Friday, September 23, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #3 - Slavery

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompts
  • Write of a time you, or someone you know, has encountered an oppressive injustice

"Kim," I shouted from across the block.
With the day off from work I paraded around the streets of downtown by bike, stopping at any location I pleased - the central library, for a bite to eat, or a public bench to watch the street life unfold. Riding south on St. Mary's I spotted my friend Jimberly at the corner of Navarro and Martin and made my way to greet her. I noticed she was standing behind a long string of yellow caution tape. I glanced over the half-empty parking lot to see two cop cars and af ew police scattered about the scene of who knows what. I looked back to see the teape form an L shape from navarro to Martin but only covered the sidewalk; Martin street itself was not blocked off. And the scene itself was so far from the street lanes I assumed I couldn't be accused of "tampering with the evidence" or "interfering with an arrest."

I had almost reached Kim on the other end of the line when I heard a booming, aggressive voice directed towards me. Just about anyone can and will appraoch you in broad daylight on the streets of downtown, so I took a deep breath and turned around. The smile on my face turned solemn as I was looking at a stern, tense and tight-lipped cop.
"Please step right over here for me, sir," he said, bellowing at me as if he was still half a block away.
I turned to Kim and saw a frightened look of unease as she turned to tell me she was on her way to work and had to leave. My heart was beating fast as I walked my bike over to where the cop was pointing. I began to question and replay the events of my actions within the last three minutes:

Was it something I said? Did I even say anything? I know it's illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk, was I riding on the sidewalk? No way. What's going to happen when he asks for identification and I reach into my backpack?

All of this and more ran through my mind in a matter of 10 steps. I nervously faced the police officer, now standing by the yellow line of tape.
"What does that say?" he said, again with his condescending and authoritarian tone. At this point it became evident had no intention of lowering the volume of his voice. I stood there with a puzzled look on my face of "what does what say where?" though I dare not ask the question.
"Right there," he said, poitning to the yellow tape. Yes, he was determined to make his point with a brute show of force.
"The caution tape?" I said.
"Yes, read to me what it says right there," he said.
I immediately resented this and couldn't believe I was being subjected to such humiliation. I proceeded anyway out of fear.
"Poooliiice Line - DO...NOT...CROSS," I read slowly with an air of annoyance.
(to be cont'd...)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #2 - Labor

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompts
  • Describe the conditions for your ideal line of work
  • Write the story of your own labor history

"Because if you don't like it, there's the door. You're free to go. It's a free country right?" Alice said in the basement level office of the executive chef which we called "the dungeon". It's faded brown concrete floors and tattered yellow walls made this feel like a prison interrogation as she continued to berate me from behind the desk of stacked paperwork, recipes and timesheets. This wasn't any supervisor. Alice Bates was the general manager of the industrial chain grocery I worked for.
"I've heard of your reputation for tardiness and your general dislike of authority. I can see you're not happy here," she said condescendingly. She's right. I wasn't happy. No doubt about it, she called me into what felt like the principal's office for an all-out intimidation session. It was clear her mission was to instill fear and ensure I would think twice before speaking out again.
This time it was her star pupil, Deborah. Deborah was brought in from another branch location and almost immediately hand-picked to undergo management training, or should I say management grooming. Deborah came into the ranks of management as new blood; cheerful, chipper and always willing to smile and nod in agreement with exactly what management wanted to see or hear. All the workers in production loathed her because she went from chef expo to the upper office in a matter of weeks while they have been toiling away in the underground catering freezer for decades.
Then Deborah slipped up...(to be cont'd)

*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty

Friday, September 9, 2016

Fall Session Writing Lab - Week #1 - Connections

Engaging the Active Imagination: Writing as Activism (Fall Session)

Writing prompt
  • Describe a profound connection you've made with someone or something, recent or historical

"How do you spell that?" I asked.
"R-A-G-A-Z-Z-I. You can look me up," she said, "I'm the only Ragazzi in the phone box and have been for as long as I can remember."
I first met Deborah Ragazzi in her neighbor's front yard next to the second-hand shirts, plants, blouses, and skirts  strung up on the rusted wire clotheslines, beside the tin trinkets of past holidays and other occasions. I had just finished a meal on the St. Mary's strip near Trinitiy University along the outreaches of the Monte Vista neighborhood. I decided to go for a walk and found myself meandering down Mistletoe Avenue. The sign read YARD SALE. It was fall and she was wearing strapped open-toed sandals with faded black capri pants and a floral printed three-quarter sleeve v-neck shirt. Her whispy salt-and-pepper hair strayed stiffly from a black felt summer hat she wore so low you couldn't see the expresson on her face, at least not from my height. "What do you want?" and "What are you looking for?" was all you could get from a weathered, raspy smokers' voice until you stepped closer to engage her. I was surprised the sale was still going, I said as I walked up to the table of used wares.
"Oh, yeah we made a whole thing out of it," she said, "Food, music, but not too loud."
There were the typical big box television sets from the '90s, checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs with legs missing, children's clothes, bibs, and play things.
"Anything in particular?" She asked.
"No, not really," I said.
Remember, this was evening in the fall when the sun sets sooner and we found ourselves in what photographers call the "golden hour". Everything had been set aglow by six o' clock, casting a spell of enchantment over the entire residence. In fact, the reason I walked over to the sale was for a friend I kept in mind who found the greatest joy in rummaging through the antique shops and thrift stores. "Antiquing", she called it. Performing a cost-benefit analysis of the resale value of this kind of stuff was the furthest thing from my mind and so I continued to turn things upside down, inside out and all around.  And that's when they appeared: The little things.
"Oh, your friend's a miniature collector," Deborah said.
"A what?" I asked.
"Miniatures," she said, "the little things. That's what the little things are called."
Indeed there were tiny train cabooses and a hand made ceramic jug to fit in the size of my palm and other figures scattered about the maroon sateen table cloth.
"How much do you wante for them?" I asked, thinking small size - low cost to myself. This pleased Deborah greatly.
"Oh, are you kidding me? Everything's got to go today. Here," she said as she placed the items in my hand and folded my fingers to secure a fist, "I'll give them to you, instead."
And there was the connection.
"What else have I overlooked?" I asked with a sly smile.
She began to pull other collectables hidden in plain sight from underneath the table cloth: A painting from a student taught by her ex-husband, an artist.
"...there's this shirt (pointing), and here's the feet," she said. "And he drew the same thing over and over and over again."
She spoke highly of her ex-husband: "He was an amazing artist."
She spoke lowly of her ex-husband: "But a starving artist, you know."
I felt there was something special about Deborah Ragazzi and mabye she felt something from me as she began to open up and share her story with me.
She's lived in San Antonio, Texas her entire life. Ragazzi was her married name. Her ancestors crafted all the stained glass windows inside Temple Beth-El on the corner of Ashby and Lewis next to San Antonio college in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Sternwirth? Stern-something. I can't recall so I'll ahve to make a trip to the temple to see for myself. (to be continued...)