When I went to see the lion dancers on Saturday, I saw silver hair that I instantly recognized, on a small person who was wearing a joyfully bright sweater– someone whom I don’t know well but who makes me happy every time we meet. She’s urban in the best possible way, a fast-talking lady with her own impeccable style. Although the music after the performance blared too loudly for any kind of conversation, that brief visit with her and her husband buoyed me for the rest of the day.

Connection is the life’s blood of the Chinatown/International District. Its small shops guarantee that repeat customers are remembered and greeted in a way that “customer service” training will never replicate. No “Did you find everything okay?” in this neighborhood–here an elderly shopkeeper scolded me once for not coming in more often, another, after I bought a slab of roast pork, gave me a piece of rum cake that his friend had brought back from his vacation in Jamaica.

One late summer afternoon, I finished a hard day of writing with perilously low blood sugar. I walked outside with plans to get banh mi from a bakery down the block and was disheartened to see the lady who owned the shop making her way across the street, hand in hand with a small grandchild. 

“Oh no, you’re closed,” I said and she immediately responded “Are you hungry? Come.” She and her grandchild reversed course, with me following obediently behind. She unlocked the bakery door, swept in, and told her son, who was immersed in closing procedures, to stop and attend to my purchase. That’s the kind of moment that breeds lifetime customer loyalty and in this shop, that moment extended through generations. At another time, as I bought my banh mi, I told this lady’s granddaughter how much I loved the Thai chili that she put on my sandwich instead of the jalapenos that other places used. “Oh we grow it here,” she said and led me to the sunny front window where a massive green plant held center stage, covered with ripened little Thai chili peppers. “So many,” she said, “Here, take some home with you.”

What I took home with me every day when I lived in the CID was the warmth that comes from genuine human interchanges. Sometimes it was my favorite supermarket clerk at Uwajimaya peering at me and saying in a worried tone, “You look tired.” Sometimes it was a street person lurching out of an alleyway to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. But I never left my apartment without returning from an encounter that made me happy to live in this place. It’s given me one of my dearest friends and a woman I think of as my daughter (I should be so lucky!).

Now I live in a neighborhood so overrun with tourists that nobody has time for more than a flash of recognition when they see a familiar face. But my old neighborhood is less than a mile away. Although I no longer have resident status, a fact that still hurts each time I walk past my old apartment building, I still see people I know when I’m on my way to its sweet little library or when I need to buy Mama noodles or when I’m starving for Tai Tung’s noodles and Harry Chan’s smile or when I come down to follow the Mak Fai lion dance troupe as they bless the neighborhood with drums, gongs, and firepower.. I may never live in the CID again but I’ll always use it, I’ll always love it, I’ll always find essential connections on its streets.

Don’t let it fade away. 

I’m too revolted on too many levels to write coherently this morning. The new regional authority, with Constantine and Harrell, are planning to build a multimillion dollar homeless alleviation complex–an RV parking lot for fifty and another fifty tiny houses plus a shelter for 500 with social services on under seven acres behind Dearborn Street. There was no consultation with the ID, nor advance warning. The only information given to the community is a May press release from Bruce Harrell. 

This is what has enraged the CID, since it would never have happened in any other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. There were no community hearings, no requests for input from residents, nor any environmental impact studies on the effect that at least 600 new residents might have upon local businesses and the community’s quality of life. 

There are over 1000 aging people in the CID, many of them who would find it quite possibly fatal to live anywhere else. They use their neighborhood in a way that other residents of wealthier areas don’t. They walk to buy food, go to the doctor, make a trip to the post office or to a bank. The CID is close to self-sustaining. I know because when I lived there, I had little reason to go beyond its boundaries except to visit family and friends.

After the rally, my friend Lei Ann and I walked through the park, past a man who lounged under one of the pieces of exercise equipment that were once used solely by adult exercisers. His can of beer was close at hand, as it is for many a lounging gentleman at the close of a summer’s day. I couldn’t observe him as carefully as I would have liked because I was much too busy avoiding human excrement on the pathway. Two men sitting at the little tables watched our shoulder bags approach in a way that was clearly predatory and as we walked down a staircase that let us take an empty path, Lei Ann shuddered. “The man behind us is urinating. Do they think this is their toilet?”

