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Posts Tagged ‘Musing’

In the late 1940s, my father owned a bar in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. The City of Mount Vernon along with Yonkers formed the northern boundary of New York’s Borough of the Bronx. During that period in my life both my parents would disappear for a while. I never knew where my father went. My mother was hospitalized for a year or so at a time in various mental and medical hospitals having unspeakable procedures administered to her as was usual at the time.

Anyway, during the period my father owned the bar, I would spend many of my days there sitting on the floor, my chin propped up on my fists listing to the music and staring at the changing colors of the lights emanating from the Wurlitzer.

Now for those who do not know what a Wurlitzer is, it was one of the last great analog machines for producing music before the advent of the digital age. Through the clear plastic window at the top, I could see the bright chrome handle move up and down the stack of records, stop with a jerk and pluck a record out of the stack, swing the report over to the turntable and drop it. Then the music would play — silky jazz, bright pop tunes, magnificently melodious show tunes. Surrounding the window, a roll of back-lit variegated colored plastic would bath me sitting there before it with its ever-changing colors.

One day, in the bar, while I sat there before the Wurlitzer dreamily wandering through the bliss of the colors and the music (Lady Day’s cover of Night and Day?) I, for some reason, overheard my father and the other men at the bar talking. One of them, probably my father, said, “You know those guys on Tin Pan Alley*, who write those songs all wear bow ties and horn-rim glasses.”

This startled me. “What do bow ties and horn-rim glasses have to do with writing music,” I thought? “Was it some sort of uniform that one must wear to get into the alley?” “Odd, why would they say that?”

I would continue to ponder that question as I sat there in that dream-like state, bathed in the slowly shifting colors listening to Sarah Vaughn, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden or some other the wonderful sounds of that golden age of music wondering about bow ties and horn-rim glasses.

Of my childhood, this was one of the only two experiences which I remember fondly.

Later, there was a time that I wore bow ties and still later horn rim glasses. Never wrote a note of music though.

A Wurlitzer Juke Box


  • Tin Pan Alley — the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885 when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.

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It has been only three days since my return from Italy, jet lag lingers on and worries about my health persist, but hey, I’m home and that’s a start.

As the trip back slowly recedes and disappears from memory, I try to think of the high points that I can write about but, except for tasting with Nikki the various after dinner drinks and chocolates served to First-class passengers on Alitalia’s flight between Milan and New York, nothing comes to mind — except, perhaps, hearing “A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall” and a rousing version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” on the planes audio.

It was good to see Naida again and hear the soothing whispers at night and the sighs of pleasure and feel the handles of home drifting back into my hands.

I guess I should begin by telling about my latest health worries since at my age they have the ability to crowd out a lot of life’s greatest pleasures. It may develop into a saga, maudlin or boring, tragic or comic, who knows.

I came home with a numbness of the skin on my throat along with pain underneath. Yesterday some swelling also appeared.

Today, I visited my primary care physician, a man not ranked too highly in his profession by either his peers or his patients. At the appointment, he was giddy with anticipation of his pending retirement from the practice of medicine within the next two months and insisted on spending some time with me discussing the travel options available to him in retirement before getting to the purpose of my visit. Following my description of my symptoms and a lot of feeling around my neck and some hmms and ahhs, he said that he thought it could be a blockage in a vein or artery and prescribed a sonogram and a chest x-ray. This, of course, did not alleviate my anxiety because if the blockage is caused by a clot of some kind and is lodged in my vein then it is an arrow aimed at my heart and if in an artery then it is aimed at my brain — the choice between a potential myocardial infarction or a stroke seems to be not much of a choice at all. But what else can I do but go through the tests and wait for my appointment with my oncologist next week and hope that, in the meantime, I do not keel over and collapse somewhere along the overgrown paths that I walk on in the evenings beside the river?

I apologize for writing about my health so much but when we reach this age it is often the most exciting and interesting thing we have going — an adventure, but not one where “no one has gone before” but one where everyone has gone before who have gone before. It may be boring for you, but it is new for me. It’s a lot like being that person early in a horror movie who decides to walk down the dark hallway alone or like waiting for Freddy Kruger to show up for dinner. You can either laugh or scream. I prefer laughing although a good scream now and then can do wonders for your peace of mind.

