kitchen table

take a walk
November 28, 2006, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life, Growing Up, work

My boyfriend worked as a banker for almost four years before he went back to school. Four years in a cubicle, which is a hell of a lot worse than my sunny, quiet office in an old ministry. Even still, I get hella fidgety from time to time. I know it’s bad when I find myself checking the Entertainment tab of Yahoo! more than once in a one-minute time frame.

His advice? Take a walk.

And so I do. One of the nice things about working in an office in a city is that I have more to stare at on this five-minute diversion than a parking lot and some office park landscape. If I turn right at the door, I walk past a beautiful old church before reaching the corner where Italian delis mingle with barber shops. If I take a left, I stroll by the incredible red stone structure that is Lafayette High School and inevitably find myself at one of the many traffic circles of Buffalo’s West side.

And after that? It’s back to the grind.


Storm update from Buffalo
October 18, 2006, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life


Still without power in the Queen City but checking email and working from Spot Coffee on Delaware. This is what I kept thinking over the weekend as people came together to clean up their blocks and help their neighbors:

I believe — indeed, I know — that whatever is fine and beautiful in the human expresses and asserts itself in spite of government, and not because of it.   Emma Goldman, “What I Believe”

nice, little get away
September 20, 2006, 11:30 am
Filed under: Buffalo, City life, friends, Growing Up, love

“One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary, has ever happended to anyone before.”

Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”

Somerville station, NJ

I flew into New York last Thursday morning, early enough to almost fall asleep on the subway. I made a friend though, an Argentinian woman who wanted to go to “Can-nan-nal” Street during her layover, and our small talk kept me half-alert until I could reach my friend’s apartment and promptly fall asleep in his bed.

The city was filled with rain and strangers who shared with me umbrellas and other sweetness.

Flung back into the life of a vagabond–where am I staying tonight?–both fun and excruiating. Now that travel has become a short thing of the Getting Away nature, and not my lifestyle as it was when I hopped from plane to plane, country to country, I am feeling its affects differently. As expected, I appreciate it more immediately for what it is: luxurious, an escape.

But there’s this other piece too, and I’m afraid I’ve got little choice but to be vague as I work through the feeling: I’m learning how a simple vacation–especially when you visit a place where you spent a few nights asking yourself hard questions or a few mornings waking up in bed with a lover or a few evenings walking with a blank slate of obligations–can shake the whole foundation of the place from where you departed.

I don’t know how to let something devour me slightly.

Ralph “Bucky” Phillips & a comment on the coverage
September 11, 2006, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life, Racism

I work in politics so the past week has been anything but quiet. The Primary is tomorrow and I dreamt somewhere in there of posting about the industry of Election Products and Services (everything from bumper stickers to nail files to GOTV paid canvassers). No time though now, no time.

I do want to comment on the Ralph Phillips fever that has shook Western New York. For those of you fortunate enough to not know about the case, here’s a little background: Ralph “Bucky” Phillips escaped from jail in April, has been hiding out on the loose, shot a few state troopers throughout his run (one ended up dying), and was finally surrounded and caught last Friday night. Here in Buffalo, all of three of the local networks cut in to their regularly scheduled programs for over four hours
so that breaking news and press conferences could be aired on a moment’s notice.

Fine, it was a big story. Even made front page of the New York Times. What I’d like to comment on though are the countless number of white, rural folks interviewed by the news cameras who, through tears, told us all how happy they are to return to a normal, safe life. One man, during last night’s 11 o’clock news, said he was glad that he and his neighbors could go back to, “not locking our doors when we run out to the store.”

I’m glad for them, sincerely, but I cannot help but wonder why the press isn’t staking out the East Side of Buffalo. This is the area of the city where most of the year’s 54 or more homicides have taken place. This is the area of the city where innocent residents are most at danger, where children literally can’t play outside without fearing stray bullets. Where’s the uproar here? Is this not a story?

