Wash Day

I’ve been in my new house for almost four months. It’s been a bit of an adjustment.

…Traded one hundred and ten oak studded acres for a tenth of an acre and a mulberry tree.

…Abandoned two hundred stately olive trees and adopted one miniature citrus.

…The Topa Topas, formerly blessed with a 360-degree view, are now a mere snippet of their former stature.

…Car and foot traffic have multiplied a thousand-fold.

…The chirping of birds and the howling of coyotes has morphed into the squeals of young children.

…Earthly possessions have dwindled to a precious few to accommodate the loss of three thousand square feet of living and storage space.

…Traded an eighteen-minute drive to town for an eighteen-minute walk.

…Carried Westridge groceries home like a bag lady, instead of tossing them in my trunk.

I’d like to say that I love my new home. But that would be stretching it. With few exceptions, love at first sight only occurs in novels and movies. Rather, true love tends to be a long-term developmental effort. And, once achieved, love often changes into something more practical. Like a warm pair of socks or a favorite sweatshirt.

Jackie is an exception. My infatuation turned into love early in our relationship and it continues unabated today, two months before our March wedding.

Jackie loves her own house. Like her, it is petite and beckoning. Situated amid the oaks, it is an Arbolada gem. Two bedrooms and one bath, it suits her like a soft, well-worn pair of slippers. Her mother’s possessions flit throughout the miserly twelve hundred square feet. A delightfully warm jacuzzi and a garage-dwelling-sauna provide comfort to her at the end of the day. On warm summer afternoons, the cushioned patio chair welcomes her and offers a glimpse of sun through the overhanging branches of a magnificent ancient oak larger than her house.

For what seems an eternity, I have worked tirelessly to wean her from her very special place and bring her to my home. I succeeded last week when her cherished possessions were moved unceremoniously from her beloved home to my yet to be loved house.

We are in an adjustment period. Opening multiple kitchen drawers to find the right utensil. Trying to sleep through the night in a room that has been meticulously decorated with her familiar artwork. Trashing many of my old possessions that have been deemed superfluous to our new lifestyle. Learning to operate the over-optioned washer and dryer. Flipping multiple light switches to find the right one. Quietly rising in the early morning hours so as to least offend a sleeper trying to squeeze out a few more minutes in a warm bed.

My house comes complete with mysterious sounds including strange clicks, periodic creaks and its own brand of noise produced by the unfamiliar, temperamental two-zone heating system. The house also has another eerie habit…the movement of objects by an unseen hand.

Angelica, the cleaning lady arrives on Monday and includes a bit of laundry in her repertoire. Wishing to stay out of her way, I generally vacate the house and find something to occupy myself while the premises are being made presentable. Evidence of Angelica’s prowess includes a clean smelling, sparkly interior, shiny wood floors and a spotless stove. She uses dozens of cloth towels that are cleaned in my washing machine at the end of her day.

I came home yesterday and was surprised to find that the washing machine had been moved forward from its usual position leaving an irregular foot-wide gap between the wall and it. My initial reaction was that Angelica had moved the machinet in order to clean behind it. I called her to verify my suspicion but was assured that she had not moved the beast. It took all my strength to slide it back into its proper position.

Still wondering about the mysterious Maytag movement, my thoughts turned to Ila, my first sweet princess, who has been gone more than two years. Her ghostly connections with me following her death often include the appearance of objects in unaccustomed places. I attribute those events to her displeasure with me, her concern with something I had done, or just a reminder that she is still part of me. Could this most recent occurrence have something to do with Jackie’s arrival? Perhaps, but Ila had never moved something as massive as a two-hundred-pound washing machine. Pausing and thinking more rationally, I dismissed my initial conclusion.

And then the toilet overflowed.

Houses and Shirts

“You bought your new house quicker than you buy your shirts.”

That’s what Jackie said to me, more than once. And it’s probably the truth, especially since I can’t remember when I bought my last shirt. Maybe it’s the blue one with an interesting design that still has the Rains Department Store price tag hanging from the dark blue button just below the collar. I regularly stare at that shirt as it hangs forlornly in the closet, wonder if I should put it on, and then let the feeling pass without taking action. I generally follow up this timidity by selecting a least frayed t-shirt, and a somewhat manly pullover sweater.

