Sunday, October 31, 2010


The movie Dad wanted to see was Hereafter. I was a little worried about this choice--he only moved into the "home" (as he likes to call it) two weeks ago. The next step doesn't have to be  death. But, it turns out, his reason for picking this movie had more to do with the director, Clint Eastwood. He's a fan.

I'm not so much, but I do appreciate Eastwood's straightforward style of storytelling. Nothing fancy. Just story and character. And since there don't seem to be that many directors with the clout to make movies like that, more power to him.

The theater was almost empty. We waited for the six other people to leave so that Dad could hobble up the aisle with his cane. Then, while getting lost on our way to Applebees, we talked about the movie.

I thought Damien played a good part, Dad said, by way of opening salvo. All those meals alone. You don't know what that's like.

Zing. Aimed at me, or my mother, who divorced him three years ago?

Everyone knows what that's like, I said. Loneliness is the human condition. But yeah, okay, I though Matt Damon was fine, just a little predictable.

Dad doesn't like anyone to criticize Damien. He's also a big fan of the Bourne movies.

Everyone with new ideas is shunned, Dad said defensively. I think that's what the movie was trying to say.

But his ideas weren't that new, I countered. Which is a problem for a movie that's more about ideas than story. 

Movies can be about ideas, Dad said. Look at two-oh-one.


Yeah, the spaceship. The baby. You know.

No, I don't know.

Yeah you do. It starts with apes and ends with a baby ...

2001? I asked.

That's it. I was abbreviating. I can't believe you couldn't follow that. What's the matter with you today?

I was making my second u-turn and thinking about the comparison between Eastwood's Hereafter and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an interesting match-up. Two directors. One a storyteller; the other an artist (or, that label I really hate: auteur). I didn't love 2001, but if the subject is ideas my money is on Kubrick.

Huh? I said. I guess I'm off my game.

Dad crossed his arms and looked out the window. You sure are, he said.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sometimes I Wish

I'm taking a photography class, and so yesterday, during a lull in my father's move to "the home" (as he likes to call it), I thought I would take some pictures of multicultural Columbus. Aren't interesting storefronts and doors the standard photography tropes? 

Well, I got run off. On my first stop. By some very polite but stern Somali men.

And I'm not so happy about it. I spend a good bit of time defending the Somalis. I'm happy they're here. My relationships with them have enriched my life immeasurably. But sometimes I see what people mean.

I wish they weren't so defensive.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Other Entrance

Once, in my ESL class, one of our handouts had this question: What is your favorite restaurant?

Some of my students had an answer, but not many. Ahmed explained why.

Our women, he said, don't eat out.

I knew if I parsed his statement too closely I would get offended, so I let it pass. I love Ahmed.

Shortly after that, I visited the zoo with a Somali friend and her son. I paid for the zoo, so she wanted to buy dinner. The problem was, she'd only eaten in a restaurant once in her life. And she didn't enjoy it.

In the spirit of adventure, though, she took me to a Somali restaurant with a separate women's dining room. (The door is pictured above.) She said she would feel more comfortable there. And it was lovely dinner. The staff couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming. But I couldn't help wondering what was happening in the other room, the one where we weren't allowed.

So I peeked in. It was nothing special.

I pass by this door every day on my way to work. I still don't like it, but now I try to think of it as "restaurant training wheels". Maybe in time, it won't be necessary.

Friday, October 15, 2010

No, It's Not a Mug Shot

This is Sahra. She became a U.S. citizen yesterday. (And she was feeling a little silly--the sunglasses were her idea.)

The way her husband told it, she went into the courtroom hobbling like an old lady (he bent over and shuffled across the room) ... and came out strutting (he stood up straight and strode purposefully across the room). Sahra couldn't stop grinning.

45 people from close to 30 different countries were sworn in yesterday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Conversation with Two Somali Girls About My Clothes

Ubah wants to know where I bought my shoes.

(Ubah loves clothes and jewelry and always notices whenever I wear something new or different. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen all that often--I wear pants and a tee-shirt almost every day--so sometimes she has to resort to making requests. Wear your beach rock necklace tomorrow, she'll say. And your silver earrings. I want to see how they look together.)

