Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mrs. Ball & the new neighborhood

In the late thirties my family moved from the Silverlake "flats" to an area where my father had bought a lot and built a house.  All of this was somewhat "miraculous" because the depression was still in place and he seemingly worked 18 hours a day just to keep us in a modest flat with a rented roof over our heads.  But moving was complicated because we had to move and the new place was not ready.

We moved into a rental house across and up the street,   directly behind the people who were to be our across the street neighbors,  Mr. & Mrs. Ball (one of whom was described as "a cop," and it was assumed, of course, that was Mr).   Wrong,  I started watching the comings and goings of Mrs.  and soon feel in love with her.  My reaction was to go into their yard and put the largest rocks I could find in the driveway (not realizing,  of course, that she was a police officer!).

Soon she found me and quickly provided the ample evidences of my affection.  I agreed to remove them forthwith,  and was soon she introduced me to Mr. Ball and her beautiful, sizable collection of glass paperweights and miniture ceramic vases.  During these visits I was also introduced to the  collection of ceramic bowls that had wrapped candies in them, which seemed to me to be left overs from Christmas or trick-or-treat activities.

Then she offered me a job of cleaning up her yard,  and other small chores that came up.  I soon found out she never wore her uniform when she went out,  and that she and Mr. Ball lived very different lives.  The next thing to happen was that they invited me to go with them to a park not far away that had a "lake" (a pond) with rental boats on it.  I was completely surprised when they took the back bench seat and turned the wheel over to me.  MacArthur Park became quickly a place of paradigm shift thanks to this generous couple. 

The next expansion of "the neighborhood"  was their invitation to go to a huge circus in downtown Los Angeles (probably Barnum and Bailey).  We had excellent seats a few rows up in the center of the Main Tent,  and it was within minutes of the performance and the arrival of the classic, tiny clown car that a man stood up down our very row of benches and started loudly berating the clowns (many of whom had exited from the little jalopy and were carrying on in great style.  His story was that "they were not funny,  that they didn't know what they were doing," etc.  

He went down the row and then down the aisle to the ring,  whereupon the clowns came to the edge and began yelling back at him.  Lots of confusion and at some point they grabbed him and pulled in over the edge into the ring.  And then a large white (seemingly bareback) horse came charging around the ring and our neighbor down the row managed to jump up on its back.  Meanwhile the clowns were back in their jalopy and began chasing them.   The bareback, civilian clothes clown was a seasoned horseman and acrobat and the chase became a spectacular very funny event. 

I  have been fascinated with clowns ever since,  seeing amazing acts both in circuses and in other places (for example Las Vegas).  Their antics were always instructive of the ways of humanity,  and some of the literature they have inspired (eg.  Henry Miller's "Smile at the Foot of the Ladder") has stayed with me for years.  Thus "the neighborhood" for laughter and amusement has travelled a long ways from Silverlake in Los Angeles,  to a small circus in Menomonie in which I saw a clown and dog do an amazing version of a show I saw done in Vegas many years earlier, also with a clown and a dog.  Is this a universal act of some kind?  Perhaps I should dial up Google and see if I can find out.

Friday, August 28, 2015

On thinking via David Foster Wallace's Kenyon College address "This is Water."  The introduction to this piece takes me back to Marshall McLuhan's remark in the sixties to the affect "that if you want to know something about water don't ask a fish."   His point was,  of course,  that the poor humanoid is so surrounded by thought and media blitzes that it may be futile to expect him or her to know anything about them … drowning in them as we are.

So it is somewhat pretentious to imagine being shown how to think better,  unless you are someone with the nerve to try,  and a good example of that person would be David Foster Wallace.  His primary focus is what he calls our "default setting,"  which indeed turns out to be very useful.  Taken,  I guess, from  computer language, but also other connexions (see Google),  his take on this is that we are  hardwired from birth with settings which then have to be changed to make sense of a radically changing world.  Most of us will simply overlay beliefs and knowledge over this hard-wiring,  and perhaps make superficial changes from time to time to make things function for us. 

Here is a quote for a start:  "Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe,  the realest, most vivid and important person in existence."   "We rarely think about this sort of natural,  basic self-centerdness, because it's so socially repulsive,  but it's pretty much the same for all of us,  deep down."  -  "It is out default setting,  hardwired into our boards at birth."   -  "Think about it:  There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of."   Now,  let us say that at one critical point one is baptized,  then confirmed after some study and potential brain washing.  There will be some potential change to the basic hard-wiring,  and one may shift the center of existence to a Judeo/Christian God and his right hand person/Son",   Jesus.  A setting has occurred,  one's thought patterns may have changed radically … but the basic hard-wiring may still underlie those changes.

Now to go back to Wallace again, which is described after he describes how the  adjustments in one's natural default setting are often "described as being "well adjusted," which I suggest to you is not an accidental term."   Then Wallace goes through the various types of personal power (wealth,  belief/worship, intellect,  body and beauty, etc.) and cautions that these are unconscious default settings, and thus dangerous to any deeper work in "real world"  default setting.  

