Amazon to Open Sweatshop in Edwardsville, IL. Region Rejoices

It’s official: Amazon made a deal with elected officials and developers to locate two giant fulfillment centers in Edwardsville, Ill. (Which counts as the St. Louis metropolitan area, except that this plan cleverly doesn’t count as having nexus in Missouri so Amazon will still be exempt from collecting and paying Missouri sales tax on Missouri sales.)  Everyone is crooning about the supposed 1,000 “high quality jobs” that will be created.

Amazon warehouse conditions like a 19th century cotton mill
This is what a “high quaility” retail job looks like at

No word yet on just how, in an Amazon spokesperson’s words, the local officials were “very supportive” of Amazon’s requirements for locating there.  In other states, this has often meant various property, payroll and sales tax abatements or outright exemptions as well as lots of free infrastructure support for sewage, water and other services to the warehouses.  Meanwhile, the locally-owned main street bricks and mortar stores continue to make our communities attractive places to in which to live, work, shop, play and be tourists, yet we have had little to no access to capital, be it loan, grant or gift from unsuspecting taxpayers.

This constant preference for giant remotely owned box stores (and Amazon) persists in our area  in spite of study after study showing the myriad ways in which locally owned businesses contribute far more to the local economy that chain stores and Amazon, creating and maintaining quality jobs at a far higher rate and reinvesting dollars in the local community at two to three times the rate of chain stores.

It is a no brainer: support locally owned business if you want to see an economic turnaround.

Yet incredibly, our public officials continue  to do the same thing –give financial support to giant remote companies like Amazon—over and over in hopes of achieving a different result, which as we all know, is the very definition of stupid.  A recent article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a maddenly obvious example.  In the May 1 issue, David Nicklaus wrote:

“Area governments have provided more than $2 billion of subsidies to retail developers in the past couple of decades, but metropolitan St. Louis has the same number of people working in retailing as it did in 1990.

The numbers looked a little better in pre-recession 2007, but about 5,000 store jobs have disappeared since then. For every new Lucky’s Market or Ikea we’ve gained, a Kmart  or OfficeMax has closed.”

You could easily include “Amazon Fulfillment Center” in this article because the Edwardsville facilities will be the Amazon version of a big box store, albeit with grueling, sweatshop conditions. 

The biggest reason investing in big box stores and Amazon fulfillment centers does not create more jobs is not that other big box stores close. It’s that locally-owned, main street stores close and they are in fact, the biggest job creators, not Ikea or Amazon.

Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.

Let’s be clear:

  1. Amazon jobs are not high quality.  Amazon keeps costs low at its Allentown, PA facility by not installing air conditioning and  instead requested ambulances to be stationed outside as workers, including pregnant women, collapsed when the heat reached up to 110 inside. Company officials refused to even open windows. But hey, they added some fans.
  2. States with Amazon facilities still see a net job loss

One employee said it’s now like “working in a convection oven while blow-drying your hair.”

Amazon and Empty Storefronts is a ground-breaking study released in 2016. It found that the economic impact of Amazon in 2014 alone was staggering.

From the study:

“In 2014, Amazon sold $44.1 billion worth of retail goods nationwide, all while avoiding $625 million in state and local sales taxes.

That is the equivalent of 30,000 retail storefronts, 107 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $420 million in property taxes.

A total of more than $1 billion in revenue lost to state and local governments, $8.48 for every household in America.
Amazon also operated 65 million square feet of distribution space, employing roughly 30,000 full-time workers and 104,000 part-time and seasonal workers.
Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 135,973 retail jobs.”


What did this mean in Illinois?

Again, to quote from the study:

Illinois: Essential Findings

  • In 2014, Amazon sold $1,834.5 million worth of retail goods statewide, all while avoiding $36.1 million in state and local sales taxes.
  • That is the equivalent of 1,289 retail storefronts, 4.5 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid $23.6 million in property taxes.
  • A total of more than $59.8 million in revenue lost to state and local governments, $12.51 for every household in Illinois.
  • Amazon also operated 1.7 million square feet of distribution space in Illinois, employing roughly 3,431 workers.
  • Even counting all the jobs in Amazon distribution centers, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 7,802 retail jobs in Illinois.


In January, 2015, Illinois became the 24th state to require Amazon to comply with the same tax laws as Illinois-based retailers, which will go a long way to levelling the playing field for bricks and mortar businesses located in the fiscally-challenged state.  Yet it seems clear that Edwardsville, a lovely small town with a great Main Street comeback, will be subsidizing their sweatshop anyway.


What about Missouri? Not one of the 24 states that wised up and started charging Amazon at least sales tax, effectively punishing bricks and mortar retail located in the state and employing Missouri voters.

Missouri: Essential Findings

  • In 2014, Amazon sold $768.3 million worth of retail goods statewide, all while avoiding $60.2 million in state and local sales taxes. 
  • SkidmoreBuildingStorefront-300x198
    Amazon sales in 2014 produced a net loss of almost 8,000 retail jobs in Illinois and nearly 5,000 in Missouri
  • Amazon sales produced a net loss of 4,704 retail jobs in Missouri.
  • That is the equivalent of 540 retail storefronts, 1.9 million square feet of commercial space, which might have paid  $7.6 million in property taxes.
  • A total of more than $67.8 million in revenue lost to state and local governments, $28.71 for every  household in Missouri.
  • Having no Amazon distribution centers to offset retail job losses, Amazon sales produced a net loss of 4,704 retail jobs in Missouri.
  • Bonus Factoid courtesy the Small Business Administration: In 2012, small businesses in Missouri employed roughly half the private workforce and created nearly 30,000 new jobs.

