Heavy Industry

Though I understand that the brand-name still exists, the company for which my father worked as a machine-tool builder for many years no longer does. The Lees Bradner Company manufactured gear-hobbing (cutting) machines and thread milling machines, primarily for export.

Alex Paris was for a number of years the shop steward for Mechanics Educational Society of America (MESA), Local 19. He stayed with the firm until the bitter end, when new owner White Consolidated Industries decided to close the factory at West 121st and Elmwood and move the operation to Dexter, Maine to its Fayscott Division in 1975. My father and most of his colleagues decided not to make the move—which was just as well as White sold off the division eleven years later.

Cleveland used to be a major center for the machine tool building industry. No more. In fact, most of that industry is now in China.

You can still find lots of used Lees Bradner machines for sale. Apparently, they had a pretty good reputation.

Crickets in the Kitchen

As I sit here to write this blog entry, I am on the receiving end of a concert by the crickets who inhabit my kitchen. For many years, I thought the sound was coming from my Amana refrigerator—until I actually started seeing the crickets, usually as I smashed them with a fly swatter thinking they were one of the mega cockroaches, which, alas, also inhabit this apartment.

The apartment building in which I live is almost as old as I am, having been built around 1946. As I have been told, my building as well as several others in the immediate vicinity, were meant to house the Cleveland Rams, which were soon to be called the Los Angeles Rams. The apartment in which I live could once have been the home of William “Bud” Cooper, Harry “The Horse” Mattos, or Stan Pincura.

I moved in here in 1985. My landlady was the kindly Anna Ficele, who was the original building owner and a terrific cook. After she died in 2001, her slightly retarded son took over, until he passed on a few years later from a life of dissipation. The next owner lasted only a few years. His widow, as I understand it, now owns the papers. Fortunately, we only have to deal with the management company.

We have no intention of complaining about the crickets. I rather enjoy their music.

Glory Days

There are many possible pathways through a life. For many, the high point of their lives came early, in high school or college. As they settled down into family life, they rarely ever cracked a book or veered in a different direction. When one talks to them, most of their talk is of their glory days—and their present lives are a long comedown.

Although I was a high school valedictorian who was accepted for a four-year scholarship at an Ivy League college, I never felt I had any real laurels upon which to rest. The first seven years of my life were spent in a Hungarian household, where the Magyar language was the only one spoken. This gave me a slightly different outlook from most others. As I learned English and began to see myself as an American, I also saw myself as something of a hyphenated American who had his feet in two cultures.

During my high school and college years, I was walking around with a pituitary tumor that gave me severe headaches as it pressed against the optic nerve. So my glory days of youth were spent mostly in pain. When I was successfully operated on after I graduated in 1966, I looked like an 11-year-old rather than a college graduate. You can imagine how that affected my self-image.

In the intervening years I had two careers: first, as a computer programmer and director of marketing for a demographic data supplier, and then as a computer specialist and office manager for two tax accounting firms. In both professions, I saw myself as a mercenary who was actually after different game.

Now that I am retired, I am coming into my own as a writer here on this WordPress site. Oh, I am no “influencer.” I have no intention of getting you to buy crap, or anything else. If I am selling anything, it is my thoughts and feelings as a human being living in difficult times. I feel good and am considerably happier than I was during my youth.

It looks as if I am now living through my glory days.

On the Bewitched Staircase

If you want to see a happy post, don’t catch me between Christmas and New Year. It is no accident that all my posts this week are unusually dark. My lone adherence to the Maya religion is my belief in the Uayeb, the unlucky five days that follow the 360 day Haab calendar to bring the total up to 365. According to an interesting website about the Uayeb:

Despite the fact that these days share the calendar with 18 other periods lasting 20 days each, the Uayeb had a bad reputation among the Maya people. According to writings found during the colonial period, these days were considered black periods in which the universe had released dark forces and therefore they didn’t share in the blessings of time.

In the Songs of Dzibalche, a codex found in 1942, a series of allusions to the Uayeb were discovered. These expressed the discomfort the days caused the Maya people:

The days of weeping, the days of evil/ The devil is loose, hell is open/ There is no goodness, only evil… the month of nameless days has come/ Days of pain, days of evil, the black days.

Several theories describe how the Maya passed through such dark times. Some specialists maintain that during these periods they stayed in their homes and washed their hair. Others claim they undertook great processions in thanks for what they’d experienced during the year. One thing that’s certain is that the word Uayeb could be translated as “bewitched staircase.”

So let’s just say I am having a bad Uayeb.

A Merry Xmas to All

During my entire adult life, I have been of two minds about Christmas. On the plus side, it is a pious celebration of God becoming Man in order to save the human race from the shame of Adam and Eve. Though I can’t help wondering that God, being God, could have accomplished the same result any number of ways.

On the negative side, Christmas time has become a two-months-long stress fest in which families immolate their finances and valuable time buying gifts that the recipients do not necessarily want or need. I am happy that the holiday is now over, because I will be able to drive without encountering quite so many highway kamikazes out on endless errands.

It was nice to see the two classical movie versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1938 with Reginald Owen and 1951 with Alastair Sim, pictured above). In his story, Dickens doesn’t even mention the Deity, but he makes a case for generosity and good will toward men.