I walked to the rally and when I went through Pioneer Square I was stunned by its recovered loveliness. A year ago it was filled with tents and people who were obviously mentally ill. Now they’re gone and the CID is paying the price for their relocation. The community will only survive if we all support it. Please do.

While drinking my morning coffee and scrolling through Facebook yesterday, I came across a friend’s photos of Bangkok’s river and tears immediately began to prickle at the bridge of my nose. They blindsided me and I couldn’t stop them for almost an hour, not sobbing but brimming. My throat ached with my longing to be on a boat in the Chao Phraya with no destination in mind, simply succumbing to the pleasure of being a river flaneur,drifting on a current, seeing what I could see.

I grew up near a river, in a place so tiny that this was its only claim to fame. From the days of my first memories I was fascinated by its motion. Its currents and eddies led straight to a branch of the ocean, where stretches of sand held shells and seaweed, the only playground in town. 

Every summer our little “wide spot in the road” filled up with people from all over Alaska and beyond, drawn by the king salmon that made their way down the Anchor River to Cook Inlet. The glassed-in refrigerated display case in the grocery store held fish that were often bigger than I was, some weighing in at fifty pounds. Then the dead fish went off with the people from other places and the summer carnival came to an end.

When I first arrived in Bangkok the Chao Phraya seemed like a carefully guarded secret. It flowed through the entire city but was annoyingly difficult to find, unless you were one of the lucky few having tea at the Oriental Hotel. When I finally found my way to the dilapidated piers and on the deck of one of the many commuter boats that traveled for miles, I felt as though I’d been given the keys to the city.

The Chao Phraya was alive with traffic, all of it utilitarian. Barges, small and colorful cross-river ferries, the longtail boats that were the riverine equivalent to motorcycle taxis and traveled up the canals, and the large, clumsy tubs that went up to another province almost clogged the river in a water parade that I loved.

The last time I was in Bangkok, I stayed at one of the riverside hotels that didn’t exist when I first lived there. The Chao Phraya traffic now included “tourist boats” for sightseers with an abbreviated route that stopped near the Grand Palace, smaller boats made of teak, gracefully taking hotel guests to the upscale shopping areas, the dinner cruise boats that appeared after dark with their flashing lights and blaring karaoke-esque music. The piers were more substantial than before, offering coffee, souvenirs, and touts. The river, always a commercial lifeline, now is a major artery of tourism.

When I first came to Bangkok, there was a story in the Bangkok Post of how an overcrowded floating pier had sunk, carrying a number of commuters to their deaths. Later I was on one of the large commuter boats when a squall blew in from the western bank and every passenger, man, woman, child, and monk rushed to the eastern side of the boat. It listed in a menacing fashion and I got off at the next stop. These events have always made me well aware that once I was on the river, I was at its mercy. I’d lived in Thailand long enough to be positive that there weren’t enough life jackets aboard to go around and the ones that were available probably had holes in them. Since I never learned how to swim, once I got on a boat, I was doomed in any emergency.

But even with that in mind and with the pounding noise of the boat’s engine and the stabbing shriek of the boat boy’s whistle and the smell of the exhaust that filled the air on the rear deck, I would get on one of those boats in a Bangkok second if I were able to right now. And although I flirt with the idea of seeing other countries, I know damned well that my travel mantra will always be Thailand First. See you soon, Chao Phraya–I hope.

A city without crowds isn’t a city. It needs people on its streets, on their way to work or shop, off to see art at a museum or to meet a friend for lunch to give the place its pulse. Without that, it dies. It becomes a collection of neighborhoods that all function separately, without a living heart to unite them into an urban whole.

What’s keeping Seattle’s downtown alive is its tourists. Although no demographic among them has been identified, it seems that most of them are here because they’re waiting to sail off on one of the many cruise ships that loom white and massive in the sound, like 21st century Moby-Dicks. The passengers have to be here because Seattle is the starting point and the end of their voyage. This means our streets are being animated in large part by a captive audience.

Will they come back by choice, eager to spend more time in this city? That depends on what they see when they aren’t on the ship. The waterfront can keep them amused for a day and then they can spend another at the Market. And then? Well, thank heaven for Nordstrom and the monorail that will whisk them off to MoPop and the Chihuly Garden. 

