Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Stand With Love

We are a nation of binary opposites: on one hand, there is Donald Trump and his blatant and inexcusable misogyny and racism, spewing forth about Muslims and perfectly legitimate bodily functions as he tries literally to bully and insult his way to the White House.

Trump represents the worst of America’s rugged individualism ethos: that we can somehow return to a mythologized greatness by being ugly and vindictive.

On the other hand, kindness and compassion abound throughout our amazing and challenging country. There is the Compassion Collective, started by a group of well-known writers to raise money for the Syrian refugee crisis ( The Collective wants to raise $1 million to support the refugees during this tragic crisis. The maximum donation is $25.

Another philanthropic and heart-warming effort was started six years ago by my friend Bob Welch ( when he was a columnist for the Eugene Register-Guard. Inspired by an anonymous $1000 from a reader to help those in need during the holiday season, Bob and friends seek out worthy recipients in the Eugene, Oregon area in order to not only spread some holiday cheer, but to make a bit of a difference in the lives of those struggling with bills and mental illness and homelessness and other issues.

Bob retired from being a full-time columnist, but he is still actively involved in his community, and today he posted about his latest mission of mercy (

The Compassion Collective and Bob Welch (and friends) represents the best of humanity, people willing to stand up and say, “I need to make a difference and help,” or, in the words of the Collective, to “stand with love.”

We live in scary times, and it’s easy to lash out against enemies both real and imagine, and also find scapegoats to soothe our anxieties. But by doing so we also abdicate our basic connection to others, to everyone we meet or can assist. The choice is clear, and we can easily opt to stand with love.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Our Hearts Are Heavy

I wish I understood how the world truly works. Yesterday, three people allegedly opened fire with assault weapons on a group celebrating at a center for developmentally disabled adults. There are reports one of the alleged gunmen may have become radicalized in Saudi Arabia, while he was on the traditional Muslim pilgrimage, and met his future bride, a woman from Pakistan.

My heart hangs heavy with profound sadness when I ponder the loss of life and the sheer terror everyone in San Bernardino experienced amid what was supposed to have been a holiday party. I don’t understand how anyone can resort to such mind-numbing violence even for a cause.

But the melancholy is even thicker today because my neighbor, Jen, died at 4:30 am this morning, after fighting a battle with tongue cancer. She leaves behind a loving husband and two young children, ages 8 and 6, as well as other family. I grieve for them, especially her two adoring and adorable children who now face life without a mommy, something with which I am quite familiar.

Last Saturday, I went outside to play with Maya, who was already at the park, on the swings, next to Jen’s six-year old daughter. They were giggling and smiling as young children often do, enjoying the crisp autumn air and the attention of one father and one grandmother.

I knew Jen’s situation was dire, and when I saw her daughter and pushed her on the swings, at one point lifting her onto Maya’s lap (facing her) so they could do a butterfly swing, legs and arms entangled, I breathed deeply and felt the sadness wash over me again. She was going to experience what Maya had and has: deep, deep loss, tears, anger, anxiety, fear, loneliness. And it didn’t seem right that a little girl, blond-brown hair, and an exuberant smile, should be plunged into such sorrow.

I know people cling to faith in times of crisis, and I admire many of them, but I can’t make sense of Jen’s death or the terror in San Bernardino in any religious or spiritual context. I know someone who once said, after a hurricane had ravaged her town but she was unharmed, “God was looking out for me.” I have seen friends post thanks to God on Facebook for answering their prayers.

But I always come back to: does that mean God did not answer the prayers of the others, such as Verna who wanted to live and grow old as her children became adults and beyond? Or sweet, sweet Jen, an amazing woman also with everything to live for? Or our other neighbor, Shauna, who died this past May from colon cancer, and had a zest for living that shone like a beacon to everyone?

Shortly after Verna died, the priest she’d personally enlisted to officiate her funeral service, said to me on the phone, “I just don’t understand when people say, ‘God wanted her more’ or ‘It was just her time’.”

I think Father Paul was saying we cannot understand why someone dies, but we should not lapse into easy answers and try to make death into some deep theological phenomenon.

But knowing that there are mysteries to the Universe that may never be satisfactorily explained to an agnostic like me does nothing for the utter despondency and helpfulness I feel today as we come to terms with the deaths in San Bernardino and in my neighborhood.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Almost 31 Days

Today marks the end of the October 2015 blog challenge where thousands of us signed on to write a post each day of the month. I hit 26 blog entries, which is pretty good considering I combined to write 24 posts from 2012-2014.

I'd love to say I learned something about myself or life or the nature of writing and the universe. But I did not. Not because I know everything, but more because the nuggets of truth were sparkling there before me for a long time.

I'd hoped that writing each day (or close to every day in the month) would motivate me to turn my focus onto the memoir, It's Not About The Breasts, I want and need to finish about our family's cancer journey. But I am at a point in my life where I sense change is on the horizon and writing may need to take a back seat a little longer.

I feel I am being called to return to teaching and the classroom, which I hope to do by next fall. I am in the process of studying for the three state exams I need to pass in order to earn my credential. So writing, writing, and writing would distract me from my more immediate goal.

The reality is that blogging is, once said a good writing friend, like a one night stand: you get the pleasure with minimal effort. But writing a book, which I have done once, is like having a long-term relationship. You need to invest time and energy and total focus. It's hard but the rewards are great.

Right now, my dream and plan are to teach middle or high school social studies, resuming a passion I stoked for 12 years after I moved to California in 1987, and enabling me some more freedom in my personal life as a single father.

I did learn something, or maybe I was just faced with the stark reality, unrelated to writing this blog. A friend for more than 35 years turned down my Facebook friend request because of my views on Israel. I can easily handle cyber-rejection, but the experience has made me wonder about the often fragile ties that bind or repel us on this complicated orb we call Planet Earth.

I am listening to Dave Davies, of the Kinks, on iTunes as I type this blog post. I saw him with a a friend last night in downtown Napa. His voice is beyond rough and gnarly, but he is a survivor, having outlasted a massive stroke in 2004. He has to use a music stand to prop up the song lyrics, songs he wrote and has performed for more than 40 years. But he perseveres and pumps joy and passion into his music.

The song that is playing? I'm Not Like Everybody Else.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Make A Wish

“Where’s my eyelash?” Maya asked last night in her bathroom before bed. “I want to make a wish.”

I was watching her as I clipped my fingernails. She’d already brushed her teeth and was ready for me to continue reading the second installment in the School for Good and Evil series.

“Oh, good, I found it,” she said moments later. “Now I can make a wish. Do you want to know what it is?”

“It won’t come true if you tell me,” I said.

“It’s not going to come true any way,” she said, and then she closed her eyes, held her index finger to her mouth, and blew the half-moon curved lash away.

