Friday, November 11, 2016

RGN on Location at Starve Wars with the Archdiocese of Atlanta

          I like to eat and eat well.  I savor food; it is true it usually takes me longer to eat than those around me.  Hey, Flavor is important.  The experience of food is more than just an act of consumption.  There is something about good food that is satisfying in more than just a physical dimension.  Good food nourishes the soul.  Good flavor fosters good feelings and good times.  Access to good food is access to a reinforcement of our sense of security.  Enjoying good food freely is a reminder of our innate right to health and happiness; it is the first step toward any sense of comfort.
          Yet, over three billion souls worldwide live daily without direct access to good, wholesome food.  Living in conditions where the logistics of delivery may be compromised by crumbling infrastructure or open warfare; or where paucity of agricultural production may be so under-recognized that help is not at the ready, many people dwell constantly under the shadow of doubt as to where their next meal will be coming from.  Many children are growing up in this state of mind and body.
          The Archdiocese of Atlanta on Friday, June 3, hosted the Starve Wars meal packing event at the International Congress Center in College Park.  Session 1 was from 9:00 - 10:30 in the morning; session 2 was 11:00 - 12:30.  The goal of the event was to get 650 good hearted folks together and pack 100,000 meals to help alleviate starving conditions in the country of Burkina Faso in Africa.  DAP Tales and I, along with the strapping young Mr. Adrian came on in for Session 2 at 11:00.  We're not necessarily morning people; you won't catch us milkin' no cows as the rooster crows nor collectin' the morning eggs.  Those eggs would probably be hatched, if it was riding on us.  Still, we wanted to do our part, so thanks to the Starve Wars planning commission for having the were-with-al to accommodate us late risers.  Even with the later start time, though, we didn't quite make time beforehand to eat anything ourselves, so as time slid forward, it became something of a starve war on more than just one front.  But we were there to do what we were there to do, so that, my friends, is just what we did.

          We donned ID stickers (expected) and hair nets (necessary for food safety and quite dashing, at least on Mr. Adrian) and were shown to our work station.  Upbeat music echoed through the cavernous conference hall, where dozens of rows of tables had been staged for the assembly line-like operation.  I don't know how many people of the intended 650 were there but it seemed like it was probably pretty close.  And everybody was already going at it, full tilt so we joined in.  Working together in small groups at the tables, we put vitamin packs, soy flour, seasonings and rice in the packing bags, each bag being one ready to cook meal.  Runners busily scooped up full trays of bags, delivering them to the weight-check tables where they would be weight-approved, then sealed for shipping.  We kept the packs rolling.  Runners appeared from nowhere, refilling our rice bins and other supplies, adeptly whisking away to other tables, keeping everyone stocked up and topped off.  Counters processed the sealed bags for bulk packing in preparation for their long journey and tabulated the team's progress; each 1000 bags processed elicited a strike of a gong from the head of the room.  The reverberations of the brass gong spread out shrilly over the sounds of Michael Jackson, Frankie Beverly and Maze, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, Kool and the Gang, Flo Rida.  Runners were running around like crazy, weight checkers were raising their hands for more bags; hands were scooping rice and seasonings like nobody's business.  And everybody was just smiling like it was Christmas.  I had been a supervisor at a few production plants for a number of years; where had all these happy workers been hiding out all my professional life?  Oh, Well...

          We met Mark for the first time as a member of our work station crew; an extremely nice guy there with his family.  His wife and daughter were at another table but his son, whom was no taller probably than my knee and soooo eager to help, was right there in the mix.  I kid you not:  Mark knew every church by name and address and every priest by name and SSN.  He is an environmental scientist, which made for some good conversation for Dap Tales (she's all about the green, Green, Super Green).  I took a look over at Mr. Adrian at his adjoining table; he and his crew were all into the work, man.  Everyone was just pushing out the packs.  My stomach was grumbling.  The seasoning kept sending wafts of tantalizing aromas up my nose -- Starve Wars, man.  Starve Wars.

          The ringing call of the gong seemed to get more frequent as the pitch of progress became more intense, everyone driving their best towards getting 100,000 meals ready to be delivered to those needy people overseas.  At this point, what with not having eaten and my head swimming with delicious seasoning smells, I was sympathetic; like, strongly sympathetic to my brothers and sisters across the pond.  Let's get this food made, man; let's get this food made.  Gongs were going off; an announcer was calling out tallies and offering motivational sentiments over the PA.  Music had everybody bobbing and swaying and working.  Supplies started running scarce. A runner came by to get some of our bags.  A crew member from another table came through to bogart some of our rice.  Things were gettin' tight.  We needed some bags; someone gave us a handful from another table that was closing up shop.  We weren't stopping for nothin'.  Gong.  Just a few more bags…  Runners running back and forth; rice and stuff going back and forth…  Seasoning aromas, back and forth… Gong.  Suddenly the voice of the announcer called out "That's One Hundred Thousand!  Thank you, everybody!", and a cheer went up from the crowd.  Great!  We did it!  And I never saw so many smiling faces on an assembly line before.

