Sunday, May 31, 2009

English 101

I have started this blog with all six essays I wrote for English 101 this last semester(spring 2009). I hope this blog will be a clearing house for my writing, whether it be for school requirements or just random thoughts, poetry or comments on current events. Wish me luck!


I think I was a pretty decent writer when I came to English 101. I have always been a daily reader. My mother was a voracious consumer of books. I remember her reading many of the classics as I was growing up. She read all of Charles Dickens, Les Miserables, and anything she could find about the Russian Revolution. My father was constantly reading books about Buddhism and art, and poetry books were always lying around.

My parents would summarize and discuss what they were reading, and I shared many of those books with them. That history is why I have an intuitive “feel” for writing; for how to put words together. At the same time, I have never written extensively. I have dabbled in poetry, written a couple of dozen songs, some letters and emails, and a few blog entries. Though some of this writing was fairly eloquent, I never did much editing or rewriting. I would just dash it out and be done with it.

This class has given me the form I needed to practice the art of examining my writing and relentlessly trying to improve it. All of the papers I have written in this class were first free-written rather quickly, and from the beginning, they were coherent pieces, naturally well-organized and logical, with elevated vocabulary and erudite turns of phrase. But when I spent time reviewing these first drafts, I was amazed by how many small things were cumbersome, unclear or simply incorrect. I now have a much better grasp of comma and semi-colon usage, for example (although absolute certainty remains elusive). I ended up spending about six hours slowly polishing my writing for every hour I had spent drafting it. As a result, I have come to realize that it’s absolutely necessary to do this if I want my writing to be at the highest possible level, and to communicate what I want to say, to whom I want to say it.

The essays I have provided for my portfolio: “Uncle John’s Furniture Truck” and “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States,” were chosen not because they were the best-written - I believe that all five of my essays were of a similar high quality - but because they represent the range of my writing. “Uncle John’s Furniture Truck” is based on stories I have been telling verbally in casual settings for years. The situations are humorous and the tone is light, and the style is a little more relaxed than the more serious argument form of “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States,” in which government policies and media statements are examined and, I think, deflated by truth-seeking analysis.

In both of these essays I was compelled, after reflection, to modify my language in order to make the writing more accurate and persuasive. As I reread the story about Uncle John, I noticed that I used shorthand phrases to refer to events rather than simply describing what happened. For example, in the first draft of this story, I said that I “took out” a fire hydrant, but in the final draft I replaced that phrase with a more vivid moment-by-moment account of the destruction of the hydrant. I am learning that narrating a chain of events can be more impactful than just encapsulating them.

After reading my early drafts of “Iran Is Not a Threat to the United States”, I shaped my language in order to make the wording less confrontational, more nuanced, and less absolute. “Always” would become “typically”, in an effort not to paint myself into a corner, rhetorically. I think that the work I put into polishing the pieces was worth it, and that the essays were substantially improved.

I have fulfilled the requirements of all of the assignments, and I put in the maximum amount of work I could, considering that I am a part-time student and have the distraction of trying to make a living at the same time as I seek an education. In short, I think I deserve an A for this class.

Ross Daly, the World's Greatest Musician

The premise that there is a “world's greatest musician” is absurd. There are so many different kinds of music in the world, and so many brilliant and accomplished practitioners of music, most of whom are unknown to us, that it would be impossible to make a convincing case for the primacy of just one player. However, it is an interesting mental exercise. When I think about my favorite musicians, a lot of names come to mind, many of them my good friends, but a few stand out in terms of importance to me. One is Jordi Savall, the Spanish-Catalan viola da gamba player who introduced to modern ears the music of Marin Marais and others who played the abandoned instrument. Another is Randal Bays, Seattle-area Irish fiddler who, after discovering Irish traditional music rather late in life, was soon lending guitar accompaniment to great fiddlers like James Kelly and Martin Hayes, and who went on to become one of the best players of Irish fiddle in the world. Yet another is Martin Simpson, the English guitar wizard who introduced me to open tunings and his signature “guitar frailing” technique, with which any clawhammer banjo tune may be perfectly imitated on guitar. These musicians and many others are truly great, but finally, my mind comes to rest on Ross Daly.

