Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Times Square

Every weekday morning, I take the commuter bus from New Jersey to Manhattan. It stops at Port Authority and then proceeds down 42nd Street to Madison Avenue and up Madison to 59th. Most mornings, passing by Times Square is my cue to put my book away and get my coat. On this last day of 2008, even at 8:30 in the morning, Times Square was getting ready for the big party. I looked up to see the crystal ball which will drop at midnight. The sawhorses and the metal barriers are out, and the police department is starting to get organized.

The last time I spent New Years' Eve in Times Square was 1972. Some friends of mine used to rent a suite in a cheap hotel in Times Square (Times Square still had cheap hotels in 1972), buy a lot of food and liquor, and charge everyone they knew $3 to attend. It was great - you could either go down to be in the crowd (after leaving your watch and wallet upstairs) or look out the window, or keep partying and ignore the whole thing.

My New Years' Eves are a lot calmer now and I know that this year I will turn on the TV at ten minutes to midnight--if I make it to midnight--to see the place I passed by in my bus this morning packed wall to wall with people. May all of us--the stay at homes, the partygoers, the revelers in Times Square--look towards a 2009 with hope for a new era, a time for peace and abundance for all humanity.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gone Postal

There were errands to run and noon seemed like a good time to get them done. The glory of the plan was that I could do everything in a central place, get a nice shawerma sandwich to go at Saca's and be back at my desk in no time at all.
The first errand was easy. I dropped my library book in the book return slot. And on its due date. Think of that.
Wow! Things were going really well. Now across the street to mail two small packages.
How was I to know that a local Brownie Scout Troupe was using the Post Office as a staging area for its field trip to City Hall. At least twenty-five screaming prepubescent girls and three or four way too early in the day to be at the ends of their wits scout leaders clearly at their wits' ends shouting in that please God don't let me kill them tone of voice all the time trying to sound patient and empathic and knowing they were failing miserably filled most of the small customer area. I was sixth in line from the service window. Three people in front of me in the line was an overly dressed for going to the post office woman. She had two small, out fitted dogs on separate leashes. The dogs wore matching sweaters and matching beaded collars. Totally embracing their gender identity issues, they took turns trying to mount each other. When they became too frustrated with that, they took turns trying to mount table legs and twice human legs. Just as they actually succeeded in one mounting the other, the woman was called to a service window. While trying and failing to discretely untangle her dogs and take them with her she dropped her packages. Those of us in line were only too happy to help her and get her and the dogs to the window away from us. Of course, in post office tradition, each of her packages was going to a different third world country and each package required insurance and proof of delivery. The dogs resumed their coitus and were not unnoticed by the Brownies who shrieked even louder and laughed those shrill laughs of the morally outraged and incredibly thrilled. Their field trip began prematurely as their now completely hysterical leaders rushed them out of the building.
Finally at a window, I paid for my mailings and was given a receipt. The postal clerk warned me to not lose the receipt until I was certain the packages were delivered.
I stumbled form the Post Office not daring to look back at the dogs. From the sounds they made, things were going pretty well.
At Saca's I ordered the shawerma I'd been visualizing all the time I'd been in the Post Office. When I opened my wallet to pay, my postal receipt fell into the tip container. Taking anything out of a tip container is like making change in the church collection plate. But the postal clerk had warned me to not lose that receipt. Hoping no one in the busy little restaurant would notice, I looked into the container. It was full of pieces of paper tossed in with bills and change. The only way to find my receipt was to look at every piece of paper. I took the container to a table and began riffling through it. People stared at me and gave me baleful looks. I fully expected that someone would call the police. Nevertheless, I continued my furtive search. The stares at Saca's seemed far easier to endure than the disapproval of the woman at the Post Office. She'd been through so much already.
I finally found my receipt and was returning the tip container to the counter when a woman cut in front of me and demanded ketchup for her lamb shawerma. Silence fell on Saca's. No one cared anymore about that sneaky woman pawing around in the tip container. They were too shocked by the request for ketchup.
Finally, the owner of Saca's tearfully gasped, "Wait," and disappeared. Several minutes later he returned holding an unopened bottle at arm's length.
I'm thinking he had gone to the nearest grocery story and bought it. Even after he gave her the ketchup, no one in Saca's spoke. All eyes were on her as she poured ketchup onto the pita.
The Post Office will recover from this morning's carrying on.
I'm not so sure the staff at Saca's will ever speak again.
At least the public library got its book back on time.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Not Necessarily Rhetorical

Does human blood really become thinner in warmer climates?
Southern California has experienced a stretch of cold weather. The temperature some nights has dropped into the low thirties. During some days it has not topped fifty-five. People here have been in shock. They stare at windshields and wonder what to do about the ice covering them.
They wear gloves and watch caps. They run to ski shops to purchase parkas. Such behavior is understandable if a person has never lived outside Los Angeles County. Those people have no knowledge or experience with winter.
However, I know a guy who moved here several years ago because he hated the weather in his home town.
"Brooklyn," he said, "was too cold."
Then he clapped his gloved hands together to reclaim blood flow into his fingers.
I stared at him in disbelief. The temperature was almost sixty degrees. He saw my expression and explained that since moving to Southern California his blood had become thin.
I think people here just like to wear nifty winter clothing and seize any opportunity to do so.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
No. I mean it. It's so cold here in Southern California my fingers are stuck to my keyboard.
Really.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Still King of the Road

On January 1, in California, it will become illegal to receive, read, compose, or send a text message on your cell phone while driving your vehicle.
I'm not going to repeat that but I suggest you reread it right now. I'll wait for you.
Ready?
Good.
Common sense is no longer common. This law proves it. Therefore, we need to enact and enforce thousands of other laws that would seem on paper to be as absurd as the law against texting while driving.
Here are a few laws that should be immediately approved for enforcement.
1. No longer is it legal to give yourself a manicure while driving a vehicle.
2. No longer is it legal to turn around to face the back seat and yell at your children while driving a vehicle.
3. No longer is it legal to shave while driving a vehicle.
4. No longer is it legal to read the morning paper while driving a vehicle.
5. No longer is it legal to google directions on your laptop while driving a vehicle.
Those proposed laws would be pretty funny if I hadn't seen all of these activities and more during my daily commutes.
Legislating and enforcing common sense is an expensive way to bring us to our senses.
On the other hand, something happens to our brains when we get behind the wheel of a car. Only there can we return to adolescence -- at least until we run out of gas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Could This Be Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Today the FDA approved a medication designed to increase the length, texture, and color of eyelashes. The drug will be available by prescription in early 2009.
There are, of course, possible side effects. The color of the eyelid can change and the color of the eye can change. Hmmm. Also, if the stuff applied directly to the edge of the eyelid where you want the lash to grow touches any other skin, hair is apt to grow there, too. So the warning urges people to use cotton or some such and dab the skin on their eyelid after they've applied the medication. Rubbing your eyes with your hands after application could be interesting. Rubbing your eyes with your hands and then shaking the hands of another person could be even more interesting.
I get it that people receiving chemotherapy and people who have suffered burns may be able to obtain enormous benefit from this drug. The way things generally go, though, it probably won't be available to anyone who could actually benefit from it. The main requirement for receiving it will be that you have first tattooed permanent mascara around your eyes.
I mean, there are so many medical crisis needing our attention and so much essential research that won't happen because of funding. But next year we can at least grow really long eyelashes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Perks of Two

In the center of Hanukkah this year we'll leave the latkes and applesauce, gelt and chanukiah and drive  the three miles to her house.  Past the Santa wind sock and the poinsettias awaits a condo filled with the sent of evergreen, twinkling lights and cinnamon scented candles.  It always feels a bit awkward moving from my space to hers when the celebrations collide.   I'll sit on her couch watching.   After all these years I still feel like I'm in a foreign land.   My boys have no trouble.  They have grown up with the perks of the two and have no trouble switching gears.   She'll crown one boy with the Santa hat (the one who doles out the gifts) and the frenzy begins.  The giving is generous, big, loving and exhausting.   In recent years she has let go of the traditional meal and agreed to come to my house for dinner.  After a few hours she'll drive the three miles to my home with her visiting sons.    We'll make our new ritual meal of Paella, drink champagne, eat whatever gelt is left,  look at each other through the kindled lights and  observe the great miracle of family.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A Visit From St. Nicholas"

Clement Clarke Moore's famous poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was written on a Christmas eve for his children and was published on December 23, 1823 by a New York newspaper, The Sentinel.

Clement Clarke Moore was born in 1779 to a well-known Rev. Benjamin Moore who was President of Columbia University and participated in George Washington's first inauguration. He gave last rites to Alexander Hamilton after Hamilton was mortally wounded in 1804 after a duel with Adam Burr.

Some believe the poem was written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. since Moore called this poem "a mere trifle" and it wasn't a well known fact that he authored it.

Nonetheless, it has become known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and is known as a Christmas favorite.

These days, the poem carries a magical atmosphere for little ones to let their imaginations go wild and imagine Santa in his sleigh with eight tiny reindeer on their roof, bounding down the chimney with just the gift they wanted.

The legend of Santa Claus lives on through this poem.

