Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Greatest

"The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life."
-Mohammed Ali

Surprising words, coming from a man who made his mark as a prize fighter.

There is a lot of wisdom in that single sentence. I think the most successful (and happy) people are those who accept the many stages of life without yearning for the past and for their own younger selves.

But how are we to accomplish this in a society that worships youth and subtly punishes those who grow older, women in particular? Women usually become invisible once they are past child-bearing years. Doors are not opened for them as frequently.

I addressed this issue in one of my earliest posts, which got a whopping four comments.

It is now about a year later. I am about a year older. I like to think that I am about a year wiser, but it's a slippery slope.

What is the ratio of years to wisdom, exactly?

Mohammed Ali has had to accept a lot of change in his life. He developed Parkinson's Disease, which has rendered him almost incapable of communicating. Perhaps he became introspective because of it, but what his comment says to me is that he has matured not only bodily, as we all do, but at the soul level as well. He has grasped one of the most difficult concepts of all, that we are meant to change our views, and that doing so does not make us disloyal to our former selves or mean that we were wrong then.

It simply shows that the view is different from higher on the hill we all traverse in life, and this should be celebrated, for we get to encompass many different ways of being who we are during our years on earth.

What is more, to stubbornly adhere to the same ideas we once held keeps us stuck in time. It negates all our experiences that have followed the single moment when we developed a belief. "It's my story and I'm sticking to it " is a poor way to go through life.

What a waste. If we could finally accept that aging is not a punishment or a disaster, certainly not a contagious disease, we could actually begin to enjoy the many freedoms that come from not having to be really young anymore.

Ali has always been wise, and he seems to have always known who he was.

When he gave up his "slave name," Cassius Clay, and became a Muslim, people disapproved.

He responded, "I don't have to be what you want me to be; I'm free to be what I want."

His flagrant self-promotion, "I am the greatest!" was shocking in a world that esteemed modesty, even false modesty, and the fact that he was given to composing rhymes caused many not to take him seriously. The entire rap industry is probably in his debt.

His good nature was a large part of his charm, and it didn't hurt that he was extremely good looking as well. When reporters asked about his affiliation with Islam, he joked that he was going to have four wives: one to shine his shoes, one to feed him grapes, one to rub oil on his muscles and one named Peaches.

The public didn't know what to make of him. His fight for the heavyweight championship against Sonny Liston, a Mob-controlled thug, was sparsely attended, so few saw his stunning victory in person.

He refused to join the Army during the Vietnam War, saying, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger."

He applied to the Selective Service for conscientious objector status on religious grounds. The government prosecuted him for draft dodging, and the boxing commission took away his license.

Because he would not fight in an unjust war, he could not fight in the ring for 3 1/2 years at the peak of his career.

In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled that the government had acted improperly, but Ali declined to pursue any lawsuits to get his title back through the courts. He insisted that there was no need to punish the commission for doing what they thought was right, and determined to win back his title in the ring.

He famously did so by knocking out George Foreman in the eighth round of their fight in Zaire. Now George Foreman hawks barbecue grills.

Boxing, his great love, eventually did him in. Parkinson's has made it difficult for him to speak, and he moves slowly through the adoring crowds he still attracts. He spends hours signing autographs at home because his idol, Sugar Ray Robinson, once denied him one, saying "Hello, kid, how ya doin'? I ain't got time."

Ali vowed that he would never turn anyone down. The volume of mail he gets is enormous, and with characteristic grace and wisdom, he continues to do the best he can with his life at this stage.

Although I don't like boxing or any sports in which people get hurt, I marvel at the fact that our wisest role models often come from unexpected places, and that what is in a person's heart is so much more important than the grammar he uses to present it.

Mohammed Ali chose the most surprising arena in which to express his charismatic personality, and in so doing, he brought a rare kind of beauty to what is normally the least beautiful of sports.

He is in every way a gentleman who practices what he preaches, for he seems not to have wasted a moment of his life. How many of us can make that claim?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Che for the Millenium

This morning, one of the young men who clerks at our neighborhood grocery was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, which I found intriguing since at twenty-two or three, he was not yet born when the famous revolutionary died in 1967. Flip, acting out of some obscure rationale, told him about my encounter with Che during the Cuban Revolution. The kid was understandably confused because I'm sure the iconic photo on his garment meant nothing to him. He probably had no idea who Che was, and certainly knew nothing about his life. It's just a t-shirt, man. A local baby store has a size onesy top in their window with the same photo, and somehow this bothers me. I am well aware that there have been conflicting biographies over the years, some of which portrayed Guevara as less than a saintly, martyred idealist. Yet, I choose to discount much of that because he showed a flash of his common humanness to me, and he died for his beliefs, however flawed they may or may not have been.

