Archive for the 'Memories' Category

Happy Birthday, Nanny

Dear Nanny,

60 years? I could say where have they gone, but I remember them. Not every one, but enough to know.

You made your presence acutely known well before your birth. Bouts of morning sickness regularly filled your mother’s day; I’d often come home from work, look at her bloodshot eyes, and know that she’d had a tough time.

She was 20 and I was 21. Your arrival nine months and two days after we took our marriage vows was unplanned, unexpected, and overwhelming. Our ignorance of the nuances of birth control was soon followed by a display of gross incompetence dealing with a newborn. It’s surprising you survived your first year.

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor on Chicago’s north side. It was small with ridiculous blue carpeting in the living room. The dining area was big enough to seat four people, but we had few guests.

During her pregnancy, mom tackled all 1,711 pages of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. She read it diligently. At night she’d balance the book on her expanding stomach; you’d go along for the ride as she breathed in and out. I attribute your own voracious reading appetite to that ponderous German history book that rested not six inches from the top of your head.

You slept in a small port-a-crib next to our bed. It had a bumper pad that wrapped itself around the inside. One of my favorite memories is seeing your tiny hand squeezing its way under the pad and through the crib slats. It was as though you were saying “I want out of here.” A sure sign of your need to get things done without messing around.

We soon bought a small house in Highland Park. You had your own bedroom, and mommy and daddy had some privacy…just enough to present you with a little brother. You were a good baby. Quietly, but with purpose, you sucked your thumb with a vengeance; a sign that you would become a highly analytical and very contemplative grown-up.

You had a little pink blanket that you dragged around the house and took to your bed. I love the photo of you sitting in a small rocking chair asleep, sucking your thumb, and holding tight to your precious bankie. A sure sign that you would save most of your money and not spend it on shiny toys or bad investments.,

The blanket shredded piece by piece, eventually leaving only a three-inch-wide, twelve-inch-long strip of satin that had once bound the edges of the blanket. You wound the strip tightly around your fingers. One day you simply decided you’d had enough and consigned the strip to its final resting place. A sign that you would stick with projects until they were completed to your satisfaction.

On your fifth birthday you had a fairy tale dress-up party. You wore a Little Bo Peep shepherd’s dress and carried one of those sticks with a curved end used to herd sheep. A sure sign that you were going to be a good manager who kept things running smoothly.

We had a basement in the little house with steps that led from the kitchen down to a bare concrete slab. You were only a toddler when you fell off the last step, hit your jaw and bit your tongue. You still have a tiny scar on top of it. Never one to waste a lesson learned, you developed a keen sense of safety and became a good listener, one who only says what needs to be said.

Your baby brother, David, was quick to learn that you were someone to look up to. He followed you around the house intoning, “Where’s my Nee. I want my Nee.” It was only much later that he developed a penchant for chasing rather than following you. More often, others fell in line behind you, a leader.

You learned nearly all you needed during your first five years. You simply developed more fully as you grew older. A sense of fairness mixed with truthfulness touches everything you do. Not one to casually give compliments when undeserved, you easily offer them when earned. Never one to shirk responsibility, you freely offer your time and skills to anyone who needs a hand. Things you learned as a child are now well spent as an adult.

As I age, you become more the adult and I more the child. I value your thoughtfulness and your concern for me. Maybe I can also learn more about life from what you’ve taught me.

Happy sixtieth, Nanny. I love you very much.

Daddy

Tripping…Part 5

It’s Saturday, the seventh day of our Red Mountain Resort adventure; by Jewish biblical standards a required day of rest.

Oblivious to that standard, Jackie had asked me the night before, “So what’s your plan for tomorrow? I’m going hiking, how about you? Maybe you should rest and get ready for our departure. It’s ok, I won’t think any less of you.”

I had given serious consideration to skipping the morning hike. After all, I had done the six previous daily death marches and had survived to tell the tale. But her question was really a challenge, one that I was determined to accept. No slouch, me. I’m going to be at the front of the pack, setting the pace even if I’d prefer hanging out on the patio with a latte and bagel with cream cheese.

We were scheduled for a 1pm bus ride to the St. George airport leaving us just enough time for a three-hour hike, a shower and packing up all the complimentary toiletries that Jackie had cleverly accumulated during the past week.

Our morning began benignly. We had our usual dish of six pieces of cut-up fruit and limited our coffee intake to half a bladder full. After a precautionary trip to the rest room, we proceeded to the Gazebo where we found our hiking guides, Julie and Mark.

In contrast to leader John, yesterday’s father figure, these young people were barely out of diapers. Kind and welcoming, they nevertheless had a frightening air of repressed confidence and a “let’s get on with it” attitude. One other person, a matronly shy woman named Joan, completed our band of adventurers. It was a small group in comparison with prior days and eased my concerns about any impetuous daredevil hiking. The prognosis for my survival until our 1pm departure was good, and I felt reasonably smug about taking up the gauntlet thrown at my feet by Jackie.

First impressions are often unreliable. Joan was an animal.

As she shed her matronly demeanor, Joan urged our guides to traverse steeper terrain at a faster clip. My confidence level moved toward the red zone; I should have opted for the bagel.

The hike almost over, I was congratulating myself at surviving the demands of the she-devil Joan. Only ten minutes remained before I could shed my macho exterior, remove my fake water bottles and shelve my hiking shoes for the next decade. While I would secretly lick my wounds, Jackie would tell our experiences to all who would listen, especially about how she had transformed a 78-year-old wimp into an 82-year-old Hercules.

We were 200 feet from the end of the trail descending a ladder-like cluster of rocks that the angel Moroni had surely placed there to punish the wicked. I stepped down to the next level, slipped, and my right foot attempted a dance move that was popularized by the Royal Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn in The Sleeping Beauty. Perhaps it could be best described as a pirouette on top of an arabesque.

