Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Praise Of Passion

When asked his age, my neighbor Bruce smiles and replies with more than a hint of joy, "I'm eighty-six years old going on eighty-seven."  Consider the optimism in his response.  He fully intends to go on to the next year for many years to come.
For over fifty years Bruce has owned a 1954 XKSE Jaguar roadster.  That classic automobile is his pride and his joy and, yes, his passion.  He continues to do most of the routine service and repair work himself.  He knows every piece of rubber and steel and aluminum that has throughout the years touched his car and he knows the story of each one.
He took me for a ride in his car yesterday.  It wasn't a long ride but it was his Saturday morning routine.  He said I should be ready by quarter to seven in the morning and that I should dress warmly.  We drove to a nearby gathering place of men and women who love classic cars, who restore them, and who drive them with pride.  I met a man who -- in his early seventies -- still owns and drives the car he bought when he was fourteen years old.  I met another man who flew a P51 during World War II and now drives a gull wing Mercedes to these early morning gatherings.
Holding my cup of steaming coffee and standing next to  Model T I listened to horror stories of wonderful engines having been replaced with Chevrolet engines and of paint jobs withstanding dust storms and of journeys half way around the world to buy a louvered hood.
After about an hour, Bruce figured it was time to head home.
"We'll just poke along in the slow lane and watch all the cars pass us by.  The drivers will probably be thinking that this old man doesn't know how to drive.  When the engine's ready, though, we'll leave them all behind.  They'll just think we disappeared."  And so we did.
The '2' Freeway in the almost light of a Saturday morning will never be quite the same for me.
As I got reluctantly got out in front of my house Bruce said, "You know, every time I drive this car I come home feeling thirty years younger."
Bruce and his passion have been leaving people behind for half a century.  After all, that's the purpose of a passion.  They keep us feeling alive and ready to embrace life's possibilities.  They can also teach us to patiently wait for just the right moment to claim our own place on the road.

Dress for Success

For eight months I was unemployed and dressed accordingly. My daily uniform consisted of a t-shirt and either shorts or jeans, depending on the weather. Especially during the summer, when I sleep in a t-shirt and knit shorts, I often had to look in the mirror to check if I was dressed for the day or for bed.

Four weeks ago, I began an internship program at a nearby hospital. The salary is no better than being unemployed but it is a full-time commitment and will hopefully train me for a paying job. This hospital has a rather formal dress code. Female employees are expected to wear a professional suit, either pants or skirt, or a dress, or dress slacks. A jacket must always be worn. Male employees must add a necktie to their suit or sportcoat and dress slacks, so I'm getting off easy.

I was so excited about getting to dress for work that I had my first day's clothes laid out by ten o'clock in the morning the day before I began. I have a large array of professional clothing from my many years of employment, and I was eager to wear them again. I dove right in.

By Friday morning, the last day of my fourth week of dressing for success, I looked blearily at the suit on the hanger. Already, I was officially tired of wearing business dress every day. When I came home that evening, I was in my comfies before 7 p.m. Pathetic. I have spent the weekend being unable to distinguish between my day and night wear, and hopefully, by tomorrow morning, will be ready to jump back into my professional attire.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The First Stone Won't Be Mine

In front of us in the grocery store check out line a rather rotund man emptied the contents of his shopping cart onto the conveyor belt thing to be scanned by the cashier.  His purchase consisted primarily of candy and cookies and ice cream and frozen pastries and some but not many boxes of high calorie, high fat frozen entrees.  Perhaps he was having a final splurge before committing himself to, possibly, the South Beach diet plan or Weight Watchers.  Perhaps he was hosting vegetarian relatives and was unclear on what those kind of folk like to eat.  I tried, I really tried, to think only positive thoughts about his purchases as I placed our own on the conveyor belt thing.  Yes, dietary righteous folk that we are, we bought raw vegetables and organic fruit and cage free eggs.  What I'm certain caught the eye of the guy in front of us, though, was the People magazine we couldn't wait to pay for before starting to read so we had already begun sampling the titillating articles while continuing to empty our shopping cart.  With any luck he failed to notice the two DVDs we purchased on impulse:  Category 7--The End of The World starring Shannen Doherty and 10.5 Apocalypse starring who cares. Come on!  I mean, one surely can't compare dietary trash to mind trash.  The People promised to tell us everything we could possibly want to know about Elizabeth Edwards having reached her breaking point and whether or not Tiger Woods could resume his golfing career once he leaves his sexual addiction program and if, in fact, the rumors about Brad and Angelina breaking up are true.  And those two DVD -- 10.5 Apocalypse ranks among the ten worst movies of all time and only cost $4.99 as did the other one the name of which I've already forgotten but up until the moment at the check out stand had never known about.  Who could resist buying an unknown awful movie for such little money?
Wait a second.
Speaking of resisting, I think I will try to resist the urge to judge the guy in front of us and just hope that he resists judging us.
That seems fair.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Censorship Gone Askew?