Merry Christmas

This year the eight days of Hanukkah enfold Christmas. May these winter celebrations of light and miracle bring us closer to one another and closer to peace for all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Most Barn Doors Should Stay Closed

This Medical Conscience Rule for health workers recently approved by the Bush administration has me worried.
Under the rule, which takes effect in January, anyone from the neurosurgeon to the pharmacy cashier can choose to not participate in the medical care of any individual because of a religious or moral objection.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt describes this rule as protecting the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience. That's the conscience of the health care provider, of course.
The Family Research Council, doubtless dancing in the street shouting yippee and slurping champagne, calls this ruling a gift to pro-lifers because health care providers now have a right to make professional judgments based on moral convictions. So much, apparently, for the Hippocratic Oath.
Abortion is the obvious moral issue here. According to this ruling, a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription for post abortion antibiotics if the reason for the antibiotics is known and the pharmacist objects to abortion.
I'm always willing to take things to the most far fetched scenario. So, what if someone suffering from AIDS seeks emergency room treatment for say, a broken leg. That treatment, despite EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) federal legislation can be denied if a nurse or doctor feels that people suffering from AIDS are sinners.
And what about people openly gay or lesbian? If the dentist feels homosexuality is wrong, screw the cavities.
Let's take this even further. Anyone believe that mental illness is a direct result of masturbation and that masturbation is a sin? How about body piercings? Those among us still bogged down in Leviticus might refuse medical treatment to anyone wearing an ear ring. Forget all of the other places we pierce.
You see where I'm going with this.
I know a thing or two about barn doors. They are rarely open just wide enough to accommodate field mice. Once opened a little bit, it doesn't take long for every horse on the ranch to gallop with wild abandon through the hills. If enough barn doors open, what we wind up with is a stampede.
Let's hope human nature has a door stop.

Monday, December 22, 2008

His Mother's Tree

After driving miles along Foothill Boulevard,  he finally spotted  a man tossing rejected pine trees into a pile.  It was December 24th and he had waited too long.  When he approached the man I saw him motion to Tom to help himself to anything of value he could find in the discarded heap of dried needles.  It was one of those times when I knew it was best to say nothing.  At some point we would joke about this but it wouldn't be that day.  He loaded the fire hazard into the back of the Tahoe and said, "Well, it's only for one night."  He carefully set the tree up in the designated spot and then quickly pulled out the vacuum to whisk away the evidence.  He gently placed a few decorations the kids had made at school on the branches, scattered the presents underneath and called it a day.   His mother said the same thing she says every year, "I think that's the prettiest tree we ever had."  This year he went early and had the tree cut fresh from a farm.  

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Family Menorah

When I moved to California in December 1979, my mother asked me if I had a Chanukah menorah to take with me. I did not, as I had recently given my childhood menorah (it held birthday candles) to my young niece. My mother gave me the family menorah, the one that we had lit together all my life. I was deeply touched.

I went home the next Chanukah and was horrified to see my parents lighting an electric menorah. Oh, no, I thought, they gave me their menorah and now they don't have another. For their anniversary that year, I went to a Judaica shop in San Francisco and bought them a really nice menorah, one that cost a little more than I could afford. When I sent it, they oohed and aahed over how lovely it was, then stashed it in the china cabinet with all their pretty things, and kept lighting their electric menorah every Chanukah. I gave up.

This year, I realized that Sunday, the first night of Chanukah, would find me living in New Jersey while most of my possessions still reside in California, including the family menorah. I went to my parents house for dinner Friday night. I looked in the china cabinet and there it was, still as unused as the day it was bought. I took it home with me, and tonight, about twenty five years after it was purchased, I lit it for the first time. I said the shechechiyanu prayer over it, blessing God for sustaining me long enough to reach this moment.

Happy Hanukkah
















Even during the darkest times we are obligated to rejoice and to never let our individual or our collective lights go out. Together our candles light up the entire universe.
Peace to you, to your families, and to the world.
Together we can make it happen.
Happy Hanukkah.

I Hope This Really Happened

Here's to Baby Hippos



Thanks to witsend blogger ravaj for this video.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dueling Sandwiches

In my temporary home here in Monroe Township, New Jersey, there is a problem that has always puzzled me. In a strip mall on Applegarth Road, right next to one another, are two businesses called "Dee's Bagel Cafe" and "Sandwich King". They both serve breakfast and lunch and then close in mid-afternoon. They both advertise, "New Jersey Star Ledger sold here". They both boast, "We Serve Boar's Head Meats". Their signs are identically lettered. This morning, when I was there, the same truck was making deliveries to both of them. How do both of them thrive?

Well, they do. And there are factions. My father and his pals will only eat at Sandwich King. He says that Dee's runs out of bagels by lunchtime which, if true, is pretty irresponsible for a place that bears the word "bagel" in its name. However, I lean to Dee's. I always used to go there with my Aunt Ruth and they recognize me when I come in. I don't care whether the calumny about the bagels is true because I always get my kosher salami sandwich (lettuce, tomato and mustard, pickle on the side) on a Kaiser roll (poppyseed). On the occasions when I bring a sandwich to my parents house, my father invariably says, "Where did you get that? Dee's? Why don't you go to Sandwich King? It's much better."

This morning, though, I just wanted a newspaper to take home and read with my coffee. I figured that if they didn't carry the New York Times, I would read the Star-Ledger. True to form, both Dee's and Sandwich King were out of newspapers. I went across the road to WaWa, where I had my choice of all the New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia papers. Don't get a sandwich there, though; they're terrible.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm Thinking Nobel Peace Prize

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has asked the state Supreme Court to strike down Proposition 8, arguing that the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

Brown, the state's chief law enforcer, said in his filing this afternoon that the proposition "deprives people of the right to marry, an aspect of liberty that the Supreme Court has concluded is guaranteed by the California Constitution."

“Proposition 8 must be invalidated because the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification," he wrote in responses to challenges filed by gay-right supporters.

Apparently the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles have filed suits seeking to overturn the ban.

I have always admired Jerry Brown for his unflinching sense of social justice. I am thankful that he remains at the front of California political life.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wheels For Humanity

Last Sunday night The Gaslight Anthem performed at The Key Club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California. Naturally, I was there. They just get better all the time.
This concert raised money for a cause new to me -- UCP Wheels for Humanity based in North Hollywood. The UCP stands for United Cerebral Palsy.
In this part of the world we sometimes forget that not every place has curb cuts for people for whom mobility is a challenge. We are used to guide dogs and electric wheel chairs and handicapped parking. We are so accustomed to these devices that sometimes we forget about the people who use them. And certainly I had developed a blissful unawareness of what it means to be immobile in a mobile world.
UCP Wheels for Humanity has, since 1996, offered increased mobility and dignity to people with disabilities -- providing wheelchairs and education in underdeveloped and emerging countries of the world including Mexico, Mongolia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, the Ukraine, and many other places where there is such a need.
Here's what the organization does. It takes junk -- old parts of old wheelchairs, discarded stuff, and all sorts of ambulatory aids, and refurbishes them. Once fixed up, the organization delivers them and individually fits them to economically disadvantaged children and adults in developing countries. They do this without regard to political affiliation, religious belief or ethnic identity.
Without a wheelchair or other ambulatory device, adults and children are often forced to crawl from place to place unless someone is willing to carry them. It is estimated that over one hundred million people worldwide need the assistance of this organization.
Each year UCP Wheels for Humanity recycles about 226,000 pounds of discarded wheelchairs and other ambulatory devices and turns them into mobility.
The Gaslight Anthem was wonderful and the nephew terrific.
The cause for which they played was bigger than any performer on the stage or any person in the audience.

UCP Wheels for Humanity
12750 Raymer Street, Unit 4
North Hollywood CA 91605
818.255.0100
www.ucpwft.org

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hey, It's Raining!

I reflected on the post a week ago about the bundled up golfers as I watched my boy prepare for a high school soccer game tonight. However, unlike the golfers the soccer uniform consists of a thin nylon shirt and matching shorts that affords no protection from the elements.  You see,  its raining and as cold as I ever remember it in my 25 years of living in sunny southern California.  "Why aren't you coming? Tom asked.  I shake my head in disbelief why the entire day of outside sports wasn't cancelled.  What are they thinking? Tom calls me from his car parked as close as he could get to the field.  He opens the window for a clearer vision to give me an update and then closes it between plays to gather back the warmth that had escaped.  I have no interest in the play by play.  I question the sanity of the powers that be. All I can think about is the cold and wet boy with zero percent body fat that will return in the next hour shivering.   

Testing, Testing

It was that time again. I received a Driver's License Renewal Notice from DMV requiring me to take a written exam. I promptly obtained the "California Handbook". I read through it page by page using it as a refresher course. I felt smug when I got behind the wheel knowing all the rules of the road once again. "So", I thought to myself, "How many drivers follow the rules?" Not that I was surprised, but most drivers don't obey traffic rules as they are written in the Handbook. The freeway onramps are for vehicles to accelerate to freeway speed - not for stopping. Stop signs are for complete stops (tires not moving) - not for slowing and proceeding depending upon traffic. The #1 lane is for vehicles going freeway speed - not for slower vehicles. It's not a game of dodge ball with pedestrians. Sirens are sounded for traffic to pull over to the right - not for trying to outrun emergency vehicles.

