Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Cleaning

ready, set...

I HATE house cleaning, I despise it, loathe it, I do everything in my power to avoid it (shall I go on?). If you haven't guessed I've been cleaning house this past week, getting ready for Maya's arrival (Friday night) and Passover on Monday. I remember my mother cleaning before Passover, washing every cup and saucer, wiping down the cabinets and the insides of drawers, making sure every bread crumb—the Passover chametz—was null and void. She worked like a maniac, like most women do before this holiday. Here's what one Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz says, from an article on cleaning made easy for the holidays: "I'd like to not only make Passover cleaning a little easier, but above all to change the attitude once and for all to stop being frightened. Passover is not a monster. It's the most beautiful time of the year."

To be sure, this fellow never lifted a finger. The monster cleaning job was left to the women, an accepted custom, and according to my sources, continues to this day.

Here's my mom cleaning up in the early eighties with a smile on her face:


The last time I cleaned like this (at Thanksgiving) I came across this picture of Moki with the kids. I hadn't seen it in years.

Moki with Mekko and Maya and Ghostie

Moki was in LA to attend David Cherry's concert in Pasadena, and to visit her in-laws, Barbara and Daisy, in south Central. In between, she spent a day with us. Mekko is twelve here, wearing his Spy vs. Spy T-shirt, which he wore almost every day that summer (slept in it too) and Maya, with her Louise Brooks haircut, is eight and a half, the age when we'd dance around the kitchen before dinner, boogie-woogying to Ella's A-Tisket-a-Tasket (ask Maya, she still knows all the words). When Moki stepped into our little Mayo St. house, she immediately started cleaning, clearing away the clutter and rearranging the piles, showing me by her example that the mess could be transformed into something manageable.

Yesterday, after two days of cleaning, I could barely get out of bed—I felt like I'd been run over by a truck; my muscles were sore from mopping the wooden floors and hauling the livingroom rug outside and slinging it over the rail, where I beat it to death with a broom until the dust of seven years dispersed into the sunny afternoon air. I didn't have the strength to go for my usual walk, but after two pots of tea I completed the job of cleaning house.  And even though I complained the whole time, hating every minute of it, when I finished, it was like the rabbi said.... something beautiful.



On Thursday I said so-long to my two colleagues at work for a month; next week, I'm going to NYC until the end of April. I'll miss their politically incorrect jokes, their allusions to politically incorrect sexual acts and their politically incorrect befuddlement over gay marriage. David is a Persian Jew from Iran and Bogdan is from Bulgaria, having worked under Communism most of his life. What I take for granted (or don't think of at all) is constantly surprising them, although rarely upsetting their equanimity. On Wednesday we threw a Persian New Year's party (Narooz) for all the classes and celebrated with Korean food, Chinese music, and wild cross-borders dancing. Goodbye David and Bogdan.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Dance to Spring...with apologies

I wanted to get a dancer for this post but it wasn't possible, given the time constraints and the money they wanted. So I had to go with what I had. My sincere apologies to Jules Feiffer for tampering with his vision, and to all the poets who have come before me at this time of year.  I'll try using a real dancer next time

A Dance to Spring

 In this dance 
flowers bloom
giant locusts bloom

Hope blooms
All things are possible!

In this dance
Tea Party members bloom
gathering their spit
taking aim at John Lewis and calling him the "n" word
A time warp to be sure,
but our man has known enough hate to last a lifetime
Just look at him here at the Edmund Pettus Bridge

 Did he back down then?
Sorry folks you don't win.
Your ruse won't dampen his resolve one iota
To pass the Health Care Bill

All things are possible!

In this dance
Tea Partiers call Barney Frank a faggot
They can't say gay, as in, Oh Happy Day!
No, these people aren't happy in any way.
They're angry angry angry, a million times angry
about the Health Care Bill

The response from GOP leaders is weak
These events are isolated, Boehner says,
followed by Chairman Steele,
They're just stupid, is all he'll admit.
Perhaps they think
name calling is an allergic reaction to spring 
and all we need is an Allegra

Well, all things are possible!

In this dance
Angry people can't get over the fact
That their President is black!
They're still in shock, wondering,
What the hell was the country thinking?
Citizens must have been hypnotized
by the Jews and the Clintons,
so they're back on the streets 
eager to be heard
to stop the Socialist takeover of America!
Has anything changed?
Are we back where we started?
Is Lewis right, a time warp?
No, calm down, we're not back there yet,
Even the die-hards have changed in 60 years
Last night the bill passed


And tomorrow... 
We put our kids—under 27—back into our health plans.

All things are possible!


