Archive for the 'Human Nature' Category

Simple Pleasures

Did you ever listen to friends describe their latest adventures?

“Uzbekistan was amazing. So many things to see. The people were great. Can’t wait to do it again.”

“Our trip to New York was mind-blowing. Had to book tickets to Hamilton two years in advance…worth every penny. You should go.”

“The Falkland Islands were one of the top five events in my life. I’ll never forget the sheep in the road. Weather was perfect. Never knew there were so many ways to prepare mutton.”

Time was that I would think “Why aren’t I doing things like this?  I must be missing out on life.”

Probably so.

But things being what they are, Sweetie and I tend to find pleasure in simpler things. Things that don’t involve shleps to the airport, uncomfortable plane seats, annoying children and rude adults.

Like yesterday.

The library foundation bookstore is closing for a major rebuild. We wanted to sell lots of books so that we could avoid moving them to temporary storage while we build the new structure.  We volunteered for the 2:30 shift and arrived to find very little activity. One or two customers, much like a normal day. So since we weren’t really needed, we excused ourselves and went for a walk.

One of our favorite places is Rains department store. A venerable institution serving the community for over a hundred years. Weekends are pretty busy in the store but on most weekdays you can call the store your own. We hardly ever leave without buying something. Sort of like freshly marking our territory.

There’s a wooden bench just off the main aisle in the women’s department. I’m sure it’s intended to allow the ladies to sit and try on the shoes that are cloistered in the area around the bench. It looks uncomfortable but the bench’s shape sort of matches my fanny so I can sit for a while before I develop calluses or bone spurs. We often alight on that bench and stare at the dozen or so women’s shoes that beckon to be tried on.

Spending thirty minutes or so sitting on a wood bench in Rains’ shoe department may not sound very exciting. And it’s not. So to lighten things up, we sometimes pretend that we are on a cruise. At other times we pretend that we are waiting for a city bus to come rolling down the department store aisle. In either case, we must look odd to the sales people and to the customers. But, being old, most observers simply assume we’ve got nothing better to do and ignore us.

Yesterday was special, though. I began staring at the array of shoe boxes stacked directly ahead of me.  About thirty of them in about six stacks.  All the same brand. I zeroed in on the 3×5 stickers glued to the end of each box that announced the style number and shoe size of the contents. I wondered “Are all those labels glued to the box by hand or is there some clever piece of machinery that does it?” I compared the placement of each label and the amount of empty space surrounding each. My suspicion was that they were hand applied. But I couldn’t be certain. So I asked Sweetie for her wise counsel. Recognizing a unique opportunity, she smiled and immediately bought into the adventure. Carefully eyeballing the boxes and measuring her response, she said that she was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a machine was doing the deed. Good enough for me.

Having some time remaining in our busy schedule, I then focused on the boxes themselves. I was surprised that each shoe size seemed to have a box whose dimensions were tailored to the size of the contents. What a revelation! Sweetie was not nearly as excited as me since she claimed to already be aware of the shoe box size protocol. Probably because she has more shoes than I do.

So there you are. A relatively inexpensive adventure that did not require a plane trip, questionable accommodations, tickets bought two years in advance, or the need to learn a foreign language.

Now won’t that be an amazing story to tell our friends when they return from the Galapagos?

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Shoot first, aim later

It was my birthday, May 13, 1939. The SS St. Louis was carrying 900 German Jews fleeing the Nazis.  They had hoped to land in Cuba and then proceed to the United States but were refused entry by the Cuban government.  With no place to go, the ship returned to Europe and over 250 of those refugees were eventually murdered in Nazi death camps. The United States government played a role in that crime against humanity by also refusing to accept them.

Fast forward seventy-six years.  A band of murdering misfits guns down helpless Parisians whose principal crime was enjoying all that Paris has to offer.  Talking heads go into high gear predicting the end of humanity as we know it. They create an atmosphere of mistrust where people “unlike us” are to be avoided, suspected and kept in their place.