          As happy as we were to eat, (once we left the event) I honestly wasn't any happier than we had been to know someone else would now get that same chance, who might not have.  We get to eat, to feel secure, to enjoy that calming of the hunger pang and other folks would too, now, because people wanted to make that happen.  It doesn't take much; a little time, a little exercise; a few happy feelings among happy people on a Friday morning.  The world gets happier and more fulfilled -- one bag of rice at a time.

          Click here to find out more about Starve Wars and the Archdiocese's programs to combatworld hunger.

Victory Over Starve Wars:
Ranchero, Ranchero, Mucho Bueno!

          So, if you've read the post on our adventure at the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Starve War event, you know how desperate we were to get something succulent into our stomachs once we had left the place.  We had chipped in to help combat hunger halfway around the world, now it was time to combat hunger here at home, beginning with us!  We called out a couple names of places we may have wanted to go but some were canceled out of consideration due to prohibitive traffic zones ("We need to eat now!") or whatever (hunger can make you forget stuff).  For whatever reason, it seemed a taste for Mexican was glued to our collective palates, so we needed something close to home and south of the border.  Once, in a similarly desperate situation late one evening we had ventured toward Ranchero Mexican Ristorante on Highway 138 in Stockbridge but the place had been way too packed and we would have ended up waiting, like, 45 minutes for a table, we were told.  We bailed in favor of another option that night but today, with hunger cramping out innards and the promise of potentially a beat-the-rush type of lunch hour, we decided to give it a go again.  This was not a mistake.

          The Ristorante is tucked into the end of a small strip plaza on Hwy 138, just south of its junction at I-75.  The ambiance and the people are cool and inviting.  The tables and booths are adorned base-to-top in decorative artwork demonstrating the agave harvest which I can only presume must be a traditional theme in Mexico.  Hand-painted bas-relief mixes with full coverage wall paintings to produce a storybook sort of illustrated atmosphere.  A TV mounted overhead displays a soccer match with the volume down low.  The table is soon laden with the traditional salsa and house tortilla chips.

          We ordered a spinach and queso appetizer, some steak burritos, soft drinks to wash it all down.  I'm not sure what source they are using to purchase their drinking cups, but if you ever need to eat in a place where you can have a whole gallon of tea in front of you, this is your place.  This is only a mild exaggeration.  Man, those cups were huge. 

          When the grub showed up, we were ready.  The burritos were piping hot and laden with cooling guacomole, sour cream and pico de gallo.  The steak nestled tantalizingly inside the tortillas was succulent, juicy and well seasoned.  We ate, we drank, we were merry.  Maybe we were just extremely hungry, but I doubt it.  If you're ever in the Stockbridge neck of the woods and you feel the need for a down home, low-key, tasty, neighborhood ristorante style lunch or dinner, give Ranchero a try.  Your stomach may thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Free Writing at the Georgia Nutts Guild (GNG) Meeting at Hodgepodge -- Read Georgia Nutts

                So there it was, Saturday, June 4th 2016 and it was time for the first Georgia Nuts guild Free Write event.  It was sunny and hot under a blue sky littered with various forms of lethargic cloud-shapes.  Infrequent breezes tickled their way through low hanging foliage and shrubs; love-bugs flew around at just the right altitude to wind up almost in your eye.  Summertime in Georgia.  And the perfect kind of day to take up residence in the sunny space just inside a big picture window and explore the thoughts necessary to piece together a story, poem, song, what-have-you.  This is the goal of the GNG Free Write.  Normally, at guild meetings we use pre-planned exercises to stimulate word play and sharpen our verbal skills, taking advantage of the meeting space-time to focus our energy into the act of generating material from a common idea or theme.  The Free Writes, however serve as our chance to take advantage in a different way, using the meeting to delve into the ideas and themes of our own personal projects; a kind of vacation from the usual grind of errands and stuff, just long enough to get some things out on paper (if you're a traditionalist) or into your Save As (if you're new-fangled).                For our first ever Free Write event, we chose to huddle up in Hodgepodge, a friendly neighborhood coffeehouse and art gallery located at 720 Moreland Avenue Atlanta, GA 30316 only about a mile or so south of Little Five Points.  A hip urban space, Hodgepodge can be spotted easily by its hip, urban, totally deliberate graffiti adornments.  And this is where we were heading.  As usual, getting there was half the fun; on any given Saturday, Moreland avenue is essentially a 1920's style Gran Prix, complete with aggressive speedsters, jarring stops and starts, grumbling salty old eighteen wheelers and slip-shod road maintenance.  And it's Summertime, so everything is just hot and everybody's feeling it.  

