Monthly Archives: January 2015

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.

Encinal Ave. Heading West Created on: 3/19/2013

It’s mid-March, and we’re seeing some just outstandingly beautiful days. While the folks back East are enjoying the usual mid-March super storms which dump tons of heavy, wet snow on everything and everybody and make living extra-hard work, we’re having a mini-summer stretch. Oh well, we’ll just have to suffer through it.

This late morning, instead of walking along the shoreline as is my usual wont, I headed west on Encinal Avenue toward Simon Says, the beauty parlor frequented by my sweetie. She was already there being beautified by Diana Simon’s magic and I decided to meet her there to continue our day.

Encinal Avenue is interesting in many ways. First, there’s the eclectic mix of architecture and personalization exhibited by the housing stock. Every 25-foot lot has been customized to suit the inhabitants and some of the designs are “stop and take a closer look” worthy. Then there are the breaks in the action offered by the commercial blocks. Not a chain store among them, these collections of mom and pop stores (or mom and sis, or pop and friend but you get the idea) may be loosely based on a general concept but each interpretation is unique and individual. And interesting.

Pedestrian traffic is light and to my dismay, guarded. In fact the only smile and nod I received from those I passed going in the opposite direction was from one gentleman in the slowest motorized wheel chair I’d ever seen in action. Inching along, as it were, he still flashed a grin of camaraderie, an “ain’t it a nice day for being out in it?” sort of grin and I hope my answering expression mirrored his. But he was the exception. When foot traffic is light every oncoming person can be interpreted as a possible threat so the lack of eye contact is understandable. I try hard to appear non-threatening on my walks but one has no control over the thoughts of others.

Fortunately the lack of friendly greetings didn’t dampen the pleasures of the stroll. Temperature in the 70s, sky in pure blue with touches of cottony clouds and the bodily pleasure of swinging the legs and breathing the air.

Amblin’ Alameda is fun on the most basic level of enjoyment. It makes me feel like a kid “just running around” for the pleasure of it.

Bag Ban Created on: 3/15/2013

We were shopping at Nob Hill, something we do when we only have a few items to buy but also have an item to be mailed, since there is almost never a line at their in-store post office.  Because her knee was sore and painful on this day my partner remained in the car while I searched through the store for our needed items and when I came out she had the following observations:  “Taking a thoroughly unscientific survey of the shoppers coming out of the store I can report that about 70% brought their own bags.  Of those fully half were from Trader Joe’s.  Perhaps 15% bought paper bags from the store and at least ten percent were firmly in the ‘I’m not paying for a bag,’ camp and exited with items thrust into pockets and cradled in arms.”

            We discussed this interesting dynamic for a while and finally opined that Trader Joe’s bags have more cachet than others and suggest that the shopper is progressive and ecologically aware.  Bag status is high.  Those who purchased paper bags we consigned to the “I forgot my bags,” or “It’s too much trouble to bring my bags and anyway it’s only ten cents,” camps.

            The Bag Ban Deniers who stuffed their pockets with frozen foods struck us as belonging to the large group of irrationalists who believe that if they don’t agree with a policy it should not be forced upon them and if it is they will begin cutting at their noses.  Hard to do anything but laugh.

            This behavior is comical and harmless at the grocery store.   After all, no one pays the price but the anti-bag banners and they do provide a humorous spectacle for onlookers when their purchases are larger than their arms can manage.  In other areas however, this stubborn refusal to accept and adapt to the judgment of the majority can be very harmful.  Take the proposed ban on automatic weapons.

            The results of the opposition to common sense control of the weapons of war is bound to be measured in future events of carnage.  When “My Rights” trumps everything, even conceding some basis to that argument, the anti-ban folks demonstrate a callous disregard for all the rest of us and our children.  Their children as well.

            Besides the fact that these weapons of war have no place embedded in a peaceful society and should be kept under someone else’s lock and key the most telling statistic is that the majority of gun inflicted harm comes to gun owners from their own guns.

            The Second Amendment argument comes from people who believe they need their guns for the day resistance to the federal government is necessary.  People who feel that way are obviously not fully invested in the concept of peaceful settlement of disputes through debate and elections and as such will always be an impediment to reason.

            The solution to the bag ban are fully biodegradable, non-plastic bags that decompose in sunlight.  The solution to the assault rifle ban is lots of public debate and public pressure on the congress people who vote straight NRA.

Brrr! Created on: 3/15/2013

The house we live in, like many in Alameda, just turned 100 years old and looks like it’s good for another hundred.  It’s a Craftsman built in 1912, has wood floors throughout, lovely architectural details in the most surprising places like the window seat/storage bins in the living room, a brick fireplace, and it is generally easy on the upkeep.