I failed to emulate Ms. Fonteyn as my leg tried to complete a 180-degree turn. My right knee was now at the back of my leg. For an instant I thought that my right foot was facing in the opposite direction of my left foot.

Having little experience with this move, I adopted a survival mode and skipped forward on one leg, pirouetting in a manner that would have been unrecognizable to Ms. Fonteyn. Failing that attempt, I slammed into Jackie who had miraculously been positioned to keep me from falling on my ass. Fortunately, my leg remained attached to my hip, but my ligaments were screaming something other than encore, encore.

My companions stared at me as though they had never seen anything like it. Reasonably solicitous, they asked me if I needed help. “No, I’ve done this before. Piece of cake. A little sore. It’ll pass. Let me walk it off.”

In reality, I felt that even the surgical prowess of Christina Yang and Derek Shephard of Grey’s Anatomy couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Far from experiencing the reputed benefits of walking it off, hobbling back to the van only intensified my discomfort.  Adopting the well-used role of the suffering hypochondriac, I envisioned amputation as the probable result of my refusal to stay on our patio with a warm latte.

We hobbled back to our room where I assumed a fetal position on the bed while Jackie finished packing. We called the tram that shlepped us 200 feet to the visitor center. I found a couch and tried to find a comfortable position that let me believe that my leg still was attached to my hip. Carefully attended to by Jackie, who offered a non-stop course of Tylenol and bottled water, we waited for the 1pm bus to the airport.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 3:15. We were assured by the resort mavens that two hours were more than we needed to comfortably make our flight from St. George to Phoenix where we had a connecting flight to Santa Barbara.

Our bus left on time. No traffic. Piece of cake.

Tiny St. George airport welcomed us with open arms and a horde of passengers waiting to check-in. I watched the processing of the passengers at the counter and calculated that the rate at which this was happening would delay our departure until the passing of Halley’s Comet in 2061.

To be continued…

Tripping…Part 4

This is the fourth of the series called Tripping

Hiking is an activity that requires a belief that the effort is worth it and, for octogenarians, exceptional bladder control. For example, breakfast coffee intake must be limited because it seems to double in volume as it passes rapidly through my system. A bottle of water can be carried in a backpack but drinking it must be strictly avoided unless heat stroke is imminent.

The hiking terrain near the Red Mountain resort resembles that of Mars. Very dry, very barren, and devoid of any privacy screens for those who might want to watch you do your business. This may be acceptable to those less shy, but it becomes a Maginot Line for those whose early toilet training precludes any thought of exposing oneself during the performance of normal bodily functions. Ergo, keep water consumption under control; you will probably recover from severe dehydration in a couple of days.

Hydration planning clicks into gear at breakfast and accelerates at 7:30am under the gazebo adjacent to the restaurant. The resort’s guests number about 200 souls and half, including Jackie and me, are assigned to the morning’s array of hiking adventures. Ours is called the Explorer Hike; a fairly basic foray into the surrounding hills that requires enough energy and working muscles to travel about five miles up and down the firmament in about two hours. Another hike, the Challenge, is the same as the Explorer but is done in less time, proving that Challengers are tougher, maybe dumber, than Explorers.

I hadn’t done much hiking until I met and wooed Jackie. A major component of my wooing was learning to hike more than 100 feet at a 4% grade without sustaining a stroke or heart attack. To date I have survived without either, but am keenly aware of the laws of probability.

The early demise of the runner and fitness book author Jim Fixx may have been an aberration, but I have always been suspicious of the claimed benefits of exercise, especially walking, jogging, climbing hills and participating in marathons. If running is so good, why did the cave man die young? After all, he spent most of his waking hours chasing or being chased by predators. Unfortunately, Mr. Fixx did not adequately cover this peculiarity in his bestseller, The Complete Book of Running.

Each of the gazebo-sheltered hiking groups is guided by two resort employees. One is the leader while the other is the tail. The leader leads while the tail picks up any dawdlers who are either seeking a place to pee or who have simply lost interest in the adventure and would rather be back at the resort, sitting on their patio drinking chardonnay, even if it’s only 9am.

The ages of our hikers is the usual…everyone is younger than me. My ability to guess one’s age deteriorates as I get older. For example, I think Jackie looks 42; but she claims I’m biased. I even think Mitch McConnell is younger than me (turns out I was right on this one, by three years). And nearly all of the Supreme Court justices are younger than me; only Stephen Breyer is older (by nine months) and the Democrats are already telling him to retire. When he does, maybe I can hike with him.

John is our leader this morning. He’s no spring chicken, working full time at the resort, hiking, biking and greeting arriving guests. Gregarious and knowledgeable, we often stop during the hike for a drink of water (I generally fake it so as not to upset John) or a story about the surrounding fauna and flora. This morning’s hike was nearly over and I found myself at John’s side near the head of the pack; I decided to ask him how old he was (you can do that when you’re my age.)

“Eighty next week”, he said. I was surprised he was that old, in light of his agility, strength and stamina. I figured I’d one up him and said “I’m two years older than you.” I hesitated and half-hoped he’d say something like, “Wow, I’m shocked. You are astounding. Your stamina is amazing. You are stronger than most men half your age.”

Instead, he said, “Wow, you’re the oldest guy I’ve ever had on a hike. Wait til I tell everyone back at the resort. Oh, and don’t forget to drink your water.”

Hiking is only one of the resort’s fitness activities that interferes with my sitting, drinking and eating. Water aerobics that invite third-degree sunburn, yoga classes designed to rearrange bone structures, and e-bike riding while avoiding a skull fracture are just a few of the other delights.

We purchased two e-bikes nine months ago and had ridden them regularly (like once a month), and had wrestled them to the ground occasionally (like once a month). The resort offered a two-hour e-bike trip that sounded kind of neat, even given my lack of enthusiasm for the bikes that sat mostly idle in our garage.

