Friday, November 25, 2011

In the blink of an eye

My alma mater, Northern Arizona University, offered an alumni database CD a while ago. I support my school, and although I was not particularly interested in the CD, I ordered one. It took a few months, but I finally started expIoring it. I was surprised to see that a buddy, Jay, with whom I’d lost touch after graduation, had moved to his family’s ancestral hometown in Missouri. On a whim, I called.
What a conversation! But not with him, but rather with his amazing daughter. Had I a daughter, I would hope for a daughter like her. She was articulate, worldly, literate, confident. She lives in New York City and works as a teacher  the New York Public School System in Harlem. In Harlem! She had read all the feminist authors of my generation: Adrienne Rich, Ana├»s Nin, Betty Friedan. She was strong and analytical. Truly, I was impressed beyond measure away by this self-possessed woman. We spoke for more than two hours. She sent a family photo. (Jay had not changed a bit.)
She seemed to romanticize those early 1980s college days, just as I remember romanticizing my Aunt Rosalie’s college experience in hours poring over her yearbooks. (On the streets of New York, as a child, I once recognized one of classmates from her yearbook photo.) I mentioned the motorcycle and and old light-green station wagon. He still had that car!
In college, Jay was what would now be called a geek, a nebbish: a skinny computer science major wearing clothes a bit too large, riding around on a motorcycle. But oh, that motorcycle! The only time in my life I’d traveled 90 mph on a wheeled vehicle was as a passenger on that motorcycle. He hailed from a small town in southern Arizona, raised with his ne’er-do-well sister by his widowed Mom. The love of his life was a Thai exchange student at his high school.
One summer Jay and I (along with his sister) were housemates while he and I worked as summer interns. We remained buddies through four years of college.
Fast forward. Jay had married that Thai exchange student, and they were the parents of that amazing daughter and a son! I was so happy for him that his dream of marrying the love his life had come true. But then, sadness. They were in California, their daughter said, visiting Jay’s best friend, she probably for the last time together. She had late-stage cancer and did not have long to live.
In the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Author Debra Ginsberg

When I started this blog in 2003 as an outlet for my observations about waiting tables, a friend, Penny Banks Currie mentioned a book found onthe staff-recommended table at Borders bookstore in Austin, and was further approved by the "fun and unconventional" cafe workers there: Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, by Debra Ginsberg.

Ginsberg's nontraditional family moved from New York, where her father had worked as a waiter, to California, where the family established a pizza parlor. Her father determined that the entire family would become vegetarian. Ginsberg herself took a series of jobs waiting tables—in a upscale country club, in an Indian restaurant, in a beachside diner, in a fine dining establishment—and described each with a delicious combination of a technical writer's precision and dispassionate observation.

Debra Ginsberg has written several other memoirs and some juicy fiction—
  • About My Sisters: a recounting of the journeys and triumphs of her unique family and the closeness of the four sisters. One sister is a professional violinist.
  • Raising Blaze: The tribulations and insights about raising an autistic son.
  • Blind Submission: The protagonist works for a book agent, and gives a stark insight into the not-so-straightforward world of book publishing.
  • The Grift: A peek into the world of fortune-telling and its theatre, and, ironically, how real psychic ability ruins the career of a California fortune-teller.
  • The Neighbors are Watching: A pregnant teen-ager shows up on the doorstep of her father, disrupting the shaky order of their neat California neighborhood.
Ginsberg's writing glints with a sardonic edge and an marvelous precision of execution: entertaining and crisp and accurate. Not quite edgy, but not cozy either.

Everyone has had the experience of first hearing someone's voice, forming an mind's-eye image that turned out to be true to life upon meeting that person. Although Ginsberg and I have never met, her Tarty Queen gallery videos reveal her demeanor to be as I imagined in my mind's eye from her author's "voice." She is also an accomplished and creative baker.

Ginsberg's life and mine have some common elements. We spent the early parts of our lives in New York, where we enjoyed time at resorts in the Catskill Mountains; we are writers (although she is a published book author, and I've just published just a few magazine articles and spent most of my working life as a technical writer); and we both worked at National Park concessions (she, at Yellowstone NP, hated it; I, at Grand Canyon and Olympic NP, loved it). And, of course, we had both had waited tables.