 Amazon’s physical presence in our region is NOT a positive development. What would be a positive development is if Missouri would require the anti-labor behemoth to at least collect and pay sales tax.  The rest of Missouri’s retail business citizens will still be creating jobs, paying payroll and property taxes while Amazon drains the state of its vitality, but at least there would be some sales tax revenue. It’s called efairness and it should be the law.

When you call 911, do you want to be put on hold because the tax base doesn’t support enough first responders?

State and local officials should not give remote etailers a pass on corporate responsibility while expecting the business owners who pay the salaries of those officials as well as  the salaries of the most of their constituents, to adhere to the law. It is short-sighted, expensive, and detrimental to the vitality and economic health of the state.  Policy-makers should redirect their planning to programs that ensure the health of their local main-street businesses. There are plenty of models at work across the country  that have turned neighborhoods and main streets around.

What I say to consumers

Where you spend your dollar is a political act. You literally cast a vote for the kind of community in which you want to live.

When you call 911, do you want to be put on hold because the tax base doesn’t support enough first responders? Do you want good roads? Decent schools? Sewers?  How about somewhere to walk around other than on a treadmill  at a gym?  Perhaps a park or two for your kids?

Jonesey and kids
This is what a retail job looks like in a locally-owned business

I am not saying you have to go cold turkey. I know it’s easy and quick and sometimes appears to be less expensive but if you shift even 1 out of 10 transactions to a local retailer, you’d make a demonstrable contribution to your local economy. Civic Economics did a study in Grand Rapids, MI in 2008 (a year most of us would rather forget economically) and found that just a 10%shift in market share from chains to local companies in just 3 sectors: groceries, pharmacies and full-service restaurants would generate an additional $137 million in revenue and 1600 jobs.


Easy Way to Shop local on line: Independent bookstores are locally-based retailers with e-commerce websites. You can shop on line AND local.  Check with some of your other favorite places to see what online services they might offer. You would be surprised.

Krista tippett
Left Bank Books, a locally-owned bookstore, partners with three other local institutions to bring authors in to speak with their local fans.

What I AM saying is start spending at least some of your money in local establishments.   Even a ten percent shift in spending from chains and on-line etailers to locally owned businesses can result in significant revenue generation for the community and job creation. Real job creation.

What I say to folks who sell through Amazon

You affiliate because you think you simply have no choice. Doesn’t that concern you even a little bit?You affiliate because you have come to the conclusion that they are the only online game in town.  They are not. And even if you decide  to affiliate anyway, wouldn’t you like more say in the terms of sale for your business?

Do you really want one gigantic, completely unregulated company to decide what’s best for you?

Support policies that level the playing field.

Support regulation. 

Consider alternative platforms for your business that give you more control. Otherwise you risk becoming merely another of Amazon’s “quality” jobs.

What I say to organizations who think they can raise money telling all their friends to shop on Amazon

Please see the economic impact of Amazon in the study I quote from.  An economically healthy community has money to spend on local charities.

Most local businesses, including my own, support local charities with money, time, and resources that are almost immeasurably more effective than you will see when you send money to Jeff Bezos.

I have never seen Bezos donate books and time to St. Louis Public school children, serve on the board of a local charity, weed and plant the first Transgender Memorial Garden in the country, do a winter clothing drive for St. Louis’s homeless and personally deliver said clothing (Mo Costello, MoKaBe’s), underwrite free and reduced veterinary services for stray animals (Carol House) or show up for anything that helped St. Louis in any way.

Lots of local businesses, including my own, have numerous programs for generating revenue for your cause. It’s our community.

We actually care.

We, local independent retailers–your tax-paying, job-creating friends, family, neighbors, and constituents, encourage you to support homegrown initiatives instead of inviting Amazon in to destroy anymore of our community.







Laura Ann Moore and One’s Place in the Family of Things

 I remembered the phone number. A number I hadn’t dialed in how many years, I can’t say. And even when I used to dial it, I had to look it up. Grief will do that to you; it will access the deepest and most oddly on-the-mark status reports of your soul, life-to-date. It’s like your heart was standing there all the time dressed in a lab-coat, carrying a clipboard, and staring at you sternly over the top of her bifocals. Waiting for you to notice.

