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.

20200707_0307_8_9_Enhancer

“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.

20200707_0322_3_4_Enhancer

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.

20200707_0310_1_2_Enhancer

“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.

20200707_0313_4_5_Enhancer

“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.

20200707_0316_7_8_Enhancer

“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.

Elixir of Life

Jackie is at Starvation Palace.

Formally known as Optimum Health Institute, San Diego based OHI is a popular place for losing weight or grappling with an illness that may have defied traditional medicine’s array of high-tech equipment, wonder drugs and a plethora of health care professionals. In Jackie’s case, it is a place where she can escape the mundane and embrace the physical and mental detoxing that cleanses her body and nurtures her soul.

I’ve been there four times and probably rank as one of OHI’s more mundane customers. My two reasons for going there are first, that’s where Jackie is. Second, I like to personally prepare my twice a day servings of wheat grass juice.

You already know all about how she has captivated and seduced me, so let me dwell instead on the preparation and allure of wheat grass juice.

OHI has a preparation room that can accommodate six persons. Each person has access to an industrial strength juicing machine that should have multiple warnings, including disembowelment for the careless. The machine diabolically runs at an almost snail-like pace, lulling the user into a false sense of security. Each year, one or two guests have mysteriously disappeared from the campus, adding credence to the power of the juicer.

OHI’s gardens produce a portion of the dark green grass with occasional augmentation by a masked supplier who, like all suppliers and staff, has been vetted for adherence to the vegan lifestyle, the promise to never use anything stronger than baby aspirin, and an almost Zen-like adherence to the rules of Kundalini yoga.

The raw, dark green grass is stored in a refrigerator. Strongly admonished to wear a disposable latex glove on one hand, clumps of it may be taken for the juicing process. I often forget which hand is gloved and feel ashamed for touching the precious grass with my naked skin. I write it off to creeping senility and the fact that I am usually the oldest, most needy person on campus.

The grass is an elixir that has been credited with relieving nearly everything from teenage acne to stage four brain cancer. The precious harvest is not to be squandered. Unused grass is not to be returned to the refrigerator. One is cautioned to take only what is needed to make two ounces of juice. First year guests are often banished from the juicing room for multiple violations of this requirement.

Some of the juicing machines outperform others and, like a preferred chardonnay, guests usually have a favorite. Finding someone in your spot can be a real downer that may require an extra helping of deep transcendental meditation immediately following breakfast.

The juicer is turned on and the grass is fed into a hopper. A wooden push stick prods the grass into the bowels of the hopper. It is a slow process that occasionally entices the impatient user to push ever more forcefully on the wooden stick. This only aggravates the machine which then, like a three-year-old, refuses to process what has now become a glutinous glump of mashed grass. The guilty party then must find someone who can help alleviate the problem. Failing to find a good Samaritan, the irreverent violator may seek out another machine, leaving the inoperable juicer feeling unloved and abandoned.

The green juice exits the machine in a very thin stream. It is filtered through a metal sieve which rests upon a five cent Dixie cup much like the one that Nurse Ratched used to deliver pills to the lobotomized Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

One must pay close attention as the cup fills. A precise two ounces will do it. Too little will reduce the touted benefits. Too much will cause a biblical flood that will consume precious cleanup minutes that could better be spent on the lawn, doing nothing.

Like a pig, no part of the plant is wasted. The now desiccated grass is collected and often used as a poultice. Applied to any part of the body it can relieve muscle strain, shrink malignant melanomas, and improve sexual performance.

Many abhor the taste of the juice. I love it. When not at OHI, both Jackie and I seek out the green fountain of youth at Rainbow Bridge, Westridge and the Sunday Farmers Market. The Market doesn’t open until 9am but Jackie is an early morning arrival with six dollars clutched to her breast. The young juice seller is infatuated with Jackie and lustily participates in a gross violation of the rules to deliver the two small cups to her lovely hands. I stand well removed from the scene in order not to interfere with this act of love.

