Archive for the 'Community' Category

Patience

Alan and I arrived together at the library last night. It was the fourth Tuesday of the month, the day that the Ojai Valley Library Friends and Foundation board meets.

It was overcast most of the day and occasional drizzle made it feel as though winter was still with us, so I wore my Patagonia jacket to the meeting even though the temperature was in the mid-60’s. I’ve learned that most of the board members like it cooler indoors than I do, so I keep my jacket on in the meeting room until abundant sweat cascades down my cheeks.

Wearing warm things while others are happy in their flip-flops and t-shirts is attributable to my senior citizen status, lack of much body fat, and my mother’s caution that you can always take off what you’ve got on, but you can’t put on what you don’t have. I use that line when Jackie leaves the house with nothing much on, knowing full well that she will ignore me.

We walked toward the library entrance and stopped midway. Alan looked at the wall and noted the hundred plaques that were embedded in it. I had passed them hundreds of times since they were installed nearly twenty years ago, each in recognition of a contribution made to help in the acquisition of what is now the OVLFF bookstore and meeting room.

“Is your name on a plaque?” I said it was but didn’t spend much time looking for it. Alan found his with little effort and it seemed to bring back his memories. The relatively inexpensive masonry plaques have not aged well even though shaded by the covered entry to the library.  I made a mental note to talk about it at tonight’s board meeting; maybe we could pay a handyman to clean them up. And then I forgot about it, an unsurprising common occurrence.

Next to the plaques is a prominent piece of art made up of large mosaic tiles. It’s a scene depicting the local Topa Topa mountains in the background and a prominent bird, likely a California quail, in the foreground. Unlike the aging masonry plaques, those tiles are enameled and have held up nicely over the years.

I asked Alan if he knew the history of the piece but, given his comparatively brief tenure on the OVLFF board, did not. Without much prompting, I launched into its history that featured the artist and my involvement in the commission of the work by OVLFF two decades ago. It seemed like just yesterday that I had argued and pled with the artist, worried that we had spent donated money without any real assurance that we’d receive anything in return. But we eventually did and treasured the result.

My historical rambling reminded me that I’ve been on the board over twenty years, longer than any other current member. I’ve attended 200 board meetings, made 400 bank deposits, and written almost 3,000 checks. All of which tends to be mind-numbing and devoid of any glitz.

Our current board includes marvelous people who are passionate about books and the library. I’m sure they would lay down their lives protecting the institution from book-Nazis and others intent on interfering with the unbridled distribution of ancient and contemporary masterpieces. They want to expand the reach of the library into the community and to fill the edifice beyond that permitted by the fire marshal. They are undeterred in their mission. For some, it is life itself. Compared to them I am a literary slug.

Hard copy books have disappeared from our home. The Kindle now reigns supreme. I have an avalanche of unread digital books that sit idle in my Amazon Prime inventory. Browsing through it is a nightmare since I can’t be sure if I’ve previously read or rejected any of them. I’m easy prey to any suggestion about a book I should read, which reinforces my feeling that I have different tastes compared to those who actually read all the books they purchase. 

It usually takes me weeks to finish a book. I often forget its title while reading it; the author’s name might as well be Anon. I feel cast adrift while others discuss the latest books and recite footnotes from memory; I can’t differentiate between an op cit and an ibid.

All of which has helped turn a board meeting into an agonizing experience. Judy starts the meeting promptly at six and, bless her heart, strives mightily to end it at seven. She delicately balances the rights of people to speak at length while her own internal timer ends the dissertation of the most verbose.

Other than announcing a blazing fire on the premises, I generally lapse into total silence at the end of my two-minute presentation of the financial report. Anything beyond two minutes causes a mass glazing over of the eyes and unanimous exploration of the board members’ Facebook accounts.

I do, however, manage to keep myself awake by muttering. Maybe all 84-year-old men mutter under their breath to express their displeasure in group settings. Most importantly I have found there is an art to doing it properly without appearing senile.

One must not look directly at the person who has generated the need for my muttering, and its volume should be barely audible to make it unintelligible. It should only last a few seconds, so it does not become a substitute annoyance. Carefully spaced repetition of muttering is permissible if the annoying party prolongs their offending dissertation. I’m sure that the younger board members would also mutter but they do not have the excuse of old-age and are looking forward to many years of stimulating board meetings.

