Sunday, September 30, 2007

She Dropped A Coin Into The Cup Of A Blind Man At The Gate

Ethel Cohen died this week.

I had to climb up to the attics of my mind and look for what I wanted to say. The files were all dusty and hard to read. There will be more false memories than usual as we have few people left to verify facts and events.

In the early 1950's, I was just a kid, but was already cultivating a rich garden of laziness. My father, who was in his 30's, saw this and felt he could train me to be an earner and proper member of the working culture by dragging me along with him to his job.

He owned a parking lot in downtown Rochester, N.Y. He would later own a lot of them and become an earner of immense proportions. He always taught that having a business that generated CASH was better than punching a clock for a paycheck. As much as he loved Roosevelt in his day, he did not love paying taxes. Cash businesses allowed him to operate in the "grey area" of bookkeeping.

All this meant nothing to me. I was a shiftless 8 year old who would much rather stay in a warm bed than hang around a crummy asphalt lot in a dirty area of a boring city.

The only best part was that right next door was a firehouse with the red truck, firemen, and the mandatory Dalmatian dog. On occasion, Dad would take me over to marvel at the glamour and romance just out of my reach. I could sit in the truck and pet the dog. They even let me slide down the pole.

Back at the lot here was an old gas pump that sold petrol for pennies a gallon and a shack at the entrance that was no larger than a phone booth. In it was a rickety makeshift desk and a wooden chair. Also a cardboard box that served as a trash bin.

That was it.... no romance, no poles.

Imagine sitting there for hours doing nothing. If this was what it was like to be an earner, I would rather be a beachcomber.

Once, I was lounging there and discovered a book of matches. I lit one; this may well have been the first time I experienced this..the strike, the ignition, the smell of sulphur, the tiny flame.

You play with fire, you get burned.
I did not know how to put it out as it got close to my stubby fingers, so it dropped it into the cardboard box, which was filled with paper. The result was combustion and panic. I ran out and my Dad ran in and somehow saved the day.

Sadly, we had no need for the firetruck to come roaring in, sirens wailing, hoses gushing, dog barking.

Directly across the street was the city courthouse so many of the regulars were lawyers and such. On occasion, Dad and I would wander to the newsstand that was in the lobby. The stand was about the size of our still unburned shack. The guy behind the counter was Ken Kless, a buddy of my father. They were in an organization called the Jewish War Veterans and had hats and everything. It's my guess that Ken was wounded in WWII because he was blind.

There's no way he was blind when he signed up.

Ken looked like James Taylor does today, but his eyes were all messed up. I think he may have had a dog. I don't know how he got to and from work. Maybe Dad drove him for all I know. I always wondered how he was able to make change or how people didn't try to rip him off by claiming they gave him a $10 and so on.

Times were different in the Eisenhower years. Unlike today, crime was against the law and people were more decent, I suppose.

Ken and his wife had kids our age and often came over to our house and we went to their place too. Ken's wife was Ethel. She was young and pretty and had a great smile and happy personality..very positive. It must have been difficult being married to a blind guy who sold newspapers and candy. I think I recall that Ken could be crotchety at times also.

It also turns out that Ethel had a sister who was also pretty and nice. By some odd coincidence, she was my teacher in elementary school. That's all I remember about that.

Eventually Ken and Ethel got divorced. I seem to recall that he was seeing another woman. But I could be mistaken because that made no sense, knowing Ethel. But as a child, I was not informed of the deep details of other people's lives.

Another odd connection was that Ethel's daughter, Judy, got married to a guy named Christer. I want to say he is Swedish. Sorry Chris if I am wrong. They had a kid or two and broke up.

Chris now lives in Anchorage and is a close friend with my buddy, Howie Diamond, who also knew Ethel back in the day. We last saw him at Howard's daughter's wedding in Seattle.

Small world.

A few years ago, my father turned 80 and we had a big party to which we invited Ethel, now using her (maiden?) name of Cohen. Kimberly and I had a wonderful visit with her. She was still adorable and sharp with that warm smile. She was still needing to work. I think somehow because of the divorce from Ken, the US and A government denied her widow's benefits when he passed away. She was still trying to get some justice.