Laura Ann Moore had to pass away, no longer to be encumbered by gravity and prejudice, for me to notice. And when the news came, it was her voice on my land-line answering machine way back when, asking me to call and repeating her number in case I didn’t hear it the first time, it was her voice that got my heart to sit up and take notice. To return the call that never actually was placed.
Of course, I called this time to hear the voice of her life partner, Marlene Schuman. To tell her I love her and am thinking of her. To ask her what she needs. Nothing, I am surrounded by friends and so many things. Laura and I have been living in this house like Arsenic and Old Lace. I have everything I need.
Except Laura. We agreed that Laura was larger than life and that her absence leaves a hole so wide and deep we cannot see to the bottom of it.
I met Laura when I was 17 and a budding lesbian feminist. Laura was old school, of the bull dyke persuasion. She was working class. Grew up in an orphanage. Laura didn’t get anything she didn’t fight for. And fight she did. For the right to grow up and be loved. She was. For the right to love women. She did. For the rights of all marginalized people, poor, homeless, working- class, differently-abled, black, gay, or otherwise disenfranchised. These were her people and when she was on your side, you didn’t have a pit bull on a leash, you had an entire pack of pit bulls running in front of you clearing the way.
Which is not to say she wasn’t challenging. She was. She would tell you to your face what was wrong with what you were saying or doing. She never did the easy thing. She did the hard thing. The thing that cost her: jobs,  black eyes, lovers, friends, public acclaim. But she always did the right thing. The thing that mattered. Not the thing that let people off the hook, or the thing that gave you lots of awards and invites to fancy luncheons. Not the thing that made political appointees and elected officials happy to see her. You could feel the groans in the room as folks mentally looked for an exit and braced themselves when Laura arrived, be it at a town hall meeting, a community meeting, a pot-luck dinner, or anywhere else that moral and political laziness had occurred.
She was relentless in her pursuit of justice. An act of discrimination wasn’t a teachable moment for Laura. Them was fightin’ words. Laura didn’t know from nice. Nice wasn’t handed to her at the orphanage on a silver spoon. Nice was way too fussy for Laura, who preferred a steel-bladed shovel to a silver spoon.
As a result, people were often afraid of Laura. Not just the bad guys. Sometimes her beloved lesbian community would seek to exact its own pedagogy of the oppressed out on her. I know it broke her heart but she would never say. She would keep on doing the right thing. The not sexy or fashionable thing. Life wasn’t meant to be safe in that way in Laura’s eyes. If the shoe fit, wear it. I was never afraid of her. Not even for a minute. And that shoe frequently fit my imperfect, impatient, sometimes lazy self.
What did I love about Laura? She wasn’t the first old school dyke in my life—my closeted lesbian mother’s friends were a preamble to that—but she was definitely the first one who wasn’t ashamed of herself. When we met, she was teaching women car repair. Women needed to be more self-sufficient, less dependent upon men, the thinking went. Automobile literacy was a key component to this independence. We worked on my mother’s car, a used Ford Galaxy 500 4-door sedan, which she had just inherited from her mother. We changed tires and oil, did brake jobs, replaced a water pump. My mother’s car from her mother was up to the task.
All car repair lessons came with a heavy dose of lesbian liberation theory and class awareness.To this day, there is nothing under the hood of a vehicle that frightens me even if I have no idea what is going on. Likewise, there is nothing about class, race, and sex, but especially class, that I did not initially learn while also being told how loosen a lug nut or tighten a fan belt. Laura’s pop-up car repair for women course might just as well have been titled: The Nuts and Bolts of Class: Sister Laura Moore Explains It All For You. Pretty much everything else–with the exception of my mother’s fine example– all that book-learning and those fancy degrees and study groups and talk, was just continuing education, professional development. None of it would have had a context without Laura and her car repair class.
Laura Ann Moore is deep inside my white, middle-class college-educated, small business-owning, queer, lesbian bones. This was never clearer to me than when I learned that she had passed. It felt so deep. So personal. So inside of me even though we hadn’t really spoken or socialized much in the last several years. I think there are a lot of us out here who know what I mean. Losing her is like having your bone marrow removed. It functions inside of you without having to think about it. But oh, when it’s gone.
Which isn’t to say we didn’t fight or disagree. We did. Sometimes, often, really, those fights were impassioned on both sides and included yelling. She was philosophically opposed to the concept of “feminist” therapy at one point, and was outspoken in her position against my own friends, my own therapists. She was a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian separatist and I was no longer a believer in in separatism. For a time, she wasn’t too keen on transgender identity and my partner is trans. Frankly, she didn’t really like anyone with what she thought was too much easy access to what she and so many others have called male privilege. We had some doozies, Laura and I.

There are people who are not up to that kind of engagement. Middle-class sensibilities, Laura would have said. No: Middle class privilege. Don’t want to tarnish their silver spoons.I relished it because here was someone who challenged you to think, to defend your position. We both won a few, we both lost a few. There were stretches when we didn’t speak. Two essential things came of this: One, Laura’s positions sometimes DID evolve and she owned that when it happened. Two, my positions evolved as well, but more importantly, I learned a shitload about personal accountability and integrity. If I do the right thing today in the face of an easier, more fun, only slightly right choice, (if there is such a thing) a choice that would gain me friends, invites to parties, awards, but I do that right thing anyway, it is because because Laura Ann Moore pushed me to, whether she knows it or not.
Oh, and a third: These were Laura’s brand of teachable moments. If you were willing to engage, willing to stand for your beliefs but listen as well, Laura would always have your back.
I never really doubted that even in times when I was angry with her. And when some actual attack came at her in the social or public sphere that was wrong-headed, morally lazy, or just plain mean, I stood up for her even if we were in mid-argument, because I knew she would do the same for me. She would do what’s right, regardless of cost.
What I love about Laura? Slow-dancing in P.K.s on the East Side, under-aged and loving her big boisterous joyous self as she belted out the song on the juke box in my ear and steered me around the floor like I was an extension of that big-ass heart. Sitting for hours listening to her microscopically detailed knowledge of the inner workings of St. Louis politics. Coming over to her house in which she took great pride, watching her fuss over her beloved chow Red Emma, and being witness to her enormous joy and love for her partner Marlene. Seeing her at events in her “I am your worst fear and your best fantasy” t-shirt. Hearing her big, big laugh. Knowing with a certainty, that every shred of documentation of St. Louis’s struggle for social justice has been preserved by Laura, a one-woman herstory archive. Knowing that she loved with a big, soft heart that could be and was frequently wounded, but that she nevertheless loved people and animals and life in the deepest and best possible ways.

