I hope everyone had a great 4th. I found this message from myself, sent five years ago.
Happy birthday, USA! You're crazy as hell but I love you.
I'm in Bedford, New York with my wife and son, visiting with my mother-in-law. Bedford is an all-American town if there ever was one. It's a page out of Martha Stewart Living, probably because she lives here. They have parades and fireworks. Due to its bucolic charm and its proximity to New York City, the real estate here has become so valuable that there are houses no one lives in. Rich people collect them for their value and a groundskeeper visits once a week to tidy up the lawn. Still, somehow Bedford hangs on to its old-fashioned identity.
My mother-in-law is a Bronx Jew. She was a free-roaming teenager in New York City during World War II. If you heard her accent in a movie, you wouldn't believe it was real. She is afraid of nothing except losing her driver's license. Her daughter has inherited her ferocity. Her niece, who became a young woman in Greenwich Village in the 60's, came over last night and we all went to dinner. Three New York Jewish women- vocal, pushy, devoted, earthy, passionate. Twenty minutes in the car with them is like a trip to a foreign country for a southern gentleman such as I. Rowan seems unsure of when to talk. All I know is you can't wait for your turn.
We went to Layla's Falafel, an unassuming joint in Stamford, Connecticut. The few tables are a little too close to each other. A fluorescent-lit drink cooler greets you as you walk in the door. Seemingly typical Mediterranean victuals sit in hotel pans on a steam table behind glass. Most customers were there to pickup their takeout orders.
But to those who know, Layla's food is special. Everything is handmade, even the yogurt. Dino, who owns three locations with his wife Layla, is a big gregarious man who gives generous samples of food simply because he loves it so much. He believes in the food. He's happy you are there because now he can feed you. He watches your face when you try a bite of whatever he's offered you. I think he genuinely suspects that someday, someone will be dissatisfied.
When the ladies walked in, he gave each one a big hug and welcomed them. He shook my hand, sat us down, and told us what was good today in a thick, charming accent. "The okra is fresh. You should have it."
"Where are you from?" the niece asked.
"I am from Palestine."
The ladies all handed back their menus and laughed. "Just feed us," they said. Dino came by every few minutes with lamb, chicken with garlic sauce, fattoush, baba ghanoush, rice and lentils, hummus and pita bread, and of course the fresh okra stewed with onions and tomatoes. We paid and left and he dragged us back in from the parking lot to taste a fresh batch of homemade yogurt. "My mother's recipe," he said with reverence. Then he sent us out the door with a tub of it, on the house.
This is the miracle of the United States of America. We're crazy as hell on paper. I admit that. We have too many guns and not enough teachers. Our public servants are owned by private interests. We protect our property and throw away human lives.
Face to face though, Americans are some of the friendliest people in the world. We're helpful. We like a good time. We give to charity. We volunteer. Even the newest Americans. Maybe especially the newest Americans.
We didn't always get along with each other. We still don't sometimes. But we work on it. We've been working on it for two hundred and thirty eight years. Good food helps. I think immigration reform should include a requirement to bring your mother's recipes with you.
In 1776, this was so far from reality that I almost can't believe the audacity of it. Now it stands as a prophecy:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Y'all have a fantastic Fourth of July. Your fan,
The other crazy thing about this country is internet access. If you have a passport you know what I’m talking about. In fact, you can watch me and my band The Pickup Cowboys this and every Wednesday 7-10pm Eastern on Facebook, Youtube, and Periscope. Tune in this Wednesday for two amazing guest musicians, Anne McCue and Suzie Vinnick.
Check out this fun set from last week, and tune in Wednesday night!