I Give Thanks

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Branch in Torrance, CA

One day last month, I took a closer look at my driver’s license and was surprised to find that it expires on my birthday in January 2020, just two years after it was issued. It seems that my advanced age requires another official look at my driving ability. Now the Department of Motor Vehicles is under siege at this time by drivers who are trying to get the so-called Real ID which will be required for all domestic flights beginning October 1, 2020. (You will be able to use your passport instead, but a diminishing number of Americans have one of those.)

In order to qualify for a California driver’s license with Real ID privileges, applicants must provide a bewildering array of documents proving their identity, their address, and their Social Security Number. If I didn’t have easy access to the Internet, it would probably take me several trips to the DMV before I got approved.

So I immediately tried to get an appointment at the DMV at my local office in Santa Monica. No go: The first appointment was over a month after the current license expired. The same problem occurred with the Culver City office. I kept checking other branches and found that the Torrance office could handle me at 3 pm this afternoon. I expected a major disaster.

What I found was a pleasant surprise. I showed up an hour early for my appointment and was out the door in about an hour. Contrary to past experiences, the DMV employees were pleasant and helpful. My choice of documents for the Real ID application was approved. The employee taking my photograph actually tried to get a good picture of me (that didn’t make me look like a walrus). And the written exam went quickly and smoothly. Fortunately, an actual driving test was not required.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, I am already starting to be thankful.

 

Holy Sidewalks

Is This Hole an Illusion? Or an Allusion?

Today being Thursday, I rode the Metro downtown, went to the Central Library, and attended the weekly half-hour mindful meditation session held there. Group leader John Kneedler quoted the following poem by Portia Nelson:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

I know this poem is all over the Internet, but it’s the first time I encountered it; and I love the way it summarizes so many people. Including myself.

Back of the Knee

Two Possible Culprits

About three weeks ago, on the same day that the night temperatures in L.A. went down into the fifties, I quite suddenly discovered that I had excruciating pain emanating from the crook of my left knee. It was particularly painful when I was going down a flight of stairs or raising myself from a seated position. I was concerned that, if things got any worse, my trip to Yucatán was at risk.

So today I explained the situation to my endocrinologist, who serves as my primary care physician. She recommended that I see an orthopedic specialist. When I returned home, I made an appointment to see the surgeon who replaced my left hip in 2002 with a titanium implant.

As of now, I have made no reservations for my trip: I expect I might have to delay it for a month or two. The good news was that my endocrinologist said the condition was probably not the beginning of a steady deterioration in my ability to walk or use stairs. My fingers are crossed that, either the condition will heal by itself, or some procedure could effect healing of the knee.

 

Incorrigible Bookworm

Picture of Me at the Last Bookstore, Downtown Los Angeles

Sometimes, I just have to sit up and take a good look at myself. Where in Blue Blazes did this Bookworm come from? There was no one like me in the family. I was looked at by my family with a combination of contempt and admiration. When I was doing well in high school (I was the valedictorian of my class), I was referred to as “the walking dictionary.” I was a person of whom prodigies were expected … in the normal course of events. People expected my help with their homework—even if I knew zilch about the subject.

In fact, books were for me an escape. I was a sickly child, stricken by numerous allergies and frequent and debilitating headaches. The latter turned out to be a brain tumor in my pituitary gland. When I came out of surgery in the fall of 1966, I kept asking myself, “Why me?” I went almost overnight from a devout Catholic to a lapsed Catholic. I continued to suffer various physical and mental after-effects because of the lifelong steroid therapy that ensued.

I was never any good at athletics. For exercise, I liked to walk a lot. I couldn’t even drive a car until I reached the age of forty, and I no longer had to take a blood pressure medication (Catapres) that caused me to fall asleep in moving vehicles.

And so, at an early age, I turned to books. Was it because my mother used to tell me fantastic stories about fairy princesses in the dark forest that she told me in Hungarian? I couldn’t really read English with any proficiency until the third or fourth grade.

