Friday, October 31, 2008

Washington Ghost Stories For Halloween

As if things weren't scary enough in Washington right now, many believe that President Lincoln has never left the White House -- that his spirit remains waiting to complete his second term. For years presidents, first ladies, guests, and members of the White House staff claim to have either seen Lincoln or felt his presence. So when is he going to get to it and resume office?

The Rose Room is believed to be one of the most haunted spots in the White House. In it is Andrew Jackson's bed. People have felt his presence and say that "Old Hickory" still lives in his former bedroom.

When Mrs. Woodrow Wilson lived in the White House, she ordered gardeners to dig up the Rose Garden. Dolly Madison had planned and built the garden. As the workmen started to comply with the request of Mrs. Wilson, they saw Dolly Madison standing in front of them and ran away. The Rose Garden has bloomed for nearly two hundred years.

When Abagail Adams moved into the White House, she couldn't decide where to hang the family wash. She finally selected the warmest and driest place in that cold and damp mansion. A clothes line was strung between the walls of the East Room. It is said that to this day the ghost of Abigail Adams is seen hurrying toward the East Room -- with arms out stretched as if carrying a load of laundry.

Of course not one of those alleged White House ghosts is as terrifying as its present, living occupant. And the deeds of that current resident will haunt us for decades.

Gavin Newsom On Prop 8

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bet

My parents have a bet with their live-in home health aide. My parents are betting that Barack Obama will win the election for president. Their aide is betting that John McCain will win. It is a two-dollar bet - my father is very careful with money. It's not that Mary--their aide--doesn't want to see Obama as president. She does. It's just that she is from Lithuania and she is accustomed to seeing elections get stolen. "I hope it is not true", she says, in an accent to which I could not possibly do justice, "But I think they will not let him be president". Yesterday, the New York Times had a front page feature about African-American voters in the south strategizing how to cast their votes. Some think that if they vote early, by absentee ballot, that they will have time to fix it if their vote is discounted. Others are counting on going to the polls on Election Day because an early ballot can be lost. Like Mary, they don't believe that this election is going to be fair.

How is it that we can use computers to do banking, buy airline tickets, donate to charity and trace the shpping on our merchandise orders, but we can't use them as a secure voting system? Why can authorities find out who is qualified to serve jury duty or whose driver's license is up for renewal with remarkable accuracy, but a person's right to vote can always be questioned? How is it, that after two presidential elections in which gross electoral fraud was discovered, the system has not been overhauled?

Mary said she hopes she's wrong and I hope she is, too. We need to watch the voting in this election very closely.

Election Day Memories

The cattle ranch of my childhood was the polling place for our corner of Yavapai County. Perhaps thirty people came to our house in the Arizona desert each election day. A few days before the election my parents received their polling place supplies -- tiny American flags, sample ballots, actual ballots, sealing wax, the official ballot envelope which would be sealed with the wax when all of the registered voters had come to the ranch and left again to go to their ranches, quill type pens and bottles of ink -- all sorts of magical stuff. In preparation for election day, my mother baked cookies and my father raked the yard.
The election days of my childhood were magnificent. People who never came to our house came on those days for no reason other than the privilege of voting.
John and Frank Goodwin and Florence who was married to one of the two brothers crowded into the front of their pickup. One Armed Joe sometimes spent the entire day visiting with my father. Once he started to leave and my father reminded him that he'd come to vote. Old Mrs. Pickett came with her middle aged son who Mama said had tuberculosis. Oscar and Lillian were all business and never stayed to visit. Lillian always had something or other on the stove at home. Daddy sometimes said that it was probably one of our chickens. Mr. Kenny, who left his home in Kansas at age nineteen years because his doctor had told him he had one year left to live, arrived in his 1921 Dodge truck. I tried to always watch him crank the engine to start it after he had voted. Mr. Kenny lived to be 103 and voted in many elections before his year to live ended.
It wasn't easy for those people to come out of the desert mountains and vote and every election they showed up proud to be a part of the process.
My parents were serious, attentive business during the election days. There was no ballot tampering. Each one of those couple dozen votes was important. Polling place rules and procedures were strictly enforced by my parents.
After the elections, my brother and I got to keep some of the unused supplies -- the flags and the pens and the ink and the unused sealing wax and the sample ballots. For weeks after each election we practiced voting. We knew the sample ballots by heart. We sealed self made election envelopes with the heated wax.
For us on that isolated desert ranch, an election day was an event not to be missed. Those desert dwellers believed with all their hearts that their votes mattered. And they were never undecided.

Don't Blame Me

I had one of those dreams the other night that woke me up.  My middle son, age 20, was a middle-aged man. 
If that wasn't scary enough, he was blaming ME for not encouraging him enough to register and vote in what would have been his first presidential election. He was scolding me that he didn't vote in the most important election of the century!  
It took me a few minutes to find reality.  
It wasn't the easiest feat to get him to register.  He knew that California was solid blue so he thought he could sit this one out.  He also believed not registering would keep him out of the thing he dreaded most which was he confessed, the jury pool.  
After a gentle yet unrelenting family discussion, which included his older brother who voted early, my apolitical son acquiesced and registered as an independent.  With his commitment to being a participant in the political process so new,  I think we'll make a date to go on Tuesday together.  

From A Jewish Mother

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Then And Now

Between my two older sisters my mother had a boy.  He weighed two pounds, a few ounces and lived for two days.  That was over 50 years ago.  "They just didn't save babies that small back then,"my parents would often say.  They were told to go home and try again.  No discussion, no good-by.  Unfinished business.
As I listened to a young man talk about his preemie daughter last night I thought about the baby my mother named so long ago and the grief she periodically expressed throughout her life.  
The tired young parent drew me back in with his pride. "She weighed just two pounds."  He spoke like it was years ago and then with tears in his eyes added, "She's almost ten months and ten pounds.  It's like a miracle."

Nothing To Do With Schools

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time Out Of Joint

I work in New York. My boss works in Los Angeles, but he travels a lot. My big boss works in Jerusalem and he travels even more. Big is used as a term of importance, here. Both of them tower over me physically.