The next day, I was X-rayed and sonogramed. They showed that neither vein nor artery was clogged. So by the end of the day, I was back where I was before walking into my doctor’s office — with a pain in the neck and lost in hypochondriaville. I now wait a week more before my oncologist can see me and after feeling around my neck and a lot of hmms and ahhs send me off to be probed by large expensive machines tended by smiling people dressed in blue or green outfits and looking a little like the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

Walked the dog to the dog park this evening. There are three benches in the dog park each about as far away from the other as can be and still be inside the dog park. There were two other people at the park with their dogs curled at their feet. They sat on two of the benches, I sat on the third bench with Boo-boo (the dog) who promptly curled up at my feet. We sat there unmoving. Time passed, a lot of time. Then one person got up, hooked the leash onto the collar of his dog and slowly left the park. We remaining two and our dogs sat there, silently, in the dusk, until the other person finally got up and left with his dog. I waited until it was almost dark. Then, Boo-boo and I also left and went home. It all felt like an Edward Hopper painting as a slow-motion uTube video. Ennui at the dog park — life in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Naida is off to the California State Fair presiding over the booth featuring California authors with books to sell. The temperature is expected to hit 104 to 105 degrees in this part of the Great Valley. I remain home with the dog, pecking away at my computer and now and then listlessly reading various blogs on economics and dozing off when the words blur and their significance sounds in my mind more like the buzzing of mosquitos than packets of meaning.

Not so good a night though — crumpled part of the fender on the car trying to get into the garage after dinner, followed by scary nightmares that even frightened Naida. Perhaps, I am unraveling. The next day was not so good either. There are just some days like that. But, as the time grows shorter, I certainly can use fewer of them. Perhaps, those are the days to catch up on my sleep.

Anyway, HRM (my self-identified grandson-ward) called me to drive him to the skate park. So at about 3:30 that afternoon, I took off for The Golden Hills in my car with the crumpled fender.

The boys were waiting alone at the house. Dick was at work and SWAC, who only within the past few weeks had criticized him for leaving HRM alone as a latch-key kid, was gone to rummage around at the mall. So, I picked him up and drove him and his friend Jake to the Citrus Heights Skateboard Park where some sort of competition had been planned. There they were to wait for Dick to pick them up and take them home.

During the ride, they excitedly told me about their adventures so far this summer. It seems this was the first vacation that had impressed upon them the possibilities and joys of life. They have a few years yet before being introduced to its sorrows.

They talked about their plans to buy two vans after they graduate high school and drive them around the world living off the proceeds of their professional scooter careers and a uTube video program they would produce about their adventures. I said, “It sounds like the Sixties all over again.” They asked, “What’s that?”

It is difficult to comprehend — no, more likely, accept — that to these children The Summer of Love is as far in the distant past as World War I was to those flower children gathered on old Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York on that warm summer afternoon in 1969 — as far distant as “Over There” is from “Bad Moon Rising.”

Imagine, I and those of my generation have lived a full one-tenth of the time that has passed since the Fourth Crusade and the final destruction of what little remained of classical Europe; one-tenth of the time since Genghis Kahn released his hoards to plunder and subdue almost one-quarter of the globe; one-tenth of the time that has passed since the reluctant King John signed the Magna Carter and Marco Polo returned from his journeys to the FarEast. Either we of my generation have lived long or human history has been far briefer than we imagined.

For the next few days, little or nothing happened that raised itself above the gray morass of a deteriorating memory. We ate lunch at a nice little outdoor restaurant where I had an east-African hamburger (chopped-meat mixed with yams and African spices), watched a Tarzan movie on TV where the actor playing the lost earl was so unmemorable that his name was not even listed in the credits and the chimp hammed up all the best parts.  I spent a lot of time fingering the emerging lump in my neck and worrying.