My hope is that this brief synopsis will encourage you to pursue this with Wallace,  through the little classic book which was produced from the notes used to deliver the commencement address at Kenyon College.  In the words on the jacket cover, Wallace helps us with these questions:  "How do we keep from going through adult life unconsciously, comfortably entrenched in habit?"  and "How do we remove ourselves from the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion."  And as Wallace concludes with this sentence,  I join him is saying:  "I wish you way more than luck."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Roadside Memorials (3) 2015

for Memorial Day,  a brief tribute to the three roadside memorials closest to us.   RIP

#1 is on "S" just a few hundred yards east of "SS."   In memory of Edward  Connel (aka One Eyed Ed),  this memorial was created by two of Ed's children (& myself), and has been haphazardly maintained and added to since.  It consists of a picture of him,  assorted plants,  both live and plastic,  as well as plastic flowers.  For awhile there was a solarpowdered lamp there,  presumably removed when it stopped working.  There are an assortment of beer cans (empty), presumably there to honor Ed's love of the beverage.  My understanding is his close to mortal wounds when he left his moror- cycle at the site may have been due to drinking.  He died in a hospital,   RIP,   Ed.

#2  is on Highway 25 and FF,  northwest corner.   In memory of Tory Kahl,  2 crosses, one tall and one short,  with a copy of the well known poem, "The Broken Chain"  attached to the taller one;   as well as a gothic cross,  a couple of small toy motorcyles and a little angel doll figure.  Usually there is a baseball cap hanging on one side of the tall cross.  And then there is a succession of plastic flower strands,  ballons,  and right now a plastic valentine wreath ornament --  added in the last few days appended to the tall cross.  My intention has been to try and find more information about  Tory's passing,  and I do intend to add that if and when. 

#3 is also on Highway 25, at 1040th Ave., northeast corner.  In memory of Mike Nordin and Jen, there are two white crosses with the different names on each,  Mike's  provides his birth and death years:  1974 -  2004.  This is the simplist site,  and seemingly seldom visited.  There have been decorations in the past,  but there are none at the present time.  Again,  my intention is to find out more about Mike and Jen if I can,  and perhaps add it here.

(Pictures of these memorials would be appropriate,  and I may luck out and get some shot and posted.  I've spoken to a couple of photographers about this.)

My interest in roadside memorials began years ago in Europe where they are far more common.
Sometimes constructed and maintained as small religious shrines,  sometimes with Jesus, the Virgin Mary or another religious saint included.  Some are almost like little grottos,  and often landscaped and planted with meticulous care;  some even with little benches included.  How do we celebrate the dead,  how in this day and age, an "age of discontinuity,"  are we to honor those who have passed along? 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bees. our current "canaries in the coal mine"

There are many versions of the old adage about canaries as the harbingers of disaster,  but the most powerful one currently has been sounded by Friends of the Earth,  warning about the loss of our pollinators as the "Second"  Silent Spring.   This "imminent and frightening threat to our food" and our very lives is underscored about a revelation concerning Neonics/Neonicotinoids,  chemicals which come in many, many brands, and which are virtually unregulated. 

The losses of the world's bees is documented by the countless stories about massive bee die-offs,  something referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder earlier on.  To quote the Friends of the Earth brochure:  "Diseases, pests and climate change have all been implicated in the global bee die-off, but now a growing body of science points to the world's most popular pesticides as a key contributing factor."

I have noticed in the last few years the rarity of bees as pollinators on our plants.  If it wasn't for bumble bees I'm not sure what would have happened out there.  Luckily some relatively new neighbors have taken up bee keeping in the last two years and thus we see bees among our plants again.  There is no way we can fight this menace by ourselves,  we must band together with others,  and insist that the organizations (for example farm organizations) get into the fight for our pollinators.

So I suggest that you dial up Bee from Friends of the Earth.  Use their launching pad to  support a well thought out campaign to deal with this unbelievable crisis,  and encourage your friends and organizations* to do like wise.  The Friends of the Earth  campaign includes the passage of the Save America's Pollinators Act,  something which parallels the actions abroad,  for example the U.K. and the European Union. Employ their 5 ways you can help save the bees.

*  Especially farm organizations, including the USDA and FSA,  landscape and gardening organizations

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gas Station

My first gas station was across the street in L.A., corner of Silverlake Blvd. and Silverlake Drive,   Hoeppel's Flying Horse Mobil.  It was right next to my father's automotive repair garage, Norman's.   Thus these were places to hangout and work,  get to know people.  My dog, sort of, Wimpy,  lived a lot of the time in the gas station.  Because he got so greasy in the station and garages he wasn't allowed in our house, except for the back porch in rain storms and other bad weather.   This was around l936 - l937,  depth of the depression.