Occasionally, a truly worthwhile matter is brought to the board for serious discussion. Last night, for example, the proper use of the hyphen consumed the bulk of our allotted hour. The bookstore’s name is Twice-Sold Tales, a clever play on Twice-Told Tales a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne later made into a 1963 horror film starring Vincent Price.

One of resolute board members had found an inconsistency in the use of the hyphen in various bookstore publications. Armed with that information, she asked that the board adopt a pledge to always use the hyphen and abandon the grammatically incorrect absence of it. Another board member, rising from his slumber, objected. Back and forth it went until sensing the futility of supporting the hyphen-less version, the objector crumbled and joined the side of the hyphen-ers.  It was a win-win all around. I found the entire discussion so fascinating that I had not muttered, even once.

Too bad Vincent Price is dead. It would have made a great remake of the original film.

An Ojai Sunday

It was warm and bright. I thought reading a book would be all the action I needed to make it a perfect Sunday. But Jackie had other ideas.

We dressed, had morning coffee, and walked to town. Only 15 minutes separated us from the Farmers’ Market and our regular two-ounce container of wheatgrass juice. The juice, with its hint of sweetness, is available from the young man who also sells a variety of sprouts. Both of nature’s goodies are claimed to extend one’s life, enhance the workings of the gut, and reawaken our sexual appetites. Best of all they are steps from our front door and only six bucks for two servings, once a week. 

Jackie bought a small bag of sprouts that were destined to remain in her waist-belt for the rest of the day, soaking up her delicious body heat and turning them into easily digestible wilted things. We made our usual circumnavigation of the market, stopping to greet familiar faces whose names I had forgotten. We left the market with a box of mixed berries, blue, raspberry, and black.

Crossing Matilija, we passed the woman who plays the didgeridoo. Sitting in her usual Sunday spot at the entry to the parking lot, she could be seen blowing into the instrument that owes its fame to the Australian Aboriginals. With vibrating lips and a technique called circular breathing, air is blown through a five-foot-long tube producing a sound that brings back memories of the Crocodile Dundee movie and its star, Paul Hogan. I give the didgeridoo player high marks for producing a unique sound that need only be heard once.

Moving through the parking lot and onto the grass directly opposite the fountain, we came upon the Hare Krishna contingent getting ready for their noon chanting. No longer looking like they had been thrown out of Los Angeles International Airport, they could be mistaken for me or you. The leader of today’s festivities was Bill, a member of our synagogue’s Saturday morning Torah study group. He invited me into the musical gathering where I picked up two wooden rhythm sticks and joined in.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishna movement, is a Hindu religious organization. Monotheistic, adherents believe that that humans are eternal spiritual beings trapped in a cycle of reincarnation. Like Judaism, the nature of the cycle for individual beings is determined by karma, the law of the consequences of our past actions.

These were people I knew well, quite the opposite of my first impression when I found them on the Farmers’ Market grass years ago. As I clunked the wooden sticks together I smiled and wondered what my friend Harry would say if he stumbled onto me singing Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, and reading pamphlets with odd looking cover art. We played for a while, finished off the berries and headed to the Inn.

Brunch at the Ojai Valley Inn found us seated in a mass of humanity. The background noise overwhelmed my hearing aids and had me looking for a way out. Jackie’s daughter Sammy is highly sensitive to noise and joined me in a rebellion. Supremely devoted to the happiness of their guests, the Inn moved us to a terrace table that eliminated the noise, gave us an unobstructed view of the golfers, and displayed the beauty of the Topa Topa mountains. An unlimited supply of lox, bagels and cream cheese turned a potential disaster into a scene from the 1937 movie, Lost Horizon, some of which is reputed to have been filmed on Ojai’s Dennison Grade, viewing the mysterious Shangri-La. I half expected Ronald Colman to pour my coffee.

Walking back to town, we were surprised to find that the Art Center was hosting a 2pm musical benefit for the musicians of Ukraine. Displaced by the war, these artists were now living in Poland and subsisting on a limited number of musical engagements. We bought tickets and found second row seats in what turned out to be a packed house.

The quartet of a pianist, 2 violinists, and a cellist were originally from Eastern Europe and their program focused on similarly located composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The first piece, heavy, slow, and likely to cause a deep coma, left me wondering if I could last  the entire 90 minutes.