With all this (and more) in mind, I took and passed the written exam. Through all this, my testing reaffirmed that good drivers will remain good and bad drivers will never change.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Won't Argue

I looked at the bill for my land line telephone. It's always about the same amount and I always feel irritated by the amount because I don't use it all that much. Yesterday I called my phone company and actually spoke to a living person.
"This bill seems too high," I said to her.
"It sure does, doesn't it?" she responded.
"Is there anyway I can pay less a month for the same service?"
"Sure is," she enthusiastically replied. "How about we cut that bill in half?"
"Each month?"
"Sure thing!"
And so she did. It was that easy. I added nothing to my service and nothing was removed. The only change is that my bill will be half of what I've been paying for well over a year.
Now here's my question.
If I had been paying the fair price to begin with, why would it be so easy to lower the bill? The woman with whom I spoke seemed quite thrilled that I had finally come to my senses and asked for a lower monthly fee.
Mind you, I'm not going to argue but this strikes me as just a little odd.
While I ponder this, you might pick up the phone and ask your phone person for free service. You never know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Lipstick Building


The epicenter of what may be the largest Ponzi scheme in history was the 17th floor of the Lipstick Building, an oval red-granite building rising 34 floors above Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
--New York Times front page, 12/15/08


I didn't know they called it that when I moved to New York. I only knew that it was tall and very unusual in appearance and that it was two blocks south of my building on Third Avenue, and I needed a visual orientation object and that was it. When today's New York Times referred to it "The Lipstick Building" I knew immediately which building they meant.

In this building, Bernard Madoff perpetrated a multi-billion dollar scam that fooled some very prominent and fabulously wealthy people. Many of them were major donors to charities. Some of those charities were Jewish philanthropies, whose budgets had already been shredded by the financial crisis. Madoff himself was treasurer of the board of Yeshiva University. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Some of these organizations will have to close their doors and others will be forced to make drastic cutbacks.

This morning when I passed the Lipstick Building, there was a sign on the sidewalk in front of it that said "Danger". It was making reference to the window washers up thirty stories or so, but it might well have been referring to the shenanigans taking place on the 17th floor. Danger, indeed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'm The Reason It Didn't Rain

The predictions began Thursday evening. By Friday evening, we were told, the rains would be heavy. Cold and heavy rain the weather people predicted. They promised us the biggest storm in recent years.
Southern California needs the rain. Maybe not rain in the form of the biggest storm in recent years because with heavy rains will come the inevitable mud slides especially in the areas ravaged recently by fire. However, a good, slow rain would be great.
As of this moment, the rains have not arrived.
I know why.
It's my fault.
Friday morning I had new windshield wipers put on my Jeep. Before Friday morning I wiped my windshield with what for all intents and purposes was two metal rods which at one time held something made of rubber.
In a radical departure from my normal hap hazard approach to getting ready for things like major storms, I bought new windshield wipers and had a guy at a service station in Pomona even put them on my Jeep. I was all set.
Except that those badly needed rains didn't come.
Tomorrow morning during rush hour, it will rain. I know this because this evening I took the new windshield wipers off of my Jeep and replaced them with the old ones. You see, there is wisdom in not quickly throwing broken, useless stuff away.
To guarantee the rains, I washed my car.
Drought be gone. I'm ready for the rains.
But just in case, I parked my Jeep outside and left all the windows rolled down.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Lucky Day

I didn't bring in the daily paper this morning. There it was in the driveway but instead of picking it up before I left the house for my day, I ran over it.
I parked in the lot of a large chain sort of health food organic type store. When I came out with my purchases, someone had let loose their shopping cart and it had run into the side of my Jeep. I wheeled the cart to the boldly signed cart place then returned to look at my Jeep. A few more scratches had been added to its door and its story.
"I'm so lucky," I thought, "to have a car years and miles beyond its first scratch."
A car with over two hundred thousand miles to its credit is a wonder to behold and to own.
My outing continued to a popular area of town where none of the stores in which I had previously shopped existed. They were gone -- replaced by stores in whose inventories I had no interest.
"What a fine opportunity to avoid unnecessary purchases," I thought and felt good about the money I had saved.
In a bookstore, I noticed a calendar. It was an amazing calendar. You may recall my this time of year fixation with calendars. I was about to buy it when I looked at it more closely. It was for the year 2008. I put it back on the shelf and thought how incredibly lucky that I took the time to check out the year of that almost perfect calendar. Really, I've already got enough 2009 calendars and yet I was so close to buying another.
My errands run, only what I needed purchased, I returned home and again ran over the newspaper still in my driveway. Before I closed the garage door, I picked up the newspaper.
In the plastic bag with the paper was a sample box of granola. Of course, because I had twice run over it, the sample was in no shape to eat.
Again, I considered myself lucky. You see, several years ago I read a book in which a plague was spread by food samples delivered either in newspapers or through the mail. Since reading that book I have avoided all such samples. However, today as I drove into my garage I was thinking how great a bowl of granola would taste right about then.
Because I had twice run over the newspaper and its free sample thus rendering it inedible, I doubtless avoided becoming both a victim and a carrier of perhaps the deadliest plague ever.
Today was not only my lucky day, it was yours, too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In Sync

The first steps in a relationship can be the most crucial. Ever notice when couples are freshly in love they walk in sync? When the relationship gets a little older, there are times the couples walk somewhat out of sync. As couples' relationships mature, those truly in love still walk in sync and those who are really not made for one another no longer walk in sync but are very much out of step with one another - never to walk in sync again.

The Moment

He called just as I was settling in to watch Jon Stewart on the daily show.  I leaped when my cell phone displayed his name and quickly pushed the button.  "Mom, after working twelve hours, the chef tapped me on the shoulder and said I got the job.  Six days a week from 11am to 11pm." Thoughts of the logistics of this began racing through my head.  Twelve hours?  Are they crazy?  How could he maintain a schedule like?  I realized it was one in the morning in NY and he had just gotten off at his subway stop.   He continued to speak a mile a minute revealing his excitement about the details and possibilities of his new position.  I listened attentively trying my best not to ask any questions that would take away from the moment.   It was his moment of glory and beyond anything else it erased all the doubt from yesterday.  While many are struggling to find work, a passionate young man found an open door and the job of his dreams...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

For Shame

The governor of Illinois should be ashamed of himself. Did he really think he could get away with selling the Senate seat? Was he trying to sell it to Jesse Jackson, Jr.? Was Obama involved in this even though he says he wasn't? I hope not - he is supposed to get the American citizens out of this mess. When will the corruption stop? Who will be next? Only the media knows.

New Jersey Humor

Driving in New Jersey requires a willingness to be constantly taken by surprise not by other drivers, necessarily, but by the signs informing distance and exits. Go along following the exit signs to, for example, Newark Airport. Those signs will tell you which divide in the road is yours and so you take it. They will even tell you in which lane you should position yourself and so you maneuver into that lane. Those signs effectively lull you into a trust. You begin to rely on them. And then, just at the last second when they've got you positioned in the far left lane, the sign says exit immediately from the far right lane. It never fails.
Imagine my relief, then, when I arrived at the Newark Airport thinking I was then free of that particular brand of New Jersey humor.
Ha.
I got suckered.
All of the postings told me that my 4:30 PM flight left from a gate at the far end of the Continental terminal. I believed them. I got to the gate with enough time to begin reading the novel I'd been lugging around with me for two weeks. Even the display above the gate assured me that I was where I needed to be.
And then it happened. Twenty minutes before my flight was to begin boarding, the display above my gate -- my promised gate, my guaranteed gate -- changed. No longer was the flight leaving from that gate going to Los Angeles. It was going to Argentina. Curious though I am, I did not want to go to Argentina on that particular evening.
I ran to a video display and was slapped in the face by the fact that my flight was going to board and depart from a gate at the opposite end of the Continental Airlines Terminal.
If I ran on the moving walkways and knocked down the elderly, I just might make the flight. And so I did. Walkers and three pronged canes flew in my wake. Children screamed in terror. Each time I passed a video arrival and departure display I checked my gate just to make sure I did not become the brunt of yet another bit of New Jersey humor.
When I arrived at the gate out of breath and drenched in sweat I couldn't help but wonder how all of the other passengers knew to be at that gate all along.
That's New Jersey humor for you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Gaslight Anthem

You may recall these guys. We've mentioned them before. Even if the drummer wasn't the nephew, we'd think they were terrific. Last night The Gaslight Anthem appeared on Conan O'Brien. We are very proud.

The Curse and the Blessing

For the first time in four days after her partner of twenty years said, "I don't," she didn't cry when she woke to find herself alone in the big brass bed.  "It's strange," she reported through a text message, "I somehow feel lighter."   After staring at my phone and then erasing three attempts at a response, I finally settled on, "That's nice."   It was her next text that made me laugh for the first time since hearing the news, "Hey,"  she wrote, "I can get a cat now." 

Good Morning

This morning, I could have used the extra minute to which MaryWalkerBaron made reference in her last post. I am temporarily living in the house which belonged to my deceased Aunt Ruth in New Jersey and commuting to my job in Manhattan. The subway doesn't adhere to a schedule, or if it does, commuters aren't told what it is. Commuter buses, however, leave at specific times.

