Rich Quinn’s Tour of Duty

Rich grew up believing that he had a duty to serve his country.

Rich watched World War II movies on TV. He knew that John Wayne had done us proud and that the peace we engineered was as much a victory as the war we had won.

Despite Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about a ‘military industrial complex’ the U.S. waded into a ‘limited’ civil conflict. it ended up sending almost three million Americans to Vietnam.

That televised war bitterly contradicted our image of ourselves.

Just years earlier The Peace Corps had been created to spread American ideals around the world. That mission, Rich Quinn realized, would allow him to serve honorably without drawing a weapon.

He trained for ten weeks at Columbia University before shipping out to coastal West Africa.

Not everything made sense in Ghana. Volunteers weren’t sent to posts based on their skills but on the alphabetical order of their names. The town where Rich was assigned didn’t need an English teacher so he was hijacked to teach French — the good people of Bechem forgave his shortcomings because the presence of an American was prestigious.

There was no running water. The latrines were foul. Rich contracted amoebic dysentery, dengue fever and a festering skin disease that landed him into the hospital in Kumasi. “If it weren’t for penicillin I wouldn’t have made it back home,” he laughs.

Peace Corps volunteers were free to leave at any time. Many were shipped home because they couldn’t hack Africa. “This is a mistake,” Rich remembers thinking after his first year. But he stayed in Ghana and met his commitment.

Corps members believed that by serving a two-year tour they would be exempt from the military draft but that policy had didn’t appear anywhere in writing. Just after Rich returned home, the Selective Service initiated a lottery.

His birthday drew a draft number of 19 out of 365. He had served his country honorably but there was now a likelihood he would be called back for a second tour, this time in the military.

Every day for three years Rich went to the mailbox expecting to find the induction notice that never came.

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Rachel Krumholz, Printers’s Devil

This kid, a kid you’ve never met before, shows up at the coffee shop. She takes the stool next to you and wants to know what you’re doing. She’s genuinely interested.

You’re struck by her curiosity.

“I’ve always been a writer,” she tells you. That explains things a bit.

At one point she imagined a future as a makeup artist but that was before she walked into Room S105 where her high school’s newspaper is produced.

She immediately wanted in.

“Democracy can’t function when there are untold stories.” the young printer’s devil explains.

She’s currently writing about her school which is a mix of urban and suburban, poverty and wealth, a jumble of religions and languages. Her question is why students cluster in a self-imposed segregation.

Last year she caught the attention of the powers-that-be when writing about sexual assault — they hoped she would tone it down. Her stats were challenged by a few students who tore up their copies in protest.

“I don’t mind being controversial.” she admits.

She wrote about a district-wide dress code that got tangled up in race and gender; and about teenage use of marijuana for medical purposes (with and without a prescription).

On one of her early assignments someone grabbed the wrong photo of a classmate attending a testy, essentially whites-only country music festival. It was a painful mistake. “We can’t pat ourselves on the back.”

The sixteen-year-old who recently got a driver’s license, juggles advanced-placement work plus soccer and the newspaper. She allows herself a minor meltdown now and then and sorely misses having time to read for pleasure.

If you’re one of those people who disagree with the cost, or the very idea of public education, you should have a cup of the house blend with a kid like Rachel Krumholz.

Rachel is your tax dollars at work.

It’s too early to tell but it’s possible that cutting through fake news and alternate facts will be Rachel’s way to provide a return on our investment.

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I Shot A Man in Reno

There’s a guy at our neighborhood coffee shop… who writes a blog. He’s been at it for years.

He keeps a notebook where he details the genius and the idiocy of humans like you and me. The things we do fascinate him no end.

Blogging is like putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean. There’s not telling who will find it.

One audience the man keeps in mind is his grandchildren’s children. He imagines they’ll be given school assignments to write about relatives who lived back in simpler times like ours.

He imagines them desperately rummaging through the family cloud the night before a project is due (procrastination is an inherited trait) and lifting entire passages from his posts (plagiarism is too).

As a writer he worries whether particular ideas or catchphrases will make sense to future readers. What was Y2K? There once were 50 states? When in doubt he turns to the baristas on duty.

He asks Hollie what she associates with the phrase:

“…a man in Reno.”

Hollie draws a blank. Minutes later he adds a clue:

”…I SHOT a man in Reno.”

Horror flashes across Hollie’s face.

”On no!” she cries.

At which point the dirty-chi, the medium-drip, and the soy-cappuccino in the window turn and chime in with the precision of backup artists in Nashville:

”…JUST TO WATCH HIM DIE.”

Hollie laughs in that infectious way she does.

The blogger makes a note to embed audio into his post. He fantasizes that his great-great greats will score points by playing ‘The Folsom Prison Blues’ during their show-and-tells, some hundred or so years from now.

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Crystal Ball

The older crowd at
our neighborhood coffee shop…
uses Harold Schlegel’s crystal ball to look at the past. The younger afternoon crew is more interested in seeing the future.

The accuracy for the two modes are an amazing 97.052% and 98.308% respectively.

There are risks involved of course. No one is quite the same after even a brief encounter — $179.95/minute — with the past or the future. It seems our neural synapses aren’t so different from those of our Neolithic ancestors after all.

Harold will explain the dangers of his app before you ever touch his silicate sphere, and his legal team will insist that you sign a waiver. Don’t be deterred.

The one thing my colleague’s groundbreaking process fails to do, at least as of this writing, is to make sense the present and the colorless, odorless truths floating over our heads.

