All posts by mchalfy

Center of the Universe Created on: 6/17/2014

This season of the year entertainments that skew toward the outdoors increasingly pop up on our radar screens. The weather invites us to enjoy the outdoors even if it’s only in passing from one place to another. We have been taking advantage of the fine weather to gallivant around a bit, to San Pablo for a spot of traditional jazz, to the Embarcadero to lunch with a friend during a stopover of a cruise liner, to Orinda for a medical visit and to several spots in Berkeley and Oakland to dine.

What has struck me about all these trips is how near everything is to Alameda. One might almost be tempted to say that Alameda is right in the heart of the Bay Area. Now, since my Sweetie chose to make Alameda her home I consider it the center of the universe though others, not so enamored, might disagree. Still, if everything important to us is within a thirty minute drive how far off the center can it be?

The Warriors want to move to San Francisco from Oakland. That would affect fans who live in Oakland and fans who live in SF, but fans who live in Alameda can safely shrug. One venue will be as close as the other though lying in opposite directions. It took me a while to learn the roads from Alameda since crossing a body of water (the estuary) seems like a big deal what with the bridges and tunnels clearly marking the passage from the island city but once I got used to the 80’s (80, 880, 980, 580) it all became clear. Alameda has the most central position in the Bay Area.

As it should since it is the most beautiful city, the calmest and nicest and most courteous city and is inhabited by the nicest people, smartest children, handsomest men and most beautiful women in this part of the country. Okay, I can’t substantiate that with photos but just take a walk around town and you’ll see the truth of my contention.

Perhaps it’s the wind that is making me this crazyily boosterish. Walking around this past week has been walking through a patchwork of sun and shade, wind and calm. In the sun with the wind blowing one is warmed and chilled simultaneously, one squints and holds the hair back out of one’s eyes and feels the nip of winter on one’s cheeks and nose but at the same time is warm under a long sleeve tee shirt.

The winds of March have blown many of our avian visitors northward with the warming earth, heading for the safety of their breeding grounds in the Arctic and those same winds are busy sweeping dead leaves off the trees and out of the way of the new buds.

Here, in the center of the universe, spring is announcing itself with every budding bush and tree and celebrating its arrival with the roses that nod on every street and fill the air with sweet aromas for the strolling passersby.

Mom’s Day Created on: 6/15/2014

Mother’s Day is upon us, the most important commemoration of the year! It doesn’t get the attention of the Majors, those holidays which have been turned into economic engines such as Christmas which looms as a determinant of retail success or failure for the period, though it does contribute to the florists’ well-being for this quarter. In fact, with the advent of on-line flower sales Mother’s Day can now be handled with the click of a mouse and no longer requires a Sunday trip to honor the matriarchy.

Too bad, I say, truly too bad.

Motherhood is the most important job in the survival of the species; the most difficult as well. Just for starters a mother must provide the fetus with a secure home in which to grow at great expense to herself. Once a child is born it is the mother who nurtures, cares for, sees to and is interested in that child’s growth and development. Many fathers remain oblivious until the child is interactive in ways they understand, is able to play Catch, for instance, or starts to go out with boys thus providing a father an object of resentment. Many fathers feel content with providing material support leaving emotional understanding to the child’s mother. In modern times there are significant numbers of fathers who do take deeper interest in their children, help with the housework and are sensitive to the development of their offspring. I salute them and hope I am one of their number, but I do not think we are in the majority, more’s the pity.

We are not an easy species to raise and even with the best of will and intention we often do not turn out as desired. But mothers love us anyway. Mothers forgive us our trespasses and clean us up and give us extra chances. Mothers care for our bodies, our minds, our emotional lives and our general state of being. We worry our mothers until the day one or the other of us dies.

Mothers discovered and populated the world. The fanciful illustrations of the bands of humans wandering the earth always show the mighty hunters in the vanguard. But populations don’t grow out of bands of men. You can be sure there were women and their children in those bands and you can be fairly sure they put down roots where the women thought best.

The majority of inventions have been made by mothers, kitchen utensils by the thousands, swaddling clothes by the bushel. Weaving, cooking, gardening and the myriad demands of home-making have all been the subject of women’s thoughts and designs and the lives we live are more comfortable and nourishing because of them.

