Thursday, 31 July 2014

Everybody Has a Story

By Wendl Kornfeld

It was 1991 and my husband and I were doing regular volunteer work at our synagogue’s soup kitchen - called the Sunday Lunch Program - where we prepared over 100 meals for (mostly) homeless people.

Our guests were seated at tables set for eight with white cloths and small vases of flowers, and served hot coffee, soup, sandwiches, fruit, salad and dessert.

Most of our guests were males of all ages and as we got to know the repeaters, we knew that many were drug dependent or had mental illnesses. Many had scary anger issues. We lunch preparers and servers were instructed to smile, be pleasant and polite but not to reveal our last names or get into any conversation that might be provocative.

One Sunday Douglas, a Scottish friend visiting us, came along to help prepare the lunch. Douglas’ accent soon caught the attention of an elderly black man seated at one of the tables. I overheard Douglas share that he was originally from Scotland, whereupon the lunch guest asked where he’d gone to school.

“St. Andrews,” was the response.

“Oh,” replied our guest wistfully, “I always wanted to play the Old Course.”

Now, remember. This was years before most of us had heard the name Tiger Woods. How many African-Americans golfers could any of us have named at that time?

I marveled that this elderly black man not only had had dreams of playing golf, but big dreams of playing St. Andrews’ Old Course!

I realized with a shock how easy it had been to conclude that I already knew all I needed to know about this guest – i.e., he was old, poor, under-educated, probably messed up his life and now needed a free meal. How easily I might have forgotten him once my stint in the kitchen was over that day. Instead, he gifted me an important lesson.

It led to a turning point, not just in how I began treating our subsequent Sunday Lunch Program guests, but strangers in general. I also started taking more time with people whom I knew only in a relatively narrow context, such as people in the neighborhood, or work colleagues.

Looking back, I’m haunted at how often I had probably always judged people out of hand, drawing conclusions that were - if not totally off-base - certainly incomplete? Who, and what, had I missed out on knowing?

Everybody has a story and often, more than one. If we only take the time to ask, then listen well, we will know them.

The Old Course? Of course.


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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ice Cream, Noah and My Fear of Water

By Carl Hansen

A few months ago, the film starring Russell Crowe as the Biblical figure, Noah, was released. I had absolutely no desire to see the movie as I saw “promos” for it on television, for they bought back memories of how that Biblical story scared the bejesus out of me when I first heard it in Sunday School.

A world-wide flood destroying all human and animal life except for the fortunate few who made it on board the ark was horrible to contemplate and comprehend. And even though my Sunday School teacher tried to assure us that the rainbow at the end of the story was a sign that God would never repeat such an event, deep down inside I was not totally convinced of that.

As a child I had a horrible fear of water. I did not learn how to swim until much later in life, thanks to the patience of the young woman I would eventually marry. And although I gradually overcame the terror that swept over me when I thought about being in deep water, on occasion the fear remains even today on rare occasions.

I suspect it was my fear of water that fueled the fears I had related to the story of Noah and the ark. Most of the year the fear of another world-wide flood stayed in the back of my mind. But since I lived in Denver along the front range of the Rockies, most summer afternoons meant confronting the reality of thunderstorms, some of which brought heavy rain.

So each time the clouds began to form over the mountains and begin movement toward the city, up came the mental image of that immense flood recorded in Genesis.

Would this one be the “big one?” Would this be the time the promise of the rainbow would not hold, with rain going on and on and on as it did in the days of Noah?

v

When those afternoon rains began to fall, my coping mechanism was quite simple. Since we did not have an ark parked in our garage, I simply retreated to my bedroom at the back of the house. Once there, I shut the door, drew the shades and covered my ears with a pillow in order to wait until I was convinced the rains had stopped and I could venture out.

So it was one Saturday afternoon when I began to hear the sound of approaching thunder. I quietly and quickly headed for my bed and the comfort of my sound-deadening pillow. But this time I not only missed hearing the rain and thunder, I missed hearing an invitation being issued by the father to go Dolly Madison for ice cream — a rare treat with my dad who loved ice cream as much as I did.

Shortly before the rains started that afternoon, Dad began looking for me in the neighborhood, assuming I was out and about with the other kids who lived nearby. Apparently he was not aware of my “coping mechanism” for approaching afternoon storms and never thought to look around the house for me.

Instead, several of my friends were beneficiaries of his decision to go for ice cream that day — something I learned only after I finally decided to emerge from my place of refuge.

Miracle of miracles, in that instant my fears that the Noah story might be repeated melted away, never to return.