We booked the e-bikes when we made the resort reservations three months before; I then spent most of the intervening time in a state of high anxiety. I even developed a mantra to calm my nerves. “Now, Fred. You are perfectly capable of riding a bike. So, get your manhood back in your pants and quit fretting about falling and breaking your femur. It has nearly a zero chance of happening.” It was the word “nearly” that had kept me awake at nights.

Arriving at the designated bike pool, we were greeted by four other riders, all bouncy, bright-eyed young women who had far too much energy and far too little regard for their physical well being. Just what I needed, a ready-made audience to view my Evel Knievel leap for death.

Jackie had been enthusiastic about taking the ambulance provoking rides, leaving me alone to worry about the outcome. Five of the six bikes were properly sized for those with average stature while one was for the more petite. Perfect we thought, until Jackie tried mounting the beast and discovered that she was sub-petite. She wrestled with it, twisting her legs and hips in ways that bordered on the obscene.

Tired of waiting for us, the young, nubile women reved up the bikes and practiced wheelies in the adjacent parking lot. The super-charged bikes scared the crap out of me. Adding to the Nightmare on Elm Street feeling was the resort supervisor’s twice repeated caution. “Never touch this button. You’ll activate the turbocharger and the bike will throw you over the handlebars and into the ditch.”

Jackie, unwilling to simply say that she was scared shitless, said, “I just had a hip replacement and I never ride in or on a vehicle without my handicapped placard. I’m sorry I won’t be joining you on this adventure.”

And then she added, “But Fred can go if he wants. He should go. I don’t want to be an impediment. I’ll just go sit on our patio, recover from my surgery and drink a margarita.” Coming to my senses I told the supervisor, “She needs a lot of help. I’ll go make the margarita”.

We hated missing the Evel Kneivel opportunity and spent the next few hours visualizing the possible joys of flying over handlebars. In addition, we took umbrage to the fact that a bunch of Amazon women could do something that we were too chicken to try. So, we began hoping for the worst news upon their return. A feeling of schadenfreude enveloped us that fell just short of wishing bodily injury on perfectly innocent strangers.

To be continued.

Tripping—Part 3

This is the third of the series called Tripping

We last left our travel weary young couple in front of room 226 at St. George Utah’s Red Mountain Resort. The electronic key had failed to work, it was 95 in the shade, and the dinner hour was rapidly approaching. What to do, what to do.

And here, as if summoned by the Mormon Angel Moroni’s trumpet, came Martha, our own angel with the golden golf cart. “What’s up kids…oh, the key thing. Not a problem, I’ve seen it a couple of times today. Remember real keys? Bet you wish you had one right now.”

Unreservedly placing herself in Martha’s hands, Jackie plunked down her cute tush next to our angel, and they drove off in what I presumed was the way to the front desk. I remained on guard in the shade, temporarily casting aside my manhood in favor of allowing the women to assume full control of my destiny…like always.

I hardly had time to finish my stand-up nap when they returned with a new key card that clicked and opened the portal to our sanctuary. Martha bestowed a motherly smile on us and reiterated the caution offered by the caustic Anne when we had registered. “Don’t put the key card next to your credit card or you will again be exiled from your room. I’m not on duty all day just to make new keys for you.”

With that benevolent reminder, a sneak peek at Martha’s somewhat limited patience, and a blast of a heavenly trumpet, we bid her good-bye. I collapsed in a comfy chair on one of our two patios where I resumed my nap and awaited our first exposure to the much anticipated dinner hour.

Dinner at the resort featured a grab-it-where-you-can table of your very own (Covid rules) and the typical services offered in most restaurants. The menu offered five etched-in-stone entrees that we became quite intimate with during the next six days. A featured special or two spiced things up even when they were no longer available due to our usual tardy appearance at dinner. We killed a lot of salmon during the week, drank our share of alcohol and prepared ourselves for the grueling mornings to follow.

I never set a morning alarm. My diurnal cycle is like the battery powered clock settings on an irrigation system. On, off, on, off with annoying repetitiveness starting around 3am. I wake, wonder whether I need to pee (usually) and resume my feeble attempts to doze off. Around 5am dozing has morphed into a half-sleep where I think foolish thoughts, complain about life in general, try to focus on my breathing, and wait for a signal from Jackie that the day has begun.

Unless one is going fishing or catching a global flight to some fun place, nobody my age, with a diurnal cycle better suited to a bat, needs to get up before 6am. So, you see, there is no requirement that I set my alarm. Doubly so when Jackie has the com, never misses a beat, and is ready to go even if the weather is shitty or she has a day in front of her that challenges her considerable capabilities. She is my time clock hero.

The resort comes alive around 6am and readies itself for the hikes that occupy most of the morning. Breakfast is a buffet with different foods well hidden under covered, stainless steel, chafing dishes. There are ten of them, each with a breakfast mystery in its depths.  Covid rules require the wearing of masks in the buffet line which adds a bit of adventure to the selection process.

The two-foot in diameter chafing dish top weighs as much as my old bowling ball and must be tilted upward to reveal the contents of the dish. Even then, you cannot always rely on your eyes since it is dark (no one has thought of installing a light over each dish) and some of the food is immersed in a strange liquid that effectively obliterates the identity of its ingredients.

This combination of darkness and primeval ooze is further enhanced by the absence of any sign next to a chafing dish that would give you an inkling of what it contains. Therefore, each lid must be raised for viewing the contents and then replaced when you realize you don’t want any rubbery scrambled eggs.

If you do want rubbery scrambled eggs, a three-pound stainless steel serving spoon is provided for scooping or dipping. If you arrive toward the end of the breakfast feast, the spoon has been thoroughly coated with several layers of the aforementioned eggs, restricting the amount that can be placed on your dish and requiring several scooping and shaking motions to satisfy your egg requirements…while the person on your right is mentally shoving your ass down the line.

