Archive for June, 2022

Bottoms up

Jackie called me from the athletic club where she teaches yoga every Saturday morning. Good for me since my monthly bill reflects a hefty discount for employees and their spouses. 

We spend most of her club pay eating frozen yogurt at Bliss, a local dispensary that just recently decided to close an hour later on weekends. Keeping the lights on until nine makes Bliss the  cutting-edge place for night owls in a town where most people are asleep by 8:30.

Her call was about the Ojai Wine Festival. “It’s next Saturday, want to go? Should be fun.”

Like other activities conjured up by Jackie, it was meant to fill our dance card with enough events to keep me from dozing comfortably on the patio, wasting my life away with a book, a NY Times crossword puzzle, and Netflix.

I thought for a second. About all the things she’s arranged for us. About how any resistance is doomed to failure. About how my initial response to almost anything new is at best lukewarm. And about how much I enjoy the activity once I get there.

Having convinced myself that the wine festival was in my best interests, I said “Sure,” with as much passion as as I could muster.

The annual festival is organized by Rotary and the proceeds are used to help the community. So, while I blanched at the $100 per person price tag, I kept thinking “It’s for a worthy cause.” And maybe the wine. And maybe because Jackie paid for the tickets anyway.

The event is held at Lake Casitas. Instead of the usual entry, the one leading to the camping sites, car parking was about a quarter mile away. In an unpaved field populated by gophers, their holes dared me to break an ankle. We held hands as we dodged the holes and promised to care for whoever broke a bone first.

The festival runs from noon to 4, and we arrived at the entrance around 1. Glenda, my favorite retired Help of Ojai employee, was workingat the gate. She gave us a wine glass to sample the offerings of the wineries, beer joints and other mysterious libations. Glenda waved us in to join the hundreds of others who were already doing mega-sampling.

We spotted my doctor, Jim Halverson, standing in a booth labeled Information; we wandered over. Other festival goers were less inquisitive, so we had Jim all to ourselves. I thought that it was easier to visit him at the Festival compared to booking an appointment in his office. I thought, maybe next year he could hang out at the Festival in a booth labeled Consultations.

There were 30 wineries serving up their stuff. We rejected the idea of a systematic approach to be sure we didn’t miss one but rejected that idea in favor of just looking for the shortest lines. Our knowledge of wines ends with Sutter Home Rose with their bottles usually housed in the darkest corner of the wine rack at Westridge Market. Attractively priced (cheap), Sutter Home owns a permanent spot in our refrigerator.

Arriving at the front of the line, we are entitled to a one ounce pouring. Some of the wineries have a bottle top that precisely measures the delivery of the ounce, while others do it without the benefit of mechanical assistance. We often cheer the technically disadvantaged pourer in the hope of getting a bigger helping.

Getting that one ounce seemed like a lot of work for a small return. And sometimes you need to think big, so I calculated how much wine I could collect if I worked hard, and began my quest at the noon opening, and ended it at the 4pm closing.

I figured that it takes about seven minutes to start at the back of a line, move to the front of the line, and get my one ounce. Then get in the next winery’s line, drink the previous winery’s ounce while waiting in line, and then get the next ounce.

To get through all 30 wineries, I’d need 210 minutes or three and a half hours. That would leave 30 minutes to pee, snack on crappy kettle corn, and be wheeled out of the festival by the paramedics. I’d call that a successful day.

We fell woefully short of that goal. I doubt that we drank a full glass of wine. But we did eat crappy kettle corn and pee in the porta-potty.

We made our way to the exit a little after three. People were still arriving. If my calculations were correct, they could only get nine ounces of wine. Hardly worth the hundred buck ticket price, but maybe enough to get a buzz on and smile innocently at the Highway Patrolman when driving out.

Bottoms up

He played with his elbows

We moved to Ojai in July 2000 and began the process of inserting ourselves in the community. Our nearest neighbors were gentle with us and made us feel welcome. Some became fast friends.

The Sunday movies at the Ojai Playhouse found other friends who enjoyed foreign films, and the challenge of the closed captioning that was partially blocked by those in front of us. Because the old seats were in a straight line rather than staggered, I could only read the left or right side of the captions; the center, usually obliterated by tall, wide men with hats, was a mystery. Ila and I often turned to each other and asked with some annoyance, “What did he say?” But it was a minor price to pay to be part of the community.