When I fell so thoroughly in love with Seattle that I persuaded my husband to move here, it was because of downtown. The Market and the waterfront were delightful but it was the vibrancy of the city’s core that was the real draw. Within its borders were four department stores, little shops that seemed left over from the days of World War II with names like Buddy Squirrel, Mode O’Day, and Toys Galore, at least four movie theaters, and a bounty of bookshops. Restaurants catered to all income levels, from the lunch counter at Woolworth’s to the luxury of the Olympic Hotel’s Shuckers and the Georgian Room. There were a few high rise buildings but the ones made of brick and terracotta were filled with shops and cafes. There was even a small but thriving red light district that was benign in its unobtrusiveness and beyond that Pioneer Square’s gorgeous old buildings contained shops selling everything: art, books, kites, capes made of Irish wool, and loaves of freshly baked bread.

And there were crowds. Yes, they all disappeared at six o’clock but even after they went home, my husband and I took our children to movies at night. The hoboes we encountered after dark were always friendly fellows. If anybody was shooting up or nodding out, they weren’t in plain sight.

Seattle was a pleasant place to visit then. Now I have friends coming from Tucson in a few weeks and although they’ll only be here for a day, I feel weirdly ashamed of what they’ll see and what they aren’t going to find.

I had a conversation yesterday. On the street. With strangers. In the newly expanded area formerly known as South Lake Union, now swiftly becoming downtown Seattle. Some call it Midtown. I call it Blight.

Because this all sprouted up without my knowledge, I’m now horribly fascinated by it and yesterday I saw almost seven miles of it on foot. Mile after mile of exploration showed me a whole lot of mediocre architecture that houses offices and the people who work in them. In their bases were a couple of chain drugstores and quite a few restaurants and bars. I found one place that sells clothing–it’s a Goodwill store. There are no bookstores of course but even more tellingly the only newspaper box was in front of the building that houses The Seattle Times. It’s an area that’s crushingly bland and almost horrifyingly clean. But then there are few pedestrians to sully the public hygiene. 

When I finally reached the portion of this that lies on the upper reaches of my street, I felt drained. I would have stopped for a soft-serve ice cream at the charming little Japanese-style cafe but the line stretched out onto the sidewalk and I knew from my past visit that service there is slow. I started to walk away when I caught an unmistakable scent. There, sitting on a bit of public seating in a place where this is rarely used were two women–and one of them was smoking a cigarette.

I almost reeled in shock. Instead I began to look around me, trying to figure where I could stand unnoticed and take her picture. Then one of them spoke. “Do you need help finding something?”

Even in the old portion of downtown, this is a rare question. Usually the only people who speak to me on the street are incoherent or so verbally violent that I wish they were. I walked over and asked “Do you live here?” 

When I found out they did, I said, “Then you’ll understand how puzzled and confused I am by how this has changed in the past few years.”

“Yes,” the smoker said. “We’re moving to Mexico next month.”

She was speaking my language and we talked for at least ten minutes. When I moved on toward home, I still felt hungry. 

I wander alone in the streets of Seattle and I live alone in my little cavern. Perhaps once a day if I’m lucky, I’ll exchange a few sentences with the people who live on my floor. Once a week or so, I meet a son or a friend for a visit. Otherwise I’m silent. 

The cities I love and the ones I think I could love are personable ones where street interchanges are integral parts of their fabrics. Even in Tucson where the streets are as empty as ours, random chat with strangers is a staple of that city. Here in Seattle there are days when I use my voice only when I tell my cat to stop scratching his favorite chair.

The only other time I ever felt quite so alone is during my introduction to Bangkok. There I moved into my first-ever solitary apartment where I struggled to enter the postcard and become a part of my new city. But that took only a couple of months. This current solitude threatens to stretch for a thousand years.

In Bangkok, in those early days when I lived in an apartment with no kitchen, there were evenings when I was too tired to go out for street food. That was when I stopped in a little corner shop and bought instant noodles, Mama noodles. They came in a little square packet with seasonings, like ramen, but unlike ramen, they had flavor all by themselves. Some evenings I crunched them into bits and ate them straight from the package, a common practice I learned later, but I thought I’d invented it. Lonely.