Los Angeles is three hours earlier than New York. Jerusalem is six hours later than New York. I have an important meeting tomorrow and I have to talk to the big boss before I attend it. He isn't in Jerusalem. He is flying to Lisbon, arriving at 8:30 p.m. Portuguese time. That's 4:30 p.m. New York time. I called my boss in Los Angeles a while ago to let him know. He was at lunch. Well, of course he was. It was 1:00 p.m. in California.

Next week, the two of them and my colleague, who is usually in the office next door to me, are flying to Budapest for a conference. It will be a relief to have them all in the same time zone, even if said time zone is 5 hours ahead of me.

Oops, it's 8:43 p.m. in Lisbon. Gotta go.

Religious Leaders Against Prop 8

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dr. Mom is Back

The medical community has gone full circle - back to the days of "Mother Knows Best". (I know it was "Father Knows Best" but go along with me - it fits into this blog.) Maybe she was smarter and wiser than was thought. You would think with all the medical marvels and technologies our so-called experts could create antibiotics that would ward off infection. For a good part they have failed. Some medical treatment now involves bee stingers and leeches to cure blood ailments, maggots to heal wounds and tiny biting fish to clean humans suffering from psorisis. What next? This is just some of the ole time treatment being in use in moderan society. Who knows what the medical community will take out of "the old vault" to be used in place of antibiotics to which humans have become immune.

What Goes Down...

Someone asked me at a dinner party the other evening if I sold all my Citibank shares.  
Why he would ruin such  lovely evening with talk of the ailing stock market was beyond me. 
In his defense recent comparisons to the "Great Depression" have tapered the confidence of even the most optimistic of pundits.  No one is opening their statements and many with short (and not so short) time horizons have cashed out.  
Where is the bottom?  It's the question that moves us to listen to those on soapboxes and look to the heavens for answers.  With our fears and worries exposed, we wait for a ray of sunshine.
I remembered something my my dad told me years ago as I listened to the day's financial woes.
"Everything in the universe follows a pattern."  It hit me that it was time for us (the world's economy) to learn the lesson again.  Bad choices, greed and denial.  The bottom had to fall out for us to pay attention.    Sure, I'm angry too.  There were people that should have warned us (because they knew)  of the impending  "financial tsunami" and there were those we should have listened to.   All the chicken littles that quietly warned the sky was falling.  But, if my dad is right, the next part of the pattern (perhaps the next quarter) will bring a slow but bullish recovery.  Like my dad, I'm an eternal optimist.  

Listen To Ellen

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who Dun It?

I'm a murder story junkie. I love who dun its. Did the butler or pool man do it? Did mom or dad do it? Did the doctor or nurse slip a deadly substance into the needle? Questions, questions and questions. Such intrigue. Sitting on edge with twist after twist so that you can't guess who murdered who. I can't help it. I've been hooked most of my life.

I love forensics too with all the new technologies at the disposal of experts. Step by step I enter into that fantasy land of murder and throughout the book or movie I'm trying to figure out the guilty party and in doing so, I feel like Sherlock Holmes. How the blood flows throughout my body!

It started years ago. I bought every one of Agatha Christi's mystery books. I'd read them every spare moment. Then I switched to authors like Stephen King, Dean Kuntz and Patricia Cornwell to name a few. These novels/books were in even more detail and were so interesting I had to keep on reading and couldn't hardly put them down.

Ever been to a mystery dinner party ? What fun. One party I attended was very well done. The murderer was sitting across the table from me. I knew him well, I thought, and didn't think he could hide the fact that he was the bad guy. I really thought he would give it away but, I was wrong. He actually was a very good actor. He ran around and around the room pointing a fake gun while his captor followed also holding a fake gun. Bang! Bang! He fell to the floor with fake blood oozing out from his coat.

The host keeps everyone involved and on edge stating there's a murderer in the room right now and may be sitting at one of the ten tables. Clues are placed on each table and the people at each table confer with each other hoping to solve the case. If you haven't been to one of these parties, you're really missing out on loads of fun! If you don't know of someone who's having one, have one yourself.

Ghouls, Witches and Goblins

Halloween reminds me of a story. When my son was 3 years old, we lived in a large family apartment complex - some 285 units. The complex had social events for almost all holidays - adults and children alike. I was involved with the children's activities. We had a Halloween party for the children and after the party, they were excorted by moms and dads to all the apartments to trick or treat. When they rang doorbells, the porch light was lit, the door opened and treats were offered. Some of the tenants dressed up for this occasion which made it lots of fun. When my son rang the doorbell of one of our neighbors, she answered the door in her witch costume and let out a crackley, "Who is it?" She then slammed open the front door and asked in a witchy voice, "Who is this young man?" and cackled. She acted her part so perfectly that my son thought she was real and ran as fast as he could home. I had trouble keeping up with him. He was frightened and crying. I had no idea he would react this way. When I told him that our neighbor was acting (in reality, she acted in many Hollywood films), my son didn't believe me so I took him back to her front door the following day struggling to get him there. She answered the door without costume, in normal clothes and spoke to him telling him she was an actress and was only acting the part. He was still frightened and could hardy wait to get away from her door. For several years after, he thought she was a real scary witch and stayed away from her area.

As a child, can you remember what impressed you the most about Halloween?

Mom was wrong

My mother, of blessed memory, was clear.  "Jewish boys don't play football."  I tried to pass along this fact to my sons but I was constantly outnumbered and ignored.  
This time around it is my sixteen year old who made the varsity football team as a junior and would start in the Homecoming game on Friday night.  
Just as many Jews around the world were preparing for the sweet rest of Shabbat, my son would be suiting up in his armor to take down whatever opponent got in his way.  The dread I felt was greeted by my husband's sweet smile acknowledging the inevitable evening that awaited me.  As he swiftly pushed me out the door, he made sure I had a sweatshirt and that we had enough time to grab a quick bite before kickoff.  He thought he had all my possible reasons (excuses) for not going or leaving early covered.  
Finding our way into a spot in the metal bleachers took maneuvering.  People were chanting for their player and team, jumping up and down and stomping their feet.  It was loud and violent and the crunching sounds emanating from the field sent shivers up my spine.  
I thought if it got too unbearable I would  take out my phone and read the Torah portion.  How odd that I could observe Shabbat in my own way while bodies were crashing together on a field of green.
A soft nudge redirects my attention.  Tom points to the field and tells me to look for #31.  It takes me a few moments to find him under the glaring lights.  I began to watch with one eye praying that my muscular but small child wouldn't get hurt.   A few moments later I heard Tom cheering loudly like all the others.  "What happened," I said.  "Your son made a great tackle," he replied with pride.  "Listen."  A few moments  later the voice on the loud speaker confirmed his statement and turned the number into a name.  Someone patted Tom on the back.  I took a deep breath, put my sweatshirt on, my phone away, thought of my mom and cheered softly for #31.  