We marched in the July 4th parade, attended concerts and plays at the Art Center, and volunteered our services to organizations in need. We were willing to try almost anything to complete our metamorphosis from L.A. to Ojai.

And then we heard about the Ojai Music Festival.

In 2001 we leaped at the opportunity of this new adventure. We didn’t investigate Festival history or even the current offerings. We bought tickets to what we assumed was a typical classical music extravaganza, complete with an orchestra, singers, and lots of I know that one music. I was sure that Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach would be well represented.  Lots of people regularly attended the June event, so what could be bad.

We prepared ourselves with seat cushions that took some pain out of the Bowl’s wood benches designed by Torquemada in the 15th century. Seat numbers had been pretty much eroded by the last glacier that came down Ojai Avenue, and the seats were sized for people on perpetual diets. With cramped quarters, we quickly became close friends with those on either side of us.

A bell chimed and silenced the crowd. A piano was center stage. A performer entered stage right to polite applause, sat at the piano, remained motionless for an eternity, lifted his hands, and began to play.

At first, I thought the piano was out of tune. And then I noticed that he occasionally removed his hands from the keyboard and substituted his elbows. His hands returned to the keyboard, and then gave way to elbows. Hands and elbows trading places over and over. A cacophony of sounds attacked my ears. I was stunned and fearful. And so it continued; a baptism under fire. Like Dorothy, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

The performer with the talented elbows ended his performance. A rumbling spread through the audience. At first, I assumed they were as mystified as I was by what they had just heard. The rumble grew louder and more strident. People rose from their seats. I wondered if, like in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein movie, the villagers were going to lynch the pianist.

And then, the 60ish woman seated next to me rose to her full 5-foot-two height. But rather than encouraging the idea of a lynching, she began shouting Bravo, bravo, bravo. Over and over, infused with an ardor that would not be satisfied until her vocal cords ceased to function.

Ila and I stared at each other and sent silent messages that included rolling our eyes, shrugging our shoulders, and displaying our up-turned palms. Who were these people who surrounded us? Were they victims of mass hypnosis? Did they need medical attention?

It ended. We began the trek to our car and bumped into some friends who had been at the performance. Normally a levelheaded, calm person, Sally asked “Wasn’t that a marvelous concert? Wasn’t it amazing? Didn’t you just love it?”

Still feeling raw-edged due to my overexposure to the elbow man, I threw political correctness to the winds and said No. With that bit of honesty, I had firmly labeled myself a non-believer, an agnostic, antiquated, a has-been. Maybe even a Tony Bennett fan.

In the years that followed, and despite our better judgment, we continued to attend the Festival like it was some kind of virus. Like the flu season, it returned each June and evaded our best attempts at eradication. I’d either relax on the lawn or, after the Bowl’s reincarnation, sit on a nice green, waterproof, stiff plastic chair. I’d watch and listen, using the Elbow Man’s performance as a baseline measurement for weird, annoying music.

Anna, the Festival’s happy-faced fund raiser, has become my personal concierge in picking a performance that would least offend me. Because of Jackie’s work schedule, our choices this year were limited. Anna suggested the Sunday morning program featuring a pianist. Always one to foolishly let history repeat itself, I sent them a boatload of cash and got two tickets in row E.

We arrived, located our seats, and were surprised to find no one in rows A to D. After a thorough astronomical evaluation, we realized that those rows were exposed to full sunlight while Row E only allowed a solar invasion of my ankles. The movement of the Earth around the Sun, and the possibility of cremation, became something else to worry about besides the music.

The chimes sounded. The audience quieted and our attention was drawn to the lonely Steinway grand piano in the middle of the stage. The pianist entered stage right, sat at the piano, flexed, and then fell silent. He waited. Memories of the Elbow Man flooded through me.

Close enough to see his hands and elbows, I watched. I held my breath. He played.

I loved it.

Watch your step

I visited my son, David, over the Memorial Day weekend. Jackie was going to her favorite spa, Starvation Palace, near San Diego and I felt the need to surround myself with replacements while she luxuriated in the wonders of wheat grass juice.

I had long ago learned to avoid traveling to the Bay Area on a holiday weekend, so I began my trip to Berkeley on Thursday, a few days before people would begin bumper car games on HIghway 101.

