A Literary Feast

Posts by Caroline M. Cooper

Owl Lamp

Posted on March 21st, 2017

I amtrying tolistenclosely.To feeland knowallthe vibrationsof the universe.Spectacular.Granular.They quiver and shakewithoutjudgement. But stillI askthemstupid questions.Questions like: Did I make the right decision?Will I finally be free?Can I reject a false prophet for the true one?Can I earn the highest score on the double-headed snake video game?The highest score of all time? Come on.I really want to.I really want to seemy name bulbed-upamong the highest-scoring babes.I really wantto be one.So cool and popular and brightlike California. So? Well, you’re always getting in my wayand I, like others,like to blameothers. And that is why I can’t afford a ticket to California this year. Look here,Lookie-loo,I, too,live in a Californiazoo.Smoke a rooAnd change my shoeSo I can step lightly throughtoday’s proctoring. Thank goodness that manI had beenexcited abouttexted to break up with mebefore we even…

The Unquiet American

Posted on January 1st, 2017

I spent my twenties living in two of the biggest countries in the world—China and Indonesia. One, China, remains firmly under the thumb of authoritarian leadership. The other, Indonesia, had recently crawled out from under that same thumb and held, to great contention and excitement, its first direct presidential election ever in 2004.   Twelve years later, Indonesia remains one of the biggest democratic flowers yet to bloom in Asia, while China, now under Xi Jinping or “Xi Dada”—Father Xi—experiences some of its harshest crackdowns on basic freedoms in decades. But I walked through both countries like these facts were foregone conclusions. Like my own country, America, could never backtrack.   I have no great insight on any of these three countries, despite spending…

Quack Low, Sweet Chariot

Posted on October 14th, 2016

The cooler weather, that search for thick socks, the first tentative roasting of root vegetables before the sun has set—the day still, somewhat, long. This is how I settle in. I laze and lank on the kitchen floor, pausing to stir sauce, pour wine, sneak rosemary into a roasting chicken, wedge chunks of butter beneath its translucent skin.   None of this can happen without some suspension of disbelief, some willful entry into a land where my eight by six foot kitchen expands palatially, where the hot water pipe that runs up the side of the stove converts to a gracious source of sustaining heat and I am cozy, swaddled, and all the tools of winter—crock pot, wooden spoon, herbs—are within easy reach. This…

Passing Time At The Plaza

Posted on August 22nd, 2016

In a secret life I will never live, I am a doyenne of the swanning set, fluttering here and there with Oysters Rockefeller in steady supply and a gaggle of the whiskery ones doting on my every need. Such a belle donna would take her lunch, naturally, at The Plaza Hotel. This is a secret life and therefore timeless. Happily, the New York Public Library has digitized the menus of my preferred eatery across the decades and I can peruse them at will, recalling all my favorites.   Join me, won’t you, on a gilded settee for our first Plaza lunch. It’s 1899 and Congress has just approved some strange new contraption called a “voting machine” for use in federal elections. While others fret…

Last Call

Posted on June 10th, 2016

Lately I’ve been thinking about a dark side of consumption—addiction. Something might start innocuously enough (wow, this feels really good, if I have more if it, I’ll feel even better) and spirals to that malicious, delicious point where one is otherwise underwater without it. The glass of wine that becomes a bottle. The cigarette that becomes a pack. Drugs hidden from sight but very much present in the owners mind until that next sip, drag, hit and now the water parts, the mouth reaches the surface, and you can breathe again. As if every moment until this moment had been a deep dive act of breath-holding until that thing you most want is in your hands again—vaulted, exalted, exhalation.   I see addiction all…

Protect the Freshness is Over

Posted on May 17th, 2013

If you’re living in China and just barely working out an income from freelance projects, you might take a job doing voiceovers for propaganda films. A string of hours in a Beijing recording booth can earn you fifty, maybe sixty dollars. You can take breaks and they’ll give you lunch. There will be bottled tea. Afterward, you will walk out into the spring air with a new sense of wealth and possibility, financially settled for another week and able to forget what you had just done. I spent a year doing the odd English voiceover for Chinese Communist Party films. In 2006 I worked on a crushing celebration of Tibetan agricultural practices. “The women do all the cooking and cleaning, which is their pleasure,”…

Family Common Eats

Posted on March 18th, 2013

In the winter of 2005, I took a job as a research reporter for the New York Times Beijing bureau. The capital was blustery and bitter cold, coming off another long haul winter. A fresh round of yellow dust kicked up across the city.  Each month the Times paid me 5000 yuan, or roughly $620 at the time. Rent was 2000 yuan. 3000 yuan left. One yuan would get me around on the buses. Three yuan bought a ride on the subway. Taxis were in the double digits, plus tip.  Walking was free. But walking makes you hungry. So five yuan was enough to buy a full breakfast with soymilk. Twenty yuan, by contrast, was not enough to get a small latte. You plot…