Ross is an Irishman whose parents were diplomats. He grew up all over the world, and studied music from an early age. As a young man, he traveled to Greece. He found the traditional music he encountered there captivating, and not unlike the Indian music he had already studied, with its modal basis and uneven time signatures. Greek music gives us the seven “modes”, or scales, of Western music, but it actually contains more than seven modes. It contains notes between notes that Western musicians might consider “out of tune”, but which are actually very precisely played micro tones. Greek music also often involves odd meters, in which the beats are grouped into twos and threes, using time signatures such as seven-eight, which sounds like “ONE-two, ONE-two, ONE-two-three”.

Ross studied very diligently, and mastered many instruments, including the Cretan lyra, a pear-shaped lap-fiddle with three main strings and many sympathetic strings, which is extremely difficult to play. Instead of pushing the strings down against the fingerboard with the pads of the fingers, as on the violin, the fingers rest beside the strings so that the strings are stopped by the large, smooth surfaces of the fingernails. The result is an eerie, haunting sound with rich sustain and expressive vibrato, reminiscent of the human voice. Ross also plays many plucked-string instruments, including rubab, an Afghani banjo; lauto, a Greek lute; setar, a Persian lute; and various Turkish lutes, called saz. He has mastered many forms of music from Greece, Turkey, and Iran, and has transcended these forms, developing a fusion that mixes traditional instruments and themes.

Ross has also become a prolific composer. His tunes evoke a mythic past, shrouded in Aegean mist, while remaining fresh and urgent, embodying the longing, love, and tear-wet sorrow of human existence. His compositions, like their traditional models, are melodically and rhythmically dense and complicated. Once Ross and his collaborators have established the musical territory of these compositions, they launch headlong into the open space of improvisation, soaring to ever-new heights of imagination and freedom, gliding among iridescent, melodious birds before plunging down through unknown stratospheres to dive with shimmering rhythmic fishes, and deeper, to the very darkest sub-marine trenches of music.

Daly has trained and mentored an entire generation of younger musicians from the around the world. When he started playing traditional music it was not popular among the youth of its native countries, many of whom were seduced by the “cool”, modern pop music of the West. The music of their grandfathers was seen as staid, boring and conservative. Ross Daly, an outsider, nurtured a new appreciation for some of the greatest musical traditions in the world, and brought his interpretation of those traditions to enthusiastic audiences who had never heard music like this before.

Ross Daly is now considered to be a national treasure in Greece. The government of Crete has provided him with a historic villa, which serves as a museum, housing his collection of hundreds of instruments. It is also the home of the “Labyrinth Music Workshop,” where musicians flock from every continent to attend master classes with top players and singers in pan-Near-eastern styles. Some of his famous protégées are Stelios Petrakis, the great lyra and lauto player from Crete; Bijhan Chemarani, Paris-born Iranian zarb master; and Sokratis Sinopoulis, player of the politici-lyra, from Athens. Ross Daly's accomplishments as a player, a composer and an ambassador of music are unparalleled by any other living person I can think of, and that's why, for my money, he is the greatest musician in the world.

Argument--Iran is not a Threat to the United States

The threat from Iran toward the United States is routinely overblown and hyped. American government and media both uniformly present Iran as a grave and looming menace, poised to attack the U.S. and its allies. It is assumed that Iran desires and intends to attack, and is lacking only the means to do so. That large numbers of Americans seem to accept this assumption is understandable, since there is very little chance of hearing alternative views, but I believe that Americans, once they have all the facts, are inclined toward fairness and dislike hypocrisy.

