DON’T BOGART THAT JOINT, MY FRIEND …

Speaking of being in the zone, “Have you considered marijuana?” floated past me on the conversational breeze.

It was my cardiologist speaking. Was I in the Twilight Zone? No, just him suggesting pot might be the perfect drug. For me. It would deal with a variety of issues. He wasn’t suggesting “medical marijuana” because though theoretically we have it, actually we don’t. Yet. Maybe someday.

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“Uh, yes,” I said. “The downside, other than the price tag, is coughing. Coughing hurts.”

“Take in more air when you inhale,” he said. “You’ll cough less.”

Right.

I grew up in a world where getting busted for having a couple of joints in your pocket could land you in jail for a very long time. A world in which marijuana was the gateway drug to a life of dissipation and degradation. Which would end with you face down in a gutter in some part of town where even the cops won’t go.

Now I live in a world where ones doctors recommend smoking pot.

My mother was born in 1910 and passed in 1982. Growing up, horse-drawn carts were far more common than automobiles. She was a child during World War I, a married woman and a mother in World War II. She survived — somehow — the Great Depression and marched with friends and family in a spontaneous parade of celebration when the New Deal passed. Even though the Depression didn’t really end until the war came and brought employment to everyone who wasn’t fighting.

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By the time she passed, there was cable television and home computers, two cars (at least) in every driveway. One day (I was a kid) I shouted “Oh look, a horse and cart!”

She looked bemused. “When I was your age,” she said, “We used to shout “Look, a motor car!”

And today, my doctor suggested I smoke pot. What a world, eh?


In Whose Zone?

MY PARTY

I was turning 60. The preceding five years had been rough. I had been nearly dead. Having pulled back from that edge, I was struggling to put myself back together and rejoin the living.

I’d aged a lot. I went into the period looking younger than my years. I came out of it looking older.

Sixty is the leading edge of years termed golden — a cynical stab at making a sow’s ear into a silk purse. The downward slope of life’s mountain is perilous. Sharp turns, unexpected twists, unseen hazards blocking the path. They poke and hurt.

Friends pass on. The remaining ones are too tired to be social. They move far away and you can’t visit. You can’t bring yourself to do battle with airports and security. Your passion for travel drops way down on your “to do” list.

Email and telephones are the fallback position and take the place that hanging out once held. Communicating becomes a challenge. Telephones have terrible audio. Even email messages grow succinct.

When I turned 60, my husband conspired to throw me a party. No easy feat as the pool of living friends had greatly diminished, yet somehow, he did it. I saw faces I loved, hadn’t seen in a long time. Some I’d never see again, though I didn’t know it at the time.

There were friends from all over my world. Family I would never see again. It would be the last time my brother would visit. In less than a year, pancreatic cancer would take him away. I look at the pictures. More than half of those guests are gone.

The gathering was a great, though. A beautiful, bittersweet gift.

Life goes on. Good times never entirely end and there will always days when laughter rings, even if it’s only Garry and I enjoying our private jokes.

I don’t spend much effort saving for future rainy days because, metaphorically speaking, it’s raining pretty hard. Tomorrow arrived a while ago.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Israel was in turmoil, a not-unusual status for this small nation. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous  economic situation and an intense heat wave which had everyone cranky and ill-tempered. It’s no wonder that most riots take place in the heat of summer.

The predominantly Arab areas were seething with resentment while the Jewish population was none too happy either. It was a rough patch, but when had it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what make the city unique. The Jewish population is highly diverse. From secular and downright anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are Christians of every stripe and every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans — and sects I never heard and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, the clothing, the open air markets. I loved everything and everyone, but not everyone loved me back.

The newspaper I was running was broke. We’d been going on fumes for the last few issues and it was obvious we’d be out of business and out of work very soon. We kept hoping for an angel, someone to come along and invest enough to get us well and truly launched. In the meantime, it had been weeks since we’d gotten paid.

I was doing my share, trying to keep the newspaper alive, so when someone had to take the pages to the typesetter in Givat Zeev up by Ramallah, I volunteered. I had a car. I’d been there before. Why not?

There’s a myth that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot. The theory is, if you keep driving, sooner or later you’ll get there, wherever “there” is. That’s not quite accurate. You may get close — but when I’m the navigator close may not be close enough. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it.

Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a minor riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was happening or why (exactly), but I was sure I shouldn’t be there.

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I was lost. No idea how to retrace my steps and get back to French Hill. Going forward wasn’t an option. I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I hadn’t locked the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” That’s easy. It’s the same in almost every language.

