All posts by mchalfy

Races

Amblin’ Alameda

Races

Morton Chalfy

©2018

Last week I attended a middle school track meet held at College of Alameda and I had a great time.  I was there with my son and his family to watch my 12 year old granddaughter run in the one hundred, the two hundred and the two hundred meter relay.  She did well, all the kids did well and the crowd did best of all.

Despite the aluminum bleachers facing due west so that the spectators were baked to a fare-thee-well the crowd, entranced by the kids on the track, seemed not to mind much at all.  It was the usual parents of the schoolchildren in Alameda crowd.  Diverse to the max, intelligent, engaged and supportive of all.  The stragglers in every race received as much applause as the lead groups and the applause was heartfelt and meant to encourage the effort and disregard the result.  So excellent.

The kids outnumbered the spectators but we made up for it by cheering loudly, congratulating warmly and generally producing an atmosphere of “and a good time was had by all.”  It was a long afternoon for some of the littlest kids, the siblings of the participants, but even among the toddlers there were no melt downs and no tantrums but I caught a few napping serenely.

Alameda is home to people from every human race and, I think, every combination of races.  It is encouraging to be among people whose friendships cross racial lines and whose tolerance is on open display.  Hugs and greetings put every skin shade in close proximity to every other one and the conversations revealed real relationships between real people without regard to color.

For personal as well as philosophical reasons that gives me hope for the future despite the dark time of the soul our country is currently experiencing.  Races on the track and mixing of races in the stands.  Alameda rocks!

Potholes and Rough Roads

Amblin’ Alameda

Potholes and Rough Roads

Morton Chalfy

©2018

An Open Letter to the City Administration:

There are many decisions our city fathers and mothers have to make about how to spend the taxes and fees collected by the city in a way that meets the greatest needs and desires of the populace, as well as the demands of those who finance political campaigns.  There is a natural hierarchy to these demands on the treasury with Fire Brigades and Police being always at the top which is as it should be.  Schools and teachers come next, and livable (though not extravagant) wages for our civil servants certainly come along with the other top priorities.

However, and this is a big however, we all ride on the streets of the city.  Most of us do so many times every single day and the streets are the most visible sign of the city administration’s work.  Now I feel safe in Alameda, well protected by our Police and Fire departments, but at the same time when I ride the streets and my teeth rattle in my mouth and my tires receive one damaging blow after another all I can think of is how poor a job the city is doing on repairing and maintaining our roadways.

The usual complaint about potholes and rough roads is the damage they do to every vehicle that passes over them, damage in the form of tire wear and suspension bashing, but I wish to add a more pressing complaint to the physical wear and tear on the vehicles.  My sweetie recently underwent a surgery which left a long scar and requires a long convalescence – the operation, thankfully, was successful – and also requires many follow up trips to various medical facilities.  We also have to continue eating which requires shopping and we occasionally visit our friends and family.  All of these activities require driving the roads of Alameda and I must say we dread every trip these days.

If you have ever had a healing wound upon your body you know that every bump in the road which makes your flesh bounce brings with it multiple visits from Peter Pain.  I have become adept at avoiding the worst roadways (I’m talking about you Encinal Ave.) but there is no way to avoid all the rough roads and potholes.

The difference to a person in pain between a bumpy rough road and a smooth pavement is the difference between agony and no extra hurting.

I beseech you City Fathers and Mothers, repave the worst, elevate the roadbeds in priority.  People are hurting from riding on Alameda’s streets and as traffic worsens the drivers will have nothing to contemplate during gridlock but what a lousy job the administration is doing!

Babies’ Smiles

Amblin’ Alameda

Babies’ Smiles

Morton Chalfy

©2018

It was just after one of those intermittent showers and I was walking across the parking lot at our Health Club.  A few steps ahead of me a young woman was walking and apparently talking into the air, saying “See, there’s a rainbow.  See?”

As I drew abreast of her the infant strapped to her bosom came into view and “crazy woman talking to herself,” immediately morphed into “caring mother teaching her baby about the world,” and my attitude of mind morphed along with it.  The baby, perhaps six months old or so, looked in my direction and in response to my hairy smile flashed a grin of transcendent beauty.  I grinned back at my fullest wattage and she giggled and grinned in response.  My day was made.