Good-bye Laura. I will miss you fiercely. Thank you for letting me into your life. I will try to do the right thing by you.

Here is a poem for you by another lesbian, the poet Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
― Mary Oliver

I’m Sorry Y’all

Dear Paula Deen,

I know you are having a BAD WEEK.  First, you get inexplicably outed by the National Enquirer for remarks that you think are perfectly ok. Remarks about people of color especially.  And then somehow, everyone gets all up in your business about it. These remarks, incidentally, display a deeply imbedded racism so obviously part of your cultural dna that you seem to be more confused than sorry.  You were so confused you were a no-show on the Today Show this morning.   Now the media, while simultaneously enjoying this moment of deep-fried dirt, can also put you on the “black”-list. Sorry Paula. That’s what it’s called.

Lawyer: Have you ever used the N-word yourself?
Deen: Yes, of course.

As if this weren’t enough, someone told you to make a You Tube video to apologize. Not your best recorded moment, I must say. You seemed, well bewildered to find yourself sitting in some random chair in some random room fiddling with your pinky and trying to say something your agent told you to say that might as well have been in Swahili it was so foreign on your tongue. Alas, to no avail. By the end of the business day, the Food Network announced it had cancelled your contract. I’m sure you are stewing over this. After all, you apologized! On You Tube! Much better than the Today Show, more potential viewers. Isn’t that good enough?

Paula Deen's new book
the bible of southern hospitality

But what’s worse, at least from my bookseller’s point of view, you’ve got a big new cookbook coming out this Fall from Random House. Paula Deen’s New Testament. The announced print run is 750,000 copies. Somebody got a nice advance! I am pretty sure that you have just ruined a few publishing executives’ weekend, if not their entire year. I’m pretty sure that employees of the Random House will not be seeing that $5,000 bonuses they got last year for the stupendous sales of the 50 Shades of Gray “erotic” novels again this year for the anticipated sales of your book.  At 750,000 copies, it has the largest announced advance print run on Random House’s entire fall list.  I just bought that list today and the next biggest print run I recall came in at less than half that.

But it is possible that as I write this, Random House has already stopped the presses on Paula Deen’s New Testament.  I feel bad for them. I like the folks at Random House. They publish some of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and Jeanette Winterson and Gertrude Stein. Black, and/or gay, and/or Jewish.  What a pickle you have gotten yourself in Paula!

You must be extra confused about this. As you testified in a court case last year, you saw no problem with your brother Bubba making anti-gay/Semitic/black jokes or looking at porn in front of his and your employees.  Yet last year, everyone at Random House got Christmas bonuses for selling porn, and you will probably be lucky if your book gets published at all just because of something you said. Something you also said everyone else says. Everyone you know, that is. Apparently in your world, it’s acceptable to make racist jokes and download porn at work. I’m sure it must feel like a double standard. But of course, Random House hasn’t issued a statement as to how it is handling your new book. Maybe you still have a chance. Especially if you keep your mouth shut.

But Paula, the real reason I am writing to you is that I have an apology of my own to make.  An apology and an immodest proposal. When I spoke to you at a Random House party a few weeks ago, I complimented you on how good you looked. And you do. You look great, especially for someone who was single-handedly responsible for elevating butter to its own place on the food pyramid. You have managed to take the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and turn yourself around. I expect that took a major effort. It wasn’t just your birthright and lifestyle, this advocacy of a diet that kills, it literally made you millions of dollars. I admire your fortitude. I admire the fortitude of your staff who most likely coordinated your new diet for you.

But that’s not what I have to apologize for. When we spoke, you had just met a high-ranking suit from the company that will be selling your book, if it gets published, to Walmart and Hastings and Target and the like. He promised to sell a ton of your books. (Of course, that probably isn’t all that many, calorically speaking.) He turned and left immediately and you turned to me. I told you that Left Bank Books wouldn’t be selling a ton, but we’d probably sell a half ton.  You seem satisfied with that.

So here’s the thing: we won’t be selling a half ton. We wouldn’t have sold a half ton even if you hadn’t revealed your true colors. And now of course we won’t be selling any. Because I didn’t order any today, when ironically, your book was being presented to me by my Random House sales rep, right about the time you were posting your “apology” and the Food Network was cancelling your contract. Talk about timing! So sorry, Paula, but I sort of lied when I saw you last month. You could say I “misspoke”. That’s a term you might want to borrow from your conservative friends, incidentally. You can use it to pretend that you didn’t mean all those things you said that got you into trouble.  It’s like saying you told a little “white” lie.

Paula Deen, I don’t think you are ever going to learn anything from this experience. You have lived in a bubble of Southern hospitality, a phrase I have come to see as meaning, “well honey bunches, I think you are a piece of deep-fried doo-doo and I have no intention of accommodating your wishes but I am going to slather you in buttery falsehoods so greasy that when you manage to stand up and wipe yourself off, you will think I was actually nice to you”.