                Once there, we stepped inside its cool interior, warranting nary a glance from the hip, urban crowd, patrons leaning askance conversationally holding cups of java or hunched over their laptops.  We staked our claim on a sun-bathed table right by the large front window then grabbed some snacks: beef patties, fudge brownie, slice of cake; some iced green tea and hot tea.  I didn't try everything on the table but the brownie was gooey and chewy enough to make me happy and the iced green tea was briskly refreshing.  It was time to get down to the task at hand.  We took a minute to share our goals for the free writing time: Each of us basically focused on our own long form fiction pieces.  The table then fell under the silent cloak of collective concentration, each of us traveling the roads in our own worlds, observing the events within distinct, special places populated by characters known only to each of us individually.  Amidst the hushed conversations floating past, our table only produced the sounds of minds at work:  scribbly-scribble (traditionalists) and clickety-click (new-fangled).  Thoughtful glances while working sometimes resulted in eye contact followed by distracted smiles among us Nutts.  Sometimes my eyes would land on one of the pieces of art hung on the brick walls around the gallery space in which we were seated.  The pieces themselves ranged in style from the sparse to the intricate, from the stark to the colorful, from the Pop to the Post Modern.  A showing of the art was taking place at six o' clock, for which we were promptly shooed out of the gallery space a few minutes beforehand.  It may have been just a short spell in which to dream and work, only a tiny respite from the routine and though I am reluctant to speak for the group as a whole, it seemed to me it was just what we needed.

 To Read Georgia Nutts on Facebook

 To Read Georgia Nutts on Facebook

Friday, May 27, 2016

Read Georgia Nutts at Wat Lao Buddha Prothisaram Temple, Conley, Ga.

Pause for a Mindful Moment

Sometimes, if you want to travel half way round the world, all you need to do is step a few paces outside your own back yard.  Because of where I live, if I want to get anywhere in the Metro area, 675 is almost always my first route out into the great wide world.  So pretty much… every day, I have driven past, and gazed fixedly at, the tall collection of sculpted adornments which collectively posit the appearance of what is obviously a Buddhist temple.  Intrigued, I would always promise myself a moment to go check it out up close and personal, then life would get in the way.  Just too much to do every day: too much time spent at work, too many moments that belong to something else, the down payment on Time having already been paid, the amortization must be kept on schedule.  Still, every day, I would fix my eyes on it for just a few seconds as it slid away behind the intervening trees, small spiny spires stacked along the stepped tiers of its roof, silhouettes of snake like dragons sliding down the ramp of the forward stairs.

I have always been a fan of the design aesthetic of the Far East; indeed, there is almost no expression of human engineering made anywhere I won't appreciate for its beauty and uniqueness.  And there is such a distinctive appeal to the intricate and often, to be honest, overblown qualities to the mesh of art and architecture that is the common offering from the distant eastward corners of the earth.  Like so many facets of the culture itself, it can be at once, both garish and sublime, haughty yet demure, unabashedly noisy yet focused and disciplined.  It screams for your attention, then somehow quietly invites you in for tea.  Which is why, sometime around last October, when my brother had come to town for a visit, we decided to pull of the highway and get a closer look.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon and we had just come from lunch at Vortex in Little Five Points.  He was wearing his t-shirt declaring: "After Monday and Tuesday, even the calendar says 'WTF?!'"  Gotta love that!  To find the temple proper, we had to leave the relative comforts of 675 and take a couple obscure side streets to get over to Conley Drive, where the temple is nestled among groups of pines and a train of steel pylons dragging along their overhead power lines.  A driveway of dirt and gravel ground under the wheels as we pulled into the parking area and came to rest.  Getting out of the car and stepping tentatively up the hill toward the shrine, no one else was evident anywhere.  All the signage up to this point had been openly welcoming and directly inviting so we strolled on up to the temple itself.  It sat patiently there among the pines, basking in the afternoon sun, which highlighted all its pointed reliefs and details sharply against the pale blue of an afternoon sky draped with wispy autumn clouds.  Only the occasional breeze winding its way through the pine needles or the continuous whisper of highway traffic on nearby 675 provided any sound track to the scene.
We wandered about for a few moments among the golden Buddhas, facing down the horned dragons serving as the ornate banisters of the entryway stairs.  Their waving backs, gleaming emerald and gold crested in the sun, I'm guessing would ward off evil spirits, but not us.  At the top of the stairs, richly decorated doors stood open, leaving the interior exposed and bathed in the languishing light of the approaching evening.  Buddha sat to the far end of the room, gilded and content, surrounded by the accouterments of devout adoration in the otherwise empty space.  Sometimes at home I like to go online and listen to recordings of Tibetan monks absorbed in tantric chanting.  Husky, gravelly voices all in unison, like the buzzing of a hive, human sized bees entranced in the thrall of the mantra.  No such sound reverberated through this silent space, though it was easy for my imagination to fill in the blanks.

My brother and I meandered loosely through the premises, not speaking, each lost in his own thoughts.  Quiet moments are some of my favorite things in all of the living world, so why do I so often neglect to find time for them?  Or how about the time for the other cherished aspects of my life?  What is the natural role of Man in the world?  In the cosmos?  And why the hell had Rachel Ray convinced my lovely wife to put nutmeg in her homemade tomato soup?  Man was that ever a mistake.  These are the considerations of the world of man.

But as all moments must, this too had to pass on into the flow of time, lost in the past to make way for the new and ever encroaching next moment. Almost wordlessly, my brother and I agreed it was time to move on.  We made our way back to his car, got in, drove out of our little bubble of temporary sanity back into the oncoming rush of the world.  The moment, however, still lives, a resident in the house of my memories, awaiting my return.