This year my deep appreciation of Motherhood is enhanced by the fact that my granddaughter is in the sixth month of a pregnancy which illustrates the difficulty of the job and the courage and fortitude displayed by mothers in the doing of it.

We are living in an era of in-vitro fertilization and other forms of “artificial” insemination. That is we are living in an era when men are no longer, strictly speaking, necessary for the increase of the human race. The same will never be true about mothers. Without Motherly Love and the unremitting hard work that it entails the human species has no chance of survival.

To all the Moms in my life I drink the toast L’chaim! To life! Without you it’s just not possible.

We love you, moms.

Brotherly Love Created on: 6/15/2014

This morning we dropped my sweetie’s brother off at the Oakland Airport for his return flight to Maryland. Tears were held back, hugs exchanged and regards to his wife were given. His visit of four days was his birthday present to his sister and we spent most of it sharing meals, seeing sights and talking about old times. They have a very loving and friendly relationship, obviously enjoy each other’s company and in general set a great example of sibling attachment.

My sweetie says it’s because she had asked for a little brother when she was only a little girl herself and her parents obliged her. Since his birth he has been “her” baby, which made for loving feelings, and since he began to speak and she discovered that they shared a love of words, language, general word-play, puns, crossword puzzles and grammar their relationship only deepened and flourished.

I am told that such close relationships between siblings almost six years apart are uncommon (if not downright rare) while examples of sibling rivalries abound. What my sweetie’s relationship to her brother demonstrates is the great value of a close kinship with a person who shares your history to a degree, your outlook, your gene pool and, importantly, your sense of humor. The two of them spent a lot of time reminiscing about their childhoods and filling each other in on the stories each knew from one angle only. They also laughed a lot and resurrected old jokes their parents used to tell.

All three of us are oldish and we all appreciate the value of friendships and relationships that promote positive feelings and the production of endorphins. At our ages hardly anything approaches the satisfaction of sharing a good meal, a few drinks and the sort of conversations that old friends have with one another

On the road to the Meaning Of Life there is a wide lane reserved for friends and relations who share affection and love for one another. Whatever else is of value to you will ultimately pale in comparison to the value of your loved ones. Let him, her, or them know how you feel.

Neighbors Created on: 6/15/2014

Our house celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. (Okay, we did the celebrating with friends.) It is clear it was built for another time and another way of life. To make it modern toilets had to be added and the back deck had to be finished to provide a comfortable place to sit under a canopy of Morning Glory vines. The front porch remains as a mute reminder of the days of yore when people actually would sit on their porches and often visit with neighbors.

That time is no more. The world that produced the designs for these houses no longer exists and the front porch is only one of the artifacts it left behind. Modern urban living is nothing like small town living of a century ago. Then we were part of a community whether we liked it or not. One was born into the town one grew up in. One knew one’s neighbors from the earliest days of life and dealing with the folks on your block was a necessary part of life.

Modern life has atomized our society and we spend more time with friends and workmates than we ever do with neighbors today. Our social groups grow out of our schools, our jobs and our friends and where we used to look to neighbors for help we now look to social organizations. But neighbors, by their proximity, affect our lives both positively and negatively. We often need our neighbors’ cooperation, sometimes to pick up our papers when we’re away, sometimes to lower the sound on a TV or radio in the wee hours of the morning, and often to just keep an eye out for problems.

These sort of neighborly activities used to be a matter of course but in the present day, when we may not know our neighbors or even what they look like if their work schedules are other than the usual nine to five, these activities are harder to make happen. It’s taken years for me to meet our neighbors and several of them don’t want to be met or to have any sort of relationship. Proximity is not enough.

A new addition to the neighborly stakes is the internet. There are many sites but the one operating in our area (and around the country) is Next Door. This is a website which encourages postings about goings on in the neighborhood and allowing for communication between neighbors who no longer see each other on their porches.

I don’t think we’ve found our voice of neighborliness as a society yet but the internet is offering the opportunity for us to work at it. Lost dogs or cats, desired information about goods and services in the area, items for sale, announcements of various kinds, these are the subjects of internet neighborliness today. Add security alerts to that list and an approximation of the old community feeling can be achieved.