But there was something about Mama that was comforting and I ate countless packages of those noodles when I lived in Bangkok, when I stayed in Hong Kong and Penang, during my time in Tucson, and here in Seattle. Last night I had them for dessert after finishing my supper of strawberry ice cream.

I don’t smoke anymore, I rarely drink alone, and I’ve stopped eating meat out of consideration for my case of macular degeneration. But you’ll have to pry those Thai instant noodles from my cold, dead fingers, palm oil, preservatives and all, because there are days when I need my Mama.

A friend recently posted on Facebook about a place that served Japanese soft-serve ice cream and since she said it was only around ten blocks away on my street, yesterday I set off to find it. I was surprised because that part of downtown had always been suffering from incurable urban blight, a collection of parking lots, cheap motels, and rundown apartment buildings. Its one dubious highlight had been the Greyhound Station but that had moved years ago.

As I walked through my neighborhood, wondering when it would ever come back to life, I passed the drugstore where I occasionally buy a magazine, beyond which I’d had no reason nor desire to go until now. Suddenly I was in a place I’d never seen before, a street full of shiny new buildings with windows that didn’t sport pieces of plywood nailed over broken glass. A gleaming U.S Courthouse that took up an entire block had a huge amount of beautifully designed public space in which nobody was puffing on tin foil pipes or nodding out. Even the sidewalks were pristine and unstained. 

I found my ice cream nestled in a bright little oasis at the base of a building that looked as though it had been recently Windexed. Other people sat outside with their food, seated at tables that faced a street with no urban traffic of any kind. Not even a mail truck sullied its tranquility and when I moved on, I was the only pedestrian.

I began to walk home but as I walked across the street, all I could see before me were more of those midrise sparkling buildings and an enticingly empty sidewalk that lured me into a different direction. Artfully designed public seating dotted the space in front of buildings, all of it unmarred by human occupancy. An occasional sign announced the presence of HBO or Redfin, in small and tasteful lettering. 

And then were the Spheres, the giant glass globes that announce the presence of Amazon, and nearby was what looked like a playground. On the other side of the street were pavilions with people clustered around them. It looked like the scene for an urban garden party with young, neatly dressed guests and in a way it was. A sign told anyone who passed by that free banana splits awaited them.

I’d already had ice cream and I detest banana splits but this was too intriguing to ignore. As I approached one of the pavilions, a smiling young woman asked me if I wanted chocolate sauce on the dish of ice cream she held and another brandished a can of whipped cream. At the end of the line a cheerful young man handed me a hermetically sealed plastic spoon and a napkin. It was efficiency of the kind once dreamed of by Henry Ford.

In the cluster of ice cream eaters, there were no children. There were few people who seemed to be over forty and the only woman who appeared to be around my age was wearing a salwar kameez. Across the street, in the shadow of the spheres, the playground held swings that looked as if they belonged in a porch and the people sitting in them were all adults. I saw only one child and the only teenager was a Black girl wearing the vest of a Downtown Ambassador, sitting in the shade and staring at her phone. 

I walked past only two shops, a “Flower Boutique” and a place that sold Glassy Babies, those brightly colored little vases that might hold as many as three flowers. One building held the eerie and vaguely ungrammatical sign of “Likelihood Coming Soon” and above the doorway of another was the word “Industry.” There were restaurants tucked into the base of all the glittering glass and a couple of Amazon Go groceries offering a doughnut and a coffee for 79 cents. 

Nothing cluttered the sidewalks, not even a mailbox. And all of this hygienic perfection began only blocks away from the broken windows, the flea market of stolen goods, the row of nodding junkies near the Pike Place Market, and the sidewalks that all too often bore signs of human excrement.

As I walked back home, I realized I lived in the new area of urban blight and that was only going to change when the new robber barons of tech business decided they were going to take over. Mushrooms of change were already being developed, slowly, while other areas lay vacant. The block that once held one of Seattle’s leading department stores is now owned by Amazon. So is the once glorious shopping area known as Rainier Square. Meanwhile the urban mall that used to hold Barney’s and Tiffany’s is a husk that holds a few restaurants and a movie theater. No bonus points for guessing who will take it over soon.