He lived a life of action, not just one of inaction or reaction, like most of us. Che Guevara was a medical doctor who gave up a comfortable middle class existence to devote himself to making the world better. From the vantage point of so many years, I don't think it matters whether he was right or wrong about what would in fact build a better world. What is important is that he tried. But please don't take my argument to its "logical" conclusion by stating that I must then believe that Hitler tried, too, and so it doesn't matter that he was wrong. There are instances in which logic must be disregarded because of such egregious errors in judgment that there can be no doubt that certain acts were deeply wrong. And that goes for Vlad the Impaler, too, in case you wondered. And all the nameless villains who traded in human flesh.

I hate to see Che dishonored by becoming a mere celebrity photo flaunted by those who know absolutely nothing about him or the world that produced and then executed him. It's a sad day indeed when a notable human life becomes just another bit of t-shirt art. He might as well have been Paris Hilton.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I swallowed a cherry pit. From a big, golden Rainier cherry, the kind my mother used to buy in cans marketed as Queen Anne cherries. I once believed that most fruits grew in cans. It is lodged at the base of my throat. I marked the spot with a dab of Blue Flame Mask, in case I need a tracheotomy.

I asked Flip what would happen to me. He was watching a Law and Order rerun. At first I thought he didn't hear me, so I asked him again. "Your hymen will grow back," he said. "It already did," I replied. There was nothing he could say to that. Absolutely nothing. He went back to his show.

I went back to worrying about the effects of swallowing something that was threatening my life. I could barely eat more cherries around it. "Drink some water," said Flip.

"I did. It didn't help."

"Well, drink some more."

"I'm tired of water."

Someone else got shot on Law and Order.

"Do you think I need an ambulance?" I asked.

"Nah, they're already dead."

"I'll probably have a cherry tree growing out of my mouth by morning." The police had themselves a perp. I started to hiccup. "Birds will nest in it. The roots will strangle all my organs, one by one. You will see."

The cat struggled out of my arms and nestled in his lap. He stroked her lovingly. After two dozen half-time commercials, the lawyer segment of the show began. The pretty blond woman ADA believed the perp was innocent. The men wanted a conviction. She sulked, prettily. It turned out she was right. The perp didn't do it. He was covering for his friend. She got fired. The lawyers are the most dangerous people on that show.

Flip will be sorry when it turns out that I'm right, too. When I'm gone, and all he has to remember me is a big cherry tree with birds' nests in it. He'll be sorry he didn't take me more seriously. And his little cat, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fitness Guru

Last night, I bought a Fitness Magazine because I ran out of time to speed-read it on line at the supermarket. The lead article, "Easy ways to... A FLAT BELLY" caught my eye. I am a slim person who has developed a pooch of late which looks enormous to me. I am used to being concave, so any other state of affairs is tantamount to waking up to find that someone has moved the furniture, or an alien has taken over my body.

When I was pregnant, I didn't look it. I only wore maternity clothes the third time, and she was my smallest baby. They don't make pregnancy outfits for my age group, so this is creating serious wardrobe problems. I may need to buy my dresses in camping stores soon. If the Coleman tent look is in, I'm not aware of it.

Today, I noticed the magazine, which I had already forgotten about, and took it to the launderette instead of "Possible Side Effects" by Augusten Burroughs, which is much more entertaining. I flipped through page after page of weight-loss ads cleverly disguised as articles until I found it. The page that would make my stomach flat again. Page 104. Belly- Flattening Routine.

And there they were -- exercises! Difficult-looking and doubtless extremely painful exercises with which to torture my body. I couldn't believe it. Who do they think I am, Denise Damn Austin or some limber yogini who never heard of ice cream? I really thought that just buying the magazine would do the trick. And maybe giving up a cookie a week or something. Everyone always says it's the thought that counts. What a rip-off. I've been had.

I noticed a new line of products in Sephora recently, Fat Girl Slim unguents made with caffeine which are rubbed on body fat. This is supposed to make it disappear instantly. Yeah, right. Still, I was intrigued. I got a sample. I rubbed it in. Except for a greenish tinge, my abs looked the same. (Can I even refer to them as "abs" if they are not lean, muscular, super-toned and reeking of steroids? I'm not sure if I am entitled to use that term. I should probably refer to my "mid section" or "abdominal area," just to be safe. My "gut." I don't want any super-fit workout Nazis working me over because I infringed on their word.)

