Silent Cal

Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States

Before the word Republican became a term of opprobrium, there was a quiet man who served as President of the United States and who became something of a joke for his silences, but who said the right things when he spoke up.

In 2005, Martine and I visited his birthplace, Plymouth Notch, Vermont. It was a modest place near Woodstock and rather fun to visit. Coolidge was born in a white clapboard house on the premises (see photo below); and he is buried a few steps away under an unassuming tombstone in the local cemetery (see second photo below).

The House in Which Coolidge Was Born

As president, Coolidge dared to take on the Ku Klux Klan, which was a major political force in the America of the 1920s. Addressing an American Legion convention in Omaha, Nebraska, in October 1925, Coolidge said:

If we are to have … that union of spirit which is the foundation of real national genius and national progress, we must all realize that there are true Americans who did not happen to be born in our section of the country, who do not attend our place of religious worship, who are not of our racial stock, or who are not proficient in our language. If we are to create on this continent a free Republic and an enlightened civilization that will be capable of reflecting the true greatness and glory of mankind, it will be necessary to regard these differences as accidental and unessential. We shall have to look beyond the outward manifestations of race and creed. Divine Providence has not bestowed upon any race a monopoly of patriotism and character.

And that is more profound than any subsequent president has ever tweeted.

Calvin Coolidge’s Unassuming Grave Site in the Local Cemetery

I would like to close with two things Silent Cal said that I have always remembered.

The first is a kind of joke, but not far from what actually occurred:

President Calvin Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal” because of his extraordinarily laconic speech. A famous anecdote tells of a dinner party during which the person sitting adjacent to the Coolidge said: “Mr. President I’ve made a large bet that I would be able to make you say more than two words.” Coolidge considered this proposition carefully and then replied slowly and emphatically, “You lose.”

The other is a quote I often use whenever I begin to feel fearful that circumstances are conspiring against me: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

 

Lemons and Limes

A Bowl of Lemons and Limes

This is a story that begins almost sixty years ago. As a student at Chanel High School, I occasionally took college-level courses in English at Western Reserve University during the summers. I would take two buses to East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue. At the southwest corner, there used to be a drug store that has a soda fountain. I became addicted to a menu item that they called a “fresh lime rickey,” except that this version contained sugar and had no gin, bourbon, or other liquors. It was delicious.

Some ten years plus pass. I assert my independence from my parents by taking trips to Mexico. I note that, unlike on our side of the Rio Grande, there are virtually no lemons available—but lots of limes. When one asks for limones in Mexico, one gets limes.

Another twenty years pass. During cool weather in Los Angeles, I always take my hot tea with a squeeze of lime.

I could not help noticing that Mexican fruit vendors have a little plastic device they use to squeeze out all the juice from halved limes onto the fruit salads they sell. My mind, which had been working extraordinarily sluggishly suddenly flashed a bright “Aha!” I found one of these squeezie devices at the supermarket. Limes, which run for half a dollar each at Gringo supermarkets can be obtained for a dollar a bag from a little old Chinese woman who sells them on the streets of Chinatown. And there is a Mexican market just a couple blocks from me, the Eden Mercado, that sells them for a reasonable price.

The result: I have rediscovered lime rickeys, though made slightly differently because of my diabetes. I press out the juice from a lime half into a glass, add water, ice, and artificial sweetener, and I have a delicious drink that is much better by far than lemonade.

Talking About the Homeless

Homeless Encampment in Los Angeles

There are several ways of talking about the homeless. For one thing, I do not think they can be all lumped into one category. Therefore, I rarely speak about “the homeless” as a whole. Some are temporarily without an address and have some reasonable hope of finding one, especially if they are a family. One does not usually encounter these transient homeless on the streets. More likely, one runs into a mostly male population of homeless that fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • The mentally ill, estimated by the City of Los Angeles to comprise some 40% of the total.
  • Veterans of the armed forces who were unable to make the transition to civilian life. As I live within a couple miles of a large Veterans Administration hospital, I see quite a few of these.
  • Hardcore bums who like living on the street and are unwilling to have any of their perceived rights and privileges abridged. Some of these are involved in drug dealing and theft.

There is a tent encampment right across the street from my apartment consisting of some ten hardcore bums. They usually do not bother the street residents unless to steal a bicycle or small grill, or to beg for cash. Since there are a number of charities that provide meals, I almost never give cash to a street person. Cash received by the hardcore homeless usually falls in the category of CBD money: in other words, for cigarettes, booze, and drugs.

I have seen a few hardcore female bums, mostly on the bus, and usually find them to be sad cases, frequently mentally ill and fiercely unapproachable. Martine saw one of them defecate on the sidewalk of our street in the open. Seeing Martine’s facial reaction, she called her a racist.