She told us she had brain cancer.

We hugged and kissed and that was the last time I saw her. The US government can finally sleep at night.

And so it goes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Once Upon A Time You Dressed So Fine


This is going to be hard to explain.

There is an annual show here called the World of Wearable Art. It is sponsored by Montana Wine, the hugest winery, just outside of Nelson. The show was born in Nelson and got so big and popular that it is now performed in Wellington, across the strait.
Here is a short promo video:
Here is the website:

Some uninformed persons might call WOW a "fashion show", but that would be like calling Superman a helpful guy.

At he base of it, NZ and Australian artists design a conceptual sculpture that can also function as clothing. It is not for sale..strictly one of a kind. The material used is not the usual, but more detailed and creative with a
wry humor.
For example, there is one called "Milk Maid" that is made from clear baby bottle nipples.

About 100 artists design these costumes within a select theme and enter them in the show trying to win the $10,000 prize. Tickets to the performance are always completely sold out. The whole thing is staged with music, lights, and special effects.

We got our tickets long ago and were able to get really good seats near the stage. We also got food and wine and programs. The next best tickets got ringside tables with a complete dinner and lots of booze. They all sold out before we went online.

There was not one dull moment in the show. They hit the ground running with the Children's Category which began in a child's bedroom. But the bed rose up like the Exorcist and revealed all these bizarre monsters like from Where the Wild Things Are. My favorite was a kid in a little bed, but then he sort of stood up, bed and all and revealed a hairy beast underneath. It was called "There's a Bed On My Monster". All the monsters had a birthday party and it was a very freaky way to start a show.

We progressed through a Maori Haka/early settler theme, a White outfit theme and a Men only theme. This was a favorite with all the women because they used rugby player types as models. All wore bizarre garb, but then these Motown singers show up and start singing, "It's Raining Men". More guys come out of the sky dripping wet and end up in a sort of strip show, getting down to their skivvies.

By the way, all the female models were extremely hot, but there was no undressing that happened on stage.

They had Avant-garde categories and also a glow in the dark portion that was entirely satisfying to the eyes.

At the end was a big fireworks and explosions on stage. When the lights came up after 2 hours, the entire audience looked like they had been to a New Year's Eve Grateful Dead show, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Here is the winner of this year's prize. They used real Ram's horns, recycled wool and hemp.

Nelson has retained the WOW Museum where you can see lots of the previous winners on display. Lauren and Jeff will find it fascinating. Rick can skip it. He doesn't like fashion shows. He wants his runway girls closer to his lap and only wearing a smile.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Got Two Good Eyes But We Still Don't See

Since I was a teenager, I have worn glasses. I could see great close up for reading and threading needles, but when it came to driving or watching movies, I needed some optical assistance. For a while, my brother-in-law, Jeff, made glasses.

He called glasses "eye wear".

The name of his store was SPECS. Everyone in the family got their eye wear from him.

But I think the big corporate boys like Lenscrafters eventually put SPECS out of business because Jeff is now an investment banker.