Politicians, seeing fodder for their flagging campaigns, leapt into action and promised to be the answer to the threat hovering somewhere in the ether.  Marco Rubio, forgetting his own heritage for the expedient moment, said that we should stop accepting Syrian refugees.  Not for a moment did he seem to comprehend that these are the very people who are fleeing the murdering misfits.

Jeb Bush, fearing permanent assignment to the ignominious list of also-rans, is somewhat more accepting of the refugees..so long as they are Christians.  Continuing the parade of presidential hopefuls who believe that it’s constitutional to discriminate by religion, Senator Ted Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Duh.

Donald Trump, once a lukewarm supporter of Syrian immigration, turned his coat and announced that he would, as President, deport any of that ilk. Coupled with his demand that eleven million illegal aliens be summarily ripped from their homes and sent back to their ancestral homes leaves him batting a thousand.  But looking for more points than his competition led him to suggest on Monday that he would “strongly consider” shutting down Muslim mosques in this country in response to the Paris attacks.  “Some of the absolute hatred is coming from these areas…The hatred is incredible. It’s embedded. The hatred is beyond belief. The hatred is greater than anybody understands.”

Reaching for the gold ring, the current heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination, Ben Carson, offered this inexplicable foreign policy during a Sunday interview on Fox News..

  • Stated he would not allow refugees into the US because of his “frontal lobes”
  • Insisted that China is active in the Syrian conflict
  • Struggled to name a single coalition partner he could call upon to combat ISIS
  • Advocated a shooting match with Russia over a no-fly zone

A respectable cadre of Republican governors, led by Alabama and Mississippi, joined the “Keep Out the Refugees” chorus by issuing statements saying that those miserable people would find no solace in their otherwise safe and happy states. And if I had a choice, I’d avoid those two states too.

These shoot first and aim later politicians surely are smart enough to realize that their actions merely fall right into the plot set by ISIS.  Generate havoc, let world leader wannabes shout out against Muslims and then reap the windfall of more misfit volunteers to their blighted cause.  But no, fear mongering reaps more votes at the ballot box than calls for helping persecuted people do.

Maybe it’s the “silly season” but I’m not laughing.

Loser…

I never should have let Myrna talk me into this.

“Oh come on, Fred.  We need some more pieces for the annual Art Center photo show. You don’t have to do anything special.  Just help us fill the wall space.  You can just dust off some old thing…pretty puhleeze.”

So I did.

And I got beat out of a prize by a photo of a dead goat straddling the running board of an old truck.  Talk about embarrassment.

I went through the same routine that I’ve repeated, without learning anything, for the last decade.  I shlepped to the Art Center on  Friday morning and spent three hours helping hang the fifty or so pieces submitted by people who were, for the most part, younger than my grandchildren.

Standing back with my objectivity brimming over, I was satisfied that I had honestly scanned my competition.  I then silently mused to myself “my photo is the odds-on favorite to take it all.“  The increased number of awards this year only served to bolster my chances.  I was a shoo-in.

I went to bed that night with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.  I could actually see the crowd elbowing each other for a closer look at my show stopper.  A photo that was perfectly composed, in focus, leading the viewer’s eye to the spot I had designated.  Telling a compelling story about the subjects in the photo as well as providing insight into the mind of the photographer.  God, it was good.

On Saturday, I watched the time pass oh so slowly, anxiously awaiting the start of the Art Center reception.  At the appointed time, Sweetie and I drove to the Center, parked a mile from the door and began a long trek that I can now liken to the Bataan Death March.

We walked through the door and I was instantly drawn to my award-winning photo.  Ok, maybe not first but certainly second.  All right, ok, I’ll settle for an honorable mention.  So where was the award?  Usually it’s pasted to the wall right next to the photo.  Uh, maybe this year it’s real teeny tiny, tucked away unobtrusively, maybe even behind the photo.  Nope.  Not there.  Maybe it fell off.

Like the air being let out of a balloon, my expectations dissipated into the ether.  I was incredulous.  And then I was nauseated.  Then both at the same time.

I thought, ok, so you didn’t make the big time.  The judges must have seen something very special in the dozen photos that beat me out.   Something that I would, as a professional and a right-minded guy, see and understand.  And then I saw the dead goat.

