Nonfiction—New Territory for Old Slavery

In 2019, New Territory is concentric circles of green grass cloistered by brick houses, brick walls, brick veins. The streets have pretty names like Whisper Ridge and Rippling Creek and Silver Lake, imagining a lost era of folkishness, only this is the knees of Houston and there never was whispering, rippling, or silver anything, only marshland turned to farmland turned to homeland.

The suburb wears a coat of trees which make the residents hostile when the government cuts them down, arguing that the trees have history, roots, are more than shadow-makers, but no one mentions that they were planted, full-grown, in the late nineties alongside the people. A militia of invisible gardeners marches through the parks, and when the trees are bare-limbed, none can tell if the leaves were individually picked or if it’s Late Winter.

An aerial photo in George Memorial Library shows a different New Territory.

Continue reading “Nonfiction—New Territory for Old Slavery”

Nonfiction—Teaching Tapas

(One)

My classroom is a block like those you stack in first-grade. Desks stand like lines of British soldiers, and students shout and throw rulers and text each other in a war of attention. My desk is the general’s tent—to the side of the parade grounds and barracks, capable at a moment’s notice to survey the ranks (all I have to do is lift my eyes from my screen to review a regiment using phones to redo eyelashes).

From this distance, it’s difficult to tell if a student is passing notes digitally or using a calculator to complete physics problems. With a war weary sigh, sans mustache, cigar, and epaulets, I rise from my command to remind the infantry that the assignment is due in five minutes.

(Two)

Sometimes I’ll see a student staring out the window at the end of the hall. But what does she see out there that holds her attention? I know from experience there’s only a gray lot, cars, the track field, the tennis court—all yellow and hazy behind the dusty glass.

But I don’t think she’s looking at anything in particular.

Maybe it’s a mood she senses on the other side of the pane. Across the gold beer plains, coming from distant mountains.

A feeling she won’t find among white walls that slide into a maze of locked rooms and lockers. Halls guarded by ceiling cameras and attentive teachers.

Out there? Streets and side-streets. The brown roofs of suburbia. Highways weaving with the hills like little gray veins. And patches of trees binding shadow-flooded plains to the homes of coyotes.

Sometimes I know what she sees.

Nonfiction—The Elemental Darkness

My philosophy is a lone night, with the wife far-flung on the couch watching videos about tape worms. I’ve gone to bed early, and the rain is caught by the tree canopy, except for a black fall from the roof that taps the cement. In the dark it could be the crackle of fire. My philosophy is my beating heart compared to her’s. I can only imagine she still lives, eyes fixed on the doctor’s spool, trapped by elemental darkness.

Nonfiction—Honest Seafood

My sister will not eat seafood. She is a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, all inherited from my mother, and she is picky, an inheritance from no one. Or perhaps a suspicious ancestor—maybe the caveman who ate the poisoned mushroom?

We (the boys) are wide, sandy, blue-eyed beasts. We’ll eat anything, be it a bagel or small dog. It’s that cavalier attitude Mom rewarded with meals that stretched the definition of food. She was not the best cook, and sometimes pizza would be recast as “lumps,” or toast as “carcinogens with a side of yeast.” Nor was she the most honest about ingredients. She wanted us to eat, after all.

So, Sis found herself in a constant state of seafood consumption. She’d eat tacos and realize afterward: “These were fish tacos!” She’d eat red beans and rice to discover soggy shrimp.

My poor sister. She’s had more sushi than a sushi chef.

Nonfiction—Mendengar Saya Menguam

 

Sumatra, Indonesia

We couldn’t afford color blinds on our windows, not with kids in Disney shirts waving from the roadside, young women stooped over rubber trees, old men smiling with malachite teeth. There was the International conglomerate and the poor indigenous and all that separated us were barbed-wire fences and fat bank accounts. I spent my day learning U.S. History; my nights playing soccer with a ball of teak root. Some locals dropped a hornet nest on my head. I thought 9/11 occurred in Kuala Lampur.

 

Tianjin, China

The skies were gray. There were no pigeons but deadly chemicals disguised as bread crumbs and iron spikes on rooftops. We couldn’t let the pets outside – I wondered if it was because of the poison or the markets where vendors lined their stalls with freshly-gutted dogs. The Chinese saw us less as bourgeois and more as barges. Strangers would call their friends over to laugh at our large feet. A business man wanted my picture by a bull statue’s testicles. Poverty had been swept behind smiling skyscrapers and the endless ranks of cranes. Our U.S. passports could only get us so far. From there on it was knowing which barbershops cut your hair and which were fronts for brothels.

 

Lecheria, Venezuela

We lived in rich man prison – a network of mansions connected by a network of canals. Transport included travel-by-yacht. I’d take the boat to the Mall, tie her up, watch a film with English subtitles. Or take her to open water and fish like Ernest Hemingway. We said what we wanted about Hugo Chavez. The taxi drivers never agreed with us. Nothing could stop our wanton – not the insurgents, not the kidnappers who took our neighbors, not the pirates asking for agua with pistols behind their backs, not the man who collapsed in the Wendy’s drive-through with a bullet in his shoulder.

 

Santa Barbara, California

I’m idling incognito, an exclusive ooze, wasting away with a cynical smile. There are scars on my legs from jungle hornets, a little red book full of Mao. I think in languages I never use. I walk along landing strips and thumb airplanes and would never play tricks on Gimpel the Fool. I don’t belong.

I am expatriate, both brahmin and untouchable.

 

Nonfiction—Static Movement (Family)

My parents are an amazing, oblivious people, especially in their attempts to understand me. After a quarter of a century, their clumsy attempts have ceased to be frustrating and instead have slipped into the realm of ridiculousness. I hope I don’t come off as condescending. It’s just that through their undertaking to gratify my interests or reject them, I have been able to understand my parents as the loving, literal-minded, and culturally-stunted people that they are.

Growing up, every experience had to be shared or rejected. If they couldn’t understand it, or if my younger siblings couldn’t take part, than my involvement was betraying everyone’s interests. There was this notion that the family had to stick together, which is probably why I wasn’t allowed on sleepovers – Dad and Mom couldn’t come. And everything was shared, especially toys, even if it meant scratched DVDs and scattered lego sets (I have younger siblings). I was banned from watching television unless we were all watching it, and I didn’t care much for Fox News.

My bedroom had a window which looked into the living room. Or, from a more accurate perspective, so my parents sitting on the couch in the living room could look in to my room. My door locked from the outside. Sometimes when I angered my little brother, he’d lock me in my own room.

Hiding in the restroom with a book and the door locked became my escape from the ant colony. I was intrigued by the savor of stories, the sweet and sour taste of lies, the pasty sweet smack and blackened results of poetry, the prologue’s d’oeuvres and the epilogue’s bitter aftertaste. I began to regard my parents’ diet as having a sort of rot that their tongues, burnt, numbed or blunted by scriptural verbatim, could not detect.

For a long time I wasn’t aware of their literalism (paired, as it often was, with an unwillingness to participate in popular culture). I read The Hobbit, and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t allowed to start Lord of The Rings because it was “unchristian.” Instead, I could read Every Young Man’s Battle, the Biblical Art of War against masturbation.

Imagine my confusion when Dad recommended I read The Screwtape Letters. Naturally, I was disappointed to find very little screwing.