It took eighteen months to sell my old house. Eighteen months of unanticipated anxiety. Eighteen months of thinking that it would never sell. Eighteen months of entertaining potential buyers, all of whom disappeared into the ether without so much as a by your leave. Doomed, I thought, to living a lonely, monk-like existence frequented only by chipmunks, and ravenous birds that would eat enough seed to deplete my kids’ inheritance. Eighteen months of fantasizing that I’d live there until I grabbed my chest and keeled over in the kitchen while stirring brown sugar into my oatmeal. Not to be found until my desiccated body was discovered by the pest control guy.

“How do you like living in your new house? Do you miss the old house?”

It’s a question often voiced by friends. To which I generally respond, after the obligatory moment’s hesitation, with something like “Yes, the new house is nice, still getting used to it. Do I miss the old house? Not really.” Never one for prolonging conversation, I let the questioner silently figure out how I really feel without asking me to expand on my broad-brush evaluation of my current circumstances.

My old house was a mile up Sulphur Mountain Road. Surrounded by oak trees and acres of solitude, visitors were infrequent. Noise was practically non-existent and, when it did come visiting, was eminently noticeable and usually unwelcome. Hiking trails meandered through the oaks and passed through neighboring equally silent properties, adding to the lonesomeness. In twenty years, we never had a Halloween costumed trick or treater. Who would dare come? Only someone who has no fear of the inky darkness, the eerie rustling of oak branches or the diving Great Horned Owl that might mistake you for a tasty midnight snack.

I half-jokingly say that I moved from one hundred and ten acres to a tenth of an acre, where my less remarkable new house sits on a corner. Cars pass my home on two sides. I accept the whoosh of their presence as a sign that I am not alone. My next-door neighbors have two small children as do my neighbors across the street. Their voices are welcome as a sign of burgeoning life.

A man my own age and his ten-pound curly haired dog often pass by the window where I sit and travel through the internet on my computer. His routine repeats itself daily. I’ve spoken with him at length but, to my chagrin, cannot remember his name. I struggle to ask him, but am embarrassed to do so.

My neighbor on the opposite corner also walks his dog, Charlie. A small pooch, he tends to lead the much larger man who is, supposedly, much smarter. The man has a bad back and we repeatedly discuss the latest unhelpful advances in medical science. I occasionally want to invite him in for a glass of wine; but at 10:00 am, I don’t want to be thought an alcoholic.

I have a small mailbox that the postman delights in over-filling. I think he’s a masochist, made hostile by the brickbats thrown at the U.S. Postal service by ignorant people like me. He takes his deserved revenge on the system by making it nearly impossible for me to pull the wedged mail from the all too small container. I avoid complaining for fear it could get worse.

My new house was built thirty years ago. Not old as homes go, it’s more like a young adult looking for someone to love it. Multiple owners have come and gone leaving indistinguishable marks of their short-term presence. The main living area has a moderately sized living room capable of serving about ten people, so long as they are friends who don’t mind accidental touching while drinking my cheap wine. The kitchen, remodeled seven years ago, offers enough appliances to challenge me with their complicated arrays of led lights, push buttons that have no give, and oven settings that encourage me to eat out more often.

A long hallway leads from the main living area to the bedrooms. It is dark, challenging my failing eyesight. Shell shocked from Edison’s warnings and their unfathomable multi-tiered pricing structures, I foolishly refuse to flip the switch that would add light to the hallway and reveal the coveted art pieces that line its walls.

I bought the home after deeming it move-in ready. In good condition, it required little expenditure of resources. However, a feeling of “this is not my house” has permeated my existence ever since I set foot in it. A familiar feeling, it was also there when we purchased our San Fernando Valley home nearly fifty years ago. It was fifteen years into that occupancy before people stopped saying, “Oh, you live in the Peterson house.”

I’d cringe at their remark and want to reply, “No, the Petersons died in the Charge of the Light Brigade and we commandeered their home from the British.”

I probably don’t have another fifteen years to wait for a similar evolution of “Oh, you live in the Collins home.” I need to turn their house into my house right now.  I need to speed things up, much like the time lapse photos of tulip bulbs opening wide in the blink of an eye, cars moving along the freeway at the speed of sound, or clouds streaking across the sky as if powered by jet engines. And I believe I have found ways to do just that.

First and foremost, Jackie moves in as a full partner to this madness on the 13th. Turning my house into our house.