Breakfast isn’t a staple of my diet, but I do make occasional exceptions. In this instance, some protein and glucose are called for as the morning hike is next on our schedule. Uncovering a dozen or so chafing dishes had left me with little appetite (but much larger biceps) so I settled on fruit chunks, a half-scoop of the rubbery eggs and a cup of coffee. But not too much coffee.

As I age, my ability to consume liquids is progressively limited by my bladder’s ability to store them. I am focused laser-like on the amount consumed and the span of time during which expelling it is fraught with uncertainty. For example, auto trips involving traffic snarled freeways are a particularly difficult situation. Being stuck without a reliable exit and an easily accessed toilet-blessed facility will wreak havoc if too much liquid has been consumed prior to the beginning of the trip. Draining my bladder immediately before embarkation is a necessity; drinking any kind of beverage during the trip is, of course, out of the question.

To be continued…

Tripping—Part 2

(This is the second of the series called Tripping)

Our trip from the St. George, Utah airport down memory lane ended as we emerged from the courtesy van in front of the Red Mountain Resort. The usual angst kicked into gear as I considered tipping the driver, reconsidered it and finally succumbed to the basic instincts etched into my DNA; I slipped twenty bucks into Martha’s waiting hand.

We entered the reception area and were greeted by Anne who appeared well beyond almost anyone’s retirement age. My quick evaluation of her feeble stamina proved to be incorrect as she launched into a non-stop dissertation covering all aspects of our stay. It appeared that she was compensated based on the number of guests she greeted rather than the quality of her performance. I was unable to grasp much of anything other than her warning of the impending closure of the lunch hour at the restaurant and the unavailability of food until the dinner hour.

Finally, Anne whipped out a map of the resort and identified the location of the restaurant, spa, fitness center, bike rentals and other soon forgotten sights. Carefully pointing out the location of our room, she ended our visitation and wished us well.

I folded the map, shoved it into my pants pocket and promised myself that I would review it carefully before venturing out on the paths leading god knows where. It was the last time that I fondled that map.

We emerged from the reception center and, of course, had no idea where our room was. We spun on our axis and tried to divine the path to it. Martha, the van driver and a lot more sympatico than Anne the receptionist, noted our discomfiture and offered to drive us to our room in one of the dozens of electric utility vehicles that littered the landscape. My twenty bucks proved to be a worthwhile investment as Martha flawlessly piloted the cart less than a hundred feet and deposited us in front of room 226. I’ll pay better attention next time.

We held our breath, swiped the electronic card into the reader and were relieved when the lock clicked welcomingly. Room 226 was beyond our expectations.

A sleeping area with two large beds, a gargantuan TV, and sliding doors that led to a patio with a view of the mountains and a brilliant Disney designed blue sky. A bathroom with twin wash basins, and a large jacuzzi tub and separate shower suitable for intimate parties. A closeted potty that allows you to hide your most intimate functions while your spouse expels gas nearby, oblivious to your own emanations.

There was more. A short hallway led to a large living room with comfy chairs and an even larger TV (I began to wonder if anyone ever left their room), refrigerator, cooking supplies and yet another bathroom and even larger patio. Further exploration revealed a washer and dryer fully capable of satisfying Jackie’s penchant for perpetually clean clothes.

Believing that some of this expansive grandeur might be shared by the adjoining guestroom, and to avoid midnight surprises from strangers, I sheepishly phoned the front desk, “Is this all just for us?”

“Yes, Mr. Rothenberg, it is for your sole use. You deserve it. Enjoy it. And give our very best to your lovely wife, Jackie”….who was already loading a sweaty t-shirt and a pair of very cute pink socks into the bowels of the LG washer.

It was only 2pm and the adventure got into full gear with a pair of massages intended to loosen up our bodies that had been primarily sedentary since the 4am trip from home to the Santa Barbara airport, a plane change in Phoenix and a courtesy van to our present abode.

Finding the spa was surprisingly easy. It was a domed structure sitting atop a hill as though it was in charge of all the other buildings. Built much like a Pringle’s potato chip container, it had four levels. The usual Covid warnings were posted on the entry doors, windows and any other place that screamed for appropriate artwork. The welcome desk was on the top level, necessitating an uphill climb that challenged our lungs that were already struggling with the 3,000-foot elevation of the resort. I half expected to find Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at the welcome desk or, as we dubbed it, our base camp.

Instead, we found Suzanne. She appeared much like other young women who register out-of-shape spa guests. Slim, bright-eyed, perfect makeup and impeccable dress, Suzanne looked just like you want to look.

We were relieved when Suzanne found our reservations; the ones we had made two months earlier when we booked the trip. We exhausted the ink supply in our pens as we completed the usual forms prying into our medical history, and dutifully signed the waivers that excused the resort from all sorts of potential disasters, including asteroid collision and volcanic eruption.

Suzanne smiled, mispronounced my name, and said we were all set. “Just go down two flights to the massage rooms. You will be greeted there.” Somewhat disappointed at having wasted a walk up two flights, we accepted her directive and looked for the stairs.

The Pringle’s design of the building included a circular stairway running through the center of the can. It was much narrower than any other circular stairway that I had encountered, and definitely was in violation of the building code even in the madcap construction frenzy rampant in St. George.

I sent Jackie ahead of me so that she might break my fall that was sure to happen.  Balance is not my strong point, having demonstrated my proclivity for falling off bicycles and collapsing in a heap while hiking Shelf Road. Looking like a whirling dervish while descending the spiral stairs only increased the probability of severely broken bones. But crap, I had already paid for this massage and I was going to get it even if it included a full body cast.