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity which some would have regarded as lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is/was. They were under no obligation to help me. But they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

And act of kindness by strangers. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

WHEN FEASTING ON CROW INCLUDE THE FEATHERS

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Hola! Daily Prompt! We did jealousy last week. Really. Exactly one week ago, on May 8th, 2015. It was a good one too and I invite all of you to read “DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS.” And if that’s not enough, you can also read my original response from August 2013, “MONEY CAN’T BUY IT.” 

Instead of something more on this worn out subject (not a favorite from the beginning) because I have nothing more to say about jealousy, here’s a favorite anecdote. It’s funny, and a cautionary tale for assholes everywhere.

MOTTO: Make sure, when you set out to humiliate someone, that the shoe does not wind up in your mouth. And that is all the metaphor mixing I can handle for today.

NOTE: The photographs are irrelevant to the story, but I like them, so I’ve used them.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

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The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

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The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

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Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

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It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

ALIYAH

Once upon a time, in another life, I had a home in Jerusalem, just down the road from Jaffa Gate. When I remember Jerusalem, the edges are soft. “My” Jerusalem is gone, replaced by housing projects, shopping malls, and office parks.

I didn’t know I was arriving at the end of an era. Those would be the last years the Bedouins would cross their sheep through the middle of town, stopping traffic on King George Street on their way to the greener grass on the other side of the mountain.

Those would be the final years during which you could stand on the edge of the wadi by an ancient olive grove to see the great golden Dome of the Rock glowing in the first light of dawn. Now, the wadi is filled with condos. A promenade has been built where ancient olives trees grew.

At the end of January 1979, my son and I arrived at Lod airport. Neither of us had ever been to Israel. Owen knew absolutely nothing of the place. I had read a great deal about it … history, legends, guidebooks and novels. We had no friends or family in the country, nor were we familiar with the language or customs. Despite this, we would make it our home and both of us would grow to love it.

My mother said she thought me very brave to leap into the unknown. I enjoyed the role of intrepid heroine. But I was not brave, just hungry for adventure and yearning for culture shock.

I was running toward a new beginning, a different reality I could not find by staying where I’d always been.

When we arrived, exhausted and anxious at the airport, I scanned the faces in the crowd, wondering who would be there to take charge of us and get us to our destination. Remarkably, someone was there. Somehow, we recognized each other.

We were collected, processed and given official identity papers. A small amount of money. I had no idea how little it was worth. It was a while before I learned to do exchange rates in my head.

I remember that the taxi driver played the radio loud and sang along. The music was 1960s American rock and roll. The driver spoke no English. I spoke no Hebrew. It was images tumbling one on top of another.

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The apartment  in which we were to live had a living room, a hallway with a kitchenette, a small bedroom, and a tiny bath with a half-tub.

No closets. You buy closets and install them. Israeli closets combine closets and dressers. Lacking any place to put our things, we used our trunks as dressers.

We had nothing to eat. The refrigerator was empty. Hunger was gnawing at us, but we had no car nor a clue where to shop. No other choice, so we ventured out. Found a grocery store. All the labels were in Hebrew. Bread was sold in whole, un-sliced loaves. Cheese was sold by metric weight. Mostly, I recognized the fruits and vegetables, but even some of those were unfamiliar.

Culture shock really struck when I tried to buy milk. Finding milk required asking everyone until I found someone who spoke English. He then led me to the dairy case. This was unsettling since I’d thought that a dairy case is a dairy case and would be easy enough to recognize.

Milk was sold in plastic bags. Not cartons. Not bottles. Bags. What in the world was I going to do with a bag of milk? Finally, I bought a pitcher. After tearing the bag open with my teeth – not having thought to bring a pair of scissors – I poured the milk into it.

It turned out that there are special containers to hold milk bags and you just snip off a corner and pour the milk directly from the bag. Who knew?

We finally slept. The next morning dawned into brilliant sunshine.

“Let’s go see our city,” I said and we found the bus to Jerusalem, rode down Hebron road, and got off at Jaffa Gate.

The walls rose up tall around us and I shivered with excitement (I suspect that Owen, lacking my expectations, was merely stunned into silence). This was what had brought me to Jerusalem. Thousands of years of ghosts floated through those narrow streets. You never walked alone in Jerusalem. Generations of ghosts walked with you wherever you went.

Donkeys, so heavily laden that they looked as if they would collapse under their loads, plied the stone streets, cruelly prodded by small brown boys armed with sticks and shrill voices. Vendors called from their stalls, garments brightly ornamented with intricate needlework. Everything rustled in a light breeze. Stall owners stood in the lanes accosting passersby.

“Come in, come in,” they called. “I make you a special deal.”