Only rich people and those in the business had cars.  No credit cars,  no credit card gas.  Mr. Hoeppel had little jobs in the office and garage,  I did some of those:  helping sweep out cars,  clean the insides and wash the lower outsides, being a gofer to deliver things,  dump the trash into the burn barrels in the vacant lot,  recycle things, clean up,  including out in the little landscape on the corner, etc.  At the gas pumps I could ask to polish the hubcaps,  sometimes it was "do they need polishing,"  checking the battery water,  etc.  Mr. Hoeppel was very patient,  encouraged me in every way,  except when I got in the way.  Wimpy was always supportive too,  wagging his tail, looking for handouts of food,  of course, especially hamburgers or pieces of them.

Rich people lived atop the hills,  and down the sides,  the rest of us lived on the flats.  The very poor didn't have screens on the window and doors,  the children came to school with bites all over them.  We were lucky to have  a landlord who not only maintained our flat in good order but hired me too to help him with the gardens and landscapes at ours and other rental properties.  Sometimes he would pay me a nickel or pennies,  sometimes he would take me to the Silvermart and get me a soft drink or candy bar.  I started a savings account in the Bank of California,  and either my Mother or Father would take me to make deposits.  I was very proud of my little savings book and showed it to relatives at times.

Mr. Hoeppel sold windshield wiper blades and other items,  he also had gum and peanut machines.  Remember them,  a penny or a nickel would get you a small handful?  Sometimes he let me help him when he reloaded these machines.  My father too had things for sale in his garage,  and I sometimes helped him clean shelves and restock items.  Thus I became interested in the businesses and wondered just how all those small purchases added up to anything. 

Fast forward to now where  gas stations seldom have grease racks, often do no mechanical work.  I am amazed to go into inner city ones,  Pump 'N Munch type places,  often run by Middle Eastern people;   who sell necessities, including powerful energy drinks,  liquid vials of ginseng,  condoms,  magazines and papers, groceries,  etc.,  etc,  and don't forget the many versions of gambling tickets (!).   Gas, oil and other automotive liquids are crucial, of course,  and some of these places even have air hoses to pump up your tires (3 quarters,  maybe even 4)  perhaps even a water hose to add water. 
Now-a-days these places have wire mesh cages around the cash registers and managers.  Mr. Hoeppel and Wimpy would indeed be astonished by the transformations.

It would be interesting to see the books of these latter day gas dispensaries,  how much is made on what,  the overhead vs. the profits,  the stocking routines,  cleanups,  etc.  It was so simple and primitive back in Silverlake,  and there four corners out of five were gas stations (!) in the thirties;  two were soon to fail.  Luckily the fifth corner was a vacant lot and that was next to the property our landlord owned.   Today it is all different,  of course,  and I intend to look it the intersection on the Google Map system and see what it looks like.  Maybe one gas station left,   who knows?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Your humble "Late Stage Adult" is back

Apologies for the prolonged absence,  I've been making notes for the BLOG and my intention is to be better about blogging those.  Meanwhile,  the terms of "elder" and other such words are in transition,  probably with the Boomers;  thus "late state adult" showed up in the New York Times awhile back. Who knows where it will go next?  I've recently received the advanced notice for the "2014 Senior Americans Day,"   "Fun, fit, focused and fulfilled!",  "26 Years of Being Positively Ageless."  Aye,  Senior American.  My intuition was to suggest that the Grey Panthers be invited to do a presentation.
Vamos a ver.

The subject this time is dread,  dreading change. William McFee in his excellent book on the merchant marine ("To Catch a Ship") captures this with the feeling which can happen when some one signs on a ship and then goes to it and up the gang plank.   The dread can be palitable because you seldom if ever know what the crew is like,  the captain and officers, the physical conditions,  and what the journey/journies will bring. 

When I went the last time from San Francisco to Portland to join the crew of a ship in dry dock there I drank my way north on a Greyhound bus.  And when I got to the shipyard in a driving rain,  soaked
and in rough shape,  the gang plank looked to be pretty much straight up.  Strangely it was wide enough for two people and a half way up a shipmate leaving for town said three words:  "She's a feeder"  (which was a close as I was going to get to a greeting,  the food was going to be tolerable).   Which was enough.   The bunk felt much better that night for those few words.  Gracias, senor.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

One might guess that this could be attributed to Oscar Wilde,  it originates with a Roman philosopher named Apuleius (124 AD - l70 AD);    the second part of the quote is:   "While Rarity Wins Admiration."   In an age where privacy is given up to surveillance,  where intimacy is sacrificed to bad taste,  public confession and support,  the possibilities of contempt seem endless.  For those willing not to tempt the paparazzi into a chase, there may be a diminishing possibility of the rarity which wins admiration. 

I've said earlier in this BLOG that the hazards of individuality in this time seem endless,  and those hazarded by familiarity seem to be the most tragic.   The cute approach to information  (a very telling example of familiarity) and self serving  promotion is one of the most blatant  examples of the the hazards.   Even organizations such at National Public Radio are indulging in this, perhaps because  of the view that this is necessary for fund raising.  And that may indeed be true.  Sad if so,  familiarity
breeds contempt.