Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Don't Be A Hairist

The other day, my daughter Miara happily talked about how she wanted a new hairstyle and the various colors she might dye it. With my own hair quickly disappearing, I accused her of being a hairist and showing callous indifference to my condition. Hair-enabled people need to have a little more sensitivity for the follicle-challenged among us.

The subject of -ists, however, reminded me of an experience with her from many years earlier, where she taught me a little about diversity consciousness. When she was about four years old, we lived in a fairly multicultural neighborhood—at least by majority-white Utah standards. One child had a Latina mom and Caucasian dad. Another family had Polynesian and white parents. And of course my wife is Asian and I’m white. One neighbor, whose husband came from Fiji, called our group the “half-and-halves.”

One day Miara and her younger brother came home from playing with a group of these colorful kids, one of whom was African American. She started telling me about something silly this child did. I knew who she meant, but pretended I didn’t, to see how she’d describe him. I asked what he looked like, and she gave clever descriptions of his short hair, his height, his clothes, and where he lived. But as much as I pressed her, she never once said anything about his skin tone or described him as black. I envied her childlike colorblindness.

A couple years later, after we’d moved to a neighborhood with much less diversity and Miara had started first grade, she came home from school and related another cute experience. But this time, she described the boy in her story as “this black kid.” She obviously didn’t mean anything negative about it at all, but I realized she’d lost her colorblind innocence.

I’m not trying to put any kind of spin on this, or accuse our society of horrid atrocities. I just think it’s interesting how children can see other people as just people. But as we grow and find ourselves part of a bigger society, we start to see all the differences within that society.

By the way, Miara chose purple.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Anthropomorphizing Wonder Bread

When I was in third grade, our teachers planned a field trip to the Wonder Bread factory in Salt Lake City. The whole class looked forward to the wonder of this trip. (Sorry.) But more importantly, we also heard that at the end of the tour, we’d get a free mini-loaf of Wonder Bread. So we piled into old school buses and bounced our way downtown.

At the factory, the tour guide took us through the exciting world of bread-making. We watched flour and ingredients poured into giant kneading vats that, looking back, I now realize were just like the acid vat that the Joker fell into. Then we stood fascinated as the powerful kneading bars did their thing. Machines cut the finished dough into big blobs and plopped them into pans. We hurried to the end of the assembly line where loaves had already risen into plump bread-like shapes.

Then the conveyor belt widened and the pans spread out to begin their trip through the huge gas-fired oven. The bread cooked as it passed flaming burners along the sides, top, and bottom of the scorching oven.

And this is where I panicked.

See, the week before, we’d watched a documentary about the Holocaust, and learned about the gas chambers and saw photos of the crematoriums where so many people mercilessly met their end. I certainly don’t want to diminish in any way all the horrors of that period, but I was only seven years old when I saw that film. So when I witnessed the bread going into what—to me, anyway—seemed like a combination gas chamber/crematorium, I suddenly realized what we as a society were doing to innocent loaves. How could we let that happen?

I don’t recall much of the rest of the tour, but I do remember when they handed me my mini-loaf of Wonder, I cradled it carefully and refused to eat it. Even later, when my mom assured me that the loaves don’t feel anything when they’re cooked, it still didn’t seem right to me.

I guess I eventually got over it because now we make our own bread at home in a bread machine—electric, not gas.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saving an Orphan

A few years ago, I went out to run errands on a cold, dreary Valentine’s day. It had snowed during the night, but not pretty, fluffy mid-winter snow. February snow is always wet and slushy. The clouds hanging low over the city still tried to drop more snow, but the air had warmed just enough to turn it all into sticky sleet that splattered on my window, and piles of dirty slush on the ground turned the world into grey boredom.

I stopped at a small intersection to wait for the light to change, and noticed the only item of color in the whole town—a red, mylar balloon that escaped from someone’s bouquet. It had once been shaped like a heart, but the cold had shrunk the helium and turned it into a shriveled, dying lump of coal. It floated just above the road, where it trudged sadly across the slush. I watched it struggle through the intersection until a tall black truck came by and drenched it with salty sludge.

The balloon sunk down onto the road, buried and defeated. But it refused to give up. It rose back out of the sloppy snow and continued trying to float until it stopped next to my car. This balloon had spunk. It wouldn't let the dirty world crush its spirit.

So I opened my door, stepped out into the drippy weather and saved the balloon from further humiliation. I took it home, washed off the salt and black water, and waited. As the helium warmed, the wilted balloon expanded back into a full heart, and rose off the bathroom counter up to the ceiling. It had resurrected! I felt so proud of that balloon.

Then I remembered it was Valentine’s day and I still hadn’t found a gift for my wife. So I went into our room and presented Stephanie with the greatest gift ever—a Rescue Balloon. I told her its story and she accepted it gratefully, mostly because I hadn’t wasted any money on a fancy purebred from the designer balloon store.