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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.

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Alameda Cats

Amblin’ Alameda

Alameda Cats

Morton Chalfy

Let me begin by saying there is no single way to be a cat keeper. Just as there is no single way to be a human being there is also no single way to be a cat so the permutations of relationships are practically endless. Among our friends and acquaintances are those who keep multiples of cats and find that cages are necessary to give them all their own space and to keep them safe from their cat co-habitors and also to provide multiple sand boxes for cat excrement.

Our two cats, who could not be more unalike, require three cat boxes and still manage to express themselves by depositing occasional piles outside the box. What exactly they are expressing is not clear but that it is an expression of something there is no doubt. A day in the life of our cats mostly consists of a little eating, a little scampering (mostly at night when we’re in bed and the occasional thud of something hitting the floor is less likely to get us on our feet), use of the cat box, use of the scratching box and a lot of lying around.

Bessie likes the top of the back of my sweetie’s armchair for a while then moves to the cushion on another chair and then to her little cat hut, and maybe for variety the heater grate in the bathroom. She also will zip into any open closet door and happily stay there in a dark and unreachable corner until five minutes after the door is closed when she starts to mew and scratch.

We keep our cats inside, mostly to protect them from the tough street cats on our block but also, and very importantly, to protect the bird life in the area. Inside cats also have fewer medical problems. With the cost of veterinary work nowadays that is no small savings.

Street cats abound, however, and add their inscrutable personalities to the scene. One black and white tom with a ragged ear and tough guy swagger regularly visits our area and seems to delight in stirring up the indoor cats who watch his path intently and often hiss at him since they’re safe inside. An orange tabby on the next block often saunters across the street nonchalantly, usually just out of reach of passing cars though I fear to find it lying in the gutter one day.

Last night, as we were leaving a friend’s home she called, “Don’t let the cat out,” just as the gray furry streak of feline darted through our legs and out the door. “He’ll come back in a minute,” said our host, “don’t worry about him.” But of course we did worry, we who never let our cats out, and tried to entice him to come back in. Fat chance. He sat at the very boundary of the walkway and licked his paws unconcernedly while we got in our car and drove off. His attitude spoke volumes, “I own this place so mind your manners and watch your butt.”

Driving home through the night we saw two other outside cats, one that looked like an opossum at first and another who seemed intent on getting somewhere special. The night is the cat’s natural world and it’s one that’s hard to get into even in our imagination. Smells we don’t smell, sights we can’t see and sounds we don’t understand make up the landscape and the cat navigates it all with intentions we can’t fully understand. Looking for a mouse or a bird or something similar we get, but in the dark, stealthily creeping about, while that’s not alien it’s so far back in our cultural past that it’s hard to relate.

Our inside cats, however, stealthily creep into our laps, between the books we’re reading and our chests, make themselves comfortable there and demand their pets. They are so direct in their desires, so insistent that we pet them, and the only payment offered is purrs.

The Rains Came

Amblin’ Alameda

The Rains Came

Morton Chalfy

And then, after the long dry spell, the rains came! As befitting Alameda however, the rains came overnight, the winds stayed reasonable and Saturday morning dawned bright, sunny, mostly under clear skies and sparkling with the beads of water that had fallen through the hours of darkness. A dry Saturday morning means Farmer’s Market and so we hied ourselves thitherward.

I’m happy to report that the spring flowers are beginning to make their appearance. Today we got tulips and freesia but the rest of the family of spring flowers are not far behind. The navels are sweet, the mandarins have arrived, the greens were vibrant and more artisanal food makers show up every week. One can now get crepes from the crepery, hand made cheeses, baked goods from more than one baker and the invaluable rubbing of shoulders and trading of greetings with the other shoppers and the growers and artisans. Farmer’s markets are community builders, a public space for public activities that leaves a warm glow after shopping there and a way to make a living for the farmers and makers.

Farmer’s markets traditionally make room for non-farmers and non-food makers such as musicians. Today’s music was supplied by a mature couple, he on the guitar and she on the flute, playing lovely relaxing music just right for shopping to. A delightful experience made more so by the presence of so many young families with their children. One glimpse of a delighted four year old savoring a strawberry is enough to cast a glow over the rest of the day.

Reading Alameda Peeps (as I do for entertainment nearly every day) led us to hurry to Lee’s Donuts at the foot of Webster St. to get the last three jelly-filled donut holes. My sweetie has wanted to try them for a week now but they’re always sold out early! Today we were there before 11 a.m. and still got the last of the bunch. They’re worth getting up early for is our considered opinion.

These are the things that make Alameda so great to live in – the cozy farmer’s market, the young families out with their children letting us all share in the joy of new lives, and hard to find but worth the looking for items like jelly-filled donut holes. Simple pleasures that give Alameda life its flavor.

And, of course, the rains that conveniently visit us at night and gently, not like the storms and destruction visited on the North Bay.

