Teri Orr: Of animals and taxes
Over a sushi lunch at his favorite (pricey) sushi restaurant, the young man was talking to me about race relations in a language we could both easily digest. "You know, Oma," the handsome 12-year-old, taller than me now, was saying, "there is a difference in fights at school when they involve color tones." I was listening very, very carefully to the language he had chosen. He attends a terrific public school in Salt Lake City, he is a student body officer (an SBO, he drops in conversation) in the sixth grade of a middle-grades school. This is an age when a grandparent can either be cool and influential or completely out of touch and shut out. I needed to navigate carefully.
He had reversed on me, the question I always ask of The Grands, at some point when we are together. "So, what are you reading these days?" It was clever, throwing to me first and I scrambled to think what was I reading. The absolute truth would have been "The Bartender’s Tale," the last book written by Ivan Doig, who passed away about a year ago. I had been introduced to Doig, and so many other regional, award-winning authors, by the former owner of Dolly’s, Gary Weiss. But I digress.
Instead, I shared with Tyler, the book I had just finished, "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a man I saw speak at a TED conference a few years ago. The book is a recent National Book award winner and was a gift, for no reason, from a friend. It is a long letter written by a black man to his black son about the reasons for race relations and the unfairness of it all and a parent’s desire to protect his child as he expects him to find his own way in the world. I was telling my young man it was about the difficulty, still, of being a young black man in today’s world and how we still often focus on skin color before we look at circumstances.
And that was when the "color tones" comment came up. I didn’t ask him where he found that language but I’m gonna guess it was from his school. It wasn’t skin tones and it didn’t start listing out the options of colors and the nuances around them. It was a carefully crafted language to acknowledge differences but not marginalize or elevate any one of them.
He also told me of his discussion with an adult who was concerned about the increase in the minimum wage and "you know that is going to be difficult for the small businessman." That’s when I said $15 an hour, before taxes, still isn’t very much money. So I had him start adding up our day. We started with our lunch, which he quickly realized was several hours of work. The movie we went to, in the middle of the day, with just a drink and popcorn for each of us was another couple of hours. The drive-thru smoothies on the way home, half an hour of work. We talked about housing costs and cars and dog food and vet bills and he brought up taxes. He might be a burgeoning Republican.
Despite how this may sound, it wasn’t a serious day, at all. We had started at the new exhibit at the new Kimball Art Center because Tyler loves animals. There were the most stunning photographs of elephants and leopards and cheetahs and giraffes and lions all in the wildest parts of the wild, in Africa. There was a video showing the couple who photographed the animals (I hesitate to say "shot" here) and how they had dedicated their lives to recording the animal’s habits and habitats. The director of the Kimball, Robin Marrouche, came out to give us some deep background on the couple and the most recent efforts in saving these endangered, magnificent creatures.
The movie we/he chose was not the "Batman vs Superman" I thought was a shoe-in but rather, "Zootopia," "Which was not "Zoolander" as I feared, another dumb Ben Stiller movie (redundant I know) but rather a Disney film that had an underlying message of race and class and gender relations, woven into a thoughtful film with no humans -only cartoon animals.
We also swung by a big box store to replace birdfeeders for my yard since the kill rate from this winter had been significant. I don’t know if it was storm-related or moose-related or age and general condition-related but more than half my feeders were broken. So we picked out two different kinds for two different kinds of seeds for different kinds of birds because there are differences in world. And we need to account for that. Respect it. And in my case, feed it.
On the drive down the hill to his home, we talked about the snow melting on the mountains and his upcoming baseball games and his plans for summer. He is a kind young man and he is figuring out all those thorny issues that make up a life — his place on the planet and his place on the playground. I remember with distinct pain still, how miserable one can be in those middle-school years and I marvel at how well he seems to be navigating the journey. His world is, of course, is radically different than mine was at his age and yet so much alike. Which is something I can consider as I fill those new feeders, this very Sunday, in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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