And because you have perfected the art of Southern style “playah”, you have come to believe your own pretenses of actual compassion. There may be a way out of this for you, Paula. But you are not going to like it. I make this proposal inspired by where I live, St. Louis, Missouri. We are not regarded as a healthy town. We have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the very sorts of health problems that result from following the diet you have profited from promoting all these years. And black folk, the very ones you seem to think make decorative slave motifs for wedding parties, suffer the most.

So why not use this opportunity to make it up to us, Paula? Why not—wait for it— give away your new book to poor communities and communities of color? Why not lead free community cooking classes in those communities to teach better dietary choices to the folks who have been harmed the most by your previous food religion?

No cheating either. No new syndicated “Feed My People” show. You have to actually look people in the eye. The revolution will not be monetized. After all, you can afford to do this. The only thing more over the top than the amount of butter you have consumed over the years is the amount of money you have made preaching its virtues. Could you do that, Paula? Could you go among the common people and do the right thing?

That, Paula, would be what the folks in AA call making amends. THAT would be a real apology.

Not holding my breath,

Another 60+ year-old white woman

Midnight Bookseller

Ok so New York wasn’t just like I pictured it. Arriving around lunchtime at LaGuardia, the taxi line was short and I should have taken that as an omen. The taxi driver clocked us as tourists instantly, something that has never happened to me at LaGuardia. But apparently, when I gave the address of the Airbnb apartment that Left Bank Books Events Coordinator Hannah Nutt and I would be staying in, an address smack dab in the middle of the theater district, that marked us as tourists and  he decided to take us on the longest, most congested route to our abode, adding at least $10 to the bill.

Then there was the not so small matter of our abode. Nice location on West 49th Street but the dude who let us in and gave us the 411 was as alarming as the apartment: him–rasta hat white guy, big black I’m-totally-chill-hip glasses, brown plaid blazer paired with cargo shorts and Converse All-stars, drinking the last of a 12-pack of something like Corona or Stella Artois.  The apartment: a grody blend of early teenage boy, complete with hockey helmit beer bong, numerous anachronistic surf boards, guitars, crumpled receipts, sports posters, and just plain clutter.  Dust. Pillows I wouldn’t put on a dog bed. Yikes.  The good news: not only is there wifi, there is an actual printer that works!

Making the best of it, Hannah took off to see a play: Unbroken Circle. I sat around mapping out the many receptions I intend to attend in the next two days on Google Maps with the help of the outstanding NYC mta website.  And then I got hungry and with a little research, found a Lidia  Bastianich restaurant just around the corner. I would have to wait until 8:30 to eat but at least they took a reservation for one. Left Bank Books hosted Lidia about a year or two ago at the Sheldon, along with Sauce Magazine. Alyson Mace sat on stage and talked to her. She was promoting her new cookbook Lidia’s Italy in America.  I liked her. Down to earth with high food standards.

This past January, in the middle of an epic snow storm that assaulted Missouri,my partner Jarek Steele, and Left Bankers extraordinaire Jonesy and Lauren took the train to Kansas City for an indie bookseller confab appropriately called Winter Institute. One of the perqs of this event was the opportunity to have dinner or a cocktail with an author or two. I was thrilled to be invited to a Graywolf Press dinner at Lidia Bastianich’s KC restaurant, Lidia’s Italy, where I was introduced to her outstanding tableside service and delicious fresh pastas.  I was also fortunate to be seated next to author Ru Freeman, whose extraordinary novel, On Sal Mal Lane, was just published this month.  But I had read an advanced copy in anticipation of the dinner and I must say that I loved it. A lot. Like Cutting for Stone a lot. Mixed with not a little To Kill a Mockingbird.   Really, you have to read it. It is wonderful. ’nuff said.

Thus I was positively disposed to eating at Lidia’s NYC. Having just spent the last 3 hours mapping out my every move from Book Expo America  at the Jacob Javits Convention Center to a cocktail reception with Malcom Gladwell, a cocktail reception with the president and ceo of HarperCollins, and a dinner in the home of Granta magazine editor John Freeman co-sponsored by Grove Atlantic, I was ready to carbo load on great Italian food.

Gladwell’s new book comes out this September and promises to be his typically brilliant take, this time on why David is more powerful than Goliath. He shared some of his ideas at Winter Institute and I look forward to the continued build up over cocktails on the rooftop of Hotel Gansevoort tomorrow.  I am very curious what the reception with the President and CEO of HarperCollns Publishers Worldwide, an entity owned by Rupert Murdoch will be like. I am thinking it will be the sort of event where men sport  navy blue suits as a defensive measure and mostly I will be ignored. In short, a sweaty armpit affair. But I have many many many favorite Harper collins authors, not the least of which is Barbara Kingsolver, so away I shall go!

Oh, about the Italian dinner: great service, even if I was installed in a far back corner where eventually the same sex couples were also installed. Food, uneven. Great bread. Great caesar salad. Gnochhi out of this world. Spaghetti with tomato and basil, too chef boyardee. And the lesbian couple seated next to me were disappointed in the mushy meatballs. But I did enjoy that I could have my pick of more than 3 dozen Italian wines for a flat $25 a bottle and take the unfinished bottle home.

