Happy things in Worcester

posted by Mike on May 31st, 2006

Here are three great things in Worcester.

The first: you can buy a whole, frozen durian! In fact, you can buy it at a store about 100 yards from my house.

The last time I was in LA, I bought a fragrant, fresh durian ($21). I sealed it in 6 separate plastic bags, wrapped it in clothing, and stuffed it in my heavy canvas carry-on for the flight home. When I got back to the Catholic Worker, I asked Scott to smell my bag, and after catching a whiff he said, “What the heck do you have in there?”

By the time we were ready for a durian party, it had been a week since the purchase, and the fruit was overripe and had become inoffensively bland. Carl Weaver has just posted video of “The Opening of Al Capone’s Durian.”

Last week Aiden came running up to me and shouted: “Guess what they have? At Hung Thinh market! A durian! I SAW IT!”

Hung Thinh Oriental Market

So the next day I went to their freezer case and bought a whole durian ($7), and after letting it thaw a few hours outside we cut it open. It was delicious, very sweet with that unmistakable tang of onion and vanilla. Nowhere near as pungent as fresh, though. The first time I tasted fresh durian, it was like eating ammonia.

My theory is that frozen durian:fresh durian::instant coffee:fresh ground. You’re losing some of the volatile, flavorful chemicals along the way.

Aiden’s older brother is back from college.

Justin: So how was the durian?

Aiden: It was good! At first it tasted like gasoline. Then it tasted like . . . fish.

The second great thing: the Blackstone River. Doug Higgs and I tried to kayak the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence last Monday, though we had to stop at dusk near Woonsocket. We were thrown out of our kayaks in the rapids near Millbury in the morning, and we bounced off rocks for the next quarter mile, which banged us up and took our energy down a notch. (The rapids shredded the nylon pocket on my shorts, allowing my camera to be swept away. Amazingly, Dr Higgs’s hearing aids not only remained in his ears, they continued to work!)

Originally we thought we’d suffered mostly from the cold water and general shock, but afterwards the bruises began to appear, and I realized that the cold water kept us from feeling the extent of our injuries. I have bruises even on the tops of my feet and the palms of my hands!

Cha-Cha: Benedetti, are you high?

Mike: No! I’m hurt! I told you! Kayak trip!

I would not have guessed that there would be fun kayaking inside the Worcester City Limits.

(There’s already been some positive comment this Spring about my free Midstate Trail Guide, and I hope we can do a similarly free and practical People’s Guide to the Blackstone River.)

A third wonderful thing about the City of Worms is the T&G’s consistently terrible coverage of the panhandling issue.

Oh, occasionally someone like Taryn Plumb will come along and screw things up by doing a professional job, but by and large the stories are no better than the column on panhandling published last week.

The column is based on what appears to have been a 10-minute conversation with a local panhandler. The columnist recalls some of what the panhandler said, and expresses a bit of skepticism. That’s it.

Imagine a T&G columnist interviewing a doctor about cancer for ten minutes, then turning this conversation into a column, seasoned with the columnist’s uninformed doubts about what the doctor had to say.

How lazy and pointless a column that would be.

Why not talk to the panhandler over a series of months, and get to know the guy? Why not research the man’s background? Why not clue us in on what is true and what is false, and why not confront the guy on his falsehoods? Why not give a story about panhandling the same consideration you’d give a story about cancer?

In short, why not be a journalist?

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4 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On May 31, 2006 at 09:13 Carl Weaver said:

    Mike, I think the taste of ammonia-gasoline durian is simply intoxicating!

    Good point about the coverage of panhandling. Some people, even journalists, seem to have opinions decided before they start investigating. The big myth is that some panhandlers are getting rich. I doubt any are getting rich but a few are doing all right. Most are barely getting by, living in shelters or on the streets. When I worked at the Veterans Shelter there were times supposed disabled vets (identified by their cardboard signs) were offered a place to clean up and get a good meal, but they refused to come alng, claiming that they were making $30 per hour panhandling. I think that’s the rare case, and probably only during one or two hours a day can someone make that much.

    People who have worked in the trenches with homelessness know that panhandling isn’t the real problem, but merely a symptom. Just like you wouldn’t fight cancer with drugs that simply alleviate the symptoms, you can’t fix homelessness by elimnating panhandling. The focus is on the wrong thing here. Folks become homeless for so many different reasons that you can’t even lump all those reasons together and say you are fighting it. You can fight different causes, and I think that’s the right way to go.

    You guys at the Catholic Worker do great work for social justice. I am consistently impressed with what I see. If anyone could turn me Christian, it’s folks like you, who do the Lord’s work because it’s the right thing to do, without always invoking His name, and without compensation. Coming from the Bible Belt, this is very refreshing!

    I hope your bruises heal soon, Mike!


  2. On May 31, 2006 at 12:47 Adam (Southern California) said:

    The L.A. Times has a good article here about a panhandler in San Francisco who gained some appreciation in his neighborhood after he tried to save a man from a burning car.

  3. On June 2, 2006 at 12:42 John Bert (near Scranton PA) said:

    Iv’e only seen a durian in one place- the market place in Isle Defino (in the video game SuperMario Sunshine) I beieve Yoshi the dinosaur turns purple when he eats a durian.
    I had no idea durians where such an intense taste experience. It sounds like they would be ideal to use in a happening. For example an artist could stand on a street corner and sell kisses and slices of durian.

  4. On June 3, 2006 at 14:09 Mike (Worcester) said:

    John: There are lots of possibilities with a durian. A simple durian-tasting event for passersby would blow many minds.

    Pictured: John Bert sips a 40 during the “Theban Book of Rescension Drinking Game,” TV Turn-off Weekend, Philadelphia, 2005.

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