I will keep rubbing until the sample runs out, but I've lost my faith. This morning I spilled strong coffee on myself and nothing happened, except to my keyboard. I didn't even get burned because my coffees are all blonds, way too much cream to do bodily harm other than going directly to my belly. Years ago, I took belly dance lessons but wasn't very good because I had no belly, and all the tassels, tiny bells and peacock feathers in the world could not change that. Be careful what you wish for.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hey! I'm a Schmoozer!

Ian at Or So I Thought has given me an award! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It's the Schmooze Award. In New York, where I grew up, a "schmoozer" is one who can talk to anyone about anything. As I stated to Ian in his comments, I always figured I could do that. I just had no idea that anyone was listening.

My mother used to say that I was vaccinated with a phonograph needle (dating myself here,) that no matter what else was going on, there was the steady background drone of me talking, even though no one wanted to hear my running commentary on everything.

When I reached adolescence, I stopped talking to my parents at all except to relay necessary information, like "I'm sick and can't go to school today." It must have been a great relief to them.

Anyway, I'm immensely flattered to have this award because I value the comments to my posts most of all, and really enjoy the dialogs and discussions we have here. Getting to know all of you is like having a birthday every day with lots of fantastic presents.

I now get to give this award to five other bloggers. The people I have chosen are all wonderful at engaging in conversations on their own and other sites.

Molly of The Molly Bawn Chronicles is an Irish charmer who now enriches Florida with her delightful presence. Her blog is filled with both current observations and stories of growing up in Eire, which are always a huge treat.

Lee of Studio Twenty-Three is a peach. She is a marvelous artist and writer who is able to see deeply into an issue and present it with rare honesty and humor. Her second blog, My Letter of the Day, is always hilarious and not to be missed.

Riseoutofme at Riseoutofme is a fairly new pleasure of mine, but has quickly become addictive. I just figured out while collecting her url for this link that she is Molly's sister. (I think.) A talented, delightful family for sure. Her photography is wonderful, too.

La Cubana Gringa at No Method, Just Madness is a doctor with a wicked way with words who is always engaging. She lives in my city, and I know that if I ever need to visit the emergency room, she will make me laugh away my pain.

East Coast Dweller at In Search of Isis is new to me, but has already become a great favorite. He is quirky, intelligent and fun, has many interests, and is willing to follow his random thoughts wherever they may lead.

Read them all and enjoy, with my blessing.

UPDATE: Josie, one of my favorite bloggers at All in Good Time, has also given me this delightful award. Thank you so much, Josie.

I think that if I want to post the award thingie twice, though, I should have the grace to select five more people, but I'm all memed out and need to check the winning bloggers I haven't met yet.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

My Knife for Life

Flip decided to get friendly in the kitchen until, looking over my head, he noticed what I was doing. "Isn't that the one that got you?" he asked. I continued to cut up vegetables. "I don't know what you mean." "The knife. That almost cut your finger off." He dropped his arms, which were doing nice things that were nonetheless annoying, from my shoulders. "I thought you were talking about the wax beans," I said.

As a matter of fact, he was right. I do still use the knife that changed my right hand forever, and not for the better. The Laser Stainless paring knife that I bought years ago, that came in a strange package which I was unable to open. I worked on it with increasing strength and urgency until finally, it gave and released the knife directly into the middle joint of my right middle finger, severing all its tendons. That knife. Of course, I'm right-handed. I am not even slightly ambidextrous, although both Flip and my son are equally talented from any direction.

Exactly one year after I bought it, I happened to be in Target and noticed that the Sheffield Company had changed its packaging to a standard bubble wrap. One year being the statute of limitations on suing them. Which I would have liked to do, but was unable to find a lawyer willing to go up against a huge corporation like the Sheffield Knife Company.

I've been meaning to throw the knife away for years. For a long time, whenever I saw it in the drain rack, I relived my surgery and the painful aftermath in which I went back to the doctor who reconstructed my hand, my entire arm huge in white plaster, and asked him if anyone had ever hit him with their cast when they realized how much it hurt. I have moved this knife around the country several times, from home to home, and carefully installed it in my knife rack when I colonized each of them. Somehow, I never did throw it away. I have purchased other, better paring knives since then. I have a little Chicago number, and a Henckels from Williams Sonoma. But I have an irrational fear that this knife, The Bad Knife, will hurt someone else if I send it back into the world, and I can't bring myself to do that.

