fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Shammi was a Bollywood actress. Bill Pulte was a real estate developer. Kate Wilhelm was a mystery and science fiction writer. Togo West was the Secretary of the Army under Bill Clinton and later became Secretary of Veterans Affairs (still under Clinton). Ruth Wilensky served up a light lunch in Montreal. Oskar Groening was a war criminal, dubbed the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. Gary Burden designed album covers for rock albums. Hubert de Givenchy was a fashion designer. Ken Dodd was a British comedian. Craig Mack was a rapper. T. Berry Brazelton was a pediatrician and author.

Russell Solomon founded Tower Records. Once, oh best beloved, there was such a thing as a record store, where you could go and listen to records (or, later on, CDs) and find new things to buy that you had never heard of before. I mostly frequented HEAR Music in Santa Monica, which had well-curated listening stations, leading to many somewhat serendipitous purchases. Tower Records was bigger and more mainstream, but I still spent money there.

Stephen Hawking was a physicist. Part of his fame was due to his disability. His book, A Brief History of Time, was probably the least-read non-fiction bestseller of all time. I did actually read it, but I can’t say I remember much about it.

Liam O’Flynn played the Uilleann pipes. He co-founded Planxty, one of the major bands that modernized Irish folk music. He also played for Shaun Davey’s orchestral suite The Brendan Voyage. That piece had a big influence on my life, because it led me to discover Tim Severin’s writing, which has made me choose certain travel destinations (notably The Faroe Islands, but also Georgia.)

Non-celebrity Death Watch: I got a facebook message from my cousin yesterday. He mentioned that his father (my uncle) had died in December. I had gotten a call from Uncle Herb’s friend at the end of October telling me he was ill (leukemia) and I had expected to get another call when he died. I am a bit peeved not to have been notified, since I would have driven up to the funeral. Anyway, Herb was a man who enjoyed life, including traveling and eating and playing poker and doing Sudoku. He had started going to Chabad and joined a tefillin club there in the last few years of his life and I believe that gave him some comfort.

Space Force: It is rare that I agree with President Trump, but the notion of a Space Force is not at all ridiculous. This has been talked about for years for good reasons. One has to do with funding priorities. The Air Force dominates space programs right now, but tends to prioritize airplanes over space systems in the budget process. (This is even worse for the Navy. I have a running joke with some of my colleagues that we should refer to satellites as spaceships to keep their attention.) But the bigger reason is that space programs are, in general, inherently multi-service and the current processes don’t handle that well. To use a fairly simple example, the Air Force buys the GPS satellites and ground control system, but the biggest user of GPS equipment is the Army. This makes it more challenging to develop and deploy user equipment. We have similar synchronization issues with pretty much every program. A Space Force is a reasonable solution to some of these problems. (Trump taking credit for the idea is silly, but that’s another matter.)

Speaking of Space: It always bothers me that people assume extraterrestrials will be smarter than us. It seems to me perfectly plausible that contacting a non-spacefaring culture is really a question of setting that as a priority. Maybe they have spaceships but not, say, flush toilets. Maybe they have a Space Force instead of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Contrary to popular phraseology, rocket science is actually straightforward. Now, art – that’s what takes brains.

Speaking of Rockets: I just saw that Wreckless Eric is going to be playing at Jammin’ Java in April. I had no idea he was still around.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: I know one is supposed to identify Jeremy Tarcher as a publisher (primarily of self-help books), but to me his significance will always be as the husband of Shari Lewis (and, hence, the step-father of Lamb Chop). Until reading his obituary, I had not realized that he was also the brother of trashy novelist Judith Krantz. (I mean that her novels are trashy. I’m sure she is a perfectly lovely person.)

Al Seckel was a collector of and author of books about optical illusions. Back when the giant redwoods were saplings and I was an undergraduate, I took a series of biomedical engineering classes, one of which involved sensory and motor systems. Aside from getting to play with some intelligent prostheses (remember the Boston arm?), we had problem sets that involved predicting what an optical illusion would look like, essentially by taking its convolution with a model of the human visual system. I still think that was one of the coolest engineering classes I took at MIT. (The coolest class I took overall, however, was Evil and Decadence in Literature, but that’s another matter.)

And then there’s Yogi Berra. True, he played for (and managed) the Source of All Evil in the Universe. At least he also managed the Mets. Aside from being notable as a catcher, he was (of course) well-known as a folksy and humorous philosopher. I cannot tell you how many times (admittedly as a Red Sox fan), I have taken comfort from knowing "it ain’t over till it’s over." And, like Yogi, on weekends I often "take a two hour nap from one to four."

