Archive for August, 2020

Scenic-less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Looked Both Ways Today

I looked both ways today. Twice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I’ll get a new bike.

Big Mac

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

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

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

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

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

And she’s right. As usual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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