El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Roasted Coffee

I roasted a nice batch of locally grown coffee beans. These were harvested in Ciales, Puerto Rico just this past month. I normally roast two pounds worth. Roasting coffee is like toasting marshmallows. The line between perfection and burned to a crisp is thin indeed.

I was particularly proud of this batch.

In the Weeds

It’s been a rainy couple of weeks as passing Caribbean instabilities have dumped buckets of water on us, over twelve inches worth.

In that time, it’s difficult to get to my garden, but today, I finally was able to survey the damage. Sigh, it was as I thought, weeds everywhere, choking off my Genovese basil, Puerto Rican cilantro, peppers, and pumpkin squash.

Creeping vines had reached up and entwined the delicate basil, pulling them down until they were nearly horizontal. It is hard sometimes to see the weeds, because they wrap themselves so completely, disguising and supplanting the foliage along the way to match the victim.

I donned army boots, old jeans, a workshirt, and a pair of gloves and waded into the tangled mess. It’s frustrating trying to grow anything because the weeds are so prolific. They reach up and snatch whatever I try to plant, and whatever I plant seems just to yield in the face of assault. Better to give up trying and just die.

I began pulling out the viney weeds first, coaxing and wiggling the tendrils loose and then lifting the mass up and over.

In the midst of the mess, all that can be done is to protect yourself the best you can from the molesting bugs, the wet dirt, and the prickly weeds and begin pulling one by one. I sat down in the shade and the mud and attacked first a little corner, a small patch of mixed basil and cilantro. As I brushed by my plants I was rewarded with the most delicious aroma.  Man, if I could only bottle this stuff as perfume. Oh my God, it was a beautiful smell.

Bit by bit, the morivivi, a thorny irritating weed, the creeping vines and assorted grasses gave way and I began to see my plants again. I will have to see if the basil will survive, though. They are delicate and took the harshest beating. The peppers fared a better, but after pulling the creeping vines from them I saw they had hardly any of their own leaves.

The Puerto Rican cilantro fared the best, its leaves standing big and strong and green.

White Flight, Black Blight

This is this dynamic in the United States. No one likes to admit it, but it happens – little by little, bit by bit. No one person is responsible. No one person thinks they are causing a problem, just reacting to forces outside of their control. My property values are going to go down, they say. Another code word that white people use is, “Schools.” I moved for better schools.

The bottom line is this: white people believe that when black people move in, neighborhoods turn bad. So white people leave. The problem is that they are creating a self-fulfilling prophesy, and they don’t even realize they are causative rather than reactive. Those forces are in their control. White people are the hegemony. White people are not helpless homeowners just looking for good schools, simply reacting to forces outside of their control. It is disingenuous to conclude that white people are powerless to stop the inevitable decline when communities turn black.

White people say: When black people move in, neighborhoods turn to shit.

I say: When white people move out of neighborhoods, they take their shit with them.

That’s it, isn’t it? Neighborhoods don’t degrade because black people are moving it, they are degrading because capital is fleeing. The power, both political and economic,  the hegemony – it’s mostly in the hands of white people. It has been this way for hundreds of years, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. The only way for it to stop is for white Americans to stop fleeing from black Americans. Stay and invest. Maybe you would earn more living in a more affluent area, but is acquisition really the point?

Please stop fleeing with your capital; stop driving communities to poverty.

Burke, You’re Out!

In an interview with a Spanish Catholic weekly published last week, Burke said of the pope’s leadership: “Many have expressed their concerns to me. … There is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder.”

To which Pope Francis replied, “How’s this rudder feel, bitch?”

Threatening Compliments

As some of you may know there’s been a series of videos and discussions going around, almost meme-like, of a woman walking around New York and the catcalls she received as a result. It has sparked parody videos, conservative backlash, imitators and apologists.

First, here is what the apologists sound like. “Ah, they didn’t mean anything by it. Men are just being men. She should take it as a compliment. She’s pretty, right?”

