nonfiction

internment“Neighbors,” at The Los Angeles Review of Books

MY JAPANESE-AMERICAN grandfather’s life’s work was the Chihara Jewelry Company, a small rented storefront in Seattle, Washington. He sold earrings and watches and taught himself how to repair televisions. He was jailed when American went to war with Japan because he was a “community leader.” He was reunited with my grandmother, and their four children, after a year and a half of jail time, in internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho. In his FBI file, I have a copy of a letter written by his neighbor, Fred Bergman. It appears on custom Bergman Luggage stationery, with a drawing of leather valises running down the side…


Scandals Realizing“What We Talk About When We Talk About Finance, on Scandals & Abstractions and Realizing Capital,”  at The Los Angeles Review of Books

THIS SUMMER, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon speculated that Elizabeth Warren didn’t “fully understand the global banking system.” The internet went wild over whether he was “mansplaining,” which … sure, he was. But while gender bias is part of Dimon’s dismissal of Warren, his accusation lacks a crucial element that’s usually part of mansplaining: the explaining. Dimon never specified Warren’s mistake, nor was he really expected to specify it. He lobbed an accusation of “you don’t get it” and then ducked and covered.

For high-level financiers, this is fairly common. It’s a trick that financial authorities get to play when people from outside of their economic realm challenge them — say, academics from the humanities or women, to take two not unrelated examples.


“Dance Church Sia,” at Avidly at The Los Angeles Review of Books

…Would you rather be Beyoncé or President?
I would rather be Beyoncé than President of these United States.
But if you’re queer and of color, would you please be President? Please?

At the end of his classes, Nathan, another one of the teachers at the studio, has everyone run forward as if taking a bow to the mirror, and then we run out to the edge of the room and face each other in a circle. We run in to the middle, and raise our hands up. We run back out, like school children playing parachute. Almost all of the teachers have some ritual of gratitude at the end of class. I used to feel deeply goofy when that ritual would make me start to cry. I am still learning to accept and embrace the emotion that I process only if I go to dance class. Dance is goofy, a space of delight and experimentation and physical exertion. Let the libertine draw what inference he pleases, I will no longer instill indecent cautions in myself. Now more than ever, I see the politics in delight — in my choice not just to survive but to try and thrive, to try and live in such a way that others may thrive, to thrive such that my daughters and my students may thrive, despite the shit storm that is coming down the pike for all of us. In dance, I learn hope and resilience. These are my passing personal concerns. I still don’t know how to cut my hair. I know how to listen to Sia.


Detective“Kingmakers,” at The Los Angeles Review of Books

…THE GIRL WHO LOOMS UP and out of the T-Mobile logo was the prostitute Hart tried to help, earlier, on the bayou. As Hart gazes into his new phone in a nearby bar, the girl follows him and sees that Hart has bought tampons. She asks him if he has a fun weekend planned. Hart, it’s implied, is buying tampons for his wife and so won’t be able to choose sex this weekend. The tampon is the visible symbol of the binding, monthly contract that Hart has entered into with his wife. The T-Mobile prostitute represents freedom from all that. Hart doesn’t know what to want, so when offered too much freedom, he chooses wrong. He cheats — he loses his beautiful wife.


Notice, again, his wife’s choice of words: “he never really knew what to want.” It’s not that he doesn’t know himself. He wants to keep his wife. A correct choice exists. It’s about the circumstances under which Hart can see what he wants. He needs that contract; when he throws it off, he loses everything…

 


“Being Theon Greyjoy, or Why This Dick In A Box Matters,” The Los Angeles Review of Books

EACH TIME A MAN in power misplaces his penis — Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner — we revisit the conversation about whether it’s possible to separate the personal sex scandal from the politician. Pundits argue that gossip should not win out over coverage of chemical weapons in Syria, but it’s not a zero-sum game. Power and masculinity affect and constitute each other. And no better way to remind ourselves of this truth, in the long dry spell before Season Four of HBO’s Game of Thrones, than by revisiting Theon Greyjoy’s penectomy, which, if nothing else, demonstrates that a man’s relationship to power and politics can’t be severed from his masculinity, even if the man is separated from his penis. Indeed, asking whether Weiner’s “Carlos Danger” alter ego would have played a role in city hall is like asking whether Theon’s behavior with Ros the prostitute bears on his decision to sack Winterfell: Each man’s sense of his own masculinity is part and parcel of the way he handles power…


“Reading Katy Perry,” TROP Magazine

[Read this piece in The California Prose Directory 2014 from Outpost 19]

AT THE DINNER TABLE, my four-year-old girl sings out: “There’s a stranger in my bed! There’s a pounding in my head! Last Friday night!” And I am so busted.

“Oh, we don’t listen to that song anymore…” I say, sheepishly. My husband is not convinced.

My daughter adores Katy Perry, she of the blue eyes, porcelain skin, and titillating hits like “You’re So Gay.” Serious rock criticism, such as it is, tends to take female pop stars less than seriously. Art that is strongly identified with people like me and my daughter gets dismissed, aggressively. If we are the ones expressing enthusiasm, whether as young girls screaming at a concert or as feminine readers of Jonathan Franzen, then the art itself must be trivial. This bothers me. So this is me, reading Katy Perry, for my daughter…


“Dutch Dollhouse Mania,” The Echoes blog at Bloomberg.com

AFTER THE U.S. HOUSING CRASH BEGAN in 2007, the media often made comparisons with the Dutch tulip mania of 1637, one of the first and most dramatic speculative bubbles in the Western world.

A different Dutch craze of that era — for lavish dollhouses, displayed by and for adults — also holds a powerful lesson. In both financial and emotional terms, these grownup toys were the real precursor to our recent obsession with house and home.

In the Dutch Golden Age, a new and powerful merchant class emerged with the birth of speculative capitalism. Between 1608 and the 1660s, the Netherlands became the richest nation the Western world had ever seen…


 

“I’m From I’m From Rolling Stone,” n+1

ONE OF MY WEIRDEST MOMENTS at the MTV offices in Santa Monica, California, came when I overheard two people trying to resolve a question about “lay” and “lie.”

Because I was in the midst of helping to cast the reality TV show I’m from Rolling Stone, because I was waist-deep in application essays from people who couldn’t tell “night” from “nite,” I ran to the rescue. I was here to help! The man and woman sat at a cluster of computers in the large back area known as “the bay,” their screens facing out toward the ring of office doors all around them. I had walked by this island of terminals on arrival and assumed it was temporary, a floating setup. Everything on the first floor of the MTV offices looked a little bit temporary…


“Total Kombat,” The Boston Phoenix

FRANK BLACK’S MOTHER is standing with the palm of her hand pressed to her chin, her fingers covering her mouth as if to keep herself from crying out. “This is like high school,” she says, shaking her head, “like when he played sports in high school.”

Inside a hangar-like garage in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, her son is about to compete before a crowd of 700 people, including about 70 of Frank’s friends, co-workers, and gym buddies, as well as his mom and his wife, Tracy.

This is not high-school football, or even boxing. Black is the 12th fight on the card in a sport called vale tudo, a Portuguese phrase meaning, unfortunately for Frank’s mom, “anything goes…”