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of god as I understand god. Because I don’t understand god at all. I am an unbeliever. But that will have to wait for another day because right now we are talking about race; and if I don’t stick to the topic, god-as-I-understand-god only knows when we’ll get back to it.

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Racist, classist whatever is my failing, I do try hard to be good. That’s what I want on my grave: She Was Good. Or she tried to be good. Nah, put “she was good” the people who know better will smile, and the people who don’t will think I was good. But I am weak. And I fail sometimes. I say this by way of explanation for why I still (even after the arguments from smart people who know me well) think I’m a racist.

I feel racist because of my reaction to the fact that my little rental house isn’t looking good on the market, not to white folks. I have attributed this to the fact that the house is in a majority black neighborhood. When people ask me how the neighborhood is, I feel dishonest if I don’t tell them it’s mostly black (but I don’t). But I think that’s what they’re looking for. Maybe they are and maybe they’re not. But you know they are. Even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

When the white college kids came to walk through, I was gung-ho. They were gung-ho, I thought. But when the skinny black lady across the street came out to chat with me on the way in, I cringed inside and wished she had stayed in her house. That’s a racist thought. I didn’t act on it. But I felt it. And the college kids never did return my calls after they came to the house, saw the neighborhood. They were better than the heavy-set white woman with kids, who wrinkled her nose out in the front yard, looked around and said, “Mmm, I don’t think so.”

When we were trying to sell this same house, I honestly thought about planting white people around the block to make all those chicken-shit white people think it was whiter than it is. Let me break this down: It isn’t my own racism I’m reacting to when I want to “stage” the neighborhood. It’s my perception that buyers who are white (and most of St. Paul is white, so it’s an important market segment) are afraid to buy on a street they think is mostly black.

So what’s worse? Wanting to trick them because I want the sale? Wanting to trick them because I think it sucks that this city is so segregated? Relegating the actual (black) neighbors to the status of detriment in the neighborhood? Elevatint white people to an asset? But I’m doing all those things. And they are totally racist. I’m not judging myself here, just acknowledging it.

These are only thoughts I’ve had. I haven’t done anything to act them out. But I did think of it as a viable option. What does that mean?

Can it mean anything worse than the fact that the black guy at the apartment next door and the black guy across the street both asked me to try not to rent to any more black people? And what do you say to a black person who says, “Try not to rent to no more black folks. Find you a nice Hmong family. They nice and quiet.”? What do you say to that?

I’m not a bad person because I’m a racist. By saying it, I just acknowledge my own vulnerability and work on it every day. I’m a struggling racist. Struggling every day with my own racist thoughts and with what the truth is about race in this part of the world. Admitting I’m a racist is my way of telling people it’s OK to admit you are weak. It’s even OK for white people to talk about race.

If we make people afraid to talk openly about what they KNOW is true, they will go to the other side (the side of people who had made friends with their inner racist) because they think it ‘s the only place they can possibly belong, and while they’re there, they will be thinking,accurately, that we are lying about what is going on in the real world. They’ll be right. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some people are stagnated racists. They admit it, they don’t fight it and they blame which ever group they don’t like. Those people are more common than we’d like, but they’re a small percentage of the population.

There are people out there (my dear mother-in-law, for instance) who claim not to notice race. I have to believe them, but I can’t even comprehend how someone might not notice another person’s race. They are a rare breed, people who don’t even notice. I don’t mean people who ignore race, but the ones who really don’t notice. Here’s the kind of notice I’m talking about.

Have you ever had a zit or an extra roll of fat that you wished would go away, because people you talked to kept looking at it when they talked to you? Ever had that happen? If I recall correctly, a normal person can tell when the gaze of someone they’re talking to wanders even a quarter inch away from their eyes. So when someone can’t stop looking at that welt on your face or they notice your cottage cheesy thighs, you know they saw. And it takes something away from the conversation. You know even if they’re trying to listen to you, they are really not attending to you the way they would if you had a clear complexion.

