Brown Trucks and Pictures

The UPS guy has become part of the family. His brown truck, looking like something retro from the 50’s, lumbers up and down our street daily. Wearing similarly colored garb, including short shorts even in cold weather, he emerges from his vehicle and, like Santa, delivers packages to brighten our day. The recycle container overflows with evidence of his frequent visits.

His boxes and padded envelopes usually appear at our front door, or in our mailbox, where they are least expected. Like kids, we tear open the package, and are sometimes surprised by its contents. “Did I order that?” The efficiency with which the whole system works, delivering stuff on time and to the correct location, always astounds me.

I have become accustomed to deliveries occurring more than once a day. Sometimes they appear at our door in the dark of night. On my trips through the house, I often turn my head and look through the glass panel on the side of the front door; it’s just to be sure that I haven’t missed a delivery and left a package in purgatory limbo.

I was surprised this morning as I instinctively looked through the panel and found a medium sized paper bag with fancy handles sitting on the stoop. Devoid of the usual Amazon Prime markings, I went into level 10 curiosity mode.

Lifting the bag, I noted its high quality. Its thickness and construction went well beyond anything that might be found at Westridge Market, or even at Whole Foods. It was so well made that I immediately regretted the image of its passage to our blue recycle bin, its unceremonious dumping into the puke green E.J. Harrison garbage truck, and its eventual life ending compression as though it was just another piece of paper.

I took the precious bag into the house, placed it lovingly on the kitchen counter, and looked deeply into its contents. It was a book.

Not just any book. It was heavy and a foot square, like a book that you might display on a coffee table in your living room. Called Our Ojai, it was authored by the Ojai Valley Defense Fund. The front cover looked familiar; a view of the Topa Topas in their pink moment grandeur. It was a photo taken by me years ago. The bottom left corner showed a darkened oak covered hill on my former Sulphur Mountain property.

I was elated. The photo was better than I remembered; I searched for the photo credit just to be sure it was really mine. It was, and I recalled the work I had done photographing the hills, the oil wells and the faces of those who had hiked the dense oak acreage during my twenty years of being part of it.

I was reminded of how prolific I had been, taking and displaying photos in any number of settings, both on the property and throughout Ojai. This was before I had fallen into disrepair and begun a retreat from an avocation that consumed much of my time; one that had given me such pleasure.

The book is filled with wonderful photos, some drawn from Ojai’s earliest days. Fifteen photographers contributed works that commemorate Ojai’s desire to remain relatively free of the big city trappings that plague other communities. The Defense Fund receives donations from people who value protecting Ojai’s unique character. The fund is used for legal fees and related items…or simply to indicate a capability of doing so in the face of attempts to destroy the Valley.

Thumbing through Our Ojai excites me as I glimpse my work and that of more talented photographers. It’s similar to the feeling I get walking through a photo exhibit, attending a competition, or going to the monthly meeting of the Ojai photo club.

In all these venues I often silently compare my imagined work to the real work of others. I find that I am critical of some of the work, and then remind myself that at least my peers are working at it, contributing and learning. I soak up ideas and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that.” I mentally pledge to, “Get back into it.” But at a deeper level, I fear that this apogee and nadir has happened before, and is likely to repeat itself.

Like the moon landing, maybe I need to take one small step at a time. Do it daily (except when I don’t want to) and give myself a passing grade whenever I just make the attempt. Sort of like my college mandatory weight-lifting class; I passed the course with a half-point to spare because I got that much just for trying a lift. I’m certain I became a CPA because, in large part, the partners liked my pecs.

Along the way I’ve given up heavy SLRs because I tire of carrying them; I’ve replaced it with a much lighter mirrorless camera. I’m taking more photos with my tiny iPhone and have begun a course on making the most of it. Jackie encourages me daily.

A breakthrough occurred because of Covid during which I took a series of photos of masked people, and shop windows bearing ominous virus warnings. But that was weeks ago. Since then, nothing.

Maybe the UPS guy will bring me a motivation-filled package…or another natural disaster.

…and while we’re waiting, you might like to see more of the Our Ojai book by visiting this web page…

What day is it?

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, begins at sundown on September 18. Being something less than a Talmudic scholar, I had assumed that it was only Jewish holidays that began and ended at sundown.

I often wondered why Jews didn’t just look at an ancient clock and, like everyone else, start their day somewhere around 12 midnight. And then I discovered that Muslims also begin their holidays at sundown. There are 15 million Jews in the world and nearly two billion Muslims, a quarter of the Earth’s population. The calendar is one of the few things that we sort of agree on.

We further befuddle our Christian friends by using a lunar calendar as opposed to the Gregorian, or solar, calendar adopted by Pope Gregory in 1582. Its predecessor was the Julian Calendar developed by the same guy who said, “You too, Brutus?”

Put simply, the solar calendar uses the passage of the earth around the sun to measure the passage of time (or days.) The lunar calendar uses the passage of the moon around the earth to do the same thing. The time it takes for the Earth to shlep around the sun is about 365 days, or one solar year. A lunar calendar month, defined as the time between new moons, is about 29.5 days. The Hebrew lunar calendar, tinkered with by Maimonides in the 12th century, is about eleven days shorter than the solar calendar.

So who cares, and what difference does it make anyway? As far as I know, no one has missed a meeting of the G20 Summit leaders, with the possible exception of President Trump, because some attendees used one calendar while others used another.

The only time I think about lunar versus solar is when I ask myself the question, “When is Rosh Hashanah this year?” Which actually seems like a stupid question. No one ever says, “When is the 4th of July this year?” Or, “When is Christmas this year?”

The reason the question about Rosh Hashanah isn’t stupid, is that it doesn’t fall on the same date each year…at least not on the Gregorian calendar; the one that stares at me from my iPhone every day.

