All It Took Was A Smile

All It Took Was A Smile

All it took was a friendly smile.

I had nothing else to do on a spring Saturday in May roughly about 7 years ago. I decided to walk and visit the shops and places in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood. The State Historical Building and the Olympic Flame restaurant were the only two places I knew and went to. When I interned at the Iowa drug czar’s office in college, I was introduced to The Olympic Flame. That was my only remembrance of East Village until I moved to Des Moines a year later in 1998.

After a few stops, I was in front of a store that was on the corner of E. Grand and E. 5th.  The store looked small. It was filled with lotions, soaps, and other items that I was ashamed to admit that it smelled so good. The store was laced with the scent of lavender, citrus, parfum, different types of exotic oils, perfume and cologne.

Rather than keep walking, I was curious enough to foolishly walk in. After about three minutes of standing in front of a table of fragrant soap, the owner notices me and asked if there was anything she could help me with. Being a mild stutterer, I was caught off guard and I stammered out “No thank you. I was looking.” I quickly left and went about my way.

Not long after that, the store moved to its current place on East 6th. The place was a little bigger and brighter. White and light tones dominated the inside of the store. The signage outside was hard not to ignore.

eden

Simplistic and yet it had a charm and an identity that would have a hand in the evolution of East Village.

I walked inside, once again curious as hell as I meandered past the tables and shelves of shampoo, soap, candles, and children books. The owner, as she did the last time, asked if I needed any help. I didn’t quite remember her, only because I kept my head down in embarrassment. I don’t recall what I said, but it had something to do with soap or shaving cream.

What I remember about that exchange was that she smiled.

Jennifer Hansen had a smile that made you feel welcomed, whether you were going to buy something or wandering around like I did.

After that, I became a fan and a supporter of eden. I learned how she was inspired to open eden: her grandmother visited Paris and told stories about Paris. Years later, Jennifer would visit Paris. Paris was the inspiration for her to open her own store. Holiday parties, special events, and First Friday were “must-go” for friends and acquaintances to stop by. First Fridays in the summer was on my calendar, not to shop, but to sit in the back with the men, as her husband John grilled hot dogs or steaks. In the front of the store, the shop girls and Jen would provide homemade cocktails.

eden 2
Courtesy: Historic East Village of Des Moines (eastvillagedesmoines.com)

A large poster of Audrey Hepburn and a red scooter (Vespa, I think?) were the first things to greet customers when they walked through the doors of eden.

Three visits stood out to me as memorable. The first was when I was looking for a birthday gift for my youngest niece. I walked out of there with a stuffed brown dog with ears that flapped all over the place. The next purchase was a gift basket for my mother for Christmas. Jen helped me put together the basket. The third one, and this is important to me, was when I got up the courage to ask Jen and a friend who also had a shop in East Village, if it was possible for my non-profit to have our walk through East Village.

That ask came before I was diagnosed with advanced stage retinopathy. I struggled to see anything in focus. On the day of the walk, I didn’t get the chance to see the walkers walk through and experience East Village for the first time.

I wasn’t allowed to drive or bike. I had to call a cab if I needed to go somewhere. After the walk was over, I walked the nearly 7 blocks through downtown, across the bridge over the Des Moines River, to thank Jen and Alyssa for their help. The walk event wasn’t a huge success, but the confidence to ask for support and ideas were pretty special.

Jen was a Sherman Hill apologist through and through. John and her also loved camping. In fact, she gave their camper a name. The camper was part of her family along with the cats who lived in their Sherman Hill home.

Before I met her, there was one unwelcome guest that never seemed to leave: cancer. Yeah, that guest. When I learned I had retinopathy and later kidney failure, I privately thought of Jen and how she kept a smile on her face despite chemotherapy, days of physical drain, and when she had to rest at home, while the shop girls ran the store.

In essence, showing kindness through adversity. Adversity is a box that contains stuff that we do not want, but rather than sit and stew about it, we find ways to understand, accept, and eventually part ways with that box.

The last visit I made to eden was a year ago, in October 2016. I was in town for an event, and it was First Friday. I stopped by, quietly, as Jen, the shop girls, and the customers were mingling.

Why ruin something that is, well, just perfect? Everyone was in good spirits. There was no time to talk about illnesses.