I like the idea of the internet neighborhood which is just another layer of existence on the actual physical neighborhood, but I still like talking to my neighbors in person. We live with our neighbors whether we acknowledge them or not and at the least they deserve a smile and nod in recognition that we share the space.

Robert Frost wrote about good fences making good neighbors and that will always be so for some people. For me, a good greeting goes a lot further down that road.

Officer Involved Shooting Created on: 6/15/2014

On this Memorial Day weekend, filled with meals with friends and phone calls to family, when barbecue and corn on the cob are the order of the day and half the country travels to see the other half, I am disturbed by an image I can’t banish from my mind. It is the video clip of two policeman in a town nearby, guns drawn and pointed, following a man carrying a pair of garden shears down the street. They are shouting at him to lay down the shears but he keeps walking away from them. The end of this tableau comes when the officers shoot this man, killing him.

At the news conference following this event, an event which has sparked tremendous community outrage, the chief of police displayed the garden shears and explained how it was a deadly weapon and caused the officers to fear for their lives. This explanation has done nothing to mollify the residents of that town who feel that racist attitudes underlie the shooting. It surely didn’t mollify me.

In my recollection this is the sixth or seventh officer involved shooting in the past several months and there is a disturbing element in all of them. Racism cannot be ruled out as motivation for the fear clearly felt by the police. Going back to the Trayvon Martin shooting, the shooting of the teenage boy with the fake gun, and all the other instances where black or brown men are killed by the police, the spectre of racism is certainly present.

Not all victims are black or brown. Many are mentally deranged, clearly unable to respond to shouts from the police in ways the police desire, sometimes unable to understand the shouts. When these people are shot in “self defense” it seems particularly egregious.

We need policing. We want policing for the security it’s supposed to provide but we want intelligent, well trained policing. We want policemen and women who can recognize the difference between truly life threatening situations and those for which a lower level of force than a bullet is required.

Non-lethal methods of controlling a person are abundant. The training that would keep the police calmer than they appear to be in many situations is widely available. Sending a SWAT team to a domestic disturbance gotten out of hand is overkill. Send in a psychologist, or marriage counselor or someone who knows that blowing your top is not necessarily the prelude to murder. “He reached for something in his waistband,” should not be a license to shoot someone down in the street.

The problem that jumps out of the news reports seems to be the attitudes of the police. There is fear in their body postures, and whether it is justified in any particular case it certainly is inappropriate for a well trained peace officer. Better training would reduce the level of emotions among the police and lower the incidence of officer involved shootings.

With the amount of armament on the streets of our cities the police have legitimate security concerns in any confrontation and I would not want them to place themselves in the way of harm. Still, they need not be ruled by their legitimate fears, and learning to lower the fear level will ultimately keep them and the rest of us much safer.

A cool head and even temper will often win out over anger and hot bloodedness.

Death Cafe’ Created on: 6/15/2014

Sunday evening we attended a session of the Death Cafe which is a “movement” begun in England by a therapist who felt the subject needed ongoing discussion. The rules of engagement are simple and civil: first, serve tea and cakes, second, observe the dictates of good manners and tolerance in allowing all to speak, none to dominate, and eschew proselytizing. Listen well and speak in the first person.

This time the group was smaller than usual, not quite a dozen people, which actually made for a pleasant conversation. The schedule calls for two hours and that was about perfect for the group as everyone had an ample opportunity to express themselves. The folks who come to these meetings all seem to be intelligent, sensitive, and in this venue, forthcoming, which makes for a satisfying exchange of views.

I think the reason Death Cafes are happening now in our socio/cultural milieu is that we are living so much longer that the old rules for the end of life are not sufficient to the current task. Life expectancies grow rapidly now that medical care has made significant inroads on what used to be the main killers of people – heart attacks and strokes, communicable diseases and cancer. Public health has improved greatly due to water treatment, sewage removal and garbage pick up and that has saved the lives of countless infants so they could grow to be old people.

Alzheimer’s disease is a great worry of old age now. The prospect of outliving one’s mind and becoming a being unable to care for itself and living in confusion and anxiety is not pretty. Medicine keeps so many things from ending our lives prematurely that it fosters the problem many have of outliving their minds, bodies and energy. In other parts of the world old people retain the civil rights of all people and can be assisted in leaving this life when they feel their circumstances warrant it. In Switzerland, I learned at the Cafe’, a doctor will come to your house and administer a lethal pill or injection if it is desired by the patient and within medical guidelines.