One day, I walked the dog along the levee in the blistering heat and the silence. Eventually, we turned back into the cooler tree-shaded paths of the Enchanted Forrest until we came to the small swimming pool shaded by the tall pines and redwoods that I like so much. There we sat by the water in the stillness but for the barely perceptible splashing of the woman swimming laps and the whispers of the breeze through the trees. I waited there until dusk then walked back home. That night, I slept well.

It has been several days since I have written here — not because I have been busy with things to do or adventures and not because life has become so boring that my consciousness has shut down in response, but because just moping around seemed to be as energetic as I could manage.

On Monday, I drove Naida to the State Fairgrounds to close out the California Authors exhibit. It was fun. There were a few other authors there packing up their books while hoards of workmen trundle about taking down the various exhibits.

Later, HRM called and to take Jake and him to the mall. The day seemed to be looking up so I put a turkey feather I had found lying on the ground in the Enchanted Forrest into my hat band and left for the Golden Hills. I looked jauntily idiotic.
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Jauntily Idiotic

I arrived at the house ready to push on but they first had to watch “Sponge Bob” on the TV and finish eating a pizza for lunch. I waited and watched the idiotic animated sessile metazoan his moronic Asteroidea buddy and his dyspeptic sepiida co-worker cavort across the TV screen until the homo-sapiens sapiens adolescents had finished their pizza. We then piled into the car with the crumpled fender and left to pick up the third member of the Scooter Gang, Graham.

The Scooter Gang, HRH, Jake, and Graham (Tyson, the fourth member, was busy playing X-box games) asked me to drive them to the mall in Roseville so that they could shop for backpacks for school and some other things that I tuned out in disinterest. At the mall, I sat at the coffee-shop and played on my computer while they shopped. After not too long they gave up, having purchased nothing but some sour tasting candy. They then asked me to drive them to someplace near Denio’s where Jake was to be paid by someone for a paintball gun he had sold in order to finance his purchase of a bicycle. It all seemed fishy to me. The street was in one of the more down-scale parts of Roseville which is saying a lot since up-scale Roseville does not seem to exist. They told me to wait while they went in search of the house of the person owing Jake the money. After a few minutes, they returned with Jake clutching a $100 bill. Do you think I was an unwitting accomplice in some sort of illegal juvenile caper?

A few days later, I met with my Oncologist. After telling him my symptoms and him feeling around my neck, voicing a few hmms and ahhs, and shoving a long tube through my nose and down my throat, I said, “So tell me doctor, am I a dead man walking or will you have to tear out my throat to save my life?” He seemed to be taken aback a bit by that and when it turned out that his office had misplaced the CAT scan I had taken in May upon which he made his previous diagnosis that I was in remission, he began to stutter, explaining that he does not think there is a problem, since everything looks ok inside my throat, but to be on the safe side I should have another CAT scan and biopsy “as soon as possible” to be sure. I then mentioned my numbness on the left side of my face and asked how that affected his diagnosis. He explained that there is a nerve which could be impacted by the so-called “slight swelling” on my neck causing such an effect. I suspect he was guessing.

The next night, I went to the sleep clinic he prescribed when I was still in remission. I do not know why he prescribed it. At the clinic, they wired me all up. I was placed in a room with a double bed that would not be out of place in a Motel 6 except that it lacked a television. They put something around my nose they said would pump air into my lungs but I had to keep my mouth closed or the air would escape and they would have to replace the nose thing with a mask that covered my nose and mouth. Every so often during the night the technician would come into the room and jiggle the wires and things that they had attached to me. I did not sleep well.

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Pookie Wired.

Two days later I had a CT scan followed by a surprisingly enjoyable dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Roseville. Next week comes the biopsy. I now realize getting old is not so different than being a soldier in war or an explorer in a dark jungle somewhere, every step may be your last. It’s all very exciting if you are one of those who find shitting in one’s pants an adventure. Some people find all this terror something to approach with grim heroism, others prefer screaming all the way down. I am beginning to get bored and more than a little bit annoyed.