The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad, is relentlessly attacked by American government officials and media pundits alike. I have read and heard dozens of references in the press to Ahmadinejhad's call to “wipe Israel off the map”, a translation that was first widely reported in the New York Times. The implication is that Iran is an anti-Semitic state, bent on exterminating the Jewish people, but according to Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor of Middle Eastern History, “wipe Israel off the map” is an erroneous translation. First of all, there is no such idiom as “wipe off the map” in Farsi, the language of Iran, and second, it does not convey the intended meaning of the statement. Cole and other scholars debunked this translation almost as soon as it was made, but that clarification hasn't stopped media analysts and the highest government officials from using it over and over again. According to Cole, Ahmadinejhad was quoting the Ayatollah Khomeini as saying that “this Jerusalem-occupying regime must disappear from the page of time”, which Ahmadinejhad described as a “wise statement”. In other words, “this too shall pass” (Cole). Though this might not be friendly toward the Israeli government, it is not the same as “(we are going to) wipe Israel off the map”. It also does not follow, as American government and media voices almost always imply, that the Israeli government is the same as the Jewish people as a whole. Some scholars have taken exception to Cole's interpretation, while seeming not to dispute his translation. Joshua Teitelbaum, a critic of Cole's, writing in the Jerusalem Post, admits that the New York Times' translation was “non-literal”, but goes on to claim that it conveys the spirit of Ahmadinejhad's statement. Why? Because he says so.

The idea that Iran might have real grievances against the United States and Israel is rarely, if ever, presented in the American media, but consider what those grievances might be. Israel has on many occasions threatened to attack Iran. It was speculated widely in the press that Israel might attack certain Iranian sites with nuclear weapons in the wake of Ahmadinejhad's announcement in September, 2007 (Katz/Weiss), that Iran had three working centrifuges. Iran also has grievances with the United States going at least as far back as 1953, when the U.S. orchestrated the overthrow of the popular, democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddeq, and installed the Shah, a quite ruthless and repressive dictator who ruled over the people of Iran until their revolution in 1979. The United States also armed and supported Saddam Hussein of Iraq in his eight-year war against Iran in which over a million Iranians perished.

These examples (and they are not the only ones) are not to excuse or apologize for Iran's hostility to the U.S. and Israel, but to show that its mistrust is, to some degree, understandable. The level of personal demonization of Ahmadinejhad is bizarre, given that being president of Iran is nothing like being president of the United States. Ahmadinejhad has no direct power over foreign policy or the military. He does not have the authority to order an attack on Israel even if one accepts the assumption that he wants to. Iran, though totalitarian, is a republic, with a complex, functioning government containing competing interests: various ministries, parliament, the Council of Clerics, all under the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamene'i.

The fear expressed constantly by the United States and Israel is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, in violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.), with which it will attack Israel, and possibly Europe, as soon as it can. There is reason to doubt this. For one thing, what ever happened to the idea of “deterrence”? The concept was practically religion for foreign policy makers for decades during the Cold War, when “mutually assured destruction” meant that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would attack the other first. Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons; the U.S. and Europe have thousands. If Iran, after many years, got one or two nuclear weapons, and presumed to launch them, it would be instantly vaporized. It would be suicidal of Iran to use nuclear weapons, and there is no evidence that Iran's leaders or its people are suicidal.

However, the possession of nuclear weapons by Israel is, as long understood under the theory of deterrence, a perverse incentive for Iran to desire similar weapons. With Israel's threats and U.S. invasions of neighboring countries, one can see why they might want some deterrence. U.S. officials are typically quick to point out that the Iranians are signatories of the N.P.T., and are therefore forbidden to develop nuclear weapons, but that same document also gives all signatories, including Iran, the absolute right to have nuclear power and all the technologies and capabilities that go with it. When dire warnings are given about Iran enriching uranium, the fact that Iran is enriching to the low percentages used in civilian nuclear power, and not to the high percentages required for nuclear weapons, is uniformly omitted.