Yom Kippur: Wednesday was Yom Kippur. It was also (part of) the Pope’s visit to Washington. I considered just going to Shoreshim (which is in Reston, so well away from any potential chaos), but I was reasonably sure I would be disappointed in their abbreviations to the services. So I bit the bullet and went downtown to Fabrangen.

(I should interject that I had a similar situation some years ago. Pope John Paul II visited Boston during Yom Kippur in 1979. I don’t remember any particular impact on the area around the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill, other than the joking about saying "Gut Yontif, Pontiff.")

Anyway, it turned out that the metro was not the nightmare everyone feared it would be. Not that it was perfect, as they are still dealing with some track issues that will probably have the Orange Line (and Blue and Silver) with fewer trains than scheduled for the rest of our natural lives. (I think they said about 6 weeks, but they said that the weekend track work they have been doing for the past decade would take a year.) But I got there reasonably close to the beginning of services, which is, as Jewish time goes, early. (Note, however, that they were starting late, because of the Pope’s visit.)

So… let’s see. Mostly closer to traditional service than Shoreshim. A bit too much showiness in some singing, e.g. rounds, which are a hard thing to do for those of us who are not inherently musical. Leaders for some sections were too chatty, but that’s kind of okay on Yom Kippur because it’s not like you’re trying to get out of there to get to a meal. Some of the things people said did resonate with me, e.g. the image of Japanese pottery in which cracks are filled in with gold to create a beautiful new object. And a poem (in the lead-in to Yizkor) that had to do with ironing underwear. My favorite part of the service was an addition to "Al Chet" (the list of sins we ask forgiveness for) which was written by members of the congregation. My least favorite was that they used a Reconstructionist machzor mostly, but not completely, leading to a lot of page-flipping to an additional book. (This is a common problem, by the way, but it still drives me nuts. It’s hard enough for Little Miss Short Attention Span here to pay attention to where we are without us suddenly being 100 pages away.) No musical instruments, at least, though there were microphones. And they have the entire congregation bless one another, instead of having the priestly blessing, so lose both tradition and drama. (I am more comfortable with skipping it altogether, actually, but really I want it done correctly, i.e. traditionally.) I left at Mincha, since I can’t lose on Jeopardy again by not knowing Jonah. And I needed a nap.

Overall, I’d say it was a reasonably satisfying and reasonably meaningful service.

I’ll also note that there is a part of me that expects to hear the High Holiday liturgy in my grandfather’s voice, since he was generally hired to do that at our shul when I was growing up. And then, it’s been a lot of years, and I can’t really remember his voice all that well. I actually remember it best on something entirely non-liturgical. I used to play the piano for him to sing Yiddish songs to, because my brother was too showy and impatient to accompany other people when we were kids. (I assume he has gotten past that, since he plays in bands and does sing-alongs.) So I think particularly of Grandpa whenever I hear the song "Papirossen." Somewhere I have a recording of him. I need to find that.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Anne Meara was a comedian / actor, the wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben Stiller. Tanith Lee was a writer of fantasy and horror.

John Nash was, essentially, the founder of game theory – about which more in a moment. His wife, Alicia, died with him in the same car crash. She was given a lot of credit for mental health advocacy because of her dedication to him, through his struggles with mental illness (as documented in the movie,A Beautiful Mind. But I want to note that she also had a degree in physics from MIT and worked in a computer center there.

About Game Theory: There are two basic approaches to multi-criteria decision making. In one, you agree not to better your position if it would worsen your opponent’s. So, essentially, the two players agree to act as a single decision maker. This is known as Pareto-optimality, after Wilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist. (Pareto was also responsible for the 80-20 law, which states that 80% of the work is done in the first 20% of the time.) While Pareto-optimal solutions are generally better for the participants, they are subject to cheating. John Nash came up with the Nash equilibrium, which is a minimax approach. In short, it works on the assumption that the other guy is out to screw you.

Pareto ended up in exile in Switzerland. Nash spent most of his adult life hospitalized for schizophrenia. The choice is yours.

Food Pornography 1 - America Eats Tavern: I got together on Friday night for dinner with imaginary internet friends (well, I’d met one of them before) at this Jose Andres restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. It was mildly challenging as I had laryngitis, an aftermath of the allergy / dust issues I mentioned previously. I am a big fan of Jose’s restaurants. This one’s concept is historic American dishes. I drank a Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout, which was quite tasty. The others got an assortment of hams, which I don’t eat, so I got roasted beet salad, which was very good. There were hush puppies, two soups (asparagus and cream of mushroom), deviled eggs, Harvard beets, roasted cauliflower, and cranberry glazed brussels sprouts. The latter were so good we got a second order of them. I got the pineapple upside down cake for dessert, but one of the pies (key lime or lemon meringue) would have been a better choice. Overall, it was an excellent meal, accompanied by excellent conversation.