The collegiate Merriam-Webster dictionary is being pulled from elementary school libraries until a panel can review it to determine if it contains inappropriate words that the young school children should not be subjected to. This is totally wrong! First of all, who is going to be on the panel and what words would be deemed inappropriate in the dictionary? This is total rubbish - or is this just another way to lower the two digit unemployment rate. These young kids will more than likely be subjected to a lot stronger and more inappropriate and violent words in their every day environment more so than any dictionary can provide. This is going too far in shielding our youngsters and is outrageous but, then, the country is trying to lower the unemployment. All of this at what cost? Will the already over-burdoned taxpayer be responsible for the cost? Will this prove to be another bureaucratic blunder as so many of these brilliant ideas are? Aren't we all just a little bit tired of being over-censored? What next?

Family Dog Cheers On George

In a previous house in a much different neighborhood an elderly man named George took early morning and early evening walks most days of the week.  Without fail George on each walk stopped in front of our home to smile and wave at Barney, the family dog who was without fail either inside the house or inside the fenced back yard losing all semblance of his expensive dog training.
Barney constrained by man made barriers hated George.
Once during a particularly prolonged George morning smile and wave thing Barney broke a window so intense was he on returning the greeting.  At least we desperately hoped that was all he wanted to do.  It's just that there was something about George standing in front of the house that drove the poor old family dog absolutely bonkers.
On a number of occasions while on leash and out for his own neighborhood walk, Barney actually met George face to face and acted like they were best friends sniffing and licking and, you know, all the stuff best friends do to show affection.
Once back inside the house or the yard, though, Barney's reptilian brain -- assuming he has a brain at all which on occasion does not appear to be the case -- takes command of the ship and he becomes the snarling, leaping, let me at you maniac capable of at least breaking windows and making a whole lot of noise each time George stopped for his greeting.

We felt bad about how those innocent, friendly, and -- yes -- somewhat bizarre greetings from George were returned by Barney and apologized on behalf of the drooling beast.
"Gosh," George smiled and replied, "I always just assume he's doing his best to cheer me on."
Clearly and especially in the mind of George, events have no meaning beyond those we give to them.
Lesson learned.
But not learned enough to send me smiling and waving at a hackles raised, teeth bared, window breaking dog even if he is nothing more than -- underneath it all -- the goofy Family Dog.
Bottom line is, though, we really do make our own reality.  George chose to be supported and cheered.
Keep trunkin' on, George.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Possibly Too Much Of A Good Thing

It's useful to occasionally clean out closets and refrigerators and sock drawers and, yes, pantries.  In so doing we discover the most interesting things about our possessions and ourselves.
For the past several days we here in LaLaLand have been rained in.  What a great time to organize the pantry, thought I.  And so I opened the doors to untold riches and to also a certain amount of confusion.  The untold riches speaks to the fact that we have a whole lot of food on hand.  The confusion speaks to the astonishing assortment and number of bottles of vinegar.
 We have apple cider, red wine, white wine, brown rice, white distilled, plain old rice, and Balsamic.  One would imagine that to balance this plethora of acidic liquid processed from the fermentation of ethanol in a process yielding as its key ingredient acetic (ethanoic) acid we might have a corresponding amount and variety of oils.  Not so in our pantry.  Here's what we have for oil:  Olive.

