Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What's your definition of "scary"?

On our road trip, the furthest south my sister and I got was Baltimore. We ended up there late at night with no idea where we were headed. All we found were boarded up houses, a wasteland of urban decay. It looked like the South Bronx in the ’70s, it was dark, and it was scary. Some of you will get the literary allusion when Elizabeth groaned, “Shuhman.…”

Finally, we found a hotel. In the morning, we asked the woman at the desk for directions. We wanted to go to the Inner Harbor and we wanted to eat crab cakes at Faidley’s in the Lexington Market. She said, “You don’t want to walk there.”

Visions of boarded up houses flashed through our minds. Okay, we’ll find some other crab cakes. So I went on Trip Advisor to research Lexington Market.

What a window onto two Americas! Half the contributors were terrified of sleazy people, dirt, homeless people, nodding addicts, eating on paper plates with plastic forks, and crime. The other half loved the food, loved the environment and the hubbub, would go back again in a heartbeat. Some contributors said, “Relax, people,” and one said he’s African-American and he imagines maybe they were talking about how he feels when he goes into an all-white venue.

So Elizabeth and I walked down the street, exploring. Two blocks over, we could see the sign for Lexington Market. We could also see that the streets in between looked just fine, no boarded up buildings; people strolling, students on break, workers out. Nothing sleazy, nobody drugged up. We walked over.

Lexington Market! Oh, the thrill of it! When I lived in Costa Rica one summer, I’d go to the market practically every day. I’d talk to the vendors with their homeopathic remedies, I’d buy the fresh vegetables, I’d pick up my breads and cheeses. It was crowded and lively and fresh and so exciting.

Lexington Market is all that and more. In English! Elizabeth went nuts over all the offerings. I had to take photos of the giant birthday cakes – little girl Sophie would have died for all those princesses and castles! We tried Bergers original homemade cookies, and yes, I had my jumbo 100% lump crab cake on a paper plate with a plastic fork. We could have stayed there all day.
The Lexington Market is BLACK with a capital B and a lot more. It is exultantly Black, filled with the energy of people and culture and their specialty foods and family. No one has birthday cakes that big unless they have big birthday parties. Everyone is hard working if they’re running a stand in Lexington Market.

So why did those other people think it was so scary? Did they think it was scary like the boarded-up houses on the empty blocks that I thought were scary? For some, “scary” might mean bodily harm, for others it might mean anything that takes us outside our comfort zones. What makes for “scary”? And just like that, I was back to post-election ruminating and fretting: Scary to you isn’t scary to me (and vice versa) and that’s where America is right now.

We learn our comfort zones in our First and Second Thirds, but in our Third Thirds, we can still stretch them. In fact, they say the major way to avoid cognitive decline is to do something hard. Not crossword-puzzle-hard but learning-another-language-hard, something frustrating. Difficult.

When I was a senior in high school, the welcoming reception for university admission was held at the Harvard Club in New York City. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be in a rich people’s place surrounded by rich people. I saw photos of the place and it didn’t look like a rec room, a high school gym, a family living room. It reeked of wealth, and was probably filled with stuffy people not like me.

My parents made me go.

Now, in our Third Thirds, we’re the ones who have to make ourselves go. On the other side? Maybe the best crab cakes in the world.

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