Until Monday morning. The unwelcome visitor, cancer, left for good.

And took Jennifer along.

Cancer sucks, but no one here on this planet is going to put their boxing gloves down for anything. Cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, and other unwelcome guests.

As I remember Jennifer Hansen, the large poster of Audrey Hepburn and the scooter in the window front doesn’t make me mourn. I can see in my own mind Jen riding on that red scooter…with Audrey hanging on as they ride down Locust Street in East Village.

With a smile on their faces.

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The “Creative Class” Ideology Going Backwards

The “Creative Class” Ideology Going Backwards

Last week, there was an editorial that should have had more attention and discussion about race and socioeconomics than marches and statues.

That puts me in the minority, pardon the pun, to rehash this topic again.

The Des Moines Register published an editorial on Sunday, August 13th about the racial gaps that African-Americans continued to face in Des Moines.

This might be a dumb question…did they come up with this conclusion on their own, or did they read this and this, and figured out that a no-name hack (me) knew what the hell he was talking about?

Coincidence? I’ll you figure that out on your own.

I asked this in October 2014, and I will ask this again: why is Des Moines is so “progressive” and “diverse”, and yet continue to ignore the “urban core” of their city?

For a city like Des Moines who will organize a protest to stand down against hate, misogyny, and racism, it feels like the people (progressives) who say they are against “hate” are the same ones who must hate the idea of poor individuals living next door to them and would prefer to have those people shepherded off to a different part of town so that their pristine condos and brick house neighborhoods look attractive to new visitors.

In some circles, the “urban core” is code for “black neighborhoods”, “ghettos”, and run down areas that are ripe for enterprise zones and gentrification. The term gentrification today doesn’t strike fear in Millennials and upwardly mobile individuals. There is little to no objections to “white-washing” former blighted areas with high-priced housing, but plenty of demands to jettison statues for symbolic gestures.

The economic disparities and policies that are affecting the minority populations and the so-called “urban core” is real, not propaganda.

American urban studies theorist Richard Florida recently realized that his “creative class” ideology did not pan out the way he anticipated. The “creative class” he envisioned is homogeneous, upper class, and financially well-off (in layman’s terms…white). It was quite obvious, to this writer, that there is a sentiment that most minorities (African-Americans in particular) are not considered as “creative” and not many are part of the “creative class” that Florida and his legion of followers swore by.

I can’t confirm that assumption, but it sure has the smell of it.

It’s about opportunities and affordability (say it with me here, white and black “privilege”). Many in the urban core do not have both, unless you are an elected official representing those areas. I experienced this myself for several years after the recession of 2009. I was seeking opportunities, but I wasn’t a “fit” for businesses, leaders, and individuals in Des Moines. It wasn’t just that I was black, I stuttered, went to a small college, and I was an introvert who wasn’t for small talk and brown-nosing.

I also could not afford to attend events like the Principal Charity Classic, Winefest, and others, despite my love for golf, wine, and art. I had to be in my 20’s, white, upper class, and be someone who would most likely be groomed as a community or business leader. I wasn’t in any of those categories.

I couldn’t afford to live and work downtown, or own a house, if I was a vice president of a bank and paid my bills on time.

Des Moines and other Midwestern cities have fallen into the trap of trying to be “hip”, “progressive”, and “cool”, to entice the “creative class”, Millennials, and rich empty-nesters to move into these cities. If there was a list of current or new condos being built in Des Moines, how many of those current or new residents are African-American, Hispanic-American, or non-white? And out of that list, how many are above the income median range to live there? Let’s see if the Des Moines Register will work on getting those stats.

If it is less than 5%, we have a problem. It’s not diverse. It’s not progressive. It’s the status quo.

How many citizens can afford a $300,000 + condo when they can hardly keep the lights on in a run-down home in the Drake neighborhood (where students attend a private university that many children living in the neighborhood will never be able to afford to go)?

Our zeal to be progressive has caused unintended consequences that has further progressed the gap between a city and it’s minority residents.

I have plenty of thoughts about the editorial and my previous posts, but I’ll stop here.

I don’t want to disturb you from The Solheim Cup, protesting statues, and blaming Russia for our recent troubles.