I also saw Bob Clark’s marvelous recreation of a 1950 Christmas in his 1983 A Christmas Story. In a way, the quest of Ralphie (Peter Billingley) for a BB gun is not nearly as acceptable a journey as Scrooge’s, but it was a reminder of my own Christmases in Cleveland. The picture showed such old Cleveland landmarks as the Terminal Tower, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, and Higbee’s Department Store. I never got much in the way of presents except clothing that I didn’t like—except that my uncle gave me a $20 bill every Christmas, which was like a rare treasure for me, even though I couldn’t spend it on what I wanted.

At least I didn’t have an Aunt Clara who would make me a pink rabbit suit that made me look like a deranged Easter Bunny.

Frozen Assets

When one thinks of Southern California, one does not associate it with cold weather. As it turns out—despite all the global warming—in Los Angeles the mercury has dipped into the thirties and forties (roughly 0° to 10° Celsius) overnight.

And that’s when my apartment heater decided to die … three times, no less! Over the last six weeks, Martine and I have been enduring long spells of teeth-chattering cold.

Matters have been complicated by the fact that, because we are grandfathered in at low rent due to the City of Los Angeles’s rent control ordinance, it is to the advantage of the building owners to kick our frozen carcasses into the street so that they could start charging triple the rent to someone who does not mind living across the street from a homeless encampment.

I have hopes that our 75-year-old heater will continue to work, since the weather forecast for the rest of the month seems to be for cold nights throughout. I am sure that my next gas bill will be outrageous.

This time of year is usually pretty cold, but this year since to be the iciest December in decades. Santa Claus should feel right at home.

Acedia

If the term is unfamiliar to you, you can substitute the word boredom for it. When I first came to Southern California st the age of twenty-one, I was frequently bored. For one thing, I didn’t drive until a couple decades later. I didn’t even have a television set. I certainly didn’t have a smart phone, as they were not invented yet—for which I am eternally grateful.

If the coronavirus quarantine were to happen in the late 1960s, I would have been in deep trouble. I would have been all alone and sunk deep into acedia, not to mention depression. As it turned out, in 2020 I had a three-part solution to the quarantine:

  1. Do a ton of reading, say something around 15-16 books a month.
  2. View a lot of classic films, mostly on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
  3. Expand my cooking skills, including more complicated Hungarian dishes.

As a result, the last two years have not been a waste for me. My only regret was that, since the quarantine was global, I could not travel without some risk.

For me, travel is an opportunity for sustained research, including books about my destination and some exposure to the films and music. Not to worry, I am reading at least two travel books a month for when the world opens up to safe travel.

A Hyphenated American

Although I was born in the United States, I prefer to think of myself as a hyphenated American, specifically a Hungarian-American. My native language is Magyar (Hungarian). I did not speak any amount of English until I was six or seven years old. Something happens when you grow up as a bi-lingual person: You find yourself not quite so committed to the land of your birth.

Let me be more direct: I find myself intensely disliking the political and religious beliefs of approximately half of our population, such as the young idiots in the above photo. At present, I am not likely to fly on any American air carriers because most of their passengers are Americans, and I don’t want to be involved in any violence in the air because some yahoo refuses to wear a mask as required by law. I feel safer on a foreign carrier.

When some stranger addresses me in public, I invariably reply to them in Hungarian. The last instance was on a commuter train on which two African-Americans were arguing about Covid-19, and one of them solicited my opinion. I politely told them, in Magyar, that I didn’t (really: wouldn’t) speak their language.

I typically do not celebrate national holidays because I find them more productive of stress than of enjoyment, particularly Christmas, which has evolved into some sort of national potlatch ritual.

Perhaps these responses of mine are the result of a growing lack of faith in my fellow Americans. Particularly white males, though the Republican Party has given us some really monstrous travesties of women.

Does that mean I am withdrawing in any way? Not really. I vote in every election. And I try to remain close to my friends. I’ll stick to being a Hungarian-American, even though the American side of things is going to hell in a hand basket.

Veterans: In Harm’s Way

I don’t usually pay much attention to holidays. That does not mean I’m a Jehovah’s Witness: It just means that I think most holidays are a major pain in the ass. Some of them, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, are notorious for putting incredible stresses on families, and sometimes breaking them up.

The men and women of our armed forces typically did not join because they wanted to serve our country. I think most wanted to lift themselves out of poverty and take advantage of educational opportunities that would jump start their post service careers. Unfortunately, in the process, they often put themselves in harm’s way fighting our nation’s interminable wars.in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, et cetera ad infinitum.

In those “little wars,” some 100,000+ Americans gave their lives. And a much larger number came back with debilitating physical or mental scars.

I consider myself fortunate that my brain surgery operation in 1966 gave me a Selective Service rating of 4F, so that I would not have to fight in Vietnam. Truth to tell, I would probably have been 4F in any case, as I had been walking around with a pituitary tumor for ten years or more and was not in great shape.

During the Vietnam Era, many war protestors held a grudge against the armed forces. I didn’t. Most of them were just trying to survive under difficult circumstances. Instead, I wish them well.