But in all honesty, some residual of that childhood fear must still be haunting me for although afternoon rains no longer lead me to find my bed and a pillow, I had absolutely no desire to see a movie reenactment of the flood when it came to Denver theaters a few months ago.


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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Progress is Our Least Important Product

By Bettijane Eisenpreis

“The world is going to the dogs; the young no longer respect their elders; and everyone is writing books!”

The above quotation is attributed to a papyrus found in the tomb of some pharaoh in Egypt several thousands of years ago. I cite it because I am acutely aware that the complaint I am about to make is not new.

However, with the invention of the computer and its relative, cyberspace, it feels as if our descent into purgatory has been accelerated.

The other day, I was speaking with a gentleman in his thirties with whom I have a business connection. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had experienced a problem with my computer and had purchased a new service contract which was somewhat pricey but most satisfactory.

Upon hearing the amount I had paid for the service and the contract, he exclaimed in horror, “But Bettijane, you could have bought a whole new computer for that much money!”

There are several fallacies in this statement. First, I could have purchased some sort of computer for that amount of money but certainly not one of the quality I already possessed. Two, I like my computer. I have loaded onto it a number of useful programs, which a newer model would probably not run. Three, what would happen to my computer, should I decide to replace it? Can it be recycled?

Probably not. Is it composed of reusable components? I doubt it. Unless I could get someone with a car to haul it to one of the few recycling centers in New York, it would probably be added to the growing mountains of landfill that are choking our cities.

We live in a society where not only things but people are increasingly viewed as disposable. I belong to several organizations that have switched most of their communications to cyberspace.

Invitations to public events are usually available in print on paper because they have to be posted on bulletin boards in local libraries. But messages to members are increasingly confined to email. Without an old person like me or some of my contemporaries, members who do not own a computer or use email can be overlooked.

I consider it my civic duty to act as a sort of Paul Revere. It’s not “The British are Coming” but “The meeting is next Tuesday at 6 o’clock.”

A close friend and I are part of a fast-disappearing minority who actually proofread our emails before we send them out. We also write emails in standard English sentences. And we do not text!

But whole generations are growing up who communicate in code. I haven’t the faintest idea what they are tapping out to each other. And, as Rhett would have said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a...” – well you get the idea.

They are always tapping. They bring their diabolical little devices into the most inappropriate places (would you believe Saturday morning religious services at synagogues?). They walk down the street staring at their iPods – and God protect the poor souls walking toward them!

They even text on dates in restaurants. I wonder if those texts go to their dinner partners or the people they wish they were dining with. They seem to exist more in cyberspace than in the physical space they occupy.

So they miss the birds and the trees, the cityscapes and countrysides they are passing through. But more than that, they miss us. Because someday relatively soon, we – their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or friends of the family – will not be around to share with them.

I hope that young man walking toward me but only seeing his iPod has a good relationship with his grandmother. Or that the girl with the wires in her ears has listened to vintage rock ‘n' roll with relatives who were there at its inception. Otherwise, our generations will be gone, and they will never know what they have missed.


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Monday, 28 July 2014

Endless Bars of Soap

By Mary Mack

I met Bonnie Baker once before, about 10 years earlier, when I was about 12 or 13 years old. That day, I remember, the maples and oaks were noticeably numb, suspended as they were in the thick summer air while heat waves rippled across the black macadam roads as Darlene and I hiked the back streets which led to the Baker’s house.

Darlene said we’d watch her two little cousins for about two or three hours while Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Kenny went out for dinner. Why not? I had nothing better to do. I might as well tag along.

The Baker’s house was located a little outside of town on Franklin Street just past the fire house and about eight blocks from my house. If you didn’t know it was there, you could easily miss it as it sat far back from the road and the only sign of life was the enormous spider web which entombed the handle of an abandoned lawn mower resting haphazardly at the edge of the driveway.

Notably, several old rubber tires, metal hubcaps, rusted bicycle frames and a few cracked clay flower pots decorated the front yard as well. But the old and tired beagle, tethered to the powerfully ugly front porch, who barely lifted his head as he let out a low and pitiful bay as we approached, troubled me the most.

That, of course, was before the front door swung open.

Darlene and I climbed our way past thick briars that chocked and surrounded the front porch steps, the beagle, some decaying house plants and endless spent bottles of whiskey and milk until we reached the front door.

Darlene, without hesitation, tapped on the door while I began to wholeheartedly regret my decision to come along. But in an instant, the two little boys, Dwayne and Kenny, answered the door - shirtless, barefooted and as pale as a morning in January.

“Hi, Darlene, who’s your friend?” they asked, the harmony of their little voices trailing high above the hazy summer sky.

