Archive for the 'Sensitivity' Category

Maybe I’ve learned…

I was up at 4am  to take Jackie to the airport.

Still inky black outside. Added to my own questionable night vision, it made for a bit of stumbling around, light switch flipping, and getting my head on straight.

It takes 90 minutes to get to LAX when traffic is light. Given the corona virus reduction to the normal congealed traffic flow, we were confident that allowing a three-hour passage between our home and the boarding gate would put us there with time to spare.

Jackie checked her travel inventory three times before leaving the house. Smart phone, electronic boarding pass, driver’s license, hotel information and money…lots of it. Five hours of fitful sleep had little effect on her. Still beautiful and perky. We were stark contrasts in appearance and sparkle.

The eventual need for a parental trip to Eugene, Oregon was never in doubt. It was only when that was uncertain. Yesterday, Jackie heard from Sammy, her quarter-century-old daughter. She has been living for the last three months in Lost Valley, a forested facility that offers group living with food provided by the forest and gardens tended by the residents. No fats, sugar or gluten permitted here.

A wanderer seeking herself, Sammy has circumnavigated the better part of the planet. Tasting the offerings of Tucson, Ojai, Hawaii, and now Oregon, she was troubled by her inability to make a semi-permanent landing. Bright, capable, and likeable, her relationship with people was sometimes akin to that of the land.

Regular phone conversations between Sammy and Jackie were calm but often strained. Mother constantly sought ways to help daughter through the rough spots. Wanting to do it her way, daughter all too often rejected mother’s suggestions as being too directive. The desire for a closer mother-daughter relationship kept the mother perpetually engaged in searching for solutions and responding to daughter’s needs.

Yesterday was a turning point. Too difficult to go it alone, Sammy reached out for help. A burst of texts, phone calls and the involvement of others led to our 90-minute trip to LAX and Jackie’s arrival in Eugene four hours later. I am now at home in a quiet place that is much like a theater where one waits for the performance to continue. And for a happy Act One.

It’s been four months that Jackie and I have been living together, the last two as wife and husband. We have learned much about who we are, what we need and how much we love. Now we will add a third element to the equation as Sammy joins us. The relationship that Jackie and I have forged will assuredly undergo change.

I mentally list the possibilities. Some are funny. No more running around in my underwear. Muted sexual noises in the bedroom. Meals will taste different. TV programs will be vetted more closely. Laundry will require diligent sorting.

Some changes are serious and can have lethal consequences. Covid-19 will have three places to hide before pouncing to feast on one or all of us. Rules about visitors, how many and who they are, will need more analysis. Exposure to risks outside the home will be of greater concern.

Looking to share, I spoke with my daughter Nancy this afternoon. Willing to help in any way, she paused near the end of our conversation and said, “Who does this remind you of?”

“Steven, of course.” My son, talented and outgoing, he never met his potential. A gifted musician, he wrote, sang, and played a mean guitar. Dependent for financial support, he was nevertheless stubborn and unwilling to take parental advice. Calling us when in need. Usually avoiding us when happy. Concerned first with his own comfort, he marched to his own drummer. Against our advice, he spent the last months of his life looking for the magic bullet that would save him. He only found medical frauds willing to take advantage. I held his hand in his last week of life and I cried; he looked at me and tenderly said, “It’s okay, Dad.” It filled volumes.

I should have learned a lot from Steven. I should have learned how to give advice without sounding directive. I should have learned to let him live his own life, not mine. I should have been less argumentative and more loving.

Maybe I’ve learned. We’ll see.

Photographic Doldrums

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie. Introduced in 1900 and still available as a curiosity on eBay and at swap meets, it’s one of the few things older than me.

Its original list price was a dollar. My dad got me one when I was about twelve at the budget busting price of about ten dollars. Fond of bringing me used toys on Hanukkah, I think the camera may have had a prior owner.

A basic cardboard or plastic box with a handle on top, it had a viewfinder that you held up to your eye and a single fixed focal length lens that didn’t zoom. You were stuck with an unalterable lens opening and a fixed focus. The camera lens blinked in a fiftieth of a second, making it almost impossible to photograph anything that moved, including my usually stationary Uncle Max.