A second part of the solution, in full implementation, is to spend money in rapid-fire fashion at close to the speed of light. New floors, window coverings, paint, lighting, bathroom fixtures, water filtration systems, patio covers, landscaping and more. With each alteration or upgrade and each check in payment for it, an ever so slight transformation is taking place. More of the house is morphing into ours, not theirs.

My growing awareness of where things are also impacts my feelings about the house. I no longer search aimlessly for the silverware. I don’t need to open multiple cabinets to discover my favorite one-quart pot. I’ve almost figured out the dishwasher’s cryptic directions. I flip fewer wall switches in my quest to turn on the desired light fixture. I know when the junk mail will arrive, and when the trash man will collect it.

And I plan to wear my new shirt next week.

 

Three Jews on a Treadmill

Sounds like the beginning of a joke…There were these three Jews on a treadmill

Two months ago, I moved from Sulphur Mountain Road in the Upper Ojai to the more gentrified mid-town. Prior to moving, my drive time from the mountain to town was eighteen minutes. After Ila died, I made the thirty-six-minute round-trip to the Ojai Athletic Club every day just to get out of the all too quiet house and find social interaction. It was lonely up on the hill without someone to share my life.

I had used a rowing machine at our mountain home nearly every day. Five thousand meters of rowing in thirty-five minutes, that got me nowhere. A nagging shoulder injury caused a forced migration from the rowing machine to the treadmill and, thanks to Jackie, membership in the athletic club.

My daily routine on the hill was religiously repeated day after day. Up at 5:45. In the car by 6:15 and at the club by 6:35. Flash my membership card at the electronic reader and react with hidden glee at its assurance that I was still welcome.

Exchange pleasantries with the ever-changing person behind the front desk. Enter the men’s locker room. Change into my Lulu Lemon shorts. Grab the headphones that Jackie bought for me…got to be careful what I wish for, or it will surely end up in an Amazon box at my front door.  March up the stairs to the second floor without the aid of the handrail…it’s a macho thing…and deposit myself on one of the six treadmills that line the far wall.

Moving to mid-town replaced my old eighteen-minute car ride to the town epicenter with an eighteen-minute walk. But old habits are hard to break, so I still hop into the car for a three-minute ride to the club. Not enough time to warm up the innards of my car on cold mornings, necessitating the wearing of a wool cap that sometimes draws giggles from the club’s front desk.

Even though my shoulder has healed, and the club sports two rowing machines, I am still on the treadmill. To further cement my place on it, I sold my own Concept 2 rowing machine last week to a nice guy who schlepped to my house from Glendora, a one-hundred-fifty-mile round trip.

The club opens at 5:30 am and draws people who exercise indoors or, god forbid, swim outdoors in near freezing ambient hell, then head for work. When her teaching responsibilities require it, Jackie often prides herself at being first in line at the club’s front door, in the dark, with little to wear but a very pretty smile on her face.

The sweet spot for me is between 6:30 and 7. That’s when the locker room empties, and parking spaces open up close to the club entrance. Finding an idle treadmill is easy. Sometimes I get the pick of the litter, the one on the end in front of the windows that open onto the pool where crazy people do laps. Or, in a pinch, I take the one next to it. My decision whether to turn on the overhead fan is challenging. Shall I suffer a cold draft until my body warms up, or be an overheated wimp.

Each of the treadmills has its own video monitor. I can watch live TV, but I nearly always opt to sign into my Netflix account where I am entertained with mindless comedies, serious documentaries or, my favorite, the Great British Baking Show. I avoid the news which, I have found, generally provokes me to mumbling angry epithets that attract the unwanted attention of those within earshot.

The same faces regularly populate the area around the treadmills and the other, sometimes fathomless, exercise equipment. It’s comforting to see these faces nearly every day. It brings order to an otherwise chaotic and all too often sad world.

My sixty-minute treadmill routine at a four percent grade generally starts before the others arrive. About fifteen minutes into it, Sheila appears. My age, but not yet aging, Sheila is a whirlwind of activity both on and off the treadmill. We are also members of the synagogue where she leads the Friday night service on alternating weeks. Her petite, bouncy, figure and perky cropped hair are a welcome addition to my sixty-minute trip to nowhere.

Norm, also in the octogenarian category, is a lot less bouncy. But he makes up this unfortunate difference with a strong torso, friendly smile and a blessed sense of humor. I relish our conversations which, on occasion, include prolonged inexplicable laughter over a comment that often has its grounding in something Jewish.