Off to bed, hopefully without bedbugs. We will be doing with air conditioning tonight. #sweatysleeplessnight.

The Care and Feeding of a Transgender Person

This is the most succinct, heart-felt, cogent, to-the-point explanations of American trans-reality I have ever read. It is a handy manifesto that needs to be a little chapbook you can just pull out and read from whenever the occasion arises. Feel free to commit it to memory. Share it with someone who just doesn’t get it. Maybe that’s you. A little bit. Maybe not. Maybe now you will “get it.” Or at least think about wanting to get it the next time you turn on the tv and see the world through a transperson’s eyes. Because how can you not after reading this?
In the interest of full disclosure, Jarek is my partner. No, we are not married because in our state, that can’t happen. And we haven’t wanted to go somewhere else. We want to be recognized on our home turf. So for now and probably for most of our relationship, we will not be legally married. Because the laws that proclaim you man or woman vary greatly from state to state, but one thing does not vary: the absolute blatant ignorance with which state officials respond to various trans-based requests and inquiries.
There is one part of this experience that Jay doesn’t talk about here: the Significant Other. Or, as they say in the vernacular, Significant Other, Friends,, Family and Allies, or SOFFA.If I am going to be a piece of living room furniture, I prefer to think of myself as a love seat.
Anyway, my part of this story requires a real blog. That will come, whenever I get as brave as Jay. There are lots of us couches out there. And many of us have paid dearly for the privilege of loving our transperson. Of course, we are not likely to be targets in the same ways that our transloveobjects are. But when you prick us, we bleed, too. So. Please read Jay’s piece. Please share it widely.
The life you save may be closer than you think.

A Public Me

Last night I turned on my tv.  I waited for the customary 10-20 seconds before my mess of electronics caught up with my desires and started displaying the current program on the channel whomever watched it last left it.  Comedy Central.

Shouted (or so it seemed because the sound was turned up) into my living room was this:

Person one –  “Just because he was with a tranny doesn’t make him gay.  You were with a tranny.” [canned laughter]

Person two (a woman) – “Yeah, I think he waited ’til she had her dick cut off before he banged her, so it doesn’t count.”

It went downhill from there resulting in Danny Devito’s character making a quip about gay marriage that was so tired and overused, I’m too bored to repeat it.

Then I turned the channel, muted the tv and logged into Facebook, where there was a discussion about…

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Thanksgiving Dairies: The Confession

Thanksgiving 2011 was a bright sunny day with temperatures in the high 60s. While waiting for the  feast to be ready, Jay and the kids set up Ben’s ping pong table in the driveway and had a fight-to-the-death tournament amid ankle-deep mulberry and maple tree leaves. Ben missed the tournament because he and his dad went to a matinee.  When he returned, I had a rare pause in the kitchen so I challenged him to a game.

We were well into it when I heard a car pull up in our alley. Normally, this means someone is dumping a crapload of trash.  Often this is an illegal dump of some landlord cleaning out eviction property somewhere no where near us and I am stuck with moving the big pieces–broken furniture, big plastic children’s toys, heaps of clothing, all someone’s now former life–out of the way, then collecting the garbage from the split bags and stuffing them back into the dumpsters.  It is as depressing as it is annoying. Someone’s home is literally being thrown away. I often wonder where they went and what it is like when you have no resources and all your carefully collected belongings–the kids’ Big Wheel found at a thrift shop, the velour couch bought on time from Rent-to- Own, the end tables, the mattress and box springs are now lying split and broken in a filthy alley because you couldn’t make rent.

But I also feel a sense of rage towards the person, usually a slum-lord who thinks it is ok to dump all this stuff in back of my house.  Se when I hear a car pull up, I’m out there in a flash.

This time it was a rumbley old sedan and its backseat was filled with what looked like trash.  The dumpster lid was propped open and it seemed most of its contents had been removed to the alley.  Where is the person, I thought. The motor is running. Where did they go? Then a small, 20-something white woman stood up from where she had been foraging, inside the dumpster.  She was neatly  dressed and her bare hands were grubby with trash handling. She was barely a head taller than the dumpster.  She had some metal thing in one hand.

“I’m just looking for scrap metal,” she said.  “Ok,” I said, looking clearly unhappy with her.  “I can leave if you want,” she offered.  “No, go ahead.”And I went back in the yard to grumble about how I was now going to have to pick up all this trash again. I did not even wonder why this young woman would be searching for scrap on Thanksgiving. I even went in the house and complained loudly to my family who were assembled in the living room and deep into a program on television,  about how annoying the dumpsters are because I had just cleaned up the alley the day before an now I would have to do it again. Some of them look up at me blankly, but no one responded. They are used to my hot-headed declarations.

“Apparently, not only do I have to clean up after everyone I know, I now have to clean up after everyone I don’t know, ” I whined to Ben as we went back outside to think about our ping pong game.   The Parker House rolls were cooling in the pan, the dressing and potatoes were ready to go. The turkey and supplemental breast (I wanted leftovers) were roasting in the oven and the house was filled with that wonderful all-is-good smell.