In fact, in spite of ongoing claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Of course, it's possible that they are. Given the threats against them and the other reasons I have discussed, and if they share the assumptions of the same geostrategic thinking that informs our own government's actions, it would be understandable. The evidence, however, is to the contrary. Iran has been participating in the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection process, and the Supreme Leader has issued a legally-binding fatwa that nuclear weapons are against Islam. Conversely, The United States itself is in violation of the N.P.T., which seeks to prevent “wider dissemination of nuclear weapons”, and to “achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament”(U.N.). I don't think that any reading of U.S. history since the signing of the N.P.T. could conclude that the U.S. made good faith efforts toward disarmament. How can we, who abhor hypocrisy, take Iran to task for violations, alleged on the flimsiest of grounds, of a treaty of which we ourselves are in violation? Iran would have every right to withdraw from the treaty if it chose to do so, but it has not.

We should also consider the source of charges against Iran. The United States has a long and colorful history of demonizing countries much smaller, poorer and weaker than itself, of claiming an imminent threat of some kind, and then attacking those countries either by proxy or by direct invasion. We should be very skeptical of such talk now, especially in light of Washington's record of duplicity and double-standards, reinforced by the press and fed to the American people like baby food.

While it is true that the Iranian government has a hostile attitude toward the United States government, to say that Iran is an existential threat to the U.S. is absurd. The opposite is actually true. The U.S. and Israel have all but called for the destruction of Iran, and Iran has very little defense against their overwhelming military might. It is also well-known that the Iranian people have very high regard for the American people in spite of their experience with our government.

Shouldn't we, as Americans, who believe in fairness and detest hypocrisy, look for the truth in our relations with Iran? If we don't want them to develop nuclear weapons, which we can all probably agree would be a bad idea, why not seek to remove their incentive for developing them, namely, Israel's (and, ultimately, our own) possession of them?

Of course it's always possible for a small country or, more likely, non-state groups or individuals, to launch terrorist attacks on the United States, but even though those attacks might sometimes be successful, they do not threaten the existence of the United States. The possibility of terrorists obtaining and using nuclear weapons is a real concern, but the possibility will not be lessened by demonizing Iran, while condoning and even enabling other countries to build nuclear stockpiles. If we Americans could base our attitude toward Iran on a more realistic appraisal of its stature as a threat, I don't know how we could fail to take Iran's point of view into account, and to promote justice in the Middle East.

Sources cited:

Cole, Juan. "Ahmadinejhad: We Are Not a Threat to Any Country, Including Israel." Informed Comment . 27 August 2006. , 16 April, 2009.

Katz, Yaakov, Mark Weiss and AP. “US Afraid of an Israeli Strike in Iran.” Jerusalem Post 9 2007, Friday, News; pg 3. print.

Teitelbaum, Joshua. “Iran's Talk of Destroying Israel Must Not Get Lost in Translation.”Jerusalem Post 22 June 2008, Sunday, News; pg. 9. print.

United Nations. 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) 2-27 May 2005.Text of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).>, 16 April 2009.

Analysis/Synthesis--Two Views on Outsourcing

The articles, “30 Little Turtles”, by Thomas L. Friedman, and “New Threat to Skilled U.S. Workers”, by Froma Harrop, give two radically different views on the subject of the outsourcing of American jobs as a result of globalization. The two authors seem to be living on different planets.

It’s tempting to assume that the truth must be somewhere in the middle; that a balanced analysis of the two views would regard each as being an extreme, thus giving credence to both as legitimate. However, in answering the question “What should be our attitude about outsourcing?”, I don’t think that we should balance truth against fantasy.

Friedman sets out in his essay to convince us that the outsourcing of call center jobs is a love-and-light experience for Indian workers. They have high-prestige jobs, they support their families, they have credit cards, they have uplifting experiences learning to “roll their r’s” and they even “seemed to have gained confidence and self-worth”.

Friedman claims that “a lot of these Indian young men and women have college degrees, but would never get a local job that starts at $200 to $300 a month were it not for the call centers.” He goes on to give a couple of cloying anecdotes of young Indian hipsters, and “how cool it is” for them to have these exciting, promising careers. Of course, he exercises the tired myth that Indian (and third-world) workers worship someone like Bill Gates as a model of the American entrepreneur, “starting his own company, and making it big”.

