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A play in one act.

Setting: an open-plan office space in eastern Massachusetts.

Cast of Characters:

— BG (British Guy) – a middle-aged upper-level manager visiting from the company’s site in England
— AG1 (American Guy #1) – a middle-aged scientist with a PhD
— AG2 (American Guy #2) – a slightly younger and somewhat more junior scientist

——————————-

BG: So I understand you have your Thanksgiving holiday next week? What exactly is that? Is it something to do with your independence?

AG1: Yeah, next week. It has to do with the Pilgrims. It was the first year they came here, and they were really grateful. For their religious freedom. I think it was their first year. Oh shoot, I should really know this.

BG: And I hear you eat turkey?

AG1: Yes. Only the Pilgrims didn’t. They had more regular stuff. But now mostly it’s turkey.

BG: So is Thanksgiving always on a Thursday or Friday?

AG1: It’s always the 4th Thursday in November.

AG2: Yeah, and so the traffic always used to be really bad on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, with everyone traveling, and one year I got stuck on the Mass Pike for hours, but now the traffic is spread out more into Monday and Tuesday, and so now maybe Tuesday is the worst day.

AG1: There’s a lot of people now who take the whole week off, or at least a couple extra days.

AG2: When I lived in the Midwest, there was never any traffic out there, but here it’s really terrible. And then everyone comes back on Sunday, and the traffic is terrible then too. I got stuck on the Mass Pike for hours all the way from 84 one year.

BG: So does everyone have the Friday off?

AG1: Pretty much. Except for stores. They’re all open and it’s Black Friday.

AG2: Some are even open on Thanksgiving for the Black Friday sales.

BG (looking too confused to dare ask what “Black Friday” means, or why its sales would fall on a Thursday holiday): And then you do all the traveling all over again a month later for Christmas?

AG1: Well, a lot of people celebrate Thanksgiving with one side of the family, and Christmas with the other.

BG (looking relieved at something that finally makes sense, and deciding to end this conversation on a positive note): I can see how that would work out well.

I feel ambivalent about the idea of wearing a safety pin in the aftermath of the election. I understand there are situations where it might be helpful, but mostly it seems like a token feel-good thing. However, I couldn’t resist taking a photo when a teenager pointed out the safety pin holding together the fabric side of the cereal rack, where I was stationed as I volunteered in the food pantry.

Note: taken at almost closing time. Usually it's end-to-end carts in here.

Note: taken at almost closing time. Usually it’s end-to-end carts in here.

 

Because this is what it means, when I stand by that safety pin in the food pantry:

Even though I am white and you are black/Asian/Hispanic/multi-racial, I care about you. If you want to discuss the weather here compared to the country you came from, or talk about how people from your culture prepare a certain type of food, I’m happy to chat. Otherwise, the only aspect of your color I’ll comment on is if you’ve dyed your hair since the last time I saw you. Because who doesn’t appreciate hearing, “Hey, you did something different with your hair – it looks good!”

Even though I am able-bodied and you use a cane/walker/wheelchair, I care about you. When I help everyone heave their grocery carts over the wooden threshold in the doorway to the next room, I will be extra-gentle with you because I know you’re leaning on that cart for balance. And if you have reusable shopping bags, I can tuck their handles into the sides of the cart, so the bags stay open and you can drop food in one-handed.

Even though I speak fluent English and you speak Spanish/Portuguese/French/Arabic/Chinese, I care about you. When my limited Spanish means I explain the difference between instant oatmeal and slow-cook oats by describing it as “rapido” versus “no rapido” because I can’t remember the word for “slow,” we can both laugh about it. And you will know what type of oats you’re picking.

Even though I am Christian and you are Muslim/Jewish/atheist/pagan, I care about you. When you show up looking nervously out from your hijab, unsure of your welcome after some particularly bad news week, I will let you know how impressed I am by your sewing skills at converting a secondhand sweater into part of an abaya. I will be aware of which major holidays are coming up in each of the major religions, especially since so many of them involve celebrating with special meals and foods, and we can talk about what you’re planning to cook to celebrate. Although I still haven’t found any religious traditions which would involve the jumbo-sized can of clam juice that’s been sitting on the miscellaneous rack for weeks.

And even though I am tired from a long day at work and a couple hours in the pantry, and you are one of the last people through, and your child is an undisciplined terror who is about to knock over the entire cereal rack, I care about you. And I will let you move on to the next room as quickly as possible, even if it means you’re kind of blocking the doorway, so your son can feel like he’s nearing the end. Or at least he’ll have room to spin around in circles without bumping into too many people. Because even the best-behaved little kid would get very restless, standing in an hour-long line at dinnertime, to get groceries.

Because in an ideal world, this is not how anyone should have to get their food.

But because we’re not in that ideal world, I’ll be doling out the cereal, and checking sugar content for diabetics who can’t afford reading glasses, and helping carts over the threshold.

All while standing by that safety pin.

Election Day

I spent last night volunteering at the food pantry.  We’re supposed to be open 5-7 pm, but anyone who arrives by 7 pm will get groceries, and the volunteers stay as long as it takes.  Most weeks, the last client is out no later than 7:10.