 

 

Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

 

Maher.jpg
Is there a line that is crossed when comedians act as “news sources”?  (Washington Post)

Comedy can be a teachable tool.

Bad and vile comedy can cross a line. Good comedy can teach us about something we haven’t thought of.

There are two news pieces that are good cases about how comedy can teach us in different ways.

The brilliant Daniel P. Finney of the Des Moines Register writes a thought-provoking piece about comedians dipping their feet into politics. You can offer a political opinion, but there are consequences when it crosses the line.

It is a stark reminder to me about the role of journalists. Unfortunately, there are a cadre of journalists who continue to blur the lines between “reporting” and “commentary”.

The takeaway quotes are below from Finney’s column:

“When you stake out the moral high ground and say you are the party of inclusion and diversity and the other party is not, you’d better make damn sure the people who are carrying your message are morally sound,” said Rachel Caufield, an associate professor of political science at Drake University who has taught a course on political satire. “Racial slurs and faked decapitated heads are not the way the left are going to reach the center.”

Whether we like it or not — and for the record, I don’t — comedians are now treated as thought leaders and news sources in this country.

And the fake decapitated heads and racial slurs do more than just besmirch the images of a couple of rogue comedians. They undermine the message of liberals and Democrats. 

Daniel P. Finney, “Comedy is killing the political left”, Des Moines Register, June 7, 2017 

The statement underlined is the various reasons I am a small minority of viewers who chose not to watch individuals like Jon Stewart, Colbert, Trevor Noah and others. They are comedians who are treated as “news sources” because viewers do not trust the mainstream media.

Is it wrong to assume that these are the same viewers who feel obligated to “support” the mainstream media that is being “attacked” by the current presidential administration?

Do these viewers support the media and at the same time loathe them enough to get their “news” from Samantha Bee and have her affirm their beliefs?

It is clear that viewers want “affirmation” for their beliefs, not information that they need. That comment comes from (surprise!) noted hot sports take aficionado Colin Cowherd., who has been saying this for a decade.

I need information to learn what is going on. I can form my own opinions privately, without the help of a comedian. Especially unfunny comedians like Maher who has become increasingly bitter and acrimonious because he isn’t the “go-to” guy that Colbert, and Stewart before him, was.


The recent arrest of Reality Winner, or whoever her real name is, for allegedly removing classified information from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet, is  starting to pick up some traction. Attorney Mark Zaid, who represents whistleblowers, said that Winner isn’t a whistleblower. She had grudge against the President and decided to use her grudge as retaliation.

I don’t know much about this story, so I’ll refrain from forming an opinion until I understand more about what took place.

Which leads to this question….

“Do government workers believe in the policies that their elected leaders come up with?”

Government employees are hired to carry out government policies. That should be a simple task, but it’s not. With any change in leadership, policies can fluctuate and change quickly. That puts government employees, regardless of  in a conundrum.

Yes Minister
“Yes Minister” is a great lesson in how government operates, for good and evil. I highly recommend this series. I prefer it over “House of Cards”. Don’t @ me. (Den of Geeks)

This question popped into my head while watching one of my favorite television shows, “Yes Minister”. “Yes Minister” (and its successor “Yes Prime Minister”) details the inner workings of the British government and the comedic attempts by Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Civil Service to thwart (Government) Minister Jim Hacker’s pursuit to enact policies for the public good.

In the episode, “The Whisky Priest”, Hacker is alerted about an illegal sale of arms to an Italian terrorist group. He plans to tell the Prime Minister, but Sir Humphrey attempts to discourage and obstruct Hacker from telling the Prime Minister.

In the pivotal scene in between Humphrey, Hacker, and Bernard Woolley, Humphrey’s dialogue about what his job is and what the role of government paints a picture of what government workers go through on a daily basis when elected officials try to create policies that goes one way or another and then expect government employees to believe in it and enforce those policies.

Sir Humphrey: My job is to carry out government policy.

Hacker: Even if you think it’s wrong?

Sir Humphrey: Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but… frightfully well carried out.

“Yes Minister” unveils several questions about how, and who, actually runs the government.

Do the elected officials run the country or is it the bureaucrats who dictate the daily operations on Capitol Hill, state capitals, and in City Hall?  If citizens do not trust politicians, should we trust bureaucrats and government workers, who clearly has more knowledge about what goes on?

