Eden at the Indy 500

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I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible. [Read more…]

The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the FutureI snuck into a chair while a friend was describing how growing up under a repressive regime infects and perverts children. He wasn’t talking about his own life; he was commenting on the selection for our graphic novel reading group—a program of our wonderful Evanston Public Library.

I was late, and I hate showing up late, so I sat down and listened to try to catch up. I didn’t want to be that guy who makes everyone repeat the stuff he would have heard had he been there on time.

But, of course, they were just moving on from the main question I had hoped to discuss, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to guide us back myself. I didn’t know how, as a white Western male, to ask if a book by a half-Arab author could be racist against Arabs.

The book was The Arab of the Future, originally published in French and recently available in English. In it, Riad Sattouf tells the story of his life from ages two to eight, during which time his father, a Syrian who met Riad’s French mother while studying at the Sorbonne, moved the family first to Libya, then to Syria. [Read more…]

Odd Northern Indiana

Michigan DunesRoute 41 takes you along the coast of Lake Michigan out of Chicago. If you are trying to stay close to the lake, then veer off Route 41 at Whiting and tack southeast onto Route 20. That’s where the landscape takes a turn toward oddness.

You’re between Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana. Those excited by intellectually fashionable terms would call this area a “liminal space.” It is a hazy, indeterminate quasi-urban wasteland shot through with train tracks and industrial properties, some functioning and some long ago abandoned to the elements, steel and iron rusting slowly as the wind and the sun and the rain do their work, season upon season.

There are people here. They live in pocketed neighborhoods squished between fields of gasoline silos, generating plants, and graveyards for dead and dying railroad cars, old trucks, unidentifiable machines sinking inch-by-inch into the earth. [Read more…]

Fun with Circumcision

Newborn BabyEvery year, when a specific national obstetrics and gynecology conference (or is it pediatrics?) comes to the Washington Convention Center, the traffic is snarled for blocks along New York Avenue, and the sidewalks thronged thickly with pedestrians. Its scale is such that it seems, in this one local’s perspective, to be outranked by the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—only without the haze of whirling blue lights from cruisers and snipers atop the roofs nearby.

I don’t have to drive by it now, but many were the days that my car inched forward infinitesimally, as I tried not to swear under my breath. And always across the street from the convention center, on the sidewalk in front of the old Carnegie Library, were a clutch of protesters holding signs bearing the legend, “Circumcision Decreases Sensation!”

And at those moments, I was immediately thankful that my children—younger then—were not in the car and I did not have to explain the terms of the debate. Frankly, before that I hadn’t even known there was a debate. [Read more…]

Caution: National Poetry Month

Aesthetic LightHow do you know if it’s a poem?

Maybe it’s a month, a month-at-a-glance, many days lined with appointments to exchange energy in cells, rows, examination rooms, fields with clients, colleagues, patients, classmates. But, ah, a few blank, spacious days.

Maybe it’s an old-fashioned phone book, the white pages with everything you need to call (or recall) a distant cousin, a local star, a first kiss.

Maybe it’s pre-op, the nurse anesthetist, a tree of life, trying to comfort you. Oh lazy kabbalist, your left eye dull, no divine emanation to be found there, not even when your daughter, holding your hand while fluid drips into your vein, looks deeply, lovingly to draw forth the hidden light.

The last dark poem you loved, the poem you wanted to love you back and live with you under a bridge: how did you know it was a poem and not a prescription for despair?

It’s been so long since you visited Uncle A for breakfast, the elegant table, a grapefruit half glistening with sugar crystals before you. How is your Jewish detective novel coming along, you ask him? Are you disappointed with heaven, or is it hell or somewhere in between? I don’t know the day of your yahrzeit, you tell him, or I would say Kaddish for you, you lie. [Read more…]


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