The American Museum of …: I drove up to my mother’s house and did some more clearing out. All of the books are now with me, along with the portrait of my grandmother. And a bunch of school supplies to donate to schools when I travel in the developing world. I gave all the coupons that were still in the house to the exchange at her library. I cleared out a few desk drawers, which included what I refer to as the American Museum of Rubber Bands, the American Museum of Pens that No Longer Write, and the American Museum of Packets of Plastic Cutlery. The rubber bands are in a ziploc bag, the dead pens were thrown out, and the cutlery went with my uncle, who will bring it to his synagogue. I also have to wonder why Mom not only saved every pair of glasses she ever had, but glued on a label indicating what years she wore that pair. (Those are in my house right now, waiting for me to take them to my library, which has a Lions Club drop box.)

Food Pornography 2 – Lido Kosher Deli: My uncle drove out to the house on Tuesday evening and we had dinner at the Lido Kosher Deli. I got chicken noodle soup, a hot open faced tongue sandwich, stuffed derma, and kasha varnishkas. (There was also cole slaw and pickles for the table). It was very good, but too much food. I made him take all the leftovers, including mine, because I was leaving early in the morning and it seemed too awkward to travel with. Though I suppose I could have taken any of the three or more coolers that are in the house.

Cluter, Clutter, Sigh: Of course, now I have another umpty-ump books added to the clutter at home. I don’t know where I am going to find the time to deal with it all. But at least I know where I get the tendency from.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have various other things to write about but tonight starts Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and I wanted to make a translation of some testimony of my father’s available. I believe he submitted this in order to apply for reparations money.

This is my translation (with some assistance from Google translate, but much of the language was within my limited German reading skills). There are a few notes in italics which are things I’ve filled in.

Sworn Declaration

Today, the (date not filled in – it was some time in 1955) appeared before me the man named Erich Nadel, a student living at 1508 St. Marks Avenue, Brooklyn, NY and explained the following to me under oath:

I was born in Koenigsburg, East Prussia on September 15, 1929. (The actual date of his birth was September 1, 1930. He had lied about this to the Nazis during a particular selection and the earlier date was on all the paperwork, so he stuck with it. He celebrated both dates.) A year after my birth, my parents managed to continue to Kovno, Lithuania. I went to school there and was there when the war began. After the occupation of Kovno, the Nazis forced me to wear a yellow Jewish symbol. At the end of August 1941, I was brought to the Ghetto Slobodka-Williampole. The ghetto was fenced with barbed wire and guarded by armed police. The Jewish council was headed by Dr. Elkes. Although I was a minor, I was forced to work in the laundry (I am not sure this is the correct translation of waschanstalt but Google's suggestion of "wash institution" wasn't any better), of the Ghetto workshop and afterwards for the N.S. K. K. ( i.e. the National Socialist Motor Corps).

The work was under forced conditions and I was not paid for it.

In July 1944, while the Ghetto commander was S. S. Hauptsturmbanfuhrer (not sure how to translate this – it is sort of high main leader) Goeke, I was forcibly transported to Dachau, LagerNumber 1, near Landsberg. (I chose not to translate Lager to Camp since I think it is clear enough as it is.) There I was given the number 81520.

During the time I was in Lager Number 1, I worked for the Kommando Mohl to build an underground aircraft plant. Although I was a minor, I was forced to carry heavy sacks of cement for 12 hours each night for three months. In November 1944, I became sick and was transferred to Lager Number 4. I remained in Lager Number 4 until April 26, 1945. On that day, I was brought back to Lager Number 1 and was freed the next day. After being liberated, because I was sick, I was brought to the refugee hospital in Landsberg. After a month, I was brought to the Sanatorium (there is a blank here – I assume he intended to fill in a name) in Landsburg. Then I traveled to Italy and arrived there on August 1, 1945. On August 15, 1945, in the Displaced Persons Camp at Bologna, I contracted the malaria from which I still suffer. From October 1945 until May 1947 I was in Santa Maria de Leuce (in the Lecce district). After that I lived in Palese in the Bari district from April 1947 until December 1947 and Barletta in the Bari district from December 1947 until my emigration to America.

I came to America on March 29, 1948 on the S. S. Sobieski from Naples, Italy. Since April 20, 1954, I have been a citizen of the United States of America and have lived at the address mentioned above since July 1950.

I assure the correctness of my sworn disclosures. I am aware of the importance of a sworn declaration and the consequences of a false sworn declaration.

I sign the same in the presence of the notary of my free will.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I made an interesting family discovery.

