Last night I dreamt of China.. unfortunately I don’t remember the dream in detail like I did when I first woke up, but as with many of my dreams, it seemed so real as it happened. It was like I was there again, I think with my friend Erin Rufledt, just like 2 and a half years ago. But this time it was like she was re-introducing me to life in China, she was showing me the new Beijing, how things had changed, etc. I was running through the streets, somehow arriving 10 miles across the city in two minutes of sprinting through the streets. I was looking for old friends in their homes and dorms around town, although in reality they have long vacated and been replaced by new families and students. I’m not sure what the point of this post or my dream was. I dream about China, India, Mexico fairly often. But China will always have a special place in my heart. My first foreign country, the start of something new and exciting and different in my life, the opening of my heart to so much variety, in people, food, customs, life. The picture above was from out my back porch when I lived in China. I always loved this picture, the mao-suited men playing cards in the courtyard, very everyday yet poignant look at Chinese life. The world is so amazing, for this holiday season, I wish that everyone would get a chance to glimpse life in a foreign land. Or, get a glimpse of those foreign lands right here in our backyards in America.
I live in a neighborhood drifting somewhere between post-industrial wasteland, quiet residential district and booming commercial center. It’s smack in the middle of what is now the metro-Milwaukee area, not downtown, not the suburbs, semi-South but not trendy Bayview or the gang-sprinkled “south side.” My house sits on the edge of rows of old bungalows butting up against mostly former factories, foundries and manufacturing plants. The demolition of some unused buildings has sparked growth of a new high-tech industrial park.
When I return from my semi-suburban restaurant out west to my home I exit I-94 to cruise along a main road—passing first Miller Park, then a brand new Starbucks, Boston Market and Chili’s. In view are several huge—probably 10-story—vacant factories surrounded by desolate many-acre lots. Go farther and turn east again and there sits another giant, the Froedert Malting Company. This building boasts a painted-on-brick logo that spans the building’s 8-story façade, “Froedert Malt: Better Beer Starts Here.” This building amuses me; I once tried to take a cool picture of it but couldn’t find a good safe position to fit the whole building in view without getting trees or cars in the way. These gigantic structures inexplicably draw out contemplative thoughts. I wonder what exactly was here 200 years ago. What will be here in ten, twenty years? People have worked, earned, toiled and lived part of their lives in these places and now they are empty steel and concrete cases waiting for demolition. One could make those same statements about any old building, house or otherwise, but because they are so giant and make for such unusual landscape, they evoke more profound thinking.
In my neighborhood I see the crossroads Milwaukee is at. Old manufacturing, Brew-town, baseball, steel-making making way for department stores and restaurants and hopefully new blue-collar jobs at the rising industrial park. I see a truly diverse and integrated neighborhood of whites, Asians, Hispanics and some African Americans. It’s a place that the newspaper does stories about, so much growth in an area that was once completely blighted by an excess of forgotten industry. Old houses being sold in days after entrance onto the market to young buyers, many minority.
A few weeks ago there was a shocking tragedy in the neighborhood. A former employee of a new Arby’s six blocks from my house shot and killed the 24-year-old assistant manager and a 17-year-old employee who were closing the store. He stole $2400 and used it to do repairs on his mid-90’s Buick before being turned in by what turned out to be an accomplice. There hadn’t been a murder in the Village of West Milwaukee for almost 5 years. The surrounding businesses were shocked and unnerved that this could happen, here. When it turned out that it was staged by a former employee there was some relief that it had not been random violence, but still.
A few weeks have passed but last night as I passed Arby’s I saw something that caused me to pause for a second and be amazed at the unintended boldness of pragmatism. Outside the Arby’s, on the sign, in black letters on a white lit background, were the words: “Now Hiring.”
A few weeks ago it seemed that 2004’s Christmas season had arrived. I went for my morning coffee at Caribou–which is conveniently adjoined by a short hallway to the Qdoba I manage–and found that the Christmas marketing machine had arrived. There was festive music, staff wearing reindeer antlers, a peppermint stick mocha on the menu and customers picking up cans of “special edition” hot cocoa for gifts.
Remember now, we are talking about November 1st here.
I observed as the general manager, a jolly fellow himself, smoothly sold one woman another can of cocoa because “they are such good gifts and I just know we are going to run out and not get any more in.” Again, this was the first day these items had been in the store. Amazing.
Anyway, I comment on the Christmas season because this year it evokes both revulsion and delight in my spirit. Revulsion because I enjoy giving gifts but am amazed at how materialistic and shallow our society is. I am sickened by the crap we buy just because it’s sold to us. I’m sickened by the fact that at times I am the one buying the crap.
Delight because this year I’ve acquired a husband, a new in-law family and a house, and I’ve been thinking that we get to have our own Christmas tree this year. As with many, Christmas brings back mostly happy childhood memories. My house has a lovely set of five street-facing window that will be perfect to show off our well-lit and decorated tree.
Tonight I spent some time picking out my own ornaments for what will become my first Christmas tree. Mine because it’s a family I have helped create, rather than one I have been born into. And holidays and Christmas trees just bring out that feeling of wanting the best for family and community.
It’s been 10 days since I last wrote. Way too long as my friends assured me this weekend. I know I’d be slightly annoyed if someone whose blog I read didn’t update their page for 10 days, so although I’m not feeling particularly inspired on any one topic this morning, I’m forcing myself into spending a few momemts being thoughtful and productive.