I know you’re saying to yourself “Fred does this every year.  He goes in to the show with great expectations and then whines when he goes home empty-handed.  What a loser.”

Ok, I leave it to you.  Go to the Art Center before July 9.  And tell me if you really like the dead goat.  I’m at your mercy.

Some things never change

I listened to On Point this morning on PBS.  Tom Ashbrook, the host of this talking head and listener call-in program, was gathering points of view about what to do about the thousands of Central American children crossing our border illegally.

We shouldn’t use the extra money Obama wants to add more immigration judges just so we can figure out if a kid belongs here.  Use the money to hire lots of buses, load all the kids into them, take them to the border and dump them.  Let their relatives sort them out.  It’s not our problem.

I sympathize with those poor kids.  But ya know, we’ve got our own problems right here in the U.S.  Folks out of work and things like that. Who’s helping them?

I really feel sorry for those kids.  It must be awful where they come from.  Listen, I live in a well-to-do Houston suburb and my kids go to a good school.  But do you know that they actually have to tape some of their books together to keep them from falling apart.  We could use the extra money to get new ones and other stuff too.

It’s all Obama’s fault.  If he would just stop talking about the “Dream”, forget it, and just get more border guards.  And a fence too.  That’s how to solve this problem.  Meanwhile I got troubles of my own.  We don’t need to solve someone else’s.  Especially someone who doesn’t even live here.

These agonizing words sounded strangely familiar.  It was as though I had heard them before, in another time and with equal force.

While we sympathize with the Serbian or the Russian, with the Jew in Germany, the major portion of our sympathy is extended to our dispossessed farmer, our disconsolate laborers who are being crushed at this moment while the spirit of internationalism runs rampant in the corridors of the Capitol, hoping to participate in setting the world aright while chaos clamors at our doors.

Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity.

Must the entire world go to war for 600,000 Jews in Germany who are neither American, nor French, nor English citizens, but citizens of Germany?

Father Charles Coughlin

Some things never seem to change.  We become a bit more politically correct, but when push comes to shove we show our true colors…maybe with a touch more phony pathos than Father Coughlin.  Like those patriotic protestors in Murrieta, California.

The federal government will continue exploiting these children. Releasing them on our streets with diseases is unacceptable.

The city needs a break. This is draining the resources of Murrieta. I don’t want to see our city go bankrupt.

We’ll be here protesting as long as it takes for the Federal Government to get enough buses to get those kids out of our town.

Meanwhile, reasonable solutions are tabled while we play hardball politics.  Maybe we just forgot what we’re all about.  Maybe we haven’t come so far after all.  Maybe it’s not important.  After all, they’re only children.

Keep Your Hands Off My Margaritas

The great lime crisis is upon us.

The intentional destruction of lime trees in Florida in 2001 and adverse climate conditions in Mexico  have coupled with our insatiable appetite for Margaritas and brought us to our knees.

Things are so bad that even the Ventura Star was forced to abandon its favored front page regimen of people who haven’t a clue about the Affordable Care Act and instead published a headline feature about the travails suffered by lime eaters and those who supply them with this highly essential food item.

The Star alerts us to the impact on local businesses of the inflated price of limes and the ways entrepreneurs are coping with this industry threatening malady.  Blessed with little or no government intervention, these men and women are making do on their own.  Thinner slices and a limit on the number of such slices in one’s Margarita are effectively propelling businesses to even greater creativity without the aid of government lime use regulations or inflated never-to-be-recovered  cash subsidies.

Nevertheless I felt sorry for folks like Alessandro Tromba, owner of a couple of local restaurants, who bemoaned the additional cost for the two forty pound cases of limes that he purchases every week.  The additional cost of about $130 a week prompted Alessandro to say “I don’t think most customers realize the cost of doing business has escalated so much.”  Yes, ten bucks a day for each of his restaurants is a bitter pill to swallow.  Surely some government intervention, other than health care benefits for all his employees, is warranted.

