Plotting a Holiday Picnic

Tongva Park Santa Monica from the Air

Now that Governor Newsom of California has come down hard on people doing any kind of celebratory activities, I am plotting a picnic for Saturday (July 4) or Sunday. At some point in the late morning, I will pick up two Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches with French fries, get a couple of cold beverages, and head with Martine to Tongva Park in Santa Monica, where I understand there are some benches and picnic tables. I hope to have a short picnic while we eat our lunch and enjoy the sea air (we will be across the street from the Santa Monica Pier).

If the local constabulary forbids us to use the park for fear of spreading virus to the plants, tables, and benches, we will look for another grassy place—I know several—and head to the alternates. There will just be the two of us. If anyone wants to join us, we will just have to throw rocks at them until they go away. We hardy survivors in the era of coronavirus don’t cotton to strangers.

 

 

 

Pining for the Pyramids

Maya King at Mérida Anthropology and History Museum

With the continuing bad news of the continuing ravages of the coronavirus, I begin to wonder whether I will ever again be able to travel. Of the countries that have encountered the virus, the United States has perhaps been the one nation whose people have been most incompetent at surviving. It doesn’t help that our national leadership seems to be intent on running up the totals of people infected and killed by the virus. I become increasingly furious at people who act as if Covid-19 didn’t exist.

My friend Peter tells me of seeing a wedding rehearsal at a park in San Pedro consisting of some two hundred people, none of whom were wearing face masks. Using the plague’s mortality statistics, it is likely that two of the people present will lose their lives, and possibly more will come down with the virus who are friends and family of the attendees.

There appears to be a large population that couldn’t be bothered with protecting themselves from the coronavirus. Either they see themselves as invincible, or they are resentful of politicians who are trying to enforce the quarantine, or they are f—ing stupid.

Admittedly, I don’t like wearing a face mask. When I am driving or walking outside in such a way that I could swing around people I encounter, I don’t wear a mask. Indoors, however, there is a danger that someone could cough or sneeze or even talk in my direction; so I don my mask and grit my teeth.

On my kitchen table is an old Lonely Planet guide to Mexico that I page through every day. I have found dozens of places that look interesting to me, from Baja California to Sonora to the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad … and the list goes on and on. My fingers are crossed that the stupidity of my fellow Americans does not turn me into an involuntary shut-in.

 

 

 

 

 

My World 1951-1962

Where I Spent My Elementary and High School Years

I had a Proust moment this afternoon as I bit into a chocolate nonpareil, which is a round piece of chocolate covered with little white dots of sugar candy (see picture below). It took me back to my visits to the old Shaker movie theater, which was demolished forty-odd years ago. When I lived on East 176th Street, I used to ride my bicycle down to the theater, which was located on Lee Road just south of Chagrin Blvd, which used to be called Kinsman Road back then. The pictures I saw were all Saturday matinees, complete with serials, cartoons, and the usual kiddie foofaraw. There, I would buy some popcorn and, if I had enough money, some nonpareils.

Nonpareils

My world at that time did not stretch far from the map shown above. Occasionally, I would go downtown on the old 56A bus, boarding at at East 177th Street, a block from home. I went to elementary school at Saint Henry’s, shown on the above map as Archbishop Lyke school (now closed). My high school was a bus ride away in Bedford, Ohio at Chanel High School (now closed). I played at JoAnn Playground, trying to avoid the usual run of bullies who wanted to establish their dominance.

I had a difficult but happy childhood. The difficulty came with allergies and the start of the brain tumor that would result in surgery in the distant future year of 1966. My little brother and I were six years apart, but I did not really begin to appreciate him until after I graduated from college.

The Only Picture I Could Find of the Shaker Theater

The world in which I lived back then is completely unrecognizable today. For one thing, the tiny trees in the postwar housing that dominated are now enormous. And most of the businesses I recognized, such as the New York Bakery on Lee Road, are now a fading memory. I used to go there weekly on my bike to pick up an unseeded Jewish rye (the caraway seeds got stuck in my Dad’s teeth).

It was an interesting world in which to grow up.

 

Cankles

The Ancient Greeks Certainly Didn’t Like Them

Semonides of Amorgos (floruit 7th Century BC) is by no means the most famous ancient Greek poet. In Richmond Lattimore’s Greek Lyrics, which I read at Dartmouth in a class on ancient Greek literature in translation, there is a brief quote (the rest of the poem has been lost) to the effect that:

A woman thick around the ankles is no good.