Ben and I decided to go back out to the alley to make sure she wasn’t going to dump everything and drive away.  “I’ll clean everything up,” she told me when I told her I always have to clean up the alley and would really appreciate it if she didn’t dump stuff everywhere.  “I’m just searching for scrap metal. I lost my job and my daughter and I are being evicted tomorrow and I just want to be sure I have something for her to eat,” she said.  “See,” she said, pointing to a small pile of metal things she had already foraged. “I’m going to take all of this, it won’t be here, I won’t make a mess, I’m just trying to find some scrap metal so I can get something to eat for my daughter. But I can go if I’m bothering you.”

I had an incredibly uncharitable thought about drug addictions, and mentally noted that there was no child in the car. It was  like someone from Fox Network had a set up a small office in my brain and was spewing its toxic waste into my polluted thought-stream. But she was so small and fresh-scrubbed for a dumpster diver, she could have been my daughter if I had had one. I mumbled something about it being ok and Ben and I went back in the yard.

“Well that was depressing,” I said to Ben. “What do you think about seeing if the turkey breast is cooked yet and giving it to her?”  “Sure,” said Ben. Ben would give someone the shirt off his back if they needed it. From the moment he was old enough to hand things to you, he was sharing. If he has $10 in his pocket to buy movie candy, he’ll come home with nothing, not because he bought $10 of snacks for himself but because he bought $10 of snacks for whomever he was with who didn’t have enough money to buy a soda. He doesn’t make a big deal of it and wouldn’t even mention these extraordinary acts of charity if I didn’t grill him about where is the money, or what happened to whatever toy it is that is missing.  He is a good influence on me.

The turkey breast was nowhere near done. I grabbed a grocery bag and Ben and I cleaned out the cabinet of anything that looked vaguely nourishing.  But I was unable to face her. I didn’t want to hear her absolve me of my moral failing.  I didn’t want to be absolved.  I didn’t think I should be allowed to feel better for anything. I had not only been callous and heartless on this most symbolic day of sharing, but I had announced this heartlessness in front of my entire family, most especially Ben.  It was Ben who took the groceries  to her.  He then, without prompting, retrieved the giant bag of aluminum cans he had collected and gave her that as well. He told me she had thanked us as said God bless.  It went without saying that we weren’t in the mood for ping pong anymore.

Ben and I didn’t speak of the donation to anyone else. For all they knew, I had left it at complaining about poor pitiful me for having to clean up the alley. They hadn’t noticed our cabinet clean-out.  I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want anyone to think better of me for doing what I should have done without hesitation.  Even writing this and posting it seems suspect. Why not confine these personal upbraidings to my journal and not run the risk of someone telling me what a good person I am?

In truth, I process most things out loud. In truth, I need an audience.  In truth, I need someone to approve of me. And maybe putting this out there will lead to someone thinking less of me. A punishment, as it were.  My admission of human smallness.  I have never had to forage in a dumpster unless I wanted to retrieve a cool piece of furniture that I then repurposed.  And almost always, those retrievals were things that sat alongside the dumpster. I have never actually gotten into a dumpster, and certainly never because I was trying to feed my family.

Thanksgiving dinner went off well. In less than thirty minutes, about 20 hours of cooking  became 5 or 6 small left-over containers. I have some critiques of the final hour that I will record for next year: don’t cook the dressing  so long, you’ll break someone’s tooth. It’s nice to have a couple of classic items on the menu that aren’t pimped out with fancy sauces and exotic spices. English powdered mustard is still mustard and some people will find it too spicy. Make more cranberries because apparently, word is getting out that they are good.  Let people help.  Don’t forget the appetizers. And most of all, don’t let your culinary skills go to your head. Because after all, the real blessing to be thankful for is that we could feed eight people we love well under our own roof one more year.

Thanksgiving Diaries, 23 November, 2011

I have finally learned how to make a pie crust.

Ok,  I have had absolutely no time to perform my annual Thanksgiving rituals involving manic cooking this year. I have barely finished even the most basic of preps. Thanks to my lovely bulldog, Bruno, who decided that 5:15 am was a perfectly fine time to get up today, I am a walking zombie. I have before me a full shift of prep tonight alone. I have already had to make the pepita/pecan/candied ginger/brown butter cake topping twice because a moment’s inattention filled the kitchen with the decidedly unsavory smell of burnt butter. Why do I do this you may ask? Why do I decide on a menu that must all be from scratch, that must involve a variety of pre-preparations of broths, brines, and sauces?  I do it because I persist in loving the process. I persist in loving my family this way, although some of them may think it is a strange love that leads me to dissolve in tears of weariness barely 48 hours before “the big day.”

Fine. Be that as it may.

Today as I wandered the grocery store aisles at 6:30 am, unable to actually focus on what my list in hand said, and frequently backtracking for an item I walked right by, I thought of something in local writer Jeff Ricker’s just published first novel, Detours.The narrator was talking about his just deceased mother and how she hated the music that was played in stores, how she didn’t want to shop to someone else’s personal soundtrack. It was a great detail that made his character come to life so to speak. At the moment I was haunting Schnucks, the music was tending toward Karen Carpenter and I wondered whose soundtrack I was in. I wondered also, how I would be remembered. She told us she loved to cook for us but the way she brandished that chef’s knife, we would back away slowly, smiling and nodding.