Small open spaces housed spice markets that filled the air with the most exotic smells, the scent of ginger mixed with cinnamon, cumin and saffron. Just breathing was a joy. As the day moved on, more and more people arrived, filling the shuk until it seethed with activity and noise. Everywhere, people were haggling over prices, making deals, grabbing up bargains, filling their bags. The shuk was vital and alive.

Everyone was buying or selling. Voices echoed off the stone. Jerusalem of gold, Jerusalem of stone, and in the springtime and summer, Jerusalem of flowers.

All around you, embedded in the walls, is the architectural history of the city. “Yerushalmis change their minds a lot,” I was told. The walls tell stories. You could see the outlines where arches and windows had been but were now closed and see how the ground level had risen.

That first day, we wandered. The city led us into herself. She twisted us around until we found ourselves atop a hill, looking down at the Temple Mount, the golden Dome of the Rock shining in the sun.

The walls, the golden dome, the stones made my bones resonate. I fell in love. No matter how difficult my life became, the city would lift me up. Jerusalem sang to me, called to me, made love to me, and now, so many years later, in my dreams, I am still in love with her.

Journey

THROWBACK THURSDAY

Keeping Old Memories Alive, Rich Paschall

Let’s face it, there are a lot of annoying things about social media.  Even worse than the stupidity being spread, making us dumber by the day, is the proliferation of new games, rituals, groups, pages, chats, instasomethings, broadcast thyself and say nothing.

You Tube channels (I have 2), Google +, tweet and twitpic and twitchat, YouNow, Ustream and the list for You is growing.  You can write it, sing it, chat it, pin it, post it, paste it, repost and reblog it.  The glut of personal pages and activities is beyond gluttonous.

Among the millions of pages and posts lies some golden moments if only you can find them.  Sometimes it is like finding a needle in a haystack, but sometimes a needle is found.  Perhaps you put the golden needle there yourself, hoping others will find it.  If you look hard enough, you may find gold too.

I have used Facebook, WordPress and YouTube to uncover new (or not so new) and interesting talent. In some ways, it has replaced some of my television watching, although I have uncovered more crap online than can ever make it through to broadcast television.

If you have been following along on Sundays, you will notice that I have pointed out some of the good young talent online.  There are some young people doing good as I pointed out when I asked if it was A Screwed Up World? I also mentioned up and coming talent here and on Sunday Night Blog. Recently, I profiled Tom Law in Laying Down The Musical Law. So you can tell I am not completely down on the social media world.

One practice that has grown up on several social sites in recent years did not interest me at first.  In fact, I thought it a rather self-indulgent way of posting your old photos for people who really did not care on a medium that is so overburden with posts few would notice anyway. This now common activity is called Throwback Thursday.  Have you taken part?

The idea behind Throwback Thursday is that you post an old photo, video, article from the past, tag it with #tbt. Thus you will have made some sort of contribution to remembering something important or historical. It’s an interesting idea that has, of course, produced a lot of junk. Seriously, I do not need to see your video of you and your precious cat from 2003. It may bring tears to your eyes, but that doesn’t make it an historic document.

After this practice had gone by for a few years, I began to see the worth hidden in hashtag TBT. Items of merit were coming to light of social, historical and even personal value.  Now I gladly participate.

I still love cake

My personal photos of my charming self at a young age may be of no value in the social media world but I have many friends and relatives on Facebook. I don’t see them often, so they may be of interest to those who knew me at nine.

We are sharing old memories through weekly postings. I’ve been amazed by the relics some folks have uncovered. Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to see old photos and videos that bring a smile to your face.

The Pajama Game is the game we’re in!

A couple of years ago I started a Facebook group for former students of Mrs. Laurette Kittler. She is a retired high school drama teacher whose instruction and guidance touched the lives of generations of students. I was proud to include myself in those who could celebrate this teacher’s work. I thought maybe, over time, I would find 100 students.

The group now has more than 200 members, most of whom have been posting pictures and bringing smiles to everyone.  While many members of the group haven’t seen each other for decades, they’ve been putting up pictures others may have not seen since the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.  Maybe they never saw them at all.

When the formation of this group led to a “dinner and drinks” outing, I casually mentioned that among the many pictures I have and I have seen, I have no pictures from my Senior Class play.  I could have purchased them from the high school at the time, but I let it pass. It was my big regret.

During the week that followed, pictures showed up on Facebook, including one of me front and just left of center in a picture I do not think I ever saw.

South Pacific

Throwback Thursday has become a favorite activity. I post something and look for others to post items which will remind me of my high school days, my family and my youth. Nothing brings the past to life like seeing it. This is the value of #tbt.

