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Amblin’ Alameda


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.

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.


Amblin’ Alameda


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.

What Women Shouldn’t Want

Amblin’ Alameda

What Women Shouldn’t Want

Morton Chalfy

One of Alameda’s many outstanding features is its location. We sit in the very center of action in San Francisco Bay; draw a circle around us ten miles in diameter and everything important is within it. On Sunday we took advantage of our proximity to The City of Fog to have brunch with a friend followed by a matinee (and I think premiere) performance of “The Cable Car Nymphomaniac” a musical by Tony Asaro and Kirsten Guenther. Presented at Z Below this piece takes off from the actual 1960’s case of a woman involved in an accident on Muni who claimed it turned her into a nymphomaniac and who collected over a million dollars from the city because of it.

“A Woman Shouldn’t Want” is a song that details the restrictions placed on women in the sixties and before. It comes down to the proposition that a woman shouldn’t want what men consider their inborn prerogative of freedom to do as they wish, especially sexually. This is an attitude built up over thousands of disgraceful years of restricting women so men can avoid feeling threatened and unfortunately continues to hold sway over much of the world. It is still the major unfinished work of humanity, to see everyone, not just women, as equals.

We went to the theater for a lark, thinking that the preposterousness of the subject matter meant a light-hearted satire was in store and were very pleasantly surprised by the serious approach to the underlying argument and the very high quality of the production. Theater is one of the very oldest of arts and has always been used for political and social expression. It’s great to see that just across the Bay Bridge that tradition is alive and flourishing.

It was equally great to get back home in just over twenty minutes due to the lack of immobilizing traffic on Sunday. Crossing the bay toward Alameda it was achingly evident that we here in town are living through the changing of an era. Alameda Point is so central to the geography of the Bay Area that as it becomes developed it will inevitably have an impact on all the areas around it. The increasing visibility of Alameda as the Point is built up will attract more people and stress our transportation abilities to the breaking point. More ferries and probably more complaints about traffic are in our future over the next twenty to thirty years of build out.

We might become so important to the area that we show up, by name, on the TV weather reports. Now that would be indicative of our arrival on the scene!

Geezerhood Created on: 6/17/2014

My sweetie and I have just finished coordinating our calendars so that we both know what we’re doing and where we’re going and when we’re going there. We do this periodically so that one of us doesn’t have to say “Aren’t you ready yet?” to another who has completely missed preparing for some important date through not having written it down in his (read My) datebook. For those of us in early geezerhood many, if not most, of our appointments are with medical personnel.

To younger folk this might seem depressing on the face of it but that’s not necessarily so. For one thing these are the people tasked with keeping us alive, or active or digesting our food or other, equally laudable goals. Since we are still grateful to be here (alive) and to be getting around and usually enjoying our little pleasures like eating and moving around it would be churlish in the extreme to resent our visits.

For another thing, these are reasons for half-day trips to pleasant parts of the Bay Area (most of our doctors are in Berkeley and San Francisco) which put us in contact with interesting, caring people who are earnestly trying to help. And help they do. One would like to be young and vigorous again but the next best thing is to be old and alive and moving around and able to drive hither and yon. Without these appointments our calendars would not be totally bare but they would be sparser. Much sparser.

While neither of us has given up all work our output is much lower than previously so the medical appointments fill the time. Raising a family, holding a full time job and maintaining a household fill the hours of the younger folks; going to doctors, visiting with friends and family and being entertained fill the hours of geezerhood.

Humans are prone to the malaise of boredom and so we learn how to keep busy, how to distract our minds and how to entertain ourselves. The engagement with the health professionals is not boring, is often fraught with uncertainty and a touch of danger, requires travel and personal commitment and is done with the best of motives, that of extending and enhancing our lives.

Make lemonade, that’s what I say.

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.