The Calm Before the Storm


Tulips at Descanso Gardens

Tulips at Descanso Gardens

Since the beginning of May, I have been semi-retired. Now, with the passing of our tax manager on Tuesday, I am being asked to come back full time—at least until the end of tax season. I had hoped to avoid another high-pressure tax season, but I pretty much had to agree to help out; else, I might have been forced to look for another job at my advanced age. So I can expect the next six weeks to be highly stressful. Life is like that sometimes.

But before I started in on the heavy-duty work, I decided to go to Descanso Gardens with Martine. The tulips were planted, and this was the first weekend of a two-=weekend Cherry Blossom Festival. Only some of the cherry trees were in flower, but the gardens were crowded, mostly with Japanese-Americans looking for an American equivalent of their own cherry blossom festivals. Fortunately, Descanso is large enough that one can easily escape the crowds and still find beauty.

The beauty of the tulips, and even of the lone lilac that came into bloom early, will help me in the weeks to come. Unfortunately, the tax deadline this year is Tuesday, April 18. That happens whenever April 15 falls on a Saturday or Sunday. This year it is on Saturday, and Monday is a holiday (Emancipation Day) in the District of Columbia; so, Tuesday is the tax deadline.

I’ve already filed my taxes, so at least I don’t have to worry about that.


A Nattering Nabob of Negativity

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

Sometimes There Is a Point To Being Negative

American culture frowns on negativity. People who are seen as being mostly negative are shunned and are constantly ducking brickbats thrown by amateur psychologists. But sometimes, it is good to be negative. For instance, I have nothing positive to say about the Trumpf administration, except that he has not pitched us into a global war—yet! (Even that f at the end of his name is negative, no?) Many of my friends say that they are taking a “wait and see” attitude. That I cannot understand.

We are so anti-negative that we sometimes confuse ourselves. The Patriot Act during the last Bush administration was essentially an attack on our liberties, pretending to protect us from terrorism. Hast it? No.

There is a long standing battle between the conservatives and women on the subject of abortion. Both sides are “pro” something: one is pro-life, and the other is pro-choice. How can anyone be against life or a woman’s choice on bearing a child? Here is a list of such euphemisms:

  • Passed away instead of died
  • Correctional facility instead of jail
  • Departed instead of died
  • Differently-abled instead of handicapped or disabled
  • Ethnic cleansing instead of genocide
  • Negative patient outcome instead of dead
  • Relocation center instead of prison camp
  • Collateral damage instead of accidental deaths
  • Downsizing instead of firing someone
  • Put to sleep instead of euthanize
  • Pregnancy termination instead of abortion
  • On the streets instead of homeless

For more examples, check out this website.

Now it seems that every piece of legislation, regardless how nefarious, must bear a positive moniker.

Maybe I react the way I do because I am a Hungarian. My people were on one of the two main invasion paths into Europe—the other was through Poland. When one is the product of a history of almost constant warfare, one is likely to not always look on the bright side of life.

That does not mean that I am, in Spiro T. Agnew’s memorable phrase, a “nattering nabob of negativity”; but I do not lay myself open to accepting arguments solely because they are framed using positive language. No more than I would call a bill urging Republicans to commit suicide the Glorious Sunset Act.

Itchy Eyelids of Death

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

Every once in a while, I get this allergic condition where my eyelids get inflamed and itch like the devil. The temptation is to rub them. That’s works for a few nanoseconds, but the itching and tearing come back with redoubled force. The only thing that seems to work is a prescription drug called Pred-Forte, which is a steroid that my ophthalmologist is reluctant to prescribe to me because … because … well I practically live on steroids.

I have no pituitary gland (I’ll tell you more about that some day), and therefore I must take all my hormones—which are normally controlled by the pituitary—externally. And, well, taking too many steroids long term has numerous baleful effects, some of which I’ve already experienced: osteoarthritis leading to a hip replacement, cataracts, and thinning of the skin—to name just a few.

Today, I went to the free weekly Mindful Meditation session at the Los Angeles Central Library. What I concentrated on was my eyelids. That worked for a while, then on the way back from downtown, in a moment of forgetfulness, I rubbed my eyes. Damn!

During these sieges, I wake up with my eyelids stuck together; and I have to pry them open with the help of my fingers.

This condition has a lot to do with the frequent atmospheric changes caused by the series of rainstorms we have had over the past few months. It won’t last forever, but while it lasts it will be a major annoyance.


“A Hundred Windows Opened on All Sides of the Head”

Old Building on Buckeye Road

Old Building on Buckeye Road

This morning, I started reading G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography, and it set me to thinking. I thought it would be fun to put all my earliest memories in one place, lest I forget. Chesterton had it right:

What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world. What gives me this shock is almost anything I really recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling. This is where it differs from the other great thrill of the past, all that is connected with first love and the romantic passion; for that, though equally poignant, comes always to a point; and it is narrow like a rapier piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a hundred windows opened on all sides of the head.

I was born in a house on East 177th Street, a few houses north of Glendale. Because we moved shortly after I was born, all my earliest memories are tied up with 2814 East 120th Street, just off Buckeye Road. We lived on the second floor of a duplex. I remember lying in my crib. One of my first memories was of an argument between my mother and father about money. Both were working, my father at Lees Bradner & Company, my mother at the Cleveland Woolen Mill.