            And now that we are going through a serious cold snap (I thought it was global warming) the house is transporting us back in time to the days when it was first built.  Back then any heating had to come from the fireplace and at best it would heat the two to three feet directly in front of it and no more.  Today the fireplace if bricked up and a furnace in the crawl space is supposed to do the heating job.   Which it does, sort of.  These old houses were built without insulation (we’ve added some in the attic) and with wood sash, single pane windows.  The furnace distributes the heat unevenly so the house is warmish in the front rooms and freezing in the back.  We’ve made some adjustments.

            Back in the early part of the twentieth century when these houses were state of the art it was normal to be fully clothed when inside the house and fully dressed, including cap, when going to bed.  Firewood was a necessity and blankets would be available in every room.  When the inside temperature is in the fifties blankets make life bearable.

            During these frigid days I walk around in house shoes, with two layers of clothing and the occasional blanket around my shoulder.  Accoutered like this I think about the inhabitants of Alameda in the nineteen teens and twenties and marvel at how soft we’ve all become. I grew up in NYC and lived in upstate New York for years so I know what frigid really is, but my blood is thinner now that I’ve acclimated to the Bay Area and frigid has become a relative term.   I’m usually a barefooter but not when the floor is so cold.   I find I can’t get much work done in the cold and since it takes hours to remove the chill from the house in the morning I try to plan my work for the afternoon.

            This morning, chilly and shivering, we even hied ourselves off to the health club to exercise and get into the hot tub.  Okay, I spent two thirds of the time in the tub and only a little time exercising because it took fifteen minutes of hot water soaking to make my feet stop tingling and start to feel normal.  But by the time we got back home the house had heated up from the average temperature of 1912 to what we consider normal a century later and right now I write in warm comfort.

            It takes so little disruption to put us back into the colder older days.  I can just picture myself bundling up to go into the back yard for firewood and then roasting next to the flames and freezing six feet away.  I can imagine reading by candlelight wrapped in a blanket,  and probably being thankful to live in such a great house.

            I’m still thankful for that but like the earlier inhabitants I too am wishing for spring to hurry up and get here.

Once A Year Friends Created on: 3/15/2013

We’re just finishing the clean-up from my partner’s annual New Year’s Day party and the “let’s share our leftovers” dinner with friends who also throw a New Year’s Day party.  The food, may I say, was excellent and the aftermath session of discussion about their and our friends was very satisfying.

            During the discussion I found myself thinking about those party attendees who we only see once a year, and always at this party.  Several have been invited every year for over twenty-five events and are always greeted with delight and affection.  I’ve only been a part of this for four parties so my history with the once-a-year-ers is limited but I too beam with delight at seeing their faces at the door.

            There is a connection of course.  In my partner’s case it stretches back over decades and contains memories of times past and shared experiences.  In mine the “times past” are the last three parties and the “shared experiences” are mostly party chats.  Still, the sight of a familiar face wreathed in a grin and the knowledge that the smiler has traveled many miles and braved the Bay Bridge traffic to get to us is enough to engender feelings of warmth and connection in the hosts’ breast.

            Celebrating the new year with friends, sharing feelings of friendship and just generally making contact with others who we like and like to share good times with is reward enough for the work of giving a party.

            When I think about friends who only appear once a year it seems strange that a friendship can be maintained with that little contact.  On the other hand my feelings about them are warm and welcoming and the low frequency of interaction just adds spice to the current one.

            There is another side to an annual affair of mostly the same people as we grow older.  Every year some new invitees attend, people with whom we have become friendly enough to want to share the welcoming of the new year.  We love it when new people come and renew the juices of the old crowd but too often room for the newbies has been made by the passing of some old and dear friends.

            Welcoming the new year with friends renews hope and promise and provides the emotional payment of positive energy we need to move forward with some grace and optimism.  New Year’s Day comes but once a year and we treasure the friends who do the same.

Clean City Created on: 3/15/2013

This morning one my almost-every-day walks I followed one of my more usual paths down Willow St. to the Shoreline.  Passing across the street from Alameda Hospital I noticed a small pile of papers scattered on the ground.   As I strode by I began to wonder about the papers and what I had found so unusual about them when it occurred to me that their very presence on the side of the road was what made them stand out.  “That’s not like Alameda,” I thought, “this city does not litter.”

            For the rest of the walk I checked the sidewalk and roadway and the grassy verges and, as I thought, it was remarkably clean.  Of course there are always bits of paper or plastic or other debris of modern life around but surprisingly little.  Now, my standards were set in New York City in the forties and fifties, before anti-litter laws and before Curb Your Dog became important to the denizens there so I may be judging from a biased basis but I think not.

            When crossing the bridges into Alameda the cleanliness of the city forms a background that’s decidedly different from the towns and cities that surround us and it set me to thinking.  One of the tenets of good policing advocated by Bill Bratton (the ex-police chief of New York and Los Angeles among others and coming soon to a city very near you) is to have no tolerance for even little misdemeanors.  Notably, fix broken windows and pick up trash and crime will go down.  There may even be a kernel of truth to that but I think it starts at the wrong end.