I calculated my first morning perfectly, performing my morning tasks and leaving the house on time. Then, halfway during the five-minute walk to the bus, I realized that I had changed outerwear and left my Metrocard and building pass in the pocket of yesterday's coat. I ran back and retrieved it, and was running hell-for-leather down the main street of this quiet retirement community when a car pulled over. Two women, obviously mother and adult daughter, sat in the front seat and a baby, the grandson, occupied a carseat in the rear. "Are you going to the commuter bus?" asked the woman in the passenger seat, "Get in." She directed her daughter down the block and around the corner to the bus shelter, and I was there in plenty of time. In response to my profuse thanks, the mother replied, "God gives us blessings all the time. This is one of them". "Well, then, you are God's messengers today" I said, as I got out of their car. I smiled all the way to Manhattan.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Time Doesn't Always Fly, Apparently

I'm pretty sure this is what the guy said. I was driving home this evening. Traffic was heavy. I was listening to someone interview someone else on some radio program or the other. However, I'm almost certain this is what he said.
In one million years we will have added a full minute to our day. This is because the earth is slowing in its orbit. Not a whole lot, apparently, but enough to pick up that minute every million or so years.
It doesn't seem like this would be a big problem but apparently it is. The computers and other sensitive electronic stuff are no longer as accurate as one would think. The situation must be addressed.
At some point, and I have to confess I didn't catch the exact point at which this will happen, we will make time stand still to allow our clocks and stuff to again match the earth's rotation. This point not caught by me is not thousands of years off. It's around the bend. The date and the moment, I think the guy said, have already been set. On that day at that moment time will stand still. Either that or the earth will stand still.
I think I saw that movie.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An African Proverb

If you want to go fast,
Go alone.
If you want to go far,
Go together.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Road Trip - Sunday - Back Home

Today I retraced the route taken across country -- two weeks after the journey began it ended on the day and at the location of its beginning. Except today Continental Airlines made short work of the road trip which lasted a week. Tracing almost our exact route, I covered the ground in six and a half hours. There was no sense of the incredible vastness of this country. Today's trip was all about expedience -- getting to the destination.
There was no early morning fog in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, to sit out with other travelers. I have no idea if that curve in the road somewhere in Texas got itself straightened out. Today I crossed the Mississippi River and never knew it and so gave the genius of Mark Twain no thought at all. I suppose those two tired women running that little store in Carlisle, Arkansas, are still keeping Moon Pies in stock but I couldn't check their inventory today. The Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway have gotten along without me for centuries but it was good to feel a part of them for awhile -- to breathe in the icy air and glory at the beauty. They were somewhere under the 737 today but I didn't notice.
I think everyone should drive across this country at least once. It's really big and it's really beautiful. Every state is different in personality and landscape. The interstate highway system is astonishing in its design. Getting lost is pretty hard to do, even though, of course, we did at least a couple of times.
I miss the road. Of course, tomorrow morning I'll be back on a familiar set of roads, the Los Angeles freeways. They're pretty amazing, too.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Golf -- A Special Type of Insanity

The temperature was in the low thirties. The grass was stiff with frost. Yet there they were -- the golfers.
Their heavy, bulky winter coats seemed to immobilize their arms. Hats pulled low over their eyes both shielded them from the bitter cold air and, unfortunately, blinded them. Hands encased in heavy gloves made gripping their clubs unlikely.
Actually swinging their clubs was indeed a precarious undertaking. Should one of them fall the chances were slim that they would be able to stand again without help because of the sheer bulk of their clothing.
Like elderly, crazed warriors -- their armor glistening with freshly fallen snow -- they gathered for another daily round.
As long as they can see the ball, it seems, they will continue these early morning gatherings always the same time tomorrow.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lure Coursing In New Jersey

All the way across the country we called ahead to verify if the motel or hotel accepted dogs. Even with the verification, we were shy about the visibility of The Family Dog. He is, after all, not a tiny little thing. In fact, he has been known to take the breath away from people unfamiliar with the spectre of a huge, one hundred twelve pound dog grinning at eye level.
So tonight, on our final hotel stay, we again called ahead and again were told that dogs were accepted and again snuck The Family Dog in the back entrance just in case.
So intent were we on the 'sneak in' that we didn't notice the van parked at the far end of the lot. Had we been a little less absorbed in subterfuge, we might have wondered about the Rhodesian Ridgeback pictures decorating the outside of the van.
Tonight the Holiday Inn at Somerset, New Jersey, is hosting participants in the North Branch Park Lure Coursing. Lure coursing is a bunch of dogs chasing a mechanical rabbit across a field. According to Wikipedia, lure coursing is usually limited to purebred dogs of sight hound breeds. The Family Dog is not even close to being a purebred, but the breed he most closely resembles, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, is a sight hound. Never mind that The Family Dog usually can't even find a crumb that's dropped off the table, he's feeling pretty happy about the whole thing.
"It's just a great feeling," he says, 'to for once not have to worry about being caught or being too big for the room." Or at least that's what we think he's saying.
Who knows. Once he's more comfortable, he may take up Lure Coursing himself. I think I saw him make a note of it in his Paw Pilot.

We Remember Them

When my Grandmother passed away about twenty years ago I remember my mother telling me that she didn't understand cremation.  "You need a place for your children to visit, a place where they can come and talk to you."  I was pregnant at the time and thought that her words made sense.  She had lost her mother and if she found comfort in visiting her grave, I was happy for her.  
When my mother passed her wishes were to be cremated.  I never did get a chance to talk to her about when and why she changed her mind.  The day after her shiva was over and we took our walk around the block, one of my sisters suggested we visit the cemeteries of both sets of grandparents located in Brooklyn.  This was a harder task than anyone imagined.  Where were the cemeteries?  When was the last time anyone in the family had been there?  What were the plot numbers and did we really want to do this on the coldest day of the year? With a bottle of whiskey and some hard boiled eggs we bundled up and piled in the car.   The first cemetery was well maintained and my father's parents had a dual stone.  Her side of the stone was filled in fifteen years after his.  My dad toasted his parents with the whiskey, ate his egg,  sang a sefardic song and we said Kaddish.  The cold quickly pushed us back in the car and with the help of mapquest, we made it to the my mother's parents cemetery in ten minutes.  After we got directions to the plots, and drove around searching for the numbers to make sense, we gave up and parked.  After what seemed like an eternity, I saw a sign containing the numbers where the plots should have been and so I called for my sisters.  So many of the foot stones were covered in dirt.  They were sunken and the grass had grown over parts of them.  I knelled down with my bottle of water and started to rub and loosen the dirt with my scarf.  My hand was frozen but I didn't care.  There she was and there he was right next door.  I looked up and saw my dad shaking his head.   "I'm glad your mother isn't here to see this.  She never did come here, I guess she was happy with her memories."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Here's To Bumps In The Road

I once watched a movie with a plot even more outlandish than many of the movies I enjoy. This story involved the transporting across country of the most dangerous criminal in recorded history. Of course, he was being transported on a commercial airline and of course everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
I was asked by someone just walking through the room why the the world's most dangerous criminal was being transported on a commercial airline. I was stunned that such a question would even be considered much less verbalized.
"Because," I answered, "if the most dangerous criminal in the world was shackled and strapped into a plane designed only for the transporting of the world's most dangerous criminals nothing would happen and no one would watch the movie."
I was thinking of that movie today and considering bumps in the roads we travel. Journeys with bumps in the road are called adventures. Without the bumps those journeys are just called going from one place to another.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dog Days

There is something about a sign reading "Keep Dogs On Leash" that compels certain people to let their dogs run free. We are currently encamped in a lovely, peaceful apartment with the luxury of a designated dog area. It's a nice area with benches and grass and wood chips and flowers. And boxers and pit bulls running free and easy.
"Please leash your dog," I said to the woman who was talking on her cell phone while her really big, grey pit bull, drool pooling on the ground behind his paws, raced toward the family dog.
The woman continued to chat as her beast drew nearer, steam rising from his nostrils.
"Put your dog on a leash!" I shouted.
She looked at me as though I spoke an ancient language unknown to most of the civilized world and continued her conversation.
"There will be a terrible fight here in a couple of seconds," I said through clinched jaws, "And it won't be between these two dogs."
"I'll get back to you," said she to her celled companion and flipped closed her phone.
As three sets of teeth bared, mine being the third, she leashed her dog and began the arduous task of dragging him away from the family dog, whose lip was still curled ready for the melee. As she left the pet area, the pit bull human glanced over her shoulder perhaps to make certain that she had really been asked to obey the fifty or so signs posted in the pet area not requesting but demanding that dogs be kept on leashes.
Escaping from that potential disaster, I started to lead the family dog out of the pet area when the gate opened and three more dogs were let off of their leashes.
We found another exit and left before teeth were bared and before fur flew.
Apparently it really is a dog eat dog world.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sand

It came out of nowhere.  Her e mail and his leaving.  two week after their 18th anniversary and two day before their children's birthdays, he made an announcement on their way home from a funeral.  "I'm not happy", he said.  "Funny", she responded, "I thought we were."  This kind of news travels through family and friends with a disbelief that leaves everyone speechless and frightened.  What you thought was solid ground was nothing more than sand.  "He's already got a place in town", she relayed with little emotion.  The shock that her best friend had betrayed her was too painful to permit herself to feel.  I talked to people who had been with them on the holiday and they saw nothing to suggest that there was discontent.  It was all hidden, even from her.  We all thought that if anyone would outgrow the other it would be her.  His mother cried through the festive meal...now we know why.