My departed mother took a camera to many things in her life. In the 70’s and 80’s there is no telling how many rolls of 110 and 126 film she went through. Some months after she was gone, I sent many hundreds of pictures to my brother. I have thousands remaining.

Nowadays, I have a use for these photographs — every Thursday.

WITHOUT PEER

Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure, Rich Paschall

When the Beach Boys finally got back together in 2012 for a 50th Anniversary Tour, Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the sound, agreed to sign on.  Wilson had been a nervous performer over the years, and there were many years he could not perform.  His mental health history not only is well documented, but it will be played out soon on-screen in the biopic, Love and Mercy.  After decades away from the often feuding Beach Boys, Wilson was ready to go.

To start the anniversary year, Brian Wilson produced and arranged a brand new Beach Boys album, as well as having written most of the songs.  In true Beach Boys’ form, it was steeped in harmonies of the voices that had blended so well over the decades. Fans still revere their work for the unique sound.  The genius behind the Beach Boys had done it again.

Although Wilson did not originally want to perform many shows for an anniversary tour, he finally agreed to 50 shows for the 50th year.  The tour went so well, shows continued to be added.  There was talk of yet another Beach Boys album in the future and by the time the “boys” got to their 75th show in London, Wilson, who was usually cloistered in a studio, was willing to continue. True to the Beach Boys history, the tour ended on a sour note.

Mike Love, front man, lead singer on most of the hits, and owner of the name Beach Boys, fired Wilson, Al Jardine and most of his crew.  The mastermind of the tour was stunned.  For his part Love claimed he did not fire Wilson but had other commitments.  The other commitment was to tour with a stripped down show and a crew of replacement Beach Boys.  Yes, he booked his own tour even as the highly acclaimed, Wilson engineered, production was on the road.  Love, by the way, is Wilson’s cousin and a founding member of the Beach Boys along with Al Jardine.

The backlash was immediate.  Fans were outraged.  Love took to the LA Times to pen a letter claiming he would never fire Wilson.  He pleaded innocent.  Wilson fired back with his own letter: “What’s confusing is that by Mike not wanting or letting Al, David [Marks] and me tour with the band, it sort of feels like we’re being fired.”  David Marks is an original member of the Beach Boys and a neighbor to the Wilson Brothers and Love as they grew up.

The new album, That’s Why God Made The Radio, grew in popularity as the 50th Anniversary tour rolled on. “What’s a bummer to Al and me is that we have numerous offers to continue, so why wouldn’t we want to? We all poured our hearts and souls into that album and the fans rewarded us by giving us a Number Three debut on the Billboard charts and selling out our shows. We were all blown away by the response,” Wilson was reported in Rolling Stone as having written.

Wilson continued to perform over the next two years in a limited amount of shows.  Al Jardine and sometimes David Marks came along for the ride.  It is hard to say whether Love and his version of the Beach Boys or Wilson and Friends were more popular.

So was the idea of a new album dead?  Was Wilson near the end of a long and successful ride?  Was he ready to fade away while Love kept singing songs from the 1960’s.  The answer was delivered loud and clear.  Wilson is about to make 2015 one of the biggest years of his career.

Wilson went back to the studio and created a new album.  Perhaps it would have been one for the Beach Boys, but there are former Beach Boys and longtime Wilson musicians on hand to give it that Wilson arranged, Beach Boys sound. The album debuted this month to strong reviews.  It is filled with songs you would expect from Wilson, along with a few surprises.

Wilson clearly could not take the lead on all of these songs, so there are plenty of artists on hand to share the parts.  Lead vocal credits are given to Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, one-time Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin, country singer Kacey Musgraves, You Tube star Peter Hollens, Zooey Deschanel (She & Him), Sebu Simonian (Capital Cities) and Nate Ruess (Fun.)  Some of them also get a song writing credit and/or contribute background vocals.  David Marks contributed guitar work to two of the songs that featured Al Jardine.

A blast from the past comes from a new song, Sail Away, featuring the lead of Chaplin and Jardine.  It is reminiscent of Sloop John B and Sail On, Sailor and will evoke past Beach Boys hits.

Much of the new album is featured on a PBS Soundstage special, Brian Wilson & Friends.  There are also some other Wilson hits to thrill the live audience.  For some insights to other songs here’s the official Soundstage trailer:

Tomorrow: New Voices energize No Pier Pressure
Read more on the Mike Love, Brian Wilson letters: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/brian-wilson-to-mike-love-it-sort-of-feels-like-we-re-being-fired-20121009#ixzz3XWsts54u
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