It is a quirk of mine that I’d rather be smiled at by a baby than receive a medal.  Babies’ smiles have a power to melt human hearts that is not found in anything else.  Babies’ smiles light up the world and renew one’s flagging faith in the goodness of people.  Babies seem to be born in a pretty good mood and when loved and cared for radiate that mood to all and sundry.  Babies are not born prejudiced against anyone or anything and when even an old and hairy face when smiling brings an answering smile to their face one can feel there is after all hope for the future.

Last night we dined out and a large, extended, ethnically melded family was celebrating a birthday in the restaurant and many young children were present.  One, a boy of about eighteen months, needed the freedom to run around and his parents and uncles and aunts took turns following him to keep him safe.  He ran from one end of the room to the other and then pushed at the door.  Indulgently the adult on duty took him outside and after just a few minutes followed him back in.  The boy took every step on the run and the grin on his face showed the pleasure that gave him.  The grin on my face was for the indulgent adults.

Alameda is fairly full of young families and young children and their presence puts a positive gloss on life in this town.  Our future is in the hands of the young and they deserve our loving care.  The infants grow into teenagers and today’s teens, speaking out and walking out to try to bring some sanity to bear on America’s misguided relationships to AR-15s and their ilk is the most heartening set of events to occur during this dark period.  The battle for America’s soul has been joined and the kids are in the vanguard which makes me feel hopeful for the future.

Racism

Amblin’ Alameda

Racism

Morton Chalfy

©2018

The roots of racism are both simple and complex.   Fear of the “other” and territoriality are among its pillars but racist acts and biases within the social order have a different aim.  When entire areas of a city are “red-lined” by banks and an entire ethnic population are only hired for low paying menial jobs the motivation is not racism but fear.

If an ethnic group is considered “inferior” by the ruling elites why would “red-lining” be necessary?  It’s fear that a level playing field would demonstrate the equality (or even superiority) of the besieged ethnicity.  It is the white supremacist’s fear that given half a chance the black and brown population would succeed and be normalized and by doing so give the lie to the white supremacy argument.

When the Civil War ended the southern blacks were legally freed from  bondage but left by the North to the tender mercies of the southern whites who still controlled the territory.  The result was Jim Crow and generations of white southerners being taught the lies that underpin racism.  White advantage was baked into every institution and when blacks remained poor through these machinations it was used as proof that they were a less deserving race.

When Barrack Obama was elected the white supremacy machine declared publicly that they would work to ensure that his was a failed presidency.  They could not accept his equality, let alone his obvious intelligence, education, understanding and fitness for the job.  Denial has often been the state of mind of choice of the ignorant and impassioned.

It is highly unlikely that this society will ever fully abandon its racism as in large swaths of the South and Midwest the twin ideas of “At least I’m better than a black,” and “At least I’m not female”, are the only solace for lives that have been stunted by institutionalized racism and misogyny.

Can America heal itself from the festering self-inflicted wound of racism?  I hope so.  I would like to see the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Bank and Trust with the stated purpose of investing in the “red-lined” neighborhoods and in entrepreneurs who live there.  If Oprah and the NBA stars and the stars of the NFL would provide the seed money for such a bank other money would follow.  Cities such as Oakland would be happy to facilitate such investments with speeded up treatment of project plans and there are plenty of willing workers always available in those neighborhoods.

The most effective response to racism is to level the economic playing field and let everyone earn his or her proper place in the world.  Holding people down to satisfy one’s fantasy of superiority is deplorable and hurts us all.

www.mortonchalfy.com

Dogs, Recognition and Respect

Amblin’ Alameda

Recognition and Respect

Morton Chalfy

©2018

 

Sunday is dog walking day for me.  I get out of bed around 6:30 a.m., dress quickly, retrieve the New York Times from my doorstep and drive to a parking spot just over the Park St. bridge to read for a while until my friend Larry and his three-legged dog Maggie emerge from their home and beckon me to walk.  We walk along the waterway at a measured pace as befits a three-legged dog and talk about the state of the world, our families and ourselves.

Along the way we’ll meet multiple people and their dogs also out for a morning amble in pursuit of the dogs doing their “business”.  The dogs we meet come in all shapes and sizes and colors and hair lengths and personalities and yet are recognized as dogs by one another and by us.  The tiny, feisty terrier who acts like a mastiff or the large, rambunctious, long haired dog of indeterminate breed and every combination in between immediately recognize one another as dogs and do the same doggy things to one another regardless of appearance.  They sniff each other’s butt, in fact sniff each other all over while deciding in some mysterious way whether they can be friends, enemies, lovers or indifferents.

