My Old Neighborhood: The Place Where it Happened

Memories of my old neighborhood, 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered and how that address could become the symbol of a new era.

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On the corner of 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, in the same brick building now housing Cup Foods, I used to stop at a soda fountain in Wilharms Pharmacy on my way home from school. Across the street, at Spielman Bros. Standard Oil station, I sat in the dead of winter next to a space heater with my father as Mike or his brother Austin changed the oil on dad’s ’54 Chevy. I got my haircuts at Hank’s Clip Shop, a few steps up the street. Hank had a little bottle on the counter which he held in front of me and shook vigorously as he proudly displayed the gall stones that a surgeon had removed from him. At Ring’s hobby shop around the corner, I was introduced to the pleasures of model airplane glue, not sniffing it but getting it all over my fingers and taking tactile pleasure in peeling it off. My high school was six blocks to the west, my grammar school four blocks to the east. My church was a block south. I grew up on 41st.

It was my neighborhood.


Smoke Rings, A Smoking Memoir – Gone Astray Podcast

Scientists say scent is the most evocative of our senses. I sit in a sidewalk cafe in Madrid, but this whiff of cigarette smoke takes me back to other cafes in other places where small talk, failed seductions, and heated discussions rose, sometimes in tight rings but, more often, in formless puffs.

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Whither (or Wither) the Handshake: Better Ways to Greet in the Age of the Virus

Why is shaking hands, especially now when a virus is spreading worldwide, still the accepted international greeting? Every winter, for about 30 years, I attended conferences and shook hundreds of hands. Every year, I got sick, although sometimes probably from air travel.

There are so many better was to offer a greeting than the handshake, which dates back to the 5th century BCE Greece as proof that neither party was carrying a dagger. The handshake was said to be de regueur in medieval Europe as a method knights used to shake loose hidden weapons. The usual command beginning our modern gladitorial sporting events is “shake hands and come out fighting.”

I also dislike handshakes as an expression of power by men who try to show their superiority by mashing my metacarpals, or the Trump-style handshake, trying to jerk a recipient’s arm from its socket.

The handshake is built on mistrust and power, not attitudes I wish to convey. I have always been uncomfortable with the double kiss, in all of its iterations, and as a stoic of Swedish extraction, hugs from strangers. Forget about the Maori or Inuit nose rub, or sticking my tongue out as they do in Tibet. I never got into the elbow bump, a ritual repeated every flu season, increasingly iffy now due to the practice of sneezing into it.

I find comfort and grace, not to mention safety, in Asian greetings.

The sweetest one is from Malaysia, bringing your hand to your heart, greeting someone “from the bottom of your heart.Sometimes you just lightly graze each other’s hand first.

Bows in Japan and China, convey respect, but their subtleties can convey many meanings including submissiveness.

A slight bow while pressing your hands together in prayer fashion originated in the Hindu Anjali Mudra, which means “I bow to the devine in you.” It is used throughout Asia. Namaste is the greeting in India and Nepal. Sawatdee, accompanied by the wai gesture, is used in Thailand, and Ayubowan, “may you live longer,” in Sri Lanka.

I know, the manner in which each is performed has its own cultural subtleties, but their origins, intentions and expressions are certainly more human and, in this day and age, healthy than the those of the sometimes defensive, violent and germy handshake.

Travel: Multiplying Peace and Understanding

Donald Trump’s careless, immoral immigration order is not only tragic for humanity but for travel, which promotes understanding and peace.

Shortly after the twin towers went down, I got an email from a National Geographic editor that a pending assignment for a story about an island in the Indian Ocean would not go forward. Exotic destinations were out, he said, Americans were turning inward.


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