Missouri & Tennessee

Some things work.

Ibuprofen. Sad songs.

Our last night in Memphis, as my body wearily attempted to digest fried eggs, grits, biscuits, a milkshake, and french fries, the one-side-of-head headache I got undulated with my pulse.

In twenty minutes, it was gone, sudden as a bird flies off.

My sister played the saddest song as it rained, and people with umbrellas came to the doors of the Civil Rights Museum. The balcony was right there. My sister cried, and my insides echoed.

Ducks also work. We cozied up to the edge of the red carpet. The ducks were coming. After a classically southern extended yarn about how and why the ducks were led to and from the hotel fountain every day, we were amped.

And the ducks came! They were silent. One male and three females, taking the carpet, gently encouraged by the presence of the duckmaster general. Yes, that is his job, and he has a cane with a gold duck head atop it.

Whiskey works. Wearing spaceman silver leggings, I sat in the bar the ducks had just vacated. Stained glass floated above us, and trees and trees’ worth of paneling enveloped us. In Tennessee, a whiskey drink made sense. It came with a duck swizzle stick and a tiny rubber duck floating in the top. I tasted the pecan pie. You can’t win ’em all.

My sister and I, dance pals from the jump (pun intended), we are now middle aged ladies grooving to a full wall-sized screen playing “Soul Train.”

My cousin’s daughter ran from daffodil to daffodil. I think she is smelling them. “Wait, are you kissing them?” “Yes,” she said.

We pull into a tiny diner in downtown St. Louis. They have ten tables, and open kitchen, every surface is either chrome or a tired white. The sign says White Knight, which sounded a bit Ku Klux Klan, but as the restaurant had some black clientele, I decided they must be okay. We ordered. We listened to others congratulate the waitress on her new job. It was her last day there. We asked a guy at another table to take our photo. “I guess you trust me, huh?” he said. I did trust him. My shitty old phone is worth nothing compared to a good place to get lunch.

A theme: the white ladies are offered cautions. We stop in Arkansas for gas. I go in to the bathroom. When I return, my sister is chatting with two guys who are gassing up their work van. “You gotta be real careful in Memphis,” one said. “People get their cars stolen all the time. You gotta be real careful.” I marveled at how, in contrast with all the cultural bullshit about Black men, Black men have in fact offered me assistance and protection and warnings many times. We told him we would be careful. I was more worried about him, a Black man in Arkansas.

My uncle pours and waits and flips the family legacy pancakes. My uncle’s uncle made these. It is a sacred recipe. The table has hydrangeas and tulips, a white cloth. Behind me is my great-grandfather’s watch under a glass bell. My aunt brings in butter on a dish, and bottle after bottle of real maple syrup. I feel puffed up like a good pillow.

“Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?” someone asks the tour guide.

“Mick Jagger,” he says. We are at Sun Studios. I gaze at the black electrical tape “x” on the floor. This is where Elvis stood to record “That’s All Right,” his first single. Sam Philips, owner of Sun Studios, had to be nagged by Elvis for a solid year before he was allowed to record a real track.

The polar bear, slightly lemon flavored white fur, flowing along, swimming pat un on the other side of thick glass.

The lone panda arches her back, pulls her shoulders back, and looks intently up. She’s either performing a wiccan ceremony or asking for more bamboo. The keeper brings more bamboo. Yaya sits and munches on bamboo for as long as we want to watch her. Then she stands up, stares at her keeper’s camera, and silently asks for more.

An Egyptian man sells us pizza. In Memphis, this is particularly noteworthy. They have an odd relationship with their Egyptian name. “You are both so beautiful,” he tells us, as we pay $5 for pizza that is worth $2. We ask what brought him to Memphis. “A mistake,” he says.

In Springfield, Missouri, we pop into an antique shop. On the counter are cards laid out for solitaire. The old man standing over them says, “I keep trying to cheat, but then I feel bad.” The old man is watching “Dragnet” on a small TV. I look over the dishes, dresses, salt and pepper shakers, lamps.

Another man enters. He tells his friend a story about a local resident who rents his car out for $20 a pop. Sometimes he doesn’t even know the people. “Could be off the California,” he says. “And the police won’t help him get it back anymore because he shouldn’t be giving people his car like that. People he doesn’t even know.” It’s been raining all day. “It’s almost impossible to get out of your car if it’s in water.”

Every slight dip in the sidewalk cement is a small sea. We skip around them to find dry places, on our way back to the car, for the last leg of the journey.


I got up to pee, and I thought, I’m off the couch. I can make myself go out now.

And I did!

It was incredible.

The desire to remain at home lingers, post-covid. Post all the recent traumas.

But I was up!


And down the stairs, and out.

One house down, the cement bird bath with the cement little girl and the cement little boy peeking over at how there is no water.

Two houses down, I heard Mexican music. The big stone house with the amazing carriage house was getting work done on its side. A guy up a ladder in a face mask (debris? chill?).