Up until that throw water in my face and wake up to vinegar pantry organizing day I never even thought much about the stuff.  So why, you might reasonably ask then, did I keep buying those bottles of, you know, fermented liquid the name of which comes from the old French vin aigre meaning 'sour wine'.  I'm not sure I want to delve that deeply into my psyche right now.  The explanation is doubtless rooted in some childhood trauma which I can't for the life of me remember.
Here, though, is the bottom line on all of this.  There is a whole lot of vinegar in my pantry that needs to be used on account of all the people in the world deprived for whatever reason of their fair share of vinegar.  So I did what we all do these days.  I googled 'what the hell do I do with all this vinegar' and came up with fourteen million three hundred thousand suggestions.
The site 131 Uses for Vinegar (which clearly only touches on the issue) has several categories including garden, bugs, cars, tools, health, beauty and laundry.  Apparently vinegar can kill bugs and send ants looking for greener pastures.  The Vinegar Institute tells me that I can soften paint brushes with vinegar.
I visited a number of those millions of sites before I finally realized that I'm not the only person who cleaned the pantry to discover an embarrassment of vinegar.
I guess Thomas Gainsborough (the eighteenth century painter) sums it up best in his letter to Edward Stratford excusing himself for not finishing the portrait of Stratford and his wife when he said:  "I wish you would recollect that Painting and punctuality mix like Oil and Vinegar, and that Genius and Regularity are utter Enemies and must be to the end of time."
Here's to procrastination, then!
It will be a rainy day in January before I even think about organizing the pantry again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gosh - I Still Don't Care

So less than a year ago Jay Leno moved from 11:30 weeknights to 10:00 weeknights and Conan O'Brien moved from, I don't know, after Jay Leno to 11:30 and people - apparently - stopped watching both shows and on top of that stopped watching the NBC 11:00 nightly local news programs.  Now Jay Leno is moving from 10:00 back to 11:30 and Conan is just moving.
I never watched Conan O'Brien except for the one Gaslight Anthem appearance and I never watched Jay Leno much past half way thorugh his monologue when I realized I was watching Jay Leno and promptly shut off the television.
During the past days we've seen great drama over who did what to whom and who had the better show and who gets the most money to give up whatever.
I still don't care.

Here's what bothers me in this whole mess.
How could anyone in their right mind call what the NBC affiliates offer at 11:00 news?  There is no such thing any more as a network news program.
Perhaps what they meant to say is that the NBC affiliates entertainment programs sandwiched beteen the Jay Leno at 10:00 program and the Conan O'Brien at 11:30 program had lost viewers.
Maybe that loss had nothing to do with either gentleman but instead with the very bleak reality that no news is apparently all any televised ersatz news program can offer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One More For The Road

Last night would have been a great night for storm news.  After all, about a thousand homes had been evacuated in the La Canada - Montrose - Glendale - Tujunga areas because of the extreme threat of debris slides.  Debris slides are much more dangerous than mud slides.  Mud slides contain - well - mud and water.  Debris slides contain mud and water and refrigerators and old couches and hub caps and dish washers and fences and all the houses already ripped from their foundations by the growing pile of wet debris.  It's a pretty serious thing and people are wise to leave their homes while the can.  So last night would have been a really good night for an update on these very real threats.  The Channel 9 news almost provided said updates except that after about two minutes of news the station found out about a car chase.  For the rest of the hour we watched - were mesmerized by - Larry Welk saying things like, "Look.  He's making a right turn.  That is so dangerous."  First the person driving the car was a woman who had just killed her abusive husband.  Then the driver of the car turned out to be a man who was upset about something and was trying to get to the home of his mother so he could surrender.
Meanwhile homes and grand pianos and discarded dreams are oozing down the canyons above our home.
And why didn't I just switch to another channel you might reasonably ask.
I didn't switch to another channel because what if the driver of the car being chased made another unsafe right turn?  Or what if he/she/it made a left turn?
Here's the thing.  This is Southern California where nothing and I mean nothing is more important than how we get from one place to another by car.  And nothing captivates our imagination quite like the car chase.
So I went forth into this good day clueless about ther weather.  That's okay.  At least I got to watch the chase and listen to Larry Welk tell me what I so clearly saw with my own eyes.
Life is good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time For New Shock Absorbers

This from Wikipedia:  A shock absorber is a mechanical device designed to smooth out or damp shock impulse and dissipate kinetic energy.
In a vehicle, the shock absorber reduces the effect of traveling over rough ground, leading to improved ride quality and increase in comfort. Without shock absorbers, the vehicle would have a bouncing ride, as energy is stored in the spring and then released to the vehicle, possibly exceeding the allowed range of suspension movement.  Shock absorbers allow the vehicle to bounce back and thus keep the ride smoother.
Without shock absorbers, it seems, we're in for a rough ride and might ultimately break a spring which is a pretty serious thing to break.
The old red Jeep, at 230,000 miles, needed new shock absorbers.  The ride was rough and the risk for greater damage and thus expense great.  So off to Boris went the Jeep for an over night stay.  New shock absorbers and the ride is again smooth.

