Thursday, March 31, 2011

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Alberto was in high spirits this morning, smoothing the front of his yellow guayabera with gnarled hands.  His pension is due tomorrow (a couple days early since the 3rd will fall on a Sunday), which means he'll have lotto money and can stop praying that his numbers don't come up while he's broke.  But even more importantly, the weather girls on the TV were calling for record setting heat.  The man blooms like a tropical plant in the heat, especially record-setting heat.

I don't.  I wilt like a thirsty jewel-weed.  And I made hard work of wandering around the concrete sink of Los Angeles.  It was 92 degrees and I was realizing that I needed at least a half dozen interpreters to make headway downtown (Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese . . . .)  About 3 o'clock it occurred to me that if I didn't get out I'd be trapped by rush hour and surely die.  So I rode the 110 up to Pasadena, where there were trees to survive under - and where enough people were willing to speak to me in English about the sorry state of the nation.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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Walking around the too-wide, too-straight streets of Bakersfield, California.  Fidgeting with a pen and a little black notebook that I don't write in, I ask people about why the economy sucks for them and for the people they know, and what can be done about it.  (This passive tense intentional.)  I'm being an anthropologist for one of the bigger unions, experimenting with frames and rhetorical gambits, exploring the cognitive terrain of labor, class, job, economy, and power.  I talk to machinists and truckers.  I talk to black guys smoking weed on the proverbial street corner.  I talk to teachers waving their signs in protest of another round of corrosive budget cuts.  I talk to a white woman fallen out of the middle class.  In Los Angeles I troll the food line at a neighborhood's Cesar Chavez celebration.  I talk to people in their gardens or in their cars or on a bench waiting for date.

Then I sit in restaurants and bars, or on the bed at Anna's apartment in Glendale with my little black notebook and I write about what I see and hear - and compare this cognitive terrain to the arguments that labor organizers want to use - the assumptions they rely on - and see where things mesh and where they just crumple against each other uselessly.  And mostly right now, it's a lot of crumpling.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011