“Isn’t it remarkable that they all see the essential dog beneath the physical appearance,” commented Larry.  “Humans are much less differentiated and often miss the humanity we all share.”

I was surprised by this statement as Larry is a highly intelligent and observant person and I took exception to “humans are much less differentiated…”

“We too”, I remarked, “are at least as differentiated as dogs.  We come in five major colors, hundreds of ethnicities and every combination of hue, size, hair type, physiognomy and aspect.  The large person from Samoa next to the tiny person from Southeast Asia, the Viking contrasted with the Bushmen of the Kalahari, any ethnic compared to any other, we are differentiated by thousands of years of isolation and hundreds of years of the slow re-mixing.  We are as different as the different breeds of dogs, yet the dogs recognize each other’s “dogness” and treat the other like a fellow being.

Humans, paradoxically, often fail to recognize the essential humanity of one another and often treat one another like dogs.  Humans are blinded by our biases to conjure what we believe are essential differences between us and fail miserably in seeing and accepting the essential sameness.  This failure to see our common humanity leads to easy “dehumanization” of one another and serves to facilitate hatred and in extreme cases, genocide.

We can see that all dogs are dogs regardless of breed or appearance.  Our failure to see all humans as human is a failure of our cultures.  Of course many humans can see the humanity in all others and act accordingly, which is to say respectfully.  Dogs find it easy, so should we.

Cat Petting

Amblin’ Alameda  1/6/18

Cat Petting

Morton Chalfy

We recently lost a cat to “septic abdomen”.  Leon the cat was one of two littermates who had lived with us for ten years and his loss, which was sudden, had a profound effect on his sister Bessie.  Leon, being the male and the larger by several pounds, bullied his sibling, pushed in to be first at the food dish, teased her whenever he was bored and generally made her accommodate his ego’s needs.  Not that she was timid or cowed by him but that she accepted his larger size and learned to carve out her own space including driving him off when his attentions became too onerous.

One of Leon’s most egregious forms of bullying was his domination of my sweetie’s attentions.  When she sat down in her easy chair to read he was on her lap or on her bosom almost at once and clearly was there to prevent Bessie from accessing the Mother of All Things Good.  Bessie, for her part, would make do with second best, namely myself.  She soon found there was an advantage to this choice as I am the better petter.  In my hands she was stroked, massaged, chin rubbed and generally induced to purr loudly and long.

Leon had a keen understanding of the dynamics and when Bessie jumped down from my lap he would often run over to get his share of pets.  Bessie would take the opportunity to go to my sweetie’s lap and get her share of loving.  This always produced a sense of Leon being pulled in two directions at once.  He wanted to run back and chase her from Sweetie’s lap but was reluctant to give up the good petting he was getting.  What a dilemma.

When Leon died Bessie became the Cat Queen of the household and has been gracious about it all.  The first day or two she looked over her shoulder whenever she approached the food dish still reflexively wary of being pushed away but that habit was quickly dropped.  She became more vocal than she’d ever been, a little more demanding of attention and her coat became much sleeker.  On that last point I theorized that she was no longer producing hormones of anxiety with the source of anxiety gone and that produced a sleek coat along with a more expanded personality.

Nowadays she gets plenty of loving from my sweetie but still comes to me for deep petting and massage.  She jumps onto the arm of my easy chair and head bumps me, a signal that she’s ready for my attentions, then steps onto my lap and settles down with a definite air of “you can begin petting me now.”  Hard to resist.

When petting I think about the exchange we are having, Bessie and I.  It’s the most basic of exchanges between living creatures, that of touch.  She gets the sort of stroking that satisfies the body deeply, unknotting muscles, smoothing fur and skin and conveying the feelings of safety and belonging that all creatures need and desire.  For my part I get the satisfaction of her purring and appreciation and the satisfaction of providing touches that are wanted if not occasionally craved.

As much as she likes being petted I like petting for the visceral satisfaction that rises from my palms to the dopamine producers in my brain.  Our hands, especially our palms, are exquisitely sensitive to touch and good touch can be a source of intense pleasure, as in sex, or as in the case of cat petting a source of satisfaction.

Hot Enough For You?

Amblin’ Alameda

Hot Enough For You?

Morton Chalfy

Our lives are complex arrangements and usually take all our time to maintain. Work, school, home care, shopping, maintenance, just getting everything done is a challenge and usually consumes our attention. Until Mother Nature stirs and then our attention is quickly concentrated, usually on the weather. So here comes another heat wave, another lesson on how Big Mama can command our focus by just pushing the temperature up a few degrees. Whew.