We live in shocking times these days.  A new bump in the road seems to appear almost every day.  Certainly this morning's news of the Massachusetts election was a rough spot to work around.  Mud slides.  Buildings crumble.  Cash reserves dwindle.  Loved ones become ill.  Jobs are lost.
These are rough times that challenge our own shock absorbers.  Would that we could just ask Boris to replace our broken ones with bright, shiny new devicesto make our rides smoother.
Our shock absorbers are more often called Resilience.
We all have it.  It's just that sometimes when the road is really rough it can feel pretty hard to bounce back -- to reclaim that within us which makes our rides smoother.  We must, though, find ways to absorb these daily shocks and keep bouncing back because if we don't we risk breaking -- something.
Be kind to yourselves.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's Raining, It's Pouring, Etc.

It's raining here in Southern California.  I know.  I know.  That really isn't news anywhere in the world except right here in LaLaLand.  Yesterday in a matter of a few hours almost three inches of rain fell on our balcony.  More specifically almost three inches of rain fell into the rain gauge.  Yes.  It's true.  We have a rain gauge.
I think it's important to mark stuff and since we don't have seasons with which to mark the life's passings, we can at least measure the rain.  An awesome task is checking the rain gauge.  Or at least it was when I was a child assigned to recording the rainfall in my father's journal.  I tried to be precise and even when I was convinced of rain but had nothing except and empty gauge I would enter in my best printing 'trace' into the log book for his later reference and contemplation.  My father and thus we lived by nature's whims.  Rain was a force with which to reckon.
As evacuation from the burn areas take effect at nine o'clock tomorrow morning anticipating debris flows, we again make note that nature is, indeed, a force with which to reckon.
If nothing more we are perhaps reminded that we're not all the time such hot stuff.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let The Dream Live

Words spoken during the march on Washington, DC on August 28, 1963 --

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15,1929 - April 4, 1968).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's In A Name?

I was telling the Other Family Human a story about a neighbor I had known when I was a child. I mentioned that the woman's name was Miss Palmer and that I was sure that she had a first name but that I never knew what it was. The OFH replied that, in her childhood too, most adults did not have first names to us because we never used them. This made me remember that, when I worked with college students, they never knew one another's last names. I once had to hold a Sunday evening service so that one of our students could say the annual memorial prayer on the anniversary of the death of his mother. We had sent an e-mail memo announcing the service to our students on Friday, but the server had a major meltdown and the message never went out. On Sunday evening, the only attendees were me, the student and two of his friends. Ten Jews must be present for a person to say this prayer. "Let's call people", said one of the student's friends. I reached for the phone lists, handed them out, and that's when the problems started. The lists are alphabetized by last name. "Aaron, the track and field guy who goes to CMC, what's his last name?" "Lisa, the bio student who goes to Pomona, what's her last name?" I astounded them by knowing the answers. "How do you know their names?" they asked. "How do you not know them?" I responded, as astounded as they. In a mere two generations, our society has gone from not knowing the first names of our elders because we never needed to use them to not knowing the last names of our peers because we don't need to use them. I am thinking that, in the future, we will probably get by with initials.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Math Was Off And Still The Numbers Stagger

Okay.  So ten percent of the population of Haiti is not expected to perish from the devastating earthquake.  Just a mere one percent of the population is expected to die.  Instead of ten people in every hundred only one person in every hundred will die.  If fifty four thousand people attend a Dodger game in Chavez Ravine (a not unusual box office draw at least before the stadium was remodeled so to speak) imagine five hundred forty of those fans not leaving the stadium alive.  Then imagine that some fool named, for example Pat Robertson, said those people deserved to die because they had sold their souls to the devil.  Then imagine that all of the people attending the Dodger game on that specific day were -- and obviously then those five hundred forty people were -- African American (or black if they happened to be from Haiti) and President Obama sent federal help to Dodger Stadium and then another fool perhaps with the absurd first name of Rush said that the only reason help was sent was because of the color of the people's skin.
The numbers of dead, the numbers of injured in Haiti are so great, so beyond my ability to grasp, that I can't even imagine what is going on in Haiti right now.  Unfortunately, though, the arrogant hatred of people like Pat and Rush is not beyond my ability to imagine.  My mind wraps itself around that very quickly.
There is tragedy in Haiti -- the tragedy caused by natural and thus unpredictable forces of nature.
There is also tragedy in this country -- the tragedy caused by fear mongering bigots who amass fortunes built on ruined lives.  For our homeland sorrow the Red Cross has no response.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let Us Sing A Song Of Hope