For example, Rosh Hashanah was on October 2 in 2016, but falls on September 18 in 2020. In 2016, we probably said something like, “Oh my, the holidays are so late this year. I probably will freeze my tuchas.” Or this year we might say, “It’s early. Bet it’ll be hot in shul.” On the other hand, an orthodox Jew might say, “Late, shmate. It’s the same date every year, the first of Tishrei. Dummy.”

Since living the townie life in Ojai, I have become dependent on Rabbi Mordy to keep me up to date on the holidays. Passover brings him to my door with a box of matzohs made in Israel. Hannukah brings chocolate money, or gelt, for my sweet tooth. This morning, eight days before Rosh Hashanah, my doorbell rang and there he was, his face mask covering most of his scruffy beard.

“L’shana tovah…Happy new year”, he said while maintaining six feet of separation. He handed me a goody bag with a muffin, an apple and a small bottle of honey; all the traditional items for the new year. And a face mask which hopefully is not.

We talked about the coming of the messiah and agreed that this maybe wasn’t such a good year for it given the virus, the fires, the protests and the political leaders who don’t seem to have a clue about what to do.

Twenty minutes after Rabbi Mordy left, the doorbell rang again. Looking through the side glass I saw two tall, masked young men. They didn’t look much like my image of the messiah, and throwing caution to the wind, I opened the door. Holding out a small bag, they said, “Hi. We’re from the Crew to say thank you for your support.” The Crew employs young people to do brush clearance and trail maintenance, while at the same time enhancing their lives.

I thanked them, waited, and wondered if they were going to say “L’shana tovah.”

It was going to be a good day, solar or lunar.

Oh, and if you need to know what year it is, it’s 5781. But that’s another story.

Like falling off a log

Looking like vehicles that may have been designed with Batman in mind, our two dark gray electric-assisted bikes are nestled in our garage.

Unlike the spaciousness of Bruce Wayne’s bat cave, the garage is barely wide enough for our two cars. I am blessed with the starboard side of the garage that forces me to exit into the teeny space between the cars. My aging ligaments complain as I unscrew myself from the driver’s seat while avoiding a serious mishap that might require a series of follow-up visits to my chiropractor.

The two bat-bikes are lined up smack against the wall on the passenger side of my car, the same wall on which multiple menacing storage cabinets are hung. Negotiating the passageway between my car and the overhanging cabinetry invites a bloodletting injury to the top of my bald head.

The challenge presented by the bikes started in the MOB bike shop parking lot. I had just witnessed Jackie falling off her demo bike, and my brain decided to emulate the event with a four-star performance of my own, complete with scraped knee and severely damaged self-esteem. It was not a good omen.

Unfazed by the mishap, we forged ahead with the purchase of two bikes. The first, Jackie’s, was acquired from the Ojai Bike Store. Robert, the owner for some thirty-five years, was well informed and apparently willing to spend his thirty-sixth year exclusively in our company. Every inch of his store is covered with bikes, including some that are surely owned by deceased bikers who had grown weary waiting for repairs. The store, needing even greater challenges, also sells and services skateboards.

Before we met Robert, we had visited the MOB Shop for a demo that required disinfecting our hands, taking our temperatures, and completing a scary waiver of liability. These precautions proved particularly ineffective as both Jackie and I took headers off the bikes before leaving the parking lot. Sensing a possible lawsuit, the owner strongly urged me to give serious thought to my age and the foolishness that I was about to embark upon. To which I gave little heed as I remounted the bike while hiding my fears beneath a fragile facade of supreme confidence.

Robert embraced none of these precautions at the Ojai Bike Store. He merely turned on the bike batteries, adjusted the height of our seats, loaned us a couple of helmets, and waived farewell as we rode up Canada Street, scaring myself and the local motorists who somehow sensed the need to avoid us at all costs.

Electric assisted bikes are all the rage; perhaps too few riders have yet been maimed by them to cool their attractiveness. Consequently, the demand for these beasts exceeds the supply; like the Dutch tulip bulb craze in the 1600’s, this too shall reverse itself in due time.

Robert had a bike that met Jackie’s specifications…small, cute and comfy. We bought it, and like the birth of a couple’s first child, gave little thought to what comes next. My turn was less productive; Robert searched manufacturer databases to find one for me but came up empty. He offered a somewhat iffy chance that one would arrive in October. Unpersuaded by this modicum of hope and anxious to get the show on the road, Jackie took matters into her own hands.

Using the full capabilities of her iPhone 11, she called every bike store in the northern hemisphere and located the perfect bike in Costa Mesa, a mere two-hour jaunt from Ojai. The distance and the logistics of shlepping the bike home was too much for me. But not for Jackie.

Overcoming the salesman’s initial reluctance, she convinced the store to ship the bike to its Santa Monica sister location. Then she called the Santa Monica store and convinced them to bring it to Ojai free of charge, and that’s why it is now sitting in our aforementioned garage.

You’ve probably heard the old canard that once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget. While the basics of biking may be etched in one’s brain, nuances are another thing. While I may be able to mount a bike after 45 years of sloth and move 100 feet in a straight line, making a U-turn is another matter. There just doesn’t seem to be enough turning room; perhaps the streets are narrower than they were when I was a kid. Or the bikes are bigger. In either case, I cannot complete the U-turn before slamming into my neighbor’s parked Mercedes; I must get off the bike, back it up, straighten my trajectory and remount the beast. A sorry sight indeed. And if that wasn’t enough, this morning I watched two bike riding eight-year-olds perform feats that would have shamed the Flying Wallendas

But I’m learning. On Saturday we biked to Boccali’s pizza joint. It was a beautiful day, and caught up in the majesty of it, we had a glass of wine and gobbled up some delicious bruschetta. An hour later we got back on our bikes and rode down Highway 150 where I decided to make a right turn onto Carne Road. It must have been one of those narrower than I remember it roads. Failing to negotiate the turn and believing that riding into the ditch would be a bad move, I pancaked the bike and ended up kissing the road with my elbow. To assuage my feelings of incompetence, Jackie said it was the wine.