Sunday morning was pretty fine but the promise, not to say the threat, of heat to come was in the air. So much so that Maggie, my friend’s wonderful three legged dog was inclined to lie down in the cool grass several times on the morning constitutional. When that bundle of energy needs the break it’s definitely a sign of rising heat. But Sunday held further proof in store for us. We were booked for a long-scheduled afternoon party with old friends, friends whose party we would not miss, in a lovely home with a large backyard, a swimming pool and paved patio. . . wait for it, in Martinez!

Martinez is a pretty area, rolling hills, stately homes but right in the middle of the Red Zone. We might be talking politics here but we’re not, we’re referring to that band of bright red on the weather maps on the TV broadcasts. The ones where the coast is blue, cooled by the marine layer, the bay is yellow with coolish temps moderated by the Bay waters and then over the hills the fearsome red of the interior where the heat sets up its domicile, gets comfortable in the valleys and decides to settle down.

Challenging circumstances for a party when the thermometer leaves one hundred degrees in its wake on the way to the stratosphere. Great music, good food, plenty of beverages both soft and adult, intelligent people and stimulating conversation were all arrayed on one side of the enjoyment scale and only the heat was on the other. Call it a draw but eventually the heat won.

And then the trip back home, a race to the tunnel and through it, a dash down 880 and then across the bridge and onto the (cooler, much cooler) island. It was still hot on our return to Alameda but it was cooling down quickly. By nightfall the back porch was well within the pleasant range and it had the effect of relaxing us in ways we hadn’t known we needed to relax. It was as if the heat buildup of the day had stiffened our muscles in response and baked us into a hardened, uncomfortable stance and then the cool breezes of home gradually eased the tensions and allowed our bodies to get comfortable once more.

It wasn’t magic, just the healing balm that is Alameda.

Alameda On The Move

Amblin’ Alameda

Alameda On The Move

Morton Chalfy

To get to an unusually early appointment this morning I was up and out of the house by 7:30 a.m. Okay, you can cut out the derisive laughter now, those whose days are well under way by that time, and try to remember that some of us don’t usually rise until a later hour and that we’re not slackers but retirees and the like.

At any rate I didn’t mind the hour as the sun was well up, the air was pleasant and the street I live on was full of kids going to school. Elementary school kids walking one way and High Schoolers the other. The arrival of spring and warmth is immediately greeted by the teens in high school with short sleeves and short pants, with lots of bare flesh hanging out and not getting goose-pimpled. Ah, youth and the warmth of the still-new internal fires of life.

Those are the walk-to-schoolers. Plenty of other kids are driven to school and the line of cars leading to the drop off points of those schools is always long and crawls slowly forcing traffic onto other streets if it wants to get by.

Many people are commuting to work or to transit points leading to work and those drivers produce a sort of pressure on the whole system to keep moving, “don’t stop, oh for goodness sake don’t stop there you’ll hold up traffic” sort of pressure. One’s wits have to be firmly in place and well focused to join this polite scrum.

My appointment lay west of my house so the drive there was unencumbered by the rising sun. The return home, however, was into the eye of our solar system’s power plant and as such was hampered by sun blindness as at that hour of the morning its rays beam directly down Central Ave. One learns to drive by feel, by squint, by peripheral vision and by luck and by great good fortune I got home safely.

And what a difference an hour makes! The kids are in school and off the streets, the cars that delivered them have gone back home or onto work, the work force that commutes has mostly left the island and what remains is the quiet village of mid-morning. If one doesn’t rise early or go out in the evening one could miss the vibrancy of life that Alameda has.

That morning scrum, that dance of awakening and getting out into the world to do one’s thing, that mix of cars and kids and workers and stay-at-home-moms (or dads) is the pumping life’s blood of the city. Like spring which is covering Alameda in sweet smelling blossoms right now that morning dance is evidence of the vibrant life that surrounds us.

Neighborly

Amblin’ Alameda

Neighborly

Morton Chalfy

For the past several weeks my sweetie has been reading aloud to her granddaughter from Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” while I eavesdrop from my chair in front of my computer screen. The life described in the book, small town Alabama in the thirties, is predictably full of racism and ignorance and rife with the sort of “neighborliness” we tend to glorify in our re-write of the American past.