Here, we can only talk about it or plan something illegal like stockpiling pills or sticking one’s head in the oven with the gas on and the flame off. The best death, in my opinion and barring accident, would be in one’s sleep after one feels a full life has been lived and no energy remains for more.

Unfortunately, no one can know the time of his or her demise, or the place or the method, but for those of us with a keen sense of mortality the discussion is a timely one. And it’s a discussion one cannot have with just anyone, and often one’s family is resistant to the conversation. Children don’t want to think of a life without a parent and many people feel that even talking about it is a way of inviting it into our lives. Of course Death is in our lives from the moment of birth and ignoring its proximity does not banish it to the void.

I’m glad there is a place, every several months, to get together and trade observations and emotions with others who feel the need to visit the subject. There were many shades of feeling expressed and many views of dealing with dying and death which were helpful. There was also some really great cake.

Home Again Created on: 6/15/2014

For professional reasons my sweetie had to attend a conference in a spiffy spa/hotel in Monterey. For personal reasons, (driving, aiding in getting around, fetching and carrying and general errandry and companionship) I accompanied her. We drove down there on Thursday and back again on Sunday and boy was I happy to get back home. Home to our cool house and waiting cats and home to Alameda.

Monterey is nice, sort of, and travel broadens one’s outlook. In our case it exposed us to more tattoos and nose rings than we usually see but if that’s what seems attractive to today’s young people more power to them. I won’t be in the homes for the elderly in 2060 when the tattoos now proudly displayed on taut bodies will be lost in the wrinkles and folds of those same bodies forty-five years hence so I’m indifferent to their appearance except in some clinical way.

Monterey’s attractions include pods of seals and sea lions who entertained us during the night by calling out to one another and provoking the seagulls to join the cacophony. Interesting from a “music of the natural world” standpoint, though less so at three in the morning. It also attracts young travelers from around the world who give the streets an international flavor, albeit slightly scruffy in appearance.

Attending a conference is hard work as one is on a schedule. The schedule can be harrying. One has to be ready to absorb lots of information during the presentations and then hie oneself to the next presenter. All at great expense, of course, and away from home and its comforts.

I really love the ride along the coast. The Pacific is only occasionally glimpsed but the hills we drive through are beautifully sculpted and interestingly foliaged. We pass through artichoke country, strawberry fields and cherry orchards (cherries are in season right now) set against a backdrop of sere golden hillsides. The landscape is so full of meaning thoughts continue to spin out from it as we glide by at 75 mph. There is a raw harshness about the geography that gives me the impression it was extremely difficult to carve homes and farms from its material.

But soon the road leads us into the built-up areas around Oakland and then over the High Street bridge into the quiet greenery of Alameda. The feeling of relaxation starts immediately on our side of the bridge and grows as we near our house. Coming home feels great, the house is cool inside, particularly in contrast to the heat we’d been driving through, and we gratefully collapse in our own chairs.

The cats give us the indifferent treatment. They ignore us for a while, to punish us for having gone away, I guess, but eventually come to get their pets and forgive us our trespasses. I can almost hear their imagined thoughts, “So, Mr. Traveler, do you believe us now? There’s no place like Home.”

Home Sweet Alameda Created on: 6/15/2014

Whew! Just back from visiting my daughter and grandson after a hiatus of nearly four years in the wilds of central Colorado, in Crestone at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains overlooking the San Luis valley. It was a wonderful visit which enabled us to share our warm feelings for each other and for me to get to see and feel the reality of her living situation. It was special because it’s either a two day trip or one very, very long day journey. One I can’t make very often.

Crestone, a community with many spiritual retreats (sort of like Sedona but much less developed and therefore much purer in spirit) is four hours south of Denver by bus through beautiful scenery, located at an elevation of over eight thousand feet. High and dry. Very high and very dry. So high that my breathing was labored even after several days to acclimate and any exertion required long rests for me. The surroundings are beautiful, the geography is interesting and intense, wildlife abounds and the inhabitants of the area are worthy of engagement. I was sorry to come to the end of my stay but I was eager to return to Alameda.