Here's the original cartoon by Feiffer, drawn in 1957, seemingly inspired by the same concerns we have today. I tried to reconfigure the eight poses of the dancers onto this tiny mannequin, although some worked better than others. So, thank you, Mr. Feiffer, and you're right—spring does make me silly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Earthquakes, rats and weasels

I couldn't sleep on Monday night, which might explain why I was awake when the earthquake struck at 4 a.m. It was ten seconds or so of horizontal rumbling. Nothing dramatic. Bit it shook my cage and I reached out to grab Tom's hand— he'd been in NY the last five days—and I couldn't believe how warm and alive he felt! When you sleep by yourself, the other side of the bed gets deliciously cool, but past a certain point, it just gets cold.

I wasn't sleeping because our rat Luna is sick. She's been through two operations to remove mammary tumors but this time it's something internal, and there's nothing we can do about it. I just hope she makes it until Maya comes home for spring break, that's ten days from now. I think she will; this morning she was perkier than the night before—a hopeful sign. She's a brave little rat.


As I was coming to accept the inevitable, I was watching a live cam of a hummingbird sitting on her eggs ( The most interesting thing, though, was the simultaneous live chat that was going on. Five-thousand people were on the site at one point, and I'd say for the most part, the chatters were complaining about the pace of the hatch. "It's taking so long, when's it going to happen?" they kept asking. Maybe they were young, maybe they hadn't been through childbirth, maybe they're/we're all too addicted to facebook and instant messaging and instant everything to have the patience to follow a hummingbird. But they'll/we'll figure it out soon enough: you can't force nature by clicking a mouse. Nature has it's own time frame, and it certainly isn't ours.

When I went to the web cam the next morning I found out the eggs had never hatched and probably weren't viable. But there it was, another thing nature was telling us, that death is part of it. That's what I keep telling myself anyway about Luna. She's had two good years with us and even though two years is short, it's the life span of a rat. During that time we've provided her with everything she's wanted: almonds, peanut butter on rice crackers, yogurt, lettuce and kale. Especially kale. She loves it cooked in olive oil and garlic. She was, and still is, a good rat. When Tom watches TV she sits beside him to keep him company; when I'm at the computer, she'll let me scratch her ears, making teeth chattering noises of delight. She greets me at the door at night when I come home from work. She starred in my video called RATZ the Movie, playing with a walnut and making the funny papers take off across the room like they had legs of their own.

a brave little rat

It's hard to sleep when you know someone's sick or dying. I wonder if the hummingbird is sleeping and what she'll do with her eggs when she finds out they're not going to hatch.


On Tuesday I read in the LA Times, under "National Briefing," about John Edwards' mistress telling all to GQ Magazine (Thank God!). My first thought was, I wonder how much they're paying her?, and my second thought was, Edwards is such a rat! But then I realized that's not fair to rats, who are extremely smart little creatures, the opposite of Edwards. He's a weasel then, but that's not fair to weasels either, who are just trying to fend for themselves among much bigger critters. So he's a pig. But pigs, according to E.B. White, are innocent, obligingly eating their slop to fatten up for their masters to slaughter them. So no, he's not a pig. So what is he then, this man who ran for President deceiving himself and worse, deceiving us, the electorate?  If you can think of a good name, I'd like to know.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The subject of Steve

Steve is passionate about Hemingway, but his wife Vivian is too tired after work to show much interest in literature. When they joined my class a few months ago, I noticed something was wrong with Steve, the way he stared down at his workbook, his head stuck in one position, not moving. Vivian was always helping him, like you'd do a young boy at his homework, which was pretty annoying, especially when she told him the answers. The last time I called him up to the board, he wrote the word "enchanted" in giant, erratic letters, as if he himself were under some kind of spell.

He reminded me of my friend Estelle Carlson's husband in his last years, struggling with Parkinson's. At the same time, Estelle had been diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). She'd been my son's second grade teacher, an artist, weaver, designer, world traveler. I always blamed what happened to her (and to him, too) on the DWP electrical towers situated directly across from their house. Numerous articles have examined how radiation from EMFs can be harmful to those in close proximity, but it's one of those things impossible to prove. Walking by Estelle's old house on top of Mt. Washington, I'm struck by how much those towers dominate the skyline.

DWP electrical towers on top of Mt. Washington

During oral exams at school, Vivian was her usual convivial self, answering all the questions correctly, in proper grammatical English. We somehow got on the subject of Steve and she covered her mouth, like some women do when they laugh, but she wasn't laughing. She told me Steve was sick with Parkinson's. She blamed it on the chemicals he'd used in his silk screening business. She had to do everything for him now. Medicare only covered the cheap meds, which weren't effective, and she dreaded the day he'd lose his memory altogether. I sat there in my teacher's chair not knowing what to do, thinking, I could never do what she's doing. The next evening it all made sense. I was more attentive this time, helping Steve with the answers to give his wife a rest.

