Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We all want to be loved and to proclaim our love.
Lucky # 03, 09, 13, 27, 3, 38, 41”
Fortune cookie from Pasong’s

The Madonna swung through Dawn’s today with her friend, Ruby. Ruby is ten years old, her knobbly ankles are the palest salmon pink, she has a patch of white hair across her chest and nipples for miles.

Ruby is a pit bull of dubious ancestry and impeccable personality that wore a black hoodie with its sleeves cut off and a flowered vintage belt from Mexico around her waist and a really great necklace made out of coin silver and about two hands full of red coral beads.

The Madonna lost one of the few people she regarded as a friend about a year ago. She obviously has a lot of love to give Ruby in the wake of that loss and she is not stingy in giving it.

“She gets excited when you tell her she’s pretty,” said the Madonna. Don’t we all…

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An addendum to assist harassment.

Being somewhat vaguely connected to certain things, it had not hit me until this morning that I had accepted a dinner invitation with a group of friends and neighbors in Bay City for this evening that might be a problem for Lenten aspirations. It was.

I had counted on Terry to have one of his wonderful soups and thought I could plead some impending medical proceedure and get away with only eating soup. No soup in sight and I got a ribbing from Brian about eating solid foods. Well, that's all there was and I don't like being a pain in the posterior oriface, so I dug in, enjoyed and start over tomorrow on no chewables. And no more dinners out until Easter.

Dinner was great and the roast beef, in particular, was very tender and flavorful. (Though a couple days on fluids could have factored in.) When asked how the meat was prepared, Mark just gave all and sundry a look that said either, "I'd have to kill you if I told you," or "I did something inapproriate with that meat and you don't want to know." Well. It was good, anyway, and the company was, as well.

I sat in the window at a smaller table with Bowen, Michael and Wes. The last making references to boredom that inspired me to say:

"Well. I have a whisk that could change your life."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent. Interesting.

There is a lot of ongoing research into a couple different possible projects in teh neighborhood that are just full of redtape slowing things down, so it was refreshing to get a text from Iris on Ash Wednesday asking me to bring my violin and join her for a musical lunch at Dawn's.

Dawn asked what I was giving up for Lent...I hadn't thought about it. I pointed out that I am not Catholic. Not even vaguely. Dawn pointed out that it was a spiritual excercise and not really tied to a denomination. So here's what I've decided to ry this year:

For the fourty days of Lent I will give up solid food. This is a big deal to me because I love to cook - and of course eat - and will still be cooking for others, but I thought it could be an interesting experience to keep a notebook during this time (surprise).

At fist I thought I would just record what I was grateful for whenever I was hungry or when I would normally have sat down to chew. The notebook went like this:

Dog food. (Don't ask.)

Hardly productive. So, instead, I have decided to take those times and set them aside as special moments of focus on the world around me. Instead of a steak, a sunset. Instead of a scoop of ice cream, a pause to look at a snap shot of the Madonna over her cofee cup. (Notes will still be taken, and in a notebook decorated with her hands collaged on a background of reclaimed wall paper.) So far I have been surprised with what has happened to the way I see things and I am only a couple days in; so we'll see what happens.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Closure of the Jeannine House

I was saddened to recieve this notice this morning and can only hope that a new comunity will form in time to keep the house running as a desperately-needed benevolent force in a challeneged district.

On Sat, Feb 13, 2010 at 5:04 PM, jeannine house wrote:

With sadness, the Jeannine Coallier Catholic Worker announces that it will close its doors on March 1, at least temporarily. We simply don’t have enough live-in community to manage a house of hospitality and the money in our account at the moment won’t even pay the heating bill for the rest of our equal-pay contract.

For fourteen years, the house at 721 E. Holland in Saginaw has operated as a home for women and children in temporary need, and closing it has been an extremely difficult decision. We are working and praying that another community will step in so that we may re-open sometime after May 30 and so carry on the compassionate and nonviolent legacy of the late Jeannine Coallier, for whom we named the house.

If you know of people interested in becoming Catholic Workers in Saginaw, please have them call or email one of us. (See below.) Alternatively, if you know of a local non-profit agency or church that would be able to use this beautiful home in some way that serves the people of Saginaw, please let them know to call one of us. Web presence is found at http://www.myspace.com/jhousecw,
http://jeanninehouse.com/, and http://secure.pjep.org/organizations/?id.