One of the complications in my family is the large number of schisms, which end up with various branches not speaking to each other over various slights, real or imagined. These range from drunkenness at a wedding leading to a serious injury to how nice a coat someone bought his wife. Since these things happened on both sides of my family, I assume they are not actually uncommon. They’re just annoying, because they make it hard to track down people who might have genealogical information.

The short version is that my father had once said that my great-grandfather, Shachne Feinstein, had a brother who was an artist and who at one time was the director of the Jewish Museum of Minsk. For a variety of reasons, I believe that artist may have been Chaim Feinstein. (I have no evidence yet, but reading about Lithuanian Jewish artists of the right time period turned up Chaim who worked in woodcuts and was from Kovno, both of which would fit what I had been told.) There is a tenuous connection to my father’s cousin, Shlomo, who also had a brother who may have emigrated to South Africa in the 1930’s, around the same time that Shlomo emigrated to Petah Tikva (in what is now Israel). Incidentally, Petah Tikva plays a big role in my family because my mother’s father got his smicha (rabbinical degree) at a Yeshiva there.

Shlomo actually stayed with us briefly in the 1970’s, when he came to the U.S. for medical treatment. And we visited him and his family in Petah Tikva around 1974. I figure there is a fair chance his daughter would know something. But I haven’t been able to track her down. My other relatives in Israel want nothing to do with that branch of the family, so it isn’t so simple.

I knew Shlomo was an architect and that he was responsible for a fair amount of the early development of Petah Tikva. What I didn’t know until today is that there’s a junior high in Petah Tikva named after him.

That doesn’t help me at all with my search for info on Chaim, but it’s still cool.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Cleaning out things in my mother's house reminds me of how privileged we are in the U.S. I often accused Mom of having more clothing than some entire third world countries and I am convinced that I was not exaggerating very much. I've made two trips to Goodwill and have the car packed up for a third and final one. To give a couple of minor examples, Mom had 57 pairs of slacks. Even allowing for heavier stuff for winter and lighter stuff for summer, that is decidedly excessive. I am reasonably sure that, excluding the ones that are part of suits (which would only add 2) and not counting 3 pairs of sweats, I have well under a dozen total. Or, consider sweatshirts. Mom had at least 17. I have exactly 3 and all of those were bought when I was somewhere that was colder than I expected it to be.

People in much of the world are lucky to have one change of clothes. Traveling in general, and in the developing world in particular, has taught me how little one really needs. So I am thankful to have the opportunity to have too much and the wisdom to realize that enough is enough.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have other things to write about, but here is a quick note from my mother's house, where I am spending the week, attempting to clean stuff out.

There is a lot of stuff in my mother's house, but the most obvious one is an amazing number of bags. Apparently, Mom was a bit obsessed with both paper bags and plastic bags. Hence, there is a large stack of paper grocery bags on the desk in my father's study. And there are a lot of paper bags in plastic bags to use in the trash cans. There are at least 8 bags of commercial trashbags in the hall closet, as well as a floor full of paper in plastic bags filled with paper bags. Hence, I tend to refer to that closet as The American Museum of Trash Bags.

The closet in Coupon Central (what had once been my brother's bedroom) had a few paper in plastic bags in it. One is filled with boxes of pasta. One, which I emptied out, had one box of Rice Krispies and two paper bags of toiletries (what appears to be shower gel, a couple of scrubbie things, and a dental floss holder). The third one was, inevitably, filled with folded up plastic grocery bags.

I also found a duffle bag full of plastic bags in my old bedroom. If the zombie apocalypse comes while I am dealing with Mom's stuff, I ardently hope that zombies can be suffocated.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I've noticed 2 things I got wrong in recent entries:

1) My paternal grandfather actually died in February, which is not around this time of year. To be fair, I did say that I didn't remember.

2) The borscht actually cost my mother $13. She called to bid 12 and was told somebody already had done so, so she upped her bid a dollar. Nobody else was nuts enough to bid on 12 cases of borscht. I'd like to believe the two bottles I found in the house recently were not still left from that purchase. (And, by the way, I still consider borscht with sour cream and potatoes the best possible warm weather meal.)

Also, a few people have asked me about making charitable contributions in my mother's memory. Since her favorite place was the library, I will suggest making a donation to your local Friends of the Library or similar library foundation. Her library was The Island Park Public Library, which would, of course, be suitable.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I’ve been trying to write something coherent about my mother and haven’t really succeeded. So, excuse me for rambling.

The bare facts are these:
Beatrice (usually known as Bea) Lubowsky was born in the Bronx in January 1934. She grew up in the University Heights neighborhood, where attended Bronx public schools, including Macomb Junior High and Walton High School. Her father, Simon, had a jewelry store and her mother, Lillian, was a dress designer. Her first job, when she was in high school, was coloring photographs at a local shop.