Realizing that my once-learned, never-forgotten skills would be a work in process, she bought a pocket-sized first-aid kit the next day. Something to look forward to.

This morning I decided to hone my skills. I carefully squeezed into the narrow space between my car and the garage wall and approached the sleeping bike with mounting apprehension. Avoiding the menacing overhead cabinets, I grasped the handlebars like a rodeo cowboy and slowly moved it backwards toward the safety of the open driveway. In my zeal to prove myself, I forgot about the bike pedals and banged one of them into my left shin. Bleeding like a hemophiliac, I decided that my bike day was over.

After all, I don’t want to rush my skills development and have nothing to do tomorrow.

Scenic-less

Floyd and Dan were here for a few days installing a new window in our bedroom. The room is big, but it has a scarcity of glass. Entering this unappealing space seemed as though I was being committed to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in a cell that was both dimly lit and uninviting. My only companion, Edmond Dantes.

We considered installing skylights to perk up things. That plan met an early demise when we were told that the attic heating system would require movement to another planet. Serious rafter work would also be needed to accommodate the skylight shafts that would begin with a hole in the roof and end ten feet later in the ceiling. Visualizing an effort akin to construction of China’s Great Wall, we sadly abandoned the project.

Jackie was the catalyst for the new window. Lying in bed in the early morning hours often brings her to wistfully say, “I loved your old house on the hill. I’d wake up in the morning and look through the large windows where I could see the sunrise and the oak covered hills. Sometimes I never wanted to get out of bed.” An appealing picture, I thought.

The only view of the outdoors visible from our current bed was through a sliding glass door. Located in the corner of the room, the door permitted an unspectacular view of the underside of the patio cover. A miniscule glimpse of blue sky required a neck wrenching, shoulder lifting movement that often resulted in taking the fallback position of being satisfied with the patio cover. We regularly imagined what might lay beyond if we were only permitted to see it. Even then, a glimpse of the Edison utility pole and the backyard wooden fence would scarcely match the visual gifts we had enjoyed living up on the hill.

Views may seem like just a nice thing to have, however, professionals at the Warwick Business School in Coventry, England have concluded that views have a medical benefit as well…

Scientists have discovered that people feel healthier when they live and look out over scenic areas.

Yet don’t worry if you are a townie. Research shows the same theory is true for those living in suburban and even inner- city areas.

Even the amount of green you perceive across the landscape is not vital to get the scenic effect. Seeing browns, blues and greys across an urban view – perhaps a suggestion of mountains and lakes – also seems to have positive impacts.

The Warwick folks used an on-line computer game to query over a million Brits who viewed and rated 212,000 pictures of Britain. The ratings measured the “scenic-ness” of the pictures and confirmed the finding that people like scenic stuff more than views of shopping malls, skyscrapers, busses and slums. The cost of performing and analyzing the results is a closely held secret.

A highlight of the findings revealed that people felt better after viewing lakes, streams, valleys and rolling hills than they did when they saw rusted-out and abandoned rail yards, or the inside of auto junkyards.

I’m sure the principal Warwick researchers were, like most Englishmen, surprised by their findings. Into the night discussions over a pot of tea were intense; they might have even challenged their own amazing conclusions. Only after months of lengthy deliberations, and a detailed examination of each of the million findings, did they feel comfortable enough to reveal the results to the general public.

A near panic arose among citizens who were living in scenic-less abodes. Fearful that they were doomed to suffer unhappiness and ill-health, thousands besieged the business school and demanded an audience with the Warwick researchers. Picketing Warwick’s gates 24/7 went on for weeks. Shouting “scab” and worse, blameless employees were unable to get to work; their families went on the Dole.

Finally relenting, Warwick agreed to a personal confrontation with leaders of the scenic-less populace. An agreement was reached. Warwick would do a second study. It is currently in progress and a detailed report is promised in the not too distant future. The belligerent group, now formally named The Scenic-less, are watching and waiting.

Jackie and I discussed the Warwick findings at length. We once were surrounded by scenic splendor. Now, not so much. We agree that our healthy feelings are now less frequent. Tiredness is more the rule than the exception. We believe that changes in our lives may be attributable to the loss of the views that we once took for granted.

Symptoms of unhealthiness abound. My nose and ear hair grow faster. Her Botox-assisted wrinkles appear more resistant to intervention. An Acia bowl from Revel no longer raises our spirits. We attribute this diminishment of our fortunes to now being one of The Scenic-less.

In an effort to return to our former selves, we’ve placed ourselves in Floyd’s hands. He has started the road to our salvation by giving us a new bedroom window. He has other ideas that he promises to share with us when the time is right.

Meanwhile, I plan to claim a medical deduction for the cost of Floyd’s work.

 

I Looked Both Ways Today

I looked both ways today. Twice.

Marion Weil died last Friday in a tragic bicycle accident. Although an investigation is proceeding, it seems that a motorist ran into Marion while she was with her much-used Como electric bike on Cuyama Road in Ojai.

The motorist apparently was headed west on Cuyama around 7pm; a time when the sunset is beautiful but also deadly for pedestrians and bicycles who are confronted by a glare-impaired driver headed directly into the sun with a two-ton metal behemoth. “I never saw her. The sun blinded me. I couldn’t avoid her.”