I hope he is able to hold on to his hat.
About the time SPECS was no longer a place to get lenses at a family discount, my brother Barry decided to get that new-fangled LASIK surgery. He somehow was able to convince himself to unlock his spider web encased, dust laden vault and remove over 4 thousand dollars for the surgery.
Barry still has the first nickel he ever earned and is squeezing it tightly for fear of spending it on necessities and thus, falling into poverty, therefore, being forced to live on the filthy streets of Denver in a shoebox.
So eye surgery was a very important necessity.
I remember being in the operating room when he got it done. It was like watching A Clockwork Orange while wearing scrubs.
Sometime during the next month or two, I decided to get Lasik for myself.
My doc was the famous Dr. Michael Gordon of La Jolla. Nothing but the best for me.
I could have had it in Tijuana, Mexico for the price of a taco dinner. In fact, they made you wear a lobster bib and used a dull machete.
But Dr. Michael Gordon was said to have practically invented the procedure; he had a massive office in the high rent district of the priciest neighborhood in San Diego.
The waiting room was stuffed with the rich men and women of Southern California. The parking lot was crammed with Mercedes and BMWs. Doctor Michael Gordon's receptionist would stamp the ticket to give us all free parking.
And he was Jewish. I was counting on the Hebe discount.
I got bupkis.. he charged 2500...per eye.
Who on earth would only get one eye's worth of correction?
Sammy Davis Jr.?
The days following the surgery proved to be pretty bad. Everything had a fuzzy glow. Dr. Michael Gordon checked my eyes and informed me that I had astigmatism, but a second procedure 3 months later fixed that up and I could see the flag on the green of a par five when I was standing on the tee.
About 10 shots later, I could see the ball drop into the hole.
The new problem was, I immediately needed to get reading glasses. My corneas were reversed. I am sure Dr. Michael Gordon mentioned this pre-op, but I was not paying close attention to small details.
So for many years, I have needed reading glasses. They have gone from 1.50 up to 2.75. For the uninformed, these numbers mean I now can't see shit without these readers and it keeps getting worse.
Everyone tends to buy the cheap ones because they get lost or scratched and you require many of them to put in all the rooms of the house so you don't need to go hunting. Kimberly has them also so there are probably 8 all over the place.
I still can't find one stinkin' pair when I want to read something.

Well, a few months ago, I noticed a blur over everything near or far. What..what... what?? Hey! I had 5 thousand dollar LASIK surgery from the famous Jewish doctor, Michael Gordon.... what gives?
My new eye doctor, Neil Esposito, whose is famous for nothing, examined my eyes and informed me I have astigmatism. I'm really not sure what that is, but I've had it more times than chicken pox.
The end result of all this is a pair of prescription glasses that used to be called bifocals. Now they call them progressives, which are bifocals with a baby boomer attitude.
I have to learn to look through them correctly. If I move my head or eyes too quickly, everything looks like a no-fun house.
I hate to be the one to tell Barry he may have made a poor investment.
And so it goes.
Rugby update:
Game 1 - NZ - 76 Spain -14
Game 2 = NZ - 108 Portugal - 13
All Blacks crush the Iberian Peninsula worse than the Romans during the 2nd Punic War.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

There Ain't A Winner In The Game, He Don't Go Home With All

When we lived in the US and A, being from San Diego, we were Charger fans. Rick was always a supporter of the Cowboys, maybe now it's San Francisco or Seattle. As a contrary brother, Barry is a big Green Bay fan. But without Farve, is he still wearing green and yellow and sporting the Swiss cheese hat?

The point is, that in USA! USA!, there are something like 28 pro football teams and the people tend to support their regional squad or a team they grew up with.

Folks will spend lots of money on team products. Bronco lovers all go around during the season wearing stupid orange and blue clothing, often the jersey of their favorite player, or even retired guys, like John Elway. In Pittsburgh, entire rooms are decorated in yellow and black.
But there is really no American National Team, no matter what Dallas thinks. The Super Bowl only defines the best team of the year and it always changes. Most people watch the big game for the interesting ads or maybe to see a exposed nipple during halftime.

We don't have NFL football here. During the season, we get maybe one game a week on ESPN. They call it Gridiron. Interestingly, I thought I would miss the 6+ game per week addiction, but it has been cold turkey and quite simple. It don't always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
On SKY TV, we get PLENTY of cricket, an impossible game 10 times worse than baseball. It could go on for days without anything happening...Quite puzzling. There is also golf and yachting.

But the real New Zealand sport is rugby. And there is really only one team...The All Blacks. All 4 million people here are fanatics. During the year, most Kiwis dress in black almost subconsciously. There are posters, calendars, clothing and talk, ad nauseum.

We have become part of the problem.

Between the two of us, Kimberly is a bigger follower. I think it has something to do with the body builds of the players...or their rugged good looks...or the short, short pants...or the extreme body contact...or the pace of play.

Whatever the motivation, both of us are getting ready for the World Rugby Cup from France. This happens every 4 years and are like the Olympics of rugby. First game is September 8th. The All Blacks are always the favorites, but they have not won in 20 years.
Very frustrating.