Time Management And Other Follies

I have begun my annual descent into madness. Only when I have acquired the perfect calendar will I climb back up that precarious ladder into the light of normal functioning. We're talking my normal functioning here, not yours.
My schedule is neither so full nor so complicated that it requires the most perfect time management tool. I'm neither that busy nor that important. Nevertheless, a perfect tool is the focus of my end of October beginning of November obsession.
I generally buy my first calendar on hysterical impulse even though I know it will soon be rejected and spend its year in a desk drawer because, of course, time cannot be discarded even into the recycling bin. I will make that first purchase because my anxiety that all of the calendars will be gone within seconds of placement on the shelves will outweigh all other thoughts. That first purchase will be made at an art supply store. I will then begin prowling the calendar sections of book stores. I will probably go on line to see if other countries have better calendars than those available locally. Ultimately I will buy the same style calendar I have used for the past four years. Hopefully I will check to make certain it's for the year to come and not for the year about to be completed.
Yesterday in the check out line to pay for stage one of this predictable and completely out of control cycle, I saw a friend. She looked about as crazed as I felt. With no word of greeting she said, "I'll never find the perfect calendar. And every year I buy about a dozen of them and never like any of them."
I threw my arms around her. Misery really does love company. We were about to buy identical calendars. We'll doubtless run into each other at several book stores and office supply stores and if there are on line chats available for folks such as us we will certainly spend time with other desperate souls chatting about time and its management.
In the meantime, of course, time is slipping away.

Lies As Scare Tactics

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interesting Dilemma

My son’s girlfriend came over yesterday when she knew he wasn’t home. She was disturbed about many things and ultimately wanted to know why her twenty-year old boyfriend wasn’t as committed to their relationship as she was.
It was an interesting dilemma.
For months I have been gently encouraging my son to go forth in the world to find himself after he graduates from culinary school. We’ve told him our own stories of leaving one place for another, hoping he will find the strength and confidence to continue his learning wherever it might take him. My heart went out to this highly competent young woman who wore her heart on her sleeve as she pleaded her case to me. I gave her my full attention as she laughed and cried and shared with me her hopes for my son and their relationship.
"Ouch," I thought to myself. "You are so young. Work on your own life. Figure out who you are. How wonderful to be nineteen. Go out and change the world. "
That's what I wanted to say. Instead, I nodded and smiled sympathetically. I couldn’t fix this one. As I watched her leave I realized it was an act of pure frustration and desperation to seek my counsel. I wondered about her passionate and delicate heart and the woman she would become.

Because It's The Right Thing To Do

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hadassah Blocker z"l

The appellation z"l is Hebrew shorthand for zichrona livracha - may her name be for a blessing. Hadassah Blocker, who died this week at the age of 94, was a remarkable woman. She was the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, one of the first Jewish women to attend Radcliffe College, and, for 32 years, directed Camp Pembroke, a Jewish girls camp in Pembroke, Massachusetts. For four years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was a counselor at Camp Pembroke. At my interview with her before my first year there, she said, "If it's a girls' camp, who do you think chants the Torah at Shabbat morning services?" I figured that a mumbled "dunno" was my best bet for an answer. "I do", she said proudly.

Hadassah's Torah reading made a huge impression on me, although I was unaware of it at the time. As my religious observance increased, as I learned how to read and chant Torah myself, as I applied for rabbinical school, and in my years as a rabbi, Hadassah's influence has stayed with me. A couple of years ago, a former Pembroke camper brought her son to the Claremont Colleges, where I was then the rabbi. She told me that Hadassah, after retiring from Camp Pembroke, had for many years taught adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes at her synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts. Just a year earlier, she had moved to an assisted living facility, where she taught the other residents to read Torah.

I am not entirely sure of this, but I think Hadassah died on the day of the festival of Simchat Torah. How appropriate. No one found more happiness in Torah than she did. As I attend synagogue tomorrow, and hear its opening paragraphs read, I'll be thinking of her.


Too late! The whirlwind is just gathering momentum. Through the Senate investigation, Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chairman, admits he has made some mistakes. Some? He thought banks and financial institutions could protect their clients/shareholders. This proved wrong as evidenced by the economical crisis - not only in the U.S. but world wide. Greenspan says this is the biggest credit tsunami in the history of the United States. He's sorry for the state of affairs but the citizens are paying for his mistakes. We are facing hard times - Sorry? Not sorry enough.