When you finish “The Whisky Priest”, I encourage you to watch several more episodes and ask yourself “Do we really know what is going on in our governments, and do we care to know?”

A Missing “Core”

A Missing “Core”

Two stories in the Des Moines Register recently caught my eye, and it tied into a piece 2014 piece I wrote.

The Brookings Institute published a report on metro areas that has seen economic recovery after the recession. Des Moines was one of the cities that enjoy “inclusive” economic growth that benefited a diverse range of the region’s population, however, Brookings also indicated that also the greater Des Moines economy is leaving some workers behind, namely poor workers.

The second story was a release of a study from The Directors Council, a local non-profit group, on the widening racial disparities in Polk County and Des Moines.

In October 2014, I wrote on how Des Moines is so progressive in many areas and yet ignoring the African-American community within the urban core. Surprisingly, some groups are finally getting around to addressing these issues. The urban core is poor and most of the citizens of this core are African-Americans.

There are a two questions that I have…

  1. I have never heard of this The Directors Council or the affiliations underneath TDC. I had lived in the Des Moines area for 13 years and not one person of color, or anyone else, has mentioned this group to me. For the record, I am African-American. I have been seeking organizations like these as a way to connect to possible mentors or to establish new networks.
  2. What was this group doing when Ako Abdul-Samad told the National Journal in 2014 about his frustration on how Des Moines has viewed and treated its predominantly black urban core?

There is a lack of African-Americans in (political) leadership, in arts and nonprofits, and in the Des Moines business community. The only time I hear of a prominent African-American in Des Moines, that person is in the business world.

I hear of their names, but I never see them in person.

They must be hard to track down. It’s better to not be seen than to have people recognize you, that is my guess. And no, attending the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s diversity receptions do not count as an official appearance.

When I look back at my experience living and working in Des Moines. I continue to question the willingness of Des Moines to address actual problems regarding the socioeconomic disparities within its city borders, without slapping paint on it and say “everything’s fine”.

The new wave of “gentrification” in the downtown area, unemployment rates for African-Americans, safety for those who live in poorer neighborhoods, and food scarcity with regards to affordability to buy fresh food over cheap junk food are vital topics for the urban core, beyond the common topics of race, unemployment, and economics.

I don’t have an answer to how all of this can be fixed. I’m no policy wonk. I do know that in order for Des Moines (not just city leaders, but business leaders especially) to be actively “inclusive”, they need to do a better job of addressing what it means to be “inclusive” and effectively supporting groups and individuals who are disadvantaged from a socioeconmic standpoint.

Beating The Dead Horse Over And Over

Beating The Dead Horse Over And Over

Unless you have been hibernating since fall, the only thing that America and the world can’t stop tweeting, Facebooking, or talking about is the guy who is in charge.

I’ll save you the agony of not mentioning the name. I don’t really care what you think, but there is something to what content marketer and author Christoph Trappe tweeted above.

You can keep telling the same story, but that story will stop resonating to people. You can spin it, recycle it, and add more to it. But at this point, it’s starting to fall on deaf ears.

What is striking is that once people have a narrative that everyone else has or are using, the less relevant it becomes.

When you keep beating the dead horse into the ground, there isn’t anything else to say or do.

Time to get a new narrative.

It becomes an echo chamber that no one wants to leave. We don’t want to give up the narrative.

Let me save you wasting your time with this:  you’re telling me something already know. Tell me a different story. I’m tired of hearing the same thing day in and day out. It has lost its relevance. I’ve moved on.

I’ll leave you with this from Tully Corcoran from The Big Lead. The crux is that everyone is saying the same thing, but we’re not saying much either about what we already know.

Inside the echo chamber, that is. Outside of it, these words barely even register as interesting, much less persuasive.

The rub is not that (name redacted) voters haven’t realized (name redacted) is cynical and selfish. They know that. Every American has known that for 30 years. The rub is that the temperament of the president is not among their political priorities. Neither Gregg Popovich nor anybody else is going to convince them it should be by grumbling it into a set of microphones just so he doesn’t have to answer another stupid question about momentum, no matter how gold the halo the sports media paints over his silver head.