Despite having to duck my head because of stationary objects impeding my descent (surely another building code violation), we made it to the massage level where we were treated to a mediocre body thumping by women who seemed to be more interested in another job.

We exited the Pringles can and began the trip back to our room. With only two wrong turns and the addition of a thousand unexpected steps to Jackie’s FitBit, we found room 226 and swiped the magnetic key into the 21stcentury door lock. Nada. No welcoming clicks.

As we all do under these circumstances, we stared at the room number prominently displayed on the door frame to verify that this was indeed room 226. And then we swiped again. Nada. Perhaps we had disappointed Suzanne or one of the upwardly mobile massage therapists and we were being punished for our misdeeds.

To be continued…

Tripping

St. George, Utah is in the southwestern part of the state, about 450 miles from Ojai, California. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, it can feel a whole lot farther.

The city is only 118 miles from Las Vegas, making it easy to lose the money you had planned to tithe to the Mormon Church. Fortunately, Zion National Park is close by where you can sleep under the stars after you lose your home at the craps table.

 According to the census folks, there are about 90,000 people in the city; in 2005 it had the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. Based on what I saw during our trip last week, it still is.

My first exposure to St. George occurred when I took my two sons on a fishing trip to Panguitch Lake, about 120 miles north of the Saint. My older son, David, was about 19 when we went to the lake; we were both much younger and hardier 38 years ago. Driving was the only option open to us then and St. George was merely a pit-stop for a pee break, leg stretch and something to eat.

We made that trip twice, and each time we ate at Dick’s Diner, the Copacabana of St. George. We enjoyed the food; it was cheap and flavorful, with lots of fat, salt and sugar. Although the food was enough of a draw, the menu took top billing. Ignoring the dried-on food detritus, we laughed at the misspellings. For example, cigarette smoking was acceptable, but cigars were a no-no. In big print the menu shouted “No Gisar Samoking”.

We even butchered the diner’s name, by associating it with all its food offerings. Dick Burgers, Dick Fries and Dick Cokes was just the start of it. Then there was Dick Toast, Dick eggs and Dick Coffee. Our favorite, Dick Dogs, is still invoked with laughter and warmth whenever I am fortunate enough to spend a little time with son David.

We would have our fill at Dick’s, empty our bladders, fill our tank and speed right through the rest of St. George in about three nanoseconds heading north to Panguitch. Not anymore.

Being much older and less robust than when I last visited the Saint, I got down on one knee, clasped my hands together in prayer mode and implored Jackie to have pity on me by taking a plane from Santa Barbara. And we did, arriving on time even with a very short layover to make the connection in Phoenix. I congratulated myself on what then seemed like a good idea.

The Saint’s airport is a three-gate affair and is humbly designated a Regional Airport, having years ago abandoned its somewhat strained International Airport status when it stopped delivering the mail to Tijuana. 

Located in the middle of something that looks like the movie set of Flight of the Phoenix, it is surrounded by mega-hectares of sand. Our friendly Red Mountain Resort van driver, who looked a bit like Jimmy Stewart, had little of interest to point out until we had placed a reasonable distance between us and the desolate land of the dinosaurs.

Houses leaped at us from every direction; most looked as though they had just been unwrapped and were awaiting their owners. Condos littered the landscape. This was still the land of the great expansion. An expansion that produced multi-million-dollar homes in places formerly occupied by your retired Uncle Sid and Aunt Marge. House trailers were definitely not the in-thing. This was no longer the home of Dick’s Diner.

All manner of architectural styles were on display. Most of it built to resemble the shadings and hues of a land that is deprived of standing water. Whatever moisture I retained from living in Southern California was instantly sucked out of me by humidity levels that were well below zero. As my Ukrainian mother would say, “It may be hot, but it’s a dry heat”. There were no flies; even they need water.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Red Mountain Resort.

To be continued….

A Bike Story

My first bicycle was a Schwinn. Black and white with shiny fenders, it gleamed in the sunshine as it stood waiting for me in the alley behind my folks’ second floor porch in Chicago’s Albany park, a mecca for transplanted Russians and other Jews.

I walked around the bike that my father had brought home the prior evening and had placed out of harm’s way in one of the darkened basement sheds allocated to tenants. I had whined for weeks about wanting a bike, so its appearance on my birthday was not a shock.

At eleven, I was not yet aware of my parents limited financial resources. Surrounded by family, friends, and other neighborhood denizens, I was primarily exposed to people living in similar circumstances. In retrospect, I’m sure that the bike took a healthy bite out of father’s paycheck.

SchwinnThe Cadillac of bikes, its company was established 1895 by Ignaz Schwinn, a German immigrant, and his meat packer partner Adolph Arnold. It survived the Great Depression and continued producing bikes in the U.S. under various corporate guises until it finally succumbed to the allure of Chinese productivity. The Paramount, Stingray, and Schwinn-Twinn came and went. Advertising kept Schwinn in the public eye; the company was an early sponsor of TV’s Captain Kangaroo.

I walked around the sturdily built bike with fat balloon tires and its lever-actuated bell mounted on the handlebar. In 1950, this bike would have been called snazzy, flashy, and sleek. I daydreamed about where it would take me while I built up my confidence. Finally, I lifted my left leg over the horizontal bar that announced the bicycle’s gender as a “boy’s bike.”

Swinging the kickstand up from the asphalt, I brought the left side pedal to its full vertical position and placed my foot on top of it. I pushed the pedal forward. The bike moved a few feet. I tried to hop up onto the thickly cushioned seat. And then I fell over.

The bike shivered as it came to rest on its left side, the front wheel spinning slowly for what seemed an eternity. Then it stopped and all was silent. I had scraped my knee but, in comparison to the shame I felt, it was no big deal. The bike had escaped relatively unscathed except for a scratch on the chrome plated handlebar near the bell. It was a reminder that stayed with me each time I mounted the Schwinn that took me through my college years.