Landmarks

Jersey City is an easy place to get lost. At least Jersey City is an easy place for me to get lost. I generally have the same destination from trip to trip. The route to that destination either changes or my ability to follow directions changes. Either way I frequently get lost in Jersey City. One possible explanation for that on going difficulty emerged yesterday when I discovered that in a very close area there are two intersections of Grove and Newark Streets. I wasn't lost, really, I was just at the wrong intersection. Amazing how two streets could intersect twice. Some cities are like that. It seems as though the original city planners conspired against visitors. Take Rock Springs, Texas, for example. The Rock Springs in my childhood was a really small town. To me, though, it was huge. I walked out of some store or other and became completely disoriented. It took me a forever of wandering and asking and weeping before I found the home of my Great Aunt Vera. She explained to me the importance of landmarks. "Always find something that stands out," she said. "The tallest mountain or building or a water tower or something interesting. The important thing is to always know where you are in relationship to your landmark."
Jersey City has never gotten the best of me. I always wander around until I stumble into my destination.
Lately, though, I've been thinking a lot about my Great Aunt Vera's advice and the value of landmarks.
They not only help us find our way. They help us to remember who we are.
I'm going to be thinking a lot about my soul's landmarks and about the wisdom of a Texas pioneer who throughout her life never lost track of who she was.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Destination - Monday

Hotels or motels along the highway have an astonishing similarity. Members of various chains, they became interchangeable including the water under the shower tray which left a kind of soft feeling under the feet. The dog must have wondered why we rode around in a car for long days and then always wound up in the same place.
Sometimes I wonder that myself about other life events. On this trip we knew we were moving along.
That's one advantage of road trips over everyday living.
On road trips we have maps to guide us and warn us of hazards or delights along the way.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Road Trip - Sunday

In snow and rain we arrived in Brooklyn. Seven days with the trip officially beginning in Tucson on Tuesday morning and now we're here. The dog was a most amazing pooch and we were pretty terrific ourselves. We're all a little the worse for wear. The Saturn just got it's three thousand mile oil change before we left California and already its due for another.
I'll be heading back to Los Angeles in a week. I've decided to let Continental Airlines do the flying. I'll just fasten my seat belt and enjoy the ride.

"Desperation"

I was watching a movie on television based on a Stephen King novel, "Deperation". I was into the movie for the first 12 minutes and then a break for commercials. After the commercials, the movie was shown for another 10 minutes and another comercial break lasting approximately 6 minutes. Then the movie and commercial break for about 5 minutes. And so on and so on. It was beginning to get irritating. No sooner I'd really get back into the movie than there were comercials - not one commercial but, 12 to 14. I know, I counted them! This movie was not a "who dun it" sort of movie. You knew who did it but, you didn't know who was going to be murdered or killed by some sort of Satan being that was uncovered in an old mine. It was supposed to be a terrifying thriller - a nail biter. Much to my dismay, I wasn't terrified - I was irritated at so many commercials. The movie was probably a little over an hour but due to the many, many commerials, it's duration was close to 2 hours. Talk about desperation. I didn't care about the movie any more. I was desperate for the movie to end so I could get on line to e-mail the station showing this movie to give them a piece of my desperation.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Road Trip - Saturday

This has been a five state day -- Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. We were in West Virginia for about twenty miles and Maryland for even less but they still count. The Trip Tik provided by the triple A club has been amazing. Except that those pages and pages and pages of a couple hundred miles of road on a page gave me a pretty narrow view of this road trip. Today I opened a United States map and was astonished to see how far we've traveled. And we're not there yet. Our final destination is Brooklyn and we'll be there around noon tomorrow even though it's just a couple of hours from where we sleep tonight. Tomorrow is a sleep until at least seven travel day.
Today was to be our shortest day in miles and wound up being one of our longest days in time. Blame it on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Blame it on that clearing at the foot of Peak of Otter. Blame it on the closed for the season visitors' center where we sat watching a white tailed deer leap out of the trees and into the clearing. Blame it on the half frozen pond or on the snow along the road. Blame it on the trees and the biting cold air. Blame it on the mountains of leaves crunching under our feet as we walked along a path.
We threw away the schedule today. Instead of driving near the mountains we drove in them. Instead of looking at pictures of the Blue Ridge Mountains, we took our own. Instead of arriving at today's destination well before twilight, we got here well after dark.
No one noticed that we were late. And if we noticed, we didn't care.

Merry Christmas

I guess I'll never grow up. This is the time of year I love placing figurines of people, animals, buildings, lamp posts, etc. together to form little towns. I love placing train tracks throughout the town so the train can ride upon them. It's fun to place small and large trees throughout the village and to place sleds and automobiles in various spots. What's more fun is sprinkling sparkley snow on everything when the town has been completed. Some houses and stores have lights inside so you can just imagine being a little person living in that town. You can think about the merriment of sledding down that steep hill you put together with cardboard and pretend you're riding with Santa and his reindeer and that the elves made each and every toy at the North Pole. You can pretend to be a passenger riding in the train that "toots" every so often. You can pretend you live in one of the houses and that all your neighbors join togther to go Christmas caroling and everybody loves everybody. It's sure fun to be a little one again.

Kitty Diet

My good friend has asked me to look after her kitties while she's on vacation. When I entered her house, I was met by her two kitties. They were looking forlorned and knew I was there to feed them and clean their potty box. But, there was something else I could dedect in their glare at me. I opened the can of cat food and discovered it was "diet" food. That's what they were trying to tell me - they don't like diet food. They also told me about a big bad dog that lived there for a while and they are joyous that the dog decided to join his owner in new premises. Well, I hope my friend doesn't think I'm trying to usurp her, but I did break down today and brought them "real" cat food. They were delighted and quickly devoured it. I told them that was the end of the "real" food for now and they would have to get serious about their diets. They both agreed. If they don't tell their owner I helped them fall off the wagon, then I'll have to.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Road Trip - Friday

Roanoke, Virginia -- The dog will no longer get back in the car without a piece of Snausage held in the window of the opposite door. The most amazing traveller imaginable, he's beginning to get road weary.
Nevertheless, he's always ready for a romp at the Visitor's Center at the home of the Tennessee Smokey baseball team or a sniff around a rest stop that for all the world looks like a park.
And here he is in the heart of Civil War country. We passed the Shiloh memorial and he didn't even blink. Chances are he is not up on human history, especially the less attractive chapters.
Tomorrow we will travel a few miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We'll roll the windows down so all of us can breathe in the air and the memory of one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Friends in the Fog

We did not begin our cross country drive until Boris, the master mechanic at the bottom of my hill, gave the car his okay. Part of that okay involved a gift box of two quarts of oil, power steering fluid, and brake fluid. Each container was carefully labeled just in case we confused motor oil with power steering oil. The brake fluid, Boris added, can be used in a pinch for clutch fluid. And so his label reminds us of that.
This morning I remembered the Boris gift box untouched in the trunk and decided to check the car's oil. Several minutes of dip stick study convinced me that we were at least a quart low. No problem. Just unscrew the oil cap and put in one of the Boris quarts. Except that neither one of us could get the cap off.
Oh well. We needed gas, anyway. So through the heavy fog we drove the ninety yards or so to the Exxon station. Proximity to expertise did not remove the oil cap. The man at the pump next to us seemed friendly. I asked for his opinion regarding this recalcitrant cap. He didn't even smirk as he just lifted it off.
"It's just a half turn, then lift. These things are tricky." Because of his kind manner, I didn't feel at all foolish.
After we poured the new quart in and replaced the cap, our new friend came over and made sure one quart was sufficient. It was.
While all this was going on, a man limped his way to the car at the pump in back of ours.
"Can you get by me?" I asked him.
He smiled and assured me that he had all the room in the world. It was his knees that were the problem.
His wife joined him and they explained that they were driving from Memphis to Dallas for Thanksgiving with family.
"We're headed to Memphis," I added feeling not quite prepared for this type of by the road visiting but beginning to enjoy it.
By the time his knees were working and he had painfully climbed into the car, I had pulled our car into a parking place so we could buy a quart of oil to replace the gift oil.
The man and woman waved and shouted, "Happy Thanksgiving!"
Within minutes we six -- the man at the other pump, the man and woman from Memphis, and the three of us -- had driven in different directions into the fog.
Sometimes even the briefest encounters can leave lasting and fond memories.
That's the way it was in the heavy fog of Mt. Pleasant, Texas.

Road Trip - Thursday

Thanksgiving in Mt. Pleasant, Texas dawned foggy. After our long day chasing after eight-foot rabbits and world famous barbecue on Wednesday, we were glad to stay in the hotel till well after nine waiting for the fog to lift. The hotel's complimentary breakfast bar included the ubiquitous make-your-own-waffle setup, and when I poured the batter in, I noticed that the waffle iron's shape was unusual, but it was not until the waffle was on the plate that I realized that it was in the shape of the state of Texas. Aside from being a little undercooked around Fort Worth, it was delicious.