Silence, or the soft-spoken word, is the desired state when in motion. This unwritten treadmill rule is often violated by heavy footed young men and women who strive for unattainable recognition by generating massive decibels that offend nearly everyone in range of them. Fortunately, a good pair of over-the-ear headphones tends to mitigate the otherwise mind-numbing racket.

This morning, Sheila, Norm and I find ourselves together on three of the six treadmills. The other three are unused and blessedly quiet. Norm correctly notes, with some humor, that we are three Jews on treadmills, which seemed to me apropos of life as a Jew. Moving with determination to escape stereotyping, and maybe worse, with only a modicum of success.

Ojai has a significant number of Jews who have blended into the community. Except for the synagogue, we find ourselves fully integrated in the life of the town. Yet there is something special when three of us find ourselves on the treadmill. A certain comfort, often indescribable, takes hold. A certain calm descends and allows us to enjoy a moment devoid of tension.

Perhaps it’s genetic. Perhaps it’s our strange customs that have been etched into us over thousands of years. Maybe it’s the same for people of other faiths. Maybe they relish time together on the treadmill. I hope so.

Shopping isn’t for sissies

I took my aging Mercedes to the dealer on Monday. It was my first service that was not free, having crossed the fifty thousand-mile warranty mark about two months ago. It was not even close to being free.

My original focus of the service was an oil change, checking the air in the tires and washing the car. Two-thousand-five-hundred dollars later, I had a clean car, oil you could fry fish in, and three pages of other things that defy description. Truthfully, I was somewhat relieved that it was only two-thousand-five-hundred dollars, since I had heard that Mercedes often sells one’s spouse into slavery to collect the bill.

Never quite trusting that Mercedes trained mechanics really know what they’re doing, I spent the day following the service listening for odd noises, sensing the feel of the road through the newly aired tires, and planning my moves should the car merely decide to be grouchy and strand me in the middle of the apparently always-to-be road excavations on Ojai Avenue.

It takes about forty minutes to drive from my home to the Mercedes dealer in Oxnard. Never one to pass up an opportunity, I decided to visit Costco which has conveniently placed itself walking distance from the Mercedes Bank and Trust. I had forgotten that it was Veterans’ Day and was confronted with a parking space so far removed from Costco’s front door that required use of my hiking shoes. A horde of shoppers augmented the holiday festivities; some of whom seemed way too happy while standing motionless in the checkout lines.

The principal item that prompted my visit to this shopping colossus was toilet paper. Ever since Jackie and I have become an item, I have graciously accepted the responsibility for buying the toilet paper for the two of us. It binds us. And the savings helps move the day of her retirement ever closer by augmenting her IRA and, eventually, her Social Security. Jackie has more than once commented on my selflessness, which, now that I think about it, seems to coincide with the periodic exhaustion of thirty rolls of Kirkland’s best.

The man-sized packs of Kirkland’s best are located on the right side of the overactive thyroid building, right next to the dog food. I cruised down the aisle, feeling the excitement that accompanies the purchase of toilet paper. Normally, one can find dozens of the thirty-roll packs lined up, each ready to be loaded in that nice little space at the bottom of the shopping cart. The same cart that always looks in need of a steam cleaning and a new set of wheels.

I reached the dog food but didn’t see Kirkland’s best. I thought I must have missed it in the reverie generated by thoughts of septic-tank-safe tissue. I retraced my steps all the way back to the Huggies and Nappies. And back again to the dog food. I was finally confronted by a large empty space that had once housed the object of my quest.

How is that possible? In thirty years of buying that stuff, there had always been an inexhaustible supply. Enough for every starving child in India. Plenty of tissue that lets you, given its paltry cost, double and triple up on the folding before applying it one’s nether parts.

I looked left and right. Charmin met my gaze on the right. Soft, cushy, expensive Charmin. Its presence at Costco has always been static, seeming to neither diminish nor increase. Perhaps it’s there simply to push us to Kirkland’s best which, except for its bargain price, would otherwise remain dusty and homeless.

To my left was something called Marathon. The name made me think it was intended for those who spend an inordinate amount of time on the porcelain throne. Perhaps reading is the user’s favorite pastime or they just want to avoid their spouse and kids.

The Marathon packaging was dull, listless and uninviting. It did occur to me that the packaging has little to do with the quality of the contents, but it was just another reason to bemoan the absence of Kirkland’s best.