Two new pieces of plywood, one already covered with graffiti, shrouded a window in an upscale outdoor wear boutique and another in a newly opened branch of Wells Fargo. But no worries–the future lies close at hand and it’s on its way, with the promise of free banana splits.

Long ago, back in the days when cooking was one of my mandatory daily activities, I owned (among many others) two cookbooks: Mrs. Appleyard’s Summer Kitchen and Mrs. Appleyard’s Winter Kitchen. As you might suspect, one of these books held hot weather recipes and the other ones for winter chill. What you might not realize is the titles were quite literal. Mrs. Appleyard lived in an old New England farmhouse that was built before electricity became a household word. It had an indoor kitchen and one that was separate from the rest of the house. When summer’s heat came to stay, food was cooked at a distance from the place where the family lived. 

Quaint? No. Practical. In Thailand where summer is a perpetual state of affairs, traditionally there was no indoor kitchen. It was in a small separate building, steps away from where the food would eventually be eaten. In modern Thailand, although I lived in houses with indoor kitchens, those places were only used when it was time to wash the dishes that had held food purchased from street carts. It was in that country that I began to develop an aversion to cooking, one that serves me not quite so well now that I live in the States.

Here I live in a studio apartment with a galley kitchen in the entryway. The stove has an oven and I do my best to remember not to use it in the months that don’t contain an R. In the winter it provides very welcome heat. In the summer it turns my space into hell.

Fortunately Seattle has a laughable version of summer and even more fortunate is my abiding love for 90+ degree days. At night however the bricks that surround my large window release their heat as they cool and in order to sleep I use a big box fan–problem solved.

But not last night. 

I’m a quasi-vegetarian and a reluctant cook so in the summer I usually live on food that has never known the need for heat. But occasionally I falter and yesterday my appetite called out for chicken. I went to Trader Joe’s and came home with five little chicken drumsticks which I popped into a cast iron skillet and then placed in a 400 degree oven. “Thirty minutes,” I thought but since cooking seldom preys upon my mind, I forgot about them when I fell into a book. When I finally turned off the heat and removed the skillet, every time I went into the kitchen I reeled back a trifle. The cooling skillet wasn’t cooling quickly enough, demonstrating its admirable heat retention.  I turned up my fan.

Right now at 2 pm the next day, my apartment is a toasty 85 degrees, which I think is comfortable. Last night when I failed to fall asleep it was significantly warmer than that. I didn’t check the temperature but I know from past experience that this place reaches 90+ at night with very little encouragement. Yesterday’s culinary adventure encouraged it one whole hell of a lot. I rarely sweat but last night I pulled that off with no trouble at all.

Goodbye oven. I’ll see you again in late October. As for tonight’s supper, I’m thinking cucumbers in yogurt, with an ice cream chaser. Bon Appetit and to hell with cooking.

A mile away from where I lived in Tucson was a stubby building with a sign in front that said it was a bakery. I noticed it many times while riding buses to Latino supermarkets, places where the pastries were so sweet I ended up throwing them away. 

“You need to find a good panaderia,” an L.A. friend told me, reminding me of the one she had taken me to in Long Beach where the pastry made me want go back for more the second I’d polished off the one I’d chosen. That memory sent me to the bakery I’d passed by, although I wasn’t sure if it was even in business. The windows were dark and the glimpses that I’d caught of the interior looked empty. I never saw anyone going through its doors, but the sidewalk sign said it was open. When I pushed at the door, it was unlocked.

The room was large with a couple of dusty-looking cafe tables and a sprinkling of chairs. A shelf ran along the wall near the door, filled with plastic bags of bread, and a long glass case led to the counter that held an untended cash register. As I stood and stared, a man entered and another emerged from the back, carrying a Three Kings cake, which he boxed with great care. The two of them carried on a quick conversation in Spanish and when the other customer left, the baker turned to me. 

“I don’t know what I want,” I told him and he laughed. “Maybe a Three  Kings cake?” “Not this year,” I said, “Something smaller than that.” 

I looked at the pastries filled with fruit, the ones that resembled Hong Kong’s pineapple buns, a row of croissants, and noticed a tray of puffy little pigs that looked as though they were made of gingerbread. 

“Two of those, please.” “One minute,” he said, “We have some that just came out of the oven.”