I started to accumulate books at home, causing some friction with my parents. They didn’t like to see me spending money for books at Scroeder’s Bookstore on Cleveland’s Public Square. Once, when my cousin Emil saw me reading Tom Sawyer in the living room, he grabbed the book out of my hands and hurled it at the floor, causing it to bounce. “This is what I think of books!” he said while I wondered what was coming next.

Of course, I love books. Even though I have donated over a thousand books from my collection to the Mar Vista Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, I still read as much as ever, if not more so.

 

A Bookworm’s Day

The Westfield Culver City Mall

Today was a day devoted to books. This morning, I took a box of 20 trade paperbacks to the Los Angeles Public Library in Mar Vista as a donation. They are about to have a large book sale in a couple of weeks, and I thought these books would probably sell. After I dropped them off, I sat in one of their comfy chairs and finished reading The Best American Travel Writing 2013, edited by Elizabeth Gilbert. Travel literature is one of my favorite book categories, accounting for much of my reading during the summer months. (As well as being an actual traveler, I am also an armchair traveler.) On my way out, a picked up a free library discard copy of Fodor’s Brazil (2016).

The reason? I am toying with the idea of flying to the State of Bahia, to Salvador and Ilheus, and reading Jorge Amado’s novels which are set there.

Next, I drove to the Westfield Culver City mall, where I ate a light vegetarian lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant in their top floor food court. Afterwards, I bought some milk chocolate clusters with walnuts, peanuts, pecans, and almonds. I spent a couple of hours looking at the Fodor Brazil guide before heading home.

Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann Arrive on the Island in Hour of the Wolf

By the time I got back, Martine was gone for a doctor’s appointment, so I watched Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968), the closest the Swedish director ever came to a gothic horror film, starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann staying on an island of vampires.

After preparing dinner, consisting of Hungarian fasirt with buttered corn on the cob. Afterwords, I started reading Valentin Kataev’s 1927 novel Embezzlers. All in all, not a bad day.

 

 

Memories of Cleveland

The Cleveland Museum of Art

When I was growing up on the East Side of Cleveland, there were some areas that I really grew to like. Probably I was most drawn to the area around the Cleveland Museum of Art and Case Western Reserve University. I used to take the 56-A bus from home to East 105th Street, where I transferred to another bus that took me to Euclid Avenue. There was a drugstore at the corner of 105th and Euclid that featured a drink at their soda fountain called a “fresh lime rickey.” I would eat lunch there and walk over to either the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Western Reserve campus (it had not yet merged with Case Institute of Technology).

I would take art appreciation classes on Saturdays at the art museum, afterwards walking around the collections of medieval armor and 19th century art, including a Van Gogh that became my favorite painting: “The Starry Night.” I wonder if Cleveland still has that painting.

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

After I had started at Dartmouth College, I took a course on tragedy in literature at Western Reserve University by a professor named, as I recall, Tom MacDonald. At times, I would walk over to the Museum of Art after classes before getting on the buses home.

Other than the “University Circle” area that I frequented, I was not overly impressed by Cleveland. The Downtown area was rather grim. I had saxophone lessons near the center of town. The only places there I felt I could hang out were the Public Library on Superior and Schroeder’s Bookstore on Public Square. To the west were the Flats with their large factories, through which flowed the Cuyahoga River. It was this river which had made news once for being so polluted that it had caught fire.

 

At the Fish Market

The Fish Market at Pike Place in Seattle (2009)

Sometimes I think a new anti-social Me is coming into existence. Not really so much anti-social as unfriendly to strangers. Martine and I had visited a historical site in Long Beach called the Rancho Los Cerritos National Historical Site. On the return trip to West L.A., we stopped at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market and Restaurant in Redondo Beach where we indulged our love of fresh seafood.

As we checked out the raw fish on ice, a stranger wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt, sneakers, and those unambitious socks that never quite make it up to one’s ankles, started talking to me about the salmon in the case.

I looked at him. “Are you talking to me?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

With what must have been a puzzled look on my face, I asked, “What on earth for?”

And that shut him up.

This is the type of situation when I normally switch to Hungarian. I couldn’t well do that here because I had to order two fish dinners in English within the next couple of minutes.

What a snarky character I am turning out to be!