Like most toddlers, I was fairly rambunctious. Mrs. Nebehaj kept shouting from her first floor rooms, “Missus, the ceiling is coming down!”

From a very early age, I was cared for by my great grandmother Lidia and great grandfather Daniel. As Daniel died when I was one, I do not remember him. I was always told he wanted to live long enough for me to buy pipe tobacco for him at the grocery store on Buckeye Road. It was not to be.

My oldest friend was Joyce. Now for the sex: I was fixated on the crook of her knees, which to me was smooth and lovely. There wasn’t too much I could do about it, but I remembered it nonetheless. Once, when I was playing with her, I lost control of my bladder, and the pee ran down my leg. My landlord saw me and asked why I was dripping. I said I stepped in a bucket of water, and it was running down my leg. Was that my first lie?

On Buckeye Road, near East 120th, there was a ramshackle old building that sold furnace pipes and such like. I remember playing in the small yard that fronted the building. There were a number of tree stumps on which I could play with my toy soldiers.

Of course, everybody spoke Hungarian. So did I. It was almost a 100% Hungarian neighborhood, and we didn’t have a television set until 1949. Broadcasting would begin around 4:00 PM with the Kate Smith Hour, followed by the Howdy Doody Show, which I watched religiously.

Once, I remember going with my father to pick up Mom at the Woolen Mill, and there was a big fire in a nearby building.

My life changed when I attended kindergarten beginning in January 1950. Trouble emerged at once when my teacher, Mrs. Idell, refused to understand my Hungarian. My friend András, who was similarly afflicted, and I began kicking her shins. Also, my brother was born in April 1951. It was time to move, and that signaled a new epoch in my life.

A Hopeful Holiday

Christmas Decorations from the Grier-Musser Museum

Christmas Decorations from the Grier-Musser Museum

Here I sit with my fingers crossed, afraid to check the news and seeing what our new elected Fuehrer has to astonish and dismay the world. I could really work myself into a state about this turkey, but I have decided to concentrate this Christmas on the people I love. There is nothing I can do to buck the Electoral College majority for the Cheetoh-headed moron, so I will leave him to the scorn of history. (That will not prevent me from opposing him in a more substantial way if the opportunity arises.)

What is Christmas really all about? I think the operative word is “love.” According to John 3:16 in the King James Bible, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Christian doctrine says it was all an act of forgiveness to cancel out the “original sin” of Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge. God the Son incarnated as a human being and died a horrible death by crucifixion just so we’d all stand a chance. In this light, Christmas is a feast of divine love.

But not everyone believes this, and I myself tend to cherry-pick Christianity, adopting what I like and brushing the rest aside. I like the idea of giving gifts to the people who mean the most to me; and I like using this time of year to cement my closest relationships, whether with Martine, my family, or my closest friends.

Unfortunately, Christmas has been weighted down with a whole lot of paraphernalia. There are stores open twenty-four hours a day for last-minute shopping. (My shopping is all done—and I would never visit a retail store at this time of year because of the crowds.) I have no twinkling lights about my apartment: I don’t even have a Christmas tree or a wreath on the door. I don’t wear any ugly Christmas sweaters. Unlike most male Americans, I don’t watch any bowl games—or, in fact, any sports at all. Instead, I look forward to a nice Christmas dinner and an exchange of gifts with my oldest friends. Martine and I will watch the 1951 Alastair Sim version of The Christmas Carol, and maybe even A Christmas Story (1983) if I can. And I will read one of Charles Dickens’s lesser-known holiday works, such as “The Chimes” or “The Cricket on the Hearth.”

Use the real meaning of Christmas to become stronger in your emotions. Perhaps what the 2016 election really means is for us to look after ourselves, because most assuredly no one will look after us.

Disorder and Early Sorrow

Formerly St. Henry, Now Bishop Lyke School

Formerly St. Henry School, Now Bishop Lyke School

It was the third grade, and at the tender age of eight I was deeply in love. At that age, it was very much like Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl, except that my inamorata had curly brown hair and flashing eyes. Her name was Laura Sowinski. At that age, I somehow thought she was Swiss because Sowinski sounded like the word Swiss. (Eight-year-old logic!)

Did I ever whisper sweet nothings to her? No, I don’t think that ever happened at that age. Mrs. McCaffery ran a tight ship in our basement classroom, and any kind of childish spooning would have been nipped in the bud right quick.

Catholic schools like Saint Henry had, in those days, many off days. Sometimes, we did not know until the day before that we would be off the next day. When one of these sudden free days was announced, I was home with a cold and didn’t get the word. So, naturally, I walked to Saint Henry the next day, only to find the school deserted.

The word got around quickly. At the time, Saint Henry had a newsletter, for which the gifted and cruelly beautiful Laura Sowinski was the artist. On the next issue of The Golden Knight, there I was on the back page, in a particularly goofy rendition, walking up the drive to class with a bunch of books secured with a belt. The caption read, “James Paris Going to School on a Free Day.” I was appalled, shamed before the entire school, devastated—my heart had been minced up and handed to me on a lead platter by la belle dame sans merci. My love had turned to ignominy and shame.

I do not know what became of Laura Sowinski, and frankly I don’t care. The bitch!