Archive for September, 2020

Brown Trucks and Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What day is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like falling off a log

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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