“What was your wish?” I asked, certain that I already knew.

Earlier in the evening Maya had asked me for a Fitbit for Christmas.

“Can I have a Fitbit?” she asked.

“I don’t know Maya,” I said. “Why do you want one?”

“Because then I can get exercise.”

“But you don’t need a Fitbit to get exercise,” I said. “You can just go outside.”

For the record, I do not own a Fitbit nor have I ever used one. I am guessing some of her friends at school or their parents use one.

“Then I could do 12 laps around the park,” she said as if ownership of Fitbit would magically propel her out the door any more than she already runs around.

“Maya, think of something you want for Christmas that you will actually use,” I said. “I can take you rock climbing or get you special art supplies.”

“But I’ll use the Fitbit, Dad,” she said. “And I know Santa gets us everything we ask for.”

So I expected her to wish for a Fitbit knowing her Jewish father a.k.a. Santa had more or less nixed her request. But her answer startled me.

“I wished for Mommy to come back,” she said.

A wave of sadness hit me. “I wish the same thing, too, Maya. I am sorry you are sad.” Then I quickly corrected myself. “It’s OK that you are sad. I wish Mommy were here too.”

Maya went on to say that she didn’t really want to talk about missing Verna any more last night. The conversation made her more melancholy. So we climbed into her bed and I started reading about two princesses fighting the forces of evil and trying to get back to their happily ever after.

I leave notes in Maya’s lunch every day. Today’s note read: “Maya, I wish I could make all your wishes come true. I love you that much!”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

World Serious

Rivalries and grudges often take on mythic and irrational proportions. Sports, family, and politics would be three areas where many of us have seen the boundaries of civility and decency stretched by absolute unforgivable behavior.

We understand Red Sox vs. Yankees or Giants vs. Dodgers or insert other professional or college teams where the animosity between either the players or the fans (or both) is palpable. I have a few close friends who are Yankee fans and, frankly, it doesn't matter much to me. One friend, though, never congratulated me in 2004 when the Red Sox finally won another World Series after 86 years of cursed futility.

Politics is another potent area, red vs. blue. We all know people who have un-friended or stopped speaking to someone who disagreed with their tightly held beliefs. I was holding a 'Bush Stole the Presidency' poster at a rally in Fresno in 2001 in anticipation of Bush's presence at a fundraiser, and one man, after he found out I had been a teacher, said to me, "I wouldn't want you teaching my kids."

And there are as many stories of intolerant people on the other side as well. But where does this almost maniacal hostility come from?

I didn't talk to my mother for nearly three years after she'd done something that was inexcusable. I had to defend my family against her personal attacks. We made up and all, and she apologized, but I know families today where communication is done via attorneys or where people simply just don't talk.

Sports is another arena for our internecine rivalries to fester. A few years, two Dodger fans nearly stomped Brian Stow to death outside Dodger stadium after the Dodgers played the Giants. I once witnessed several fights break out at the old Yankee stadium when the Yankees faced the Red Sox on a warm summer night in 1978.

My father and I always say we are happy as long as the Yankees lose. Recently, when the Cubs played the Mets for the National League pennant, he and I spoke on the phone about which team we were rooting for.

"I'm rooting for the Cubs," I said. "I can't forgive the Mets for 1986 (even though the errors and bungles that led to the Mets winning in seven games fell squarely on the shoulders of the Red Sox)." Plus two of Verna's cousins, her first cousin, Jim, and his wife, Jessica, are avid Cubs fans. They live here but have season tickets, and they deserve to feel the sublime joy I felt three times in recent years.

"And I'm rooting for the Mets," my father laughed, "because of Theo Epstein (the former Red Sox general manager who bolted for Chicago) and Jon Lester (the former Red Sox ace whom they courted in free agency but signed with the Cubs)."

Obviously I am only touching on this subject in a very superficial manner. Rivalries on a geopolitical and sociological scale are often deadly. The tribal warfare in the Middle East, Israeli vs. Palestinian, Shiite vs. Sunni, carries crises that seem beyond intractable. And the same goes for gang bloodshed, where wearing even the wrong color could get you killed.

But in our daily lives we often opt for the petty and mean-spirited allegiance to a team, an ideology, a point of view, or something else that in the whole scheme of life should matter very little.

I attended an amazing 20-year reunion  this past Sunday and Monday of the Association of Personal Historians, and one of my former colleagues shared this powerful quote:

"An enemy is someone's story we have not heard."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Brave New World

I plopped myself down for lunch with a bowl of miso noodle soup across from two of my work associates. Two young-enough-to-almost-be-my-grandchildren associates. One is 19, the other is 22.

“The app’s available now,” the older one said, a male. “Did you get it?

“It’s available now?” asked the younger one, a female.

“Yeah, I just downloaded it yesterday.”

“I don’t have enough memory.”

“What app are you talking about?” I asked.

“It’s the middle finger app,” said the older one.

“A middle finger app? You’re kidding me,” I said.

He handed me his phone, and stacked on the right side were about 10 different middle finger emojis, each a different hand color. It was heartwarming to know that the makers of middle finger emojis created something with diversity in mind.

I wanted to blurt out, “This is what you are talking about, what excites you, a middle finger emoji?”

Instead I felt sad and out of touch. I reared back in time and wondered what product or trend I was into that may have caused my father serious pause or concern. I know he hated rock and roll, which I listened to incessantly, but usually behind closed doors in my bedroom and rarely too loud. We both loved sports, so we had shared interests. We didn’t get the Pong video game on our TV until I was 13 or so, and my brother and I only played it on weekends.

I know he also hated my ripped jeans and longer hair. I don’t think he cared that I collected sports cards, read MAD magazine, played with my footsie toy, fought with G.I. Joe and plastic astronauts in the bathtub, or rode a banana seat bicycle.

I am not saying I once dwelled and flourished in the land of ‘things were better then’, but this screen saturation and invasion where young people have to use emojis and emoticons and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever else, right away, or their heads will implode or explode, depending on which option presents a better selfie, is getting to me.

Miguel does his homework with his laptop propped against his knees, with a baseball playoff game on TV, his cell phone tucked under him. And when he gets a text or Facebook update he has to respond immediately or he will instantaneously combust.

Call me old-fashioned or just old, but I think some of our youth go overboard with their devotion to anything electronic. Just today Miguel bemoaned the fact that he hasn’t won much when he plays someone else online in FIFA soccer. This was after he criticized golfers for not being athletes. And he’s the incoming captain of the high school golf team! At least it’s outdoors even if it’s, as John Feinstein wrote, “ a good walk spoiled.”