When the fog lifted, the landscape of East Texas and Arkansas was green fields, rolling hills and trees, trees and trees in a variety of autumn colors. The dog was awestruck. So were we.

I somehow believed that we had to have a traditional turkey dinner, and we tracked one down at Cracker Barrel in East Memphis, Arkansas, just before crossing the Mississippi River into Tennessee. Driving to Nashville in darkness, we could only imagine the beauty of the roadside scenery. Tomorrow, on to the Blue Ridge Mountains into Virginia.

Happy Birthday, Richard

From all of us on the road.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All Roads In Abilene Lead To Harold's


The empty, boarded stores tell the story of so many towns in West Texas where the economy is as bleak as the landscape.
When West Texas ends, though, the mood and the reality also change. The change is dramatic.
Abilene, Texas, is another world from Pecos and Odessa. In Abilene the streets are lined with flower boxes containing not the plastic flowers of Pecos but colorful vegetables -- cabbage and cauliflower and broccoli and chard.
The streets are clean, the stores are busy, and energy seems to seep out of the city's every cell.
Take, for example, Harold's World Famous Pit Bar B Q.
When in Texas, we were told, you must have Texas Bar B Q. Where better to have that than Abilene, we thought.
And so it was that we wound up at Harold's World Famous Pit Bar B Q. Harold's would be off the beaten path except that, in Abilene, most of the paths lead right there. The dirt parking lot was full. The line wound through the restaurant and outside. Harold's is open Tuesday through Saturday from eleven in the morning until two thirty in the afternoon or until the food is gone. The line begins to form at around ten. We waited in line for over an hour. Harold himself was behind the counter cutting the brisket and pouring the sauce.
Harold's family worked with him serving beans and hot water jalapeno corn bread and Cole slaw and emptying trash and generally keeping people happy while they waited and waited and waited. The man behind us, who comes to Harold's as often as he can which is apparently about every other day, said that at Harold's a person learned patience.
In Abilene people are willing to wait in line and visit with old friends and eat a great meal in a hole in the wall cafe that just happens to be world famous.
Abilene isn't that far from Pecos in miles but those miles put it in a different world.

Road Trip - Wednesday - Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Somewhere between Pecos, Texas, and Odessa, Texas, the road curves. For miles before the curve, signs warn motorists of this upcoming event. The curve finally comes without reason. Really, there is no obvious reason for the asphalt to take this gentle three degree or so gentle turn except that, possibly, with so much space it just seemed like the thing to do. The flat land meets the sky forever in this part of the world. A gentle curve in the road is not something to be missed.
Interstates mean deliberate exits to visit places like Odessa. There's no such thing anymore as just pulling over into a parking space and looking around.
Odessa seems like a lot of borrowed stuff. In 1881 Russian railroad workers named this wide, flat prairie bend in the road Odessa after the city in their homeland. Apparently the plains of Russia and the plains of Texas look alike.
Odessa also boasts of a replica of Shakespeare's original playhouse.
We exited for Odessa but not because we wanted to see if the place really looked like Russia or because we wanted to see the playhouse replica.
We got off the Interstate and went to Odessa to see the 8 foot tall Odessa Jackrabbit statue. We had some trouble finding it. Odessa is full of rabbit statues. None of the ones we saw, though, seemed tall enough to fit the bill. So we pulled into a convenience store to ask for directions to the real, the 8 foot tall, Jackrabbit statue.
The woman behind the counter of the 7/11 had few teeth. When I asked her about the statue of the 8 foot tall Jackrabbit, her smile was as broad and as barren as the Texas plain on which she had spent her entire life.
Folks in Odessa are pretty proud of that rabbit.
For the third annual Odessa rodeo the event's organizers thought it would be a good idea to have an event called 'Jackrabbit Roping'. The citizens of Odessa thought the idea was terrible.
So, instead of Jackrabbits being roped at rodeos in Odessa, the town is full of statues of Jackrabbits.
This particular statue really is eight feet tall.
We spent over an hour in Odessa looking for and admiring the statue.
As this road trip winds down in Brooklyn in a few days we might consider the notion that the barrenness of West Texas compels people to do some pretty interesting things. Sometimes folks even get off the Interstate, spend a hour of precious travel time looking for an 8 foot tall rabbit statue, and feel pretty good when they find it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chiles Rellenos in New Mexico

Thirteen years ago, a friend and I drove from New York to California. We stopped in Albuquerque around lunchtime. As travelers do, we bumbled around and decided to lunch in the dining room of a hotel in what I recall as the main square of oldtown Albuquerque. I ordered a chile relleno. My traveling companion, sickened by the unaccustomed heat, altitude and single-digit humidity, ordered a fruit plate and iced tea. With the first bite, I realized that I was eating a masterpiece. I kept trying to offer my poor companion a bite, "Come on, it's okay, it's vegetarian!" I never had a better chile relleno. To this day, I impute to all of New Mexico some mystical power over chiles rellenos. Today, we had lunch in Las Cruces on the drive from California to New York. As travelers do, my current traveling companion and I bumbled around far enough from the Interstate to find a real local Mexican restaurant. I ordered a chile relleno. It was a perfectly fine lunch in a nice place and the price was more than reasonable, but it was not by any means close to the best chile relleno in the world. Even if I was to go back to Albuquerque--about two hundred miles north of Las Cruces--and even if I could find that place again, it wouldn't be the same. Even if the hotel was still there, the dining room would be under new management, or that magnificent cook would have gone on to bigger and better things, or the chile supplier would have left town. And even if everything could be exactly the same, I bet the chile relleno couldn't live up to the build-up I've given it over the last thirteen years. Some things are better left to memory.

Road Trip -- Tuesday

According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, the all American holiday of Thanksgiving didn't originate in 1621 at Plymouth Rock. Of course, we have to consider the source. We're in Texas now. Many Texans, it seems, like their version of Thanksgiving better because in their version the first Thanksgiving took place 23 years before Plymouth Rock. The Spanish conquistador Juan De Ornate arrived with about 600 people at El Paso Del Norte after a terrifying journey across the northern Mexican desert and a dangerous but successful crossing of the Rio Grande River. The Texas version tells that a group of Spanish Franciscan friars held a Mass of Thanksgiving for the safe arrival. During that mass they blessed food which the soldiers and colonists then ate.
Whether that particular story is true, the towns of Southern New Mexico and Western Texas tell the tales of dangers and massacres and growths and declines.
Pecos, Texas, is the largest town in Reeves County. It's on the west bank of the Pecos River. The 2000 census lists its population as a little over nine thousand. At that time it was a regional commercial center for ranching, oil and gas production and for agriculture. Pecos claims to have been the first city in this country to host a rodeo -- July 4, 1883.
Today the main street of Pecos is lined with empty buildings. Broken glass makes the emptiness seem sad and forever. By eight in the evening the streets are empty.
Rooms at the Knights Inn, however, reflect not a depressed town but its finest hospitality. The wireless Internet is free. Artificial trees and flowers fill the rooms which are huge and clean.
Pecos may have empty stores and broken windows. It's spirit, however, at least at the Knights Inn is one of generous attention to detail.

Wisdom

Okay, maybe it wasn't the best decision I have made as a mother... but it's done.  Tomorrow morning at 8:00AM my sixteen year old son will have three impacted wisdom teeth removed from deep inside his mouth.  Yes, I realize it is the day before Thanksgiving but between the orthodontist warning me that all the dental work previously endured  would be ruined and my son's unrelenting soccer schedule, honestly,  it was the only time. These horribly evil teeth have to come out and out they will come.  
This is a child that loves to eat but truly has difficulty consuming enough calories to maintain his weight.  He runs everywhere stopping only to refuel and sleep.  Have I told him that he may have to eat his Thanksgiving dinner through a straw?  Have I told him that he might not be feeling very festive? Does he realize that he'll only begin to feel like his old self  again when it's time to go back to school on Monday?   I am not feeling very wise.  As I look at his sweet and trusting face I decide ignorance is bliss.   You think I would have gotten the hang of this mother thing by now.  