I gave Marathon an opportunity to redeem itself from its poorly designed packaging. I caressed the thirty-roll parcel. I yearned to read about Marathon’s features and accept this newcomer. Unfortunately, the package was relatively devoid of glorious descriptors that could have included “Softness that makes you come back for more.” Or, “Absorbs the messy things that you leave behind.”  Or my favorite, “Using a roll a day keeps you regular.”

I decided on the Charmin, filled my cart with other things I really didn’t need, and proceeded to the checkout. Every lane was open. Every lane had six or more people with carts filled to overflowing. I scanned each lane, counted the number of items in each cart, and finally, gauged the agility and maximum warp speed of the shoppers ahead of me.

Having made my evaluation, I settled into a lane and waited. Two minutes later, I looked around and did a re-evaluation. There, two lanes away was a much better prospect. One that would surely be faster than the one I was in. One that would allow me to spend my remaining years somewhere other than Costco. So I moved.

Big mistake. There’s one factor that cannot be predetermined. That of random chance. The act of god that shuts down the lane for the same time that it took the glaciers to scrape across North America. A lane delay that gives you the opportunity to watch the people you just abandoned move forward at the speed of light and leave Costco well in advance of the next ice age; one in which I am sure to participate.

My turn came. I charged the obligatory minimum of three hundred dollars to my fraying Visa Card, and pushed my now over-filled cart to the outer reaches of the Costco archipelago.

Early that evening I delivered the Charmin to sweet Jackie. Suitably impressed by my purchase of the expensive stuff, she kissed me tenderly, stowed the thirty rolls in her closet and we sat at the dining table recounting the day.

We agreed that you know you’re settling into a very special relationship when you get excited talking about the qualities of toilet tissue.

The Movies Are In Town

The Ojai Film Festival began this week. Steve Grumette, the festival’s artistic director, locked himself in his room from mid-August through September, viewing some five hundred entries. Assisting him in this herculean effort was a distinguished panel of movie buffs who finally selected the eighty-three films that made it to this year’s screen.

Steve and his comrade in arms, Jon Lambert, have been key actors in the event ever since the first festival in 2000. Since then, thousands of films have been delivered to them by aspiring directors, screen writers and actors.

This year’s festival runs ten days, from early morning to late at night. Tickets can be purchased for a single showing of about two hours, or for the entire festival. For some, viewing every one of the eighty-three films is akin to participating in a scavenger hunt with prizes awarded at each showing. People who participate at this level can be easily identified by the “All Events” pass hanging around their necks as well as their albino skin, beady red eyes and a paranoid aversion to sunlight.

A very professional looking brochure describes the films, show times and where they can be seen. True aficionados carefully analyze the showings and meticulously plan their visitations. I, on the other hand have but one requirement that takes precedence over all the other variables. It’s the venue and its physical comfort that are uppermost in my priorities.

Over the years, the festival has shown the films in various locations. This year there are but two; the Ojai Art Center and the Sane Living meeting room. The Sane Living meeting room was once the local mortuary which, due to a lack of enough deaths in the community, closed its doors. The building then experienced several reincarnations. The latest is a very attractive facility that features a vegan restaurant and the aforementioned meeting room. Regardless of the attractiveness of the facility, I shall forever think of it as The Funeral Home.

I do not sit well on anything other than a well upholstered chair. Anything less and my fanny begins to sing to me after about thirty minutes. And not sweet lullabies. No, more like a Sousa march that is urging me to get up from my chair and relieve the discomfort that has taken up permanent residence in my nether regions.

The Funeral Home offers folding chairs that can best be found in aisle five at Costco. A semi-cushioned seat falsely beckons one with the allure of the Greek Sirens. Past experience has taught me that my fanny cannot make it through a full-length film. Random shuffling on my seat begins at the thirty-minute mark. Alternately crossing my legs and shifting back to front gives only momentary respite. At the forty-five-minute mark, all is lost. I am totally focused on my aching buttocks and have no idea what’s happening up on the silver screen.

It is for this reason that I eliminated The Funeral Home from consideration. My attention was completely focused on The Art Center. The Center with its penchant for artistic as well as physical well being has recently installed new, fully padded seats. I could probably endure a double feature albeit with a great deal of squirming, pant leg stretches, and an infinite number of pee breaks.