Using a roll of 120 film, you could take sixteen photos before you had to rewind the film, remove it from the camera and insert a new roll. I remember being very selective before popping off a shot in order to conserve the precious film and avoid the developing charges at the local photo shop. It was a far cry from today’s digital disks that have a nearly unlimited capacity that invites haphazard shooting in the hope that one will be a keeper.

In the early sixties, the next phase of my hobby included a Canon F1 single lens reflex camera. A good deal more expensive than the old Brownie, it was still a film camera capable of thirty-six exposures using interchangeable lenses, variable shutter speeds and adjustable apertures. My friend Harry opted for a Nikon camera and we soon became embroiled in extensive comparisons of the virtues of Canon versus Nikon. In retrospect, the quality of our photos had little if anything to do with our equipment.

A darkroom entered my life with its red safelight, bulky Durst enlarger, pans of chemicals and my perpetually stained fingers. I became relatively adept at developing film and producing black and white prints. I bulk loaded my own film rolls that became a badge of excellence in conversations with friends. I doubt that I saved much money, but I never ran out of film. The darkroom also offered a quiet, unassailable fortress where I warned my kids of the dire consequences of entering it and exposing daddy’s stuff to the perils of white light.

I entered the digital age years ago and quickly discarded the darkroom. I became conversant with the advances in the new technology, megapixels and ISO ratings. I purchased the next generation camera when it became available. Owning several Canon digital SLRs, I traded time in the darkroom for a seat in front of my computer monitor, editing my masterpieces with the latest version of Photoshop. Time moved rapidly and my sweetheart, Ila, often had to drag me kicking and screaming into the real world.

My passion extended to taking hundreds of photos of my kids. I’d often pose Nancy, David and Steven and, instead of requiring the traditional “say cheese”, I’d substitute “say gonorrhea.” It always resulted in blank stares from passersby and a smile on the kids’ faces.

Throughout the years, I regularly took photos. I’d occasionally take short breaks but always returned to my avocation. My photos were well received, and I’d often be asked to shoot an event for some of the non-profits in our town. My images are currently available for viewing in several locations. I thrived on the recognition.

A change occurred when Ila became ill. My zeal waned as her condition worsened. In her last years, I backed away from photography. My cameras began to age along with me. I tried to overcome my lethargy by keeping a camera in the car. By taking it on walks as though it were a dog. Snapping only a few shots, they soon became resident in rarely visited file folders on my computer’s hard drive. I gave away my large format photo printer that had been a constant companion. I don’t keep my camera batteries charged nor do I clean my camera lenses. My visits to photo websites are infrequent. As I tried to regain my former self, I’d seek out photo workshops on the web but never complete the enrollment process.

I renewed my membership in the local photo club in order to gain incentive from exposure to others. But I found myself unable to submit images for critiquing. I took little pleasure in seeing others show their very credible work. I was envious but unable to participate. I’d be depressed at the close of the usual monthly meeting, yearning for what seemed unattainable.

Jackie’s encouragement is boundless. She urges me to re-enter my once adored milieu. She seeks out opportunities for me, but I leave them languishing. I promise myself to do better, but nothing happens. I try to think of subject matter, something with long term viability, but I draw a blank. I fall back on other things to fill my time.

Maybe it’s a phase. Something that will end. Before I do.

They couldn’t care less

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who care and those who couldn’t care less.

Last Tuesday, I made my usual 8:30 morning visit to Java and Joe. Love their dark roast coffee and the store’s second-hand thrift shop appearance. Their pastries are atrocious, and the stamped metal seats are akin to the Iron Maiden, a brutish device used by the Spaniards during the Inquisition to extract confessions from those who complained about their coffee. Nevertheless, the shop is welcoming, and one need not dress to impress. In business since 1994, the owners Joe Ruggiero and Lorraine Mariz, do their best to accommodate the weird tastes of Ojai folk who enter their domain.

It rained hard that morning and the shop was filled to capacity. A long line of dampened people stood patiently waiting their turn to place an order. My body and mind ached for that first, warm cup of coffee and I was heartened to be the third person in the queue. Not much longer now, I thought.

A young woman, no more than thirty, was at the head of the line. With an abundance of time on her hands, she embarked on a journey that tested my already thinning patience. Using the FBI’s most invasive interview techniques, she bombarded Joe with a series of questions about flavored brews that were obviously intended to extract a confession from him. Each answer proffered by Joe was followed up with another quiz show question designed to confuse and irritate. Waterboarding by the CIA would have been child’s play in her hands.