Late last year I spent a week at David’s when I attempted to dislodge my hips from the rest of my body by pretending I really wasn’t 83 and could swing 15-pound kettlebells between my legs during a workout designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still recovering from that misguided adventure, I promised to avoid all heavy lifting during the upcoming visit other than what was required when drinking vast quantities of alcohol. 

In stark contrast to David’s home, our Ojai house was designed to eliminate trips and falls. There are no steps in its 2,700 square feet. Walking from the curbside mailbox to the front door can be done by a slug that spends a lifetime crawling on its belly. But I exaggerate; there is a three-inch-high step from the garage to the kitchen. After several dozen attempts, I’ve met and conquered the challenge offered by it…even in the dark.

David’s house reeks with challenges best avoided by old people. The front of his lovely home is accessed by two tiers of concrete steps. I always let him, or grandson Isaac, carry my bags so that I can fully concentrate and thereby avoid a subdural hematoma.

Reaching his family room requires a scary walk down eight highly polished wood steps which are framed by a decorative but inconsistent railing. Adding to the adventure is the occasional blockade thrown at me by the family dog, a kind but lazy 100-pound Malamute named Koda. Walking up the stairs often requires a similar negotiation with the dog. I’m sure she hates me and lays in wait for these opportunities.

My bedroom is at mid-level and sports five steps leading down to the bathroom. My nocturnal needs can only be satisfied by a walk in the dark down these steps. Lying in bed at 2am gives me pause while I balance my need to pee versus navigating the steps that promise relief.

That bathroom has an ancient shower housed in a white enamel tub. I have been persona non grata to that tub ever since falling in it five years ago. Not one to tempt fate a second time, David insists that I shower in the master suite at the top level of the house, some 18 steps up, and eventually down, from mid-level to top. Walking up is easy; most people don’t fall upstairs. Coming down I envision hurtling headfirst, and breaking most of my limbs, along with jamming my nose into my brain. It makes me wonder why I need to take a daily shower.

A trip to see my favorite son and his family usually includes a day of fishing. As a younger man I was relatively unconcerned about floating in a sea of dangers. I am now more reluctant to trust my life to poorly maintained boats and an ocean that couldn’t care less about my safety. In fact, like Koda the Malamute, I think the sea hates me and lies in wait for my first bonehead move.

Casting my cares to the wind, we chartered the Osprey, a 30-foot cruiser owned by the intrepid Captain James. David invited three friends to join us. Dennis is my age (ancient), Pat is happy (an early morning beer helps), and Greg is without fear. Seas willing, we planned to cruise under the Golden Gate, take a left and search for migrating salmon.

The Osprey is docked in Richmond, about 30 minutes from Berkley. Up at 4:30, we forced oatmeal down our throats, loaded up Greg’s car and arrived at the dock just before a planned 6am departure.

The boat floats under a protective canopy and, even in early morning light, it still looks like midnight to a guy with my eyes. Low tide contributed to the adventure by making the gangplank stand nearly erect at 90 degrees. I took Lilliputian sized steps on my way down to the dock where I found myself behind everyone else.

The boat was riding stern first into the dock. I watched as everyone went aboard. Piece of cake. My turn now.

I stepped from the dock onto what I thought was the boat deck. Instead of a solid surface under my left foot, I found myself in mid-air and then into the water, feet first. It was over my head filling my clothing. Hands reached down and pulled me up and onto the Osprey deck.

It was cold and I was shivering. I thought about what Leonardo DiCaprio must have felt like, treading water after the Titanic hit the iceberg. Or Gertrude Ederle swimming across the English Channel with nothing on but Vaseline.

I was sure it was the end of the fishing trip. The ambient temperature was around 50 degrees and, as Jackie will attest, I become inoperative at less than 75 degrees even with a blanket.

But only a tidal wave can deter hard core fishermen. Captain James started pulling off my drenched clothes. The other guys joined in, some much too gleefully. I was soon naked and looking like the Mermaid statue in Copenhagen’s harbor, except for the breasts. Feeling like a sour dill pickle in cold brine, I was certain I was in the final stages of hypothermia.

The captain had a spare pair of oversized Levi’s. Dennis gave me a sweatshirt. Greg provided some socks, and the captain found an ancient set of sneakers that almost fit.  Pat’s belt barely held up the 42-inch Levi’s. David gave me his jacket.

I looked like I had been dressed at Good Will.

Oh, the fishing was outstanding.


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