Honi's Tree

I turned fifty this year. Most of my friends (mostly those older) were quick to tell me that I was headed for the best years and that I had finally lived long enough to have respected opinions on anything I chose to talk about. I don't know if that is true. In fact, most of the time I don't feel like I know much of anything. As I watch my retirement fund dwindle and my youngest son's 529 college fund shrink and so many lose their homes and jobs, I wonder when things will get better. I don't worry for myself so much. I worry about the people Honi planted the tree for.
Honi was an old man and someone walking by saw him planting a seedling. The passerby asked Honi why he was bothering planting something so small that would not grow tall enough in his lifetime to give him fruit or shade.
Honi didn't care. He kept planting.
And that's the one thing I am learning at fifty.
Planting seeds is probably the most powerful thing a person can do.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I love Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet told me yesterday (along with 14,000 other women) that I had nothing to worry about. Seated in the middle of the Long Beach Convention Center's huge arena, I listened to every word the oracle of Omaha had to say. With his down to earth, almost grandfatherly demeanor, he addressed the women's conference with candor, experience and humor.
"Stay in the market. Re-invest," he roared.
"I don't know what the market will do tomorrow or a year from now but I do know this. The country, the system, works."
These were the words I wanted to hear from this kind, old billionaire. But were they to be believed?
I desperately wanted to bring his message home with confidence, telling friends, clients and relatives that their 401ks and IRAs were safe and, unless (of course) they had less than five years before retirement, they should stay one hundred per cent in the game.
"No one can time the market so don't try. Buy into businesses that an idiot could run. Be fearful when people are greedy and greedy when people are fearful."
I furiously wrote down all of the icon's one-liners I could that described his philosophy of investing and of life.
He explained how the beginnings of the economic mess started in 2006 with lenders pushing their 'no money down products' to Americans who believed that home prices would continue to increase in profit year after year. Lenders didn't worry. Banks believed they would profit. And the world leveraged up and up and up.
The bubble burst. Mistrust became widespread. The system froze.
It will be sloppy to fix, he promised, but assured that it is fixable. With 80% of the money decisions made by women, he had an attentive audience. One day later as I watch the market's continual decline, I answered an email from my 23 year old son living in New York. He was worried about his 401K that he recently signed up for at work. I couldn't help laughing. With at least 32 years of financial growth ahead of him, I told him to resist the impulse to stuff it in the mattress and to stay in the game.

Part D

There is a way around the Medicare "gap" or "doughnuthole" that many senior citizens find themselves in. The government did senior citizens or the disabled no good by initiating Part D Medicare. Medicare Part D covers 80% for medications while the beneficiary pays 20% up to a cap of approximately $2,100.00. When $2,100.00 is reached, the beneficiary now pays 100% for his or her medication up to approximately $5,200.00. When $5,200.00 is attained, Medicare will kick in 90% of the medication with 10% still being paid by the beneficiary. Who thought this one up?? Medicare premiums are way up and senior citizens still have to pay. Senior citizens are on a fixed income (as if this is news) making it almost impossible to buy their medications and therefore skip medications simply because they can't afford them. Oh sure, Medicare has programs for low income beneficiaries but, not too many will qualify. It's set up that way.

Senior citizens need to start shopping medications. Some pharmacies will give a 20% discount to those not insured. Big discount super markets give even bigger deals. Then there are the borders - Mexico and Canada. Pharmaceutical companies need to stop excalating costs. We need to stop filling the pockets of the CEO's of the large pharmaceutical companies. We are sick of it!

California, Please

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sukkah City

For the last eight years, I have constructed a sukkah, the fragile tabernacle for which the holiday of Sukkot (the feast of Tabernacles, naturally) is named. For the last eight years, I have had a spacious California backyard in which to construct such a thing. Now, I am sharing a home in Brooklyn with sukkah-less friends, and my sukkah is in a storage facility in West Covina, California. The holiday ended yesterday, and today, on the day of Simchat Torah, the last holiday of this Jewish-holiday-stuffed month, I wandered through an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood just a few blocks away. Space is at a premium--this is New York, after all--but just about every house boasted a sukkah. In each driveway, front lawn, or alley stood a shlumpy little booth representing both the joy of the harvest and the fragility of human existence. When I lived in California, I had the only sukkah in the neighborhood. I would say that I had the only one in Pomona except that the Reform synagogue a mile away from me had one. My neighbors gawked at my sukkah and my gardener shrugged her shoulders in bewilderment and mowed the lawn around it. And here I am now in Sukkah City, and me without one. Oh well, wait till next year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That Man Who Smiles And Waves

Years ago he spent the weekends in his drive way in front of his garage. He always seemed to be working on some project involving saw horses and wood and hammers and stuff. His big, white dog stood beside him. Always. Somehow regardless of the project, the man managed to hear each car stopping at the stop sign and then turning from my street onto the bigger street -- his street. Each time this stop and turn happened, he'd stop his work and smile and wave. This has been going on for years and years and years. Many years ago the white dog disappeared from the tableau. Someone who used to live on my street said that the dog's name was Lightening. I don't know if that was the dog's name or if the neighbor named the dog himself just to feel closer to the man who smiled and waved and his dog. I'm thinking the dog died after living a long and happy life of monitoring his human's weekend carpentry projects. The years passed until one week day I noticed the man who smiled and waved sitting on a bench at his front door. I stopped at the stop sign and he smiled and waved. I smiled and waved back. I guessed he'd retired and could devote full time to acknowledging those driving in front of his house. More years passed and no matter how often I came down my hill and stopped at the stop sign to make the right turn onto his street, there he was smiling and waving. Except for the past two weeks he hasn't been sitting there.
I'm hoping he's taken his first vacation in over thirty years. I'm hoping he's gone off to a nice beach condo for a month or so. I'm hoping he's sitting on a bench somewhere smiling and waving at people going by on roller blades or bicycles or on foot.
Maybe while he's there one of those people will stop and ask him his name. Maybe one of those beach people will stop and tell him how truly peaceful and comforting it is to know there's someone who just likes to smile and wave.

Lawn And Bumper Stickers

Instead of pulling in the driveway as we usually do, Tom kept going and we took a survey of the lawn politics in our thirty-house Claremont, California, development. We noticed that six of the eight houses that had a McCain-Palin sign also had a 'yes on eight' sign by its side. The Republican Party sadly proselytizing a fundamentalist view that places its morality on every citizen. Our faces lit up when we found a little pocket of five homes that had Obama-Biden signs. Excluding ours, that still left sixteen houses unaccounted for. I wondered where all the others stood. Were they too lazy to get a sign? Were they simply uninterested? Did they believe that politics was strictly a personal thing? Was my development filled with undecideds? I didn’t know. When we got out of the truck I noticed that Tom had stopped and was staring at the back of his vehicle. I asked him what was wrong. He didn’t say anything and then pointed to the back bumper on his Tahoe.