In addition, I had foolishly picked seats that obscured any view of the performers. I might as well have been listening to the radio. Shifting in my seat produced little improvement. So, I decided to just go with the flow.

I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. I listened. The music improved. I stopped fidgeting. I breathed deeply. I visualized the pianist’s fingers rising and falling on the keyboard. I occasionally thought of my parents who were from the Ukraine. I relaxed. My ears opened further, and I heard high pitched sounds. Two birds were singing just outside the open door to the patio. It was as though they had been written into the score.

It was a wonderful Sunday in Ojai.

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.

No longer Eden

The man and the woman stood motionless on the crest of the hill. It was hot, too hot for the beginning of November. They wore thin faded shirts, brown shorts and wide-brimmed hats. Their scuffed hiking shoes had seen better days.

The man reached into the backpack at his feet, retrieved a dented water bottle and offered it to the woman. “Here, take this. Be careful, it’s all we have until we can find more.”

The woman took the bottle from the man as if it contained something breakable, unscrewed the plastic cap and put it to her lips. She drank slowly and longingly. Maybe a quarter cup. Then she handed it back to the man.

The man hefted it, guessed it was half full, and then taking it to his parched lips, he drank. A warm, almost too warm, liquid ran over his tongue and into his throat. He capped the bottle, held it for a moment, stared at it as though remembering something, and then put it in the backpack.

Spread out before them was a landscape devoid of greenery. Even the chapparal was brown and lifeless. A large black bird appeared overhead and flew aimlessly looking for something and seeing nothing.

The man and the woman scanned the horizon and remembered the rows of sweet orange and tangy lemon trees that had once been prominent. No tree had been spared. Even the silvery olives were gone, their hundred-year-old branches devoid of life. Their mouths, though aching for the saliva prompted by their thoughts, remained dry.

It seemed that only a few years had passed since the great drought had begun. Perhaps deceived by the incessant, mind-bending heat, the years had been compressed in their minds. The man and woman were not alone; the entire world had joined them in their misery.

First, it was the western states. The great, seemingly eternal Colorado River had stopped, like someone had flipped a switch. Castaic, the smallest lifegiving source, had gone quickly revealing the old structures that had once been covered with fifty feet of water. The great California reservoirs had emptied, puddled, then disappeared. Folsom, Shasta and Oroville, once full now gone. 

The mysterious underground aquifers with hidden treasure troves of liquid gold had ceased to send water regardless of the depth of wells. Huge irrigation pumps now stood idle and silent, rusting. Farmers had abandoned the fields that the man and woman now looked upon.

Home water use had been severely curtailed. Saddled with huge penalties for overuse, people did what they could, but not enough. Food supplies dependent on water dwindled. Farm animals unable to adapt became a novelty, then disappeared completely.

Air conditioning except when medically prescribed was forbidden. Red rectangular placards were placed on entry doors instead of on cars signifying the use of authorized coolers. Some remembered the days when no one had air conditioning, but no one had ever experienced this nonstop debilitating heat.

When the dams went dry, electricity was reduced to a trickle. Conversion to diesel powered generators was temporary because the pollution only worsened the heat.

Homes in once desirable communities were like albatrosses. Like the Okies of Dust Bowl days, people packed up and moved to places with water. Communities with resources blocked the entry of the migrants who were forced to live on the open road. But this too was short lived; climate change and annual increases of one-degree centigrade eventually produced perpetual droughts for everyone.

Unemployment soared as companies slid into bankruptcy, then closed. Like the Great Depression, the jobless begged. The government, with its feet stuck in concrete before the great drought, took over the distribution of food. We had finally achieved equal status with other countries; except we were now all third world.

The man and the woman had often talked about this. How could a once great county fall to its knees because of water? Surely everyone knew what needed to be done. Why had this opportunity been squandered?

No matter, it was too late now. The problem continued to feed upon itself. The future was undeniable. Our time on earth, like that of the dinosaurs, was ending. Not in a cataclysmic event, but rather a slow glacial slide to oblivion while we sat on our hands.

The man and the woman began to walk. Slowly, so as not to tire before finding some water over the next hill.

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.

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.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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.”