I bought a ten-speed racing bike when our kids were safely in school. For not much reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. Like all bikes of its genre, it was fitted with a seat that produced pain at the same level as the Spanish Inquisition’s torture rack. The seat was a combination of metal tubing covered with some animal skin. That’s it. No padding. No springs. Not a good combination for a guy with a skinny ass and a low tolerance for pain.racing bike seat

When I began riding the bike with the Torquemada designed seat, I complained to whoever would listen. Some people commiserated while others said, “Keep at it. You’ll get used to it.” And I thought, “Why should I?”

My bike riding consisted largely of shifting gears that never seemed to do what I wanted, and repositioning my ass trying to share my discomfort equally with the various pressure points in my butt and my tailbone.  And so, unlike my dear Schwinn, the ten-speed ended up in our Northridge garage, gathering dust and losing air in the tires until they were flat. I finally sold it to someone with a highly cushioned ass, for a whole lot less than I paid for it. Good riddance.

Twenty years passed in Northridge while I avoided a further encounter with a bike. The next move to our Ojai home high up on the hill put an end to any thought of mounting one. The terrain was much too steep; merely walking up Sulphur Mountain Road required the skill of a gazelle and the lungs of a blue whale. People with bikes who tried it were known to stop mid-way, cry unconsolably, and admit defeat.

I moved to town almost a year ago. To a house without steps, on a flat lot, in a flat neighborhood and with a flat one-mile walk to the Ojai Post Office. Surrounded by scores of bikers, Jackie and I talked about being part of that in-crowd. We were particularly attracted to electric assisted E-bikes. Not a fully operational motor scooter, the E-bike merely compliments one’s own pedal power with an array of assisted options. Given my age, I felt no shame with the idea of sharing the load with a lithium ion battery.como ebike

A week ago, we called the MOB bike shop and found that they would be happy to have us try the E-bike that afternoon at 2. Choosing to ignore the current 99-degree temperature, we jumped at the offer. Arriving at the shop, I casually informed Jackie that my car thermometer was recording the first triple digits of the summer. Consistent with her penchant for following through with commitments, she said, “It’s an electric bike. We’ll go slow. Only for ten minutes. Don’t be a pussy. You’ll be fine.”

Tim took our temperature to rule out Covid-19; I was mildly disappointed when I passed the test. Handing us over to young Melanie, we signed the usual waivers relieving the shop of any liability including the crime of wantonly exposing octogenarians to bodily harm. She gave us general instructions that I immediately forgot, fitted us with fashionable helmets, and adjusted our seat heights to a position based on information only known to her.

Jackie was the first to fall from the bike not ten feet from the shop’s front door. Light as a feather, she landed unscathed. I figured I could do better. Mounting the bike, I depressed the left pedal. Moving forward I brushed against Jackie, lost my balance, and fell stage-right while the bike attempted a quick escape by falling stage-left. I scraped the same knee that was a victim in the Schwinn incident seventy years ago, including my embarrassment.

The shop owner, who had been watching this Marx Brothers routine, came closer to me than Covid-19 precautions allow and said, “You know, while the bike is valuable, the safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Translated, he meant, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for this? You’ll probably kill yourself. Be smart. Get your ass out of here before it’s too late.”

Rising to my full five-foot-eight and a half inches (I used to be five-ten), I thanked the owner for his concern, assured Jackie that I was in full control of my senses, and reclaimed the wayward bike.

We walked the bikes across Ojai Avenue, mounted them and rode with some trepidation to the bike path. We entered the path, dodged oncoming fearless bikers, and were successful at avoiding further mishaps.

We returned the bikes, once again walking them across the Avenue. I glanced at the owner and with some smugness said, “Thank you for your concerns but I’ve got everything under control.” Lying does not become me and I think he knew better; but, sensing a possible sale, he nodded his agreement.

My knee is nicely scabbed over. We’re going riding again tomorrow. Think I’ll wear long pants.

Who’s in charge anyway?

Brandi of Fancy Free Photography just sent us a link to our wedding photos. Viewing them, I smiled so much that the persistent rain clouds parted, and I felt physically uplifted. My breathing quickened, my eyes refused to blink, and my fingers clambered over my Dell keyboard as I scrolled haphazardly through the evidence of our wedding day.

Almost two hundred pictures leaped off the screen. Jackie, me, the two of us, our guests, the Rabbi, and the harpist cascaded down and across the screen, everyone a keeper. I could not get enough of them. They are worth the price of admission, but they hardly do justice to the herculean efforts that changed the occasion from a standard wedding of two lovers to an odyssey that might never have happened.

A year ago, as we shared Jackie’s sauna in her castle dungeon of a garage, we spoke of marriage and promised ourselves to each other. Even then it seemed like the beginning of a quest, complete with digitized monsters and other obstacles that block the hero’s path as he seeks the prize at the end of the latest video game.

Some gamers have what it takes to overcome a myriad of challenges. Taking the correct path, acquiring the latest weaponry and being quick on the draw are vital components. But the key to gamer success is accepting setbacks and then coming back for more. Nothing can divert their attention from the final objective. Difficulties on the way are quickly analyzed, corrections made, and then they’re back at it. Time is of little consequence. It simply must be done. No excuses or exceptions are permitted.

Jackie is a black-belt at overcoming obstacles and achieving her goals. Her talents would make short work of 2019’s most popular video games. Resident Evil, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Sekiro, and Devil May Cry are child’s play for this woman. Older games like Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto 2 would be rejected out of hand as not being worth her time.

I’ve seen it up front and close. I consider myself diligent and loathe to procrastinate, but compared to Jackie I’m a slug. I look like a three-toed sloth compared to her cheetah-like movements. One better stay out of her way when she’s set her teeth. Best to just lean back, relax and watch things evolve.