That evening, shortly after the accident, Jackie received a call from a friend. I was busy in the kitchen when her phone rang. I eavesdropped. “Hi, always good hearing from you. What’s up?” The casual banter ended abruptly and was replaced with, “No, I don’t believe it. Oh my god.”

The conversation went on for a minute or two and I became more intrigued by it. It was obviously something more serious than a jilted woman, the inability to get a hair appointment, or the latest on the faculty infighting at Cal State.

I became more anxious as I tried to guess what was going on. Jackie completed the call, turned to me and said, “Marion Weil was hit by a car. She’s dead.”

A nanosecond passed and I thought, “That’s not right. It’s a mistake.”

Marion had been in our back yard about a month ago. At first refusing our cheap wine, she relented and had her fill. Clever and quirky without wine, she added humor and cuteness when she’d had a couple. At 78 she was analytical, remembered everything, and made physical fitness one of her mantras. She most assuredly planned to live to the biblical age of six score years.

In the midst of the pandemic, here was a perfectly clad Marion, without a sense of time, enjoying herself while regaling us with her upcoming adventures. Never shy, she revealed herself freely, and simultaneously questioned us unmercifully. I thought she’d never leave, yet we felt that something was missing when she finally walked out the gate.

Marion’s whereabouts were generally unpredictable. We often drove by the structure that housed her and her tenant, the Livingston Visiting Nurse Association. We looked for her unpretentious car as an indication of her Ojai presence. We often joked that when Marion became incapacitated by old age, a doubtful event, she only needed to walk the 50 steps between her digs and the VNA to jump into Hospice.

It doesn’t matter how many days pass; it seems like she is still with us. I expect to see her car in front of the VNA when I drive down Matilija Street. Or receive a text from her suggesting that we gather again in our backyard to meet a new friend. Or announcing that she’s off to Orange County to visit her favorite niece, and that she would be gone for an extended time. Maybe until fall. Maybe beyond. She’d promise to keep us in the loop, of course.

In addition to bequeathing a legacy of community involvement and support, Marion has left me with something else. Call it being careful. Call it a warning. Call it a wakeup.

I look both ways, twice, when crossing the street. Even that seems too little. I listen for the sounds of oncoming traffic and then realize that electric cars are stealthy. I look into the shadows cast by the giant oaks, fearing that a block of steel, painted black, is waiting for me. Playing no favorites, I also search for the oncoming bicycle which, while less lethal, could end my Shelf Road hiking escapades.

Not wishing to further irritate a driver who may be just off an argument with the spouse, I wait until traffic has cleared before stepping into the street. Pedestrian right-of-way means little to a preoccupied, irritable driver. Once in the street, I scurry across to reduce my chances of becoming one with the machine.

But there is a further urgency. Besieged by the latest Covid-19 affliction statistics, ballyhooed vaccine development, and moving target social engagement rules, Marion had little time to devote to the possibility of death on a bicycle.

Yet here we are. A reminder that we plan, and god laughs. Just when you think it’s safe to come in from the cold, a glacier falls on your face. Or as Forest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I think I’ll get a new bike.

Big Mac

My new computer arrived three days ago. My blood pressure has elevated into an orbit around Mercury. The heat generated by the tension has caused the inverse of goose bumps to appear all over my body. My attention is fully focused on the new addition to our household.

My uncharacteristic procrastination on other matters has reached a level that surprises even me. All this prompts Jackie to sweetly say…

“It’s so messy in here…I don’t like messy.”

Frequently followed by, “How long will you be monopolizing what once was our space.”

Or, reaching an Olympic size 10 in exasperation, “I have never had to remind or ask you twice. Now I do. I’m not happy.”

And she’s right. As usual.

But I do have an alibi. This is the first time I have tried to make friends with a Mac computer. Although I have an iPhone, an iPad Mini and an iPad Not So Mini, my desktop and laptop have always been PCs powered by the much-maligned Windows operating system. Bill and Melinda Gates started their charitable foundation with funds I have invested in PCs ever since Al Gore and I invented them nearly 50 years ago.

Jackie has an iPhone and a MacBook laptop. When I started thinking about replacing my seven-year-old fading Dell PC, Jackie said. “Ya know, in this house Apple products outnumber the Dark Side’s inferior devices 5 to 2. It makes complete sense for you to get a Mac. And, while you are going through this metamorphosis, an Apple laptop too.”

My protestations about being an 81-year-old, rapidly deteriorating over-the-hill guy, won little sympathy from Jackie. I even tried a ploy that suggested I had little time left on this earth; certainly not nearly enough time to learn a new operating system. Her loving response was, “You’re in great shape. Better than I am. You are going to live forever.”

Her impeccable logic and sweet face won me over and I took my money out of the Gates Foundation and moved it to the house that Steve Jobs built.

I had recurring apoplexy thinking about the keystroke conventions that I had to learn. I was sure I’d need a 500-page manual, two four-week on-line seminars, and a nanny who would hold my hand while I absorbed this new foreign language.

I figured on having a stroke trying to transfer nearly two terabytes of data from the Dell to the Mac that includes thousands of photos I’d taken over the last twenty years. Irreplaceable, but who would care other than me?

I worried about the permanent paralysis that would seize my limbs as I tried to move 15 years of Quickbooksdata from one operating system to another. I was positive that I’d lose the Ojai Library Foundation records. The meticulously maintained Seagate backup would surely go up in flames as I tried to import this precious information to the Mac. Ten years in San Quentin, reading only Danielle Steel novels, would be my fate.

