Six lumpia, that’s how many I ate Saturday night. I’m not bragging; I could have eaten six more if someone said, “We have six lumpia left, can someone please eat these?” While I stuffed myself I vowed to work out Sunday, which didn’t happen, but I thought about working out while I sat on the couch watching football, so that kinda counts. Why was I eating too much, making promises I knew I wouldn’t keep, and hanging out in a hip-hop dance hall in Seattle’s Chinatown/Beacon Hill Saturday night? Well, my daughter had been invited to attend a potluck dinner with Food and Sh*t.
What is Food and Sh*t? That is a good question which is harder to answer than one might think, in fact, one might think that they could sit down at the computer and write a blog piece about Food and Sh*t and it would be easy, but it isn’t. The easy part is relaying what happens with Food and Sh*t: Every month a family takes over a restaurant on Beacon Hill (Seattle) and makes pretty awesome food. What is harder to explain is why this happens, why my daughter gets invited to stuff like this, and how I end up tagging along.
About two and a half years ago I took my kids to a rap/hip-hop concert thing in Seattle and now here we are, each month since then I have found myself at a rap concert or event put on by the people involved in the Seattle rapping and hip-hopping scene. These events were not in the parenting books “What to Expect When Your Daughter is a Teen,” so this has been a kind of learn as you go experience for me and I have learned a ton.
So when my daughter got the invitation on Friday morning she did a little squealing dance and I knew I would be spending my Saturday in Seattle instead of parked in front of the television watching Gonzaga choke away another close basketball game to a ranked team.
Most of the time our event planning is done months in advance but this one could not have happened at a better time because a week before the Washington State Ferry system canceled our concert; they could not figure out how to connect the boat to the land. I would have given a hand to the ferry workers, but I think they knew they needed to lower the land part onto the boat part. We sat on a ferry looking at the Edmonds’ ferry dock for an hour before they ferried us back to where we started and said, “Oops, you thought you paid to get to the other side, silly you.” I did promise my daughter at that time, mostly to stop her crying, that I would take her to an event in December even if it was on a school night. (Poor parenting should have no bounds.)
Geo Quibuyen (Blues Scholars, The Bar, Rappers w/ Cameras, aka Prometheus Brown) and Chera Amlag are the motor behind Food and Sh*t. I don’t know much about the entire project, but I do like food. I like food that tastes good better than food that doesn’t, so I don’t mind driving to Seattle to eat food that is killer. If you would like to attend one of their pop ups, show up early and stand in line. It is worth it: http://www.foodandsh-t.com
On Saturday, we arrived at the dance hall around 6:15 and I did what I do during these events, I sat in a corner far away from everyone else and tried not to look too much like some homeless guy who snuck in off the streets; my new Charles Manson beard doesn’t help. Pretty soon people started to fill the hall and I watched, I like watching, not in the Bo Radley way, but just to see what people are doing. This allows me to make observations about others while ignoring the fact that I am uncomfortable in most social situations. There were little kids running around the two tiered dance floor having a great time being kids, some of them discovered the wall of mirrors lining the eastern side of the hall and did what kids do in front of mirrors, the adults stood around talking and eating, and pretty soon it was like almost every potluck I have ever attended. There was music, there was food, there was sharing, there was community. I don’t want to get all mystical or anthropological, but these are the things that have always drawn humans together, and I have the impression this is what Geo and Chera have been trying to accomplish through their Food and Sh*t project. Some of it is about food, but most of it is about community.
The communities we live in today really aren’t communities. We live in places surrounded by people we don’t know well and don’t really care much for. I’m not suggesting we have all become Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, but many of us have become Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair at the RNC, lost in a world that exists in our head and not living in the world that surrounds us. This inward movement has coincided with losing our reliance on others. Why do we have to know our neighbors when I will never need a cup of sugar from them? I’ll just have an Amazon drone deliver it to my door. If I need to know how to fix a box and rotor, I’ll watch a YouTube video on how to do it instead of asking my old neighbor to help me. This Self Reliance is not what Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he asked us to search our inner lives for truth. Instead of every heart vibrating with trust thyself, our hearts are vibrating with leave me alone I have to update my Facebook status so people know how great my life is. Our casual relationships have become barter relationships and we spend more and more time avoiding the “new” because it can be threatening or unusual. These walls we are building around our lives are becoming easier and easier to construct, and as we move inward we become more selfish and lose our empathy for other people, especially people who don’t look like us.
It is troubling to think where our society is heading, but (if I may borrow from Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy) we must remain hopeful in the face of the overwhelming, and that is what Food and Sh*t is doing. Sometimes building a community isn’t done with bricks and wood, it is done with good food and music.
The little kids danced, the adults sipped pineapple cider, the DJ played a few songs I knew, I sat in a corner talking to a bus mechanic from King County, and my daughter floated around the room talking to people who welcomed her into their community. Then I had a realization, I didn’t feel like an outsider sitting in the corner of a dance hall in Beacon Hill, I felt at home. Don’t get me wrong, I still felt like an old dude who wasn’t sure if I should tuck in my shirt or leave it hanging out, but I don’t think anyone looked at me and thought, “Did Ted Kaczynski get out on parole?”
As we prepared to leave, we were invited to go to the new Starbucks roaster on Capitol Hill, but the ferry schedule dictated we head home and so we did. I drove home in the dark, between the tall cedar trees of the Olympic Peninsula thinking about my daughter’s future and how I needed to update my Facebook status to make sure everyone knew I was still super cool.