Given the variety of motives that moves this population, I shake my head in despair when journalists persist in talking about “the homeless” as if there were a single solution for all. There just isn’t.

 

The Fenyes Estate

The Fenyes Estate on Pasadena’s “Millionaires Row” with Back Yard Gardens

Yesterday Martine and I toured the Fenyes (Hungarian for “Bright,” pronounced FEN-yesh) Estate on Pasadena’s Orange Grove Boulevard. We had wanted to go a couple weeks earlier, but there was an intervening event that closed the tours for that day. Fortunately, the docent couple who gave the tour knew their subject cold, so we had a great time. It is always interesting to visit a millionaire’s mansion built over a hundred years ago. One obtains a view of what life was like not only for the family of the owner, but also the servants. The Fenyes Estate is only a few hundred feet of the more famous Gamble House, built by the Gambles of the Procter & Gamble fortune.

The Parlor of the Fenyes Mansion

In the photo of the parlor above, several of the chairs have little footstools. They were an aid to modesty so that the long dresses would cover every inch of bare skin on the women’s legs, er, I mean, limbs. Eve Fenyes, wife of Dr Adalbert Fenyes was a noted painter in her own right, and specialized in plein aire subjects. In addition to the usual portraits, which are of high quality because of Eve’s talents.

Dr Fenyes had his own talents besides medicine. He was the first to use X-Rays in his practice. In addition, he was a noted entomologist (whose collection now sits in a San Francisco museum) and an expert gardener. The grounds on which the house sits are beautifully landscaped.

The Music Room of the Estate

In addition to the piano and early Victrola shown in the above photo, notice the elegant stairway to a mezzanine-level for singers. There is no door to the right on this level. There is also a trap door set in the floor for entrances by actors engaged in various entertainments put on by the family.

Even though there are only two houses of this sort on Orange Grove Boulevard that one can tour, it is clearly worth visiting them to understand how we all got where we are today.

 

The Father of Modern Space Art

View of Saturn Seen from Titan

As I was growing up in Cleveland, I was deeply influenced by what I call space art. And by space, I mean outer space. For instance, the backgrounds in Forbidden Planet (1956) were a major influence on me. I was also influenced by the work of Father of Modern Space Art, Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986), who was born before the flight and Kitty Hawk and lived to see American astronauts walk on the surface of the moon. The paintings shown here are all by Bonestell.

According to the article on him in Wikipedia:

His paintings are prized by collectors and institutions such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Collection of Fine Arts. One of his classic paintings, an ethereally beautiful image of Saturn seen from its giant moon Titan [see above illustration], has been called “the painting that launched a thousand careers.” Wernher von Braun wrote that he had “learned to respect, nay fear, this wonderful artist’s obsession with perfection. My file cabinet is filled with sketches of rocket ships I had prepared to help in his artwork—only to have them returned to me with…blistering criticism.”

Exploring Mars

In some cases, such as in the above painting, the image is contradicted by actual space photography, in this case from the Mars Rovers. Still, Bonestell’s painting is so gorgeous that maybe there is someplace else in the universe that looks like this.

Image of Chicago With a Dry Lake Michigan

Perhaps the work of Bonestell doesn’t do much for many art critics, but it showed me that there were more things on heaven and earth than were dreamt of in my philosophy. And in most cases, they were starkly beautiful.

 

If You Say So!

We’ll Take Your Word for It

As I took this picture some twelve years ago, I have no idea what this picture is all about. In those days, I used to take a lot of beach walks as a form of exercise. What really motivated me, however, is that there was usually a book store either on the way or serving as the final destination. Now that most of the bookstores in the area have been shut down to satisfy the itching of palms of greedy landlords. The only two that remain—Sam: Johnson in Mar Vista and Small World Books on the Venice Boardwalk—have survived only because the bookstore either owns the building, or a family member of the owner runs the bookstore.

I need to do more walking, though I feel some apprehension as the hot season begins raise beads of sweat on my forehead. No matter. I could wake up early on Sunday and time my walk to get to Small World Books as it opens at 10 am. The things I have to do! Apparently the walk is not sufficient motivation on its own.

As I continue to stare at the picture above, I realize what the photo is about. I strongly suspect that it refers to some benefit conferred by Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual practice currently outlawed by the Communist Party in Beijing. How did I figure it out? After I wrote the second paragraph above, I looked up Falun Gong on Wikipedia and noticed that the first character in Chinese on the banner is the first character in the name of Falun Gong. Check it out for yourself here.

 

“So You Want To Be a Writer”

Poet Charles Bukowski (1920-1994)

I know he drank a lot and you probably wouldn’t let your sister go out with him, but the man was a real poet and he had something serious going with the muse. This is one of my favorites among his poems. It’s called “So You Want To Be a Writer.” Good stuff.

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.