The next day I came back for more. The pigs were flavorful with spices and held just the right amount of sweetness. “Cochitos,” I was told when I asked.

A friend brought some home from another bakery but they were much sweeter so I saw no reason to deviate from Mendes Bakery. I called it Fernando’s because it was his presence that made this unassuming space irresistible–at least for me. Our conversations were brief but warm and I always left with the happiness that comes from being in a place where I’ve been welcomed.

Fernando’s is on the edge of South Tucson, a tiny municipality with its own City Hall that’s encircled by Tucson’s sprawl. His bakery is across from one of the area’s oldest churches, opposite a small covered space that sold tortas, sopa de birria, and its own fabulous version of hotdogs–Sonora dogs without the bacon. Car washes and auto repair shops were prevalent and a food truck that said they sold seafood dishes set up canopies and chairs every day on the corner. 

This is a neighborhood that doesn’t give a damn about how it looks. It exists to fill needs, satisfy hungers, and nourish spirits–and somehow Fernando’s does all three.

This is my gateway to South Tucson which I began to slowly explore on foot. It’s a place where pocket-sized trailer parks coexist with walls of brightly colored tiled artwork, where hole-in-the wall butcher shops grill purchases for their customers to take home. When I walked through it, people often greeted me as though we were in a small town and I began to wonder how it would be to live there.

When covid made me understand that my long-denied roots in Seattle were very real, I returned to my family and friends. Occasionally I found a place that sold cochitos, but they were a pale memory of what I bought from Fernando. A year later when I was able to come back to Tucson for a quick visit, on my first morning I walked down to buy what I longed for, hoping they were still waiting for me.

They were. I bought a dozen to share with the house I was staying in and ate one on the way home. Fernando was still there. He’d had a new sign painted on his window, an image of a flaming heart flanked by roses, against a background of the brilliant shade of blue that belongs to Tucson. In its center was the name Mendes and beneath it was a painted scroll saying I Love Donuts.

Me? I love cochitos and I love Fernando’s unflagging spirit and I love the intangible things that I always find in his bakery–friendliness, community, hospitality. Because of these and because of him, I believe a small portion of South Tucson is mine, and, every chance I get, I return there to feed that belief with cochitos.

Although a plane ticket makes me happy, border crossings are my real true love. Knowing that walking through a man-made barrier will put me in the middle of a different way of living makes me higher than any drug I’ve ever used. That’s why it’s strange that it’s taken me so many years to walk into Mexico but in my defense I’ve been busy, spending a lot of that time crossing borders in Asia.

You’ll never hear me say, “Oh it’s just a border town.” I love them and spend as much time in them as I can whenever I have the chance. Every last one of them that I’ve explored has been a magical blend of unpretentiousness and acceptance, strangely cosmopolitan no matter what their size might be. They’re usually places that attract people from all over their native country, as well as foreign business interests and travelers in motion brandishing a rainbow of passports. They’re havens for scam artists, cheap hotels, and flimsy souvenirs. They’re the 21st Century version of old seaports, filled with wild variety, and when I’m in one, every sense I have is wide awake. 

During my brief Tucson incarnation, at about the time I was ready to explore Nogales, covid got in the way. It wasn’t until this year at he end of July that I returned to Arizona with enough time on my hands to consider a side jaunt to Mexico. Almost as soon as I got off the plane from Seattle, I was thrilled when a friend offered to drive me to Ambo Nogales, those twin cities sharing a name and divided by an international border.

The closer we got, the more foreign the landscape became, changing from wind-scoured desert to hillsides that were softened with green. “Yes. They get more rain here,” my friend told me. We pulled into a Burger King parking lot in the U.S. side of Nogales and when we went inside to pay the fee, everyone in the fast food joint was speaking Spanish. 

A quick walk toward the wall took us past duty-free shops and into a spot where bags and purses went through an x-ray tunnel. We pushed our way through a subway turnstile and there we were, in Heroica Nogales without a visa stamp. 