“Oh my God,” I said. "I wonder when this happened?” Someone earlier that day had placed a McCain/Palin bumper sticker over his Obama/Biden sticker. The thought that we had been driving around like that left us both feeling violated. For the first time in our lives we were both worried what the neighbors would think.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Different Kind Of Graduation

My sister’s oldest son decided to enlist in the Marines in the middle of his junior year in high school. Reverberations of disbelief and concern were felt as the news traveled though our family. Although my sister was sure she would be able to talk her then sixteen year old son out of his decision, a few weeks after his eighteenth birthday, he boarded a plane from Denver to San Diego with only a determined smile and the clothes on his back.
A sweet young soul that tolerated high school and got into his share of scrapes with his parents and the law had made a life-changing choice that was foreign and frightening. After over a year of trying to talk him out of it, he was gone.
We were all numb. They had him now. We offered comfort and hope to my sister that the war would be over before his future deployment. While we all knew it mostly likely wasn’t true and that he would probably end up in Afghanistan, we didn’t talk much about anything but being there for his graduation from boot camp at the Marine Corp recruiting Depot on Oct 17th.
As we took our seats in the bleachers we witnessed the pageantry of the ritual. Every Friday six-hundred young men with an average age of nineteen become US Marines. The difference on this day… one of them was my nephew. They marched in front of us with clenched fists, straight backs and expressionless faces. They moved in perfect unison. My sister tried desperately to find her son’s face as they passed by. “That’s him,” she shouted a few times only to see that it was the wrong platoon number. “They all look the same. I can’t find him,” she said with growing frustration.. After a few moments we looked at each other and realized, that was exactly the point.
When it was over and my nephew was able to greet us, it took a few moments for him to unclench his body and accept our hugs. He then resumed his perfect stance and smiled. He was proud of his accomplishment and we were proud of him. It was then I cried.

Anything Else Is Just Wrong

More Vehicle Adventures

One more trip in a rented U-Hall. This trip required only a cargo van. The vehicle must have been put together with a child's worn out construction set. My brother had one of those in our childhood and I envied with all of my heart. This cargo van may have been his last project before abandoning the construction set in favor of football and girls.
The suspension of this particular vehicle was not nearly as effective as that of the worst constructed Conestoga Wagon. Every pebble in the road threatened to send the van careening out of control. Sixty miles round trip I had to drive that thing and then return it with the fuel tank at least half full. The day was hot despite predictions of cool rain. I was tired and irritated when I pulled up to the Shell station. A woman appeared to be just finishing filling the tank of her subcompact car. However, she continued to sit in the driver's seat way past the point when the tank had to be full. She was sorting through papers. Twice she got out of her car to throw away papers. Each time she got out, I inched closer thinking surely she would replace the fuel nozzle, cap her tank and drive away.
Each time she got out of her vehicle we made eye contact. Perhaps she misread my expression. Perhaps she thought I was having the time of my life. Perhaps she thought that I wanted to spend way too many of my precious moments on this planet stuck in a U-Haul cargo van. Perhaps she had become mesmerized by the recorded video of a Shell guy welcoming each customer to the station.
"You know," I wanted to shout, "he's not real. He's not talking to you."
I tried to keep my face expressionless. I didn't want to inspire some sort of passive-aggressive episode during which she elected to crawl under her car and begin changing her oil.
Blessedly, she finally finished her day's filing and actually returned the nozzle, capped her tank, got in her car, and drove off.
I pulled my rattling, shaking cargo van to the pump dreaming of the Negra Modelo I would drink should I actually complete this adventure and return home. I cut off the flow of gasoline at twenty dollars and three cents hoping that I'd filled the tank to the half mark.
My vehicle luck is changing. With a tank exactly half full, I returned the U-Haul cargo van. I've been home a couple of hours. I can still feel the shaking, careening motion of that vehicle. I'm beginning to get it though. I'm no longer behind its wheel.

Sympathetic Magic

My friend, Bob Capri, believed that the things touched and used by the people we love retain a power. He called that power 'sympathetic magic'. That's why, he believed, we hang on to articles of clothing and tools and books used and loved by people we've lost. He had lost a good many and many good people in his life and then I lost him.
Today I found myself, literally, driving a mini van along California's '210 corridor'. I last sat in the driver's seat of this particular vehicle because my friend was too sick to drive it herself. I last sat in the driver's seat of this particular vehicle a little more than fifteen months ago. I'm driving this particular vehicle right now because on Saturday I ran out of all vehicles in my charge.
I wasn't looking forward to driving this particular mini van because sitting in the driver's seat, I knew, would bring back too many memories. This, though, is Southern California and not even a trip to the corner grocery store can be accomplished without some sort of vehicle. So there I was in the mini van.
Earlier I had released the hood instead of the parking brake but about half way to my day's destination I had formed a truce with my emotions.
I'm getting over a cold. I couldn't reach my handkerchief. I knew, though, that all I had to do was extend my right arm a little and I would find a box of tissue. Had I been borrowing her coat instead of her car I would know to just put my hand in the right pocket and I would find a small packet of tissue. Some things you just know.
It was that box of tissue in just the right place that allowed that mini van to work Bob's sympathetic magic. All of a sudden I felt good and content. I laughed because I knew she would be laughing at yet another episode of what she called 'Mary's Amazing Auto Ballet'.
I tuned the radio to a country station and turned the volume up to a heart pounding level. The music wasn't anything resembling the ballet but for this trip she could be in the driver's seat just one more time.
Thanks, Bob. Now I know why sometimes I just sit and hold that book you gave me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Not My Best Moment

There they were on the corner. Perhaps five of them holding their self-righteous placards of hatred. They didn't look like monsters and yet their goal is monstrous. Those people and many more like them want to take away the civil liberties of a significant portion of the California population. Those people and many more like them want to pass a proposition that would take away the right of men and women to marry. Those people and many more like them live in constant states of terror -- afraid that if two women marry or two men marry then those people and many more like them will be forced to marry a goat or a hamster or a daddy long legs spider. Their reasoning is absurd. However, their hatred is manifold.
We were riding along, my friend and I, following that now infamous tow truck to my neighborhood garage. The mere sight of those people and their placards and their self righteous expressions immediately raised my blood pressure to an alarming level. I felt the top of my head would explode and cover them with my pulsing, angry brain. I rolled down my passenger side of the car window at first to breathe in some of California's excuse for fresh air. I didn't organize the words that flew out of my mouth in a shout the minute air entered my lungs. But there they were hurling at them -- that famous two word vulgarity involving activities done under the consent of the king and a much maligned bodily orifice. Then, apparently anticipating a complete lack of comprehension on the part of those people, I added emphasis with my index finger. My friend echoed my sentiments in an even louder voice.
Clearly the two of us had suffered an empathic breakdown in the extreme.
It wasn't my finest moment nor was it hers.
Come to think of it, though, the fact that this issue is even on the ballot does not reflect a fine moment for justice and respect and constitutional rights.
Looking back on the events that lasted no more than a few seconds, I don't even think they noticed us. Hatred, it seems, can dull all senses.