Yes, it’s ironic that my vent, er, blog post is being created on a computer, which allows me to cut, paste, insert graphics, or use spell check, not the manual typewriter of my own youth that  clacked away through high school and college. But, hey, if you don’t like that I am also a tangle of contradictions then I have several ethnic middle finger emojis just for you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Twilight Among Us

"Slit skirts, Jeanie never wears those slit skirts
I don't ever wear no ripped shirts
Can't pretend that growing older never hurts."

~Peter Townsend

The most wistful part of working at a retirement community is not having known the residents in their primes. By the time people move into Drake Terrace in their 70s, 80s, or 90s, they are often beset with a physical malady or cognitive impairment. We missed them during the best years of their lives.

One resident, a former government administrator, once looked straight at me and said, "Don't ever get old. It's terrible."

He and his wife lived with us until they both needed more care than we could provide. He'd had repeated falls and his wife was suffering from dementia. He could no longer care for himself, let alone his wife.

But as their physical and mental deterioration increased, and there were falls and bruised faces and stroke-like seizures, it was hard to remember they'd once been so young and vibrant. They'd met inside the library at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Maybe she walked by him in the stacks, his head turning as her fragrance wafted by. Maybe she caught sight of him, gazing at his piercing blue eyes, and there was recognition. They'd seen each other in their hometown before WWII. They courted, got married, raised a family, were successful in love and life.

Their stories are ones I see playing out everyday: once healthy individuals whose bodies or minds (or both) are losing the battle of old age. I don't mean to make it out to be all gloom and doom. One man just moved out of his San Francisco home, weeks after his wife died, because he wanted to live in a retirement community. He is almost completely independent. He is also 99.

Another resident, a former minor league baseball player, moved out his North Beach apartment in San Francisco earlier this year where he'd been getting some help from a caregiver. His handshake is still firm and he carries on conversations about current events and sports as if he is much, much younger. He turned 101 last month.

But many residents are like the couple from Oregon such as Bill and Flora. When I first met Bill (not his real name), he introduced himself and said he was "SOB. Sweet Old Bill." Then a grin broke out across his face and he chuckled like a man at peace with himself. He and his wife, Flora (not her real name), even had an arrangement with their nurse and caregivers to give them time alone for a special nap on Saturday afternoons. Bill and Flora, who met just after WWII when Bill was stationed in Europe, are both in their late 80s.

I took Bill today to Macy's to get his watch repaired. Flora insisted on going with us. Both are not allowed to leave the community unassisted. Flora has a diagnosis of dementia. Bill has recently been sending money to a scam lottery back east. His son now controls Bill and Flora's finances.

As we walked into Macy's and glanced around for an elevator, I wondered if the people who designed these stores ever had older relatives. Macy's aisles, awash in every color of the rainbow, stretched across racks of shirts, pants, Christmas pajamas, stonewashed jeans, shoes, slippers, blouses, nightgowns, jewelry, and perfume, are a maze-like nightmare, a sensory overload of sight, sound, and smell.

Even I couldn't figure out where to go, so how would've Bill and Flora navigated the store without help? A frumpy and kind employee guided us to the elevator. We rode it to the second floor and the watch repair counter, past the bathrooms and near the executive offices. Flora plowed along near me, her walker gliding along the floor, while Bill shuffled at a molasses-like pace. Flora and I reached the repair counter by ourselves.

"Where is he?" she asked, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

I looked out at the racks and racks and racks and saw Bill, his head swaying from side to side, searching for someone.

"Bill," I shouted, "over here!" I repeated myself a few times. My voice is loud enough to hear several towns over. But Bill could not match my voice to my location. I started walking closer to him, but another patron intercepted him and turned him towards me. I wondered if I hadn't been there would he have gotten really lost. Flora's dementia would have been of no help in locating him.

I felt sad for Bill and Flora, married for more than 60 years and proud parents to a caring son, a son who now must exercise control over their money and mail in order to protect them, because they are declining--as we all do. Just as my Oregon couple once did before they needed skilled nursing and memory care.

I also worried that watching Bill and Flora and all the residents who struggle with physical and mental decrepitude was a mirror into my future. And who will see me and wonder who and what I was like during the best years of my life.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mini Meeze

Some people around my neighborhood call me the Mayor because I seem to know and talk to everyone. Hey, I like people. I could probably strike up a reasonable conversation with a lamppost.

Verna, who was very shy especially in larger social situations, often teased me for being too gregarious--and too loud. She often retreated to our bedroom in our first apartment (on 8th Avenue and Lincoln in San Francisco) when I talked to my mother because our conversations were heated at times and Verna needed respite from my booming voice.

But when she, her mother, and I visited Israel in 1992 and found ourselves in a vegetarian restaurant in the south of the country, I was the one who struck up a conversation with the African-American waitress, who belonged to a Chicago-based sect of Hebrews who traced their lineage back to the Bible, lived in Israel now, and also practiced polygamy. As in men with multiple wives.

The restaurant was empty save for us, a group that also included another woman on our tour, Charlene, so the waitress sat with us and answered our questions about what it was like to be wife number three or four. We tried to be respectful but it was hard to fathom how some people seem content to share their spouses in such an extreme way.

"That was fascinating," Charlene blurted as we left the restaurant, and then proceeded to thank me for initiating the conversation. I probably smirked at Verna, but later she admitted she enjoyed the evening immensely.

This blog post is not going to be War and Peace-like in length so I am sticking with the positive, but there have been innumerable times when I have inserted one or both feet in my mouth and said something stupid, foolish, obnoxious, inappropriate, mean, insulting, blah, blah, blah.

Maya is me when it comes to being loquacious. When Tricia, Maya, and I went to see Wynton Marsalis about a month ago, Tricia was amazed (sort of) that Maya could keep up a running stream of conversation throughout the show. Maya was an unfettered version of me that night, not bound up in the normal social conventions of remaining quiet during a performance.

Now, to be clear, she did not disturb anyone and Tricia was exaggerating slightly, but the amount Maya talked was beyond Tricia's normal fare, and Tricia is even more shy than Verna.

Before she died, Verna worried about how Maya would process her death at such a young age so she made me promise to read a book about mothers and daughters and loss. I read it shortly after Verna died, and realized that Maya will ultimately have little trouble adjusting to the horrible reality of life without Verna.


Because Maya articulates how she is feeling all the time. She questions and probes and questions some more and articulates her fears and worries and then questions some more. She is well on the road to being in control of her emotions.

Just like me. I am a rock emotionally and able to share my inner turmoil freely, but being so garrulous is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I just don't know when to shut up. Maya can still hide in the mist of being an innocent nine-year old. I have no excuse for over-sharing and inadvertently making people uncomfortable.

But Maya's ability to be calm and a big sister to all the younger kids in the neighborhood and meet strangers in the park and immediately tell them that her mother died is a force to be reckoned with. Most people don't forget the smile stretched across her face and the genuineness of her extroversion.

