Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Miles

This is a time of year when many individuals travel, you among them, for a purpose other than vacation.  In your case, you'd venture these miles for a vacation.  You, in fact, have done so.  

These November miles, the 1500 or so experienced, and the thousand or so to come, were for ritual, for education, for sentimentality,and for the delicious sense of messing around that underlies much of your undertakings.

A much favored novel, The Wonder Boys, by a favored author, Michael Chabon, has as its most memorable scene for you, a gathering at a Passover Seder in which the narrator is the lone Caucasian Jew present, listening in stunned wonder as a group of Koreans are performing the ritual in what he at first assumes is Korean, then comes to realize is Hebrew.  Thus Michael Chabon on ways in which culture shapes individuals and, in consequence, story.

You are gathered among family before a Hanukkah candle holder menorah, which is being lit by a Cambodian, who is joined in the chant by another Cambodian and a Japanese as well as two individuals who are by cultural DNA half Jewish, another who is not at all from the Jewish culture, and three who are entirely from it.  The candle-lighting ceremony is accompanied by a chant of blessing.  You are the only one present who does not know the Hebrew words.

You are warmed by the cultural journey traveled by every one of you in the room.  The traditional potato pancake or latke, present on the multicultural table before you is traditionally addressed with sour cream and/or apple sauce.  Both these are in attendance as well as Viet Namese hot sauce, cranberry sauce, turkey gravy, turkey leftovers, turkey stuffing leftovers, cilantro, diced onions, and roasted jalapeño peppers.  You believe you also saw a jar of Trader Joe's chunk style peanut butter.

To the orthodox traditionalist, such a table, its serving bowls, its individual plates, and all the serving implements would represent an aggregate chorus of taboos which reminded you, senior member present, of a time when your mother, great grandmother to four of those present, hosted a drug bust gone as awry as in its own way the one in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men went awry.

Your mother had agreed to let the top floor of her duplex at the mid-city Los Angeles confluence of Crescent Heights Boulevard and Whitworth Avenue be used as a surveillance spot for a suspected crack house on the west side of Crescent Heights.  A high-power viewing scope and a night-viewing scope were installed in a strategic window, to be monitored round the clock by FBI and DEA operatives.

In your culture, cooking and serving implements for meat dishes and dairy dishes must be kept separate, must not appear on the same table, nor must meat and dairy dishes be consumed simultaneously.  For an obvious example, and In-and-Out Cheeseburger is flat out taboo from the get go.

Dishes and implements that have been corrupted--say a spatula that was used to flip a hamburger was inadvertently used to lift a sunny-side-up egg--must be buried and subjected to a chant and interment.

Your mother was in her glory, helping the FBI and DEA, providing coffee and snacks for nearly a week, until one of the spotters saw something suspicious, then called for a team strike.

Thinking they were witnessing a disinterment of a cache of drugs, the agents, clearly not of the culture that spawned you, instead captured a woman of your mother's approximate age, digging up a serving bowl and dishes.

There are things to be learned from cultures and the ways of departure  from them.  Those are the significant trips in life.

You have long eschewed orthodoxy, whether in cultural or process-related themes.  

Each venture into a story or project is a trip away from some choice relative to orthodoxy.  These are the trips you hope to make for the remainder of your time on this planet.  Such trips have the near dizzying sense of falling in love, seeing the characteristic tracks of animals and birds on a crust of snow or the anomaly of a desert flower ignoring the snow and cold, showing its colors in the crisp, lucid air.  Such trips triangulate and merge cultures you never thought could get along so well under the same roof, seated at the same table.

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