Thanksgiving - What it Means to Me

I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving day. Some years ago, my son was born at an Army base in San Francisco two days after Thanksgiving. On some years, as this year, his birthday falls on Thanksgiving. He's been my greatest blessing ever. He may be somewhat physically disabled but, mentally, he far exceeds the kindest, the most thoughtful and generous and the most loving of all. He has a great spiritual sense and can foresee much into the future. He has a pure heart - a heart of gold. He has taught me patience and profound understanding. What's more, I love and adore him - he's my son!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Road Trip - Monday

Things we've learned along the way: Quartzsite barely in Western Arizona is a town of just about no people during most of the year. However, in January and February the population swells to over a million when people from all over the world encamp for several precious gem and mineral shows. One more thing about Quartzsite: Located in the town's outskirts (of course most of the town is its own outskirts) is one of the world's lesser pyramids. They called him Hi Jolly because no one in Quartzsite could master his real name, Haji Ali. He brought camels to the Western United States as part of some far flung Army project. The camels did great in the desert. Unfortunately, they terrified the horses and the mules and the cattle. The camels were shipped to other places. Hi Jolly remained and died in Quartzsite and there he is buried in his own pyramid.
We've driven to Tucson many times before, we three travelers. Each mile has a memory and its own joy or, in the case of the Courtesy Coffee Shops's closing minutes before our arrival, its own disappointment. Such is the story of roads previously traveled.
Tomorrow begins on this road trip a long stretch of road new to all of us. There are no memories attached except the ones we make for ourselves for this first time journey.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Road Trip - Sunday

Surely you weren't expecting an early crack of dawn start with five or six hundred miles under the first day's belt. If you were expecting such a thing you perhaps are unfamiliar with the participants in this particular road trip -- two middle aged women, a middle aged dog, and a middle aged Saturn.
The road was hit at four. That's afternoon not morning. First stop was Blythe, California.
Blythe is the brunt of a lot of jokes and none of them flattering to Blythe. Blythe in the middle of the summer is nothing to joke about. Blythe in the middle of summer is just a place to fill up the tank if you're desperate and leave as quickly as possible.
Blythe in November is quite lovely. Well, that may be hyperbole but Blythe in November isn't half bad.
The Courtesy Coffee Shop closes at eight on Sunday evenings. We didn't know that. Last year we had both dinner and breakfast at the Courtesy Coffee Shop. It was for sale then. On our return trip, so impressed were we with the Courtesy Coffee Shop, we stopped for lunch there. The Courtesy Coffee Shop almost one year later is still for sale. Still run by the original owners, the staff was hoping it wouldn't sell so they could keep things just the same. Of course, things can never be kept just the same. Those original owners are tired of the long hours and endless responsibility.
But it closed at eight and we walked to the front door at a few minutes after eight. Maybe tomorrow morning we'll catch up on the sale status over breakfast. Maybe not. Life in Blythe can be pretty unpredictable.
The Sizzler up the street stays open until nine. The Sizzler, then, it was. We closed the place down.
People in Blythe are across the board friendly. Maybe they have to try harder to convince people that summer nights in the high one hundred twenties isn't all Blythe has to offer.

Keys

To me, keys denote responsibility. I never needed any when I was a kid. My mother was at home when I came in from school, and if she wasn't, she left one for me under the doormat. When I got to college, you knew you were really a hotshot in the Theatre Department if you had the key to something in the building.

In my former life in California, I was laden with keys. I had keys to my house, keys to my partner's house, keys to my car and keys to my workplace. Now I live in New York. My office building has 24 hour security and no one needs a key. My housemates keep the back door unlocked all day until all of us are home at night. I do have a house key, but I don't carry it. My California house is rented out and my car has been in California, mostly in the repair shop, since I've been gone. It occurred to me after I'd been there about two weeks. No keys. No car to park, no dog to walk, no responsibility. I wake up and someone's already made coffee. I come home from work and someone's made dinner.

Well that's all over, now. I have flown home and we are now going to drive back to New York to bring the dog and set up the new apartment. No more keyless life. My keys are on my belt, as they have been for most of the last thirty years. It was a nice break, but now it's back to responsibility.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Road Trip Minus Day One

Here's the plan. We will drive across country with the dog in a nine year old, one hundred fifty thousand mile Saturn. The dog weights one hundred twelve pounds. The Saturn weights a lot more. The dog is relocating to Brooklyn. He's that kind of a guy. The Saturn is also relocating to Brooklyn.
Another road trip. I love them.
Earlier today I boldly stated that I had never seen Ohio in daylight. Then I immediately retracted the statement because I have flown into Ohio and spent at least a long weekend there. You know. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and all.
That's doesn't count, though, in the world of the road trip. I won't be seeing Ohio at night this go around because we're taking the Southern route. How often, really, do you get to take a large dog to Graceland? That's not a rhetorical question.
Halfway through the AAA Trip Tik the creator of said tool reversed the page directions. I had us going back and forth between El Paso and Pecos at least a dozen times before I suspected something was off.
Let's hope I'm not the full time navigator.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stay of Execution

Governor Sarah Palin issued a stay of execution for one lucky turkey. While she was being interviewed by the media congratulating her for saving the life of a turkey, turkeys were being slaughtered behind her back of which she was unaware. Much to Sarah's chagrin, the media cameras were rolling and picked up the slaughter. It wasn't a pleasant sight. The person slaughtering the turkeys was more interested in watching Sarah being interviewed and didn't pay much attention to what he was doing -- so matter of factly. I'm sure this is not the last we'll hear about this incident.

Doesen't this seem familiar - like some of the rhetoric from the politicians we've been subjected to recently? Maybe they're all a bunch of turkeys too, verbally slaughtering one another!

A Wedding Day Miracle

Rachael Ray, a T.V. talk show host/chef, has got to be one of the most caring of all. Due to the destruction of Hurricane Ike in Harris County, Texas, wedding dreams were postponed. Rachael and staff gathered all that planned to be married when the hurricane hit - some 500 couples. She saw to it that the brides' dreams came true. She arranged for these couples to be married at the Minute Maid Park in Texas (a baseball stadium), turning it into a winter wonderland. Arrangements for the brides' gowns and grooms' tails were made. Flowers, white gold wedding bands, decorations, wedding cakes and catering were donated by companies such as the Houston Astors, David's Bridal, Aramark (catering), Bed, Bath and Beyond, to name a few. Wynonna Judd was the surprise entertainer. I'm sure all couples will agree that this was the most unforgetable wedding ever - a Cinderella wedding.

Work Place Icons




Wherever you work, whatever you do, they're all the same.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Making A List

I made my list today.  Including my nephew the Marine and his two buddies that will join us, I'll host 28 people for Thanksgiving.  I do it every year and always rely on those coming to bring a dish to share.  It makes it interesting and and less stressful.  Since I've been a vegetarian most of my life, I am always thrilled when my friend offers to make and bring the turkey.  Watching her surgeon husband carve it is something to witness and has become a part of the ritual over the years.  Her mother-in-law makes homemade cranberry sauce and soup and mine is in charge of the champagne.  Although two of my kids will not be with us, having a houseful to share in the gluttonous day of gratitude will be fun and comforting.  
After all, who doesn't love Thanksgiving?  It's a story any third grader can tell you and is part of the culture we claim as our own.  It's about people getting along and making room for one another.  It's about tolerance and acceptance.  America, with all its imperfections, is as pluralistic as a nation can be.  It was the Natives who helped the pilgrims survive that first year. The pilgrims set ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11th, 1620 and their first winter was devastating.  Unfamiliar with survival in a foreign land they lost 46 of the original 102 that sailed on the Mayflower.  But the harvest of 1621 was a good one and the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast that included 91 Native Americans who knew what is was like to be persecuted for simply being who you are.  
And so, we'll travel miles to get there at one in the afternoon or five in the evening.  Some of us will choose to spend the day helping to serve others that don't have a home to go to.  Some will invite strangers or those new to the community to share in the meal and others, they'll go out because it's just easier.  Any way you slice it, it's truly an American ritual of sharing, caring and community that ultimately celebrates freedom, something we all believe in.  Something, that makes us proud to live where we do.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Challah Segulah

Bette asked me what I was doing Sunday. "We need to bake challah and pray" she said, "Shelley's friend is really sick with cancer". "What kind of ritual is this?" I asked. I'm a rabbi, and if it was a Jewish ritual, I figured I'd have heard of it. But as it turns out, it is a Jewish custom. It comes from the Chassidic tradition, and it's called a challah segulah. Challah is the braided bread which is traditionally served on the Sabbath, but there is a tradition that a group of 40 women, (or 41, or 43, depending on the custom) baking challah together should pray for infertile women to become pregnant. That tradition mutated, and is also used as a prayer for those in need of healing. Bette's friends from the dog park, none of whom are Chassidic and only some of whom are Jewish, observe the custom. When those among them, or ones that they love, are ill, they gather as many of them as they can and bake challah. I figured, so what if I never heard of it?

Five women gathered in our kitchen and mixed, kneaded, braided, prayed and baked. Two other women baked in solidarity with us in California. As far as we know, Shelley's friend is still hanging in there, and Shelley was very much comforted by the act. We're still eating the challah. What a good custom. I'm glad I heard of it.