Then there are those would think that somehow it’s the woman’s fault, as if she’s asking for it. “What does she want us to do dressed like she is, looking the way she does? We’re only human.” It’s as if women should cover themselves in some sort of head to toe garment with eye-slits for navigation.

The most galling to me are those that offer what seems like an attempt to understand by saying, “Hey, I’m a guy, if a woman catcalls to me, I take it as a compliment. I smile and say thank  you, ’cause that makes my day.” It’s a false equivalency, folks. Don’t be fooled. Assholes use that technique for a variety of things, most of them racial or gender based, but it’s just flat out incorrect.

A woman catcalling a man, is not the same thing as a man catcalling a woman.

First, let’s construct a proper equivalency. Generally women pride themselves on their appearance, right? It’s a general tendency, not that it is universal, but rightly or wrongly, a woman’s appearance is an important part of her self worth.

What would the equivalent self worth trait be for a man? Money? Success? Let’s go with that. Men are judged less on looks more on career achievement – money. So women – appearence. Men – success.

So, we’ve got a woman walking down the street, dressed nicely. She’s got a knee-length (just below) pencil skirt, a nice top – bare shoulders because it’s hot out and she is walking. She has some low heels because she’s good at walking in them. The couple of blocks to her office isn’t that far. She knows she looks good, and she likes feeling desirable. “Hey there sweetheart. You got a nice pair of legs.”  says a construction worker.  From the other side of the street she hears shoutouts like “beautiful,” “sexy.” If she doesn’t smile, she will receive an aggressive comment, “Somebody’s acknowledging you for being beautiful. You should say thank you more.”

Now let’s have our man. He’s a successful businessman. He is wearing a business suit. He has his jacket draped over his arm with a smart phone. He has a Rolex watch, expensive Italian shoes, and a $300 belt. He knows he looks good. He knows his adornments show that he is successful, that he is wealthy. If you got it, flaunt it, he thinks to himself.

Suddenly, from an alleyway a delivery person calls out to him. “Nice watch ya got there.” Another, “Dude, those sure are some nice shoes. Bet they were really expensive. Where’d you get ‘em,” as he takes a step closer. “That the iPhone 6? Those are niiiiice. My brother got mugged for his. You should keep it safe.”

You see? They’re just complimenting him and expressing concern for his person. They are letting him know that they appreciate his hard work and wealth. If he didn’t want them to comment, he should have toned it down a bit, no? They are responding to what he is communicating – that he is successful, that he is wealthy.

But our businessman is anything but smiling when he arrives at his office. He breathes a sigh of relief as he passes through the lobby. It’s a small thing, I suppose, being suddenly aware of how vulnerable one is. He shakes it off and goes about his day.

As he leaves the office in the evening, he tucks his phone is his pocket, puts on his jacket and tells himself it’s just because it’s a bit chilly.

Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test

Mad World NewsAngry Mother Destroys Common Core by Writing This on Her Son’s Test.

Now, I think this is somewhat funny, and mock outrage is all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Just in case you want to take this seriously and get your panties in a bunch, read my rebuttal.

I’m not necessarily for these weird exercises (as I’ve gotten them with my kids, and they make me feel stupid), but I do think that being able to approach unfamiliar problems in different ways is a good learning tool.

It dawns on me that these sorts of things are ways in which to experience learning in a classroom that is decoupled from one’s previous education. For example, in a mixed ethnic and socioeconomic classroom you have kids who have previous experience with particular problems and the manner in which they are solved. They have parents who have given them a head start, so to speak – flash cards at home, reading at bedtime, camps, computers, etc. Others in the class may come from single parent households, lower economic strata, or have some sort of cultural obstacle when faced with the  “standard” pedagogy. They may not have had those experiences outside of school, like others in the classroom.

As a result of the standard exercises, those who are disadvantaged in that system come to believe they are not as smart as their peers, when in fact they are just not as educated. These new and abstract exercises, I believe, push boundaries of excellence in the classroom, while not necessarily disempowering those with advantage. The more educated kids will still have their experiences (no one is taking that away), but what you are doing is evening the playing field and not allowing the artificial inequity of society to intrude into the classroom learning environment.