Across the street, I opened our library box and a book jumped out. “Rude,” I said, replacing it. I saw there was a Nora Ephron book in there, one I hadn’t read, so I grabbed it.

Armour Boulevard began life as a luxurious procession of apartment buildings. The first time I lived on it, though, it was mostly a fumbling procession of Section 8 and ambulances. I liked it fine that way. Now it’s a procession of overpriced, poorly renovated apartments owned by a company in Chicago, a company that seeks tax breaks. Now it has bike lanes.

It pleases me to walk it, though, because I can remember I live in a city, in the city, just the kind of cityness I prefer, rather Brooklyn-y in that I can walk to get coffee or drinks or dinner or to a park, but also there are many trees and gardens and weird things to observe, like the Costco shopping carts, who congregate and dissipate mysteriously at Armour and Gillham.

I close my eyes, and I see them wheeling smoothly down Gillham, like swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

And then someone in the dark of night kidnaps them. Probably someone who works at Costco, someone who wants the overtime. They build one long train of carts, and inch by inch, back up the slight hill to the Costco parking lot. This part isn’t like birds, it’s like Sisyphus.

At the coffee place, I study the pastries. Chocolate croissant is preferable here, but I could settle for a chocolate chip muffin, if that’s what that is (God forbid it is some bran/healthy brown situation).

A man hurries up to the counter. “She was here first,” barista says.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m not in a hurry.”

The guy was short, and Black, and wore a big coat and a face mask. “Mfjddkjkf,” he said.

“Sorry, what?” the barista.

“Mfjkdsfjk,” he said.

“Sorry, the bathroom is only for customers.”

“Okay, then, okay, fine,” the man said, and pulled some dollar bills out. He pointed at a cookie. “I’ll take one of those.”

“Okay, that’s $3.65,” barista said.

The man grumbled about the price of a cookie, very understandable. He had gestured at a sign that said, “Protein balls, $1.50,” but I didn’t see any balls, and what’s more, were people seriously selling something called “protein balls”? That was just as crazy as a $3.50 cookie.

“I’ll get my cookie later,” the man said. The barista went to get him a bathroom key, and the man hustled to the bathroom.

I ordered, and then I asked for a bathroom key. “If there’s more than one,” I said, and barista gave me a key.


I wondered if he was screaming into a FaceTime, or a phone call, or an Instagram, or what.

When I left the bathroom, he was still screaming.

I thought about times I was out and about and about to lose it completely. I’m generally very quiet about though. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

I sat back with my Nora Ephron book, hoping to see if the man would return the bathroom key or not.

But I got too into the book, and then I left and forgot to peek at the counter.

On the way home, a golden retriever licked my hand. “Are you going that way?” the owner asked me.


“Could you go ahead, because otherwise she’ll keep turning around to look at you?”

“Sure,” I said, feeling like a celebrity, at least to one dog.


Wednesday, I walked down to the Super Bowl parade.

Now: I am deeply troubled by the complete bullshit that is naming the team “Chiefs,” and the accompanying creepy racist shit that grows on its edges like a bad fungus.

My friend lives across the street. I loaded up a backpack, and defended my decision to attend by comparing myself to Traveling Matt, a Fraggle explorer of the non-Fraggle world. Anthropological research.

And I’ve set up this life, where I can walk a lot with my friends, we can walk places, drink and eat, and walk some more. Midwestern life doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that lifestyle, but I’ve got it set up, and I love it.

So I put on my backpack, and we watched the streets fill with parked cars the minute we crossed 33rd Street, going north.

We got to another friend’s house, the party house. I am deeply appreciative, having lived far away where on celebratory occasions I was begging, borrowing, or stealing invitations to socialize. I’m back. Now I can show up somewhere, open doors without knocking, get my own drinks, and use the upstairs bathroom.

The Super Bowl falls during Mardi Gras season, which meant this event felt like a sort of extra bonus Mardi Gras. Some of my usual Mardi Gras colleagues were there in some of their usual Mardi Gras wear. I, too, had chosen to wear a bright red beret that has my krewe name on it. All our red gear was being utilized.

There was coffee, Irish cream, whiskey, leftover legendary Mardi Gras punch. There were a couple of kids who got interested in the fake fireplace. I enjoyed freaking out when they touched it, as if they would burst into flames. And theatrically touching the plastic logs myself, yelping in pain.

We marched, which again is so usual for this group, the thing that was strange was that a ton of other people were also marching. We had cow bells. I tethered mine to my backpack, which got me in touch with my inner cow. Union Station, the belly of the celebration beast, is down the hill from us, down the hill into where one of the main train track lines goes through Kansas City. So we were walking, tumbling towards everything. One of our cohort was recently injured, so her wheelchair doubled as a wonderfully portable beer cooler.

I had a coffee cup I was reusing for wine, and the bottle in my backpack.

We stopped in at another classic Kansas City Mardi Gras location, snagged a table. I shared my gummi bears with the kids, who were already starting to fade. A lot of walking, a lot of cowbell, a lot of jovial grownups.