Basic Telephone Repair 101

Yes, it's true. I still have land line telephone service. I even have a rotary dial telephone in my garage. I also have a telephone in my kitchen and one in my bedroom. Three phones and not one of them is working right now. No dial tone. No one can call in. I can't call out. I have no idea when useful information stopped appearing on my telephone bill. Sometimes I have trouble even remembering who's is charge of my land line. It used to be Mountain Bell. Then it became Pacific Bell. Then SBC Global waltzed into the picture. Now I make my checks out to AT&T. I just spent some time looking at my most recent bill from AT&T. Forget that I pay way too much for what I get. That's nothing new. What irked me just now is that nowhere on that bill is there a telephone number to call if my phone isn't working. Didn't that used to be a three digit number that everyone knew? My bill gives me the number to call if I want to "Bundle Today" and the number to call if I have questions on my bill. I also see a separate number to call if I want Tariff Information, whatever that is. Nowhere, though, is there a number to call if I can't call. Come to think of it, perhaps AT&T is unaware of the fact that I have a cell phone.
That's okay. I went to their website. Luckily for me I have not 'bundled' otherwise I'd probably be unable to access the Internet, too. On the AT&T website I easily located the 'got problems' tab. After giving essential information and tabbing along through cyberspace for several minutes I came to an absolutely astonishing page. AT&T was telling me how to go to their box (located near my electrical meter, or in my basement, or down the street somewhere), open their box, unplug stuff, plug in stuff, and do all sorts of things in order to determine the nature of my problem. AT&T was telling me how to do its job.
If my cell phone doesn't work, I go to Verizon and get another. I do not receive instructions on cell phone repair.
If I can ever contact AT&T, I'm going to cancel my land line.
Of course, such a cancellation will doubtless require my taking special classes in order to learn the correct way to dump AT&T.
In the meantime, don't bother to call me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hungry In America

The Food Research and Action Center announced yesterday that last year more than 36.2 million people in this country lived in households struggling with hunger. Over eleven million of those people lived hungry. They never got enough to eat. The number of hungry adults and children in this country rises every day. Social service agencies, WIC offices, and emergency food providers tell of overwhelming needs.
People are hungry. Adults and children in this country don't have enough to eat.
Few people these days have discretionary income sufficient for large, charitable contributions. It's amazing, though, how much help a little can provide. A package of dried beans, a can of tuna, a box of powdered milk a week given to a food bank adds up when enough of us contribute.
Indications are that the terrible fire in Santa Barbara County was started by a single ember from a campfire not quite extinguished and that the fire in Yorba Linda was started by one spark from an automobile. One ember and one spark destroyed so much. So much devastation contained in those ones.
One box of macaroni and cheese or one can of soup have power of their own. Given one at a time, those ones add up and have the power to feed if not an entire country then at least thirty or so million people.

Big 3 Bailout

What? The Big 3 (Chrysler, Ford and General Motors) want $25 billion from the $700 billion bailout money the government has allocated for the bailout of banks, businesses, etc. Several years ago, didn't we bailout Chrysler? Why are they in financial problems again? Is it for the CEO and staff's million dollar bonuses? Chrysler needs to restaff and find a staff that knows the word "budget". How many more chances do we need to give Chrysler...and, for that matter, why must American citizens rescue the Big 3? Did any of us receive large bonuses? I'm sure we'd do a much better job if put in control because most of us know what a "budget" is. Do we have to educate the Big 3?

Here's something to think about. Hasn't the reported profits of some oil companies been the greatest in years? That makes me believe the oil companies need to step in here and bailout the Big 3. After all, it would be in their best interest. If we don't have cars, then there won't be such a big demand for gas.

It's time for someone to take control and teach the Big 3 how to run their businesses. We need to stop the CEO's and their staffs from filling their pockets at the expense of American citizens. Haven't they learned from Toyota and Honda, to name a few?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday Ritual

I call my dad every Sunday.  It's become a ritual since my mom passed away about nine months ago.  He's always surprised to hear my voice and for most of the conversation he is happy and positive.  We talk about the kids, his health and the economy usually in that order.  I ask him advice on some aspect of our designated topics to move the dialogue along.  Sometimes I spark a nerve with one of my questions and he passionately lectures me.  I take in all of his words and ask follow-up questions when appropriate.    This time he strays from the script and tells me a about and incident that happened at a little Italian restaurant near his house.   He was enjoying an early dinner when two women approached him.
"Right there in the middle of my goat cheese salad I saw them coming towards me.  One of them I recognized.  She started talking and wouldn't stop.  She was trying to fix me up with her friend, a recent widow, and was about as subtle as a ton of bricks!"  
I softly asked him what happened next and he relayed that he politely said he was still in mourning and quietly went back to enjoying his meal.  He then chuckled and said, "You know why they all want me don't you?"  I waited patiently for him to finish his thought.  "Beyond the fact that I am handsome, fit and a great dancer...I can drive at night!"
At eighty-two he's still got it. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Power To The People

I just returned from many hours in downtown Los Angeles at the rally supporting 'No on 8'. (This post was written Saturday evening, November 15.) It was inspiring. There were at least 40,000 people there. This is a civil rights movement all over again. I almost felt like we should have all been wearing yellow armbands that said "Gay...Regardless of Our Orientation...And Standing Together." One woman near me had a great sign that said: "Mo' No Mo'...Mormon leaving church to support civil rights for all!" The speakers were excellent, and at some points I was moved to tears. I was surrounded by people who were joyous, kind, and determined. Maybe you, too, were there or at some other rally.
I anticipate that there will be more gatherings pushing to have this horrible discriminatory proposition (Yes On 8) overturned by the state or federal supreme court as unconstitutional. It is not okay to deprive our inalienable rights to a part of the population. The history of the world and this country has shown this sort of discrimination over and over. I'd like to think we've learned that when we discriminate against one group, we discriminate against everyone. Who's next?
I hope you will find ways to support the ongoing efforts to get the proposition (the Yes on 8) overturned. And please try to find a way to join me for the next rally.
Power and love to the people.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home Style Miracles

The air smells of smoke. Breathing is tension inducing. The fires consume our attention. Sometimes they seem to be all around us. We live in a battle zone.
This is Southern California when the weather is hot and the humidity low and those Santa Ana winds arrive like evil spirits.
Part of my childhood was spent in the shadow of Diamond Butte. We could sit on our front porch, look across Spring Creek, and peep like toms into the big butte's other world.
One hot summer afternoon we watched as thunderheads gathered in that across the creek other world. We hoped they would save their rain until they got to our side of the creek.
Sipping sun tea, we saw the other world's sky turn black. Angry lightning bolts shot from the heavens toward the butte until one finally made contact. It hit a tree. Probably a juniper or a pinon. Instantly the tree became a torch. The flames spread up and down and across Diamond Butte's southern face.
I was too young to worry that the fire might travel down the butte and toward us. Those things couldn't happen.
Our parents, though, seemed to shift uneasily in their chairs. Our father set his glass of tea on the floor and stood as though added height would provide greater safety.
We were transfixed by the spreading flames. Soon even I began to suspect that this was no ordinary event. I was the last to stand.
The thunderheads suddenly opened to release their cargo. Summer rain slammed into the side of Diamond Butte. In seconds steam rose to welcome the rain. The fires were out.
Our father sat back down and picked up his tea. We did the same.
In less that five minutes we had seen lightning strike a tree, the tree burst into flames, the fire spread, and the rains extinguish the blaze.
Sometimes we don't have to leave home to witness a miracle.

Cruel Kindness, For Example

An oxymoron is defined as any type of utterance whether spoken or written which produces a seemingly self-contradictory effect. Apparently the word oxymoron originated in the 1650s. If something happens with sufficient frequency to require a name, we must assume that self contradiction is an integral part of human communication. By the way, the plural of oxymoron is 'oxymora'. That last bit of trivia allows me to make this next statement with confidence. I love oxymora.
This morning I came across quite a startling oxymoron. In the checkout line of some store or other, I reached into the cooler case to impulsively buy a bottle of water lest dehydration claim me as its own before I got home. Instead of the water bottle, I grabbed the bottle next to it. I had been distracted by a variety of headlines on the magazine rack above the cooler. Apparently Brad is at his wit's end. Michelle Obama is angry at Oprah. Angelina is not a favorite person of Jen's. So engrossed was I by the intensity of the tabloid drama I didn't even notice that I was not buying water until the bottle was in the hand of the check out person and about to be scanned.
I shrieked, "Oh, no!" and grabbed the bottle away from the startled clerk.
Completely transfixed, I held the bottle in front of me, appalled and intrigued by my almost purchase.
Diet Coke Plus.
Plus what besides chemicals sufficient to instantly eat corrosion off of an automobile battery? I held up the check out line to more closely peruse the label. It claimed that, in addition to corrosive chemicals, the drink contained vitamins and minerals. I wanted to know more. The people behind me in the check out line had begun to clear their throats and shuffle their feet. A baby had begun to scream. Even though I doubted the baby screamed at me, I did the polite thing. I bought the Coke.
I'm glad I bought it because I now have time to share the ingredients directly from the label: carbonated water, magnesium sulfate, caramel color, phosphoric acid, potassium sorbate and potassium benzoate (to protect taste), aspartame, natural flavors, acesulfame potassium, caffeine, zinc gluconate, niacinamide (vitamin B3), pyridoxine hydrochloriide (vitamin B6), cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) and phenylketonurics.
Aside from possibly the carbonated water, none of that stuff sounds good. If it were on the menu of even an awful restaurant, I wouldn't order it.
It does appear that the product contains, as claimed, vitamins and possibly even some minerals. Doubtless so does dirt.
I've had a grease spot on my garage floor for some time. Just for fun, I poured my drink on that spot. The result was even more astonishing that the drink's indirect claim to be healthy. What scrubbing and cat litter and wire brushes couldn't do, my Coke could. The grease spot is gone apparently vaporized by the harmless chemicals in the drink.
My only remaining question is, "What keeps the stuff from eating through its plastic bottle?"