Bowing to the Governor’s fluctuating and at times unintelligible Covid-19 containment rules, OHI no longer allows guests to make their own juice. I have therefore cancelled my reservation. A week beyond the no-penalty refund date, OHI money lenders had at first said, “Too late, you lose.”

Invoking an excuse of, “I’m 81 and scared to death of the virus” relaxed their resistance to my request. Using a voice tinged with fear, aged hoarseness, and the inability to find the right words, earned me a full refund and an Emmy.

This morning I remembered my Amtrak reservation that was to bring me to OHI this Sunday.  I called to cancel it.  But that’s another story.

Mysteries of the Mask

I think that women are more mysterious when wearing a mask.

Women need no help to look more mysterious since I have consistently found them to be unfathomable as well as beautiful. I do not wish to demean their intellectual powers by focusing on their appearance. Their intellectual prowess is legendary as they have proven time and again that they can outmaneuver me with a calculated blink of an eye or a kind word.

The mask merely adds an additional element to the mystery. Before Covid-19, I was challenged only by what lay beneath the usual items of female garb. Slinky pants and strategically buttoned blouses regularly beckoned my curiosity. Always mindful of the prohibition against ogling or leering, I averted my eyes and let my mind do the gawking.

The mask adds yet another opportunity for exploration. It seems to invite a prolonged glance and a peek-a-boo invitation to linger. The eyes are the thing. They, as Shakespeare said, are the windows to the soul. And the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “The face is a picture of the mind while the eyes are its interpreter.”

The masked face does little to hide the emotions of the wearer since they are transmitted by the eyes. When unhappy, we signal it by furrowing our brow, making the eyes look smaller. When happy, we raise our brows making our eyes look larger or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Thoughts that may be erotic are also revealed by focusing on the eyes.

The wearing of a mask is perhaps most notoriously depicted in the 1953 film Salome. Although the plot line is somewhat muddled, Salome, as portrayed by Rita Hayworth, performs the Dance of the Seven Veils before the hopelessly in love King Herod, played by the chunky Charles Laughton. This is a prelude to the beheading of John the Baptist and the presentation of it on a platter, merely to satisfy the desires of the lovely Salome. The film, based on a story in the New Testament, takes great liberty in revising the bible. But no one notices since Rita is captivating in her see-through veil.

My personal mask experiences fall far short of the one suffered by John the Baptist. Since persistent ogling of masked Ojai women could cause Jackie to don a veil and shine up a platter, I have assured her that seeing her beautiful brown eyes appear just above the bed covers in the early morning light is a lovely mystery that will never be solved.

I keep an all-purpose mask hanging around my car’s turn signal wand. I also have two or three in a kitchen drawer. And more are on their way from Amazon. But no matter how many I own, I will more often than not forget to put one in my pocket when I leave the house.

Like today. Jackie and I went on our Bataan Death March at seven this morning. A ninety-minute, five mile hike that passes through a middle class neighborhood like ours, a somewhat seedy part of town where tear-downs sell for thirty times what a paid for my first house in 1962, and the Arbolada where no one can afford to live.

Despite her diminutive stature and lovely legs, Jackie sets a quick pace that I feel compelled to emulate. At 81 I need a bit of encouragement and Jackie supplies it in spades. “You are amazing. There is no one like you. You’re faster than me. When I met you, you couldn’t even roll down Signal Street.  Now you fly to the top of it.”  And other white lies to keep me from staying home and watching Netflix at 7am.

I thought we had ended the hike and were on our way home when I heard Jackie hum the first five bars of a Sousa march. I instantly knew the hike was not over and I waited for her instructions.  “Sweetheart, how about we walk over to Java and Joe for some coffee?”

More in need of an IV than a cup of coffee, I nevertheless said, “Sure, can’t wait to add another mile to our walk. Only pussies would think that sore feet and chest pains were justification for skipping such an opportunity.”

Unlike Red states where they believe the battle against the alien virus has been won or maybe never really existed,  we are compelled to wear a mask everywhere except mortuary embalming rooms, crowds made up solely of twenty-somethings, and persons old enough to remember who Mussolini was.