So, I became a coward and enlisted Wyn’s help. A talented guy, he unboxed the behemoth from its kryptonite casing and set it manfully on the dining room table. Its massive 27-inch screen tantalized me as I envisioned what might appear on it. National Geographic award winning photos that had previously been beyond my grasp were now child’s play as I explored and mastered a revitalized Photoshop.  Pulitzer prize winning essays once beyond my capabilities were now produced daily by Word in high definition, and were frantically sought after by the New York Times and Simon & Schuster. MIT would call me every morning to learn of my latest mathematical theorem produced with the aid of a high contrast, fully utilized, Excel application.

Nothing would be beyond my capabilities with the aid of the bright new Mac. It was liberating. It was well worth the outrageous cost. I wondered why I had waited so long to embrace the Apple.

I stared at the old Dell sitting rejected on the dimly lit end of the dining room table. Focusing on my reliable friend, I thought I heard a sigh, maybe a whimper. I guessed it was just the humming of the fan motor that had run for seven years without fail.

But it was something else. I edged closer and held my breath. And I swear that it uttered this warning coined by Oscar Wilde…

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

 

Pizza in Cambria

It was time we did something different. Hanging around the house, getting take-outs, and occasionally meeting friends six feet removed was getting old. Even the face masks were becoming all too familiar; the allure behind the mask was waning. A refresher was in order. Something with a challenge.

Cambria is about three hours away up the Pacific Coast Highway. Just far enough to feel like you’ve gone enough miles to stay overnight, and for friends to later say, “And how was your trip?”

We packed out bags with more than we needed and loaded the car with enough snacks to open a roadside diner. Jackie loves snacking in the car and shleps a potpourri of green organic grapes, outrageously priced granola from Rainbow Bridge, and similarly priced Brazil nuts. All of which fits nicely in a Westridge Market paper bag nestled at her tiny feet, leaving ample room to lean back and devote her attention to a busy iPhone.

We hit the 101 around noon and set the cruise control for San Luis Obispo, two hours north. I’ve been in SLO a few times but find it a bit too much like Santa Barbara. With fewer attractions, its principal draws are a local shoe store selling Jackie’s favorite Uggs boots, Cal Poly University, and the California Men’s Colony a few miles west of town.

With about 4,000 guests, the state-run Men’s Colony is both a minimum and medium security facility. It has housed many notables including several members of the once popular Manson family, some of whom, like 78-year-old Bruce Davis, are serving two life sentences.

Other less murderous, but equally dangerous, notables include Charles Keating of the 1980’s savings and loan debacle fame. Timothy Leary spent some prime time there in 1970 working off his conviction for possession of marijuana; today he would have been hailed as a successful CBD salesman on Bryant Circle.

Passing the Colony, we are eventually rewarded with a look at Morro Rock, the principal reason why anyone turns their head to the left while whizzing north through a rather desolate, cold and usually overcast town.  The 581-foot-high Rock, some 23 million years old, is a volcanic plug composed of lava and petrified bird feces. Trying to lure more tourists, the citizens of Morro Bay managed to get the Rock designated a California Historical Landmark, including the guano.

Completing our glimpse of the Rock, we continued north and passed through Cayucos. The town name is a Hispanic twist on the Chumash word for kayak or canoe, used by the Indians as they fished in the bay. The town is graced with two restaurants, one of which was closed for remodeling during our last visit.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at Cambria’s El Colibri Hotel at the south end of Moonstone Beach Road. Expecting a largely deserted metropolis due to the virus, we were amazed to see No Vacancy signs adorning the front of many of the motels along the mile and a half stretch of road.

The El Colibri had cleaned and sanitized our room; the front desk clerk promised never to come back again during our three day stay. No daily cleanings, no waste basket emptying, no morning coffee and, most depressingly, the sorely missed bedtime turndowns complete with warm chocolate chip cookies.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking about town dodging the other vacationers who were nearly all wearing face masks. We felt guilty with our exposed faces and we dutifully covered them whenever we ventured into any of the lightly stocked, hand sanitizer possessed, overpriced gift shops.

Dinner was at Robins. Initially placed at a table for two in the restaurant industry’s equivalent to the Gulag Archipelago, Jackie rose to her full five-foot-one height and commandeered a lovely spot right next to two guys who make a living playing guitars for people who were alive prior to the advent of contemporary music, with its unintelligible lyrics. It was wonderful.

The next day included a visit to Nit Wit Ridge, an old, nearly abandoned home that looks like any one of the three wolves could blow it down. Furnished in junk rescued from the dump, it features old toilets standing at attention at the chain link fence entry to the property; the rest of the mansion’s art was less impressive. A sign announced, “Next Tour at 2.” We departed at one and proudly checked it off our bucket list.

Time for lunch. We marched from the west end of town to the east end, passing a fair number of restaurants with de rigueur outside dining. Thinking that the holy grail of restaurants must be just a few steps ahead, we walked and walked until we had exhausted all our options. A pizza place was at the end of our death march and, gasping for air, we gave our pizza order to a woman who obviously had prior experience working for the IRS, or had just gone on pension from the California Men’s Colony. We added a salad, paid for it with half our remaining vacation funds, and waited for our surprise meal.

The pizza was one of the soggy crust variety that showed little evidence of the mushroom, garlic and basil toppings for which we had paid dearly. We ate half of it and left the rest on a bus bench near a high-end homeless encampment.

We had planned to have dinner at a classier restaurant, but our visit to the elephant seals near Hearst Castle had tired us. Watching them slither along the beach with a ton of fat wobbling under their molting skin had also put a dietetic dent in our appetites. We returned to the confines of our untouched and somewhat less hygienic hotel room.

We procrastinated long enough to preclude dining out. Querying our innkeeper, we were told that, due to the hour, J J Pizza was the only food joint still delivering. We called and, discounting our noontime meal disappointment as a once-in-lifetime culinary aberration, again ordered pizza. Along with a salad, our meal arrived in J J’s arms not fifteen minutes later.