The Holland Tunnel

Last Wednesday, I took a bus to New Jersey to visit my parents, and we returned to New York via the Holland Tunnel. I was brought back to the days of my youth, when I was utterly fascinated by the tunnel. Its tile walls are often interrupted by oddly shaped metal doors with rings to open them--what are those, anyway?--and glassed-in booths where attendants used to stand in the days when the Port of New York/New Jersey Authority had the money to pay them. But the most fascinating thing to me was the line drawn in the middle of the tunnel which divides the state of New York from the state of New Jersey. I used to hope that we would get stuck in traffic right at the line, so that the front seat of our car, with my mother and father, would be in one state, and the back seat, with my sister and me, in another. It never happened. I don't know what I loved so much about that line. Maybe, it is that, in the Holland Tunnel, boundary lines are clearer than they are in life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Car Jail

While my own Saturn is dropping dead every two blocks in California, there are other Saturns in trouble here in New York.

Yesterday, my best-and-oldest friend, with whom I am living, had her Saturn towed; not an uncommon occurence here in the land where alternate side of the street parking regulations were invented. She went to reclaim it and realized that she had lost her driver's license. No license, no car, she was told, and so I came along with my valid California driver's license. We took a cab to a grim and desolate corner of Brooklyn and arrived at the NYPD Tow Yards. By this time, night had fallen and a chill had set in, just to set the mood. We walked along a path surrounded on both sides by chain link fence to a rickety building in the middle of nowhere. The line of those waiting to reclaim their cars was long and, for obvious reasons,no one was in a good mood. The walls were painted an utterly cheerless industrial blue. A long glass window separated the workers from those of us separated from our cars. Every few feet along its length, a handwritten sign warned us "Do not come to the window until you are called!! Stand behind the "T" on the floor!!" We were lucky enough to draw the window of the worker who had helped my friend earlier, and passed through quickly once I produced my license. Then we were told to wait outside. An NYPD van, flashing its police lights, pulled up, and we were both ready to get in. "Not both of you - only the driver", the cop at the wheel said. That would be me; the one with the license. I hoped I would recognize my friend's car when I saw it. And so I took off on a ride through what seemed to be the world's largest parking lot. If New York can collect on all those cars, the city's money troubles should be over.

The car was retrieved and all is well except for the outrageous parking ticket and tow fees my friend had to pay. One in car jail and the other in the repair shop. On opposite ends of the country. Bad weekend for Saturns.

My Car Is Deader Than Yours

For a few weeks I have two vehicles. What a perfect time, I thought, to get the oil changed on my Jeep. Down the hill to the garage I drove it. I carefully dropped the key into the key slot and walked home feeling incredibly clever only to discover that my temporary and extra Saturn would not start. My neighborhood garage was closed for the weekend. No problem. Triple A came to my rescue and started the car. I drove it to my noon appointment. Afterwards, of course, the car wouldn't start. Back came triple A to my rescue. Same jovial guy in his 'to the rescue' tow truck. "No problem," he said. And again he started the car. My friend of the noon appointment volunteered to follow me to my neighborhood garage where, as you doubtless recall, I had left my Jeep. Saturn and I with friend following got about a hundred yards down her street before said Saturn died again like Mortimer from that long running musical "The Fantastics". By this time I was on a voice recognition basis with triple A. "We'll send him back." And so they did. Within minutes my new best friend had returned this time to tow the Saturn to my neighborhood garage. My friend, who probably had not planned on devoting her Saturday afternoon to my automotive travails, followed me to the neighborhood garage, waited patiently while I gathered up whatever I thought I might need from the Saturn, and then drove me home.
My neighbor from across the street, you remember that I won't vote for her should she run for vice president, came out of her home to say hello and how are you. I told her. "No problem," said she and offered me the use of her van explaining that I'd be doing her a favor by driving it and keeping the battery charged.
"I'll just grab the keys," she said. When she returned with the keys, she couldn't open the door remotely. Why? Because her battery was already dead.
"Looks like I'm a little late in helping you keep your battery charged," I observed and she had no choice but to agree.
"What's the name of that triple A guy?"
I didn't remember.
Another friend has volunteered his extra car for my use until I either gain control of my automotive situation or until his son is old enough to drive. The son will be sixteen in February. I'm hoping that by then I will either have one of my cars back or the internal combustion engine will have become obsolete.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Walking Into The Past

It's called Antique Row and indeed is a couple of blocks dedicated to antique shops -- all in a row. He wanted to visit Antique Row and so we did. One shop after another until our senses could take no more. My friend bought a table almost identical to a table of his childhood living room -- almost identical to the same table still in his parents' home promised to him know. Not wanting to wait for know... he bought this table.
I bought nothing. I did not, however, feel deprived.
That Courier & Ives book over in that corner -- that's the one. I used to own not that exact book I'm sure but one just like it. I was a child and the contents of that book for me depicted far away and magical places.
And that three tiered candy dish. My grandmother might have owned something similar in a day when hospitality mattered sufficiently to take up space on the table.
What went wrong with that trip to Disneyland that Steve and Judy gave their personalized souvenir mugs to an antique dealer? Or was Disneyland not the problem but events far removed from the happiest place on earth?
We wandered for almost two hours. Then he paid for his childhood table and we left the mustiness of dusty yesterdays.
Maybe we'll go back to Antique Row some day. Until then, I don't have to lug that baggage from that past with me. Apparently neither do Steve and Judy.