And in a millisecond I was surrounded by more life than I’d seen in the past three years, in a center of gleeful attention. The street we stood on was a solid mass of pharmacies, dental offices, and touts, a jolly little gauntlet that stretched for at least two blocks. The efficiency of this delighted me. Medical tourists from the U.S. could immediately get what they came for without the stress of encountering another culture. If they walked a little farther, they would enter a barrage of kitsch stalls that offered souvenirs, brightly colored and reeking with optimism. Above it all rose hillsides covered with houses, forming a horseshoe shape that wrapped around the Nogales that sat on the other side of the wall. 

I’m not a sightseer. I look for signs of how a different place functions and even in this very brief stay, Heroica Nogales showed me glimpses of a life I wanted to explore. As my friend wrestled with the inscrutable nature of Google Maps in his search for the legendary restaurant La Roca, I walked and stared–at the many tiny buses that carried people away from this portion of the city, at the supermarket that was only blocks away from the Art Museum, at the sign that proclaimed Sex-Shop resting companionably near a nail salon, at the street stalls selling food–fresh fruit, juices, tacos–and the parks and plazas that were perfect spots for an instant picnic. A freight train moved slowly across the border, heavily embellished with intricate graffiti, and a restaurant offering comida china had a small line waiting to get inside. Two men played chess at a shaded table in a park while pedestrians sauntered along a skybridge above them.

Looking ahead, I saw streets that were removed from the carnival that we were walking through, quiet and enticing with small restaurants and signs for hotels. In spite of the smell that hung in the heated air, reminiscent of sewage and durian, and the cages of puppies and rabbits placed under the sweltering sun with no water bowls, I fell completely in love with everything that waited to be explored.

I always knew Tucson was my gateway to Mexico. What I didn’t know was how I’d respond to that country. Now I know and I can’t wait to go back. Although my cat Mulrooney assures me that no we aren’t going to live there, I’m not quite so sure.

I was at Elliott Bay the night that Sherman Alexie was scheduled to appear in his first reading. The room was full and expectant when an apparently inebriated and indigenous man staggered in, yelling “Where’s that Indian poet? I heard he’s going to be here tonight. Where is he? I want to hear that Indian poet?” He made it all the way up to the podium, stood in front of the microphone, and quite soberly asked the audience “How many Indian poets do you pass by on the street every day?” The exhalations of relief were palpable but I don’t think anybody applauded. 

That was the first time Sherman Alexie surprised Seattle but he continued to do it again and again, He became nationally famous, made two acclaimed movies about reservation life, wrote with a speed that guaranteed someone in Seattle was reading him almost every day, whether it was one of his books or a column in the free weekly newspaper, The Stranger. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written for teenage readers, was on its way to becoming a classic. Then suddenly young women began to speak up and he vanished.

I know someone who was approached by Sherman Alexie. He propositioned her and then he threatened her with his fame and his literary power if she didn’t succumb. With her this didn’t work but it had been a successful technique in the past. He had betrayed and hurt women. When one of them spoke up, others had the courage to tell what had happened to them. 

It’s a story as old as Zeus and the Greeks had a word for it–hubris. However the punishment meted out to Sherman Alexie was up to that time unheard of. Many bookstores that had enshrined him stopped carrying his work. There were libraries that removed his books from their shelves. The Absolutely True Diary was no longer recommended reading in schools. In the parlance of our time, he had become “toxic.” He may have been the first person who was ever “canceled.”

The waters closed over his head and it’s as if he never existed.

He wasn’t the first acclaimed writer to have abused his fame. He might have been the first “Indian” writer to have done this and he was the first to be nullified through his books. There’s the tragedy. His future work–if not the past–was erased and I think that’s criminal.

“When we speak of diversity, we speak blurrily about race. But we rarely speak of class, education, and politics.” In one of his columns in the throw-away paper, I found this and kept it because Sherman had said something that struck me as true, something nobody else was saying. He had just recently hit middle age when he sank and he had so much more writing to do. Although he’s still alive, I think of James Baldwin’s sentence in Another Country, “He was a beautiful cat and we killed him, that’s all. That’s all.”

If we spoke about race in a way that wasn’t “blurry” and if we also took a hard look at “class, education, and politics,” perhaps we’d wonder why the two writers of our time who have disappeared in the wake of sexual accusations have been Brown men. When was the last time we read anything new from Junot Diaz? There’s more than one way to accomplish a lynching. Maybe the most effective technique is an enforced and sanctioned silencing. Kill the art, not the artist.