We tasted a pizza that reminded us of lunch and a salad with Italian dressing that seemed familiar. We wondered if all Cambria pizzas were made using the same recipe.  We ate half the pizza and put the rest on the top of the three-foot-high stack of used Kleenex, empty bottles and other detritus accumulating in our once pristine waste basket.

The following day opened with the prior day’s agenda. Take a hike to the end of the road under cloud laden, cold skies. Grab breakfast that had been better left on a bus bench and take another hike to the east end.

Reaching the end of the road, Jackie looked up and spotted a sign on the roof of the pizza joint that had provided yesterday’s lunch encounter with the former IRS employee. The sign boldly proclaimed, “J J Pizza.” Being quick learners, we realized that we had not only eaten lunch at this Michelin four-star diner, we had unknowingly ordered a delivered dinner from the same place six hours later.

Well at least we had a whole pizza…half for lunch and the other half for dinner. A one-for-two pricing special.

No Spitting Allowed

What has baseball come to when it announces that players may no longer spit on the field?

Trying to protect the players from each other, major league baseball is starting the new season about a hundred days late with a bunch of rules that, in my opinion, take the heart right out of the grand old game.

Spitting, “including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds, peanut shells, or tobacco,” is prohibited. One wonders, given the phrase “not limited to,” what else the players might have had in their mouths that requires nonstop spitting while they stand around scratching their balls.

chewing tobaccoWatching players and umpires chew great wads of tobacco has been a favorite part of America’s beloved sport. As a teenager I engaged in ranking the players who practiced the art of sequestering a large wad of the stuff in their right cheek. In addition to the size of the wad, my rankings included points for the distance the player could periodically spew forth that glob of viscous brown spit. In later years, sunflower seeds became the object de jure, leaving as much as a ton of shells on the dugout floor.

Hank Sauer, a by-gone home run hitter and porous left fielder for my hometown Chicago hank sauerCubs, was my tobacco chewing hero. His unique style of simultaneously swinging two ten-pound bats produced prodigious homers and endeared him to the crowd. Bleacher fans would reward Hank with dozens of packets of his favorite Beech Nut chewing tobacco when he returned to his defensive post after having just clubbed a home run ball onto Waveland Avenue. Hank would be heartbroken today to see how far the great sport has fallen. Rest in peace, Hank.

Continuing this 2020 march to cleanliness, the League will require pitchers to carry a small wet rag that substitutes for the gross habit of licking their fingers as though they had just consumed a juicy barbecued rib from the Deer Lodge. Licking is intended to improve the pitcher’s ability to grip the ball, and like all useless rules it has gone through several alterations over the years. At one time there was no rule. That was amended to allow licking if it was followed by drying the fingers. Recognizing the silliness of that amendment, the rule was changed to allow licking so long as the pitcher was not on the rubber…something that left a few players confused and their girlfriends pregnant.

Studying the latest Covid-19 data, the League realized that germs could be transmitted by fondling the ball; therefore, the offending sphere will be ejected from the game if it is touched by multiple players. Perhaps needing some further clarification, this rule may require a new ball on every pitch delivered by the pitcher to the catcher and then returned to the pitcher. The only party supporting this ball consumption rule is the Wilson Sporting Goods company. A possible solution to this problem is to eliminate the catcher all together and allow the balls to accumulate behind the plate until retrieved by the batboy; one who is too young to be seriously affected by the virus and who, in fact, is easily replaced.

lou piniella 1990One of the most engaging components of America’s pastime involves arguing with the umpire. Lou Piniella, another Cub for another time, was a master of the art. Billy Martin, the 1988 Yankee manager, won an early departure award for being thrown out of a game in the third inning; hardly enough time to deposit one’s share of seed shells in the dugout.

The goal of the manager rant was to get within six inches of the umpire’s face to show you meant business without being tossed out of the game. This wasn’t easy since the umpire was king of the hill and woefully unschooled in the art of compromise.

Alas, the virus has put an end to this traditional arguing by requiring the combatants to remain at least six feet apart during the altercation. This restriction might eventually turn the event into something like Muhammed Ali doing a rope-a-dope around Sonny Liston while flitting around home plate. To bone up on their body language skills, major league managers and umpires will undoubtedly attend choreography classes hosted by the likes of Gower Champion and Tommy Tune.

Speaking of umpires, they have adamantly refused to wear Covid-19 masks while behind home plate. They insist that the standard metal birdcage mask intended to keep foul balls from climbing up their nostrils is adequate protection from the virus. After team owners petitioned President Trump, scientific evaluation of the umpires’ claim became top priority at the Centers for Disease Control.

Recognizing that the changes may lengthen a game that annually bores more people toGroup of ball players death than the Corona virus, the League has made several changes in the hope of concluding a nine-inning game before Yankee Stadium is overrun by the Mendenhall glacier.

Attempting to speed up extra inning games, the following head scratching rule has been adopted:

Each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base. The batter (or a substitute for the batter) who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule.

Or a more lucid rule:

All pitchers — both starters and relievers — must face at least three batters (or pitch until the inning is over) before they come out of a game.

This new three-batter rule will eliminate the use of multiple pitchers who only throw a single pitch and are then yanked for a new pitcher who throws only one pitch, etc. etc. consuming valuable time that could better be spent watching Gilligan’s Island reruns. The old rule often found managers running out of pitchers. They were then forced to wander through the stands looking for anyone who might have at least played Pee-Wee ball.

Live fans attending the games are now a thing of the past. Replaced by virtual electronic media, you can stay home, sit in your ratty easy chair, drink two-dollar instead of ten-dollar Budweiser, and not have to stand in line at the urinal (unless your wife makes you do some weird stuff.)