We are all so thankful for your financial and emotional support and friendship over the years and thankful also to Jude Thompson for her years at the house. As the Irish would say, "It was a great ride." Blessings and peace to all,

The Jeannine Coallier Board of Directors

Janice Coty, 989-921-5822 (amy_seaver@yahoo.com)
Renaye Fewless, 231-825-0182 or 231-878-2587
Clif McQueen, 989-799-0679 (powerdown_now@yahoo.com)
Amy Seaver, 989-792-0051(amy_seaver@yahoo.com)
Rosalie Riegle, 847-492-1856, 847-644-2281 and 989-389-7660 in the summer (riegle@svsu.edu)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Madonna's Gifts

“At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, and unimaginable richness and variety of “history” falls off the world into total oblivion.”
C. S. Lewis

The snow began quickly falling like sifted flour over the neighborhood just a minutes before 8p.m. a week or two ago and we trundled down from the warmth of the attic to let the dog out for a trot. As I opened the door I was struck by the fact that someone with small feet had come up our driveway to a point just past the back door, turned around and retraced their steps back down the drive and to the left up Millard toward Warren.

The night was cold and whoever it was had been in the last few minutes because the prints were already blurring away into the falling snow. I walked beyond the last couple prints beyond our door and noticed something different on the falling-down porch connected to the kitchen:

On one of the hooks that supported awnings in a better time in the house’s history was hung a drab-green-enameled, battery lantern with an aluminum handle that had a large white light on the front and a red one at its top and bottom. One of the red lights was cracked and the switch was rusted in place. There was nothing else to indicate someone had been near the house and the tracks went no further.

Once back inside the house we came to the conclusion that there was only one person who might have left such a gift and I had to make sure in that cold night that she had not gone to squat someplace and freeze.

We went back out with the dog and followed the almost-erased prints up Millard across Warren toward Weadock. If she had gone left on Weadock, that meant she was warm and mostly safe; if she went right on Weadock, then she was in the basement of a partially-roofless house that had been empty for the better part of a decade and some thinking would have to be done.

When we got to Weadock, if was obvious she had gone to the left and warmth so we went home and took the Madonna’s gift into the kitchen thankful that our roof was whole and the attic was a warm place from which to watch the weather as it wiped the neighborhood’s features clean for another day.

A Rosary of Naked Indian Trees

We left Houston in a white minivan headed toward the Mexican border with Jim and Linda Hendrix for a visit to their home in Coatapec. I was thrilled to the point of needing extra stops to use the bathroom that we were finally going to Mexico.

Growing up in Texas, I had a very distinct impression of Mexico mainly informed through dogmatically proud Texans waffling on about the history of the Republic and by watching too many John Wayne films with my dad.

Mexico, I thought, was arid and full of sparsely scattered adobe structures where women in long braids bent over babies and calla lilies while men wearing large hats hearded cattle from the backs of little spotted horses.

The Mexicans I knew never seemed to fit into the impression I had of the place they were supposed to come from, so I was looking forward to eliminating the gap between what I knew and what I thought I knew.

It took a bit to get through the border because the Mexican authorities had to be convinced that we were not making the trip just to sell our vehicle in Mexico and avoid the importation tax that was then about equivalent to 150% of the vehicle’s value.

Once across, I could see no difference in the countryside. I set myself up for a disappointment and focused, instead, on chatting with Linda about her collection of orchids and trying to find out about where we were going through their young friend, Pepe’s, broken English.

We drove all day only seeing a few fist-fulls of other vehicles, all headed north and we were stopped once for an inspection by machine-gun-sporting policemen. We only passed one gas station all day and Jim wisely stopped to make sure the tank was full before continuing south.

That night we pulled into a small, white-washed stucco motel that had a small café built on one end and when we went inside to have a late dinner I noticed that the café with its rough tables, light yellow walls and white vinyl floor was spotlessly clean.

I don’t recall what was on anyone else’s’ plate, but I remember what I ordered: Chicken boiled in its own stock and with cumin, cilantro, mild peppers, onions and tomatoes until the meat fell off the bones and corn tortillas cut like noodles were added at the last to soak up all the liquid. It came plated with mild goat cheese shredded over it and black beans with pork on the side. I had never had the dish before, but I make it for myself every now and again with a grin.