Surely the world has stopped to succor Haiti where it is estimated that, when all of the bodies are finally discovered and counted, well over a hundred thousand people will have died in Tuesday's earthquake.  Indications are that at least three million people right now desperately need emergency assistance.  The population of Haiti on Monday was ten million.  Thirty per cent of the population now requires urgent medical attention.  Now ten per cent of the population is dead.
There isn't enough food.  There isn't enough water.  There aren't enough medical supplies.
A man was photographed digging with his bare hands into a pile of concrete hoping to save his wife whose screams had been silent for several hours.
Hundreds of people wander the streets of Port-au-Prince or sit on piles of rubble and sing.
They sing.
Surrounded by devastation, they sing of unimaginable sorrow.
If we can do nothing else, let us sing a song for Haiti.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No More Right For Me

I am referring not to a political position nor to a moral position even though those two positions seem often to be on collision courses each with the other. I am referring to making right turns while driving.
Woody Allen in one of his wonderful seventies films remarked that California's only cultural accomplishment was our ability to make right turns on red lights. That was then. This is now.
First of all, making a right turn on a red light is not mandatory. Second of all, the decision of whether or not to make the right turn on the red light should be based upon the judgment of the driver in the car positioned to actually make the turn and not on the impatience or compromised impulse control of the driver in the car five or six cars behind the lead vehicle. Unfortunately, there seems to be a misunderstanding on this matter. Either that or commuters are so fed up with traffic that just about anything is not only permission but a mandate to honk, scream, and ultimately flip off other drivers.
For example. Yesterday I happened to be that lead car at the red light. I was in a lane which allowed me to turn right and, in fact, I hoped to turn right. However, since the other light directing other traffic and equally impatient drivers was green, those drivers had the audacity to actually go through the intersection. I wasn't driving the old red Jeep but, instead, the old grey Saturn. What little height advantage the Jeep might have provided was unavailable. The vehicle to my left was either a portable three story office building or a really big all terrain truck of some sort. My bet is on the portable three story office building because I'm sure I saw one passenger undergoing dental surgery while the driver waited for our light to turn green. Each time I inched forward to see if there might be a break in traffic sufficient to allow me to make my cultured California turn on the red light, the office building also inched forward always completely blocking my view. The vehicles in back of me ranged in size from tour buses to small universities. Each driver had a far better view of the traffic than did I and each driver felt no need to even hesitate in communicating to me the all clear get your ass into the intersection before I crawl up it horn blowing and screaming messages with which those of us who do not drive buildings to and from work are all too familiar.
Here was my problem. Because I couldn't see past the dental tools, I refused to make my turn. Besides, I never noticed a break in the traffic until their light turned red and mine turned green. At that very moment, I made my right turn. And just seconds later the driver who had crawled up my ass extricated himself, whipped around me with skidding tires, shouted some obscenity with which I was not familiar, and stuck his entire arm out of his window to either flip me off or hit me. So absorbed was he in this teach me a lesson lunatic behavior that he lost control of his car, spun in three complete circles, ultimately regained control and sped through a red light failing to notice the only motorcycle police officer employed by the La Verne Police Department. When you're the only such officer on the force, you've got to prove yourself constantly, I suppose, because within seconds the red lights were flashing and the behemoth so recently up my ass was pulled over to receive a ticket. As I drove by I did not honk my horn or yell obscenities. I did, however, have a really good laugh.
Many years ago my Aunt Thelma decided after some vehicular stress or other, to never again make a left turn. She spent the rest of her driving life always getting to her destinations making only right turns. I think the mere act of plotting out her daily courses probably gave her enough brain exercise to stave off dementia. Who knows what would have happened to her had she lived in California. I'm thinking where she lived there was probably a law prohibiting right turns on red lights.
Those were the days when life was simple.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shooting Craps for Beginners