Update: While writing this post, I read a couple pieces over at the Buffalo News on the Phillips case. Ever willing to say something ridiculous, columnist Mary Kunz Goldman has suggested punishing people who “even associate” with a gang as a means to combat crime. Although I appreciate that she made the same connections between the Hunt for Phillips and the wave of violence in the city, I don’t think that turning our city into a police state is going to create the kind of peace we desire.

I want guys with camo and guns in front of my house. I want roadblocks and helicopters,” she says. Yikes.

the notchs on our rust belt
July 31, 2006, 2:02 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life

I grew up in North Buffalo and, later, its Northern suburbs. My drive into the city consisted of a quick ride East on the 33 or, more often, a slow ramble through the neighborhoods of Kenmore, University Heights, Hertel Avenue, Parkside, and the Elmwood Village. These were and are neighborhoods that have experienced relative prosperity in the wake of Buffalo’s industrial collapse. Most of the residents of the large, two-family homes are white, and the neighborhoods are marked with cute cafes and bursting gardens.

Occasionally we’d take Main Street on the way downtown and I’d glimpse the abandoned businesses. It didn’t feel like the Buffalo I knew, the one sprayed with beautiful, large houses and colorful lamp-post banners. Even more unfamiliar were the abandoned warehouses along the Niagara river–we saw those as we our way to my mother’s work, a health care facility situated on the West side, near the Peace bridge. I honestly thought they were the extent of the abandoned industry, all the notchs on our rust belt.

This has changed in the past couple weeks. I am seeing someone right now who grew up in the Southtowns. We’ve been talking for a good week about the differences between our respectives “drive-ins” to the city and what effect that has had on our feelings about Buffalo. As a kid, he witnessed the last good years, when Bethlehem Steel made the drive down Route 5 smell like rotten eggs. When the stacks were pumping out thick, black smoke. He also saw the break down as the plants closed, like dominos knocking each other out. And now, as he drives in to work every day in the city, he sees the skeletons of factories–and that’s really what they look like–stretched out along either side of the highways. It’s devastating.

Last night we watched the sunset from the town beach near his house and next to the city’s skyline I could make out the peaks of black mountains, falling off into Lake Erie: slag pits. I realized that this discovery is yet another (embarassing) example of my suburban shortsightedness, the blinders I didn’t even know I had on. The kind of absence of consideration that leaves me feeling like a child, muttering “whoa” and “wow” as she stares out the window.

Root causes
July 26, 2006, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Activism, Buffalo, City life, Film, Racism, Radio

On of the guests on Talk of the Nation this afternoon was James Allen Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern. The topic was the increasing violence in American cities. During his segment, one of the callers spoke about moving out of New Orleans and into a town in which the sheriff and another official were called out on their lack of “political correctness.” The caller kept referencing this idea of “political correctness” and said that he was willing to move his family to an area that had less “political correctness” because “thugs don’t come” to those neighborhoods. Just so you get it right: “thugs” don’t come to neighborhoods where the sheriff isn’t concerned with being “politically incorrect.”

Perhaps one of the pitfalls of having this “PC” shit enter our vernacular is that it is clearly being confused with racism. Thugs—don’t you mean black men, sir?—don’t reside in neighborhoods where the officials are politically incorrect (i.e., racist).

Blah. The segment with Fox was great though, good discussion about the root causes of violence. The man is really on the money. I tried to call in but it was too late; what I wanted to share was a plug for a documentary made in Buffalo. Forgotten City is written and directed by two young men, Addison Henderson and Corey Green. Both were born and raised in Buffalo. Story goes like this: Addison’s friend was murdered by Korey’s. After the death, the two came together to make a documentary about Buffalo, its segregation, economy, and violence. I saw the film a couple weeks ago and it was excellent. Time after time, the individuals in the film cited the lack of jobs as a major cause of violence, drug use, and racism within the city. Jobs, jobs, jobs. It ‘s almost incredible at how often it was the answer.

I think it’s an important film to see, copies are available on the website. If you’re involved in any sort of community where you are—campuses, non-profits, churches, etc—I think it’s worth it to have a screening and discussion.