Too much separation

Made margaritas last night. My special recipe calls for Jose Cuervo ready mix (it includes a modicum of tequila), another half-jigger of straight tequila (any old thing will do nicely), a wedge of lime and lots of ice.

The ice lends a cooling feel to your hand on hot late afternoons, except when it is poured into a cheap cardboard Dixie cup. Which is how we served it to four friends at 6pm yesterday on our patio in the waning heat of the afternoon. These Covid-19 gatherings have become more frequent since the virus became our guest… and progressively more inebriating.

Abiding by the rules of social distancing, we maintain six feet of separation, sort of. The first of our meetings was held in a school parking lot where space was plentiful but where the surroundings resembled East Berlin before the wall fell. We have since advanced to our participants’ backyards. To avoid depositing the virus in the sanctity of the home, we enter through a side gate. Lack of access to the host home during the patio party requires a degree of advance bladder planning.

Picking a seat on one’s patio is an adventure that involves thinking about the needs of your companions. Those who have some physical limitations are granted the seat of their choice. Seats are often reorganized after getting settled, sometimes more than once.

We began our parties by bringing our own snacks and beverages to avoid cross contamination as we foraged through piles of chips, a bucket of guacamole and freshly popped corn. That requirement has been less firmly applied of late as we bring snacks to share. That chink in the armor has been extended to the serving of alcohol. The use of  ever-increasing volumes of alcohol has loosened our tongues and our ability to maintain the six-foot rule. We brush by each other as we grab food and have difficulty remembering which paper plate is ours. Unlike glass, Dixie cups are never refilled; a fresh one is provided to minimize the mixing of the host’s germs with those of the guests.

A single cough or sneeze from one of our participants often quiets our otherwise noisy group as we mentally analyze the implications of this violation. Sheila, our host two weeks ago had, in addition to providing some lovely snacks, coughed twice and said, “It’s only an allergy.” To which I responded with Walter Cronkite inflection, “Six people were found dead on the Cohn’s patio this morning. The only survivor, Sheila, was heard to say, “But I was sure it was only an allergy.”

Regardless of the level of alcohol in my brain, I am sharply aware of all these risky moves. I used to calculate the number of days that I had to wait after each violation before my Covid-19 symptoms might appear. But there were so many of the violations that the practice was abandoned when I realized that an Excel spread sheet would be needed.

In addition to the peccadillos occurring on the patio, there were other less joyful opportunities elsewhere for virus mating. Around the home, door handles, car steering wheels, my computer keyboard and the mailbox were all highly suspicious and required enough hand soap to make Proctor and Gamble my new best friend.

Westridge market is a veritable cornucopia of opportunities. Selecting bananas, squeezing bagged loaves of olive bread, or reading the ingredients in a jar of avocado mayo was the least of it. The simple act of grabbing and dragging a shopping cart from a reluctant stack was enough to send me to the ER…regardless of whether it had been drenched in disinfectant.

Eating prepared meals to support local eateries was a crapshoot. Buying a Greek salad at Rainbow Bridge was unassuring despite its claim to being gluten free, organic, vegan and free range. Ordering take-out from Hakane Sushi was like participating in a Zombies Overrun New Jersey movie when I visualized the helping hands that had caressed my California roll. No amount of sake could erase that thought from my frontal lobe.

Pumping gas, a now infrequent event, includes the use of a paper towel kindly provided by the local Chevron station. Trying to wrap the towel around my hand is akin to tying my shoe with one hand. But then I forget about the germ-laden keyboard as I enter my zip code.

Face masks do little to comfort my anxiety. Wearing an NP-95 mask left over from the Thomas fire riddles me with guilt as I consider all the first responders who may be doing without. Wearing a home-made cloth one, while attractive, is surely unsuitable to keeping the virus from flying directly through my nostrils or embedding itself in my welcoming brown eyes. Much like Woody Allen in Sleeper, waking to a world that embraces smoking and banana cream pie, I assuage my concerns by fantasizing that the use of masks was really the cause rather than the prevention of the problem.

Our next patio party is Saturday. It’s one of the perks that come with pandemics.

What earthquake?

There was a 3.7 earthquake in Los Angeles this morning, and no one seemed to care.

My morning corona virus routine began with a treadmill romp in the exercise room. Walking at a three miles per hour blazing pace, I stared at the TV and soaked up the morning news on my local ABC station.