As a teenager, I waited to the last minute to do anything connected to school. I'd study 75 words for a Spanish test minutes before the exam and get more than 90% correct. One time in Israel I stayed up all night writing a ten-page paper for a class on Middle Eastern history. When I realized I could only finish the rough draft, I handed it in with illustrations. The professor rejected it and gave me two or three days to type it, which I did and earned a solid B.

I took days to bring in the garbage pails, one of the few tasks my parents insisted I do, and I left my bedroom a mess, clothes strewn on the floor and sharing space with dust balls the size of healthy rats.

Miguel is also my mini me. In temperament, quiet and reserved, he is all Verna, but in his approach to life, he is all me. He prefers to play video games, surf the Net, and text friends to homework. My distractions were different in the non-digital age, but the games I played with sports cards and board games alone in my room with dice were the same escapes from my scholastic and domestic responsibilities as Miguel practices right now as I type these words.

Miguel might take hours to throw out his garbage, days to fold his clothes, and days more to return the folded clothes to his bureau NOT THE FLOOR! I have never seen anyone (other than me) delay writing his college entrance essays as much as Miguel. Well, except me.

I also realize that Miguel, I hope, is a mini me when it comes to being caring and trying to do the right thing. Unlike me when I was his age and hated toiling at Cow's Farm, Miguel truly enjoys his job as a server at the retirement community. He is also funny and engaging with residents. He makes jokes and takes jokes. And, often, he gives up his meal at the end of the night if a resident has requested the same.

Maya seizes life by the reins, as I do, and exclaims how glorious things are. She gets excited and enthused, two qualities I display at both the right and wrong times. Miguel is a teenage boy often looking for the short cut, as I did, and content to park his butt for hours in front of a screen. But he is sweet and has an affinity for people of all ages.

It might be trite and glaringly obvious to say that Miguel and Maya are products of both Verna and me in the best and worst senses.

I would've finished this essay sooner, but...

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I was going to say this blog post is momentarily interrupted because Miguel and I are watching Back to the Future II which takes place on October 21, 2015. But, hey, I can crank out a few words, I think.

Games. Most nights Maya and I play a game before bed. Tonight was Hiss, where players match colors and make snakes from heads to tails. We've also played Step To It, a memory game, even one person Twister, were I spin and Maya lands on the mat. Sometimes we draw and then offer, in theory, positive critiques on each other's art. She is sometimes a little too honest.

I have fond memories of playing board games often with my mother and brother. We played Sorry, Monopoly, and others. We also played lots of card games, Setback, Casino, Rummy. Setback was our favorite, and my mother often shared how when she was younger and playing a childhood friend, Harriet Levine, and losing 17 or 18 to 3, she rallied to win the game by getting first to 21 and bidding recklessly.

The kids and I don't play cards. Yesterday I mentioned War to Maya and she didn't know what I was talking about.

Card games and board games are more than just fun, they are memories we create. I will always cherish all the times I spent with my mother when we played various games. I remember one time playing Setback with my father's family when I was 15 or 16 and I actually won. It was a big moment.

Maya is still at a point where she doesn't like losing. So I either let her win or I try just a little less hard.

And now back to the movie and bonding with Miguel, who is watching it and typing into his cell phone. Because his days of game playing are mostly of the video kind. We used to play now and then, only Play Station basketball but I was terrible. And he never let me win.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Not Just Pie

I grew up with grandparents and within 10 miles of probably 90% of my family. My first grandparent, my mother's father, died when I was 12; the next when I was 29; another one four years later; and my mother's mother died when I was 40 in 1999.

So I was blessed to have grown up with old people--grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and first cousins of grandparents. I was always comfortable around old people, and of course loved being spoiled by them. We gorged on plentiful amounts of candy and Drake's cakes at my paternal grandparents' home in East Hartford, CT, and the meatballs always tasted better when made by my other grandmother, who even though widowed in 1971, socialized with a group of widows who became a satellite part of our family.

One time I slipped a tape recorder under our living room couch shortly before a visit from Bubbe and Zadie Friedman. I clicked it on just as they entered the front door, and let it run for the next hour. I trailed them out when they left and said, "I was recording you the whole time."

My grandmother started laughing and waved one hand at me as if to say, "Oh, you rascal."

One year, when I was about 14 or so, I stayed overnight with maternal grandmother, Ida Bernstein, on New Year's Eve. Shortly after midnight we baked a tray of cookies and more or less convinced ourselves that we were the first ones to do so in the new year.

I remember picking blueberries and strawberries with my paternal grandfather, Myer, plunging my hands into the soft dirt as we filled baskets with fruit.

I've always liked being around older people, hearing their stories, and being a listener, which is often hard for me (since I also like to talk).

Verna, in contrast, was born after the death of her maternal grandmother and probably saw her father's parents, both of whom lived into their early nineties in Minnesota, fewer than a dozen times in her life. She was admittedly uncomfortable around older people.

Miguel and Maya have grown up sort of in between. Most of our families live farther away, at least four hours (though one of Verna's brothers and his wife and son used to be two hours away). And my family is all back east save for a first cousin of my father, who lives about three hours away in the Sierra foothills. We used to see each regularly before I got married.

But Verna's father still lives in San Francisco, and her mother, who died just about seven years ago, was a resident of the city for more than 50 years. Her parents visited us often, or took us to dinner, or traveled with us. We drove to Los Angeles with Verna's mother, Chela (Maria Graciela) in 2001 to protest what we believed was Bush's theft of the presidency. The four of us (Miguel was then 3) stayed at a motel not far from the conference at the Wilshire Hilton. The three-day protest-palooza featured Vincent Bugliosi, Warren Beatty, and several other notable politicians, activists, and celebrities.

In 2002, the four of us journeyed from San Francisco to Vancouver for a personal historian's conference, and spent nearly two weeks on the road, touring Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle. When Verna was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 her parents literally came to our home five days a week for nine months to help her (and us) out.

So Miguel and Maya, who played on the carpeted floor of our living room with her maternal grandmother less than six months before she died on October 24, 2008 in San Francisco Kaiser's ICU, have been blessed to have old people in their lives.

And now Miguel works as a server at Drake Terrace so he experiences elders at least 15 hours a week. He has learned how important it is to smile or crack a joke (or listen to one) and not take it too personally when an older person, who may be in physical pain or suffering from cognitive impairment, lashes out at him or a co-worker.

When he came home from work tonight he saw a copy of my book, Golden Memories of the San Francisco Bay Area, near the landing up from the garage.

"Who are you selling your book to?" he asked.

"I bought it to give to John (not his real name)," I said. "He asked for a copy so I told him I'd get him one. I like him."