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Three aging gentlemen and the youthful HRM

One of the more significant problems that arise upon reaching my age (78+) is that I often soon forget whatever I may have been recently up to. Like now — I am sitting writing this in a nondescript Starbucks somewhere in Folsom, not too far from the prison made famous by Jonny Cash. It is raining outside. A few hours ago, I met with my oncologist. He declared me still in remission from cancer in my neck that I had been treated for about a year ago. Hooray for me. I cannot remember what else I have done since my return to the Great Valley a few days ago. Perhaps, I napped a lot. I recall that about a day or so ago, I had a late lunch-early dinner at Subway with HRM a 13-year-old pre-adolescent young man. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: How are things going with you?
HRM: Good.
Me: Anything interesting happen in school recently?
HRM: Everything.

And so on — the conversational rhythms of the emerging adolescent.

One evening, we went for dinner at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. It was enjoyable, especially accompanied by honey wine. That night, I had a dream so loaded with Jungian overtones that to attempt to describe it could lead to madness. I struggled, eventually successfully, to wake myself up but could not get back to sleep again for fear the dream would return.

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Alas, yesterday I did not get everything that  I wanted. What I wanted is not important. Nevertheless, this morning, I pouted feeling like everyone hated me. I sat alone in my car in the middle of a shopping center parking lot having a discussion with my self. It is that voice in one’s own head that tells your life’s story.  It is that story, the one you tell yourself all the time that makes you what you are. We are more made up of that story than of the actual events that occur in our lives.

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“I feel all alone.”

“You spend half your life alone. What’s so different about this time?”

“Nobody likes me. No one wants me around.”

“Hmm… how many people would like you around but you do not want to be around them?”

“Maybe you are right. Perhaps, I am overdoing it, But, why do I feel like I’ve got zits on my psyche?”

No answer.

So, I decided to go to a movie. I think entertainment can cure most ills — especially those of existential misery you force on yourself.

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I saw “Ready Player One.” A few days ago, I saw “Isle of Dogs.” If you want to experience the pinnacle of the animator’s art, these are two movies you should not miss.

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The Pygmy Forest.

One day I decided to hike through Mendocino’s Pygmy Forest Reserve. Saving the Pygmy Forest was what got me into coastal resource preservation many years ago. A chance meeting with John Olmstead beneath the shadow of San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid caused me to spend the next fifteen years of my life trying to protect the coast of California. John, the grandson of Fredrick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame, is one of the unsung heroes of the conservation movement.

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To be perfectly honest, when he showed me the scrawny little trees that made up the forest, I was less than impressed. But, after passionately explaining to me how they came to be and the importance of preserving the Mendocino Ecological Staircase, as he so poetically described it, on which they grew, I threw my hat into the ring so to speak.
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John was my idol. There was little he would not do, no amount of money he would borrow with little hope of paying it back, no lie, no level of begging he would stoop to, no machinations of government and individuals he would not engage in, in order to preserve these forlorn little-twisted trees from disappearing beneath the bulldozers blade — all with no benefit to himself, no wealth, no fame, and few real friends.

 

The Lost Coast of Cape Mendocino.

On another day, I decided to drive up to Westport and into Cape Mendocino and the Lost Coast.
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Westport is a tiny town on a bluff above the Pacific supposedly riddled with ghosts. It is the last town before Highway 1 turns inland in order to avoid dark mountainous terrain of the Lost Coast. I always liked this stretch of the highway. It is one of those places in the world where calling it somewhere that time forgot is justified.
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Passing beyond the town and turning inland, I found one of the dirt roads that lead into the heart of Lost Coast.
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Over forty years ago Joe the Hippie and his flower-child girlfriend driving a beat-up 1950s sedan would also turn off here and brave the ruts and washouts to hike, camp, and smoke and then drive on through to Ferndale and beyond. We would sometimes pass through Whitethorn and Honeydew, two of the tiny towns hidden in the Cape Mendocino forests, where the cultivators of the major cash crop in the area, big fierce bearded men and long-faced and long dressed women, would stand in front of their clapboard home and silently stare at us as we drove by.
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The road I chose traversed two ridges and passed high above the surf. I traveled through dark redwood groves festooned with signs that warned “No Trespassing. Area Patrolled.” I chose this to mean “shoot on sight,” not because I believed I would be shot if I wandered about but to persuade myself not to park the car and go hiking into the forest just for spite — and get lost.