Or a white complexion. Black people know. And it isn’t fair to them or me that I have that static in my mind. But I do. I think most people do. I also think most people are so embarrassed about how much they think about it that they actually deny that it has an im pact on their behavior. I was taught not to put the race of the person into a story unless it was pertinent to the story. It’s almost always pertinent in this culture. Everything to do with race is so loaded that for a white person to pretend she didn’t notice that someone was black is usually disingenuous.

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at here, three things: Credibility double bind. If you can’t admit you noticed that guy who took your billfold was black, you’re lying. If you do admit it, you’re a racist. If you tell your kids not to take the Selby Avenue route home, you’re being racist. Selby is predominantly black in this part of town, and if you don’t admit that’s what you’re worried about, you are lying. If you don’t tell them to walk somewhere else, you’re stupid. Get it?

And when you start lying about things it’s because you’re afraid of the truth. Remember,admitting the truth can’t hurt you. The truth is there whether you admit it or not. It itself can hurt you. But it’s worse if it sneaks up on you.

Race part 4

Step 9

Made direct ammends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would be harmful to them or others.

Next problem, the double bind of making ammends. If you go to a seminar on racial sensitivity, they make it clear to you what a great disadvantage people of color are, and it isn’t hard to demonstrate. Look at arrest and conviction rates of whites versus blacks, with identical records. The black guy is 15 times more likely to be arrested for a low level offense as a white guy. It’s true. Line people up on a continuum from pale to dark and ask now many people have been pulled over by a cop in the last 6 months. Black people are at a huge disadvantage in all sorts of ways. If you deny that, you’re ignorant or you’re lying.

So they tell you, what you all need to do, white and black, is invite someone of another race or ethnicity to some of your gatherings. Invite them to coffee. Get to know each other. It will make things better.

That’s a double bind, isn’t it? Do you invite someone down the street to coffee just because they’re black? Seems kinda like a race-based behavior to me. But chalk it up to affirmative action. OK. Let’s say you invite them. Do you tell them honestly why you invited them? Because if you don’t, you’ve already erected a barrier between yourself and them, but if you do…how good of a start is that to your new salt-and-pepper friendship? Think it will go over well?

Here are two different situations I found myself and my forever spinning mind engaged in. Two different responses.

First, about a year after we moved into this neighborhood, a boy started hanging out in our yard, at the park, and sort of generally lurking around. He was more than a couple years older than my boy, so I watched a little more carefully than I otherwise might have.

He was (and is ) a heavy-set, sweaty white child with rosey cheeks and a sweet but not all there smile. A smile that said he thought he was pulling one over on you, but be couldn’t possibly really do that because his smile gave him away. His intellect was obviously below the normal range. But close enough that younger kids (like mine) would play with him. I’m not ashamed to say I found him a little creepy, but in a way he couldn’t help. So I was nice to him.

Little did I know just how creepy he could get when he started sprouting acne, a mustache and erections.

I kept hearing him talk about “Black People”. It’s usually a red flag for me. And when I heard him over the course of a few days talk about seeing a “black guy” in the park or the alley or the street with either a gun, some drugs or the intent to steal something from my back yard. I started to think maybe someone had been feeding him a diet of not-so-nice ideas about black folks. And he was feeding it to my son, who was dutifully feeding it back to me.

Our neighborhood is mixed enough, and I was crabby enough, and crazy enough that I got an idea one day. He came up to me talking about seeing a black guy trying to sell drugs in the park (I must add that there were no drug deals going down, just services letting out from the majority black church up the street). I had had it. I brought him and my son over to a group of black people standing around an open car at the curb, chatting over a beer and cigarette after church. Here is what I said:

“I’m sorry to bother you folks after church and all. But I have this problem and I don’t know what to do about it. I thought you might be able to help me. You see, one of these boys is pathologically afraid of black people. I wanted him to be able to meet some real people and maybe see that they aren’t so scary.”

What the hell was I thinking?