The way we get to the right answer has changed so much in recent years. Even the tools we use to solve differential equations have changed. Mathematica anyone? The tools we use to accomplish tasks in this world are many and varied. Slide-rules used to be heavily used in engineering, but I doubt you’ll find anyone proficient these days. At one time, the slide-rule was the “right way” to solve the problem. We adapted and invented new tools, a new “right way” to get the answer.

If nature hates a monoculture, why have it in the classroom. Make the ways of learning as many and varied as there are little brains on this earth.

So I think that focusing on learning new and varied approaches, good and bad, creates an agility for learning that one might not get doing it the “right way,” especially when the “right way” may become obsolete in a few years.

The most important future skill is going to be:

Solve this problem which you have never seen before with tools that haven’t been invented yet.

She Wouldn’t Be Quiet

“I don’t know if I really liked her humor,” I said. “It’s not that I dislike her, but it seems to me that her humor was mean… or just not funny. I don’t know.”

“Me neither,” Laura replied, “her brand of humor did seem mean, self-deprecating. I don’t know, either, I’m not a terribly big fan of comics who put themselves or others down. But she was brave and strong and made her way in a tough world. And I think one thing that she had that was extraordinary, was that she wouldn’t be quiet. You know, in a man’s world, men want women who listen to them. Men want women with a sense of humor, but only so they can laugh at the man’s jokes. But Joan wouldn’t be quiet the way we wanted her to, nor tell jokes the way we wanted her to.”

“Oh my god, I think you have revealed an unpleasant truth about my gender, Laura. Did I not care for her humor because deep down I am uncomfortable with opinionated women… that what is more comfortable is a woman who knows her place? Wow, that’s a real revelation. I know I wouldn’t answer that way on a test question, but maybe what is comfortable, what seems right is a partial product of our male dominated society.” I thought about it for a bit, “You know what, I admire Joan more now. She made America think. She wouldn’t be quiet when America wished she would. Through her humor she could resist the pressure to be quiet by making people laugh and changed society for the better.”

“You know what? It makes even more sense that Johnny Carson banned her from his show for all those years. When she took her own show on CBS, he felt it was a personal betrayal, but I think his actions reveal it to be more than just a simple infidelity. Johnny Carson thought he owned her. He made her, gave her her first big chance, and felt that she was his. Instead of being happy for her continued success, hoping that she take flight and soar, he wanted to control her, possess her, and have her do his bidding. Ugh, it makes me so so sick. Johnny was a dick. I’m glad she succeeded without him and made her own way.”

Even for all her insensitive jokes and gaffs, the world was a better place for having had Joan Rivers in it.

 

Go little Bumblebee GO!

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Every day when I go out to check my zucchini for fruit, this big noisy bumblebee comes abuzz buzzing over. He sounds like an Army helicopter. I don’t know if he’s angry or what, but he buzzes me every day. A couple of days ago, I finally saw him crawling in and out of the flowers, and now I have some fruit. Great work little guy!

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Another. If I remember correctly these things grow to edible size in a day or so. Can’t wait.

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Lots and lots of fruit are growing all over these tomato plants which are nearly 6 feet tall. Two cherry tomatoes and one beefsteak.

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This is one of Laura’s favorite things. After a delicious batch of French press coffee, we get these interesting designs in the grounds. You almost hate to wash the cup, they look so cool.

I am Michael Brown

I remember when you came to my school. Your shoes were so shiny, and they squeaked when you walked. Your uniform was neat and crisp with its badges and buttons. Your belt shone too. It was so reflective, and it had all these little cases and buckles. I wondered what they were for. Secret compartments were cool. The walky talkie squawked intermittently in unintelligible codes. You towered over us. And your dog was so big, his ears straight up in the air as he sat there still as a statue.

We were seated on the floor, but we all straightened our backs to get a better look as we said in unison, “Good morning, Officer Jones.”