The Future is Here

The auto industry has a prototype of a small, small 4-seater automobile. Can't you see us scurrying around on streets and freeways driving an auto that looks something like a Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse 4-seater cartoon car? More interesting will be people 6' and over trying to fit into the seats of these so-called autos. What a way to reduce L.A.'s traffic conjestion. L.A.'s drivers are erratic for the most part - hurrying here and there. They are likely to be involved in a fender-bender or a roll-over or worse with their cars being totaled due to their crazy driving habits. Thus, the number of cars on streets and freeways will be greatly reduced with the added attraction of saving the environment. What a solution! Thanks auto manufacturers! We'll jump at the chance to purchase one of these cars - that is, if we can afford it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Going Home

I have just moved back to New York. For most of the last twenty eight years, I have lived in California, but now I've gone home. Or have I?

I left behind the first house I've ever owned; a house that I loved the minute I saw it, and loved more every day of the eight years I lived in it. It's rented to someone else now, but I still own it. I know that when I move back into it, however many years from now that may be, it will be home.

Far more important than the house, I left behind the person who is most important to me in my life. When I visit California, the house where she lives is my home.

The house in Brooklyn where I live now belongs to my oldest and dearest friend. She has owned it for thirty years. It is a place I have known well for that entire time, and I lived in it for two years about 15 years ago. It's definitely home.

My elderly parents live in a senior community condo in neighboring New Jersey. They bought it upon their retirement twenty three years ago, when they could still enjoy the amenities it offered - the golf course, the pool, the health club. That condo is home, too, although they bought it after I moved to California, and I have never lived there.

Yesterday, I took the bus to New Jersey to see my parents, and, when I left Brooklyn, I told my friend that I was "going home" for the day. When I left my parents' house to return to Brooklyn, I told them I was "going home". I realized that, twice in one day, I had left home to go home. In fact, almost all of the journeys I will make in the next few months will be from one home to another. It's much better to have too many homes than not enough. I'm really lucky.

Once, Twice or Thrice Removed?

I recently had occasion to get together with my family members. Let's see - there was my mother's sister-in-law, my mother's brother's daughter, my mother's brother's son's daughters, my mother's brother's daughter's daughter and my mother's brother's daughter's daughter's daughter. Here's what I don't get. If my mother's brother's daughter is my cousin and my mother's brother's daughter's daughter is my cousin twice removed, then what relation is my mother's brother's daughter's daughter's daughter or my mother's brother's son's daughter's daughter? Are they my cousins thrice removed? What do you say?

But It Really Is All About Me

A colleague of mine is leaving his position after nine years to assume a position elsewhere with more responsibility. He's been wanting to advance his career and well he should. Earlier today I heard a man scheduled to retire in March trying to talk my colleague out of leaving and advancing his career. Even though I was not involved in the conversation, I intruded myself into it by calling out, "Yes, but aren't you leaving in five and a half months?" The response was, "Yeah. But then I'd be the one leaving and not the one being left."
So, further intruding myself into their conversation, I said, "You're saying that everyone should hold off on their life plans until they have no impact on you?"
The man paused in thought.
"I guess I was just thinking of myself." Whereupon he turned to my colleague and wished him good luck and congratulations.
That's the way it is with comings and goings. We lose track, it seems, of what is our journey and what is the journey of the other person.
Sometimes it really isn't all about us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Credit Card Woes

I remember when only men could obtain a credit card. When requested by the holder, the credit card companies would send an additional card in the man's name only. Then, sometime in the '70's, the credit card companies touted their cards to women making attractive offers in order to snag women offering lower interest rates, rebates, rewards, etc. with a "get it now" policy. More and more women applied and received the cards.

Now, look what has happened today! Most card holders are so far in debt that they can only pay the minimum amount - which, by the way, has recently been increased by law. The state of credit card debt is way out of control. Prices have increased for medical supplies and equipment as well as the necessities of life. I blame the credit card companies for a good portion of the debt and the card holders for not resisting the promotional tactics. As prices continue to increase, so will the credit card debt. It's time for us to buckle down and pull up our boot straps to walk out of that brown stuff. We've put ourselves in a deep, deep well with no one to pull the rope at the top of the well to bring the well's bucket to the surface.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Vagaries of the English Language

MaryWalkerBaron's post of yesterday reminded me of when I first moved to Claremont. It was over 100 degrees - welcome to the Inland Valley - and my car, which had just been driven from New York, was being repaired. I had a telephone account and a telephone, but no telephone cord. I set out on foot to find one. I walked along Foothill Boulevard for a couple of blocks and found a computer store. I went in and asked if they sold phone cords. They did not. "You'll have to go to Staples", one of the two store clerks said. "Is it far?, I asked, "I don't have a car." "It's not far - just a block or so", one clerk said. "It's across town", the second clerk added. Confused, I looked at both of them. "The next big intersection", said the one. "On the other side of town", said the other. I left the store and continued walking on Foothill until the next big intersection, which was: Towne Avenue. And, there, on the other side of Towne, was Staples. English. Ya gotta love it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

That's My Story.

And I'm sticking to it.
My reputation is that of an honest person but I gotta tell you something. I'm full of stories. So are you. You, too, are sticking to your stories. That's all we've got. Our stories are our realities. Something happened. You saw it. I saw it. The event meant something to you and something completely different to me. We both have and tell our stories and both of us tell the truth -- or at least we tell our truths.
Which brings front and center the age old question of what is truth? Right now we're bombarded by stories designed to sway us to vote one way or the other.
I just saw an ad on television in favor of California's Proposition 8. The content of the ad was, to me, an outlandish distortion of my truth. If Proposition 8 does not pass, the ad claimed, same sex marriage will be forced on everyone. Come on. Really? If Proposition 8 passes men will be forced to marry men not of their own choosing and women will be forced to marry women because one of them got pregnant? People who don't love each other will marry for all of the wrong reasons because that's what they're supposed to do?
Gosh. That sounds pretty familiar.
Maybe instead of denying same sex couples the right currently enjoyed only by heterosexual couples, no one should be allowed to marry.
But what about the children, you might ask. Well, then, maybe only people who want to raise children responsibly and lovingly would commit to that life long honor and obligation.
Since marriage probably won't be outlawed completely, let's at least give same sex couples the same right to make unwise commitments currently flaunted only by self righteous, erring opposite sex couples.
That's one of my many stories. What's yours?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Please Tell Me Every Key Chain Has At Least One

The title pretty much sums up the post. I have purposeless keys. I have no idea to which lock they might possibly belong. Some of these keys hang on a key thing in my kitchen. Others are in a plastic container in a cupboard. Some others are in the glove compartment of my car. And at least one still hangs on my key chain. What is it with me and keys, I'm wondering, that I can't throw them away? I notice that one of the keys hanging in the kitchen is actually to a car. I believe I may have once owned that car. I think they key goes to a Honda Prelude I wore out and donated to charity. Did I neglect to give the charity the ignition key?
Perhaps keys represent possibility or freedom. Maybe that's why I appear to be unable to discard them. Maybe I'm afraid that the minute the key is gone the lock will appear.
I'll keep trying to figure it out. In the meantime, I think I need to get a bigger plastic container. I wouldn't want to lose any of those keys.

