All posts by mchalfy

Amblin’ Alameda

Amblin’ Alameda

Day Trip

Morton Chalfy

©2019

               Mid August and time to hit the road.  Fifty some miles north of Alameda is our destination, The Cotati 29th Annual Accordion Festival.  We’ve been there before but it was several years ago and we had forgotten some of the details, so with a bit of denial we took off around ten a.m. Saturday morning.  Google maps said the traffic was light and the trip should take about an hour and five minutes.  So much for Google maps.

               For some unaccountable reason the traffic was slow and often stop and go for most of the trip north of Berkeley and try as we might we never saw a reason for the slowdown.  I finally put it down to too many cars and too few lanes of roadway.  Nevertheless, we made it to the center of Cotati which had been taken over by the festival, parked, and entered.  The sounds of accordions were already ringing out over the crowd and people were packed in front of the main stage.

               Straw bales had been set out in rows to serve as seats, but the regulars, those in the know, had brought their own folding chairs and blankets to cover the straw.  We had two cushions which took the sting out of the straw poking into bare flesh and softened the sitting.

               On stage when we arrived was a duo, violin and accordion, who turned out to be the most entertaining music of our stay there.  They were part of a band named Simka which is an Americanization of the Yiddish word Simcha meaning happiness.  For their final number they played a klezmer type dance number and asked the audience  “Are there any…(long pause so as not to say “Jews”) people familiar with this number?”  I thought it a little weird but Cotati is rural and no sense being ethnic at a festival.

               There is an Accordion “world” and lots of its members were in attendance.  They knew the performers and greeted them warmly and the entertainer’s jokes were “in” jokes referencing others in the “world”.  Performers and aficionados greeted each other throughout the grounds with real enthusiasm and were obviously happy to renew old friendships.

               There were plenty of food booths and several vendor booths and a tent with a dance floor set up for the dancers who were happy to waltz and polka around the floor to the music of the house band which, naturally, featured an accordion.

               After three hours, prickly from the straw, having made our contribution to the festival by eating the overpriced food and tired of being assailed by the squeal of the accordions we set out for home.  Traffic was moving and we made it in just over an hour (a significant improvement over the trip north) and crossed the Park St. bridge.

               It never fails to surprise me that as soon as we come into Alameda everything seems calmer, nicer and somehow more civilized.  Part of it, I think, is because I relax when I hit the bridge or the tunnel.  Alameda, the bubble of sanity in a chaotic world.

#Me Too

Amblin’ Alameda

#MeToo

Morton Chalfy

©2/2/18

            It does seem that the 200,000 year oppression of women by men and the structure of the patriarchal society is finally beginning to show some cracks in its façade.  We can only hope that it will finally be forced into the garbage pail of history and that women will be able to claim their rightful position as the true leaders of humanity.  They have always occupied that position but men, fearful of being rendered essentially useless, have always denied them their due.  At first mostly through the larger size and more violent nature of males and then through the structures of society and religion which deny the facts of life and nature to proclaim Man the ruler of the world.

            It is clear that if ninety-nine per cent of males were to vanish from the Earth the human species would continue unabated whereas were the same to happen to women humanity would be finished.  Now that in vitro fertilization and cloning techniques are available even the one per cent of males is probably not necessary either.

            Personally I have never understood the male desire to dominate their womenfolk.  For one thing every heterosexual teenage boy has only one desire which I need not name, and you have to be remarkably stupid to think the way to achieve that desire is to bully women.  My strategy has always been to be as kind and loving and gentle and helpful as I can be, which, I have found, works well.

            Personal observation has led me to believe that an awful lot of the stupid treatment men accord women in word and deed grows out of a profound insecurity and the repressed recognition of womanly superiority.  Now that women are no longer taking it and shutting up we can all look forward to a better and more reasonable future.

            Culturally speaking, across the world it is women who carry the burdens of the species- bearing children and making a home, both of which are complex and difficult activities.  Men make war and protect (sometimes) the women from other men.  If males are out of the equation we would all breathe easier.

            Women are now graduating from college at a greater and growing rate than men.  Soon their numbers in business, government and the professions will naturally follow the graduation rates and they will occupy the boardrooms and operating theaters in positions of dominance.  As that happens the children will learn a new set of social instructions: respect everyone, be nice, stay warm and eat a good breakfast.  Oh yes, and Girls Rule.

            I hope to see the patriarchy brought to its knees, to see the end of wife beating, slut shaming, rape and aggressive unwanted sexual behavior.  Women are human as well so the new era will not usher in Utopia but the more egregious and embarrassing male practices can be made to eventually disappear and then all of us, male and female, will have the chance to live full human lives.

            Very, very soon I hope.

Amblin’ Alameda

The Great Remixing

Morton Chalfy

© 2019

            The best guesstimate for the appearance of an infant with full-blown homo sapiens syndrome is between 150 and 200 thousand years ago.  Not really that long in geological terms but beyond anyone’s memory.  How long it took to go from one to a family and from a family to a tribe is unknown but it took a while and a fair amount of luck I think.

            It could have taken a hundred thousand years to spread throughout Africa but eventually we headed north and east, the long walk of our species to reach every continent save Antarctica and to establish ourselves all across the face of the Earth.  Future DNA analysis will reveal more details of our journey but the results are evident.  Where tribes settled and grew their physical differences grew as well and gave us both what we call races and within the races ethnicities.

            We were separated by oceans and mountains and glaciers and deserts and flourished in our separateness.  During the past ten thousand years isolated instances of contact were made and during the last five thousand most groups had come in contact with most others.  Given the propensities of humans we can be sure that interbreeding occurred from the earliest days of meeting “the other”.

            The last thousand years of war and conquest and enslavement has only served to speed up the rise in the number of interbreeding events and currently with our enormous population and global trade and tourism the numbers are rising exponentially.  In the last hundred years the results of inbreeding have begun to transform our culture.  The standard of beauty has become browner, finer featured and lissome on the stages of the beauty pageants and larger, hippier and sassier in popular culture.

            Our best athletes now include a discernible cadre of children of two individuals of different races.  After tens of thousands of years of development of physical qualities in relative isolation from each other the “races” have entered the age of the great remixing.

            The bay area is a wonderful place to observe this ongoing change.  Mixed race couples and their offspring abound and the place is better off for it.  Our population is better looking, stronger and smarter than is found in most places and we are one of the epicenters of remixology.  Even commercial life has picked up on this happening with mixed race couples showing up in TV ad after TV ad, buying cars, in bed, in the pool and usually with their beautiful mixed race children.

            It will do us well to remember that we came from a single ancestral mutation and that the differences we developed were only skin deep and as we remix we keep the strongest version of our genes.

            Racism was understandable when we were ignorant of history and science.  It is inexcusable now.

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.