On Thursday evening, Jackie and I journeyed to the Center. In our quest to be the skinniest couple in America, our sustenance that day had consisted of only a small Acai bowl ably prepared in the Arcade by Revel. I don’t really believe that Acai bowls are any more healthful than a double-double chocolate sundae with a gob of whipped cream. But it makes me feel better to fool myself into believing in the yet unproven health benefits of Acai.

We both love popcorn. Jackie can convince the snack bar server at most theaters to prepare a fresh batch of the stuff. I’m not exactly sure how she does it, but I think it has something to do with feigning a chronic illness that requires that the popcorn be consumed in less than ten minutes from time it is popped.

As the Film Festival was not popping corn, we took it upon ourselves to clandestinely stow two bags of Boom Chicka Popcorn in a cleverly disguised tote. One bagful covered with Sea Salt and the other with Salted Caramel. I took the precaution of doubling up on my blood pressure medication.

Upon arriving at the Art Center, we were informed that food was unwelcome in the theater. The Festival had promised to keep the new seats pristine and were, therefore, only permitting entry with nothing more than water bottles. With nowhere to stash the Boom Chica Popcorn, we, however, felt obliged to take it to our seats where we silently swore to forego its marvelous taste. That oath lasted about ten minutes. The craving was overwhelming, and we silently ripped a San Andreas fault-sized tear in one of the bags. Realizing that chewing the delectable morsels could give us away, we ate them one kernel at a time, first soaking them into submission with our own saliva. Not yummy, but acceptable.

The first film was a five-minute animated short called Surfer Joe. The two guys who produced the film spent more time answering questions than the time consumed in running the film.

The second film, Lessons, ran ten minutes. I have no recollection of what it was about.

The third, and anchor film, was called Whitefish Season and its scheduled run time was ninety-eight minutes. Made in the middle east, the film was subtitled. Given my hearing loss, ably attested to by the two monoliths ensconced behind my suitably large ears, I hunger for subtitles. However, perhaps because of the supersonic talking speed adopted by the mostly shrieking actors, the subtitles whizzed by at the speed of light. As I was unable to tear my eyes away from the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, the film might as well have been a book. Some twenty minutes into the film, and never seeing a whitefish, Jackie and I looked at each other, retrieved what remained of our Boom Chica Popcorn and exited the theater.

Overcoming our depression, we returned to the theater on Saturday and saw Nose to Tail.  A handsomely crafted film, it chronicles one day’s unimaginable nightmares suffered by its protagonist, an aging chef. The film more than made up for the disappointments of our prior day. We celebrated by devouring a full platter of ribs at the Deer Lodge.

The people who made, and then submitted, the five hundred films are to be congratulated for their willingness to stand up and be panned by people like me. Their courage to do something different and to risk being unheralded or worse is cause for true celebration.

“The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist.”
― Guillermo del Toro

Man’s best friend

Is it really man’s best friend?

I’ve been driving the Help of Ojai bus ever since we moved to Ojai twenty years ago, except for a couple of years when Ila was ill. My usual shift starts at eight on Friday mornings and ends a little after noon.

My clients are generally older and have given up driving. Being homebound is all too often a sad result. I pick them up at home and deliver them to physician offices, the grocery, hairdressers and other destinations which might otherwise be unreachable. For some folks, the bus is the only way they can get out of the house.

During my rewarding career as a bus driver, I’ve had my share of mishaps including varying degrees of bodily injury; to me, not to my clients. One that stands out vividly occurred several years ago.

Many of my riders are mildly incapacitated; some use a walker. Walkers come in various shapes, colors and sturdiness. Some are festooned with saddlebags and other accouterments. Some are simple in design while others require a degree from MIT to fold them flat in order to load them onto the bus. All of the beasts sadistically defy me as I try to lift them up the steps of the bus and through the narrow entry door.  I put them in a place that varies with my mood, so long as they can be safely stowed without the risk of them hurtling through the confines of the nine-passenger metal behemoth with which I deftly negotiate the streets of Ojai.

The walker folding process requires a certain degree of dexterity. The two sets of legs are folded using a scissors like movement that involves paying close attention to the location of one’s fingers, lest they become painfully pinched in the process. And that’s what happened to me.

My client that morning required the use of a walker as well as the lift. Being relatively non-communicative added to the challenge. Seating her went without a hitch, and I then began to flatten the walker. The scissor-like motion reached its high point when the tip of my little finger lodged securely between the two legs. Ignoring the searing pain for the moment, I attempted to open the scissors and free my finger. Alas, two hands are required to open the legs.

