Posts Tagged 'Restaurants'

It’s my birthday

We celebrated my 83rd birthday with a weekend at the Ojai Valley Inn. Only 5 minutes from our home, yet it seemed far, far away. It’s the second time that we stayed overnight at Ojai’s premiere hotel. Bring lots of money.

Insisting on treating me to the weekend, Jackie had researched high-end hotels. Her first selection was the El Encanto in Santa Barbara where a single night is a brain hemorrhaging $1,600. Sanity returned and we picked the Inn, where the $600 price tag seemed a bargain after flirting with the El Encanto. As a reward for our infrequent conservatism, we decided to stay an extra night; so much for being frugal.

Jackie had wrangled an early noon check-in after pleading with every supervisor at the Inn including the Crowns, owners of the establishment. That made the per-hour cost of our visit an even better bargain.

There are lots of playful opportunities at the Inn to consume one’s assets. Extras can rapidly fill several pages of small type on the checkout bill.  A massage was first in line, at a cost approximating the purchase price of my 1960 Chevy Bel Air.

There are five eating venues at the Inn, and we visited four of them. The hotel was full, but the eateries were cooperative. We assumed that many Inn guests were visiting local Ojai restaurants, but it seemed inappropriate for us to even consider them. We wanted to maintain the illusion that we were far from home.

The Oak Grill is primarily an outdoor seating restaurant. Given my worsening night vision, I am in terror of dimly lit dining. Daylight is my friend and lunch on an outdoor patio is Valhalla. Unfortunately, evening dinners do not include much, if any, daylight. Indoor dining has similar problems due to the overworked fondness for romantic lighting.

We contacted the Grill and were offered either 5:30 or 7:30 seating. The late afternoon option seemed like a early bird senior special. I’m not ready to take on that role, complete with its Velcro shoes, a dinner jacket that looks like it was last worn by a racetrack tout, and salt-free, easily chewable entrees.

We picked the 7:30 option and hoped that the earth might slow its rotation around the sun to maximize the light. If we ate quickly, I might get through our meal with my dignity intact.

Seated at 7:45 on the patio and offered menus by Rod, a very pleasant young waiter. Behind schedule by 15 minutes. Nervous time intensifying.

I scan the menu and, with the aid of the Jackie’s iPhone light, can read my options. I realize that, given the failing daylight, I better avoid a selection that requires a great deal of attention.

Multiple items on the same plate are a crapshoot. I stab at the food in the darkness and, like a spear fisherman, hope that I will come away with a prize. The fork may be empty or have an unexpected delight. At times like these, I think back to my father and brother, both of whom experienced the same challenges. Somehow these memories make the trip a little easier.

An appetizer of six fried shrimp arrives. I can see them but can’t tell head for tail. I reach out and grab one, rotate it to the proper position, and eat. Delicious. I could make a meal of these simple creatures without seeing them. Make a mental note.

Jackie asks Rod for more light. But they only have little wax candles floating inside a glass container. The light is negligible and held in check by the container. Rod delivers a second light, also useless. The wind blows and one goes out. The next blow extinguishes the remaining candle. He brings a third. Lights all three. They go out one by one. Rod relights them. I marvel at his patience. Even though they are useless, he seems to enjoy the effort.

Our entrees arrive. I’ve forgotten what I ordered. Shredded meat, maybe pot roast. I’m clueless.

Jackie tries to reveal the mystery meal with her iPhone. It’s superbright like a volcanic eruption. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle. I think again of my father, a proud man.

Jackie positions her iPhone light behind my water glass in front of me. She rotates it like a lighthouse lamp. The intensity of the light changes as she moves, slides, and elevates the phone. She adjusts. I play my part like I was helping her hang a photo on the wall. We find a sweet spot. I can see what’s on my plate. I eat without fumbling. Jackie is a genius. Rod is happy. The world is good.

What a wonderful birthday.

Plays, Cemeteries and Dinner

Sunday was our day at the Ahmanson.

Daughter Nancy and I have been series subscribers since Ila died. Ila loved musicals and we often found ourselves several rows back from the stages at LA’s downtown Music Center, the Ojai Art Center and the Rubicon in Ventura. Before we moved to Ojai and the schlep became a bridge too far, we had great seats at the Hollywood Bowl including coveted reserved parking.

As her illness progressed, Ila found the noise, regardless of the decibel level, and the milling crowds too much to handle and we stopped attending live plays and movies. Even a simple visit to the band shell in Libbey Park was, for her, like living through the height of the Luftwaffe’s 1940 London blitz.