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Serema and Soheil

The long forced march is behind them.

The couple seated at the table are about to harvest what they have sown. They’re giddy with achievement and release.

They’ve done it. They’ve nailed it. Totally aced it. They have tee-shirts as evidence of every function they’ve endured as students.

For one of them the immediate future involves tenure track at one of the Ivies; for the other an individually tailored portfolio of responsibilities within an international consulting firm —all of this due to years of work. And now even the gods of relocation have smiled on them — neither will need to sacrifice a career for the other.!

They’ll move to the East Coast within months. As they sit here today, they’re comparing the advantages of towns that triangulate their workplaces.

The young couple has been a part of our community for six years and has discovered that something as incidental as a coffee joint can shape the quality of life in a way few people would imagine.

There’s a reason their names and faces aren’t revealed in this post. Halfway around the world there are families and clans and religions that keep their distance from one another. A ethnic Kurd and an ethnic Armenian, a Muslim and a Christian, are not meant to be together.

Here at our coffee shop, at the most visible table in the center of the room, the man and the women don’t need to hide their troth.

They’ll tell you as a matter of fact that their decision of where to live next, together as a family, revolves at least in part around finding a coffee shop like this one.

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Carla’s painting of George Gerber

The man in the painting was not ‘merely dead’… but as the coroner in The Wizard of Oz once described it, he was ‘really most sincerely dead.’

However being deceased didn’t suit George Gerber. And it didn’t last long.

By all accounts George was a sociable man, a vibrant man, something of a character. He had moved from New York City at some point and wore a Yankee’s hat to prove it. He loved baseball and its traditions. “Now it’s just ‘money ball,’” he complained.

The man who lived alone in a balconied condo building within easy distance of the coffee shop had spent his working years at the Internal Revenue Service. We can assume that Agent Gerber was very good at what he did.

George kept up with the papers each day and happened to have a face the Chicago readers of Nelson Algren or Studs Terkel would find comforting. No one recalls any mention of a wife or children.

The portrait that Carla Hayden painted is sizable. She plied acrylic washes until she found the whimsy and panache of the man she enjoyed. When the piece was unveiled its subject was delighted, predicting that it would end up at the Art Institute.

After George left this earth the owners of the Brothers K, Brian and John Kim, afforded the work a position of honor near the double-urn brewing machine where, as you can see, George remains very much alive.

First-shift baristas report the hint of a frown on that painted face during pre-dawn hours. But it disappears as soon as the Brazilian, Papua New Guinean or Guatemalan coffee is brewed and George breathes in the caffeine he needs to face the day.

Here’s Carla’s artistic statement… Read more…

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Natasha

A quick exchange of pleasantries, then Natasha… gets to work at a table or in the window of our coffee shop, often for hours at a time.

Natasha Naumenko will tell you the drought was intermittent and not severe enough by itself to cause the Soviet Famine.

There was more at play, she will tell you.

It is Natasha’s conviction that the victims were institutionally starved of incentive and initiative as well as food.

She writes, “…I show that in the short run collectivization of agriculture in the Soviet Union contributed to the 1932-1933 famine that killed seven to ten million people.”

The Soviet state owned the fields and the crops. In many ways it owned the peasants who worked them. (Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was inspired by these deprivations.) Read more…

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Chris Green’s Erasure Poem

Construction of American Pipelines
Erasure poem by Chris Green

* * *

The United States, hereby retrofit.
With regard to all iron or steel borders, submit.

* * *

This ‘erasure poem’ is derived from the Presidential Memorandum regarding Construction of the American Pipelines.

It was written by Chris Green, a well-respected poet who frequents our local coffee shop. Poets like Chris are to coffee shops what humus is to homegrown cabbage and tomatoes.

For those who don’t know, that would be most of us, an erasure poem is constructed by snatching key words from a document, arranging them, and erasing the others. The result may intensify the intent of the original, or challenge it.

Read the memorandum here: Read more…

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The Wang Creed

He knew that he and the world he lived in would not long survive.At the height of the Second World War when civil strife was continuing to tear through China, Bogun Wang’s [Wang Bogun] health was failing.

The educator and revolutionary feared for his family.

As the head of a clan whose prominence traced back nine generations, Bogun rewrote the centuries-old Wang family creed to guide his heirs through catastrophic times. My good friend Ed is his son.

Above all else the Wang Creed called for filial piety. Respect for elders and ancestors was the primary virtue stressed by Confucius, the revered philosopher who has shaped Chinese life since 500 BC.

Bogun warned that his society was turning from agriculture to commerce and that education would be the key to stability. He preached that those who inherit wealth cannot afford to be idle. The privileges and resources of the clan were dwindling, they would need to be shared and used wisely.

When the Communists gained power, Bogun’s widow Zhining and her children took asylum in the U.S., leaving Bogun’s world behind.

Ed has not updated the formal code of conduct as his father did.

What he has done, at the urging of his children, is to write a book that recounts his family’s role in revolutionary China. Like Bogun’s efforts, Ed’s book is a personal gift from a father to his family. A show of filial piety in reverse.

‘Patriot and Warriors’* will be archived and crawled far beyond the world of people named Wang — historians are a hungry bunch.

*Patriot and Warriors is now available at Amazon

 

Text Of The Wang Family Creed

When I was a child, my father had taught me that we should unite our family with filial piety and friendship… Read more…

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