Get Your Racist Costumes Here…

My kids are looking forward to Halloween. They’ve been spending a lot of time looking through a costume catalog that came in the mail and informing us of what they’re going to be.

As someone who earned the odd graduate degree in sociology, I find that I can’t quite turn off that portion of my brain that automatically analyzes any document that I come across as a cultural artifact.

Hence I couldn’t help but notice that there were no black people in this catalog. After some more browsing I realized that I was wrong and that there actually were black men within its pages. Take a look…

Supa Mac Daddy

Two More Costumes

Fortunately there’s no racism any more or that might be offensive or something.

It’s Two AM. Would You Open Your Door?

It’s technically Sunday morning. Two A.M. I was working on a writing project (or, more accurately, had decided to stop working on my project since I intended to go to church in the morning).

Someone knocked on the door.

I decided not to bother to answer because I’m of the belief that no one I actually want to talk to would be knocking on the door at that time.

The knocking stopped and I heard voices, angry voices, one of which seemed particularly angry. I don’t really know what they said. It didn’t seem like much of a conversation. The only phrase I remember clearly is “motherfucking phone.”

That got repeated a lot.

Loudly.

I saved my file, shut down my laptop, and pulled out my cell phone, deciding that if it went on for very long that I would call the police. I also turned off the kitchen and dining room light, leaving only the inside light by the front door on.

The outside light on the front porch burned out and needs to be changed.

I peered out our front windows trying to figure out what was going on. If they were trying to break in to our house they certainly weren’t doing it very efficiently. I heard occasional thumping noises but never any ripping of screens or shattering glass.

Anyway, if you were going to break in to a house, why pick the only house on the block where the lights are obviously on?

Whatever was going on outside sounded more like an argument than a break-in.

Looking outside, I saw one guy standing on our lawn while another ran around a lot. Once he ran down our porch and ripped a small piece of wood off something in our neighbor’s lawn and ran toward our porch.

It made very little sense in that I only saw two people but I thought I’d heard three voices.

As I began to call 911, Kristen came downstairs. I stopped calling 911 as she started calling them from our land line.

She explained what was happening, adding that she thought they were trying to break into our house. I said that I didn’t think they were and she handed the phone to me and I explained what I’d seen to the woman on the other end of the line.

She said that they would send a car.

We waited. No police car came.

They wandered off. Ran, actually. First they ran up our neighbor’s driveway. Then they ran down the driveway of the house across the street from us. Then they went south on a street near us, came back and traveled west down the street directly in front of our house.

Forty minutes later, there was still no sign of the Grand Rapids police.

After they’d been gone for a while, I called the police department’s line for non-emergency assistance and asked what was going on. The person on the other end of the line said that they had sent out a patrol car and that it was on the scene, but that the scene had moved. Apparently other people had called to complain from other houses in the area and the police had followed the complaints down the street.

Kristen and I decided to go to bed, guessing that it was over for the night.

The next morning we surveyed the damage. The piece of wood from my neighbor’s lawn lay in front of our door. A number of Kristen’s flower pots had been turned over, broken, or dumped off the side of the porch.

The hook on one of the hanging plants had blood on it.

The grill on our screen door had been bent in and there were a couple small blood spatters on the door itself.

I called the police non-emergency line to ask if I should clean up the mess or if they wanted to look at it for some reason.

I was told that I could clean it up.

At this point I decided that if this were a burglary, it was the least competent burglary ever in that rather than taking a knife and cutting through the screen door, these people had thrown our plants at the door and somehow managed to cut themselves on the pots. They had to be on drugs or something.

Yet, it didn’t seem quite right.

One of my neighbors called me today. He’d been out that night and came home at two in the morning to hear a fight going on on my front porch.

He saw three kids at my house. One stood on my walk. One stood on my porch. The other was taunting the one on the porch, swinging his belt at the guy, throwing things, and cursing.

The one on the lawn hung back and did nothing until one of the many thrown items hit the person on the porch. At that point, he tried to stop the guy with the belt.