The woman closest to me was very nice and she laughed. Then she got serious and said, “Hey boys. We just here talkin’. Ain’t nothing scary goin on here. And that girl over there? She mixed, she black and white, and we hangin’ wit’ her. We cool. You don’t hafta be ascared. Come here honey, I shake yo hand. It ain’t nothin. You go play and don’t be scared. Black folks just folks.” A couple guys pulled up their shirts and showed, “See, no guns.”

I swear to god, it happened. I was terrified, but I did it. And it was OK in the end, I think. But god only knows what they said about that crazy white lady who came over after church.

Secondly, over the 4th of july holiday this year I had a different experience. I was trying to do what all the multicultural sensitivity training classes tell you to do. I invited myneigbor, Darnell (who is black, not incidentally) to come to our get-together barbecue. He’s the black neighbor I chat with the most. I had various white neighborhood friends over as well.

Darnell was, shall we say, well lubricated. He was drunk. He always introduces himself as an alcoholic, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. But then he drank lots of my beer, too. And monopolized the conversation and sang patriotic songs. The were all obnoxious and embarrassing. And I’m here to tell you, no matter what people say, they can’t all sing.

So did I do a good thing? I invited him at least half because he was black. And I don’t think I did much for fostering intercultural bonding. All my white neighbors were uncomfortable.

Most people really are just struggling racists. But if we don’t take the shame out of being a person struggling with race, we relegate them to either closet racist status (pretending they don’t actually notice race) or public bigot status (the stagnated, obnoxious racist). Neither of those is a good option in the long run. The bigot for obvious reasons, and the closet racist because it’s so easy to catch them in a lie. Catching them in a lie is a bad thing because it takes away credibility and confuses well intentioned people into making bad decisions.

So what do you do with this info? do you stop or start identifying people by race? do you invite or not invite?

Race, part 2

The Preamble

I’ve ah, I’ve had a little trouble with this latest post. Here’s the deal. Sometimes I think devices are a great idea until I start to try to make them work. That’s what happened with the race and 12 step thing. I could have made it work, but it would have felt really phony. So I sort of stumbled around and have decided that I need to abandon the 12 step race deal. I’m posting the process here because I think it’s interesting. I’m a work in progress.

Race, Step One

Step One

Admitted we were powerless over X and that our lives had become unmanageable.

(what did I mean by using “X”, there?)

I’m a liberal. I mean REALLY a liberal. A Wellstone liberal. All the more reason I think it’s important I admit something. Because if you don’t hear about it from me, you might hear about it from the conservatives. Because if I don’t admit it and talk about the truth, the other side might. Or people who feel like me might assume they must really be conservatives and then vote that way by mistake.

I’m a racist. And I need your help. There are situations where I really, really don’t know what is right. But I know pretending race isn’t the issue isn’t a good option.

I have to think about race every single day. I think lots of white folks do. I know lots of black folks do. And for right now I’m only going to discuss black and white, for simplicity’s sake (as opposed to discussing zebras, which combine black and white in a sophisticated, attractive stripey pattern). But I can only speak for the white folks. Actually I can only speak for me. There. Settled on that? I am speaking for myself (my white self, because as usual, my black self is having to play second fiddle) today. Right now. But secretly, I’m hoping I’m not alone.

And right now I am a racist in a one-day-at-a-time recovery program. I’m working on it. But I have found that the first step in my recovery makes a lot of people really uncomfortable. I am admitting I am powerless over the issue of race and that my life has become unmanageable. I am a racist. People keep telling me I’m not and stop saying it. But they’re not inside my head.

When I lived a mile and half south of here, I could go days without seeing a black person walking around in my neighborhood. There was one Mexican couple next door, but no black people (and the relationship between the blacks and the Latinos will just have to wait for another day, but Dios Mio! They have some dysfunction to deal with, too). Now in my newly adopted neighborhood which I love and never want to leave, I have to think about my problem on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Here are some of the situations that have led me to conclude that I have no control of my thoughts and ideas about race, and that I need to start to work on it. Better yet, let me just share with you what being a racist means to me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like black people. It certainly doesn’t mean I am cruel to them or would deny them housing or a job. I don’t find them inferior to me in any way. But I do find them terribly and distractingly…black.

