Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Where the Roomba Never Goes 

KKK parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, August 8, 1925, from the Washington Post. See the original image on

Someone close to me recently took pleasure in pointing out an incredibly, neglected and dusty corner of my otherwise tidy home. How dusty? Think "theatrically dusty",  like when an abandoned haunted house in a movie has Egyptian-tomb levels of dust. While I was surprised, I knew the reason for this detritus. That was where the Roomba never goes. My friendly robot vacuum cleaner is a pretty terrible vacuum, but a terrible vacuum is fine as long as it vacuums more often than I would. Despite its intentions (or its programming), the Roomba can't vacuum everywhere, such as tight corners under end tables. It occurred to me this was a very handy analogy. The dusty parts of our society or even ourselves, are the places the Roomba never goes. Our experience with the pandemic has definitely exposed parts of our lives and society where the Roomba never goes. The places we've forgotten or overlooked are now the things we can't stop seeing.

One thing I’ve learned is how close so many people are to despair. Missing a single pay cheque means seeking a food bank or being without a home. On the other hand, the affluent don’t even realize their own wealth. There’s an old saying that to earn your first $100 is very hard but any idiot can make their second million. Money begets money. When you have a high-speed Internet connection and you work from your computer all day, it's easy to keep doing that. In fact, it's even easier than it was. I never liked working from home but over the years I've worked more and more with people who live elsewhere; San Jose, London, Bangalore, Minnesota, North Carolina. My day is easier than ever. If I want, I can wake up late and wander to my desk and start working. If I get sleepy and I have a break in the constant meetings, I can even take a nap on my own couch. I can start supper while on a call, I can do a load of laundry if I need to. All the while, I still get paid. I also have the added benefit of benefits, and as I work and live alone, it's really up to me if I work if I get sick. If I am too sick to work, I have plenty of time I can take off without losing my job or pay. It's been very eye-opening how few people have any of those supports. It seems pretty obvious now, but as a country, we need a drug plan not linked to employment, maybe even a guaranteed income (rather than a myriad of costly social programs that are trying to achieve the same goal), jobs that provide a living wage and guaranteed sick leave. Those things wouldn't solve all problems but it would go a long way to helping the most vulnerable.

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Seen in December 

Veni vidi vici. Image via The Movie Db.

Remember when we thought 2016 was a dumpster fire? Or was it 2017? Or maybe 2018? Whatever it was, 2020 outdid them all. Oh, I'm sure there were years like 1918 when so many died from influenza, or during The Great Depression and Dust Bowl, which tore asunder millions of lives. Even when The Dirty Thirties ended, fascists had taken over Europe and threw the world into war. Still, by any measure, 2020 was not a good year. A pandemic, mass unemployment, riots against police violence, violent riots against riots against violence, racial tensions, racists causing tension, conspiracy theorists running amok, unhinged politicians flinging muck, not to mention massive forest fires and a worsening climate crisis. Many people, myself among them, thought we needed Christmas more than ever. I sought out comfort via television. Not mentioned here are all the films I enjoyed before that I rewatched just for the comfort of it, like the Harry Potter films and countless Christmas specials. Here is what I saw worth writing down.

Coming To America
Before there was Black Panther there was another movie with a nearly all black cast. An Eddie Murphy comedy from 1988 about a wealthy African prince, Prince Akeem, who wishes to leave behind his arranged marriage and find true love in America. Specifically, he travels to Queens, New York to find his queen. I know this was made at the height of Murphy’s fame, yet I never really felt a need to see it. As a film, I’m not sure there’s as much here as its popularity would suggest but as a pop-culture moment, I get it. Appearing in small roles are some significant African American actors like James Earl Jones, John Amos, Eriq La Salle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vondie Curtis-Hall, Samuel L. Jackson and other recognizable names and faces. My favourite moment is a call back to a previous Eddie Murphy film, when Prince Akeem hands a large wad of cash to Mortimer and Randolph Duke, now homeless on the streets of New York, who were ruined by another Murphy character in the film Trading Places.

Back to back camp. Image via The Movie Db.

Man With the Golden Gun
Roger Moore is British super spy, 007, James Bond, on an off-the-books mission to find, apprehend or kill the notorious assassin, Scaramanga, played gleefully by Christopher Lee. Moore was the Bond of my youth so I guess I should have enjoyed the nostalgia factor but in reality I find this series of Bond films too campy. Roger Moore is a great actor but I always felt this 70s version of Bond in polyester leisure suits, he seemed more like a concierge about to lead us to our table rather than someone ready to fight international criminals. 

The Life Ahead
Sophia Loren plays Rosa, an aging Holocaust survivor and prostitute whose only income seems to be caring for the children of other sex workers. Added to the two kids she’s already taking care of is Momo. Momo is brought to Rosa by a elderly doctor who also cares for a variety of street kids. The doctor sees Momo slipping into a criminal life on the street and recognizes the silver candlesticks he’s stolen as Rosa’s. He brings Momo to Rosa to return the stolen goods and apologize, he also thinks maybe Rosa is the real caretaker Momo needs. Momo is a Senegalese Muslim refugee who has lost his family, his faith and any remnants of his culture and as a black kid in an Italian city he stands out as different. Rosa introduces Momo to a Muslim shopkeeper hoping for him to give the kid a gentle introduction to his own faith and culture. Rosa has her own troubles including the trauma from her past and growing dementia. In spite of his own self-interests and independence, Momo sees that the old woman needs his help. Essentially these two need each other, especially emotionally. This interdependence is integral to the human experience, right? That’s what Momo learns through a painful transition from a street kid fighting for every inch, to a person who learns to find himself through his connection to others.

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Monday, January 04, 2021

T'is Still the Season 

Baking is always a part of the holidays and this year I baked a couple of pound cakes (one to share for Mike to finish with marzipan and glaze and one for myself) and some bread. The pound cake turned out great and I think the reason was really just the amount of whipping I did when making the batter. At least so says founder and owner of Milk Bar, Christina Tosi. Tosi's point being you can't really play with the ratios of ingredients in baking but how you handle them makes a difference, like whipping more air into a batter.

On the other hand, I hadn't baked much bread lately because I was avoiding bread, gluten and carbs. I have to admit after avoiding gluten and dairy for almost eight months I couldn't see any big difference in my health. I could still avoid the carbs but I'm not sure I have the problems with gluten that others have so, basically, here comes the bread! Baking bread is fun. I use a pretty simple and forgiving recipe so it's easy to imagine playing with it by adding seeds or nuts, or even things like olives or sun-dried tomatoes. A lot of people took up baking bread over 2020, whereas I sort of stopped, but I think this year I might get back to it.

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Sunday, January 03, 2021

We Need a Little (More) Christmas 

On an overcast, ugly day in January I'm trying to extend the sweet warmth of the holidays by listening to Christmas specials, eating chocolates and generally being a world champion layabout. This my last day before going back to work tomorrow, so it will be a day of snacking, napping, reading, and watching television and listening to podcasts. As to continued snacking… in for a penny, in for a pound, or two or maybe three or four. I can wait a few more days to think about getting back in to shape starting with four-second workouts or how to get fit in my second half.

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