She worked as a secretary at the United Jewish Appeal and attended Hunter College, where she studied anthropology. While working at the UJA, she met Eric Nadel, who was working there as a file clerk, while attending City College. They married in 1956. She quit school in 1957, when my brother, Elliot, was born. So, as the older child, he thwarted her efforts to become the next Margaret Mead. The family was perfected in 1958 with my birth. (Actually, there were later attempts to give me someone younger to torture, the way that Elliot tortured me, but there were at least a couple of miscarriages.)

Dad graduated from college in 1961 and we moved to Island Park, NY, to the house Mom lived the rest of her life in. At various times there were a pet mouse (Rosie), assorted turtles, and a couple of cats (not at the same time as one another or the mouse). Given that Mom was allergic to cats, this may not have been the best idea, but who could resist? (Later on, she restricted herself to feeding outdoor cats and visiting Kitty Cove to play with the adoptable cuties.)

Once Elliot and I were in school, Mom worked at a number of jobs, ranging from selling Avon (or, as she referred to it, being a "Ding-Dong-Ding-a-Ling") to selling real estate to a return to secretarial work, first at a wholesale travel agency and later at the tour department of B’nai Brith. This last job meant a return to commuting (via the Long Island Railroad) but also made it easier to do things in the city after work, especially theatre going.

Somewhere along the way, Mom discovered coupons and refunding. She had always loved bargains, with one of her greatest triumphs being the purchase of 12 cases of borscht (24 bottles a case) for $12 at a public television auction when I was in high school. She rejoiced in finding combinations of double coupons plus a refund that would actually pay her a few cents for a purchase of detergent and had no qualms about wearing t-shirts advertising orange juice or cigarettes. Along the way, Elliot and I moved away and Dad died in 1985. With the house to herself, Mom was able to turn Elliot’s bedroom into Coupon Central. In later years, she took to organizing a coupon exchange at the Island Park Public Library, which was pretty much her second home.

Other things Mom liked were travel, gambling, and reality television. She wasn’t the most domestic person ever, but that probably made her a better mother for me. She encouraged me to pursue my own path and I think she was proud of me for becoming a strong, independent woman.

Mom died on Saturday, October 25th. Several people saw her in town on Friday. One of her neighbors noticed the blinds down later in the day than normal and investigated, eventually calling the police. It wasn’t a real surprise, as she had had numerous health issues over the past few years. But it is still hard for me to think of her not being there, ready to yell at me and ask my advice about what upcoming movies to see at the library.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is one of those big, catch-up entries. Basically, it is everything up to my mother's death.

Celebrity Death Watch: Socialite Deborah Cavendish was the last of the colorful Mitford sisters. James Traficant was a scandal-ridden congressman. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier continued his father’s ruin of Haiti. Michael Sata was the president of Zambia. Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world. Barbara Washburn was the first woman to climb Mount McKinley (in 1947, when nobody called it Denali.) Polly Bergen was an actor and game show panelist. Marcia Strassman was an actor, probably most famous for her role on Welcome Back, Kotter. Geoffrey Holder was an actor, dancer, and choreographer. Singer Paul Revere (of the Raiders) died appropriately at 76. Oscar de la Renta was a fashion designer before he bought it. John-Roger was a cult leader.

There are 2 celebrity deaths I want to particularly highlight. First, Ben Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post for many years and set the newspaper on a path to being a major leader in investigative journalism by publishing The Pentagon Papers. in the early 1970s. And, finally, Tom Magliozzi was either Click or Clack, of Car Talk, an NPR show that actually made auto mechanics accessible and amusing.

Non-celebrity Deaths of Note: My mother will get her own entry. The past couple of months also saw several losses of people I used to work with, including Barbara Ching and Howie Holtz. The biggest loss in that category was my long-term mentor, Trudy Bergen, who taught me a lot about how to succeed as an engineer, with some specifics about life at the Circle-A Ranch and satellite ground systems, in particular. She also was a great model for balance in life, as she was a respected quilt artist and spent a lot of time on bicycle touring and had, in more recent years, taken up ice dancing with her husband, who she lost just a couple of years ago. I will dearly miss her wisdom and good humor.

Food Pornography: I went out to dinner a few times in October, but all of them were at places I have been to multiple times before, so there is nothing especially revelatory to note.