Being a racist means that when I am around black people, it takes a really long time for me to get to a place where there isn’t a monologue in my head about the fact that they are black. Maybe this is an obsessive compulsive behavior, which I have a slight tendency towards, but that’s another story. Here’s what goes on in my head when my teller in the bank is a young black man.

A nice looking young guy, dressed like a bank teller, but not too slick (did I say that just because he’s black?). Just a guy. Who is black. Keep in mind that I am carrying on the niceties of banking while my mind is causing all this static.

“Oh good I get the black guy he looks nice black black black ooh look how his undershirt shows through against his black skin with that white dress shirt maybe black guys really need brown undershirts he is black I am white should I tell him I am sorry because I am and he is still black I wonder if he will get to go to college maybe he’s in college he’s black I’m white you’re black buddy you do nice bank tellering but does it annoy you all this static when white people talk to you are you having the same kind of stuff in your head about me being white? I don’t mind that you’re black. I notice but I like you do you hate me? I won’t yell at you or call you boy…. “Thanks, you too.”

Maybe I have the same kinds of monologue about large breasted women at the grocery store and I just don’t notice it or feel bad about it. I’ll have to pay attention to that.

Wow fabulous and cavernous cleavage I think that bra could be a cup size bigger and we’d both be more comfortable with it I am not staring at your breasts but they are impressive and thanks for sharing them with me… “Can I borrow your pen?”

I have a rental property. All my tenants have been black. It seems almost racist for me to have noticed, doesn’t it? But I did. And seriously racist to have participated in the white-landlord-black-sharecropper-or-renter legacy of our country, don’t you think? Who cares that I thought I was participating in rebuilding a neighborhood torn apart by the systemic racism that killed Rondo (a St. Paul black neighborhood that was gutted by the construction of I94). I thought I could to help. Like a whole cadre of paternalistic white liberals before me (sorry).

The neighborhood is largely black. Not African (they live closer to University Avenue). My tenants have been black. All of my applicants (save one who was African, and one mixed race couple) have been black. Not all the people who have expressed interest have been black. Not all the people who have visited the house have been black. Only the people who were interested, saw the house and the neighbors and still returned my calls. Got it?

So I am admitting today that I am powerless over race (and breasts). Can’t get over it, can’t go under it, must go through it.


The Jehovah’s Witnesses probably saved her life, if not her everlasting soul. If she hadn’t answered the door, covered in blood, who knows how things would have turned out. There seemed to be some concern for her safety even once she was in the hospital because they had armed guards outside her room.

I had some warning from her dad and his girlfriend that she’d be coming around. Otherwise she would probably have seemed like just another mouthy kid with too much attitude. If they hadn’t warned me that she was leaving the hospital with scars from hundreds of stitches, I would have had pause, I guess. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed her rehearsed answer, “I was in a bicycle accident and I don’t want to talk about it.”

Her dad’s girlfriend wanted to be sure I didn’t coddle her or expect her to be the little survivor the newspapers made her out to be.

She was still just a kid, “And Lisa, that child is trouble. Believe me, I know how she is. Even after what she been through. Don’t let her make you feel sorry for her. She got to live in this world.”

Well, the newspaper accounts didn’t exactly paint her as a sweet little victim child either. I read between the lines even before I knew she’d be living down the street. The nurses talked about her, “fighting spirit, feisty and stubborn nature, even after all she’d been through.” We went and bought flowers for her and sent themwith her dad to her hospital room.

She played with the other kids on the block, but not quite with them. My front yard with the two big, fat rope swings hanging from the maple tree always had a magnetic quality. There were actual playgrounds less than a block away in two directions, but the tree swings and the porch made my house kid-central. That and the Band-Aids and water and occasional snacks. But no way would you mistake her for just another kid.