My client, comfortably seated and ignorant of the drama unfolding behind her, was of no use. Being the proud owner of two feet, I stood unsteadily on one of them and used the other as a wedge shoved between the walker’s legs. After what seemed like a fortnight of acrobatics, I was able to extract my pinky from the jaws of the monster. Profuse bleeding was the next cause for alarm. It was staunched with a box of Kleenex and the on-board first aid kit stocked for such mindless mishaps. Driving with one hand became de rigueur for the rest of the morning.  I can show you my scar if something like that excites you.

This Friday started out normally. Go to the gym at 6am. Treadmill for an hour while watching season two of the Kominsky Method on Netflix, shower and then head over to Help of Ojai. Have a quarter section, or two, of a yummy turkey sandwich made by Glenda, some surprisingly good coffee prepared by Meagan and then check out the bus for unwelcome critters, discover a nearly empty gas tank and a windshield that could only be cleaned with a Brillo pad.

Check out the manifest. The usuals…Melvia, Karen, Rosie, George, Betty…and one new name, Joyce. Going to the doctor, Joyce was to be picked up at 9:30 for her ten o’clock appointment. The early morning crowd delivered safely to their chosen locations, I headed over to Joyce’s mobile home park.

I arrived two minutes early, opened her gate and rapped on the door. A small, furry dog exited through the doggy door and took up a position close to my left leg. A cute little guy with a reassuringly mild disposition, he just begged to be stroked. And so I did, while waiting for Joyce to emerge.

I could hear Joyce calling for Charlie to come back in the house. Having none of that, Charlie sprinted away from me, ran through the gate that I had obligingly left open, and disappeared down the driveway. Joyce arrived and I pointed in Charlie’s general direction. Joyce called out. And, after what seemed like an eternity, he reappeared at the foot of the driveway. We beseeched him to come closer. He did but stopped short of the gate as though pondering his alternatives.

He moved slightly forward. I detected some misgivings in his tiny brown eyes. Seizing the fleeting opportunity, I reached down and gently cradled his ten-pound body in my two hands. What had once been a small, cuddly friend of man, became an enraged bull mastiff. He opened his jaws and clamped them on the root end of my thumb which had, prior to this event, been minding its own business. The pain took me back to my years’ ago adventure with the iron walker.

Charlie was intent on becoming a permanent part of my right hand. Perhaps he had second thoughts. Perhaps he felt that he had inflicted enough punishment commensurate with my indiscretion. He loosened his vice-like grip and bounded happily over to Joyce who said one or two “bad dogs” and without any further ado, deposited a newly cherubic Charlie in the place from whence he came.

Bleeding was becoming a habit of mine deserving of a Purple Heart. Charlie’s teeth had produced two punctures that appeared quite similar to those that might have been inflicted by a king cobra. My customary use of Kleenex seemed to only aggravate the flow. Thankfully, Joyce produced a large band-aid from her purse, and wrapped securely, I was able to deliver her to her appointment, drive one-handed back to Help and apply a vat of antiseptic ointment to calm my distress.

I had forgotten to ask Joyce if Charlie was up to date with his shots. Scary thoughts about rabies proliferated in my frontal cortex. Magnifying the possible implications of a frothing-at-the-mouth dog, followed by equally terrifying rabies shots, occupied my time until we were able to confirm that neither I nor Charlie would be appearing in a re-run of The Wolfman.

Walkers and dogs are often thought of as man’s best friends. But sometimes it might be better to remain more platonic.

Chumash Revenge

I wondered about the size of their electric bill.

Lorraine’s sister Liz celebrated her sixtieth birthday this past weekend. One of four Sandoval sisters, Liz is the first to reach that scary plateau. A sweet woman, Liz was kind enough to include Jackie and me in the A-list of invitees.

We bivouacked in Solvang, a town about ninety minutes from Ojai. With a Danish flavor, Solvang is cutesy and funky, having somehow survived the move into the twenty-first techno century. Looking a bit jaded, the town offers lots of places to eat Danish pastries, shop for useless merchandise, and eventually produce a nagging feeling of so, what do I do next?

To fill the insatiable need for something to do, the Chumash Indians have conveniently provided a place to quickly address that empty feeling.