The re-opening of Java and Joe following a three-month hiatus was accompanied by Ventura County rules that I am sure were designed to make the coffee experience less joyful. Walking up to the glass entry doors, we are presented with signs that cover fully 95 percent of the available surface area. Welcome Back, But Don’t Loiter made me feel warm and fuzzy. Another, Forget About Cash, It’s Dirty, left a peculiar taste in my mouth.

I reached for my mask in my back pocket and, as is my custom, found none. Jackie, bless her type A personality, had two. I was granted temporary use of the spare and, despite our 24/7 sharing of breaths and a few body fluids, wondered what was hiding in the folds of the mask.

We entered the shop, found no one ahead of us and placed our order. What once seemed a trivial task, is now fraught with challenges. Masks on the faces of both the buyer and seller increase the probability that my coffee might be something other than what I ordered. And, it also makes me appear older and more senile when I constantly repeat the phrase, “What did you say?”

In the quest to avoid transfer of germs that may have taken up residence on the Splenda paper packet or the tiny half-and-half single serving container, the barista is forced to prepare your drink. The procedure eliminates the passage of germs from multiple users to your cup. But it does little to avoid transferring the barista germs to you. Especially given the other duties engaged in by these short timers.

It also removes some of the most satisfying do-it-yourself steps in the preparation process; the exact measurement of the sweetener, the pouring of the languorous creamy liquid, the perfect rotation of the wooden stirrer, and the proper click-sure placement of the black plastic top on the completed masterpiece.

I sorely miss my perfect coffee, however I will gladly suffer its indignities as long as I can freely indulge in the mysteries of a woman’s mask.

A two-hour wait

It was Bella’s Zoom assisted college graduation and we trooped to Santa Barbara on Sunday for a near-virtual celebration. We paid our serious respects to Covid-19 by taking separate cars; three for the six Sandoval aunts and grandparents, and one for Jackie, Sammy and me.

The 101 headed north was like its old self. Cars filling the three lanes tested my somewhat dormant driving skills.  Speed limits were largely ignored, and lane changes were executed by uncaring Mario Andretti wanna-be’s.

Following Siri’s instructions, we exited the 217 freeway and found ourselves surrounded by the UC Santa Barbara campus. The buildings were as lovely as the weather. Colorful, beckoning and blending into their surroundings. A perfect place conducive to study, whenever party time ended.

Very few students were dressed in graduation garb, including the traditional black robes and mortar boards with tassels.  A smattering of proud parents was taking photos. I day-dreamed about what was facing these graduates as they moved into the next phase of their lives. And I shuddered.

I thought about my own graduation sixty years ago. Held on a warm June day, several thousand of us filled the stadium at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The same stadium that saw my hero, Dick Butkus, graduate a couple of years later. He had finished battering his college football opponents and had gone on to terrorize the NFL as an all-star linebacker.

I saw my father wearing his little used hounds-tooth sport jacket, his bald head topped by the brown fedora that now resides in my son David’s Berkeley home. My father wasn’t big on congratulatory messages nor did he do much hugging or kissing, but I could see he was proud of his son by the glint in his eyes.

My years after college were predictable. Got my diploma, got a job, got married, got three kids. No mystery. No big career path surprise for most graduates. Those who followed a different route were few. Jobs were plentiful, the economy was healthy, and you were expected to follow a standard script, often amply endowed by parents who had bankrolled your education.

The kids at UC face other challenges. A world that has become much bigger. Information overload. An economy that is less welcoming, and a threat from alien viruses. They are more curious than we were and less willing to declare a path for life.

Regaining my concentration, we wound our way through the Eden-like campus that was quiet and practically devoid of cars. Exiting the campus, we drove through neighborhoods populated with somewhat seedy rentals; ones that appealed mostly to starving students. We found Bella’s bicycle strewn bachelor pad. We tooted our horns, waved our balloons, and displayed our hand-written congratulatory signs. All at a socially acceptable distance.