"John. I like him, too," he said. "I served him tonight. I also like Fred (not his real name). He said today would have been his wife's birthday."

She died earlier this year, and Fred went on to share with Miguel that he was looking forward to the dessert tonight on the menu, pumpkin pie. But Miguel had squirreled away the last two pieces for himself. So he told Fred there was no more pie.

"I really wanted some tonight," Fred said. "It was my wife's favorite dessert."

So Miguel gave him a piece of his. "I would've felt bad if I hadn't shared."

I was certainly proud of him as I know his mother, grandmother, and all his ancestors would be. He honored them all tonight in a very big way.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Maya and I sometimes watch old movies on Friday evenings. Tricia even joins us every now and then. She and Maya lay blankets down on the carpet in front of the TV, as if we were at the beach, and we eat our dinners with the lights off. We've watched The Wizard of Oz, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's A Wonderful Life, You Can't Take it With You, and a few others.

Last Friday, I googled 'good movies to see with kids' and settled on Goonies, the semi-classic coming of age story about a group of friends searching for a 350-year old treasure to save their neighborhood. It's rated PG, and even though the Richard Donner-directed film is thirty years old, Maya was scared in parts.

"I'm not sure this is appropriate for me," she said as we watched.

"Should we find something else?"

"No," she said, "I like it."

So we watched it and she curled her body closer to mine. We had the lights off (her choice). By the time she ready for bed she said, "Dad, could you sleep in here tonight?"

So I did.

The next morning she said, "That was a scary movie."

"Maybe we should have watched something else," I said.

I am usually very good about what media I allow Maya to be exposed to. She usually gets to view one movie a week, on Saturdays, and then it is no TV during the week.

Verna and I didn't even let Miguel watch TV, except for sports (my choice), when he was a kid. He didn't see his first movie until he was eight. A few months after Verna was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, she said, "I want to see a movie with Miguel in a theater because I don't know how long I'll be around."

So we took Miguel and my niece and went to see Cars. I remember how loud the movie was, Lightning McQueen and the other race cars whizzing by on the oval track. The sound was actually deafening. But Miguel loved the movie, and wasn't negatively affected in any perceptible way.

We were apprehensive before Cars because of the Disney World episode five years earlier. When Miguel turned three, my father and stepmother treated him and us to two days at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

One of the rides was Jurassic Park, which I felt would be OK, even though Miguel had never watched any TV or movies. Verna cautioned the ride might be a bad idea. As we hurtled into space and a huge dinosaur roared at us, Miguel turned white and his eyes popped out. He appeared to be in shock because he made no sounds.

But because he hadn't screamed or cried, I figured my call to ride Jurassic Park had been a good one. Until the next day when we all sat down in darkness for the live-action Lion King performance. As soon as Raffiki appeared, Miguel started wailing in an uncontrollable burst of existential anxiety and terror. He was beyond scared; he was imploding. An usher broke the rule about allowing anyone to exit once the show had begun and mercifully let us take the shivering tangle of fear and panic out into daylight.

I thought about that moment in time today as I drove to the movie theater with Maya and a friend to see the new Goosebumps movie, about how all the frightening characters in R.L. Stine's books come alive and attack him and those closest to him. The trailer looked positively scary. But Maya said she wanted to see it on her day off from school (it was conference and teacher work day).

The movie was good, and the girls munched on Whole Foods candy corn and drank vitamin waters (their choice). When it was over they both said how much they liked it. Maya added, "Goonies was scarier than Goosebumps, Dad."

But tonight, after I read to her, from the School for Good and Evil, and after I stayed there for 25 minutes with a reading light and finished the front section of yesterday's New York Times, she said to me, "Dad, would you sleep here tonight?"

And so I will.

Ten Minutes to Midnight and the World is Not Going to End

Science and religion, forever intertwined and often at odds. Today someone told me that she doesn't celebrate Halloween because it's about devil worship. I respect people's beliefs, how some denominations forbid birthdays and holidays, but I often wonder if everyone's making informed decisions.

Of course faith is not always a matter of being informed or right or even connected to reality. It's often a leap.

Halloween, I said, is about honoring the dead and our ancestors. Though I did learn tonight that Halloween, which is the Super Bowl of all secular holidays for most kids, is probably connected to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, where people donned costumes and lit bonfires to scare off roaming ghosts. The evening before All saints' Day, which was the time to honor saints and martyrs, became at some point All Hallow's Eve or Halloween.

It is most certainly not about devil worship. It is about candy. Twenty-five percent of all candy sold in the United States is for Halloween, my Google research uncovered.

But my conversation got me thinking about how people often cling to erroneous information even when evidence to the contrary is right in front of them.

For example: people who deny climate change or that President Obama was born in America or that the Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. Or that the world is flat.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

More Than Four Weddings and a Bunch of Funerals

Among the comments to my Here Comes the Bride post was from someone whose brothers I taught in religious school and at whose wedding I officiated a few years ago. Then he and his wife had son number one and invited me to do the baby naming ceremony, a semi-official Jewish tradition. The parents and I crafted a meaningful ceremony, and they decorated their home in blue and gold, the colors of the University of California at Berkeley, even with actual Cal gold and blue tortilla chips.

A few years later when son number two arrived but the family had moved to the Washington, DC area, they flew me out to do the baby naming ceremony in their Virginia home. My only regret is, being the sometimes too informal kind of guy that I am, I only brought shorts and was way under-dressed for the ceremony, which was another moving ritual created by the three of us.

The only reason I did their wedding ceremony was because the groom's mother was a guest at another wedding I did and she referred me. That couple, both lawyers, have evolved in food production and I used to see them peddling artisanal cheeses at the local farmer's market. The bride's grandmother used to live at the retirement community where I've worked for six years, but was there when I was a volunteer. One of my first summer jobs in the Bay area was with the bride's aunt back in 1989.

I am amazed at the interlaced web that connects so many of us on account of ritual and life cycle events. And I feel blessed, as I wrote yesterday, to be part of the tapestry of so many people's lives.

I once chanted the blessings for a Jewish circumcision ceremony (brit milah or bris) for my cousin's son because the rabbi and mohel (the one according to Jewish ritual who performs the circumcision) was unable to use his voice due to a recent surgery. I stumbled over a word of the Hebrew prayers at one point and the rabbi's wife chimed in with the correct one.

Verna and I had decided, since she was not keen on the idea of a bris, to have Miguel's circumcision in the hospital. Then a rabbi shared how doctors often take up to 10 minutes to snip the foreskin. "I wouldn't let them near my son with a 10-foot pole," the rabbi said.

So Verna said we should do the bris in our home to honor my father and stepmother, who were visiting shortly after Miguel's birth in 1998. Verna and her mother hid in our bedroom during the ceremony because the mohel and his two Yeshiva associates looked straight out of Fiddler on the Roof and the emotional anxiety of the day, especially for a mother, was too much to handle.