The Pace of Change

Amblin’ Alameda

The Pace of Change

Morton Chalfy

This past week was a humdinger in the sense that my activities brought much of the future of Alameda into stark relief – with no relief in sight. The week was really “ramblin’ Alameda” rather than amblin’ which wouldn’t have covered nearly as much territory.

First there was the visit to our swimming exercise spot – the Mariner’s Square Athletic Club which sits at the corner of the Target/Safeway etc. development. After years of preparation the buildout has begun and the area looks like a clone of Emeryville. As more stores open there the traffic count rises and the activity level rises as well. To get there we passed the proposed Del Monte tract and the housing that is already being built adjacent to it. That trip alone cast the shadow of the future with its pall of oncoming traffic over the day.

Then there was lunch with a friend from San Francisco out at Alameda Point. We sat and ate on the patio behind the Rock Wall Winery and looked out over the water. Alameda Point is still a place where the fact of living on an island is palpable. There are no cranes building high rises there yet but the shimmering waters of that part of the Bay seem excited by the vision of the development to come, for well or for ill.

And then there was lunch at Quinn’s Lighthouse on the Embarcadero. Strictly speaking not in Alameda but so closely connected it might as well be. We ate overlooking the marina filled with boats and then drove down toward Jack London Square to a little park where our friends’ dog could run and chase balls. On the way we passed the fenced off construction site for Brooklyn Basin. Thousands of units with I-880 as their main road. Words failed me. That section of 880 is already the most notorious bottleneck of the road through our area and the idea of hundreds, if not thousands, of cars joining that slow moving caterpillar is enough to have us praying for the Jetson’s jet packs!

All these developments which hung fire for so long are now moving inexorably forward and the one feature that stands out is the impact they will have on 880 and the consequent impact that will have on traffic in Alameda, let alone Oakland, San Leandro and Hayward. It makes one want to finish ramblin’ and resume amblin’.

Which, on Sunday morning, I did. With my friend and his dog I ambled down Broadway to the shoreline where we turned west and walked along the muddy path beside the bird sanctuary. And on Sunday it was indeed a sanctuary. The sun shone, the water was smooth and placid and a flock of the larger shorebirds, perhaps dowitchers, were resting in the shallows and mud flats. They were calm, the scene was serene and the juxtaposition of natural beauty next to the bustle of Otis Drive was sort of magical. For that moment of quiet appreciation I was able to literally turn my back on the coming storm of change while I contemplated the simplicity of birds and water, sunshine and high flying clouds.

Afterward I came home wondering “What will we all do when gridlock happens?” We’ll know in just a few short years.

Modeling

Amblin’ Alameda

Modeling

Morton Chalfy

It was social week in Alameda for me last week and it happened in totally unexpected ways. To begin with I had accepted a job as a model, one of a dozen people asked to portray a group of “active seniors” in various settings. Easy work, reasonable pay, and the request of a dear friend. I showed up not knowing what I had let myself in for and found an eclectic group of interesting people, far more interesting than anyone had a right to expect. None of us were professionals, though one strikingly handsome woman had done modeling earlier in her life. The setting was comfortable and there was a lot of time between shots while the photographer/auteur arranged things. That time was quite naturally filled with chatting with your neighbors in the scene and resulted in several amusing and interesting exchanges. Looking around the room at times it was more like a party than a work place. The scenes kept mixing us up, placing each of us with a new group for a new shot and giving us all a chance to get acquainted with another set of people. As a social mixer it was far superior to the usual wine bar stand-around one is ordinarily exposed to.

That was Day One. Day Two was held in another facility and continued the mixing process until we had all been grouped with everyone else at least once. Day One had included dogs and Day Two included a couple of children. Both dogs and children provided focus and subject for the ongoing mixing. Everyone had children or grandchildren or dogs or had been a child once so the grounds for conversation were numerous. I’m not sure if any lasting friendships were formed in the two days but there are several people I will greet with a big smile the next time I run into them around town and I do know that many names and email addresses were exchanged.

One would have thought that two days of extreme socialization would have been enough for the week but fortunately it was not so. It was our pleasure on Friday night to take a friend out to celebrate her birthday. This was a disguise for the surprise birthday party her children had planned for Saturday night – reasoning that she would count our dinner out as her only celebration. Saturday night we gathered with some of her other friends and when her daughters escorted her into the room to cries of “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” we were all (rewarded?) by seeing her cry just a little. The night was a suitable celebration of a long and loving life and mixed us with an entirely new group of people. Some were already known to us, some were brand new in our ken and once more there was plenty of time to converse and connect, this time with the aid of some wine.

The scenes of socializing take place all over the world all the time but I can’t help thinking that the quality of the people one meets in Alameda rivals that of people anywhere. Intelligent, caring, aware, sensitive and friendly. It does make for a lovely town when one can meet two dozen new people, mingle with them, share food and drink with them and come away feeling enriched and happy to be counted among this fortunate group…residents of Alameda.