Walking in Cleveland: I spent part of Columbus Day weekend in Cleveland, mostly to do a couple of volksmarch events (both qualifying as baseball walks). One took me through Lake View Cemetery, which has the graves of several famous people (e.g. John D. Rockefeller, James A. Garfield, Eliot Ness, Harvey Pekar). Most significantly from the volksmarch standpoint, the walk included the grave of the only major league player killed by a thrown baseball, Ray Chapman. It was, of course, a pitcher for the Source of All Evil in the Universe who threw the fatal pitch. The other walk was around downtown Cleveland and would have been far pleasanter had there not been a football game, with the resulting large crowds. If the team is the Browns, why is most of their team clothing orange? By the way, I stayed at the Hyatt at the Arcade, which was convenient, but had the usual Hyatt sound-proofing (or lack thereof) problem.

Havana Curveball: This movie, which I saw as part of the year-round offerings of the Washington Jewish Film Festival, involves a boy who chooses to collect baseball equipment for Cuba as his Bar Mitzvah project and his efforts to get the equipment to Cuba and distribute it. His family eventually travels there and he has a few surprises along the way. I had a personal interest in this since my grandparents lived in Havana for a while. And, of course, I like baseball.

Elmer Gantry: Signature Theatre put on a revival of this musical. It was lively and entertaining. I have never read the novel nor seen the movie, so I can’t say how much it deviated from those. There was a hint at a racial side plot, involving a black family who become part of the traveling evangelical troupe, that I thought could have been exploited more. The performances were also good, with Nova Payton continuing to demonstrate true stardom even in a relatively minor role.

Wordless: This program was part of the Jewish Literary Festival and featured Art Spiegelman (the author of Maus) in collaboration with jazz composer Philip Johnston. This was a mix of lecture, slide show, and music, all built around wordless comics from the past, primarily the early 20th century. It was interesting, though I’d have preferred more of Spiegelman’s own material and less of, say, Lynd Ward.

Monterey: I was all set for a lovely weekend in Monterey, part of a FlyerTalk DO. I flew in after work on Friday. Saturday morning started with breakfast, followed by a tour of Tor House (the home of poet and amateur stonemason Robinson Jeffers). We stopped for lunch and headed to Point Lobos, which is beautiful. And then my cell phone rang. My uncle told me the bad news and I scrambled to change my flights so I could get home and drive to New York to bury my mother.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I keep thinking of things I want to tell Mom. Friday evening there were four trick-or-treaters and I would have told her about their costumes and how I had found the tootsie pops she had in the kitchen to have something to give them.

Two things which really made me lose it were finding: 1) the box of index cards on which she wrote down all the books she read, with one index card per author, and 2) a folder in which she kept a whole bunch of stuff I wrote in the late 1980's when I was first starting to spend a lot of time on-line.

On the downside, I also get annoyed at how much stuff there is in the house. I know what to do with some of it, but I have no idea on much of it.

But there are now two empty shelves and 2 empty drawers (one in her bedroom, one in mine). That is something my brother says he has never actually seen in this house.

I am going to be going home, to my own clutter, tomorrow. I have a lot of decisions to make about how I want to approach the mourning process. When my father died, I was so much younger and in a very different place in my own life. I've had a lot more loss over the intervening years and it feels like that should make a difference.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
My brother flew back to California yesterday, which made things a lot calmer around here. My uncle is driving home (not nearly as far) now. I am fairly exhausted, especially as: 1) I have never been able to sleep well in this house and 2) yesterday was the day that everyone decided to visit. (Which did make me feel much better, so I am not complaining. But it was tiring.)

It is not surprising that I am overwhelmed by how much stuff there is to do. I am mostly discovering that I didn't come close to clearing out as much stuff at Mom's house over the past several years as I thought I had. There were closets she never let me touch and, oy, is there stuff in them. My uncle found stashes of empty jars, which he has taken with him to drop in recycling. I threw out an entire drawer full of make-up, much of it never used, but who knows of what vintage? I know I need to take things slowly, but it's hard to focus on just one piece of the chaos at a time.

I never thought I would be googling things like "how to dispose of someone's dentures." (The answer is just to throw them out, by the way. Why Mom kept at least two pairs of her old ones wrapped in paper towels in the bathroom closet is not, alas, something google can answer for me.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
For those of you who haven't heard, my mother died Saturday.

I was on the West Coast, so scrambled to get home, drive to New York, make the funeral arrangements, and make 47.3 gazillion telephone calls, many of which were frustrating and/or impossible since her address book was badly out of date and half the numbers weren't good. And one person I called had no idea who she was.

By the way, funerals are expensive. I am not sure what my brother could have done had I not been doing everything because his net worth wouldn't even cover the rabbi's honorarium. (Fortunately, I had a treasury security come due not long ago, so have what is really way too much in my checking account.)

We got through that okay, but I've been mired in some of the usual family drama with my brother and with my uncle trying (not too successfully) to keep things calmer.