I participated in determining the number of wedding guests. What started out as a family-only affair quickly grew large enough to repopulate Pompei following the eruption of Vesuvius. Other than that, my contributions to the event’s details consisted largely of cheering Jackie on with “Sounds good to me. Whatever you say, sweetheart. And, I’m available when needed.”

The wedding venue Azu, food selections, the officiating Rabbi, photographer, florist and harpist all fell nicely in place. Plans were completed and deposits paid. Then the corona virus appeared, uninvited and apparently angry at its exclusion from our guest list.

As the magnitude of the virus epidemic became pandemic, alterations to our wedding plans went from annoying to maddening.

Out of town guests dropped like flies. Who could blame them when their seat companion might be Senor Corona? Weddings are seldom first choice in most people’s vacation plans. Some guests, anxious to find any reason to stay home, might have been grateful for the rising rates of hospitalization reported by a media starved for news.

Much like a CNN talking head on election night, we constantly evaluated input from friends and relatives and considered postponing the blessed event. But, like a peregrine falcon zeroing in on a rabbit, Jackie stayed focused. “We are doing this now. No postponement. I’m not planning this thing again.” My weak contribution of a series of yes dears sealed my fate.

Pronouncements emanated from the Oval Office and the Governor’s Mansion. All seemed to have been conjured up solely to deep-six our wedding. No large gatherings. No gatherings of more than ten. Stay six feet apart. Stay home. This means you, Jackie.

The guest list declined by a quarter, then another quarter. In a show of solidarity, people dropped out who were never even on the guest list. I had visions of the attending, sad-faced guests wishing us well while contracting the virus from eating wedding cake, then falling at our feet. We decided to move the wedding to our house, thereby eliminating the potential cost of body removal from Azu’s bill. The guest list was trashed and a blizzard of E-vite mailings uninvited most of the remaining stalwarts.

The harpist was the first to quit. Jackie found another in the middle of the night. The florist threatened to throw the boatload of flowers over our fence to avoid contracting the malady, but Jackie sweetly reminded her of the contract she had signed. The cake baker left a terse message declining the pleasure of producing it; Jackie decided that cookies were good enough. The officiating Rabbi developed a nasty malady that prevented her attendance. Jackie called half of Ventura County and found a replacement who felt rabbinically protected from the heathen virus. Jackie was not to be denied.

On the off chance that either President Trump or Governor Newsom might swoop down on us, we performed the wedding in two shifts, each with few than six people. Others, stuck at home, could view the shrunken event via Zoom; at least we saved money on the food.

The threat of rain abated an hour before the event, and it remained bright and warm until an hour after its conclusion. I attribute that heavenly blessing to Jackie’s can-do reputation which goes well beyond these earthly environs.

Looking at the photos, you’d think that we always planned it that way. Maybe we did, but we just didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t your common garden-variety wedding. But then with Jackie in charge, you knew it was going to be spectacular.

The Eyes Have It

It’s a good thing he liked baseball.

My father, Morris, was a victim of macular degeneration. Not the treatable kind, it slowly robbed him of everything but a bit of peripheral vision and the ability to discern light from dark.

He’d spend nearly all his time indoors in their West Rogers Park two-flat that my folks shared with my Uncle Max and Aunt Jenny. He avoided restaurants as though they served nothing but e-coli. A proud man, he felt embarrassed fingering the food on his plate in order to tell the difference between the mashed potatoes and the green beans. Unable to cut his brisket without the aid of a compass, he relied on my mother to create those bite sized pieces that somehow found their way onto his fork and into his mouth.

Until it too failed him, his limited peripheral vision allowed him to focus on a hand of cards in his weekly gin rummy game with Cousin Harry. The cards were large and he held them to the side of his face so he could see them. The game moved slowly but he never lost his card playing skills and managed to best Harry most weeks.

Morris wore bifocal glasses even when they were no longer of any help. He really couldn’t tell if the lenses were dirty but that made no difference to his penchant for keeping them clean. He ran through packs of Sight Savers, those crinkly two by three sheets of tissue that miraculously clean lenses without streaking or smudging. Now pre-moistened, they were originally dry. He kept a pack of them in his pants pocket and often used them despite being unable to view the results of his efforts.

He was a rabid White Sox fan and listened to Bob Elson and Harry Caray doing the play by play on the radio. But, even with his affliction he dearly loved watching the Sox on TV. We had an RCA console that sat on the living room floor. My father would drag a padded folding chair to within a foot of the screen and turn it sideways. He’d then position himself on the chair so that he could watch the TV through the corner of his right eye. Looking at him you might assume that he was ignoring the game.

Always a baseball fan, he had tried football and basketball when he was younger but found them wanting. Perhaps the complexity of football was too much for a former Ukrainian. Maybe basketball too infantile. Baseball was his milieu.

His peripheral vision was not without its limitations. He could not follow images on the screen if they moved rapidly; baseball delivered what he needed. Images that seemed to be stuck in place. Chunks of time between batters that accommodated his need to refocus. Trips by the catcher or manager to the mound that were performed without a hint of urgency. A never-ending array of statistics thrown at the viewer to fill the down time while the other objects on the screen got their act together. On Sundays a double header consuming as many as eight hours provided the stimulus that was otherwise absent for my father.

He knew all the players and the scores of yesterday’s games. He’d criticize plays on the field even though he probably didn’t see the play or the offender. He’d rag on me about the Cubs who hadn’t won a World Series since the Bronze Age. I felt his agony when the Sox blew one in the ninth inning. I occasionally pretended to share his joy when they came from behind and won the game.

My brother Irv suffered the same afflictions…being a Sox fan and having macular degeneration. Unless pushed, he avoided restaurants and their wide array of traps and pitfalls. He didn’t watch much TV and relied on audio books. He gave up golf when he couldn’t see the ball on the tee. I sat with him through every minute of the 2005 World Series when, after 88 years, the Sox won it in four straight over Houston, while my Cubs still languished in the Bronze age. He died before the Cubs won it in 2016 and I have never forgiven him.