Having finally settled on the dark roast coffee of the day, she went on to the pastries. Discovering the secret contents of each became her obsession. I half expected her to ask that a banana be peeled in order to gaze detective-like at its contents. Having exhausted the full line-up of muffins, scones, cakes and bagels (with and without cream cheese), she declined all and, without any consideration for the thirst-ridden customers behind her, moved on to the pre-packaged oatmeal. She ordered the oatmeal and then, inexplicably, cancelled her order. Like an angry hippo, I began to mumble…loudly. My thirst began to worsen as I pictured myself as Humphrey Bogart in the role of the thirsty tank commander bedeviled by a bone-dry desert well in the movie Sahara. I was inconsolable.

Never having looked behind her, and why should she, the comely young woman could quite innocently assume that she was the only customer in the shop. But I believe she was fully aware of the poor unfortunates behind her. She just didn’t care. Embarking on what seemed to be a fortnight of useless coffee shop browsing, we were, at best, an annoyance to be ignored.

I eventually reached first base, ordered my coffee, combined it with a muffin that wasn’t quite as old as me, and settled down on a cold, basket-weave Iron Maiden for thirty minutes of quietly browsing the web.

Lest you think that women are the principal antagonists in this story, I finished my coffee and desiccated muffin, and moved on to Rabobank. An open teller window and it’s always friendly inhabitant, Julie, beckoned to me. I was delighted to dump the money gleaned from book sales at the Friends of Library bookstore on Julie’s counter, and wait while she verified the deposit. The machine that counts currency is fascinating and it has yet to be wrong. Counting coins by hand is another matter entirely, and takes an inordinate amount of time.

Rod entered the bank and took up the second, and last available teller window. A beaming Estelle was the teller in waiting at this cubicle. Always pleasant and efficient, young Estelle is pretty and seems to have only me in mind when I have the pleasure of trading hard currency with her. Small talk is part of the job but, aware of other customers waiting to step forward, is only appropriate while the processing of one’s business is continuing.

Rod did not readily subscribe to this informal banking rule. Instead, after concluding the successful cashing of what I’m sure was a bogus check, he launched into a discussion that was clearly intended to impress and perhaps result in an assignation with the lovely Estelle. Customers began to line up. Tempers began to mount as the passage of time seemed glacial.

I half expected a shoot-out. And I was sure Estelle would say something like “Thank you, Rod. But I think your time is up. Move on, buster.” However, I left before this second example of “I truly don’t care about you. It’s me that counts.” could reach its zenith.

Last Saturday, Jackie and I attended a Kirtan starring Julia Berkeley at the Ojai Yoga Shala. Kirtan is defined by Julia as a call and response chanting practice that clears the mind and opens the heart. I think of it as a groupie sing-along that has Indian music instead of the usual Glen Campbell and Joan Baez stuff.

It’s customary for one to sit cross-legged, your butt next to your closest neighbor, on a much too thin mat, on a hardwood floor. There comes a time during the performance when you grit your teeth, your back aches, and your ass feels like it has been denuded of all muscle and skin. However, it helps if prior to the festivities you consume one-half of those cute little licorice pieces eagerly distributed by the local pot palace on Bryant Street. Your fanny will thank you.

The young man sitting next to me, an ardent Kirtan devotee, was one of those people who I define as an over-achieving Clapper. It matters little what the song’s tempo is. Nor whether it is closer to a funeral dirge than a Pee Wee Herman ditty. His clapping, much like AK47 rifle shots, leaves me hoping for the blessed relief delivered to him by a compound stress fracture. Sometimes, the Clapper will continue his performance well after the song has ended.

My belief is that the Clapper, like his companions the Shrieker and the Whistler, lacked parental attention during his formative years. Fellow students avoided him, and members of opposite sex ran screaming from the room. Clapping brings much-needed attention to him, even if the attention is filled with death wishes.

The Clapper, in contrast to those neer-do-wells who simply ignore the sensitivities of the people around them, recognizes the availability of a ready-made audience and seeks its attention. Here again, a tiny bit of licorice tends to moderate the Clapper’s callousness. But not completely. Or maybe I’m too sensitive.

Or maybe I just need a bigger piece of licorice.


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