To add to my emotional trauma, today is also my father's yahrzeit (i.e. the anniversary of his death). Given that my maternal grandmother's yahrzeit was a couple of weeks ago and my maternal grandfather's is a couple of weeks away and, if I recall correctly, my paternal grandfather's was also around now, this is definitely not a good time of year for my family.

I am coping mostly because I am very much my father's daughter, with the organized mind, and someone has to be, but I am falling apart whenever I am alone. This is going to be a hard year.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I went up to my mother's for Mother's Day. Every time I go there, I get reminded of why I don't visit more often. But I have been worried about her and stressed out over her health and there are things to do that don't get done unless I show up every now and then.

I can tell how much she has declined since it took her almost a half hour before she started yelling at me, while it has historically been under 2 minutes. (Her record is 17 seconds.) And she did not make any rude personal comments about my hair, my weight, or my clothing.

Things Mom yelled at me about (a partial list):

  • Yahoo mail is no longer supporting her browser (some old version of IE under Windows XP). They gave her the option of switching to another browser or using basic mail. When she clicked on basic mail, she didn’t like that it didn’t look the same. This is allegedly my fault since it happened while I was there.

  • When I told her on Friday night to take out the files she wanted me to go through, she said to just wake her in the morning. When I woke her in the morning, she screamed about my not letting her get enough sleep.

  • She asked me to go through one part of the wall unit in the living room, which is where the photo albums are. She then complained that I went through the photo albums. (I took a bunch of photos to scan, but barely made a dent in them.) Taking them to scan means I am "stealing her memories."

  • I don’t talk loud enough. The truth is that no human being could possibly talk over her television, which she listens to at top volume all the time. Because, you know, watching Shark Tank is ever so much more important than spending time with your family. She knows she needs hearing aids and just won’t get them. Yes, they can be expensive, but there are ways to save money on them. And there are things worth spending money on.

  • I am going to break the shredder because I shred more than one piece of paper at a time.

  • I am "wasting space in the garbage" by not cutting papers that don't need to be shredded into four pieces before putting them in the garbage bag.

Number of times she yelled at me to go home and leave her alone: approximately 37. I may have missed some, however. I told her that if I did that, I would not come back while she was alive.

On the plus side, I filled 4 large bags with shreddies from documents she had been saving without needing to. (I do this periodically. It is best to shred things while she is sleeping, So she doesn't try to stop me from getting rid of ancient bills and such. Her deafness is actually an advantage, since she can't hear the shredder running.) I don't believe I have persuaded her that there is no reason to save the brochures that come with stock proxies after voting the proxy.

I also have a better picture of her financial status. And I had a reasonably civilized discussion with my brother about what to do with her. She really should not be on her own, but it looks like she could manage with supportive services in her house a few days a week, instead of assisted living. She could also use somebody to force her to eat right. What kind of person orders mashed potatoes as their second side dish when a main course comes with rice? And she says her favorite meal is potato chips and coke.

It's all very difficult. I am increasingly convinced my father did me a favor by dying young, though I sorely wish I'd had more time with him, despite the turbulent relationship we had.


Dec. 26th, 2012 08:46 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Today was the day of the trip I was most excited about. I got to meet my cousin, Tal. She and I have corresponded (largely via email) and, when I was a child, I used to exchange letters regularly with her mother and her aunt (who are technically my father's first cousins, but around my age). We had a chance to exchange a little family info, which reminds me of my need to find more time to work on genealogy.

Tal is a lovely young woman and proved to be an excellent tour guide. We walked a lot, eventually going to the Kotel (the Western Wall) , which was very crowded. I have this idea about how people endow places and objects with power, which I will write about another time, but I felt it there. We had lunch at a bookstore / cafe (very atmospheric and good food) and then she had to leave. I went on to the market and, basically, walked my feet flat.

Tomorrow I pick up a rental car and head to the Dead Sea. I am a little nervous about driving here, but will manage.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
1) A 60 Watt light bulb turned on for 15 minutes uses hundreds of dollars of electricity. A television turned on to top volume for 12 hours a day uses no electricity.

2) It is very important to dim the light completely before turning the dimmer switch in the kitchen off. "They" say so.

3) Daughters exist so you can criticize them for their weight and their hair.
While complaining about their weight, you must also offer them cookies and cake.

4) Human language was invented out of our deep seated need to complain. If we didn't have to kvetch, we wouldn't have to talk.

To be fair, some of her grievances (aired all year round, not just on Festivus) are legitimate. It is hard for her to open things with her arthritis, for example. And instruction manuals are often badly written. Though I still don't think it is necessary for them to have to tell you to turn things on before trying to use them.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
There is nothing French about life at my mother's, but I am transiting CDG tomorrow.