At sea level again I can breathe without concentrating on the activity, I can walk further than two hundred yards without collapsing and I am back among friends and family. I love my daughter and my grandson and I was impressed by the place she has chosen to live. I’m glad to have seen it and experienced it first-hand but in many ways it made me appreciate Alameda even more than I usually do.

Alameda is where I feel comfortable, physically, mentally and emotionally and coming back home from a place that is in such contrast made my appreciation grow. Who would have thought that such a small distance as a mile and a half would put a person in a totally different world. Of course, the mile and a half is straight up and the air feels half as thin as the air at sea level. The air of Alameda, thick, misty, lung filling and sweet. Home sweet home.

Civilized Pursuits Created on: 6/15/2014

On Friday afternoon my sweetie and I attended a performance of “Love Stinks” at the Altarena Playhouse. This was the one and only performance of this work, done by the students of the two-week drama camp the Playhouse conducts several times a summer. Natasha, my sweetie’s granddaughter, was in the production and did us proud as did all the kids.

The show, I believe, was a pastiche of scenes and lines and skits drawn from a variety of sources and stitched together by the camp’s staff.

Surprisingly the material was quite good, the actors really into it and the entire production a fairly rollicking good time. The parents laughed and pointed, the grandparents clutched their bosoms in delight and the group of littler kids sitting behind us laughed at the appropriate times (though often in the dark about meaning). Perhaps a star was born but that is beside the point of how much was learned, how much fun was had and how many of the youthful thespians signed up for another two week stint.

On Saturday we met friends of ours at Franklin Park for “a string concert” to which we brought a picnic. We really didn’t know what to expect and when we arrived we were a little surprised but very pleased to find the park grounds covered with blankets full of young families with very young children. A tent was set up in one corner staffed by the faculty of the Alameda String Institution. They were explaining their program to prospective players and their parents, handing out musical favors and generally entertaining the youngsters. At noon three of the staff took up their instruments, two violins and a cello, and proceeded to delight the crowd with truly professional playing.

The strains of classical music floated through the park, kids played on the blankets, picnics were consumed, the sun shone and the breezes blew. My guess is that three dozen families, more or less, comprising about a hundred people and two dogs, were there enjoying the day and the music. It was like an Impressionist’s painting of a summer afternoon in Paris.

I had a strong reaction of satisfaction at the number of very little children running around, always a good antidote for the aging point of view, and of delight at the very civilized nature of the gathering. Peace and plenty were in good supply and Alameda seemed even more like a great place to live.

A city that contains so much focus on its children, so many opportunities for them to learn and do positive things like drama and music and has spots like Franklin Park where beauty, friendliness, peace and diversity is openly on display is a good city. A civilized city and a model for the rest of the world.

Trees on Central Ave. Created on: 3/26/2013

When I first arrived in Alameda my sweetheart took me on a tour of the city, showing it off with obvious pride. One part of the ride was devoted to Central Avenue and the parade of stately trees that line its sidewalks. I had arrived in late December and the trees, of course, were bare.

“Just wait until the summer,” she said. “These trees form a beautiful canopy.”

And so they do. This is my fourth spring and I still delight in the transformation of the avenue as we get more sun each day. Right now the trees are putting out their leaves. Still young, each leaf is a paler green version of its mature self and the screen of aqua-green forming overhead is as delicate as sea foam. It is a wonderful harbinger of greenery to come.

As spring turns into summer the leaves grow larger and darken considerably as they go about their business of turning water and air into tree and leaf, and, in the process, filling the air with brand new oxygen molecules for our enjoyment. The avenue becomes positively roofed with the arching limbs and thick mass of leaves, and the Central Avenue forest is transformed from the bare-limbed sentinels of winter to the richest expression of summer in the city.

It is no small value to the city to be so well tree’d. The foliage soaks up its share of carbon dioxide and contributes a fair amount of oxygen; it muffles sound, shades the streets and in no small measure raises the aesthetics of the surroundings. We can’t escape the downsides of our culture of fossil-fueled energy and its noxious side effects, but we can mitigate them mightily with the presence of a healthy urban forest.

And living amidst the beauty of the plant world adds a seriously positive vibe to life in Alameda.