I trashed the Star after carefully extracting the New York Times crossword puzzle and sighted in on Meet the Press with David Gregory.  Taking a page from our resourceful lime entrepreneurs, Jason Chavetz, a Republican congressman from Utah, no doubt still smarting from a years’ ago nasty airport incident involving the Transportation Safety Agency, insisted that the way for this country to get back on its feet was to have government get out of its way.  Over-regulated, over-taxed and over-nannied, Congressman Chavetz, pausing to take a quick breath from accusing the White House of high treason for the Benghazi affair, was eloquent in his description of what this country will look like once a Republican was back in the Oval Office.

He was at the same table as William Adams, better known as the celebrity, Will.i.Am, a seven time Grammy award winner.  For most of the hour, Will had not smiled, giving one pause to his credentials as an entertainer.  Will, however, rolled his eyes and was obviously roused by Congressman Chavetz’s statements about the lack of any clear reason for government intervention in the lives of its better-left-alone citizens.

Being black surely influenced Will’s thoughts as he no doubt wondered if slavery would still be legal in Utah if not for thirteenth amendment to the Constitution.  Or if blacks would still have their very own water fountain in Mississippi.  Or if seniors would be residing in debtor’s prison if not for Social Security and Medicare.  Or if Wall Street would be looking out for its customers’ welfare without the SEC.  Or if Exxon would care about grounded oil tankers without the EPA.  Or if poor people and those with uninsurable disabilities could not get help without the Affordable Care act.

But one thing’s for sure.  Better that the government stay out of the lime crisis than to cast its long shadow over our Margaritas.

Sourdough Slim and Other Characters

Sweetie and I joined six other aging but still competent Upper Ojai friends for a much-anticipated Sourdough Slim appearance at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club Thursday evening.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recognizing the danger that excess stomach acid can produce when one is running late for the theater, we chose to have an early senior-style dinner at Il Giardino’s, about half a block from the Women’s Club.  Not being a big fan of that particular eclectic restaurant, I had agreed to it while gritting my teeth and expecting the usual combination of poor food and questionable service, topped with a general feeling of grouchiness.

Eight of us were banished to the Devil’s Island corner  of the outdoor patio.  Being the last to pick a seat, I had the pleasure of facing the wall which depicts a painted saga that is desperately in need of renovation by one or more otherwise unemployed Italian artisans.

We also were treated to the added attraction of live music performed by two young men who were oblivious to the hearing afflictions foisted upon elders due to the advanced atomic decibel readings achieved by today’s amplification systems.

Actually, surprise, surprise, the food was tasty, the company stellar and the two young musical aficionados graciously offered to turn things down after several of our party collapsed on the floor pleading for respite.  A good start, I’d call it, and totally unexpected.

Finishing with a flourish and with fifteen minutes to spare, several of our party with space remaining  in their large intestines made a quick stop at Bliss, the local do-it-yourself frozen yogurt eatery, and heaped calorie laden yummies on their already distended stomachs.

Having been clever enough to buy advance tickets to Sourdough’s performance, we entered the Women’s Club ahead of those who were either still enroute or who had the misfortune of thinking that purchasing tickets at the door would give them something other than a seat requiring the Hubble Telescope for a decent view of Slim.

This was the third time we’d attended a Sourdough Slim concert.  A masterful combination of Howdy Doody and Slim Pickens, Sourdough regaled the crowd with cowboy songs, jokes that have stood the test of time, and amusing facial expressions, all topped by a ridiculous ten-gallon hat that is as important to his repertoire as his music.  Accompanied by the formerly famous Robert Armstrong on a variety of instruments including the yet to be universally embraced musical saw, the aging but still standing  Sourdough keeps you rooting for him to complete his performance without suffering a massive coronary.

We picked seats that were close to the stage yet far enough removed to avoid becoming an unwilling part of the evening’s festivities.  I sat on a folding chair that had just enough cushioning to be comfortable for a full twenty minutes before wreaking havoc on my under-stuffed  fanny.  Looking for a comfortable spot to rest on, other than bone, was to be a major part of the festivities.

Two fiftyish party goers arrived and sat in the row in front of us.  Wearing over-the-top cowboy hats large enough to block out the sun, they mercifully sat to our right, out of our visual spectrum but close enough for those with adequate peripheral vision to observe the couple’s own performance that was in competition with that of the Sourdough.