Since retiring at the end of 2009, I find myself more open to the idea of taking a gamble, now and then. After all, I tell myself, what can it hurt? It isn't like it might cost my job or waste a lot of time that I can't afford to lose. What the hell, I figure: as long as it isn't too much of a danger to myself or others, why not give it a try?
So, guided by that philosophy, I volunteered to serve on my Homeowners Association Board of Directors. I swear to God, I'm not making this up.
And tonight, by a unanimous vote at their annual meeting, members of the association elected me as an at-large member of the Board. I am deeply honored and humbled by the faith and confidence my fellow homeowners have placed in me.
Of course, it wasn't a real heated race. There were four candidates running and four Board of Director seats up for grabs. Still, everyone could have refused to place an "X" in the box beside my name, throwing the election into chaos.
So I prefer to think of it as an election victory. It's the first time I've ever been voted into any office in a popular vote, dating back to an eighth-grade election when I came in last of four candidates for class president.
Am I finally coming out of my shell, or just losing my mind? It's a roll of the dice.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Is A Crap Shoot

Anyone who says that they don't gamble is either a liar or is sadly out of touch with reality.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives us these quick and easy definitions of 'gamble':
1a: to play a game for money or property b: to bet on an uncertain outcome - 2: to stake something on a contingency: take a chance.
Everyday we stake our lives, our reputations, our health - our every things - on uncertain outcomes.
I'm betting that tomorrow morning I will drive safely from home to work and back again. The odds are not in my favor and yet come tomorrow morning I will get into the old red Jeep and get on the freeways where the lanes are narrower to accommodate more traffic and the drivers are less cautions because they (and I include myself in that they) are increasingly tired and angry and on the best of days are already late for work. I will eat food prepared by someone else or grown by someone else and bet that what I eat is carrying neither Escherichia coli nor Hepatis and that I will survive my meal. I may during the day risk legal action or reprimand by asking a fellow worker about her well being because, of course, members of protected minorities are legally allowed to take offense from common courtesies. I'm betting that won't happen when I say, 'How you doing?' to a colleague. I'm betting that the MetroLink signals will work and when I cross the tracks there will not be a train about to boot kick me into Arizona. I'm betting that the driver approaching the intersection I'm about to enter will stop at the red light. I'm betting that my heart will keep beating for many years to come.
But I'm not a betting person because when I visit family in Las Vegas I only play the penny slots. That way, I'm confident my losses will be survivable.
Except, of course, for the daily losses I risk by simply living.
By the way, the word dice is plural for those numbered cubes made so famous in 'Guys and Dolls'. The singular of dice is die.
All of which just goes to show that there is safety in numbers.
You can bet on that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It Is The Nature of Castles in the Sand to Disappear

I've been thinking about loss and change and how much energy we expend trying to hold on to what we've got when, ultimately, we're not going to keep it anyway. Surely when we build a sand castle on the shore we don't expect the tide to flow around that which we have created. The joy of building a sand castle is the building. If this were not the case no one would bother in the first place. If creation is a constant then perhaps we could diminish some of our life stress by focusing on the creating instead of the maintaining. This, of course, does not exclude maintaining a supply of clean clothes or a clean and orderly home. But somehow we get it that the laundry is never for all eternity done nor is the house forever clean once we've mopped the kitchen floor. And yet we (or read just plain I) try to hang on to other creations at work or in volunteer organizations or even in relationships changeless for all eternity. Once we (or read just plain I) get it really get it that letting go is what life is all about perhaps we including I will sleep better at night.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

If You Want This, Punch That

I wanted to ask a question and was directed to the State of New Jersey's Department of Consumer Affairs. It was a simple question, really. This should just take a minute or two, thought I. Full of confidence, I dialed the number. Of course I was greeted by a recording. That's okay. I'm used to that. The recording gave me choices. If I wanted information about this, punch the number one. If II wanted information about that, punch the number two. This went on through the number nine. None of the choices even remotely matched my question so I pushed the number zero to hopefully get an operator. No, zero was not listed in my menu of choices. I see that the State of New Jersey takes these matters seriously. I was disconnected. I redialed. After listening to the nine item menu again, I chose a number at random, pushed it on my cell phone keypad and heard, yes actually heard, a human voice. Seconds later I realized it was a recorded human voice inviting me to leave a message. Okay. I could give that a try. Just as I opened my mouth to begin my message another recorded voice told me that the voice mail box of the person I was trying to reach was full and I would not be able to leave a message. I pushed another number on my keypad but apparently once connected to a full voice mail box there is no turning back. The call was disconnected. I redialed. The nine item menu began again but I had a new plan. I started with one and worked my way through nine each time getting disconnected after learning that the mail box for the person at that extension was full and I would not be able to leave a message. By this time I was on a mission. I went on line and located the web page for the State of New Jersey's Department of Consumer Affairs and scrolled down to the 'contact us' section. I wrote my message and included my e mail address as instructed. Moments later my e mail bounced back with the message that I was not using a valid e mail address. This despite the fact that it was the web page of the State of New Jersey's Department of Consumer Affairs.
At this point in the game I'd forgotten the question I wanted to ask the good folks with their full voice mail boxes and their incorrect e mail addresses. Now I just want to talk to someone at any one of the nine keypad possibilities. I'll keep trying and, since I can't remember my original question, should someone eventually answer I think I'll just ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shutting Up The Governor