Our final venture into entertainment was a trip to Hollywood’s rococo Pantages Theater to see Beautiful, the musical about Carol King. Ila lasted less than five minutes into the performance. Signaling her discomfort, she covered her ears. We rose from our center section seats and excused ourselves to each of the fifteen people we trod on as we slogged past them. We then spent quality time seated on a lobby bench while daughter Nancy remained through the first act. Mercifully, we left the confines of the theater before the second act and drove home.

My day for the Ahmanson routinely begins with a trip to Conejo Mountain Memorial Park to visit Ila in the cemetery section reserved for Jews. Authors of bereavement guides are quick to remind me that Ila really isn’t there under a blanket of Saint Augustine grass; rather, she lives in our memories. To which I respond…how do you know?

With ten dollars, I buy cut flowers at the Park office, picking a bunch that I think Ila will like. I arrive at the grave site and arrange the flowers in the container embedded at the foot of the grave. I clear some dead leaves from the site onto a currently unoccupied neighboring plot. I stand and look at the inscription on the grave marker…We love you up to the sky and beyond.  I speak to her and ask how she’s doing, knowing there will be no audible response. I remind her of my upcoming marriage to Jackie and I feel guilty. I remember the bereavement group facilitator saying that Ila would want me to be happy…and I wonder.

I place a small stone on the corner of the grave marker. I had carefully selected it from the array in front of the house. It was smooth, a pleasing brown color and about two inches in diameter. There are several Jewish theories why a stone is left behind. Flowers are rarely put on Jewish graves; I’m an exception. Flowers are impermanent while stones, like memories, are lasting. My personal belief is a bit selfish; it’s a tradition that tells others I was here.

I took a photo of the grave and the flowers. I take one during each visit. I occasionally send one to the kids with a note that tells them that Nana says that she loves you. Some I just keep in my iPhone memory, helping to keep track of my visits. I say good-bye and tell her that I love her.

On the way to my car I pass Naida’s grave. Naida and Ila shared illnesses, became an odd couple of fast friends, and now lie together twenty feet apart. I bid Naida good-bye but am out of stones.

It took thirty minutes to arrive at Nancy’s Calabasas home where coffee and deli stuff waited. Finished downing a combination sandwich of Gelson’s corned beef and hard salami, we left for the Ahmanson, got there with time to spare and, despite murmurs about the Corona virus, found a packed theater waiting to see The Book of Mormon. We had seen it years ago, and although laden with some embarrassment at its rapid-fire jokes about a little understood religion, had thoroughly enjoyed it the first time.

As usual, our seats were centered, ten rows back from the stage where the scenery was highlighted by a horn blowing statue of the angel Moroni calling people to the gospel of Jesus. Early in the performance, it became apparent that I needed more than a golden horn to hear the lyrics of the show’s now familiar tunes.

Although fitted with hearing aids, more than half of the spoken words were a great mystery to me. Laughter rose throughout the theater while I too often sat idly by wondering what was so funny. Nancy tried to lessen the impact of my affliction on my psyche by assuring me that she too could not understand everything. Yet whenever I leaned toward her and said, “What did he say?” she was able to tell me, albeit too late to enjoy that joke while the audience had moved on to another unintelligible phrase. Resigned to the inevitable, I sat back, clasped my hands in my lap and settled for half a loaf.

Like senses competing for attention, my eyesight in dimly lit settings is no better than my aging ears. As though encouraging pratfalls, the Ahmanson puts a half height step at the end of the darkened aisle and another one at the foot of the exit ramp. My recourse is to slowly shuffle my feet while seeking those challenging steps. I sometimes lose the contest and half hurtle forward into the waiting arms of a stranger.

My adventure with senescence continued after the play with a dinner trip to the Wood Ranch restaurant in Agoura. Once again, my reading skills were tested by a dimly lit environment intended to create a relaxing atmosphere for everyone other than Mr. Magoo. Although a light beamed from the ceiling, it focused like a laser beam on the tiny center of the table. It required that I lean forward with my elbows in the complimentary bread bowl to stand a chance of capturing some lumens.

Dinner conversation was highlighted by the possible whereabouts of my misplaced hat and concluded with the realization that I had lost my Visa card. Capping my Emmy winning performance, I gracefully rose from the table and unknowingly dropped two napkins from my lap onto the floor. Perhaps a bibb next time.

Nancy and Kevin were unwilling to allow me to go solo to locate my car for fear that I might be found at dawn, frozen in the parking lot. Better safe than sorry has become the law of the land. I drove home without causing a pile-up on the 101 and, displaying an as yet intact smidgen of independence, refused to call the kids to let them know I had arrived safely.

I suppose I enjoyed the play.


Pages

Archives

Recent Comments