Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wilbo Goes to McDonald's For A Salad and Thinks of the Power of Hugging.

I am a study of opposites tonight. From Five until Eight tonight, I stood at the Farmer's Market in the evening sun, temperature 72 degree Fahrenheit. As I happily did last year, I handed out sidewalk chalk to any passing by child who would take five colorful sticks. Goof ball that I am, I would exclaim, "You've entered the sidewalk chalk zone". I handed out twelve sets of chalk and the children drew flowers and trees and suns at the foot of the stage where Plain Jane Glory was playing folk tunes. I had brought three times that much, sidewalk chalk costing a mere dollar a box. Now, I see a setting sun through the window of a well air conditioned McDonalds and nibble at an Asian chicken salad with snow peas, edamame, mandarin oranges and a mix of fresh greens, kale in the mix. It's the new salad on the McDonald's menu, costing less than six dollars. 

Worth mentioning a minute of personal history. I worked as a cook at a McDonalds in East Lansing, the one still on Grand River to the east of Snyder-Philips Hall. I have since always taken jobs that allow time to daydream and allow erasure of mistakes. Keeping patties on the grill and toasting buns and all that required every second of consciousness, and I never found the flow. I just quit and picked up a job working at the Kellogg Center Kitchen, washing dishes and prepping salads and mopping floors. I was there for a year until I started waiting tables, noticing that waitstaff cleaned up on tips. After my last shift at Macs, I vowed never to step foot in a Golden Arches. And the sheer powers of marketing, convenience and French Fries drew me back again after a year.

Two salads in the last three days nibbled, both from McDonalds. A friend who follows up on my dietary choices texted an inquiry to me. "So, eating better"? I could truthfully text back to her, "Yes, a salad with lean broiled chicken and even a healthy number of kale leaves"! This constantly makes me think of a Facebook post from an art dealer in Grand Rapids. "Buying a salad at McDonalds is akin to going to a prostitute for a hug". I've been meaning to talk to him and bring him a McDonalds salad disguised as carry out from the Green Well, a farm-to-table gastropub next door to his gallery. Plus, what's so wrong about a hug from a person working in sex work if it is just a free hug? Sometimes a hug is just a hug. Live long enough and see plenty of pros retire to amateur status. Marry. Raise children. Teach Sunday school. Redemption and assimilation are stronger themes than the scarlet letter. Prostitute is a verb and hardly a permanent noun.

The question has arisen in the reader's mind. "Has the writer knowingly hugged a sex worker"? Two stories come to mind, one set after New Years Eve observances in Birmingham, a lovely festival called First Night. At the Temple, a rabbi had played piano, challenging us to stump him with a song request. And we couldn't. At the end he invited us to Como's, still going on the corner of Nine and Woodward today, in Ferndale. Como's had a piano waiting for him and he was determined to play requests until dawn. And yes he said, "Everything is kosher at Como's and extraordinary! Try the veal". So I motored down from Birmimgham to Fabulous Ferndale and ordered the Veal Parmigiana, so good I still remember how good.

At three in the morning, the rabbi was still going strong on the keyboard and nobody had stumped him with a song request. An attractive woman walked in the door from Woodward, took a booth and watched the rabbi play. Four songs later, I wandered over to her booth to say hello and she invited me to sit down. I did. We ordered a pizza as she said she was hungry and despite her hair and makeup being fairly close to perfect for that wee hour of the morning, the way she ate made me wonder how she could have been that hungry.

She knew the rabbi as she had attended services where he had presided. She attended at a few of the local synagogues. We talked and listened for a hour and she asked me for a ride. It was late, still hard to call a cab at that time on the first morning of the year. And she knew the rabbi who was showing no sign of tiring, still playing requests. So I said yes. And we proceeded south on Woodward.

I began to worry as we crossed Eight Mile, the northern boundary of Detroit. She asked me to turn left onto Six Mile, mentioned in rap songs, also known as McNichols. She pointed at a wooden house and said I could drop her off there. I looked at the house suspiciously, too naive at thirty-five to recognize a crack house. She gave me a hug, departed the car. She was knocking on the door when I backed out of the driveway.

Two years later, I saw her on the patio of the first successful Starbucks in Michigan, the Starbucks in Downtown Royal Oak. She unfolded her story to me as I listened. As a New Year's resolution, she had entered rehab and was celebrating more than a year of sobriety. She had become an addict while living in Los Angeles, her habit driving her to "getting into cars" and ruining her marriage to a prominent lawyer. Celebrating the return of his prodigal daughter, her father had purchased a condo for her in nearby Berkley. She made a living cleaning houses. "There's good money in that". Her father would drive her from house to house, and she had rapidly built a clientele.

She called me once to take her grocery shopping. When I knocked on her door, an attractive man came to the door of the second floor condo too. So when when the door opened, we were standing together as if we had arrived together. He spoke first and said, "I've been saving the Jewish News for you". He gave her a stack of ten, wished her a good day, never saying a word to me. She put them away, and before she locked the door, she touched her fingers on a scroll affixed to her doorpost and touched her fingers to her lips. She said a few words I couldn't hear. She had affixed a scroll, a Mezuzah, to every doorpost in her house. The foyer had a picture of her father, a man with a luxuriant gray beard.

Later, I heard through a friend that she had married.

In my thirties, I enrolled in a series of odd classes that still profoundly affect my life. If you know the human potential scene, you'll know the name of these courses right away. Three hundred people attend weekends. Each day runs from breakfast until midnight and all meals have assignments and not a second of privacy. In fact, one is encouraged to share lodging with fellow classmates. People from all walks of life attend these classes. Bank presidents. School teachers. And Savannah, who had brought three of her regular clients. We talked during one of our dinner breaks, and I was charmed. She told how she could cook delicious Eastern European meals. She shared her plans to earn an advanced degree. And she shared about her work which gave her enough money to focus on school without taking away too many study hours. After dinner, she gave me a hug and I accepted. She now practices in her profession. All the graduates of the "curriculum" keep in touch. Inside the room, perfect candor and mutual acceptance were practiced and I took that with me.

So, nothing radical or untoward about visiting McDonalds for a salad. As for the gallerist, he has an acerbic wit worth celebrating. The art dealer is a great guy who raises money for women's causes by throwing parties in his gallery. We have little idea how many women have pulled themselves up with his help.

Kale. Edame. Oranges. Lettuce. Most of these salad items were sold by Crispy Country Acres, the farmers selling next to me. I could have bought more than a basket of Fuji apples. Go home and rip kale and shell edame for a salad of my own creation. Didn't happen. Unlikely to happen soon. But when I can make that happen at home night after night, I'll be a different man.

Portrait of Frieda Kahlo, Mixed Media by Brad Bigford.
— at McDonald's at 1491 Apple Ave.

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