To compensate for the loss of the real thing, you can watch the game and punch computer icons that show whether you’re cheering, booing or clapping. And just like on Gilligan’s Island, technicians in the TV studio will add canned noise to match the icons of your choice.

Presumably, there will still be a seventh inning stretch. But Take me out to the ball game will have a whole new meaning.

A Bike Story

My first bicycle was a Schwinn. Black and white with shiny fenders, it gleamed in the sunshine as it stood waiting for me in the alley behind my folks’ second floor porch in Chicago’s Albany park, a mecca for transplanted Russians and other Jews.

I walked around the bike that my father had brought home the prior evening and had placed out of harm’s way in one of the darkened basement sheds allocated to tenants. I had whined for weeks about wanting a bike, so its appearance on my birthday was not a shock.

At eleven, I was not yet aware of my parents limited financial resources. Surrounded by family, friends, and other neighborhood denizens, I was primarily exposed to people living in similar circumstances. In retrospect, I’m sure that the bike took a healthy bite out of father’s paycheck.

SchwinnThe Cadillac of bikes, its company was established 1895 by Ignaz Schwinn, a German immigrant, and his meat packer partner Adolph Arnold. It survived the Great Depression and continued producing bikes in the U.S. under various corporate guises until it finally succumbed to the allure of Chinese productivity. The Paramount, Stingray, and Schwinn-Twinn came and went. Advertising kept Schwinn in the public eye; the company was an early sponsor of TV’s Captain Kangaroo.

I walked around the sturdily built bike with fat balloon tires and its lever-actuated bell mounted on the handlebar. In 1950, this bike would have been called snazzy, flashy, and sleek. I daydreamed about where it would take me while I built up my confidence. Finally, I lifted my left leg over the horizontal bar that announced the bicycle’s gender as a “boy’s bike.”

Swinging the kickstand up from the asphalt, I brought the left side pedal to its full vertical position and placed my foot on top of it. I pushed the pedal forward. The bike moved a few feet. I tried to hop up onto the thickly cushioned seat. And then I fell over.

The bike shivered as it came to rest on its left side, the front wheel spinning slowly for what seemed an eternity. Then it stopped and all was silent. I had scraped my knee but, in comparison to the shame I felt, it was no big deal. The bike had escaped relatively unscathed except for a scratch on the chrome plated handlebar near the bell. It was a reminder that stayed with me each time I mounted the Schwinn that took me through my college years.

I bought a ten-speed racing bike when our kids were safely in school. For not much reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. Like all bikes of its genre, it was fitted with a seat that produced pain at the same level as the Spanish Inquisition’s torture rack. The seat was a combination of metal tubing covered with some animal skin. That’s it. No padding. No springs. Not a good combination for a guy with a skinny ass and a low tolerance for pain.racing bike seat

When I began riding the bike with the Torquemada designed seat, I complained to whoever would listen. Some people commiserated while others said, “Keep at it. You’ll get used to it.” And I thought, “Why should I?”

My bike riding consisted largely of shifting gears that never seemed to do what I wanted, and repositioning my ass trying to share my discomfort equally with the various pressure points in my butt and my tailbone.  And so, unlike my dear Schwinn, the ten-speed ended up in our Northridge garage, gathering dust and losing air in the tires until they were flat. I finally sold it to someone with a highly cushioned ass, for a whole lot less than I paid for it. Good riddance.

Twenty years passed in Northridge while I avoided a further encounter with a bike. The next move to our Ojai home high up on the hill put an end to any thought of mounting one. The terrain was much too steep; merely walking up Sulphur Mountain Road required the skill of a gazelle and the lungs of a blue whale. People with bikes who tried it were known to stop mid-way, cry unconsolably, and admit defeat.

I moved to town almost a year ago. To a house without steps, on a flat lot, in a flat neighborhood and with a flat one-mile walk to the Ojai Post Office. Surrounded by scores of bikers, Jackie and I talked about being part of that in-crowd. We were particularly attracted to electric assisted E-bikes. Not a fully operational motor scooter, the E-bike merely compliments one’s own pedal power with an array of assisted options. Given my age, I felt no shame with the idea of sharing the load with a lithium ion battery.como ebike

A week ago, we called the MOB bike shop and found that they would be happy to have us try the E-bike that afternoon at 2. Choosing to ignore the current 99-degree temperature, we jumped at the offer. Arriving at the shop, I casually informed Jackie that my car thermometer was recording the first triple digits of the summer. Consistent with her penchant for following through with commitments, she said, “It’s an electric bike. We’ll go slow. Only for ten minutes. Don’t be a pussy. You’ll be fine.”

Tim took our temperature to rule out Covid-19; I was mildly disappointed when I passed the test. Handing us over to young Melanie, we signed the usual waivers relieving the shop of any liability including the crime of wantonly exposing octogenarians to bodily harm. She gave us general instructions that I immediately forgot, fitted us with fashionable helmets, and adjusted our seat heights to a position based on information only known to her.

Jackie was the first to fall from the bike not ten feet from the shop’s front door. Light as a feather, she landed unscathed. I figured I could do better. Mounting the bike, I depressed the left pedal. Moving forward I brushed against Jackie, lost my balance, and fell stage-right while the bike attempted a quick escape by falling stage-left. I scraped the same knee that was a victim in the Schwinn incident seventy years ago, including my embarrassment.

The shop owner, who had been watching this Marx Brothers routine, came closer to me than Covid-19 precautions allow and said, “You know, while the bike is valuable, the safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Translated, he meant, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for this? You’ll probably kill yourself. Be smart. Get your ass out of here before it’s too late.”