Friedman then slyly inserts a scurrilous dichotomy when he says that the “positive . . . self-confidence” of a society (presumably the Indian society of call center workers) is better than a society (Arab? Muslim?) that is just “tapping its own oil” and that “can find dignity only through suicide and martyrdom”. Leaving aside the effects that outsourcing might have on his own country, Friedman apparently believes that if American corporations would just open call centers in Palestine (and forget workers here), all would be peace and prosperity.

Froma Harrop has a more sober view on outsourcing. Though she is definitely writing with the interests of American workers at heart (whereas Friedman’s sympathies obviously lie with multinational corporations and hot young Indians), her arguments are backed up by more facts than Friedman’s.

She quotes experts to quickly paint a picture of Business-Government collusion, not only to outsource jobs, but to do so within the United States. She describes the H1-B program, which “allows educated foreigners to work in the United States”, and which, according to one of her sources, is actually used to train these imported workers to better “interact with American customers” and bosses on their eventual return to the overseas call centers.

Harrop points out other effects of the program, such as that of depressing the wages of I.T. workers in America and extracting their knowledge at the same time as they are forced to train their own replacements. She deflates a typical argument of Business - that there is a “shortage of American workers trained to do the work” - with their own ideological contradiction, pointing out that if Business’ revered law of supply and demand were true, wages would not be flat.

Harrop concludes by describing a system in which “a few rich U.S. executives [are] commandeering armies of foreign workers” and showing no allegiance to the common good in the U.S., while a bipartisan congress is complicit. We, she warns, are “on our own”.

Friedman’s and Harrop’s views are completely and disorientingly at odds, and to me, Harrop seems to be more realistic. Although Friedman did make me consider the benefits that might accrue to young people overseas who do need jobs, he left out the fact that the main beneficiaries of outsourcing are the shareholders and executives of giant companies who put the difference in wages in their pockets, exploiting workers in India while betraying those in the U.S. All the while, workers around the world are getting poorer.

Considering that outsourcing is a natural consequence of capitalism, which seeks only lower costs and higher profits, I can only agree with Harrop’s grim assessment. When flowery-tongued propagandists like Friedman, together with both parties of the United States government, are bent on promoting the interests of capital, we are on our own.

Sources cited in this essay:

Thomas L. Friedman “30 Little Turtles”, pp. 142-143

Froma Harrup, “New Threat to Skilled U.S. Workers”, pp. 148-149

Uncle John's Furniture Truck

When I was nineteen, and had been out of high school for about six months, I needed a change. I was living in Michigan with my mother, working at a dead-end job, stuffing advertisements in copies of the “Battle Creek Enquirer and News.” When I got fired for not showing up on time, I saw my chance. I asked my Uncle John, who lived in Southern California, if I could move in with him. Uncle John was thirteen years older than I was, and he had always been my favorite uncle. He was tall, thin and hilariously funny, with a winning personality that charmed everyone he came in contact with. He had studied Karate and been to jail, and he was always quick with a wisecrack. To me, he couldn’t have been cooler.

Uncle John seemed very excited about the idea of me coming to stay with him. “Sure, Bubba Jake, come on out! I’m looking at buying a truck and getting into furniture delivery, and if that doesn’t work out, I always need help with the painting business.” John was, and is, an entrepreneurial spirit, and I looked forward to working for him, not least because I figured that he would take an avuncular pity on me, and not push me too hard. Boy, was I wrong. I got a one-way ticket, and flew to L.A. I had never been south of Chicago, so everything was new to me: the palm trees, the ocean, the city stretching for unbelievable miles across deserts and mountains.