It only took five minutes to abandon those distancing rules. I felt little shame in asking to use the bathroom for a pee break and found my way impeded by another person with similar needs. So much for maintaining the pristine nature of Bella’s digs; one that catered to the somewhat haphazard household requirements of three college roommates and an exceptionally large Alaskan Malamute. My contribution to the disarray was but a drop in the bucket.

We bid Bella good-bye, now a somewhat wealthier woman, and thought about lunch. Given the current frenzy caused by Covid-19 and its peripatetic regulation alterations, we figured that finding a compliant place to eat would be akin to locating the holy grail.

Using the knowledge available only to Siri, we found Brophy Brothers at the harbor in Santa Barbara. It took ten minutes to drive there and a whole lot longer to absorb the sight of packed parking lots and much of the Earth’s population. We were astounded to find an empty spot practically at the water’s edge and congratulated ourselves at our good fortune.

Taking our Covid-19 threatened lungs in hand, we donned our facemasks and began the short walk to Brophy’s. It looked like Easter break in Miami Beach or Cancun. Hordes of young people paraded before us showing no evidence of any concern over their exposure to Covid. On the contrary,  young nubile women exposed much of their skin to public view, wearing bikinis that were at least two sizes smaller than their raging hormone filled bodies. My facemask served me well by camouflaging my perverted drooling.

Brophy’s welcomed our tired and hunger ravaged bodies. The view from the restaurant was captivating. The anticipation of perfectly fried, crispy calamari dipped in spicy mayo, lemon-garlic scampi drenched in melted butter, and a cold Cadillac Margarita teased my taste buds. With expectations like my own, Jackie stepped up to the host at the reception desk. Using her sweetest voice, she said, “Please, do you have a table for three?

The host responded with, “It’ll be two hours.”

He could have been more sympathetic and said, “I’m sorry and wish I could help you.”

Or “You’ve obviously come a long way and the old fella with you must be exhausted. But I’m afraid there is a busload of nuns ahead of you who’ve come all the way from the Vatican to savor our famous Brophy Bloody Mary.”

Dejected and still hungry, Jackie and Sammy arm wrestled over the next choice of dining pleasure. Both ladies, exhausted by the combat, agreed to try the strip mall where Jackie buys fresh pressed juice.

We walked back from Brophy’s to the car, bouncing off people who had apparently never heard of social distancing. With every step I felt my chest tighten, my throat become scratchy and my body temperature rise to 100.4 degrees. I was certain that I had become the first person to develop the virus after only a seven-minute exposure to an asymptomatic beach bunny.

We found Pani’s, a take-out joint right next to Vons and ordered three salads. They arrived in generic cardboard boxes. An impossibly resistant cellophane package eventually regurgitated a plastic knife and fork. While shoveling food in my mouth, I only slopped two dollops of oily salad dressing on my shirt, re-enforcing one of the negatives about getting old.

There was no one within thirty feet of us. It was heaven.

 

It is a big deal

I’ve exposed myself.

Not to small children; and always fully clothed.

No, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and put myself in situations that are simply irresistible to the little Covid-19 viruses. They look at me like fresh meat; someone who is old and unable to resist their charms. Someone of the sort I often hear referred to as one who would have probably died anyway.

Jackie and I have visited the innards of restaurants and dined in what I laughingly call mask and wipe conditions. We’ve sat on our favorite Arcade bench on Sundays stuffing our faces with Acai Bowls while surrounded by hordes of visitors who’ve left the safety of the big city and brought their asymptomatic disease-ridden bodies to our normally pristine Ojai.

We sit apart from friends at weekly backyard tete-a-tetes, yet we feel little compunction touching a hand or sitting while a guest stands over us and delivers a dissertation filled with water droplets dredged from their innards.

Our beloved cars are no longer sanctuaries. I took a good friend to the doctor on Wednesday. Our sixty-mile round-trip was punctuated by sidelong glances at each other as we silently wondered if our travelling companions included the little Covid guys. It was a long trip.