I spent the time while the mohel was preparing asking everyone why we were doing the bris. I knew the religious reasons--from the Old Testament story of how circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and ancient Hebrews--but I wanted to understand why as the 21st century dawned upon us we were mutilating our offspring to bring them into Judaism.

No one had a reasonable explanation for me beyond tradition and loyalty to Jewish law. In the end, I determined my reasons were psycho-sexual: I wanted Miguel's penis to look more or less like mine, a fire hydrant, not sheathed.

Earlier this year I did the funeral of a woman who'd lived at Drake Terrace, but I'd known 25 years from our days of teaching Sunday school together at a local synagogue. I have done other private funerals, but I was also a funeral counselor and director for not quite a year for a local non-profit Jewish funeral home.

One time, as I was milling through the crowd of an outdoor funeral ceremony, making sure people were seated and everything was in order, my phone (which was supposed to be on silent) went off and my totally cool ring tone started blaring. It took me at least 10 seconds to silence "Smoke on the Water".

I've done weddings at hotels, wineries, restaurants, and in parks. One time I did two weddings simultaneously for two sisters in one of their homes and we Skyped it to their parents in Romania. Their mother started crying and so did I. I promised to dance with her at the party in the United States. One of us still owes the other that twist and shout.

I remember doing at least three or four weddings within six months of Verna's death. It felt so weird, but also life affirming. Being part of ritual and the life cycle, whether for religious or secular reasons, has been and will continue to be a sublime blessing for me.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Here Comes The Bride

Many of you know I officiate at weddings. I've told some people I marry people and they've said, "You mean like a wedding planner." Sometimes I say, since I am Jewish, no, like a rabbi. Some people nod knowingly while others look perplexed. Then I add, "Like a priest." Only then do I get the smiles.

When Verna and I decided to get married and we knew it wasn't going to be in a church or synagogue, a teaching colleague suggested we ask a friend to get her credentials through the Universal Life Church, a non-denominational spiritual center based in Seattle. I called it the Matchbook Ministry because the "church" advertised on the back of matchbooks along with art contests.

Six years after we tied the knot, a friend of mine, then an administrative assistant at the private Jewish school where I taught, asked me if I would officiate at her wedding. I went online and became a minister. Samantha is Catholic and Evan is Jewish. The ceremony was held besides the shimmering green-gold waters of the San Francisco Bay, and most of the attendees were drunk. Verna was several weeks pregnant, I was working, and Samantha and her 80-something grandmother rarely imbibed, so there were probably four or five of us who were sober.

I've lost touch with Samantha and Evan, but I know they have three daughters and are still married. I've performed over sixty ceremonies, and only three so far have ended in divorce. I wish I could tell you the secrets to a successful marriage. I often see how the couple gazes at each other, the tiny smiles that curl across their lips, the hands grazing, the public proclamation of love and devotion.

But I remember my first ceremony largely because I recited the priestly blessing in Hebrew, the one where the couple is blessed so God's face will shine upon them and grant them a life of wholeness and peace, and Evan's mother cried because she'd feared her son's wedding was going to be totally removed from their Jewish roots.

A year after Samantha and Evan, I ran into a friend who shared she was having trouble finding anyone to do her interfaith ceremony and the one rabbi they'd found charged way too much. I said, "I can do it. No charge." Dina said, "Really?" I saw Dina, Paolo, and their son this past summer, and they are as happy a family as can be, the love just oozing and the friendship shining forth between them all.

What got me thinking about weddings and performing the ceremonies tonight was I came across the Facebook page of a couple whose ceremony I did about 18 months ago. Getting to the venue nearly cost me my life. As I was driving in Sonoma County, less than five miles from the hotel where they were getting married, I glanced to my right at the cool-looking WWII biplanes. Suddenly I looked back to the road only to see that the traffic had slowed. I slammed on my brakes and my car rocketed forward down the muddy embankment, swerving and finally skidding to a stop right near a utility pole. The backside was ripped off, one rear tire was scraped, and the car was stuck.

The owners of the small airport that housed the biplanes rushed over and asked if I needed medical attention. Then they called a tow service and made arrangements with two clients to get me to the ceremony on time. I said to them, "Please give me your business card so I can send you a proper thank you note."

Instead one owner came back with an envelope and gave me a free biplane tour of Sonoma and Napa counties. I waited to share the harrowing story of my near tragic accident with the bride until after the ceremony.

So tonight as I looked at their Facebook photo, the dad holding his nine-month old daughter, I remember how he teared up as he recited his vows and shared some personal thoughts with his partner. And I felt then and I feel now that they are destined to remain married forever.

Obviously I know there are no forevers. Whenever I look at the savings bonds Verna tucked into the birthday cards she wrote for the kids (until they are each 18) before she died, I remember how those bonds were going to be for a cross-country trip when we retired.

But some couples I marry just leave me feeling giddy and blessed and supremely confident that their relationship will last, endure, thrive, and succeed. I cry at weddings, I toast at weddings, I dance, I hora, I hug the grandmothers. If I am alone I usually leave early (and undetected if possible) because I start feeling wistful. If I am with Maya, then I may stay longer if she is in a party mood. I've attended one or two with Tricia, and we stay a little longer as well because it is usually a festive and funky night out.

All in all, being a wedding officiant has been a blessing and one I continue to look forward to and enjoy.

Party on.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Gratitude...or how to squeeze in a daily blog at 18 minutes to midnight.

I am grateful for the love in my life: of my children, of the legacy of Verna, of family and friends, and of the newer love from a certain Bookmobile Bad Girl.

Thank you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sis Boom Bah

We are not really a musical family. We still have Verna's Hallet, Davis, and Company piano, scuffed and out of tune, that she had as a little girl. But no one plays it anymore. Miguel used it for five years, and was pretty good, but his musical career peaked in 7th grade. He also played the violin and taiko drums in elementary school through the 4th grade and later the trombone in 5th grade. He was one of two trombonists, and the instrument was practically bigger than he was.

I noticed at the spring concert that year, held in the auditorium, parents seated on metal folding chairs, that he was the only one playing, his right arm pumping furiously.

"Yeah," Miguel said, "the other kid doesn't know how to play. He tries to copy off me."

In 6th and 7th grade he played saxophone, but never practiced. A friend of mine suggested I get him an at-home sax for regular practice. So I went on eBay and found a cool red and gold model, Ironman colors, that Miguel toyed with once or twice--maybe. After 7th grade, he refused to continue in the middle school band because, he said, he hated the teacher. No amount of cajoling or fatherly insistence would get him to budge.

