Monthly Archives: January 2015


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.

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.”