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I drove by a moss-encrusted redwood that I called the “Old Man in the Tree” for obvious reasons.
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Finally, descending from the ridge, I entered a relatively broad valley with a creek (Usal Creek) running through it. A bridge crossed the creek into a sprawling primitive campground containing a few tents and some vans fitted out for camping.
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After parking my car at the edge of the black sand beach, I went for a hike through the woods that bordered the creek. As I sauntered along I ran into this:
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There were at least six bucks in the herd and two does. Not wanting to disturb them, I made my way back to the beach and walked along it until I feared the rising tide would cut off my return.
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After wandering around a bit and sitting on a log staring at the surf, I returned to my car and began the drive back to Mendocino. Along the way, I stopped at the store in Westport to buy a cream soda and a bag of potato chips.
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A Stroll along South Noyo Headlands Park.

On Saturday, we visited South Noyo Headlands Park. If anything, it is even more spectacular than the North Park.

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When they are connected in the next year or two the park system will extend almost 12 miles along the coast passing through several magnificent landscapes. I have no doubt this park is destined to become one of the greatest urban/rural oceanfront parks in the world.
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The Druid Sisters’ Tea Party.

That evening we attended the Druid Sisters Afro, Celtic, Belly Dance Tea Party at the Hill House in Mendocino. The group Soul Elixir, with Pilar Duran (daughter of the great jazz guitarist Eddie Duran) and Claudia Paige (who played drums for the Grateful Dead and other groups), was the first to perform.

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Pilar Duran

They were magnificent. The Second group the Druid Sisters (vocals, drums, and fiddle) followed with a marvelous fiddle player (Kathy Buys) and a strong-voiced singer with red hair that the princess in “Brave” would envy (Cyoakha O’Manion). Claudia Paige played the drums here also. Both groups also performed together while the belly dancers wound their way through the audience.

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Cyoakha O’Manion

Many of those attending the festivities were of a more advanced age and dressed like they thought Druids would dress — lots of beads and crystals, flowing clothing and even sandals on some. They also danced to the music with the undulating abandon I had last seen at the hippie encampment on the beach below the Mendocino bluffs over 40 years ago. It was great. One woman, perhaps even older than I, done up in a long flowing dress with a hunting knife hanging from her belt, danced the entire night or at least swayed about waving her hands like she was casting a spell on us all. My sister thought that with her long slender hands and knobby knuckles she was a Witch and not a Druid. I expressed no opinion on the matter.
IMG_1424The Druid Sisters and Soul Elixir Together on Stage.

 

The B. Bryan Wildlife Preserve.

Our veneration of nature having been reinforced by the Druids, we set off the following morning for Point Area and a 200-acre estate dedicated to endangered African hoofed animals.

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We toured the reserve in a safari vehicle, saw the grazing gazelle, antelope, zebra and giraffe herds, fed the giraffes carrots held in our mouths and learned a lot — that certain types of Zebra, are not only obnoxious, but they plan their births during the rainy season so that they could hide their foals from predators in the newly grown brush; all the things one can tell about the health of wild animals by examining their poop; and, that there are only 760 Rothschild Giraffes, the tallest on earth, left in the wild.
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Pookie and the Rothschild Giraffe.

As we left the preserve I thought California with its large open grasslands, the demise of its logging industry, and relatively strong environmental and land use laws could be a wonderful place for establishing large preserves in order to save many of the world’s endangered ruminants and perhaps some of the large predators.

SAVE THE ROTHSCHILD GIRAFFES.

 

Leaving Mendocino.

I spent my last few days here trying to figure out how I would occupy myself during the four days between when I had to leave here and when I was scheduled to return to El Dorado Hills. Camping for a night or two seemed attractive. I always liked short turns of camping. Many years ago I did a lot of it. I was never a “gear” person. Usually just throwing down a sleeping bag under a tree sufficed.

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