Today, the Chumash are estimated to have a population of less than 5,000 members. Many current members can trace their ancestors to the five islands of Channel Island National Park. Suffering the same fortunes as other Native Americans, their members died off rapidly with the coming of Spanish sailing ships with their cargo of influenza and smallpox, eagerly distributed by the unwelcome visitors.

As though in retribution for the damage done to them, the Chumash now inflict economic hardship on a monumental scale never envisaged by their ancestors. With neither bows and arrows nor war clubs, today’s Chumash conquer their historical oppressors in unprecedented numbers.

Highway 246, taken due east from Solvang for seven minutes, brings one to the Chumash Casino and Resort. A first-time visitor with Jackie in tow, I was concerned about missing the turn-off. My fear was unfounded as the stark white monolith dramatically appeared on the horizon. It was probably visible from the moon and beyond.

It was Saturday and the parking lot seemed filled to capacity. A drab, multi-level, solid concrete lot that defies your sense of direction, you could easily lose your car and prolong your stay. Thereby affording you another chance to win it back from the gaming tables where you had just lost it.

As with any new adventure, we clicked our heels together and blithely skipped through  the third level lot where a sign proudly proclaimed “Casino.” Not unexpectedly, we were confronted with patrons going in the opposite direction, who seemed less animated than those of us headed into the casino. Their dour, lifeless expressions did not bode us well.

Cash is a relatively unknown commodity in Jackie’s world. Plastic proliferates, while U.S treasury bills are as rare as unicorns. As we approached the bowels of the casino, Jackie proudly announced that she had twenty dollars with which to make her fortune. “I feel lucky” became the watchword of her faith. Why should I spoil her fun by reminding her that they only build these big buildings because everyone eventually contributes handsomely to that common cause? Besides, I thought, how much damage can one do with only twenty dollars?

We were confronted by a vast armada of slot machines, some 2.300 of them as proudly announced on the casino’s website. But these were not your mother’s machines. These were something designed by alien beings who intended to rob you of your senses while emptying your wallet. Some were eight feet tall. Others were eight feet wide. All were adorned with multi-colored lights and accompanied by sounds that defied description. A cacophony that allowed me to stow my hearing aids for fear of further hearing loss. Intending to further dull one’s senses, there were no clocks or windows, and no way of telling night from day.

Jackie began a quest for the one special machine that would make her financially independent.  Obstacles were thrown at her. Seeking a simple machine that had only three symbols of cherries, lemons and plums across its face seemed impossible. Most of the bandits had far more symbols, whole fruit baskets of symbols strewn over multiple rows.

Jackie’s pace quickened as she scanned the horizon. I was pressed to keep up as she raced through the rows and semi-circles filled with the electronic behemoths. A machine for nearly everyone’s economic status, they were all too willing to take your pennies, depriving you of even the barest necessities.

Hailing a passing attendant, Jackie described her needs. Three classic symbols and the ability to bet a dollar a pull. A dollar a pull? How far, I thought, would that take her twenty dollars? She repeated her requirements and was escorted to a dank, dark place where the ancients had once played.

She scanned the row of machines and then, as if it was meant to be, selected one. She plunked her cute fanny onto the comfy chair in front of it. Without any further investigation of the machine’s rules and regulations, she deftly inserted her $20 bill into the slot from which it would never again emerge. Gotta give her credit for her moxie, I thought. “Twenty Credits” popped up on the screen. So far so good.

With nary a hesitation, she punched the button that spun her future. A loser. I glanced at the place where “Twenty Credits” had once occupied a place of honor. It now read “Eleven Credits.” Wait a minute, I thought. What’s going on here. I tried to get Jackie’s attention. Too late, she punched the button again. Now only “Two Credits” appeared in the murky depths of the bandit’s screen. Horrified that she had bet $9 with each punch, Jackie emerged from her ten second reverie and entered a period of despair.

I could not stand seeing the anguish on her face. A once proud woman now bent at the knee. A life of anticipated riches disappearing in moments. I reached into my pocket and produced a twenty-dollar bill. A smile appeared on her face. Her eyes twinkled. All was right with the world.

Eventually tiring of enriching the Chumash, we began our trip back to reality by making several wrong turns that took us further into the casino, instead of the sanctuary of the parking lot. Just enough of a delay for me to marvel again at the magical sea of machines with their strident sounds and bright lights.

I wondered about the size of their electric bill. As if it made a difference.


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