Darlene said not a word to them as she led me into the house. I got as far as the threshold when the sickening-sweet stench of the Baker house escaped and quickly pushed me backwards and engulfed my senses.

Barely inside and it was already the kind of stench you could taste, even the walls smelled polluted, grimy and grubby. And, upon closer examination, the children, the poor children, had filthy dark rings of dirt encircling their slender necks and the blackness of neglect covered the shoeless soles of their tiny little feet.

Bonnie waved for me to come inside but I couldn’t take another step. I grew up watching my father mow the lawn, religiously, every Saturday morning while mom scrubbed the linoleum floors on her hands and knees with a bucket and a rag.

I didn’t understand the Baker’s house and I didn’t want to. All I wanted to do was go home and I did, after making some excuse about my mom needing me there.

And I ran the entire way home until I found my mom in the back yard hanging up clean sheets on the clothes line to dry. My face was stained with tears as I grabbed and hugged her tightly.

She calmly set down the laundry basket and sat in the grass beside me. She explained that there were people in the world, like the Bakers, who were without pride. Because no matter how poor you become, she said, you can always afford a bar of soap. Don't forget it, she told me, as she stood and continued to hang the clean sheets.

Ten years later, after Mom died, Dad tried to get on with his life at the age of 65. It was just another summer day when he invited his new lady friend to our house for dinner to meet me.

Naturally, I recognized her immediately; it was Bonnie Baker. But I never whispered a word of recognition to her, this woman without pride, as memories and the sweet, sweet smell of Mother's clean sheets once again sailed the summer winds.

SoapMMack


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Friday, 25 July 2014

We Never Knew When to Quit

By Marcy Belson

Yes, this is another story about a trip to Mexico with Krumi Tours led by our own "Mr. Krumi" aka El Queso Grande.

Same country, Mexico. Same group of friends. Different destination. This time we were flying to Matzatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, located on the Pacific coast across from the tip of Baja.

German immigrants brought prosperity to the area in the 1800s with equipment to mine for silver and gold. They also founded a brewery in 1900, still in operation. They influenced the music with banda, a form of Bavarian music.

By the time we arrived in 1973, music came from Carlos & Charlies and the beer was still flowing.

Back to the beginning. We drove to Tijuana and boarded a La Mexicana Airlines plane. Directly behind us were a group of fishermen from Los Angeles ready to party.

As the attendant (known in those days as a hostess) told us to fasten our seat belts, one of the fishermen told her he only had one half of his seat belt. She assured him it was fine and that she would be bringing a complimentary cocktail. He was happy with that solution.

Mr. Krumi had made reservations at a beachside hotel, five rooms for our group of ten people. Red alert: one of the woman told El Queso Grande that their room had no view and seems to be on the basement level. Problem solved, we traded rooms.

Sometimes, being Mrs. Krumi had its down side.

Other tour groups had their itineraries posted on the hotel bulletin board and Mr. Krumi quickly added ours - with Krumi poolside parties, trips to town to shop at the outdoor market, the van available for those who wished to sightsee.

One couple, hereafter known as "Nick and Lola," were not married and they were given a room in the high rise part of the hotel. First night, they went out on the balcony, he shut the slider behind him and it locked. No Mr. Krumi to solve this dilemma and Nick could see no one on the beach below.

He climbed over the rail and dropped to the balcony one floor below. There was an open door and a dark room. Unfortunately, there was also a woman, sleeping. After her initial scream and fright, she was an extremely good sport, calling the front desk and asking for someone to bring a key to Nick's room.

Lola was still on the locked balcony, naked, and she was a nice looking woman. I'm sure the hotel employee is still talking about that night.

But wait, there's more!

The following day, while two of our group went fishing for marlin, the remainder sat on the patio drinking cerveza and margaritas, watching the boat circling the bay with people hanging in the air from a parachute. Nick mentioned that he always wanted to do that.

He and Mr. Krumi wandered down to the water's edge and talked to the Mexican man in charge. He explained the procedure.

The person must wear a harness attached to the parachute and also roped to the back of the boat. The boat would slowly troll and the person would run down the beach until the boat and momentum would lift them to the sky for a gorgeous ride, then circle back. The boat would slow and the person should land on the beach with an employee helping them stop and removing the harness.

The final requirement was that the person weigh no more than 200 pounds. Nick looked unsure but - Mr. Krumi to the rescue - assured the Mexican man that Nick weighed about 190 pounds and really, really wanted to do the ride.

The Mexican was there to make money, not quibble about weight and a deal was struck.