Popovich is shouting into an echo chamber, and he’s not even shouting anything interesting. The president is a jerk. We get it. Now what?  

We get it. Now what? The story is old.

You’re not going to change anyone’s mind about it.

Tell me something new, or stop telling the narrative. That ship sailed months ago.

And I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. You can keep that hot garbage in your pocket.

Fan(atical) Behavior

Fan(atical) Behavior

Fans, for the most part, are who they are: fanatics about their sporting teams, entertainers, and whatever they are in support of.

It also produces an unsavory group of “habitual line steppers” to quote the late comedian Charlie Murphy.

Monday night was no different. After a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, Orioles’ outfielder Adam Jones mentioned that he heard racial epithets and one fan hurled a bag of peanuts towards him.

The easy narrative, and the usual one, is to throw a blanket on the city of Boston, given the ugly past the city has dealt with in regards to racial issues.

It’s very easy for fans outside of cities like Boston and Philadelphia to wag a scornful finger at the behavior of those fans.

The problem is…there are fans in every city that are boorish, misogynistic, racist, and rotten. To point a finger at one group and talk about how bad they are shouldn’t dismiss the fact that your fan base, or yourself, is guilty of doing the same.

That last sentence was hammered home by ESPN’s Bomani Jones during his drive-time national radio show today. This isn’t a “Boston” problem. This is an “American” problem: fans who feel they can say and do whatever at games, simply because they paid to watch it.

What a stupid concept. Illogical, ignorant, and baseless.

And, don’t give me the “I pay their (players’) salaries, I can do what I want.”

You don’t pay their salaries. The owner pay their salaries. You (fans) pay for the ticket handlers at the gate, the hot dog vendor, and the maintenance crew who picks up behind us after games. When fans misbehaves, we are embarrassing those individuals, not just players and the teams.

No popcorn vendor wants to lose business or (their jobs) behind a fan acting like a drunken sloth who has no filter.

This may sound hollow and clichéd, but it bears repeating: fans, stop being assholes. If you want to boo, just boo. If your team stinks out loud, no one’s making you stay and watch it. Next time, someone will pull out their iPhones and the world will see just how bad you are.

For the love of decency, act like humans, not cavemen at events.

“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

A few observations this week…

  • The NFL Draft is this week (Thursday night). I don’t know when it happened, but I stopped caring about the incessant draft over-analysis and speculation of who is going to where. I don’t know which player will be drafted and what draft order they will be selected in. I only care about one thing…will the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets find a way to screw it up again?

 

  • The biggest, and most important, news story in Iowa isn’t Chris Soules (not even close). It’s the Jane Meyer vs. University of Iowa civil suit case in Des Moines. Meyer is suing UI for discrimination. Meyer was a top assistant athletic director at Iowa. Meyer was reassigned in the athletic department. This took place after Meyer’s partner, Tracy Griesbaum, was fired as Iowa’s field hockey coach. You can follow the trial here from Des Moines Register’s reporter Grant Rodgers.

 

 

  • The topic of free speech on college campuses is one that is messy, but it needs to be had, regardless if many go out of their way to censor it. The same goes for sensitive and uncomfortable topics. Dayna Troisi on Bright (through Medium) pens a piece about how using “trigger warnings” to give students advance warnings about distressing topics are meaningless. (Side note: as much as many try to block out the discussion of topics and individuals who do not reflect your views, you need to hear them. You don’t have to agree with them. That’s not the point. The point is individuals have viewpoints that are favorable or unfavorable).

 

Unpopular opinion: the “shutting down” of people on social media. That term is stupid. If you oppose a view, you oppose a view. It would be beneficial for sites like Twitter and Mashable to stop using “shutting down”, and for people to stop trying to act like they’re doing a public good in attacking back.

 

  • Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to reconsider public transportation, taxis, or someone you know to give you a ride. At the rate that Uber is going, I doubt if Lyft and other entities can withstand such backlash. (Yes I linked a Mashable story. I’m guilty of using clickbait).

 

Judging others is easy. It puts them in a category that makes us comfortable, it gives us excuses to either do or not do something with or to a person, it helps us convince ourselves we “understand” people better this way. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking of truth. It asks you to listen, learn and think, rather than making an instant judgment.