Ok, maybe I do bite off more than I can chew sometimes. But I would be bored to another kind of tears if I didn’t have a challenge. This year’s Thanksgiving challenge feels olympic to me.  I worked longer hours and some of them were on my sacred Wednesday off. I had to juggle the bad timing of payday with shopping for items I usually need the week before. Our house is still in recovery from the exterior paint job we did this October. We still have yet to dust some surfaces for the first time even though we created an enormous amount of paint dust everywhere. And now family is coming. They will be able to write their names on the dining room window sill. I would advise against using the 3 second rule if you drop your dinner roll on the floor. And truthfully, I am going to have to bar anyone over the age of 20 from the bedroom currently belonging to the nephew. It’s heart-stopping and not in a good way.

But as I say, I have a strange way of saying I love you. And I do. I love them all. Ferociously. Tenaciously. With all of my heart, the heart that misses the family of my childhood: especially my wonderful maternal grandmother whose roasting pan will hold this year’s turkey and whose silverplate I will lovingly set the table with; and my mother, my dear dear mother who knew the right way to do everything and whose voice I still sometimes hear correcting me as I chop garlic with her knives or mash potatoes her way. These two women are at the heart of everything I do in the kitchen. And cooking with them in my heart and their kitchen ware in my hands is how I stay connected both to them and to the family I have made.  But sometimes, when I grow weary, and women do grow weary, the voice of my paternal grandmother creeps in just a little bit.

Let me tell you a story. My paternal grandmother was a slightly bitter–scratch that–exceedingly bitter, Polish woman from a gigantic family that emigrated to Chicago a long time ago. When I knew her, she lived with her third husband at the motel they built and ran for 25 years in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. My step grandfather was a very pleasant and agreeable fellow who emigrated from the German part of Switzerland a long time ago. We didn’t spend much time there because I suspect she and my mother were not the best of friends. My mother once called her a woman who didn’t like other women. It seemed the harshest of criticisms, even to me at the tender age of 14. Years passed and I grew up and made visits of my own to Eureka Springs. One particular visit many years back I came to breakfast at my grandparents with my then partner, Sue Hyde. My grandmother encouraged us to cook our own eggs because, “you’ll cook them how you like them.” So Sue tended to some easy over eggs while my grandmother waited to cook her husband’s eggs. “That’s the right way to do it,” she told Sue. “WIth a low temperature so you don’t ruin the eggs.”  Sue served us up and it was my grandmother’s turn at the stove. She immediately flipped the burner to high and proceeded to completely immolate my grandfather’s eggs, which she served without comment, and he ate without comment.

What kind of love was that, I wonder?

That is who I thought about when I tossed the first round of cake topping and started anew. I have already had a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meltdown, so theoretically, the only way is up. (No meltdown can compare to my award-winning performance some years ago when, at the exact moment that I should be stirring broth into my gravy roux, I was standing in the shower sobbing. But that’s another story for another time.)

No, I am ready for this Thanksgiving, even if it isn’t exactly going according to plan. Really, what matters more, that I have every last menu item ready for the food stylist, or that there is a more or less guarantee that in about 24 hours from now, a group of people I love so much it makes my heart burst will be sitting around my table laughing and eating. For this, I will be thankful.

And, as promised in a recent facebook post, here is the menu:


Thanksgiving 2011

Roast Turkey

Brought to you by Harr Family Farms,  brined and roasted per Alton Brown’s recipe

Mashed IdahoPotatoes

The classic method, made lighter with the addition of homemade chicken broth.

Turkey Gravy

This item is the Thanksgiving necessity that often brings down timid cooks. We make it according to the master, B. Ann, using a broth made from stewing turkey parts in housemade chicken broth.

Roasted Garlic and Shallot Sauce

A lighter alternative to turkey gravy that makes those second and third helpings seem totally doable. The rather simple name belies the lovely complexity and unexpected rich taste of this sauce.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Sage

Sweet potatoes were called for. Today we served them cubed and gently roasted with fresh sage from our garden. Sage that cares little for the changing seasons and kindly makes itself available nearly the year ‘round.

Pole Beans with Miso and Almonds

Normally, it’s green beans. Often, they are cooked to within an inch of their lives in a can of mushroom soup. Not this time! Our friends at Kruse Farms inIllinoishad fresh picked pole beans at the market. We’ve dressed them up for the party in a Japanese-inspired sauce.

Chestnut Stuffing with Dates

Back by popular demand, this is now the Kleindienst/Steele/Mooney family classic. Well, it’s Jo Anna’s favorite so that makes it the family classic.  We hand roast the chestnuts, painfully peel them, and bring them together with the rest of the stuff. Sorry, we are too lazy to make the bread for the stuffing. We outsource that part.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

We don’t really care if no one likes this. We will happily eat it in the days to come. We will mix it in yogurt. We will pour it on ice cream. We will stand in front of the refrigerator and eat it out of the Tupperware with a spoon.

Parker House Rolls

Another family classic back by popular demand. We don’t speak of the butter that gave up its life so that we may partake of this sinful (Sorry, recipe provider Father Dominic) indulgence.

Après le Repas Principal

(Sounds fancier in French)


Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

This is the real reason we eat Thanksgiving dinner. Words cannot describe this cake. Everyone who needs to, may request a moment alone.

Apple Pie

By the time you read this, we will have mastered, or at least passably faked, our way through the Alton Brown pie dough.

Jo Anna’s Peanut Butter Pie

Another family classic. In case your annual calorie intake has fallen short, eat one piece and call Jo in the morning.