There isn’t much literary quality there. In fact, there isn’t much of anything. But there is something about that line from 2,700-2,800 years ago that has somehow survived whereas many plays by Sophocles and Euripides haven’t.

And are men with thick ankles any good? I know that whenever I visit the doctor, she checks my ankles to see whether the blood is pooling there, indicating poor circulation. (I used to have thicker ankles, but over the last several years it’s been OK.)

There is a word in popular parlance describing the phenomenon. The word is cankles, combining the words calf and ankles. My Mom had cankles, but then she did have problems with blood circulation that eventually precipitated fatal heart failure in her 79th year. Based on my Mom and what I have picked up from my own doctors, cankles go with all kinds of bad things relating to the heart.

Now it is possible for cankles to not be related to heart or kidney failure. I just don’t know what else they could signify, other than obesity.

 

 

Trading Bubble Gum Cards

Canter’s Deli on Fairfax

When the restaurants in L.A. started to open, Martine and I decided to go for our first restaurant meal in three months to Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. So on Saturday we actually found space in the deli’s postage-stamp-sized parking lot and wandered in wearing our required face masks. I ordered half of a pastrami sandwich on rye on a cup of bean and barley soup with iced tea. Martine had knockwurst and beans. We shared a plate of kosher dill pickles.

Okay, so it wasn’t a romantic choice; but my patronage of the deli goes back more than half a century. When I went to see movies with my film freak friends, we usually stopped for a late night feed at Canter’s, which at the time professed to be open all night but usually wasn’t. Over a corned beef sandwich or a plate of kasha varnishkes, we argued about which movies were super great and which were shit. These conversations were sometimes heated, as film freaks can be counted on to be opinionated. I referred to these sessions as “trading bubble gum cards,” as they were pretty juvenile.

Two of the friends I went to Canter’s with—who curiously were the most dogmatic in their positions—are no longer with us. Norman Witty died in 2013, and Lee Sanders in 2015. In a way, I miss those days when our opinions meant so much to us. Now, even when discussing even the greatest films, I am more inclined to shrug differences off. (Maybe that’s why I’m still alive.)

Martine and I enjoyed our meal. I know we were putting ourselves at risk, but we were impatient to return to normality even for a short time. As the coronavirus threat dies down, we will return more frequently; but however good Canter’s is, it’s not worth sacrificing our life for their food.

 

Plague Diary 20: More Books and Films

Christopher Plummer in Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades

It was yet another day in quarantine (I am not keeping count). I started by making hot chocolate with the premium chocolate I had purchased in Mexico during my vacation. When produced in a double boiler the chocolate comes out perfect every time.

Then I decided to take a walk to the mailbox on Barry, about a mile east of here, to return a Netflix DVD of two Japanese samurai films I had seen over the previous two days. (I will write more about them in a future post.) I also wanted to stop in at the local Target store, but I had forgotten to bring my face mask with me—something I do about half the time. I notice a lot of people wear face masks all the time. They remind me of people who sleep alone with condoms draped over their jewels.

I returned to eat lunch with Martine. Mine was a couple of Chinese beef buns accompanied by frozen peach slices. While Martine went for her afternoon walk, I watched Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades (1958) starring Burl Ives and Christopher Plummer. There were some beautiful shots of the Everglades and its bird life, and some highly dubious plotting, even if Budd Schulberg wrote the script.

Martine had wanted us to order Japanese from the Aki Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd, so I phoned in an order and picked it up. It was a tasty reminder of when we used to eat our weekend meals in restaurants.

After dinner, I began reading Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013), set during the Chechen wars. It looked like a good read.

Which brings me near to the end of another day. I will watch another episode of “Deep Space 9” and hit the sack.

 

 

Plague Diary 19: A Busy Day

Masks … Masks … Masks

This is a short post because the Internet has slowed to the speed of a rheumatic snail with bunions. This morning, I had to take my car in for repairs related to A/C and ventilation—especially as it’s about to get hot soon. Then I had to drive Martine for an EKG in preparation for a colonoscopy scheduled for next month. I finished one book (Terry Pratchett’s Jingo) and read most of a second (Tony Hillerman’s The Shape Shifter). Within a few minutes, I will watch on old Deep Space 9 re-run hoping for a glimpse of Jadzia Dax or Major Kira Nerys. Then, bed.