Beyond that, our neighbor also thought he saw a couple of the kids (he guessed they were high school or middle school aged) go into houses on our block.

Interestingly, the neighbor in question was one of the other people who had called 911. At the time though, the operator had told him that they would send a car when they had one available.

He was unimpressed.

In one sense I can understand it. High school students fighting on a porch are probably not the worst crime going on in the city on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. Still, you’d think that the police would have more of a response than that.

As for myself, I’m disappointed that I somehow failed to notice the kid being victimized on our porch. I know how it happened. There’s a big bush between the window I was looking out of and the porch, making it hard to see what was happening in the dark.

Nonetheless, I wonder if I could have done something. I’d like to think I would have if I’d understood the situation better.

Does Anyone Want a Rock?

I want a rock!So I was driving to a client’s house late last week and I saw a rock.

It is owned by the River City Excavation Company. River City Excavation sells mulch, rocks, dirt and presumably excavation.

I happened to speak to someone who works there (my wife wanted me to find out how much mulch cost) and learned that the rock weighs 1300 pounds and would ordinarily cost $120. Nonetheless they are currently selling it for $82.99, dropping it by a dollar a day until it’s sold.

I hear that they’re a little worried because while it is on the corner, the people in the cars that pass seem to be talking on their cell phones instead of noticing it.

They’re considering placing a manikin in a bikini next to the rock (because there’s nothing that convinces you to buy rocks like a hot manikin…).

Anyway, if you’re interested, they’re located on Hall just on the east side of 131.

You know, they ought to be paying me for this.

River Bank Run 2007

Wow. Though it’s not over yet, May has been a new low in writing blog entries. I’ve managed to write only three this month (not counting this one) one of which had what, three sentences? For what it’s worth, I have been writing. It’s just that most writing I’ve been doing lately has been on my novel. The rest of my time has been spent reading books (most of it) and playing video games (a little). For example, last night I spent a few hours dying while playing Star Wars Battlefront 2.

As evidence that I’ve even been trying to blog, I give you this entry about the River Bank Run that I started more than two weeks ago, but never finished till now.

Some of you may be curious how I did in the River Bank Run on May 12. I did OK though not incredibly well. I ran it in 2:25–which is about six minutes slower than last time. My goal had been to hit consistent 9 minute miles and finish around 2:20. Admittedly, two hours and twenty-five minutes isn’t that far off, but I’m still sure I could have done better.

I like to think that my slowness can be blamed on pulling a muscle in the course of training. This is at least partially true, but it wasn’t a really bad pulled muscle. I could feel some soreness when I walked, but no pain and I had full range of motion in the leg.

When I called the doctor I was told that I could run, but if I felt extreme pain at some point during the run I needed to stop immediately.

I like to think that I would have done that anyway.

The beginning of the run went phenomenally well. I was running consistent 8:49 minute miles through about the halfway mark. Actually, that’s just what the official race splits say. As I remember things, I did decently until mile 10 or so.

That’s when I began to hit the really bad hills.

At first I was okay even then, but ultimately I couldn’t make myself continue at a consistent speed. I let myself walk a little while and then did it several more times (all rather briefly) despite the fact that running felt better in some ways than walking.

That’s when I lost a lot of ground, getting passed by a number of people–including Spiderman and my cousin Mike.

Some guy ran the race in a Spiderman costume. We passed each other a few times, but I ultimately lost out when I took a bathroom break. I didn’t see him after that.

As for my cousin… I didn’t even know he was running until Kristen noticed that he got a time about five minutes faster than mine.

As I ended the run, I reflected that I felt surprisingly good for having run that far. Approximately ten minutes later, I had to rethink that as my body’s endorphins wore off. I felt the pulled muscle quite well, but that was balanced out by the fact that my other leg felt just as bad for different reasons.

If just one leg had felt bad I would have been limping. As it was…. Well, can you limp on both legs? If you can, I probably did.

