Why I don’t celebrate Columbus Day


First off, my employer doesn’t give us the day off, so of course I’ll drag myself into the office on Monday like everyone else. But beyond that, there​’s the whole notion of celebrating the “discovery” of America, as if there wasn’t already a vibrant patchwork of indigenous cultures already thriving in that exact place. It would be more accurate to celebrate the day Europe arrived in earnest to invade the Americas, enslaving or executing those not annihilated by disease. How festive!

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s my white liberal guilt talking. Granted, Casper the Friendly Ghost envies my pale complexion, but beneath this pampered pastiness is a pair of surprises to many: first, I’m three-quarters Puerto Rican. Second, thanks to the miracle of modern DNA testing, I apparently have about 10% Native American blood by way of Puerto Rico, in other words, Taíno. And the Taíno people have, let’s say, a very special relationship with Columbus.

When Cristoforo Colombo sailed the ocean blue and landed in the Bahamas, he was greeted by curious Taíno villagers, whom he described as

“a physically tall, well-proportioned people, with a noble and kind personality. They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will … they took great delight in pleasing us … They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal…Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people … They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.”

Translation: they were easily exploitable. By his second visit, Columbus began to exact tribute from his gentle hosts, often through violence. By the middle of the sixteenth century, most of those who had not died through brutal treatment or smallpox were the women whom their Spanish overlords took as wives. As a result, there is no surviving Taíno population, but rather traces of Taíno blood in most of those who consider themselves Puerto Rican. So no, I won’t be celebrating Columbus Day.

Not surprisingly, I see this same delusion of conquest in our current administration’s mishandling of the devastation that followed September 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Instead of offering the same level of assistance that followed Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, Puerto Rico was assailed for the poor finances and infrastructure that made such a disaster inevitable. What is often missed is how decades of colonial rule have rendered Puerto Rico without any of the safety nets afforded to fellow Americans in the mainland. Sure, the island doesn’t pay Federal income tax, but nor do Puerto Ricans have a voting member of Congress, or the ability to vote for President. I won’t speak for my Island counterparts, but I would certainly be willing to pay taxes to participate in decisions that have a direct impact on my life.

I could go on about the bombing ranges in Culebra and Vieques, the plundering of coffee and sugar plantations, or the frenzied investment of mainland dollars in lucrative island casinos, but I’ve only got one more day left this weekend, then it’s back to work on Monday…

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the consequence of sound


In what has become an expensive but irresistible habit, I had the opportunity to hijack an hour of airtime from the James Dean Deathcar Experience on WMBR, MIT’s radio station. It was my ninth time pretending to be DJ for one hour, and as always it was both great fun and a great privilege. The playlist can be found here, and an archive of the entire hour-long joyride can be found here. Be sure to buckle up!

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dream sequence – part 72


As is the case with many of my dreams, the scenario was very close to real life: I was in bed, alone, unable to fall asleep. In the dream, however, some kids were horsing around near the house, shouting outside my bathroom window from the backyard and then running away laughing. I finally had enough of this and decided to confront them.

I waited in front of the house, knowing that they’d be running out from the backyard, at which point I’d give them a well-deserved scare. Suddenly a shadow appeared in front of me, at eye level, hovering just out of reach. Startled, I tried to touch it, but my hands went right through the space where the shadow appeared to be.

And then I did another thing I often do in my sleep: I screamed — very loudly — promptly waking myself up, terrified. But in those seconds between the time I started screaming and the time I was fully awake — that seemingly endless state of hypnagogia — I could clearly hear my wife Mary saying to me, from 83 miles away, “I’m very sorry, but I can’t help you now.”

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dream sequence – part 71


On two consecutive nights I’ve had dreams involving parking concessions, and specifically the problems encountered when attempting to use their services. No sex, drugs or rock ’n roll for this dreamer — instead it was all about my 2008 Toyota RAV4 being held hostage with my consent.

We were in a big Manhattan hotel and thought we’d grab our car from the parking garage and drive to Brooklyn for dinner. The hotel pamphlet instructed us to call the front desk with our parking ticket number and ensured us that our car would be waiting for us at curbside by the time we took the elevator down to the lobby. Instead, we joined a growing group of frustrated hotel guests who were all waiting for their cars.

The receptionist explained that there was only one valet worker, and that too many requests had come in at once, meaning that some were waiting over half an hour to be reunited with their cars. Even though we weren’t in a rush, I considered the wait too long and cancelled my request, insisting that we’d be better off taking a cab.

The hotel had a taxi concession just outside the front lobby, a small metal kiosk from which a worker called and organized a steady procession of taxi cabs. When we left the lobby, we noticed an unusual swarm of activity around the kiosk — not just impatient guests like us, but reporters, photographers and curious bystanders.

Inside the kiosk was Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Evidently he had just purchased the hotel, and his Public Relations folks thought that it would be a good idea to snap a few photos of the septuagenarian rocker in an “Everyman” scenario. For one lucky guest, he opened the back door of the taxi and politely escorted what appeared to be a young starlet to her seat. Then he shook hands with the driver and waved goodbye. With cameras rolling, he was all smiles, but once they stopped, he was all business. Bodyguards swooped in and whisked him away — no photos, no autographs, no loitering.

It was around then that I lost my appetite.

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virtual age


Every so often I feel older than my calendar age. While I know I’ve lived a healthy, privileged life, I sometimes suspect that the sun has gone up and down more than the 21,480 or so times some simple math would try to tell me to be the case. On these occasions, I add the ages of my 5 children and my 9 grandchildren to my own to arrive at my “virtual age”. Having just gone through a very busy April and May, that number now stands at 270.

Admittedly, there is zero science behind this musing, but I’ve always preferred math.

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dream sequence – part 70


We were waiting for our flight to leave from a small regional airport. Departure time had come and gone, and there had been no announcement of any kind. All of our fellow passengers began milling near the gate, waiting for some sign of progress.

Finally a woman in uniform approached the gate. Her first action was to dramatically draw a curtain in front of it.

“As you all know by now,” she began ominously, “no one is going anywhere today.”

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none of my business


According to Google Maps, our home in Cochituate is just under 600 feet from the nearest Starbucks. On a clear day, we can pick up its WiFi signal better than our own. Given my love of coffee, you would think this would be idyllic; but while I’m not above spending $4 for a soy latte, I just don’t care for the taste of most of their coffees. I think they’re every bit as over-roasted as they are over-priced. Fortunately there are many talented coffee roasters out there, few with tastier offerings than Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, ME. I order coffee by the bag from their website and have it shipped to me here in Cochituate. So yes, I prefer to buy my coffee from a place 120 miles away versus 600 feet away, knowing that I’m not only patronizing a business belonging to personal friends of ours, but also knowing that I’m getting a higher quality product.

I offer this as full disclosure in light of the news that a Philadelphia Starbucks had two black men arrested for allegedly trespassing. Starbucks has apologized profusely for the incident, while the Philadelphia police department has defended the actions of its officers. With many family members in law enforcement, I know that this is a no-win scenario. The racial optics of the situation speaks to issues far deeper than whether or not the police had acted within a “legal obligation to carry out their duties”.

Rather than get into an argument about who was or wasn’t in the right, I’d like to suggest a radical idea: rather than boycott Starbucks in protest, why not seek out local coffee and tea establishments as an expression of support and solidarity? Shoppe Black offers this list of 47 Black-Owned Coffee and Tea Businesses as a start. It’s a positive message with a caffeine kick.

And if you like Starbucks, that’s fine by me. I’ll make the 600 foot walk to meet up with you at any time, mindful that we may have some unexpected guests.

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