After dinner we all went to our very sparse, very clean rooms and slid in between sheets that felt slightly damp in the cool of the intensely humid night.

The next morning we woke early, went to the café and had a breakfast that was ordered by everyone at the same time, but came out one plate at a time as the woman serving us cooked each person’s food.

We were on the road all the next day and, in the afternoon, the land began to become more green and the fences actually grew because they had been made by hammering stakes from a tree whose name meant naked indian; when the stakes were pounded into the ground they leafed out and each fence became a line of trees connected by wire.

Finally getting close to Vera Cruz we turned inland to Jalapa where every driver made his own lane wherever he could find space to squeeze a car – many of which were forty to sixty years old if a day – and working our way out of town we headed further into the rainforest at the foot of a volcano to the smaller town of Coatapec and the Hendrix’ house.

The next days were full of seeing, tasting and going everywhere and meeting everyone the Hendrix’ knew and Sunday meant a full day of church in the concrete building with its crude wooden benches where they met.

A tiny woman named Maria was the first to arrive. She lived more than an hour away, but she was always the first to arrive and the last to leave on Sundays. She was very old. No one really seemed to know how old; Maria herself was not sure, but could remember the Mexican Civil War… After her came Pepe and Manuel, their parents Pepe and Marga and all their extended family ( I remember a cousin my age named Hugo and many aunts and uncles).

After church ended in the late afternoon, we all went to Pepe (the older) and Marga’s house to eat. The living space was on the second floor and we quite filled it. Over the next few hours we ate fried stuffed squash blossoms, rice, beans, pulled meat, cold fruit (I learned how to say naranja – orange) and drank an amazingly refreshing mixture of pureed melon, tapioca, sugar and cold water.

Everyone laughed, shared stories that included a lot of large gestures and became comfortable in each other’s space. I felt mostly complete in that group and felt that they had a wealth that I could not begin to understand but could appreciate nonetheless.

Jim always had deeply penetrating eyes that could twinkle suddenly as his white-streaked black beard broke to reveal an infectious grin. Solidly built, full head of hair and gentle in everything he did, he had the appearance of the best kind of rabbi.

For the first time all day, I had broken away from the group and went over to the small window to look out over the street. Turning back to watch the room, I could feel my face warming into a slow smile and Jim walked over to lean his back against the wall beside me.

Now you have seen Mexico,” he said as he also surveyed the room, seeing all and loving equally.

And I realized: Mexico had nothing to do with beaches, volcanos, fields of coffee trees, noises, smells or a different language. Mexico had everything to do with the people who happened to live among these things and I couldn’t help but reflect – even as a teenager – they were incredibly resilient, resourceful and more full of the joy of living than almost anyone I had ever met in my life who supposedly had more to give thanks for. The world grew considerably that evening in my understanding.

The concept of diversity has come up a few times recently in the life of the neighborhood in committee meetings for events coming this summer and over coffee with neighbors.

I didn’t have a close acquaintance with the word “diversity” on that trip to Mexico. It wasn’t nearly so popular a button to push then, I suppose. I got a sense of what was to become my understanding of that concept later in life, though: I had been caught off guard and out of my own bubble of experience so that – for the first time in my life – I simply saw the world as it was. No nagging desire to change one little thing to make the view into what I perceived to be perfect. No judgment upon the differences between their lives and mine. No question of any kind; just sight of what was and an acceptance that did not require a developed tolerance.

Diversity, then, was not an action taken or a tolerance exercised by individuals temporarily in control of a situation. Diversity was, and is, a delightful fact of humanity. The world is diverse in the same way that the world is in color and surround sound; maybe it takes a rosary of naked indian trees leading into a rainforest full of strangers to open one’s eyes properly. Maybe, but I think one moment of unguarded sight could be easier to find than that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Life as a Freak Show

This blog is in sad need of updating and many of the "Up-dates" are of things that happend some time ago, so they will be back-dated accordingly. In the meantime, I am at Dawn of a New Day sipping coffee and have learned this:

Sometimes life is reduced to a bag of flaming Cheeto's and your dreams can become realities before you know it, so pack a change of clothing. Just ask Linsey.