            Now, if everyone had a nice home (or at least some home) and a way to earn money to pay for it, then I believe broken windows would be quickly repaired and litter would never appear.  Where people have the means of building a life they take pride in their surroundings.  Where they do not, their surroundings become a way of expressing their displeasure with their circumstances.  To show respect one must be respected.  To keep a clean city people have to feel invested in its cleanliness even if only as a way to maintain and increase their own property values.

            We are indeed fortunate to live in a place where people care about their surroundings.  Where people obviously don’t, judging by litter and broken windows only, the problems are deeper than “inherent messiness”.  They go all the way to social circumstances.  In order to clean up the streets hold meaningful Job Fairs and Mortgage Marathons.  Until people are invested in their lives with something to show for it anti-litter campaigns are meaningless.

It’s Going Around Created on: 3/15/2013

   For the past two weeks I’ve been “nursing” my sweetie through her battle with a stubborn cold that occasions fits of deep coughing, weepy eyes, general loss of appetite and a feeling of malaise.  It had hit our little family hard in her son-in-law, less hard in her grandchild and very hard in her.  Not fun.  We managed together to get everything done that absolutely had to be done and became adept at not doing the unnecessary.

            For the past several days she seemed to be on the verge of being totally cured.  Shots of energy coursed through her and when they did she put them to good use.  Writing her column for Psychology Today (online), seeing and not touching or breathing on a client and fixing the odd light repast.  We were even able to spend some time with friends, taking the proper precautions, but it did wear her out.

            During this while I’ve been glad that I apparently had side-stepped the virus and was able to do the chores that keep life going while she fought the good fight.  We even kept an appointment with her primary doctor who had dealt with the same illness a month ago and who informed her, unfortunately, that the cough could persist for six weeks.  I didn’t feel superior since it was a matter of luck that she was ill and I wasn’t, but I didn’t make any plans, either.

            At 6:21 a.m. Thursday morning I awoke coughing severely enough to climb out of bed and leave the room so as not to wake her.  She had spent much time in her easy chair under a comforter since she coughed less when sitting upright than when lying in bed and I thankfully took her place and pulled up the comforter.  It worked.  I slept for the next two hours and then felt good enough to make breakfast which took almost all my energy.

            It is always really interesting to me how illness focuses one’s attention.  Fortunately I had nothing I needed desperately to do because if I had I might not have been able to.  A portion of my mind is keyed to how I’m feeling and how I can suppress the coughs.  They are beginning to hurt my abdomen now, especially if I’m lying down.  The world is a wonderful place when you are well but the world shrinks to the size of your skin when you are ill.

            I’m being forced to take it easy, to drink lots of liquids and to visit the bathroom more often than I like.  My eyes are burning a little and I have a slight headache and the prospect of two weeks or more of this is daunting.  Oh well, there are much worse ailments going around and I might get a lot of reading and even some writing done.

            Please excuse me now, I have to run.

Encinal Ave. Created on: 3/15/2013

Mid-March and just outstandingly beautiful days.  While the folks back east are enjoying the usual mid-March super storms which dump tons of heavy, wet snow on everything and everybody and make living extra hard work, we’re having a mini-summer stretch.  Oh well, we’ll just have to suffer through it.

            This late morning, instead of walking along the Shoreline as is my usual wont, I headed west on Encinal Ave. heading for Simon Says, the beauty parlor frequented by my sweetie.  She was already there being beautified by Diana Simon’s magic and I decided to meet her there to continue our day.

            Encinal Ave. is interesting in many ways.  First, there’s the eclectic mix of architecture and personalization exhibited by the housing stock.  Every twenty-five foot lot has been customized to suit the inhabitants and some of the designs are “stop and take a closer look” worthy.  Then there are the breaks in the action offered by the commercial blocks.  Not a chain store among them, these collections of mom and pop stores, (or mom and sis, or pop and friend but you get the idea) may be loosely based on a general concept but each interpretation is unique and individual.  And interesting.

            Pedestrian traffic is light and to my dismay, guarded.  In fact the only smile and nod I received from those I passed going in the opposite direction was from one gentleman in the slowest motorized wheel chair I’d ever seen in action.  Inching along, as it were, he still flashed a grin of camaraderie, an “ain’t it a nice day for being out in it?” sort of grin and I hope my answering expression mirrored his.  But he was the exception.  When foot traffic is light every oncoming person can be interpreted as a possible threat so the lack of eye contact is understandable.  I try hard to appear non-threatening on my walks but one has no control over the thoughts of others.

            Fortunately the lack of friendly greetings didn’t dampen the pleasures of the stroll.  Temperature in the seventies, sky in pure blue with touches of cottony clouds and the bodily pleasure of swinging the legs and breathing the air.

            Amblin’ Alameda is fun on the most basic level of enjoyment.  It makes me feel like a kid “just running around” for the pleasure of it.