It seems like this could be our year. Very exciting. The French hosts have a team, known as the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys, but they have adopted The All Blacks as their second favorite.
New Zealand is the Jerry Lewis of rugby.

If you have not watched the game played, see if you can find it on a sports channel. The rules are confusing until after witnessing a few matches. All the terms are different. They call a touchdown a try. No forward passes, only laterals. No time outs, no pads. Quite a bit of blood and they don't stop for it. Some penalties allow the innocent team to kick a field goal. That sort of stuff.

Give a look if you can...even if only to see the Haka. Unless, of course, The Falcons are playing Cleveland on the other channel.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Terrapin Station

Counting stars by candlelight
All are dim but one is bright
The spiral light on Venus
Rising first and shining best
Oh, from the north-west corner
Of a brand new crescent moon
Where crickets and cicadas sing
A rare and different tune
Terrapin Station
In the shadow of the moon
Terrapin Station

Things you should know about the Cook Islands:

In 1789, Captain Bligh arrived. So did the Bounty mutineers. We assume, not at the same time.

There are 15 islands, the largest and most visited is Rarotonga.

The most beautiful and strictly for the rich and famous, is Aitutaki.

In 2006, Survivor was filmed on Aitutake.

How tough could that have been?

The butler says we will go there some day. I am the lone mutineer.

The cheapest flights from NZ arrive at 3:30AM and depart at 4:40 AM.

Don't take the cheapest flights.

Drug sniffing dogs are not very alert at 3:30 AM

Then again, maybe good to take cheap flights.
At the airport, they can go right into your carry on and remove your toothpaste and deodorant. Since when does NOT having these things make travel safer? But it's OK as long as the containers are very small and everything is in a ziplock bag....???!!!
Who in the wide wide world of sports came up with this stupid shit?
Oh, I remember..
But it's all worth it as long as the dogs are sleepy.

Hotels on the island can be VERY expen$ive. Try the Moana Sands. Reasonable rates and best snorkeling. Turtles can be seen, but refuse to be ridden.

Also, you can toss bread from shore and hundreds of different fish will come to eat it... they are like pets.

Cook Islands are a great place for a birthday.

Somewhere in some attic, there is a portrait of a very old hag.

Best birthday cake -- coconut cashew pie. Guess who has the recipe?

You can get a raw coconut on the side of the road for a buck. They will even chop it in half with a machete.

Raw coconut isn't very tasty after the first few bites. Pet fish seem to like it.

Worst curb appeal idea -- family graves in the front yard.

Also they are above the ground like in New Orleans.

Easy to visit the ancestors, but very tough resale.

Extremely wise to rent a motorbike. Buses run rarely.

It takes 4 hrs in long lines to get mandatory motorbike license. At 16 bucks per, the police make thousands a day doing paperwork while the waiting tourists wives are forced to shop rather than hang around the station.

Very unwise to wreck the motorbike in a ditch. You are responsible for the broken fender and mirror to the tune of 350 clams!

That's how they get you.

Speaking of clams, there are high priced black pearls here in the tourist shops. They are out there for the snorkelers, but protected by the Govt.

Again, that's how they get you.

ATM withdrawal costs 7.50, but you don't find out until you get home and check online banking.

That's also how they get you.

Crumby 9 hole golf course -- leave your clubs home.

We got to see entire lunar eclipse at a reasonable hour. Plus there are so many stars to see on warm clear nights.

Rarotonga is packed with wild chickens and roosters who crow all day.

It can be windy and can also rain unexpectedly.

One TV channel shows weightlifting 24/ Kilograms.

Internet access is very slow and expensive.

Food at restaurants is expensive, but no tipping.

Kayaks are free and you think you will do it every day, but actually you do it only once.

There are mosquitos in the jungle, but they only seem to bite me. Note to self... bring high power DEET.

There is an ancient village where you can see the sacrifice rock. The chief would decide if someone broke a rule and needed to be killed on the rock. The chief got to drink the blood. No tipping.

Cook Islands are a wonderful hidden little secret paradise just 3 hrs flight from Nelson. I think we discovered all the pitfalls in a week.

See you in Aitutake, mate