Rhode Island said phooey to its governor and voted to give members of same sex and unmarried couples the right to plan the funerals of their deceased partners. The 67 to 3 vote in the House and the 31 to 3 vote in the Senate overrode a veto by Rhode Island's governor who warned that traditional marriage would be undermined by unmarried or same sex couples planning these above mentioned funerals.
Let me repeat. Planning the funeral of someone you love but to whom you were not legally married will erode, will chip away at, will become a fungus on the walls of traditional marriage.
How fragile, exactly, is traditional marriage that planning funeral can be considered a threat?
According to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, half of all first marriages end in divorce, 67% of second marriages end in divorce, and 74% of third marriages end in divorce. And we're not talking same sex or unmarried marriages here. We're talking about those plain, old fashioned, traditional man and woman marriages. That seems pretty fragile to me.
So fragile, in fact, that just about anything a same sex couple or an unmarried couple might do or want to do is seen as a threat.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out With The Old, Etc.

This from NPR heard on my way home from work. Up until the recent opening of Dubai's Burj Khalifa reaching 2.717 feet into the heavens, the tallest structure in the world was the transmission tower for television station KVLY outside of Fargo, North Dakota. This tower was the first man made structure to exceed 2,000 feet. It's still in use today. Getting to the top takes twenty minutes in an elevator. It was finished in 1963 and cost half a million dollars to construct. Later the FCC advised against towers taller than 2,000 feet.
I once hosted a radio program from KDMI in Des Moines, Iowa. That tower was pretty tall. During the winter ice sometimes fell from its top and crushed cars parked nearby. I never parked my car nearby but had my car been crushed it would have only served as a metaphor for my radio program.
The man who tends to the KVLY tower said that his job was just about as terrifying as it got. Clearly he never hosted a talk show for radio station KDMI.
At any rate, KVLY's tower is now second fiddle to the Burj Khalifa. On the other hand, that tower may very well continue to hold its title of the cheapest really tall structure in the world for all eternity. That's gotta count for something. Especially in Fargo.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eat Your Veggies

It came to the point where we had to admit it. The Family Dog is overweight. The last time I took him to the vet, he tipped the scales at 117. The doctor said he had to lose weight. "I don't think he really weighs that much," I protested, "The tech didn't wait for him to stand still". "Okay, so he's 115; not 117", said the doctor, "He's still overweight." I had to admit he was right. "Cut his dog food down by 25%", the doctor ordered, "and give him vegetables to make up the difference". Okay. The Family Dog now gets dog food with a side of garden salad. He mostly likes carrots and string beans, but he's also fond of cucumbers and green pepper. The sugar snap peas were a disaster; he chewed them and then spit them out individually all over the house. At $2.99 a bag, I can find better things to do with them. I think the effort is beginning to show. The Family Dog looks a little slimmer, he's getting enough to eat and he's now a believer in volumetrics. There's only one problem. We too have begun to eat more healthily, and every time I start to cut up vegetables for us, he thinks it's for him.

This Year I Resolve To ---

And then, of course, I won't. I wasn't surprised when I heard on the radio that few people actually keep their New Years' Resolutions.
First of all, a year is a really long time to resolve to do or to not do anything. People recovering from addictions know that sometimes even one day of resolving seems like an eternity.
Second of all, most of us resolve to do to much. For example -- I resolve to run three miles each day. I can resolve all I want. Chances are, though, I am not going to run three or even two miles a day. Right now I wouldn't even resolve to run one mile a day. What I can resolve to do, though, is walk twenty minutes a day. I can resolve to read one of the great books each week but I'm not going to do it because that would be too much to take on.
So the trouble with our resolutions is not our intentions or even our ultimate, long range goals. The trouble is that we want our end results right away. The best way to be successful is to resolved to do just a little each day. Those little steps add up at the end of the year to something great and large and wonderful.
We just need to be patient.
And maybe that's the hardest resolution of them all.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Avatar the Movie Is No House of Wax