Rising to my full five-foot-eight and a half inches (I used to be five-ten), I thanked the owner for his concern, assured Jackie that I was in full control of my senses, and reclaimed the wayward bike.

We walked the bikes across Ojai Avenue, mounted them and rode with some trepidation to the bike path. We entered the path, dodged oncoming fearless bikers, and were successful at avoiding further mishaps.

We returned the bikes, once again walking them across the Avenue. I glanced at the owner and with some smugness said, “Thank you for your concerns but I’ve got everything under control.” Lying does not become me and I think he knew better; but, sensing a possible sale, he nodded his agreement.

My knee is nicely scabbed over. We’re going riding again tomorrow. Think I’ll wear long pants.

A Mask is More than a Mask

You would have thought that the benefits of wearing a mask during this pandemic had finally become settled science. And that only loons would be resisting the call of the mask. But then you’d be wrong.

“Americans are rarely up in arms when they see signs that require them to wear shoes or shirts because abiding by those standards is part of our culture,” says NYU expert David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences.

“There’s a certain bravado of being angry and defying requirements to wear a mask,” he continued.

“Those who choose not to wear masks may feel a sense of solidarity, like they’re taking a stand against authority,” Professor Abrams concluded.

“Once Trump clearly did not wear mask in public, it transmitted a signal that if you’re a good supporter of the president you don’t wear a mask,” reported Chris Jackson of IPSOS public affairs.

Like the learned persons noted above, I’ve often wanted to be quoted in the media, but I’ve never said anything worthwhile. So, in my continuing quest for a memorable byline, I decided to wander through the Ojai metropolis hoping to capitalize and report on the wear/don’t wear issues facing my fellow citizens.

I thought that taking their photos would be a good way of breaking the ice with them. I therefore armed myself with my most impressive piece of camera equipment as a way of assuring potential interviewees that I was indeed the real thing, and someone to be reckoned with. It also would add credence to my encounters with young women who might have otherwise thought that I was merely a dirty old man hoping to take closeup pictures of their breasts and tight shorts.

I love taking photos of people but am a bit reluctant to approach strangers for fear of rejection. To minimize that possibility, I developed a sure-fire way of addressing the problem that featured an elaborate introduction.

“Hi. I’m taking photos of people wearing masks. Can I take yours?” It was a guaranteed winner.

Slinging my camera over my shoulder (it looks a lot cooler that way than draping it around one’s neck) my adventure began with a mid-morning stroll through the grassy plaza between Bonnie Lu’s and Rains, used primarily by pet owners who have nowhere else for their loved ones to take a dump.

My first encounter involved a young couple and their dog.

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“Why are you wearing a mask?” I pointedly asked, adding, “And why isn’t your obviously disinterested dog wearing one?”

The young man replied, “We formerly were terrorists from Afghanistan and have worn masks since we were three. The dog is a Trump supporter and refuses to wear one. He’s a Birther too. We only take him with us so he doesn’t get pissed and crap on the carpet.”

I next wandered over to the plaza fountain and discovered a bevy of young women who were enjoying the warm day and doing a lot of giggling.

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I asked the cute brunette, “What brings you to Ojai on this beautiful day and why are you covering up that lovely face?”

“We don’t work, and we live with our parents who support us financially. We’ve got everything we need in our big house in the Arbolada. I love these Acai bowls from Revel even though we all know they are worse for you than what you get at Ojai Ice Cream. But I ignore it like everything else in my life and hope it will all work out without me doing anything.”

“But what about the masks?” I said.

“Oh, the masks. We just think they are really cool looking. We pick up guys much more easily and never have to show them our faces. Maybe someday they’ll make a body mask too.”

Leaving the lovely ladies, I decided to circumnavigate the plaza and found this young man standing outside the Tortilla House on Signal Street.

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“You’re obviously an upstanding citizen. What brings you to the Tortilla House and why are you wearing a mask?”

“I’m a big Trumper and I only go to restaurants that fly the flag. I’d dump this shitty mask which has been proven to be of no medical value, but Jose the owner will call the cops on me. Can’t wait till Trump is re-elected and we can trash the masks, get rid of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ban Yoga, and shut down every Vegan food joint in this town.”

I thanked him for his patriotic insights and moved on. Mid-way on Ojai Avenue, I found this trucker in front of Osteria Monte Grappa.

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“Welcome to our town,” I began. Why are you wearing a mask and aren’t you worried about exposing yourself to all these stores and people?“

“I have no idea if these masks are any good. But I figure what have I got to lose?” And my covered face makes me even more attractive to the girls. In fact, I just picked up a cute brunette near the plaza fountain.”

I was getting tired and decided to call it a day. On my way I found these two women near Rains department store.

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“Ladies, you look exactly like native Ojaians should look. Do you mind if I take your picture?”  (I had dropped any elaborate explanation of why I was doing this since no one seemed to care and everyone wanted their picture taken anyway.)

The more statuesque of the two said, “Yes, please take our picture with our masks. And could we have a copy? We’d love to send it to our kids who live in L.A. and who worry that we are exposing ourselves to the virus by shlepping all over town without proper precautions. They foolishly think we’re getting senile, especially when we tell them that President Wilson assures us that he has the Spanish Flu under control.”

I laughed, packed it in and, after discussing the pros and cons of The League of Nations, I said good-bye to the ladies and asked them who they would be voting for this November.

“Why Mr. Harding, of course.”

In retrospect, I consider my mask adventure a great success. Only a quarter of the people I met seemed to have any thoughts about the medical value of face coverings. Which is probably a good thing since all that does is cause arguments. And besides, the Swine Flu is right around the corner. Good thing President Ford is planning to vaccinate all of us.


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