Neighbors know and greet each other, rush to help when there is a fire, help each other quietly or through church affiliates when there is a need and keep each other’s secrets when appropriate. Everyone knew everyone else. Idyllic seeming until one realizes that to kill a mockingbird is considered a sin but to falsely accuse a black man of rape is understandable within that town’s mindset.

The small town aspects of life keep coming into my mind as I walk around Alameda and look at its single family architecture and marvel at how unconnected are the lives we lead from those of our neighbors. After five years on my block I can only claim to “know” three of my neighbors. Past the houses directly next to us lies uncharted territory inhabited by unknown people.

I am not complaining. Modern life is atomized and our neighbors are often people on the internet in groups we also belong to. Alameda Peeps is a neighborhood and much more interaction goes on there and on other internet forums than ever takes place in my physical neighborhood. It does seem to be a fact that due to the greater population density of poor neighborhoods people there get to know each other directly whether they want to or not.

Social life has changed dramatically now that we no longer live in primarily tribal groups and when our connections to others are carried out over long distances. There was good reason to leave the small towns of our past with their small mindedness and resistance to change but it was a leap from the frying pan directly into the flames.

Alameda does offer a balance, however. Within town we have many friends scattered across the city who are our real neighbors. They are friends with whom we share our lives, often our meals, and with whom we like to (figuratively) chat with over the fence. Neighbors help each other when we can, act as trusted sounding boards for our ideas and can be counted on to be supportive in times of stress. The connections between neighbors are the building blocks of connections that weave throughout the city.

Today the backyard fence is electronic and friends may tweet or email or IM or whatever new thing is out and hopefully that will prove to be an improvement in some ways. The charm of Alameda is that we get a lot of face time with our “neighbors” scattered as they may be through the city, and that makes Alameda more comfortable and, really, more livable.

Vernal Equinox

Amblin’ Alameda

Vernal Equinox

Morton Chalfy

We’ve been altering our east-west route across the city to drive on Central Avenue as often as possible this past week. This winter has been unusually mild, even for the Bay area, and the plane trees that line Central have been emerging from their winter hibernation somewhat earlier this year. At first only a hint of light green was discernible on the trees but then day by day the foliage began appearing in its inimitable magical way. By this time next week we fully expect to once more drive down the road beneath a green and shady bower.

The transformation from bare branch to leafy arbor recurs every year and is our personal harbinger of springtime in our fair town. Just the softening of the scenery from the starkness of leaf-less trees which, regardless of the temperature, presents a harsh and wintery face, changes the atmosphere to one of coming delight. Spring, the time of renewal is upon us.

Another of its harbingers is the now archaic ritual of “springing forward”, changing our clocks to more closely comport with our ideas of what morning should look like. A relic of our once overwhelmingly agricultural past meeting our emerging industrial future, it is now an almost meaningless method of upsetting the internal time clock twice a year. It is no longer clear who, if anyone, this serves though I concede that in the winter it allows schoolchildren to wait for the school bus in daylight and gets them home while there is still time to play outdoors in the sunlight.

This fiddling with our clocks and the greening of the trees is all part of the annual celestial event of the Vernal Equinox when the solar energy received is equal in both the northern and southern hemispheres. At the solstices the solar energy is greater in one or the other hemispheres which means that our coming summer coincides with winter in South America. Somewhere on the internet there must be a working model of our solar system which demonstrates our movement around the sun and makes all the seasons understandable but I have yet to find it. Suggestions would be appreciated.

The concept of “seasons” is harder to grasp here in Alameda than in, say, the Northeast. There seasons proceed in orderly fashion clearly dividing the year into four parts. Here the divisions are less palpable. Our wintriest weather comes in July and our warmest in the winter. The geography of this area places Alameda in its most protected pocket and the mild climate does the rest.

As a boy “season” always had a modifying noun, marbles season, kite season, swimming season, sledding season and several more. Now it’s baseball season, basketball season and football season with other sports vying for attention. Such is citified life – mostly divorced from the seasons of the Earth and the Sun, mostly concerned with the seasons constructed by our cultures.

Driving along Central Avenue, under the growing greenery, keeps us in touch with the reality of the natural world. Hi ho, hi ho for springtime.

My new novel “Gaia” has just been published and is available in print and in Kindle($2.99). Try it, you’ll like it.

http://www.amazon.com/Gaia-Morton-Chalfy-ebook/dp/B00S8L4G8K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424820358&sr=8-1&keywords=morton+chalfy