You talked to us about your job, how you like to help people, how you wanted to stop the bad guys, that you were there to help us if we ever needed it. You told some funny stories, and you let us pet your dog. I was a little scared at first, but his hair was soft and he looked at us with sensitive brown eyes. I remember thinking how impressive you and your dog were. I wanted to help people too. I wanted to be like you and have a dog like you and stop bad people too.

As with all things, though, I grew up. When I turned 18, I was 6’4″ and no longer held those illusions of elementary school. I had not thought about your visit to my classroom in years, having long since changed my interests. Sometimes I felt silly for wanting to be a police officer. It’s as with all my peers, white and black. We all go through that phase, don’t we? I want to be a fire fighter. I want to be a police officer. We all want to help. In our innocence, that’s what first-responders represent. But I now no longer entertain those notions.

I am what people perceive me to be, a large black man and for those who don’t know me, maybe I look scary. I still feel like that third grader inside, though. I still would like to pet that dog, and I would still like to stop bad people from doing bad things.

When did I become the bad person, Officer Jones?

Religión, la Familia y el Cerdo

Yesterday was the 25th of July, el Día de la Constitución en Puerto Rico (Constitution Day). It is a big holiday very much like the 4th of July in the US. We began it going to the funeral mass of, get this, the brother of the husband of the sister of Laura’s father.  You get that? It all boils down to el hermano del querido tío Benny. I call him Tío Benny too. We always gravitate towards each other during family functions and end up talking compost and farming and whatnot. I’ve learned a lot from him. So when we heard his brother had died, it was a given that we would be there.

This is how Puerto Rico is. Cousins removed – cousins of cousins, cousins through marriage… they’re all primos and we all celebrate and share together. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but still, I appreciate watching and pretending. I suppose it’s as close as this gringo can get.

The funeral mass was held for Pedro Alberto, a local school director and beloved character in the town of Guayama in the southeast of Puerto Rico. The mass was packed, the homely strange, and the words spoken few, but everyone was there, extended relatives from all branches. My wife’s parents were there. We were there with our four children.

As is my usual manner, I contemplated my place in the assembly, the upsides and the downsides. On the general downside of having a huge interconnected family, we attend a lot of funerals. There are so many extended relatives, you just can’t help but be called upon to go and show support. It’s not pleasant, certainly. Who wants to face their own mortality, be reminded of it regularly. Can’t we all pretend that life just goes on forever?

For the kids too, do we really want them to be here? Is it too hard? I don’t think it is, in fact, I think it’s good for them.  It is probably good to be exposed early, to get to know pain and mourning and the loss of a loved one, because it will find them later in life, and they should be accustomed to the process. “Javier, this is the mass for Tio Benny’s brother. I’m sure he misses him. You would be so sad if you lost one of your brothers, no?” Yes, he said, and I know he appreciates his brothers. They all hugged each other and gave each other kisses. Such cariño; it brought a tears to my eyes.

There’s an upside too, more in line with my previous post about beauty and pain. Life is beauty and pain. Living is painful, but life is beautiful. A funeral mass is the acknowledgement of that duality. There is relief for the dead; the long journey is over. There will be no more tears to cry, no more pain to endure. You are dead, you finished your work. For the living, the frailties of the departed loved one become less important as time passes, until la vida is purely sanctified and beautiful.

This mass, this ritual is the coming together to process and find acceptance, to deal with the passing and in the end to say, “It’s all good.”

When it was over, I was tired, but at peace. I thought it fitting that we celebrated this Constitution day doing something important, something that I feel is the best part of the Puerto Rican culture, la familia.

We have passed from religion, to family, and now we finish with another typical and important part of Puerto Rican culture. I will leave it here so that we end on a light note with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.

We stopped in Guavate and ate lechón, slow cooked pig on a spit, with rice and gandules, mofongo, amarillos, yuca y morcilla.

From family and religion to the tasty pig, it doesn’t get more typical than that.

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