22 June 2007

Emma and Immigration

Emma Goldman has long been one of my heroes. The beliefs that she so clearly and beautifully articulated, speak to the best sides of human nature. As I've grown older - my 55th birthday was on Wednesday - I've come to regard some - not all, not even the majority, but some - of her beliefs as naive. That's due, I suppose, to the growing cynicism with which I regard the world around me.

And it's a shame. This would be a far better place if Emma's vision could realistically be fully implemented.

Whether her vision for the world was realistic or not, Emma Goldman's writing and speeches still resonate. June 27th is the 138th anniversary of her birth. As a donor, I received the following quote in an email from The Emma Goldman Papers Project at UC Berkeley. It is from her closing statement at her 1917 trial for speaking out against the World War One draft. She was convicted, imprisoned and then deported. Her words, from 90 years ago, speak very loudly to the issues of today.

“Gentleman of the jury, we respect your patriotism, we would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty?

"I for one cannot believe that love of one’s country must... consist in blindness to its social faults, in deafness to its social discords, inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen’s paper constitutes the love of country.

"I know many people — I am one of them — who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults.

"So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts — above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty.

"But with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the alter of the Golden Calf...We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America."

If you want to know more about the Emma Goldman Papers Project - they are producing a remarkable set of volumes of her writing, speeches and articles about her - you can click here and be taken to their website.

14 June 2007

Libraries, tacos (yet again), and the meat to dollar ratio

I have a writer friend who hates libraries. She, thinking of her royalty statements, refers to them as "parasites." This strikes me as very short sighted. First off, unless you are a very well known author, libraries buy more hardcover copies of books than pretty much anyone else. Sure, they then lend them out free to people - which is, I gather, her complaint; but how many of those people are likely to buy the book anyhow?

And libraries promote reading. As a writer, I'm all for that. And sooner or later, readers are likely to buy some books, maybe even mine. And as for those people out there who can't afford to buy books, I'm glad they've got a chance to read some for free. Even mine. The more that people read, the better it is for all of us; writers and non-writers alike.

So I like libraries. On Monday I was the guest author at the Newport Beach Public Library's annual Friends of the Library luncheon. I consider something like that an honor. It was arranged for me by my aunt Adele, who is an active member of the Friends. They're an effective group too. Over the past six years, they've raised more than $1.44 million for the library. As you can imagine, it's a very well-equipped, well-stocked, well-staffed place.

Prior to my appearance, I was cautioned not to swear. I was cautioned a dozen or more times, by three different people. It seems that whoever their author was last year - they wouldn't say - swore a blue streak and bothered them greatly. Now I don't have a particularly foul mouth. A dirty mind, sure, but I'm pretty good at judging my audience and adjusting my presentations accordingly. And this audience was 95% women of an average age of about 76.3 years.

So I went, and I presented, and they loved it. I read an excerpt from GRAVE IMPORTS. I showed them my PowerPoint of photos with music relating to the book and about Cambodia. They oohed and aahed over the photos. They gasped at the horrors of the trade in stolen Cambodian antiquities. (Which is what the book is about.)

Anyhow, as I'm packing up to go, a woman tottered up to me to ask if I'd be interested in leading a tour group to Cambodia. She thought I"d be an excellent tour guide. And that I could make some good money leading a group. And she'd happily sign up for it herself. And I'd for sure know all the good places to buy authentic Cambodian temple art and would know how to help them get it out of the country.


As gently as I could - I am quite certain that I had made myself clear on the matter in my presentation - I explained that one of the points of the book was that the trade in Cambodian temple art was a bad thing and that it needed to be stopped. I would certainly never do anything to help someone buy or smuggle the stuff. She looked terribly disappointed. I think she had cheery visions of her living room stocked with stone apsaras and Buddha heads. This was in Orange County. I expect she went off in disgust to donate more money to the Republicans or something.

And I imagine she'd have had a thing or two, that I didn't want to hear, to say about the place I had tacos the other night.

Now if you've read my blog for any time, you know that I regard tacos as one of the perfect foods. A good taco is simple, a blend of flavors adding up to a whole lot more than the sum of its parts. And al pastor - spit roasted, highly marinated pork - tacos are my favorites. If I'm ever going to be executed and given a choice of my last meal, a good al pastor taco will be very high on the list.

So the other night, accompanied by Eva and our pal Bill, I went out in search of an illegal taco vendor of whom I had heard. We found his push cart surrounded by a modest-sized crowd (but still a crowd) along one of the far east stretches of Cesar Chavez Blvd. (East of Gage, for those of you hoping to find him for yourself.)

I may have had two better al pastor tacos in my life. One is at my favorite taco stand - all they have is al pastor - in Tijuana. It's open 24 hours a day and always has four big spits of pork crackling and roasting in the open flames. The other was from a street vendor in Mexico City.

But these East L.A. tacos can pretty well hold their own with those. They are sliced off an enormous spit of bright red - and black from the charred bits - pork, topped with a large onion on the spit and above that a scored whole pineapple. The tortillas are dipped quickly into the dripping pork grease, warmed until they're just pliant enough, then the chopped meat is spatulaed on. There's a condiment table with truly incredible red, green and avocado salsas, as well as chopped onions and cilantro. There's a big plate of roasted-to-perfection whole jalapeno peppers.

There's some stuff to drink, too; as well as a variety of other meats that I ignored. The 20 or so people milling around on the sidewalk were happily eating.

Now this isn't to say that any of this is legal. It isn't. The cops could bust this poor taco artisan if they so choose. He doesn't have the requisite permits. He didn't want me to take his picture. His business doesn't have a name, at least not that I could find anywhere. But this is one of the joys of life in Los Angeles.

As are, while we are on the subject of food, burgers. I don't know why anyone in L.A. would ever go to a chain burger place when there is such an extraordinary selection of independent burger establishments around town. Some people swear by In 'n' Out - a local chain. They're wrong.

Not so long ago I was in South Central L.A. - a place they tell us white folk we're supposed to be afraid to go. I'm sure there are some scary parts of town around there. And maybe it's a case of me being too dumb to be afraid. But when someone tells me not to go somewhere, that's a sure fire way of tempting me to go there.

So I was in South Central for lunch on Western Ave. just south of Vernon, at Master Burger. There's something to be said, I'm not quite sure what it is, for considering the ratio of meat per dollar in one's dining experience.

At Master Burger I did not eat the "Double King Combo." That's two, one-pound patties with the requisite fixin's, fries and a drink. It costs $6.99 plus tax = $7.58. That's a mere $3.79 per pound for the meat. Subtract the potatoes, oil, salt, drink, cup, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mayonnaise and mustard, bun, paper wrapping, brown paper bag, straw, cup lid, napkins - and it's even cheaper than that. A whole lotta beef for your buck.

It has been many years since I have been to a McDonald's, but I seem to recall that the standard patty is one-tenth of a pound. (I recall this because I remember that when they brought out their quarter-pounder (one patty) they claimed that it was their burger with the most meat, even more than their double burger. If two regular patties didn't add up to a quarter of a pound, well, you get the picture, do the math. If, as I recall, their standard one-patty burger sold for 79 cents; multiply that by ten and you get $7.90 per pound - or $15.80 to equal the meatage of just one "Double King Master Burger."

The regular, half-pound, Master Burger that I had was good, too. Excellent even. Now it is most definitely not a plate and waitress sort of place, where you sit down and have your burger brought to you along with a cocktail of your choice - hopefully something without an umbrella or fruit that would be cause for embarrassment with a burger. But it could easily hold its own against any burger stand burger I've ever had.