The woman wore a tight red dress, short enough to allow a proper airing of her private parts yet tight enough to allow the substantial hills and valleys of her aging body to attract prying eyes to the various displays of her abundant cellulite deposits.  The man, balding and handle-barred moustached, spent much of the evening prodding and caressing the lady’s abundant flesh.

The lady in red, attired in cowboy boots that could have easily stomped a whole herd of cows, began the festivities by banging her heels to the rhythm of Slim’s music…well almost.  She then progressed to raising both her arms to the heavens, waving them with abandon and providing further evidence of her deepening dementia.  When this failed to draw the attention of those in the far reaches of the theater, she orally fixated us with randomly delivered whooping and hollering clearly intended to alert all, including the paramedics, to her presence.  I began to feel sorry for the lady in red who assuredly had been ignored as a child and, other than for her groping escort, was suffering the same fate as an adult.

The seat in front of me was occupied by a tall man with short legs and a long Yao Ming torso.  His shock of white hair was directly in line with my view of Slim.  Fortunately, the Cardiff Giant look-alike parted his hair down the middle affording me a limited view of the very top of Slim’s ten gallon hat.  I accepted my fate as being payoff for my many sins, and for most of the rest of the evening focused on Mr. Armstrong’s musical saw.

At least no one had a coronary.

sourdough slim

Down to the Sea with Tots

I’ve seen enough movies about whalers, Bering Sea crab fisherman and Somali pirates to know that the open ocean is a place that deserves the utmost respect, if not downright fear.

Apparently, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman didn’t share my misgivings. In fact, they seemed to relish them when they embarked on a worldwide 36 foot sailboat cruise with daughters Cora, 3 and little Lyra, 1. With less than adequate seagoing experience and saddled with Lyra’s recent unresolved illness, the Kaufmans felt that many months of exposure to death-defying conditions would sober up the little brats in short order. Much like my Mom did by sending me outside to play softball in the alley, or by giving me a nickel to ride the streetcar all alone to the Bertha Theater on Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue.

The Daffy Duck Kaufman cruise ended with hoards of Coast Guard rescuers racing to their salvation, an astronomical number of taxpayer financed naval ships, and a not so trivial exposure of others to possible injury or death.  A rollicking good time was, I’m sure, had by all.

Having never put my eye out by recklessly aiming my BB gun, I’m probably not well qualified to judge the sanity of the Kaufmans’ daredevil antics. But their bravado apparently hit a nerve with similarly minded sailing enthusiasts who laugh uproariously in the face of disaster.

Jim in Seattle defended the Kaufmans by citing the statistics of known sailing deaths in the last fifty years. Encouraged, even proud of those numbers, Jim noted that “You are more likely to be stung by a mosquito than drown in the middle of the ocean in a 36 foot boat. And everyone knows that malaria can kill you quicker than being run down at midnight by a 1,200 foot long, 50,000 ton container ship.”

Martha in Marina Del Rey volunteered “I’ve been a matron in an institution devoted to the rehabilitation of delinquent teens. Going to sea before being able to walk or talk is sure to be a great incentive for those kids to obey their parents, walk the straight and narrow, and stay out of my way. I hope they have the guts to do it again, maybe even when Charlotte is eight months pregnant.”

Steve in New York compared the Kaufman adventure with the maniacal motorcycle acrobatics of the now departed daredevil Evel Knievel. “Ya know, Evel wasn’t afraid of anything. He broke every bone in his body twice, replaced his cirrhotic liver, spent half his life in the hospital, and lived to be nearly 70. Fear wasn’t in his vocabulary. Evel said it all when he said I guess I thought I was Elvis Presley but I’ll tell ya something. All Elvis did was stand on a stage and play a guitar. He never fell off on that pavement at no 80 mph.

Sobering statements from people who know the real benefits of courting death without hesitation. The sheer exhilaration of putting yourself and your mindless loved ones at peril in order to satisfy a need for recognition and possible profit.

So maybe the Kaufmans had the right idea. Live life to its fullest, even if means killing your infant daughter in the process. They can always make another one.

Kaufman cruise


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