I look down at my shoes. These? I say. I'm not sure. They're pretty old.

When did you get them?

I don't know, I say. Maybe 2005.

She holds ten finger in front of her face and starts ticking them off.

Khadra, who is much better at subtraction, interrupts her. Five, she says. They're five years old.

Five! Ubah exclaims. Your shoes are five years old?

Um, I say, yeah.

What about your shirt? Ubah asks. How old is that?

About a year.

What about your pants?

About a year.

How about your necklace? Khadra asks. Is it old?

I touch the pendant I'm wearing. It was a gift. I know exactly when and where I got it.

Pretty old, I say. 2003.

2003! Ubah says. She starts ticking off digits again.

Seven, Khadra supplies.

I don't have anything that old, Ubah says.

And she probably doesn't: she's a refugee.

I consider telling the girls how old my underwear is, but decide against it.

What about your sweater? Khadra asks. When did you get that?

My sweater? I say, trying to remember. I don't know. Maybe 1990?

What! Ubah says. That means it's--

Twenty! Khadra says.

Ubah leans over and strokes my arm. 1990, she murmers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Amy Casey

This print just came in the mail today. It’s by Amy Casey, “the most talked about Cleveland artist of her generation” according to Scene magazine. She and I both had a residency this summer (Thanks, Ohio Arts Council!) at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass.  Not that we saw much of each other--she works best during the wee hours and I work best in the post-wee hours. In other words, she was going to bed as I was getting up.
But I saw enough of her work to become intrigued. Her concern (the housing crisis in Cleveland) is also my concern, because my father still lives there. And I was also struck by how similarly we have been processing our unsettled-ness about the subject in general. This is from her artist’s statement:
For about eight years I've been experiencing a sporadically recurring dream about the end of the world. Animals stampeding and building falling into dust around me. ... My paintings reflect my view of the nervous state of affairs the world seems to be in. Inspired by natural and unnatural disasters, personal fiascos and the neverending stream of bad news from the media, the world inside my paintings has been turned (sometimes literally) upside down. The ground has crumbled underneath them and the sky is falling. In the wake of this, my created world bands together to come up with coping plans.
And this is the opening paragraph of my book-in-progress:
The subprime loan market has tanked. All day long the media bleats out words like meltdown, fallout, and crisis. Because the housing market appears so uncertain, Sam and I have abandoned any thought of buying a condo, or maybe a ranch-style house, and have settled into an apartment on the west side of Columbus. It seems possible, though, that we are both too old and set in our ways to live comfortably with someone else in such a small space. He snipes at me about filling our squat little apartment-sized refrigerator with what he calls “unnecessary backups.” An extra quart of milk. Dijon and regular yellow mustard. Thirty-two ounces—a three year supply, goddamit—of minced garlic. I wonder if we really have to have five effing remotes cluttering the coffee table. Some days it feels like every sentence is sharpened to a point. But the one thing we do agree on is that we like the quantity of light that fills our apartment, something you can’t take for granted in this gloomy city.

Visit Amy at

P.S. Check out her blog post "11:30 pm -- lets pretend its August." (As an English teacher I must point out to her that it's: "As do the paper towels.")

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Girl with the Purple Parrot

I just watched a really good movie, my dad said. The Girl with the Purple Parrot. You should rent it.

I cocked my head, thought a bit. You mean The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

Yeah, that's the one. Girl's a weirdo, but she can do anything with a computer. It's sort of mysterious. They don't explain how.

I know, I said. I read the book.

You always read the book.

Yup, I agreed, that's my thing.

Anyway, my dad continued, she went after this guy with a three-iron. Then she chased him on a motorcycle until he crashed, then she watched him burn. Then the guy asks, Did you see him die, and she says, Yeah. And then he says, I wouldn't have done that but I won't judge you.

We sat, my dad and I, and pondered vigilante justice for a minute.

So--my dad perks up--do you recognize the current event there? Ripped right from the headlines.

Motorcycles. A chase. Fatal crash. Princess Di? I asked.

What? No. He shakes his head, adds helpfully: Woman with a three-iron? A certain golfer who shall remain nameless?

Oh, I said. Duh.