Nick was in the harness, the boat took off, we held our breath and he took off for the ride. I'm happy to report, he did land on the beach. I have never seen a human running so fast but he stayed upright.

I think Nick considered himself invincible. After all, he hadn't fallen from the tenth floor the night before, naked as a bluejay

In the meantime, our fishermen had caught big marlin. As part of the deal, they were to have a photo taken with their catch. They decided to return to the hotel and freshen up before the photo was taken.

Mr. Krumi got wind of this. He and Nick quickly took the rented van and found the marlin hanging at the dock with no one around. They took pictures of each other and never said a word.

Weeks later, when the fishermen proudly showed photos of their catch, Mr. Krumi and Nick produced their photos, same fish, same location. Some thought it was funny; others, not so much.

This trip ended on a memorable note. As we flew north, the crew served lunch. Fish from the oven, with a strong fishy odor. Beer cans were rolling on the floor as the plane banked from one side to the other. I have a photo of one of our group, wearing a wet towel on her head, with her tongue hanging out.

Viva La Mexico.


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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Ag Terms in Advertising - Natural Ignorance is Bliss

By Dan Gogerty who blogs at Cast

The Consumer Reports group is calling for a ban of the word “natural” and many others are complaining about the way words are used for food labeling, packaging and advertising.

I’m all for keeping the phraseology honest but let’s face it, truth in advertising is a foggy concept no matter which “mad men” are shaping it.

Death cigarettes100, torokAgGogertyI do recall a forthright cigarette company in the 90s - located in England, I believe. They called their product Death cigarettes. The only packets I saw were in Asia and they were black with skull and crossbones woven into the design.

I’m not sure they marketed them widely. I have a feeling the buyers were looking for novelty items or they had achieved a type of Zen fatalism. On the other hand, the company did manufacture Death Lights also, so maybe they had a sense of humor about it all.

Labels and ads are controlled in widely different manners around the world but here in the United States, some say the government interferes too much while others think not enough.

Some terms are regulated: “organic” must fit certain specifications but I’m sure it’s still misused at times. Medical terms and nutritional facts are also regulated - even if the reality is not always “nutritional” or “factual.”

Lobbying groups and various factions have made much of the debates regarding proposed GMO labeling laws and others argue about the way sugar, salt, fat and other items are listed. Consumers need to know what they’re eating and drinking but I’m not certain about the best methods needed to get the information across in the clearest, most helpful manner.

One thing for sure - it was much easier when I was a kid. The terms seemed more basic, easier to understand or ignore. Let me give you a few examples:

Sugar was just that. It’s what animated characters dumped on cereal in the ads and what Mom used in baked goods. No terms clouded the issue - after all, high fructose sounds a bit like a premium grade of gasoline.

The local dentist never mentioned the word "sugar" but he didn’t say much anyway. He was busy putting fillings in our teeth.

Organic was an adjective that came in front of the word “chemistry” and we all knew organic chemistry was a tough course in high school filled with brainiacs heading to science universities.

Fat was the gristle we cut from steaks and pork chops. Of course it was also a term used in school to bully certain kids. Sadly, we didn’t know it was bullying because just about everyone in school was called something derogatory - we had equal opportunity denigration.

Free range is what happened when our pigs or cattle got loose from the pastures or feedlots. We had lots of free range livestock on our farm.

Natural never seemed attached to the idea of food. Most of our food items came from home cooked meals or small town restaurants - until TV dinners and fast food arrived.

The latter gave us a trendy feeling and the former seemed futuristic. After all, we were watching The Jetsons cartoon show so we thought food was going to move straight from the kitchen table to outer space foodoramas.

Many other current terms weren’t even on our radar back then. Antioxidant and gluten-free would have sounded like something a pseudo scientist was using in a shady toothpaste ad. And environmental concerns hadn’t yet joined our lexicon.

If someone had mentioned the problem of agriculture and carbon emissions, we’d really be confused. As teens, our biggest greenhouse warming efforts were on purpose. We’d try to rig up high-performance carburetors and straight-pipe exhausts to increase performance - and noise - on our ’57 Chevys.

“Gee, Wally, I didn’t know cars could pollute.”

“Aw, Beav, there’s a lot you don’t know. You’re just a dumb kid.”

Ignorance did have its benefits.

image


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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Best Lovers

By Arlene Corwin

The best lovers can wait:
That’s what they’re good at.
They can take their time,
Press lightly, deeply,
Feel around, as if massaging,
Kneading muscle without passion;
Helping, waiting – for response?
Perhaps. Most likely.
Waiting all the while,
The instant thrill
Expendable, forgotten,
As all pleasures are [and pain]
The second they are over.
Lover best is natural,
Sensitive to signals:
In touch when touching.