Soon after I arrived, Uncle John picked up his new truck, a 26-foot high-cube bobtail, and we showed up for work at Krause’s Sofa Factory. We were technically contractors, and Uncle John, as owner-operator, was to receive $100 per day, while I, as his helper, would get fifty. Every day, we would show up at the warehouse in Fountain Valley at about 6:00 a.m., get a stack of 18 to 25 orders, with addresses, and plan our route. Uncle John had taken apart a Thomas’ Road Atlas of the whole of Southern California, and he put the pages into a glossy plastic sleeves, which we would mark with a grease pencil. Then, we would locate the furniture in the warehouse with the help of the Filipino dock hands, Telly and Pepe. We loaded everything in the order we had determined, and by 8:00 a.m. we were on the road.

The first day we went out I remember well. I had not yet gotten the commercial endorsement on my driver’s license that was required to drive the truck, but Uncle John was anxious for me to get some practice. Also, the job of the guy who wasn’t driving was to keep up with the route on the many laminated map pages, and to give directions to the driver. Being new to the area, and no great fist at navigation, I think I was slowing things down. So I took the wheel. Within five minutes, as I was turning right out of a cul-de-sac, I cranked the wheel sharply, causing the long body of the truck to cut the corner and travel over the curb, the sidewalk and the patch of well-manicured grass in between, shearing a fire hydrant from its bolts. Uncle John laughed as we waited for the cops to arrive, to whom he swore he was driving. They wrote him a ticket as mist from a 40-foot geyser cooled us in our brown polyester uniforms. I don’t think we got back to the apartment until about 8:00 that night, so tired that we “felt like kickin’ somebody’s dog,” as John said.

We came to expect long days; hot stressful days of at least 12 to 16 hours. We were totally inexperienced at residential delivery. On a typical day during our first couple of weeks, with our truck fully loaded, we would arrive at our first stop, only to have the merchandise refused by a tragically unhappy housewife. We would load the furniture back on the truck and find our way to the next address, a “pick-up” for repair. We quickly learned not to schedule pick-ups in the morning. Our stops would take all day long, and I mean from dark to dark, even if everything went smoothly. Though the job was grueling, it was an ideal way for me, at that age, to see California from Santa Monica to San Diego, Long Beach to Palm Springs, Dusty Hemet, the purple San Gabriel Mountains and the sage-colored hills of Orange County.

It was a bit challenging to deal with bodily functions on a freeway system where public restrooms were few and far between. As we saw it, sometimes we just couldn’t afford to deviate from our rounds to search for facilities. “Damn, I’ve gotta piss,” Uncle John would groan, his knuckles white on the steering wheel, “Give me that orange juice bottle.” I would fish around on the floorboards among the burger wrappers and map pages, finally producing the bottle. “Hold it for me, I’ve gotta steer.”

“No way!” I would yell, throwing it at him.

Our diet was correspondingly grim. Once we were getting lunch at “In-n-out” Burger, and the girl behind the counter was apologetic. “Sorry about the wait,” she said.

“That’s okay. You carry it well,” quipped John. As always, he had a twinkle in his eye that was so disarming that the girl took no offense.

He was also never one to shrink from a fight. Once, when we were in Palos Verdes, driving up a steep, winding road lined with low-hanging tees, our truck knocked down a small branch. “City’s supposed to keep that shit trimmed to fourteen feet,” Uncle John muttered. We continued up, and made our delivery, but on the way back down, a red-faced man who had been watering his lawn was waiting for us in the middle of the road, holding the branch. Bold and rotund, he came angrily up to my window and shoved the branch violently in my face. “Knock down my trees, will you?” he yelled. John exploded out of the truck and chased the man up his driveway and around and around the car that was parked there.

“Where you goin’?” cried Uncle John.

“To get my gun,” panted the man.

“Go get your gun. I’ll shove it up your ass!” Uncle John shouted gleefully.

Finally, after three months of a nightmarish cycle of work and sleep, I had had enough. I told Uncle John, “I’ve gotta do something else.”

“That’s cool, Jake,” he said, I’m gettin’ sick of this, too, and I’m not even making enough money to pay for the truck.”

