I went to a university with a highly respected theater program and went to see every play but the one thing I still regret not doing is sneaking in and taking a look behind the scenes. Not that there was ever that much to see, but I like to look at theater sets from the back, to see the inner workings, even when they’re not particularly complex. And I’m used to being in the audience so I like to get some idea of the view from the actors’ perspective, although in my limited acting experience it’s best to pretend the audience isn’t even there.
And with its hilariously tangled plot full of mistaken identities–it’s probably the closest thing to slapstick you’ll find in Shakespeare with a story about two pairs of twins who keep getting mixed up–it’s fitting to check out A Comedy of Errors from the other side.
Given the topsy-turvy plot it’s also fitting that the stage has its own ersatz version of the world-famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Sometimes words fail me. When that happens I turn to the words of others. They can provide peace, thoughtful reflection, or a window into the experiences of people who are unlike me. That’s why, following recent events, I’ve been rereading some of the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa.
We are from very different backgrounds. I’m a white guy who was brought up in and have spent my entire life living in some level of middle class suburbs. Other than college in Indiana and a brief study overseas I’ve spent my time in Tennessee.
He’s an African American man born to a poor family in the deep South—Bogalusa, Louisiana. He’s from an earlier generation and served in the Army in Vietnam. His birth name is James William Brown. He changed his name to that of his Trinidadian grandfather. He writes about a wide range of subjects, including race.
I didn’t start reading his poetry because we come from different backgrounds. I started reading his poetry because a friend who’d read some poems of mine said, “You write like him.” And when I read his poem Blackberries I felt that way too. With a dog of my own I’d been in those places he describes. But then our experiences diverge. He describes feelings I’ve felt but in a situation I’ve never experienced—a situation he might have experienced several times.
No single person represents an entire group. No matter how we join together, or join others together, we’re still individuals. But a single person can articulate the feelings and experiences of a group.
With that in mind I re-read Facing It. History can alter context, and recent events have left me feeling that this is more than a poem about a veteran’s feelings as he stands before the Vietnam Memorial. An African American man standing before a black wall, seeing his own reflection as he reads names of those who lost their lives—this speaks to me of something I haven’t yet experienced but something I too have to face.
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
Oh yeah, I also thought about the time I was barred from a nearby bar. That prompted me to walk to another one roughly half a mile farther away which was fine because the people were nicer, the pizza was better, and I needed the exercise.
The only part of the experience that has left me bitter is that I didn’t get a creative nickname. So how you do think you’d be described if you got barred?
Paris, 1923: Chef Marmot de Mange created a tremendous sensation with the introduction of zucchini bread (pain de courgette). A simple recipe it was nevertheless praised by gourmands and the general public. Prior to its debut the humble zucchini had merely been a primary ingredient in ratatouille and a common filler for smoothies. De Mange had, less than two years earlier, been almost as successful with his invention of banana bread, helping to extend the popularity and shelf life of the already popular new fruit, also a primary ingredient in ratatouille.
Sadly the chef’s fortunes would take a turn when the public, expecting newer and greater things from him, rejected his subsequent offerings of aubergine and asparagus breads, his experiments with cabbage bread, and his efforts to get people to at least try kohlrabi.
Banana bread and zucchini bread continued to be served in passe patisseries throughout World War II. American GIs brought home the recipes and in 1949 zucchini bread appeared in Annie Potter’s Cook Happy, alongside her hot dog and pineapple gelatin salad.
Today both breads are more popular than ever. It’s estimated that either a whole or partial loaf of banana or zucchini bread is placed in an office breakroom every 44.1 seconds.
Even though Susan Harlan’s Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face made me laugh something about it still bothered me. And then I realized it’s that term and I remembered that one of my favorite things about going to dog shows is hearing little old ladies say, “Look at that bitch go” and “Who does that bitch think she is?” but that’s another story.
And I felt like the list was still putting the responsibility in the wrong place. Maybe that was the point and I not only missed the joke and am unnecessarily white knighting here–it wouldn’t be the first time. I’m still trying to figure out why guys think it’s appropriate to ask women to smile and I’m amazed by the catalog of creepiness at Endearingly Wacko (part 1 and part 2) I’d like to offer up some alternatives to the alternatives.
I’m Projecting My Feelings Onto You Brain
You’re Out Of My League So I’m Going To Insult You Brain
I Have No Self-Awareness Brain
I Expect Something In Return For Behaving Like A Decent Human Being Brain
I’m Unaware Of This Male Privilege You Speak Of Brain
I Really Believe Women’s Experiences Are Just Like Men’s Brain
I Don’t Get Why You Aren’t Flattered By Attention From Strangers Brain
I’ll Decide Whether I’m Your Type Brain
I Was Raised By Coyotes Brain
I’ve Mistaken You For Someone Who Gives A Shit Brain