Anyway, Mom's computer is slow, so just a few tidbits that will reveal why I rarely visit her.

1) She apparently bought the guest room mattress by going to a mattress store and asking for one that would make guests want to leave after a night or two. Or maybe she consulted with a chiropractor who wants more clients. That bed is making me look forward to a red-eye. In coach.

2) Apparently the reason she was having so much trouble using the cell phone is that it had not occurred to her that you have to turn it on before you can make a call.

3) Storage Wars is on A&E at least 12 times a day. The volume of the TV is sufficient for it to be heard several states away.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The metro can be
efficient when there is no
track work. Like today.

I got to Union Station about an hour before my train and stopped at McDonald's to buy a bottle of water. Harry Shearer had a running joke about Santa Monica being the "home of the homeless" and that description definitely applies to the Union Station Mickey-D's.

The train to NY was fine, except that the wi-fi was not working. (It was not my ineptitude. They made an announcement.) The Long Island Railroad worked as well as ever, too.

Mom gave me the quick disaster tour of town. I then helped her change an ink cartridge in her printer, made her reset her facebook password and will try to teach her how to use her cell phone in a while. On the plus side, there was NY pizza for dinner (and a long wait for delivery).

Further proof I am a bad daughter is that, on seeing several boxes of stuffing mix on the dining room table, I asked Mom if she is planning to stuff an emu.
fauxklore: (Default)
Before I get into meatier matters, I want to note one celebrity death. Our latest baby panda survived only about a week, not even long enough to be named. But if baby pandas don't qualify as celebrities worth noting, I'm not sure who or what would.

I went to a Jewish singles potluck on Saturday night, which could be an excuse to write about dating. That entry is still in the "to be written" corner of my mind. I happened to be seated across from someone who spent much of the evening talking loudly about politics and next to his partner in crime, as it were. (They weren't even arguing. But they were loud. And boring.) So let that be the excuse for writing about politics instead.

First, pretty much anybody who knows me, knows that I am the classic dead armadillo. That is, I am fervently middle of the road. I know that because my conservative friends think I am an ultraliberal (as evidenced by my having crocheted a uterus and sent it to our state attorney general. Who, as further evidence of the decline of civilized manners in our times, did not send any sort of acknowledgement,, but that is another rant.) At the same time, my liberal friends think I am horribly right wing because I believe that it isn't actually a bad thing for corporations to make profits for their shareholders.

So what does that have to with the price of tea in China? (A lot, actually, as the tea market is dominated by a few companies, all of whom seem to be conspiring not to stock lapsang souchong on the shelves of any of my local supermarkets. But I digress.)

What I think people have forgotten is that the real political question is what the proper balance should be between the individual and the community. This is something that needs constant attention. We want individuals to have rights, but those are meaningless without considering the impact of decisions on the community. And, since I am writing this shortly before Yom Kippur, I am going to talk about my father.

If anybody I ever met lived the American dream, it was my father. He came to the U.S. as a teenager, a DP, a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto and Dachau. He went on to a significant position in city government and a prosperous life. But, here's the thing. He was able to do that because of assistance from private charity (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), family, public organizations (high school in Detroit, City College of New York or, as it was always referred to in our house, the Harvard of the Proletariat). When he retired from the New York City Housing Authority, he formed his own consulting firm - and he took advantage of political connections in doing so. That's how the American dream worked. It was never meant to be all private charity, but always included public infrastructure.

He also went to synagogue regularly, less out of religious fervor, than because "the rabbi shouldn't think he can't get a minyan." And that is pretty much my point. We have obligations to our communities and they may not always be convenient. Those include things like paying taxes, voting, serving on jury duty. They also include the common good. We can argue about details, but the "I'm all right, Jack, screw them all" approach to politics is inherently evil.

Go forth and vote.
fauxklore: (Default)
All the family drama is in locked entries, but there are a couple of things I can post publicly.

Actual Conversation with my Mom:

Mom: I saw this PBS show about Sondheim last night. There was one duet that was unforgettable.

Me: What song and who sang it?

Mom: I can't remember.

Some Insight into my Father:

Dad (A"H) actually took notes at his high school graduation (Detroit Central High, class of 1950). Admittedly, he was 20 years old and had gone through high school in 2 1/2 years. after not having been in school since he was about 13. Anyway, the address was given by Wendling H. Hastings, Pastor of the Fort Street Presbyterian Church, and Dad wrote down the following "Points from Address:"

1. Think about the things that are true.
2. Be honest.
3. Think justly and fairly.
4. Think thoughts that are lovely.
5. Think purely.
6. Think thoughts that are positive.

I believe that he did mostly live up to these. I think they're still good advice.


fauxklore: (Default)

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