I hadn't seen a 3D movie since my parents and my brother and I made the long drive from Arizona to Santa Ana to visit my Uncle Collins and my Aunt Pearl. That was the year we also went to Disneyland and almost went to the Long Beach pier except that we got so hopelessly lost my father gave up and headed home. Before the really lost afternoon we rode with Uncle Col and Aunt Pearl to a theater in downtown Los Angeles and saw The House of Wax with Vincent Price. To make the 3D work we wore cardboard glasses. Maybe I didn't know how to correctly place the glasses before my eyes, but I never saw anything that looked too real. I think I was supposed to see Vincent Price swinging out toward my face or something. Clearly my mother and my aunt wore their glasses correctly because they got so scared they waited out the movie in the lobby of the theatre.
Not so with Avatar.
If you haven't seen it, get yourself to a theater and put those over sized dark glasses on even over your own prescription glasses and enter a whole different world with stuff falling all around you.
It was great fun even in Pasadena a couple of days before the Rose Parade.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Keep Dancing, Scraps

Scraps the cat is ill.
"She may have simply a hyperthyroid or she may have cancer," said the kind vet who came to our home.
"The only way to determine the exact cause of her weight loss and dehydration," he said, "would be to take her to a specialist in Orange County."
"If the diagnosis is simply a hyperthyroid," the vet said, "we would just carry on tricking her every day into taking a pill."
"However," he continued, "if she has cancer we could choose a long and invasive chemotherapy and radiation treatment which would ultimately destroy her thyroid and perhaps cure her."
The treatment would keep her away from home for several weeks. However, the web site of the Orange County specialist encouraged, we could watch her on a 24 hour live feed video. All of this was a few weeks ago.
Since then Scraps indulges us enough to take her daily pill. She eats. She sleeps. She grooms herself and her soul mate Rudy. She plays. And she gives us her usual piece of mind, complaining and correcting about this, that, and the other. She has gained weight and no longer appears dehydrated.
We're not taking her to Orange County. Only the most desperate of situations should motivate anyone to go to Orange County and right now Scraps does not seem desperate. I don't think this situation will ever get that desperate.
To celebrate life and life's possibilities, we gave Scraps a tiny saucer of caviar New Year's morning. In an orgy of delight, she purred and licked the saucer clean and then rolled in it and then rolled on the carpet and then scolded us for not giving her more.
I suspect that Scraps has been reading the book archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis and has adopted the philosophy embraced and expounded by Mehitabel the Cat. Mehitabel is living her ninth life with no regrets.
Mehitabel says, "toujours gai toujours gai -- wotthehell wotthehell -- there's a dance in the old dame yet."
I think Scraps is a lot like Mehitabel the Cat and there is definitely a dance or two in the old dame yet.
Same breakfast next year? You got it, Scraps.

Friday, January 1, 2010

First Sunset of the New Year

It was an Avatar sunset -- like suddenly being transported in 3D into a different world. And it took up the whole sky. First there were the swirling cloud formations seemingly placed on a shelf above the horizon and then there was the actual sunset flooding the Los Angeles skyline with shades of red ranging from just barely to the deepest imaginable purple. Buildings seemed transformed into magical shapes and the mountains jutted into the heavens to disappear into those spectacular cloud swirls.
Of course, we get it that sunsets in large part result from the sun's position and the path light travels through the atmosphere and the impact pollution and dust and dirt have on that light and the height and composition of clouds -- but come on. Give me a break. Sunsets are powerful and magical. End of story. And this first sunset of the new year promised days of power and magic for us all.
When she was critically ill and near death, my mother's doctors asked me what I wanted them to do should she experience another catastrophic cardiac crisis. Meaning, of course, what measures did I want them to take to prolong her life. I talked this over with my brother and then I talked it over with my mother's neurologist. Dr. Blicker asked me to tell her what survival would mean to my mother. I replied that if she could recognize the faces of her three grandchildren and appreciate a beautiful sunset she would think her life worth living.
Had she survived that next cardiac crisis and lived to see this sunset, my mother would have smiled and said that, yes, this is what living is all about.
That, of course, and the faces of her three grandchildren.
So, Mama, this one was for you.