Neither did the kids. They knew bullshit when they heard it. Maybe some of them knew the real story, maybe they didn’t. But from my perch on the steps I heard enough of them muttering about how those marks “weren’t from no bike accident, no way.” Or how the scars on her scalp, looked like when their cousin had the ringworm. They weren’t gentle with her, whatever they knew. The collective wisdom of children has no mercy on the traumatized.

And she could take it. Her attitude was almost never one of victim. What it seemed like, and how they treated her was like she thought she was better than them. It didn’t make her any friends. And her superiority didn’t keep her from starting to cry when it was her turn to get off the good swing. She was way to old too cry about that, and it wasn’t a sad cry. It was an angry kind of crying that made her turn her back on everyone until it was over.

She was difficult. But I knew the story, and no matter what anyone said, I cut her slack. I hugged her, admired her new hairdos and let her come and sit next to me on the steps which she liked to do as much as anything else. For God’s sake, she saw her mother stabbed to death and now she had to live with her dad in a rented room. Of course I felt sorry for her. This girlfriend of her dad’s was unable to see past her own inconvenience to open her heart to the child. You bet your ass I coddled her. Most of the time.

Compromise was not part of her repertoire. It frustrated me, and I had to hold the line on her a couple of times. That made her mad. Sometimes she stormed home to her dad’s house. But she always came back.

For all her injuries, by some miracle (probably by the miracle of self defense) most of the stab wounds were on her scalp and her arms, almost none on her face. She was still a beautiful child. And her mom loved her, but didn’t live long enough to save her life. What saved her life was being stubborn, playing dead and either luck or divine intervention.

Strawberry Raspberry Night

If you knew Henry and his chestnut hair and dark brown eyes, and you knew Isabella and her hazel eyes and dimpled smile, and if you knew Molly the long haired shepherd, you’d know this story is true if only in my dreams.

Zach says I’m not ready for epic poetry. But This little epic was my friend tonight and it was the best part of my day.

Strawberry-Raspberry Night

Isabella she’s so swell-a
Sweet like Jell-a, Isabella

Henry Henry, he’s so friendry
Big adventures, that’s our Henry

Molly, Molly, Doggy, dolly
Woofing, barking, here on Holly

Right above Holly
the moon was bright
Softy-silky, windy night

Isi sneaked through
An arch covered with roses

Henry snuck, too,
Downstairs on his toes-es

Molly the dog, I’m sorry to say
Had been chewing on hoses most of the day

Isi went out, her hand on the wall
Henry’s gate creaked, a giggling call
Molly perked up, though the noises were small

Isabella’s first stop?
A raspberry bush!
Oh my goodness what luck
She plumped down on her tush
One berry, two berry, three berry, four…

Henry went left
To a place that he knew
A strawberry patch!
He plunked right down, too!
One berry, two berry, three berries, four…

Molly said, Sniff
She snuffed in the air
Stickity faces and
Fingers and hair!
There oughtn’t be kiddies
All sticky out there!
One nudge with her nose
Then two, three and four
A clink of the latch
And then she’s out the door

Sticky and happy,
Isi tot-totted
Straight up to the park
In the dark. What a lark!

Happy and sticky
Henry tip-toedied
Out into the night
With delight and some fright!

Molly pad padded,
Her collar jing-jingled
Out in the night
Her nosey, ting-tingled

Isi and Henry met at the park
Molly came too,
She woofed out a bark

Isabella found rocks
Which she popped in her mouth
Henry found rocks
He put them in his hair
Molly covered her eyes
Rocks shouldn’t go there!

Molly said hooff
Isi spit out the rocks
Molly said rooff
Henry shook out his locks

Molly licked Isi from top
Down to bottom
Henry tried running
But Molly soon got him
It might have been icky
At least they weren’t sticky

She walked them both home
Through gates, under roses
Along walls, on their toes-es
Right back into bed
And nobody saw them
(except maybe Moses)

And on Sunday morning
It was mommy who said
Daddy come here
And stand by the bed
I know that it couldn’t be possibly true
But does Henry smell
Strawberry Doggy to you?