Miriam Hernandez was saying something about an earthquake and finished that intro with a hand-off to John Gregory who was standing at the epicenter of the quake in Windsor Hills. It is a small hole in the wall near Inglewood; a larger hole in the wall famous for the Fabulous Forum where Kareem and Magic taught basketball to lesser mortals who were foolish enough to challenge them.

The Lakers have long since departed the Forum for fancier digs downtown. The once fabulous venue now hosts events including the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup and my favorite, the Super Flyweight World Championship.

The excitement generated by these events might normally have been eclipsed by a 3.7 quake. But there was John, standing alone in the street, attempting to rouse us from our coma-like, corona-induced slumber. He did his best with mind-grabbing one-liners including no injuries have been reported, no visible damage can be seen, and calls to 911 were underwhelming.

To put things in perspective and add an element of humor to his broadcast, John might have given us a quick tutorial on the Richter Scale.

Developed in 1935 by Charles Richter at the California Institute of Technology, it’s a logarithmic scale that probably means nothing to you, so I will skip any explanation of it. Suffice it to say, the scale measures a quake’s amplitude by the size of the wiggles on an earthquake recording…just like those on an EKG readout of your heart. Being logarithmic, each whole number increase in Dr. Richter’s amplitude scale is ten times greater than the previous number. At 6.7, the amplitude of the 1994 Northridge quake was 1,000 (10x10x10) times greater than the 3.7 one this morning.

Continuing to impress you with my knowledge of logarithms, the Richter Scale also measures the energy released by a quake. Even scarier than amplitude, each whole number increase is about 30 times greater than the prior number. Ergo, the Northridge quake released energy that was 27,000 (30x30x30) times greater than the one being featured by John this morning. More to the point, that is why my fish tank fell over in the Northridge quake while I slept blissfully through today’s puny tremor.

The quest for Covid-19 newsworthy items continues to dominate the media, further stretching John’s ability to satisfy our appetites with something like a mini-quake. However, I have noticed a slow creep of other news items that had once filled my TV screen, prior to Man vs. Covid-19.

For example, two days ago, a mass murder in Canada got a half-day of coverage, then exhausted its welcome when the police in a small New Jersey town got an anonymous tip about a body being stored in a shed outside one of the state’s largest nursing homes. Arriving there, the cops found 17 bodies lying about with Covid-19 etched on their foreheads. This was enough to shove any news about this Thursday’s NFL draft to a status well below the day’s most appealing pasta recipe.

Poor Joe Biden, who has never worn the mantle of Mr. Excitement, was pictured exhorting his admirers to storm the White House. He was quickly placed on the inactive list when he was upstaged by a Covid-19 mother in the Bronx tending to the needs of her six kids and a dog.

Donald Trump briefly tweeted into the spotlight when he decided to stop all border crossings. The business community angrily noted that this would cut the number of day laborers by two-thirds and further threaten the already fragile food chain. Realizing that he had just alienated his base and potentially caused irreparable damage to his favorite cereal, Captain Crunch, Mr. Trump said his tweet had been misinterpreted and was meant to apply only to crossings made from American Samoa.

Signs that the virus is losing some steam make new crises harder to find. Or maybe we are simply becoming bored with the whole thing. Face masks, while de rigueur, no longer attract the attention they once did. What started out as a quest for the holy grail has turned into a complete face-covering wardrobe with masks for day use and others specifically for nighttime entertaining.

Flag waving, horn honking moms wearing cowboy boots filled TV screens for a time, until mildly disinterested viewers realized that these protesters were a poor substitute for the Tea Party. Tired of schlepping the heavy flags and with a growing inability to understand how their deaths from the virus might make them more patriotic, they closed up shop and joined the ranks of those other patriots who refuse to vaccinate their children.

But not to worry about content as there will shortly be juicier Covid-19 adventures to fill the void. As noted in today’s Washington Post….

By the end of the week, Georgia residents will be able to get their hair permed and nails done. By Monday, they will be cleared for action flicks at the cineplex and burgers at their favorite greasy spoon.

And it will almost certainly lead to more novel corona virus infections and deaths.

As several states — including South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida — rush to reopen businesses, the sudden relaxation of restrictions will supply new targets for the coronavirus that has kept the United States largely closed down…

An 8.0 quake will seem like a walk in the park.


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