Steve and Vivian

Sunday, March 7, 2010

After the rains... a bike ride

After the rains— fluffy clouds

After the rains, I had a long dream, actually, more like consecutive scenes in a movie, and in every scene, I was riding a bike—riding a bike or dragging one up staircases, through doorways, down ramps. What could this mean? The next day I felt compelled to dust off the old bike, the one Tom had gotten a few years back as a X-mas present from ER.

(Actually, while Tom was working on ER they gave him lots of stuff...)

I stuffed the bike in the car and drove to the L.A. River, a few miles from my home. I knew the river had risen dramatically during the recent storms but I was shocked to see how much trash and debris were strewn everywhere.


It was hard to tell a white egret from a white plastic bag. (Note to self: Absolutely must remember recyclable grocery bags next time!).

A mile out I came upon a crew hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the trash. Sadly, they were also spraying an herbicide into the river to kill the Arundo, a false bamboo that's clogging up the waterways of Southern CA. This crew member said they were instructed to not spray "too much."

For the rest of the ride I enjoyed the wind and the clouds and the sheer joy of riding a bike! Still don't know what my dream meant. But I did notice an article in the LA Times by Hector Tobar the next day, about a guy named Jose Guzman. Guzman bikes everywhere and recently has gotten support from the "bike cooks," experts on everything biking. They give free workshops to those they call "invisible cyclists," people like Guzman who ride around town, not for exercise, but as a means to get to their jobs: the messengers, the day laborers, the cooks and carpenters. The classes are sponsored by the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, an org that believes the future of transportation is in these riders. I might not have read about it if it weren't for my dream.


When you write a blog you often think, what would make it popular, what would make it sell? When I was in Beverly Hills yesterday I found myself looking into store windows to see what they were selling. I found a store that sold items made solely out of alligator skins. This green alligator golf bag I saw in the window goes for $35,000. I asked the proprietor, "Who can afford such things in the recession?" He gave me a nice pat on the back and showed me the door.

Golf anyone?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Killer Whales and an economy that kills

I like how, in describing Johnny Cash's last recording, Lawrence Downes of the NY Times says, "There's a dark and a troubled side of life. There's a bright and a sunny side too..." Which is so true, so true.

Up until a few days ago, I was still riled about the killer whale incident at Sea World in Orlando and their refusal to set the animal "free." But after doing a little research on captive marine life, I found out that my thinking was all wrong. Reintegrating these animals back into what has become a foreign environment is not "a very humane thing to do," according to animal expert Diane L. Guerrero. She's written extensively about Keiko, of "Free Willy" fame, who'd gotten used to human interaction and human comforts. When they released him off the shores of his native Iceland, he made a beeline for the populated beaches of Norway. He sought out the company of humans, but died five years later.

Upon waking this morning I realized I probably couldn't be reintegrated back into the environment I was born into either.

 Kentuckian Colonel Sanders

The state I fled so many years ago is the same state that rejected a short-term extension of unemployment benefits last week. Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky single-handedly put the kibosh on any more payouts (did it again on Tuesday and then, after pressure from fellow Repubs, relented), supported earlier in the week by another Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader. But when KY itself has an unemployment rate of over 10 percent— jobs lost in every sector except coal mining—you wonder, what in the world were these guys thinking?

modern day unemployment line

In our household it's serious business, with my husband unemployed after working steadily for 25 years, and my son in NYC unable to get one of the few available jobs for recent college graduates. I don't want to come off sounding like a crybaby, 'Oh, boo hoo, we're so bad off,' which isn't the case. We have some fallback. But what do people do who've lost their jobs and have nothing? Well, clearly (to someone who once thought owning a place to live was a tidy package), they lose their homes. And if they don't have homes, they lose their apartments and move in with family or friends or end up on the street. And it's eerily, scarily, coming into focus that it could happen to anyone in these bad economic times. Next time I pass someone who's unemployed and asking for a handout, I won't just walk/drive by with an air of superiority like I've done in the past; next time I'll make eye contact and hand him what's left in my wallet.


Just a quick added note here, about the sting operation at the Santa Monica restaurant, "The Hump," as reported in the L.A. Times this morning. I'm not quite sure why reporters and such have to use the word "alleged," as in Fed prosecutors filed criminal charges against the restaurant for "allegedly" selling whale meat, an endangered species. From the article, "The Hump came under fire after allegations surfaced in Tuesday's NY Times that it had served meat from an endangered sei whale, possibly straight from the trunk of a white Mercedes-Benz." They either did or they didn't, and according to a marine mammalogist who examined a sample of the flesh sent by animal activists, they did , and you can be sure it was a Mercedes too, not a Volvo.