I had good time anyway. I’ve been thinking about how I’ll train next year already–assuming I can. The pulled muscle still hurts a little. I plan to call the doctor about it again, but the fact that it’s been feeling consistently better each week since the run makes me less motivated than I ordinarily would be.

In the meantime I’m thinking that I’ll be exercising via bike, rollerblades and swimming and give running a bit of a rest.

I’m also tempted to take up rock climbing. We’ll see if I get around to it.

P.S. Did I mention that Kristen also ran? I should have.

P.P.S. Though many races offer free beer at the finish, I strongly recommend fruit. I have no idea how much watermelon and orange slices I ate, but at that moment they were wonderful.

“The Spirit of Soul Food” with Jaye and Jim Beeler

So here’s a strange juxtaposition: A few weeks ago, I attended the ninth annual Summit on Racism. The next day I attended a cooking seminar entitled, “The Spirit of Soul Food.”

Summit on Racism is a little bit of a downer. It’s not supposed to be. It tries to be positive and goal oriented as opposed to concentrating exclusively on what’s wrong with the world. Still, the only reason anybody is there is that our society treats some people badly for no good reason. You can’t expect to come out of something like that cheering.

“The Spirit of Soul Food” by contrast is more of a celebration of the style of cooking that came out of the combination of North American environment, slavery, and African culinary sensibilities.

What sort of food do you learn how to make? Many different sorts of food. A key point is that the food you learn how to make is the sort of food that people make at home everyday. Thus you get things like meatloaf, pork chops in gravy, and macaroni and cheese. There were also a lot of interesting vegetable side dishes (greens) and desserts (sweet potato pie, for example).

Oddly enough, it served to reconnect me with the cooking I grew up with as much as it did Soul Food. Since teaching myself to cook, I’ve spent most of my time cooking Indian, Mediterranean (Italian, Greek, Provencal French, Lebanese), and Southeast Asian (Thai, Malay) food. Occasionally, I also cook a few favorites from my childhood, but not all that many. My kids have seen a lot more basmati rice than grilled cheese sandwiches.

Soul Food doesn’t use curries as often as it does garlic or onion powder. It uses Campbell’s Soup (cream of mushroom) in more than a few recipes. The recipe for macaroni and cheese actually required me to buy Velveeta for the first time in my life.

It’s worth noting that “Soul Food” isn’t a homogeneous entity. It varies by region. In Louisiana, it includes red beans and rice. In places near the ocean, it includes crab cakes. Bearing in mind that Jaye and her father Jim originally come from Kentucky, this particular seminar included a recipe for Kentucky Bourbon Pie (bourbon comes from Kentucky). I tried the pie. It’s good.

Those of us who wanted to could also try a sip of the bourbon. It’s powerful stuff.

The instructors: Jim Beeler is a (semi-retired) self taught cook who worked in restaurants for his professional life. Jaye Beeler is the food editor for the Grand Rapids Press (my local paper). Even beyond learning about Soul Food, the family dynamics were entertaining.

During the seminar, each person was responsible to cook one dish. Despite not liking macaroni and cheese, I chose that one. Why? Mostly because my kids do like it. I thought it might be interesting to know how to make Mac and Cheese from scratch and flavor it with actual cheese as opposed to from a box flavored with Mystery Cheese Powder.

It turned out pretty well. I’ve made it at home since then and my family seems to like it (with the exception of one of my daughters who simply doesn’t like cheese). The same is generally true of the other dishes from the seminar. I’ve been trying to make one or two a week.

Next year they were talking about doing a slightly different seminar–a Soul Food brunch. I’d go.

Historical Map of Grand Rapids

Via Urban Planet’s Grand Rapids forum…

Take a look at the this old map of Grand Rapids. In addition to streetcar lines and a general sense of what Grand Rapids looked like early last century, you’ll find that each part of town has been labeled with the ethnicity of it’s residents.

For more, take a look at the thread “Grand Rapids Then and Now.” If (like me) you’re looking at it as a guest, you’ll have to click on the pictures to look at them. Members get the pictures within the messages.