I hightailed it over to where the parade was. The enormous crowds were hard to absorb or process, as they would be in any downtown with buildings of considerable size. We could look up Grand, the parade’s route, and see all the red, red, red up to the train station, and up the hill beyond, beyond, beyond.

Mostly the celebration was chatting with friends on a day I wouldn’t get to chat with them.

Open containers were tolerated, police and sheriffs seemed to be cool. They would ask people who climbed tall things to come back down, but otherwise, they were cool with the booze and pot and celebrating, and there was no reason for them to worry, as far as I could tell.

The parade itself had stretched itself s o o o o l o o o o n g that my experience was ringing my cowbell madly for people on half-empty double decker busses, then waiting another 15 minutes. I was warm. I had dressed well. Planes pulling banners circled overhead, advertising booze and Jungle Law. A few helicopters hovered. It was post-apocalyptic, everything was out of joint, but not in the way we’ve recently experienced it. It was a happy, and thank God, safe time-out from the grind of being a human being. At least for some of us.

There was one dude wearing a feather headdress. I didn’t have to listen to any fake native chanting or chopping or whatever. For which I am grateful.

The players had apparently gotten off the busses early in the parade, so by the time they got to us, I saw That One Dude throw someone a football from the top of the bus. (He is hosting “SNL” soon.) The football hit some overhead wires. He doesn’t normally throw footballs in the city, of course.

I guess there were speeches and things to hear and cheer for and see at Union Station, but I was feeling like I’d had enough fun, and I hadn’t had a proper meal yet. So my friend and I hiked back up the hill.

The way cars were parked was very amusing. Midwestern people are generally such rule-followers (I fit in better in oh yeah make me NYC), and to see them park with wild abandon made me happy for their humble souls. This part of the midwest isn’t as ragingly alcoholic as some northern cities. It isn’t as aggressive as the east coast. It isn’t as relaxed as the west coast. It was good to see people drinking, jubilant, and relaxed.

While I have always been and continue to be infuriated by the team name and its associations, I also see that civic celebrations can heal. The racism of the team name is upsetting, and at the same time, the coming together to celebrate is a very positive force for race relations in Kansas City now. Having the team hero be the nicest guy in the world doesn’t hurt, either. I don’t know shit about football, but I know he seems like a good guy to celebrate.

When I got home, I had walked six miles, had an Irish coffee and a glass of wine and a doughnut, and I was more than happy to nap the afternoon away.


I know the crows don’t care.

It’s the end of the semester.

I know, crows, you don’t care.

Fora little over 100 years, American schools have used this A-B-C-D-F system to do something.

No one’s quite sure what.

It might be about showing mastery of various skills, or maybe about knowing facts, or maybe completing tasks, or not running the streets breaking into cars.

As I said, no one’s sure.

But we pretend to be EXTREMELY SURE. And then to fight over when which grade is ethical, or permitted, depending on the student, the teacher, the school district, and the fashion.

We continually push kids to believe that grades are more real than the opinions of their teachers, or the quantity of their work, the quality of their work, the effort they expend, the chances they take, and certainly more real than what they learn.

One thing grades are about is rejecting teachers’ expertise and autonomy.

Although an online system for communicating with students’ families has existed for at least a decade, a big part of what some teachers are asked to do with their day is to make phone call after phone call.

The crows don’t care.

I left work just enraged.


I don’t have a better solution for grades. The only one I’m really interested in is the “F,” the threat of which encourages someone to come to school occasionally, and to not sit for hours at school staring at Instagram.

F I think is important as a threat.

The others are very blurry.

I was wise enough to walk and walk and walk, after calling my poor mother who sadly has always taken my calls, no matter how annoying.

I walked and walked and my mom had to get off the phone so I kept walking.

Down a boulevard lined with apartment buildings from the 1920s, of about eight stories, passing other walkers with pitties and cocker spaniels on leashes.

I thought my head or heart would burst, and a mob of crows started screaming.

Not at me, but before me, above me, they were screeching and flapping and raising hell in the tops of old oaks, oaks trimmed so all their branches are high, high, twenty feet up.

And I thought the crows don’t care.

The crows do not give a shit about American education, public education, my job, my students, what they could do had they more boundaries that encouraged them to settle peacefully and think. Think and write and think and create.

Crows are not like oh Liz no one respects your valiant attempts to live your values

Because they don’t care.

They don’t care about how middle managers are continually hired to critique people doing the actual work.

They don’t care.


Over Christmas break, I talked with several friends I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still way less social than I was pre-pandemic. I feel an intense pull to stay to myself, where I can manage things.

The subject of the talks was: how do you care without being crushed by depression?

One of my friends, the answer was weed.

Briefly my answer was crows.

How often, though, can you hear the crows? I don’t think they are as loud as getting high.

But I don’t really know.

How many times can you be distracted by keeping your job, and still have any energy to do your job?

How many times can you cross t’s and dot i’s when your house is on fire, without choking on the smoke?

I don’t know, but the crows were beautifully sharp, loud, free, and fuck-it.

And when they show up, they show up.