And Now Connectiicut

On Friday the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned a state ban on same sex marriage stating that the ban discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and violated the Connecticut state constitution.
Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote in the majority opinion that, "Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice. To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.
Connecticut now joins California and Massachusetts in the establishment of justice for all couples who want to marry.
Let no man put asunder.

I'm Not Going To or Too Fast

A recent conversation pointed out the vagaries of the English language.
While sitting in her un-moving car, the rabbi of a local community said to me, "I don't think I'm going to/too fast."
She said those words and spoken words lack the clarity of being able to present the spelling.
It was clear to me that she wasn't going too fast because she wasn't moving. I wondered at her uncertainty. Noticing my confused expression, she continued by saying, "I'm not feeling well. If I announce to the congregation that because I'm ill I'm not going to fast, perhaps others will give themselves permission to have a cup of tea or a cracker during the day."
I got it.
Because her car was motionless, she was not going too fast.
Because she was ill, she was not going to fast.
Then she drove off in her then 'motioned' car careful to not go too fast.
During the day, she did drink some tea and ate a cracker because she had decided that she was not going to fast.
And we wonder why we have trouble communicating the really complicated matters life presents us.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

More Matt


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

These Aren't Debates

I took debate in college. I participated in debate tournaments. Later, as a speech teacher, I judged debate tournaments. It was scary business but then, critical thinking and critical debating are pretty scary.
I'm not sure what we should be calling these presidential and vice-presidential sound bite events but they certainly aren't debates.
So let's stop insulting the long and honored tradition of debate and call them something else.
And let's stop teaching the public that the art of debate is nothing more than reading from prepared cards responses having nothing to do with the critical and urgent questions and issues presented before the candidates and the public.
Give us a break.

Hello, Goodbye, Hello, Goodbye

Here's a kicker. All relationships end in separation. Think about it. Relationships with friends, with work, with organizations -- it doesn't matter what -- they all end in separation. We stay in those relationships because they nurture and sustain us, because the benefits are good, because we fear change, because we like to belong -- the reasons positive and negative don't matter. Understanding those reasons and the dynamics of change do matter. Knowing, accepting, the notion that every relationship we have will ultimately end in separation frees us from that which we fear most -- separation. We become free to cherish and free to let go. We get it that sometimes we have choices and sometimes we have none. We also get it that we cannot hide behind a facade of permanency. It's all up to us. And that can be even more frightening than the notion that all relationships end in separation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Justice for All

O.J. finally got the axe. Thank goodnes for people like the Goldmans who, not for one minute, let him off the hook. They kept the fires burning so much so that O.J. tripped himself and found out that he is not invinceable. He actually has now been sentenced for armed robbery. He will, in all likelihood, never see sunlight again. I'm sure he thought he'd get away with it by asserting the "it doesn't fit" theory. Hoorrah! There really is a justice system after all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hope This Helps

Frankly, I had trouble following some of the responses of the Governor of Alaska during the recent Vice Presidential debates. I found this diagram very helpful and wanted to share it with you.


Has the government betrayed us in not telling the truth about the state of our Nation and the economy just like a supposed friend who has betrayed you and fills you with pocketsful of lies to appease you? Do you believe $700 billon will bail us out of our economic crisis or do you believe additional funds will be made available under the guise of some other program in order to bilk the citizens out of their hard-earned dollars? Why do other nations know more truth about our state of affairs then the U.S. citizens? How many more lies do the citizens have to hear before they no longer have a choice and the government's solution is shoved down their throat? Why can't government come clean and lay it all out on the table and let the citizens be part of the solution? Why must they control almost everything when the U.S. is supposed to be a democracy - by and for the people? It's time now for the people to stand up for their Constitutional rights! After all, this is America where freedom is supposed to ring!

Friday, October 3, 2008

For The Love Of English

The English language has been around for a really long time. It's held up pretty well. Must we watch it be destroyed along with our economy, our world image, our dignity, our health care, our basic freedoms, and our right to think on our own?
To the streets we must go and on the signs we wave we must put only three letters -- 'ing'.
It's neither cute nor persuading to deliberately destroy this language. The daughter of school teachers should know better.

Raise Your Voice

If you don't vote, you've nothing to complain about.

It's your right, at least for now. Vote.

Winkin, Blinkin, and No Nod

I love my neighbor across the street. We've known each other for over thirty years. She's a great, courageous lady full of life who doesn't take crap, who has ample common sense, who faces toward life even when the odds seem to be against it. She knows what it takes to be a single parent. She knows how it feels to have a child for whom life is difficult.
She has created and run her own business. She knows a thing or two about making decisions, about hiring and firing, about multi-tasking, and about being on the executive level of something.
If she were running, I would not vote for her to become Vice President of this country and certainly not President even though I have not once -- in all of the years I've known her -- seen her wink -- even though she includes the 'g' in words ending in 'ing'. Despite those amazingly -- apparently unusual skills -- I still wouldn't vote for her.
Call me out of the loop, but I just happen to think that it takes more than across the street neighborliness to lead the free world -- to maneuver us out of a costly, unnecessary war -- to restore our lost civil liberties -- to repair our world image -- to provide health care for all -- to figure out how to stop this economic disaster. It takes seasoned experience and education and years of building consensus and 'kitchen cabinets'. It takes more than either my neighbor or I possess.
So, just in case she decides to run for Vice President, don't vote for my neighbor.
And just in case I decide to run for President, please don't vote for me, either.