Through her website, several years ago, I ventured a short communication to this accomplished writer. Debra Ginsberg responded immediately. Ginsberg was kind and more candid than I expected a published author to be. At that time, with just two (just two!) books published, she was seeking to expand her writing base. And she has!

Any book by Debra Ginsberg: highly recommended.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market

The idea-generator and mini force of nature Lita has turned over the reigns of the Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market to me. So far, so good. My goal is to set the Friends on a stable but upward course, and continue to support the vendors and to raise awareness of this wonderful market in the Bryan/College Station community.

The actual market vendors pursue their goals through the efforts of a parallel organization. The groups work hand and hand, with many common members. The Friends group organizes special events, promote the market at workplaces and community bulletin boards, donate produce to the local food bank, and even prepare baskets of produce to introduce local chefs to possibilities of the market.

A strong core group of volunteers and a dedicated student intern form the core of the Friends. One volunteer, dedicated to community service, is married to a professional musician. Using her contacts, she arranges for live music. A dedicated intern with a strong social conscience and fierce work ethic provides  support, continuity, and a wonderful flair. The vendors are engaging, hard-working, likable, friendly people. I have learned so much from them.

Now, in addition to setting up, staffing for four hours most Saturdays, then tearing down and stowing the information booth, I'm writing a newsletter, helping with the 2012 calendar a bit,  vetting mailing lists, dealing with grant reimbursements, balancing a checking account, and soon will be figuring a system for annual dues payment, recruiting business members, and worrying about finding booth volunteers.

A friend in Arizona, my hiking companion from 25 years ago with whom I recently reconnected, has also carved a niche as indispensable volunteer at her market.
For me, volunteering for the market a labor of love, of course, but often I wish I were, if not retired, working part time. With only 10 hours of sunlight per day, I don't see the sun between 7:30 a.m. Monday to 7:30 a.m Saturday. I can understand why some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with the oddly appropriate acronym SAD. Staffing the information booth, though, give me four hours of glorious sunlight.
Lifelong blacksmith and market manager Harvey Wise at the anvil.

Local farmer David Elsik with one of his "wearable produce" trademark gourds.

Local musician Joey McGee framed by custom tie-dyed t-shirts from the info booth.

Market manager  (and blacksmith) Harvey Wise, Millican Farms owner Tonya Miller, and Tonya's dad. Tonya has returned to California and will be much missed by the market.

Community Potluck

Every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and every Sunday at 1:00 p.m., a loosely organized group headed by community activist Dan Kiniry meets at at a pavlilion Neal Park, west of downtown Bryan for a community potluck. Everyone is welcome. Those who can cook or bring something to share, all the better. Those who are hungry or down on their luck are welcome. Most everyone comes for spiritual or social succor and sharing.

Much of the food seems to be donated by local restaurants and bakeries. Dishes and utensils are washed each week by a volunteer. Before each meal, the group holds hands in a large circle where announcements are shared, from the need for toiletries at the house of a volunteer who helps the homeless to campaign to save from demolition the historically Black Carter Elementary School.

Sometimes there is a volleyball game. On cold days, some people lay in a large fire in the grill. At initial inspection, it seems to be a motley crew: homeless folks, community-minded college students, church-group members, laborers, farmers' market volunteers, and other citizens.

But, to quote Dan Kiniry: "We are all brothers."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Contra dancing Independence Day celebration

To celebrate Independence Day, our Brazos County contra dance group started off the evening of dancing with a potluck supper. Actually, it was originally meant to be a cookout, but the county-wide burn ban precluded that. Fine with me! I'm all about potlucks, and I volunteered to organize this one. Organizing, for this group entailed sending out two e-mails and arriving a big early to set up tables. Oh, yeah: that's the type of simplicity I could get accustomed to. Only four parties responded prior to the even, but, as is usual, we had a cornucopia of dishes, from King Ranch Casserole, to fresh salads, to sublime desserts, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs from the oven. No grilling due to a burn ban in drought-stricken Texas.
The band, Jalapeno Honey, really got into the patriotic spirit with their red, white, and blue banners unfurled from their music stands. A gentleman playing the pennywhistle even sat in with the band! The musician who writes the arrangements even worked in a Sousa march or two.
This dashing fellow in Scots regalia has frequented our dances of late.