 

Perpetuum Mobile

Author and World Traveler Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989)

I have several things in common with the late British writer Bruce Chatwin. He was not in love with the land of his birth: In one letter, he writes, “England is gradually closing in on me again, and the moments of euphoria become rarer and rarer as one gets paler and paler and fatter and fatter and the backbiting conversations grow bitchier and bitchier, and everyone thinks and talks of selling something to somebody else.” To his friend Ivry Freyberg, he writes,“My life at present is the way I like it. Perpetuum mobile.”

In like manner, although I had a happy childhood in Cleveland, I desperately wanted to get away from the place and see the world—this at a time when the family’s finances were unencouraging. I got my four-year scholarship to Dartmouth College and went off to graduate school in California, but it was to be another nine years after graduation in 1966 that I went beyond the borders of the U.S.

Reading the letters of Chatwin (published as Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin), I feel some of the same excitement as when I read his two masterpieces, In Patagonia and The Songlines. I loved reading about Bruce’s travels when he was at his best. At the same time, I am well aware of the flip side of his way of life. As his friend John Kasmin wrote, “Bruce’s biggest problem was where to be. He never knew where to be. It was always somewhere else.”

Even more damning was his wife Elizabeth’s judgment on his travels:

He would wear out people in certain places and then have to move on. Everything was absolute paradise etc for about a month and then things were not quite what he wanted them to be. I discovered after years of this nonsense that the sure-fire way of making Bruce not buy a house was for me to agree.

Part of Chatwin’s wanderlust was his own dual life as a bisexual. The letters show him to be seemingly happily married, yet spending most of his time on the road, enthusing about various places and people.

I, too, would like to be a traveler; but I am content to use Southern California as my base. And I hope not to be tempted by a double life.

 

 

Plague Diary 16: I Take a Walk

Bus Riders in El Monte

Once again, I hijack a picture from the Los Angeles Times showing the impact of the plague on the life of the United States’s second largest city. One would hardly think that there were upwards of ten million people squeezed into the county.

Today the weather was sunny and cool, so I decided to take a walk into Santa Monica. Not having any bookstores to go to, I made another stop at Bay Cities Italian Deli near Lincoln and Broadway. There I picked up a couple rolls of toilet paper (at $1/roll) and the fixings for another Italian pasta dish. I had bought the sausage yesterday at Marconda’s Meats at the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax.

It was a lovely day for a walk, perfect for avoiding the masked phantoms who occasionally crossed my path during the two-mile trek. The shopping done, I boarded the #1 Santa Monica bus for the return trip home. Once so busy, the bus is full of masked phantoms staying as far apart from one another as the seating allowed. (Needless to say, I wasn’t wearing my mask: It was in the pocket of my jacket.)

When this whole plague period is over and done with, will we remember how strange it was? Being retired, I have no problems with apportioning my time at home, though I miss going to places. And I miss seeing my friends. I keep in touch with them on the telephone, but it’s not the same thing.

 

 

Plague Diary 15: No Destinations

The Beach During the Early Days of the Plague: Now Forbidden

I used to love taking walks, but now I am somewhat indifferent. You see, what attracted me was not the mere exercise: It was having a destination. And my favorite destinations were bookstores. Well before the coronavirus plague reached our shores, the bookstores of Los Angeles pretty much melted into history. Now I will occasionally take a walk to an Italian grocery in Santa Monica or to the West Los Angeles Post Office.

For a while, it was possible to walk along the beach, or over the bluffs in Santa Monica overlooking the beach. Now both are closed to enforce social distancing. The above Los Angeles Times photo was shot during the early days of the plague. Now, the police are out in force chasing people from the beach or anything else that looks like a nice place to walk. We are urged only to walk for the sheer fun of it, or to go to the market or pharmacy to shop for necessaries.

One thing I absolutely refuse to do is wear a mask while taking a walk. If some random bozo attempts to upbraid me for it, I will gladly send my sputum in his direction. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, until I can find another solution, I cannot exercise while fogging up my glasses. I will gladly stay far away from other walkers, as my distrust of strangers long predates the arrival of the coronavirus. I am always happy to answer strangers’ questions in my ungrammatical Hungarian, which may include some colorful expressions of contempt.

Later this week, I will probably walk to Bay Cities Imports (the Italian deli in Santa Monica) to pick up one of their delightful Spaniard sandwiches together with some ingredients for a future Italian meal. Their pasta, sauces, and Italian sausages are nothing short of superb.