Billboard, Born in Kenya

Kenya was the birthplace of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It was at the center of Trump’s claims that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. and was not legitimate in office.

As a candidate-to-be, he was looking for ways to exploit the rage and disbelief created by the election of an African-American president. He found an audience.

He took to Twitter 67 times and used hundreds of hours of free media exposure to flog his ‘Birther’ calumnies.

Taking a page from the KKK, he dragged a black man out of his home (in this case the White House) to humiliate him in front of the town folk. He mocked the human rights progress we’ve struggled to achieve.

Abraham Lincoln said the Civil War was God’s punishment for the wealth earned through slavery and that the blood shed by those in bondage would be repaid by those on the battlefield. “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” he added, quoting Psalm 19:9.

It’s possible our nation will be punished for allowing a race baiter into the Oval Office.

If Lincoln’s God is merciful He’ll decide that a Trump presidency is punishment enough — and that when he leaves office, our sentence will be commuted to time already served.


Poster in Madrid

“Love Whomever You Love.
Madrid Loves You.”

MADRID —You see this poster on almost every corner.

It’s surprising that a country that endured iron-fisted religious and political repression late into the Twentieth Century came to recognize same-sex marriage before we did.

After all, championing individual rights is one of America’s enduring points of pride.

New rights take time to root. Challenging the values of the past is met with passion and outrage, especially when it involves the loss of power over others.

The people who wrote our constitution knew that things would change in the future so they gave us the Ninth Amendment. It says we have rights they couldn’t begin to imagine and didn’t mention in that document.

The end of slavery, voting rights for non-whites and women, the right to remain silent and have a court-appointed lawyer all came about because the Founders left us a living, breathing constitution.

We can’t see into the future any more than those geniuses could.

There may be rights our children come to recognize that we haven’t — the right to medical care, for example, may be one of them. (Our Spanish friends agreed on that years ago.)


Teresa Hernández López

Baffled expressions are Teresa’s bread and butter MADRID — She’s part actress, part standup comic.

She’s a mime who uses her body to explain things that don’t translate. She’s an etiquette coach and a world-class diplomat.

Teresa Hernández López is a language professor who sensed early on that she would teach. As the second of five she helped attend to the education of her siblings.

She herself is a remarkable scholar — she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship by the US Department of State which she pursued in Scranton PA, where she later taught at the university level. “Have you seen ‘The Office?’“ she’ll ask.

Teresa’s not extroverted by nature, she uses the English word “shy” to describe herself but she becomes a different woman in front of students.

She conducts classes totally in Spanish, hiding her mastery of English even though it was her major — she graduated knowing more about our language than her own. She has since tackled her native Spanish with that same determined rigor. Portuguese is next.

Teresa teaches at a boutique language school built around a walk-in curriculum with no entry requirements. (It offers a convenient excuse to be in Madrid.)

Some students stay for weeks, others for months, many earn credits that transfer back home. A surprising number learn Spanish because of romantic interests. Teresa is fascinated by students from non-western cultures who have fundamentally different realities built into their languages.

She grew up in the traditionally Spanish way, her family living on the first floor and her ‘abuela’ on the fifth. She left her home town of Segovia to make her way in the Spanish capitol.

Entertainers and public speakers find nothing as terrifying as a room full of blank stares. But for Teresa, baffled expressions are bread and butter. Tortured pronunciations are music to her ears.


Billboard — Crime Scene

George Orwell is alive and well.During his campaign, Donald Trump accused Spanish-speaking immigrants of being more likely to commit rape and murder than other Americans — exactly the opposite is true.

When he lost the popular election, he accused millions of illegal aliens of voting unlawfully — that did not happen.

He was using fear and hatred to criminalize a entire group of people.

We’ve don’t usually hold politicians accountable for what they say in the heat of a campaign. But in an extraordinary move, the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the president’s remarks about religion at face value, citing them as proof that his travel ban is unconstitutional.

By a margin of 10 to 3, they found the president’s remarks too dangerous to be ignored.

Editor’s Update

— The ‘Poster Boys’ are up to their usual mischief, hacking and hijacking billboards. When you least expect it, there they are. Read more…


His Spanish Mistress

The old fool experienced exquisite pleasure along with the pain. It was simply too much for the old guy to resist.

He was weak and defenseless in its grasp. The Spanish language had become a dominatrix who imposed discipline and demanded submission.

She dominated him completely, forcing him to study hours a day.

She made him read in Spanish on the left page with English on the right. She forced him to crawl on all fours, going word-by-word, with a translation app wedged between his teeth. She corrected his conjugations and humiliated him in public.

But of course the man experienced exquisite pleasure along with the pain. He discovered that certain expressions have unexpected beauty and extraordinary powers in the language he was learning.

He devoured J. K. Rowling in Spanish and was amazed at how quickly her fair-haired British townsfolk became Hispanics. He laughed out loud when they cursed. This new language offered figures of speech he could steal and use in his own feeble attempts at writing. And who would know?

One year passed, then two, a third followed suit. When it was time to consent to yet another, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.

You may find it hard to believe but during those years of submission and domination, the old fool never thought to create a safe word. It never once occurred to him that this language thing was getting out of hand.


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.


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…



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…