Touching back,
Movement ripening,
One or t'other turned the other way
Up, down, even upside down;
It is there the genius of delay
Comes into play
When the best of lovers loves.


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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Reincarnation

By Marc Leavitt of Marc Leavitt's Blog

We, all of us, return, and try another way,
A different simulacrum of reality;
The energy we call the soul, assumes new form
Within a multi-verse of change and random choice.
Next time, you might come back a brilliant butterfly,
Bright wings a-flutter, flying off to find a mate,
Still missing, caterpillar-like, your warm cocoon;
A young amoeba, almost ready to divide,
Multiplying in a single drop of water,
And unimpressed by nearby parameciums;
A single sunbeam, shining on a chilly day,
Homesick for the fiery star that cast you off,
Or, a forlorn grain of sand on a windy beach,
Wistfully recalling you used to be a rock.


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Monday, 21 July 2014

“I Accept The Nomination!”

By Vicki E. Jones

The year was 1968, and I, age 21 and a native and resident of Los Angeles, had spent the summer at a summer job in Boston, working as an assistant to a lab assistant at a biology research facility.

When the job ended, I traveled to Expo 67 in Montreal – a World’s Fair of several months’ duration - and then to Washington, D.C. to both visit an old friend who was working there and to see the Capitol and maybe the White House.

The day after I got there, my friend told me he had to work all day and gave me directions as to how to reach the Capitol on foot from the place I was staying. It was very hot and very humid outside and at age 21 I didn’t think about wide-brimmed sun hats or carrying a water bottle.

The walk from where I was staying took me all the way across town in the hot sun. By the time I reached the Capitol Building I was feeling dehydrated, tired and faint.

I walked inside the building, where a guard immediately recognized that I had a problem and needed help. He took me to the nurse’s office and she put me in a nearby room and had me sit with my head down while she got cool water to drink and some cool compresses to help cool me down.

Meanwhile, I was feeling sorry for myself because I had wanted to see Congress and meet someone famous. I realized that I might not feel well enough to do so and had walked all the way across town in the heat for nothing.

When she returned, she opened the door and I raised my head. I stared in utter disbelief at what was directly in front of me in that room: there, on a scale, was Senator Everett Dirksen, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts, weighing in.

The nurse turned her head and spotted him there and realized she had put me in a room that still had another person in it – and a very famous person at that! Obviously, Senator Dirksen was trying to lose weight and was there to check his progress.

Embarrassed, the nurse tried to cover up her error by saying, “Senator Dirksen, may I introduce you?” Senator Dirksen smiled and said, “Of course!”

When she said “Miss Freed, (my maiden name), this is Senator Dirksen,” I responded with, “I’ve heard of you! You’re notorious!” with a smile.

Senator Dirksen replied, with a big smile, “I accept the nomination!” and shook my hand vigorously.

And so my trip across town had not been a waste of time and energy after all. I did indeed meet someone famous and got to see at least a little of the Capitol, and I would never forget Senator Dirksen’s composure and his great sense of humor.


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Friday, 18 July 2014

Dinner with Mom

By Mary Mack

Most days she was there, waiting for her sister, the moment I returned home from school. “Hi, Helen,” she’d say. “Ready to go swimming?”

“No, mom, we can’t go swimming. And it’s not Helen, it’s Mary, don’t you remember?”

She would simply nod, not certain of a response. But, today, she wasn’t there.

I knew all the numbers to the bars where dad would be so I kept dialing until I finally found him. “Mom’s not here,” I told him. “I think you should come home.”

But when he arrived, I had to convince him to call the police.

“She’ll be back,” is all he said.

I knew better so I took his Plymouth and began to search. I tried the mall, the library and even the park until I remembered. Besides wanting to go swimming with Helen, she would sometimes be waiting for Hoagy, my dad, to take her to dinner (which he never did).

By the time I reached the parking lot of the plant where he worked, it was dark. Rows and rows of cars were stretched out in front of me but I knew she was there, I could feel it, so I drove, ever so slowly, up and down each row, searching for my mother, until I found her, sitting in a car that looked something like the Plymouth, which is to say it was white and had four doors.

There she was, sitting in the passenger’s seat, coat, hat and scarf drawn closely. So closely she was sweating when I tapped on the window to get her attention. “Hi, mom,” I said softly. “What are you doing?"

“I’m waiting for Hoagy, he’s taking me to dinner.”

“Come on, mom, I’ll take you.”

It was the first and last time I ever took my mother to dinner, to McDonald’s for filet-o-fish sandwiches, and they were just fine.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

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