I went out and found a 9 to 5 job painting signs. Uncle John continued on with his trucking business for a while longer, eventually going back to painting and then to Spanish-language interpreting, but I’ll always remember how he taught me to work. He did it by example. Always, even at 10:00 p.m. with three stops to go, Uncle John carried on with an attitude of humor and resignation. All these years later, when I am weary or frustrated at work, I think back on those days -- it was the hardest job I’ve ever had -- and I have learned that there is always something to laugh about, and there is always a way to find joy in “getting the job done”.

Angle of Vision--the Weston Cafe


Having risen before dawn, I’m sitting in the Weston Café on a brisk, early-spring morning. The ceiling fan lights cast a cheerful glow on the pale yellow walls that spills out the windows and gives the place a warm, welcoming, cozy shine not unlike Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks at the Diner” if it had been painted by Norman Rockwell.

A few of the old men from town sit at the counter, nursing their coffees and watching the news on the television, which is perched high in the corner on top of the Coke cooler. The smiling, pretty waitress brings me hot coffee and ice water, and takes my order for “the veggie lover’s breakfast” with two eggs, over easy.

As I sit in a comfortable ease, sipping my hot, black coffee, the scents of the kitchen gently waft toward my table, carrying a fine, savory mixture of potatoes and onions, pancakes and gravy. When my breakfast arrives, it further awakens my senses with perfectly browned potatoes, bright, fresh green peppers, and passionate, red tomatoes. The two eggs on top approach a vetelline perfection, glistening with clarified butter, the yolks gently quaking in their firm whites.

I eat slowly, relishing every bite, while my coffee never gets more than half-drunk before the attentive waitress, with a toss of her thick, brown hair, warms it up from a fresh-brewed pot.

Time seems to slow to a leisurely meander, and I feel as if I could sit here forever in the bosom of this homey café in Weston, antebellum jewel of Missouri.


I’ve dragged myself out of a warm bed before dawn, and groped my way through a cold drizzle to the Weston Café, where I sit waiting for an apparently pre-occupied waitress to notice me. The harsh ceiling lights starkly illuminate a group of sullen old men at the counter. They stare into their coffee and suck greedily on their cigarettes as the T.V., from a high, neck-craning corner of the room, blares nationalistic propaganda from Fox News over their grey heads.

Still waiting for some kind of acknowledgement, I glance around at the sickly-yellow walls, studded with a few dusty old photographs, and out the window, where the glaring lights, painfully bright as they are, barely seem to penetrate the morning gloom outside, which is exacerbated by the sad, run- down aspect of Main Street.

When the somewhat dumpy, disinterested waitress finally puts down her phone and waddles over to take my order, she answers me only with a grunt, and leaves me to my luke-warm coffee, which is so thin you could read a magazine through it.

After what seems like an eternity, my breakfast finally arrives, some kind of hash with a few limp vegetables scattered across it. The two eggs on top are completely cold in their flourescent coating of congealed grease. I somehow choke it down, lubricated with tepid coffee and tap water. All I can think of is getting out of here, to my job of manual labor on Main Street, Weston, armpit of Missouri.


I simply tried, in these two examples, to switch my attitude from positive to negative, seeing something like the bright ceiling fan lights as either warm and welcoming or glaring and stark; the waitress as either pretty or dumpy; the food as hot and delicious or cold and limp. It’s easy to see Weston either as an idealized Norman Rockwell version of small- town America where time has stood still, with its quaint brick main street from the mid-19th Century, or as a run-down, backward nowheresville that hope and progress have left behind.

Although the first example is probably closer to the truth, I must admit it was more fun to write the second one, as criticizing and complaining seem somehow more humorous and satisfying than looking on the bright side. Both examples have a great deal of exaggeration in an attempt to heighten

the impression I was trying to make.

This exercise has reinforced my belief that how we experience our surroundings and other people has a lot more to do with the state of our own minds than with the objective truth of the situation.