I’ve never been as much of a baseball fan as they were. But since I share my genes with them, thoughts of macular generation occasionally enter my mind. Like the other night at the restaurant.

Nocciola is a high-end restaurant with prices to match. We hosted my daughter Nancy and my faux son-in-law, Kevin. A lovely setting, it was dimly lit. Menus of a weight befitting the restaurant’s stature were passed. My initial exploration of its Italian focused offerings revealed that the Italian names of dishes including Crescione, Quaglia, Plin and the one dedicated to Old Blue Eyes, Anatra, were large, bold and plainly visible. The English language describing the content of the dish was not. For all I knew I could have been reading the menu upside down. Fortunately, Jackie’s smart phone provided much needed light and I was able to avoid starvation.

The food arrived and my selection appeared to be floating at the bottom of a dark well. I told the waiter that I had hoped to enjoy a last meal before succumbing to hoof and mouth disease. Accordingly, it would be nice to see the food I was eating. A kindly soul, he elevated the lighting a few lumens and I was able to conclude the task at hand without the necessity of asking Jackie to cut my food.

When I was nearly finished, the lights dimmed. Perhaps the manager concluded that the old man had eaten enough to get the idea of where each element of the dish was located. And, not wishing to offend normally sighted guests, had returned the lights to their Devil’s Island setting.

It’s too bad I don’t like baseball.

I am my brother

My brother would have been ninety-three today.

Irv was born in 1927, two years before the Great Depression. I waited another twelve years for the economy to improve before emerging from my mother’s womb.

A twelve-year age difference was a bridge too far. We never played baseball together, developed sibling rivalry or did mischief that one would expect of brothers living in a Jewish ghetto on Chicago’s north side. I don’t know what he looked like as a teenager, nor do I remember hearing his voice echoing down the long wallpaper covered hallway in my parent’s second floor, two-bedroom apartment. I might as well have been an only child.

Lying about his age, Irv joined the army in 1944, never saw action but managed to develop a life-long relationship with tinnitus, one of several genetic dysfunctions that I shared with him. His army service was brief, some of it spent in Japan and Korea. He learned photography, took those skills home after the war and relied on them for years by chronicling life cycle events for others. I remember a picture of him in his army uniform and jauntily positioned cap. He was this handsome, bright-eyed guy who wore a natural smile as though it was ingrained in his DNA. He was better looking than me. People constantly mistook me for the older brother. He never corrected them.

He disdained the free college education offered to veterans, instead opting to get married, have children, divorce twice and finally land Jeri, the love of his life. In the early years, my parents were uncomfortable with Irv’s lifestyle, lent him money, but never offered advice that would have been immediately forgotten. Comparing me to him often led them to believe that I must be the older one.

At twelve, I baby sat for his daughter, Sharon. At seventeen, I regularly borrowed Irv’s Studebaker, that quirky looking, bullet nosed, dimly remembered two-door coupe with a stick shift. Four years later, he was in the bridal party that joined me with Ila. I still hardly knew him. Meaningful conversations were non-existent, and togetherness was largely a function left to family events to which he was usually late.

Irv’s second marriage was done on the rebound. Like the Studebaker, Anna-Marie was quirky. If he had asked me, I would have said don’t do it. But he didn’t ask, and life went on until the quirkiness lost its glamour.

Irv was a salesman who was honest and compelling. He sold mirrors, a process that was dependent on being invited into the customer’s home to measure walls and select styles. It was during one such adventure that he met Jeri, promised her unbounded love and did so for the rest of his life.

Ila and I moved to California and visited our Chicago relatives two or three times a year. My father became ill and was hospitalized. Irv was there to help our parents. It was as though he had turned a corner in his life, met his elder brother responsibilities, and took them on without looking back or complaining.

I was in California and of little help. My father died and our mother was alone. Irv visited her daily. He ran errands and delivered groceries for years until dementia took its toll on her. She entered a succession of facilities that included independent living, assisted living and fully assisted housing. Irv continued to watch over her while I made limited appearances. Her death finally freed him from responsibilities that he had willingly endured, while I continued to feel guilty by my self-limited role.

He aged and, like our father, developed macular degeneration. He gave up golf, driving, reading and other daily activities that we take for granted before they are taken from us. He needed assistance walking. His trips with Jeri to visit us in California became more difficult. During those trips he gradually displayed a loss of memory and an inability to perform certain functions. Sitting with him while he tried to add a column of numbers proved too much for him. He cried and I saw my brother in what had once been the role played by our mother.

The years he spent caring for our parents had also developed a closer bond between us. Our age difference now meant nothing. Conversations became more meaningful. Aging and illness were freely discussed. We looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking just by the expressions on our face, the tilt of our heads or the rolling of our eyes. We liked the same foods. We both lost our hair. Our laughs were identical. People still thought he was the younger one.

Luckily, I had chances to pay back the kindnesses that he had heaped on our parents. And I took them. I also aged alongside my brother and caught glimpses of what our parents must have suffered.

I look in the morning mirror and see Irv. I see his handsome, smiling face. But like Dicken’s Scrooge visiting the future, I also see what may yet come. I am concerned about my eyesight and daily test my ability to read road signs. I lay in bed in the early morning and silently count backwards from one hundred by seven; I dread making a mistake. I add columns of numbers without a calculator. I have more difficulty completing the New York Times crossword puzzle and wonder if maybe Will Shortz just made it tougher without telling me. I stupidly transform minor irritations into complicated medical cases that can only be treated at the Mayo Clinic.

I am becoming my brother… and I love him even though he will always look younger than me.

Happy birthday, Irv.


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