When he, Maya, my father-in-law, and I were in Hawaii in 2011, I bought Miguel a ukelele, which included a free tutoring session the next day at the store, around the corner from the glorious beach at Waikiki. Miguel plucked the opening riff to Smoke on the Water on the ukelele and maybe practiced two or three times when we returned to the mainland. The ukelele sits in his room four years later, lonely and virtually untouched.

I bought a steel string guitar when he was three or four. Verna was very upset because it was $200 and we had an agreement to discuss any purchases over $100. I tend to be an impulse buyer. I have thought about lessons or even teaching myself online. But the guitar rests safely in its case, which is gathering dust in our garage.

I signed up for trumpet lessons at Bloomfield Middle School when I was in the 7th grade, but there was a four month waiting list. I might have imagined myself ripping through the trumpet as did my uncle and cousin (through marriage), brothers Abe and Charlie Cohen, whose playing was utterly sublime, but by the time my turn came up I had lost interest.

The ironic or strange thing is even though I am not musical, nor is Miguel, we both love music. I listen to all the time, and never resist an opportunity to see music live. Miguel has his iPhone earbuds permanently attached and  listens to rap and hip-hop in bed and when he does his homework.

Maya took piano and voice lessons with a very sweet and talented teacher, but the fire never caught and she quit. Which brings us to today when Maya picked up a rented violin at the local music store. Three weeks ago she asked to play violin, and tomorrow is her first lesson. She is so excited she was already practicing upstairs in her room. I truly hope she develops a passion for the instrument, which is a difficult one, but I know her efforts will be rewarded.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Giving It All Away

Less than six months ago, John's wife told him that she wanted a permanent separation after more than 50 years of marriage. She wanted to sell their house and buy into a senior living community. So she did. Shortly after that, John (not his real name), a resident at the retirement community where I work, Drake Terrace, found out he had inoperable pancreatic cancer.

This double later in life whammy might have knocked mere mortals down a emotional spiral that would have caused them to curl into a fetal ball and wail for 23 hours a day. But not John. He reacted to the heartbreaking split in his marriage and his terminal illness with the same positive energy he applied to life when he was an award-winning cameraman for more than 30 years for a local TV station.

With humor. And affection. And generosity. And lollipops.

Humor is crucial to John's upbeat attitude. After a bout of chronic diarrhea, he suspected there was something wrong. For most of his 77 years he has been the best judge of his body's health. The doctor ordered a proctoscopy, but John suspected the problem was closer to his abdomen. So he asked for an endoscopy as well.

"You can use the same scope," John told his doctor. "Just be sure to do the endoscopy first."

He is such a wise guy that when he begins a story or launches into a comment at the weekly current events session I lead, none of us know if he is going to be serious or crack a joke.

But more than having an incurable funny bone, John is hopelessly and lovingly philanthropic. He must have stock in See's Candy, because he hands out a steady stream of lollipops each day. Dozens. Today the choice was between, he told me, caramel apple and caramel apple.

But his generosity extends most to the those he loves unconditionally. He gave his son and daughter-in-law, who toil as public school teachers in this county, each $30,000 so they could do something special for themselves. He sent another check to his brother in the Midwest for $35,000.

"My brother was always taking care of everyone else," John explained, "while I was off seeing the world. He took care of our mother. He still takes care of our sister who lives in a home (for the mentally challenged). And he's 82.

"So I wanted to do something for him," John continued, "no strings attached. When my brother called and asked me why, I said, 'because you have always taken care of others.'"

John said it was his way of showing gratitude because, he realizes, you can't take any money with you when you die.

John admitted that there has been a slight crack in his sunny veneer, and some anxiety has begun to seep in. Death, even, has been on his mind. He asked me today about the experiences of other residents who had pancreatic cancer.

"One woman was diagnosed earlier this year," I said. "And she died..." I hesitated. "...within about three months."

"What were her symptoms?" he asked me.

"She had pain and stomach problems," I said. "She was a nurse and knew something was wrong. She went to the doctor and found out she had end stage pancreatic cancer."

"See, the funny thing is, I don't have any pain," John said. "Hospice gave me a supply of morphine, but I haven't needed it."

John is more than content to go to lunch or dinner with family and friends (he is still close with his estranged wife), drive by the old neighborhood and schmooze with his former neighbors (he is still on the HOA board), pop over to a local watering hole for a glass of wine or a beer, or just give of himself.

For the past several Fridays, he has purchased gourmet pizzas for the staff at Drake Terrace. Last Friday, just before five pm, he came over to me with three fingers showing.

"Three," he said.

"Three?" I asked.

"Three pizzas. Coming for the staff. Enjoy."

A little while later he asked me, "Did you get a slice?"

I lowered my head, almost in shame, and said, "No, I am a vegetarian. But I know the staff loved the pizzas. Thanks so much."

I nearly ate a slice of the spinach-tomato-feta-hamburger pizza out of loyalty to the gentle giant John, who did not curse the world or himself when his wife moved out and they sold their home and he then discovered he had cancer. He simply remained true to himself, content to give, give, and give and then watch the ineffable joy on the faces of those whose lives he has touched with more than pizza, lollipops, or money.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sex and the Single Sea Hare

At one point during our kayak adventure this past Saturday, Kim, the tour leader and owner of Blue Water Ventures, pulled a sea hare out of the Monterey Bay, in a swirl of reddish-purple ink that the mollusks, also known as sea slugs, release when disturbed.

Kim wanted to hand over the hare to us, to hold the swine-like creature and marvel in its slime covered body. Kim explained that the sea hare had been mating. 

The sea hare was cool to the touch, with two protruding tentacles and a flap below them that is the nose. Sea hares are hermaphrodites, which means they act as male and female when mating. Kim said the sea hare she found was actually coupling with another species.

"Inter-species mating?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"That's pretty major," I said.

And then it hit me. While our lone sea hare, our cuddly slug of a marine animal, that is so filled with toxins because of all the algae it consumes it has very few predators, was possibly engaged in a highly significant act of evolution, we ripped it from its water bed of reproduction so we could essentially fondle it.

Imagine, Tricia and I said to each other later, if we were cuddling on the couch and all of a sudden a hand swept down and yanked one of us from the cozy confines of intimacy and started stroking our hair or caressing our arms. Kind of like the creepy Twilight Zone episode, Stopover in a Quiet Town, where a couple, wakes up to find themselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood that is basically filled with props; nothing is real. It turns out that they were just human dolls who were part of larger child's world.

I wonder if that is how, on some level, the sea hare felt. No matter how gentle we were (and Maya dropped the hare and it plopped on the bottom of the kayak near her seat), we were still poking and prodding and rubbing and touching this utterly fascinating creature.