Jackie and I ended our customary five-mile hike through the Arbolada with a visit to Java and Joes where we waited for our coffee and reminisced about the passing of one of its owners. Lorraine, a delightful personality had died just prior to the ascendancy of the virus and was blessedly relieved of that nightmare.

Having memorized the Java and Joe protocol, I invited Ralph to join me on Tuesday. A good friend with a perpetually smiling face, I enjoy his company. Since his coming over from the Dark Side because of Trump’s ascendancy, Ralph and I tend to agree on the larger issues more often.

So, I was surprised when half-way through our medium roast coffee, he said, “Why are they making such a big deal out of this George Floyd thing?  Protests, riots, speeches, cop blasting. The cops are always doing something stupid. That big funeral. When have they ever done anything like that for others? And anyway, what about the Mexicans. They’re always getting the short end of the stick. And they don’t riot in the streets.”

I had to take a breath and pause before answering. But all I could say was, “It was a tipping point. Blacks have been screwed so often that the Floyd thing just set them off.”

We finished our coffee in relative silence, hoping we hadn’t pissed each other off. I walked home thinking what a lame thing I had offered in defense of the events precipitated by Floyd’s killing. A killing that was launched by a counterfeit $20 bill. A killing shown on national TV just like it was the Super Bowl. A killing perpetrated by a cop who treated it like a sporting event. A killing that some of our elected leaders took far too long to condemn. A killing that some attempted to bury by focusing on the looting done by the demonstrators.

If I had been more knowledgeable at the coffee shop, I would have itemized the things that had contributed to Floyd’s murder and more specifically why African Americans are making, as Ralph said, such “a big deal” out of it.

Because the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family.

Because in the last quarter of 2019, the median White worker made 28 percent more than the typical Black worker.

Because the U.S. poverty rate for White men is 7 percent, yet it is 20 percent for Black women.

Because, for each 100,000 Americans, 55 Blacks have died from the coronavirus, compared to 23 Whites.

Because African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.

Because African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is 6 times that of whites.

Because on average, nonwhite school districts received $2,200 less per student than districts that were predominantly white.

Because, in 2019, African Americans were more than three times more likely to be killed by police but were less likely to carry guns.

Yes, I would have cited these statistics and convinced myself that Ralph would clearly understand why this is such “a bid deal.”

But then he might have paused and said, “You’re a Jew. You’ve had your share of holocausts and lesser acts of discrimination. Where are the Jewish protests and street riots? The flamboyant displays of anger and the resounding demands for action. The cop bashing.”

And if I had thought of it, I would have said, “The difference is that whenever I am threatened, I run toward the police, not away from them.”

It’s hot…

It’s hot

All over the world

You’d think we had enough to worry about

What with the virus

Then some asshole puts his knee on a black guy’s neck

And kills him

Then some other black folks decide they’ve had enough

And they protest

Peacefully

Then it becomes less peaceful

And riots light up the night sky

Some protesters break windows

And steal from CVS, Macys and momma papa stores

Because they’re hot, pissed and poor

And some are very bad

Just like white folks

Then some mucky-muck shyster tweets

A shit storm

And says that the Democrats, the mayors and the governors are all deadbeats

For not doing their jobs by killing more black folks

And then he promises to do it

With dogs and space age weapons

Just to calm things down

Then a bunch of protesters stand outside the shyster’s home

And throw rocks and burning bottles at his white house

And the shyster retreats to his basement

When what he really should be doing

Is speaking to the people with non-threatening words

But he’s too busy tweeting from behind a wall

And blaming China and Barack Obama for everything

Including the shortage of covid-19 face masks

Then the same shyster decides he wants a photo op

And uses tear gas and flash grenades

To clear a path through peaceful protesters

So he can look like he’s in charge

He holds a bible in front of him like a man of god

And says that he loves black people

Then the shyster’s bodyguard promises more violence

If the black folks’ violence isn’t less violent real soon

The same black folks that the shyster loves

And then the shyster promises to use his clout

To bring the army to the party

So things will be less violent

And then we can all be just like before

Hot.


Pages

Recent Comments