Not Quite as Bad

Donald Trump came up tonight during an eclectic dinner conversation, mostly between Sarah and me, but including various spawn sponsored tangents. I don’t remember what we were saying precisely, but it wasn’t flattering. This piqued Griffin’s interest, of course, so he started asking questions about this Trump character. Both Sarah and I backpedaled off our most colorful aspersions — “ok, maybe he’s not a total idiot,” “he just likes to say ridiculous things,” “we just don’t agree with him about anything” — which only made Griffin more interested. (We usually keep the trash talk out of earshot.)

Suddenly, a look of understanding crosses Griffin’s face, and he says, “Ohhhh! He’s that guy… um, that really bad guy.”

“Which guy?”

“That bad guy. The one we learned about.”

“Where did we learn about him?”

“At the u-boat exhibit in Chicago.”

“Oh … wait … Hitler?

“Yeah! Hitler!”

<between gasps of appalled laughter> “No, honey, Trump is not as bad as Hitler.”

Aggressive Driving

The following letter, written by Sarah, was published in the Villager, a local neighborhood newspaper, in their October 14, 2015 edition.


Last week, I rode my bike, equipped with a seat for my three-year-old and a trailer, to Target in Midway. On my way home from shopping, I rode along Hamline Avenue and was aggressively forced dangerously close to the curb and yelled at out of the window by a man in a very large SUV to “Get the f*** off the road!” as he cut his right turn right in front of me. I was rattled and shaken, most importantly because I had my three-year-old daughter with me, clearly visible to the driver.

I am a law-abiding bike rider. I have a flag on my trailer, always wear a helmet (as do my children), use bike lanes when applicable, would never even dream of blowing through an intersection or stoplight, yield and stop when I am supposed to, give hand turn signals, and never assume that drivers are going to give me the right-of-way. I usually go out of my way to avoid heavy traffic, but when I need to (as in my route to Target, which is difficult to get to using side streets), I am very aware of my place on the road and act accordingly.

99% of the time, drivers are exceptionally courteous to me as a bike rider, especially when my children are present. I am constantly pleasantly surprised when drivers at stop signs wave me across or stop for me to cross a busy intersection. But all it takes is one person driving aggressively for a tragedy to occur. A typical SUV weighs 6,000 pounds. My bike and trailer, plus me and my children, probably top out at 300 pounds. It’s easy to see who would be the loser in that confrontation.

We have all made bone-headed mistakes as drivers. I drive a minivan and have certainly been distracted enough to not see a biker or pedestrian quickly enough to slow down or give the right-of-way. I try very hard to be a courteous driver, but there are going to be times when I accidentally scare someone on foot or on a bike. What I experienced was no accident. The message to me from that driver was very clear: I am willing to purposefully endanger your life and your child’s life to get where I need to go. If you know an aggressive driver, talk to them. If you see aggressive driving, record and report the license plate. Let’s work together as a community to make our roads safe for everyone using them, including bike riders and pedestrians.

Review: Rebel Queen

Rebel QueenRebel Queen by Michelle Moran
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although I usually avoid this sort of book, being suspicious of most western, orientalist portrayals of the “east,” I do love picking up random books from the many nearby little neighborhood libraries (those wonderful front-lawn libraries-on-a-post that have sprung up in recent years). This one leapt out at me, so I blazed through it over the past few days. The basic story was interesting enough to hold me to the end, but that’s built into the historical material: the clash of cultures, colonization, rebellion, etc. Beyond that, the book was a disappointment.

First, I tripped over the language. Moran makes use of some astoundingly clunky imagery. Consider a few examples:

“As anyone who’s ever lived inside a house of eggshells knows, nothing is more fragile.”

“I became like a frozen stream—hard and impenetrable on the outside, but secretly bursting with life within.”

“By the time we rode out, the lump in my throat had grown so large I could hardly swallow.”

“Love can be like the seasons, turning a green leaf into something frail and yellow.”

Hello… editor? How did these make it into the final draft? Those first two are on the same bloody page. On the bright side, as a writing teacher, it’s always good to find such stink bombs. I’ve already shared them with one English class… and even seventh graders recognized their flaws.

Second, the book succeeded in dampening my interest in the title character (the famed Rani of Jhansi). I was certainly sympathetic to the rebel cause, but after reading page after page about the overwrought opulence of the Rani, the Raja, and the members of their court, and then contrasting this with the lives of the bulk of the people in their community, it was difficult to maintain a sense of sympathy. When the British first annex Jhansi, there is a chapter that focuses on the Rani being forced out of her stupendous palace and moving to a smaller, older, stupendous palace. It’s filled with pathos, with lines like, “Thousands of people lined the roads to watch our procession to our new home, and they were utterly silent.” And the dramatic tension was sustained by focusing on whether the Rani would be able to keep her stuff, including her “elaborate peacock throne” made of emerald studded gold. But luckily, in the midst of central drama of who gets to keep the bling, the Rani says, with tears in her eyes, “And what will happen to our people?” See, she really does care!

Ultimately, I recommend reading an actual historical account of this period and these legendary characters rather than this clumsy fictionalized version. And, don’t forget that your house of eggshells is fragile.

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Review: The Road Not Taken and Other Poems

The Road Not Taken and Other PoemsThe Road Not Taken and Other Poems
by Robert Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Frost never leapt out at me during my sporadic forays into poetry. I was familiar with—and moderately fond of—a few of his most famous poems, and certainly the title poem of this collection, but never enough to seek out more. I picked up this collection because of David Orr’s introduction, which did not disappoint. I love an intro that can contextualize the author both historically and in terms of current sensibilities. Orr is erudite, efficient, and precise, with enough wit (and delicious dashes of pop culture) to avoid any whiff of pedantry.

I intended to skim through the rest of it, but found myself sucked in. To my surprise, I was particularly drawn to his longer poems; I rarely have patience for these, preferring poetry that packs a quick wallop. The first that wowed me, and still my favorite in the collection, was “The Death of the Hired Man.” I read it, was stunned at how evocative it was, and reread it immediately—I was there on the porch steps watching the conversation unfold. A 166 line masterpiece. Others that leapt out were “The Housekeeper,” “The Fear,” “Birches,” and “The Bonfire.” Each of them packed an emotional punch and grew with each rereading.

My former English teachers may be relieved to know that I finally, a few decades late, get what all the Frost fuss is about.

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