I’m actually supposed to be at work today but I’m sick and when I keep talking all day long like I did most of this weekend I have lovely fits of coughing. That sort of behavior does not mesh well with restaurant managing, and it turned out to be ok for me to take a sick day. So I slept in. I finally got up, did a bit of reading, showered and now it’s off to update my wedding celebration registry and finish my invitations. I’ve been thinking last night and this morning about my great weekend picking up relationships with friends whom I haven’t seen in far too long.
We went to college together and for many years saw each other many times a week or every day as roommates; now it’s been months, nearing a year since we’ve been together. People say that after turning 24 or 25 life starts to speed by, and that’s totally how I feel. I don’t know how I have managed to go so many months without seeing these friends. I’m amazed that it doesn’t seem nearly that long, although so much has changed, especially in my life.
The most wonderful discovery of the weekend is that there are still remains of an undisturbed bond beneath what has been on my end a distant, reserved, apathy toward keeping up some of my old friendships. It was not intentional, just a time of adjustment and processing where I didn’t feel able to explain my behavior, my thoughts, my faith, my feelings, except that I was going somewhere and I hoped we could all meet again some day.
My friend Erin said to me as we cruised south toward Chicago that it’s interesting how we are all in different places doing different things with different people and somehow seem to all be tracking. “Tracking” is an interesting word, like we might be taking different routes now although we were once taking the same train to the same place. But we’re still headed to the same destination, wherever that might be, just with different stops along the way. Like our trains or cars are going the same distance, parallel to one another, although the loops and turns of the route take different ways to head that way. What I mean is, the bond of amazing times and friendship and love doesn’t have to be broken by circumstance and change. It’s still there, hiding beneath whatever hurt and distress has happened, but it’s still there, like waters waiting to be tested once again.
In the last week I’ve received at least five voice mails from the likes of P-Diddy, Bill Clinton and Spike Lee reminding me to rock the vote or die. I feel a little special this election, perhaps because I am a sought-after adult who out of apathy or laziness didn’t vote in the last election. Or perhaps it’s because I was excited about the election this year; I even put a sticker for my candidate on my car the other day. I’m also in Wisconsin, one of a few highly contested “swing” states critical to both party’s campaigns. It seems like Bush, Cheney, Kerry, Edwards or their spouses have been in Wisconsin just about every day for two months. Both candidates have tried to woo us young, previously disinterested voters. I have done my homework, thought about my values and the issues important to me and made an educated decision.
So, I had the day off and went to vote around 10:00 am, already hearing reports that the polls were unusually crowded and everyone was paranoid about voter fraud and voter suppression. In Milwaukee: The tires of 20 GOP-rented vans to be used to transport voters to the polls today were slashed overnight. My polling place, set to open as expected at 7:00 am, was delayed by an hour when election officials didn’t have the proper keys to start the ballot machine. Fifteen polling places ran out of ballots around 7:00 pm when police turned couriers were dispatched from city hall to avoid shortages.
When I arrived at the local middle school to cast my vote there was an irritated man in line complaining that he arrived at 7:00 am this morning, waited 45 minutes before heading to work, and was now waiting in line again to vote. My voting happens in the school’s dimly lit but beautiful old theater. Unfortunately the two individuals managing the lists of names were at least 80-years-old and could barely understand the names of my diverse neighbors much less read their sheets because of the bad light. It was busy but mostly it was just slow. Everyone waited in one line and if you needed to register you simply held up others who could have passed ahead and voted. I registered at the primary a few months ago with my current address and my name was not in the books today. Before leaving the house I had so much confidence that I wouldn’t have a problem today that only out of sheer luck did I have a check I was about to deposit in my purse with my correct address on it. I had to re-register, so had I not had that check I would have had to return. At that point, I might have given up, who knows. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.
After voting I felt good. I was amazed at how many people seemed to be heading to vote. There were lines all day which most people agree is extremely uncommon. I was out and about running errands the rest of the day, watching volunteers stand on overpass bridges waving their candidates’ signs and staring as a passing airplane pulled an enormous pro-life banner complete with pictures of what was apparently a 10-week old dead fetus (I am unfortunately not kidding about that one).
It’s 8:30 pm central standard time and I’m monitoring the news. So far Bush leads Kerry with several swing states still too close to count. I’m still rooting for my underdog. Wisconsin is important, my vote is important, it’s a good day to be a U.S. citizen.
There was a beautiful moon the other night. I was driving around, doing some mundane errand when I glimpsed a huge low-hanging orange orb in the sky. Those big stunning moons always make me gasp. There among the silouettes of Walmart, Pick N’ Save and fast food joints appears that magical glowing planet in the sky. It intrudes onto my view of urban landscape to jolt me out of the haze of daily life.
I never paid much attention to the moon or the sky in general until I went to China when I was 19 years old. Staying in smog-ridden Beijing—amazing as is the city—makes one long to see the blue sky, white fluffy clouds and especially, a full moon. One night after a rain in the city there was a much-coveted clear sky, and there was my orange moon, hanging between glass office buildings, dirty concrete apartment buildings and ancient pagoda-style facades. It struck me because I hadn’t seen the moon, nor anything in the sky except an off-white not-quite-cloud cover, for weeks. As I biked back to the college I pondered life and the universe as I watched the moon duck behind and reappear from behind the trees and buildings.
In the summer of 2000 I used to take lots of long evening walks from my apartment to the Monona Terrace in Madison. A close friend and I would walk up there and talk and look at the amazing moon. My memory is that that moon shone every night we went out, as we pondered life and imagined a year-long separation as I prepared to move to China. In the amazing lakeside view off the terrace roof the huge red-orange moon would travel from one side of our view to the other; it reminded me how big the world is and how small we are in it. Planets and suns moving around the universe and here we are, with so many individual hopes and dreams and heartaches and joys, trying to make sense of it all.