Last night, the last client left at 7:45.

I know that, realistically, there’s not much Clinton could do to make many of these clients’ lives better.  The elderly woman who hobbles through with her walker, and is collecting groceries for a household consisting of her plus 3 grandchildren under the age of 14, is going to have a tough time with life no matter what.  The immigrant who works a 12-hour shift, and is so tired by the time he’s waiting for groceries that he said last night he’d rather be in his bed than win the lottery, is not going to suddenly land a well-paying 9-5 job.

But I also know that many of these clients’ lives would be distinctly harmed if Trump is elected.  They need Obamacare.  They need a nation that doesn’t institutionalize discrimination against immigrants and Muslims.  They need higher-education opportunities for their children or grandchildren that are affordable, not scams.

And so I’m very proud of M, who has spent the last several days campaigning down in Pennsylvania with the Democratic students’ group from his university.  I haven’t heard anything from him since he left.  But judging by the write-up here in the Pennsylvania news, those kids have been working really hard.

They’ve probably been working almost as hard as the elderly grandmother, and the exhausted immigrant.

As this horrific election cycle draws to a nail-bitingly anxious end (oh please God, make it come to an end next week, and not drag on like Bush/Gore 16 years ago), I actually saw an election-related piece of news today that made me smile. The Boston Globe had a story about a viral movement of (mostly) women choosing to wear white as they go vote, in honor of the suffragists 96 years ago, and in recognition of how far we’ve come, as we cast our votes for a woman at the very top of the ticket.

YES!

I remember being at an all-girls summer camp, when the news came out in 1984 that Geraldine Ferraro was nominated as vice-president. It had never even occurred to me, or most of the other campers, that a woman would even be considered for that role. And here we are, a mere (snort) 32 years later, with a woman running for the very top office on a major party ticket.

8 years ago, M and I went into the voting booth together, and together we very carefully filled in the oval next to Obama’s name, so someday we could each tell our grandchildren that we voted for the first African-American president — something that had been just as unthinkable in my childhood as the idea of a woman as president.

This time around, M will be spending Election Day helping with a get-out-the-vote campaign in Pennsylvania, as part of the Democratic students’ group from his college, having already cast his absentee vote for Clinton.

And on Election Day, in honor of the women almost a century ago who helped make it possible for me to vote, I’m going to wear my white turtleneck and white sweater, as I walk into that voting booth, and very carefully color in the oval next to Clinton’s name.

screenshot

Shortly after dawn, he spies his prey, and moves into position. 

He creeps ever closer, one stealthy pace at a time.

His prey moves to the floor, and he leaps down, then closes in, scoring the last few drops of milk.  Success!

Last night, E was venting a bit about what a frustratingly stressful day she’d had at work. And she’s certainly entitled to vent – she works very long hours on top of a hellish commute, and the group she manages is incredibly short-staffed, and yet the services they provide are often critical to life-and-death situations.

Her day had been so bad that she said when she got a LinkedIn job offer to work for a major women’s clothing retailer, she’d actually been tempted for a split second. I eyed her up and down very dubiously, and we both burst out laughing.

Because she’d already changed from her workday attire into her relax-around-the-house outfit, which consisted of:

     1) Navy blue men’s sweatpants
     2) A shapeless gray T-shirt
     3) A stretched-out gray long-sleeved T-shirt

and, for the crowning glory,

     4) A maroon sweatshirt which had caught fire when we were burning brush a couple winters ago, and which now has a very jagged neckline after we cut away the melted top half of a zipper.

This was so definitely not the corporate look of the women’s clothing retailer in question that we just had to laugh!

College update from M

M phoned last night, for the first time since early September, so we got to hear loads of good details about college that never make it into our usual brief, disjointed, text conversations.

In no particular order:

-He’ll be going on a “get out the vote” trip to Pennsylvania with the college Democrats group, in the days right before the election. I’m hoping it will be a valuable learning experience for him, a good way to make more friends, and help to swing that state a little more blue, for both presidential and congressional races.

-The food truck parked on his street is open 24/7. This is why he could get fish and rice at 12:45 in the morning.

-He and a friend went to see a taping of John Oliver, and really enjoyed the experience.

-Classes are going well, yesterday’s midterm went well, and he was sorting out something about class registration. He seemed to have it all under control, despite taking a rather heavy course load.

-His dorm room has cockroaches. We emphasized he really needed to report that. He seemed to know how to do so.

-He’s gone to a couple different art museums (I think as part of his art class assignments), and really liked seeing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in person. He also learned that when museums are 30 blocks apart, it’s a really long walk, and would be better to take the subway.

-He’s gotten moderately lost in the NYC subway system, but in general is figuring it out OK.

-We asked about his class schedule on the day before Thanksgiving, then clarified for him that Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday, not Friday. He’s got to check on a couple classes, but we’re getting closer to being able to buy a bus ticket for him to come home.

Because it will be very good to see him again, and hear even more about what he’s been up to. And I’m sure he’ll appreciate sleeping somewhere without cockroaches.