And we were doing it while this particular sea hare had been in the act of sexual reproduction. Sea hare mating can last anywhere from several hours to a few days. A few days! This sea hare was quite possibly in the middle of an act so naturally profound before it was violated so the kayak tourists could experience marine life up close and personal.

One sea hare actually laid roughly 500 million eggs over a five month period during 27 separate acts of copulation. However, one sea hare in isolation for three to four months was able to lay eggs without mating, though these eggs were unfertilized.

I'd like to say I feel guilty for my intrusive actions, but there I was posing for a picture with the sea hare, holding it close to my face as if we were cuddle buddies. I am sure in the whole evolutionary biology scheme of things we did little harm to the sea hare and its mating schedule (at least that is the lie I am telling myself), but just in case I am going to encourage Tricia to buy extra bolt locks for her doors and roof and hire specialized security the next time we are lounging on her couch.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Four More Paragraphs

A long weekend, filled with nearly three hours of kayaking and holding a sea hare, and I am exhausted. But I have committed to write every day in October (though I missed day one). So...

This morning, Tricia, Maya, and I spent time with Verna's brother, cousins, an father, who has stage IV lung cancer. Maya ran around with her cousins, while the adults talked about books, parenting, and everything in between.

This evening, our neighbors, Jessica and Rudy, invited us over for an impromptu dinner, with tamales, several types of salsas, and red and white wine. After dinner Maya went out with everyone and played a glow in the dark frisbee game.

Family, friends, and fun--perfect weekend.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Two Paragraphs

Today was a good day. Maya, Tricia, and I went kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, just south of Monterey. We saw cormorants, pelicans, harbor and elephant seals, and sea otters. One otter lazed by us on his back, crunching on a crab, and then tried to climb on the kayak of two people in our group.

Maya loved being on the water, but did not enjoy paddling. So I paddled for nearly 2-1/2 hours by myself, and by the time we returned to the dock the tiredness washed over me, had seeped into my bones and muscles, which is why I am I am cutting off this blog entry right now.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Trust and Modeling

The judge pointed his finger and intoned, "Ma'am, look at what kind of example you are setting for your son," as he dealt with another temporary restraining case in his courtroom beneath the funky Marin Civic Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I was there to handle a matter between myself and two teenagers who prefer to bully, harass, stalk, and post such offensive comments on Facebook that I knew they had to be stopped. And they were: the judge granted me the maximum three-year restraining order against both of them. I prefer not to talk publicly about the specifics of the case.

But as I sat in the courtroom and listened to the above-mentioned mother, whose son was the victim of a racially vile comment, but could not respect the judge, watched two women tussle over guns, verbal and physical threats, child-support payments, and the same man, sat rapt as a 15-year old young woman translated for her nearly blind mother who has been physically victimized by a neighbor she loaned $4000, all I could wonder was, "What is wrong with our world?"

Although the judge was quite adept and sensitive to people, and seemed truly decent, I was befuddled and sad at the state of society. How did we get to the point where it is normal for one kid to text "there is a noose strung across an apple tree with your name on it" or for one young man, not even 18 yet, who I don't know and has never spoken more than one or two words on a basketball court to Miguel, to post such hideous comments about Verna and not understand or care about the consequences of his actions?

I guess I could blame just about anyone and everyone. We have politicians whose comments are beyond fodder for late night comedians, and who truly say such hurtful and outrageous things. Ben Carson said the Holocaust might not have been as bad if Jews had been armed. Trump is a cornucopia of misogynistic and racist comments. 

And politicians are  masters at deception. Just today the Republican congressman investigating Planned Parenthood admitted he was unable to find any wrongdoing on the part of the women's health organization.

Hillary Clinton is not immune to the ills that plague our political class. She is beginning to flip-flop more than a sturgeon on a ship's deck. First she supported the trade pact with all the vigor she could muster. And now, trying to lean leftward in an effort to stymie Bernie Sanders, she is against the pact. She once supported the Defense of Marriage Act. Now she is is--rightly--in favor of same sex marriage. Her trust quotient is inching perilously close to single digits.

Where do these people come from? And how are we regular folk supposed to remain inspired when so many of our leaders are so morally lackluster?

I could also blame bad parenting, bad schools, lack of religious instruction, too much religious instruction. I am not sure where to start. I am not even sure what I am saying. I do believe far too many people make bad choices and also that we don't help people enough figure out how to handle life in the 21st century. Public schools are underfunded and teachers toil overtime to educate our most precious legacy.

Justice was served for me yesterday in courtroom L, but for others it was a twisted Twilight Zone maze of horrendous decisions, economic hardship, racial strife, and some who may be on the road to true evil.

As the two teens across from me were escorted from the courtroom for mouthing off at the judge after he rendered his verdict, I suppressed a smile. What I also felt was sad for the state of things in my corner of the globe.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Older and Better

A retired doctor moved into Drake Terrace yesterday. He is fairly independent, walks with a cane, has hearing problems, but manages all his care. He is already walking through the community as if he's lived there for several months.

He's 99.

He and his daughter moved him out of his home in San Francisco and into communal living for the first time in his life. She's an active land surveyor in Israel, working well into her 70s. A sketch she did of 3000 year old beehives she helped unearth was made into a postage stamp by the Israeli government.

Her father reads three newspapers a day, loves to socialize, and fondly recalls his days as a general practitioner. He may not remember he has already met some of the staff, but at 99 he is one of the few mostly independent residents we have at that age.

Ten people have moved into Drake Terrace in the past month, creating a whirlwind in our 135-person community. One man routinely out-biked men and women fifty years younger up until he was 80. Another woman, now 90, hiked across England from west to east fifteen years ago. Another woman raised a family of swimmers, including an Olympic medalist. One woman roller bladed to work in the business department at Queens College, and later in life played tennis and biked every morning.

All of the new people (and the regulars) form a rich tapestry of people who constantly inspire and intrigue and fascinate (and frustrate) me. I am blessed to be surrounded by them.

Tonight a woman from Oklahoma who spent most of her life in Texas shared how she and her late husband owned two banks. They expected their son to follow in his parents' footsteps, but he ended up starting his own very successful olive oil company.

I often say to new residents and their families how sorry I am I never got to know their mother or father in their younger, heyday years. By the time many people move into Drake Terrace they have physical or emotional needs that require added care, are suffering from cognitive decline (or worse), or want (or need) to be closer to family.

Long gone are the people who danced on weekends, took all-day car rides, traveled across the world, built businesses and raised families. But the people who adapt most easily to senior living are the ones who remain active, who still dance on Saturdays at Happy Hour, who attend our book club, who go on outings for lunch and dinner, who play Wii bowling, who play Bingo or go to church, or who play an instrument or go on long walks.

An 88-year old woman recently told me after an exercise session, "I'm a 30-year old trapped in old person's body." But her aches and pain haven't stopped her from living.