Maybe I should leave directions that it be buried with me. Or if I decide to be cremated, scattered in the sea with my bones and teeth. Meanwhile, I still use it, which is incomprehensible to Flip. As it would be to anyone who knew its dirty little secret. Of course, Flip is not so perfect himself. He cheats on chicken wishbones and welshes on bets. I would never do either of those things. If he made book with anyone besides me, the Mob would have offed him long ago. I just keep battle souvenirs in my kitchen so in case I ever feel the urge to mortally wound myself again, I'll have what I need, right there.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Neighbor Redux

Some of you may remember my post of a few months ago in which I asked your opinion about reporting an illegal sublet next door. Last weekend, an unfamiliar man knocked on our door as I was making dinner. He said that he was staying in Robin's apartment, (which is officially still Jackie's apartment,) but that she forgot to give him the garage clicker when she went on vacation. He needed the combination to the keypad so he could park his car.

I wonder what she is on vacation from. She doesn't work, nor did her "cousin." She may or may not get paid for doing what most people do for nothing, but the idea of a vacation is absurd. She seems to be bringing a lot of work home from the office. Apparently, our illicit tenant is now subletting her apartment to yet another person, and while he seemed nice enough, it worries us. The situation has gotten out of control, and we have no idea who is living next door at any given time. Or whether shots will come through the wall and kill us. Maybe they are cooking crack in the cute little kitchen.

Flip, who was opposed to telling the landlord about the new tenant when she moved in, has decided that it is now time to report the situation. There is no telling how many people have a key to the building or the garage combination. This morning, we were awakened by the baying of a hound quite nearby, separated from us only by a thin wall. I did not need a glass to my ear to hear it. The dog is apparently alone in the apartment, and depending on how long this goes on, it may merit a call to the Humane Society.

As I contemplated all this, I burned my finger while making coffee. I didn't notice that the red light was on, and touched the surface where the glass coffeepot rests. How karmic is that? As I consider burning someone else, I get burned. Flip thinks it's merely carelessness, but I'm not sure he's right. Why does every errant hedgeborn canker blossom end up living right next door to me?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

I am not given to toilet humor, but this was too good not to share, so with both giggles and apologies... I'm afraid that China is going down the tubes. The city of Chongqing has opened a 30,000 square foot porcelain palace featuring an Egyptian facade, soothing music and more than 1,000 toilets, some in the open air without a roof.

"We are spreading toilet culture. People can listen to gentle music and watch TV," said Lu Xiaoqing, an official with the Yangrenjie, or "Foreigners Street," tourist area where the bathroom is located. "After they use the bathroom they will be very, very happy."


Officials in the southwestern Chinese city plan to ask Guinness World Records to have the four-story public bathroom listed as the world's largest. Now that is truly a worthy aspiration. Footage aired on China Central Television showed people milling about the sprawling facility and washing their hands at trough sinks. Some urinals are shaped like open crocodile mouths, and others are topped by the bust of a woman resembling the Virgin Mary. Holy shit! Do the words "shy bladder syndrome" mean anything to you? There are also plans to build a supermarket nearby, which will sell toilet-related items. If that doesn't boost tourism, I don't know what will. As they say, build a better bathroom and the world will beat a path to your door.

Monday, July 09, 2007


I've been tagged by Seventh Sister at Shimoda's Dream to list five ways I raise my vibrations:

1. Listening to music, baroque chamber music, blues, jazz, classic rock. There is music for every mood if you look for it.

2. Art museums. There is something absolutely magical about the way some people see and translate light and color, and the knowledge that a painting or sculpture was actually touched by one of my hero-artists is positively electric.

3. Making jewelry or knitting is a very zen, centering practice which induces total peacefulness in my soul. Creating something of beauty is as high as I am able to reach. Cooking does this for me, too. It is another way to serve my highest self and others, and the impermanence of it makes it all the more intense.

4. Walking by the ocean. The vastness, the immortality of it, the changing colors, the smells, the aliveness and negative ions never fail to comfort, heal and inspire me. (I am a triple Cancer, a serious water sign. I'm sure that is no accident.)

5. Reading fiction so excellent that I devoutly wish I had written it, and also the words of great souls like His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. It makes me realize that my petty annoyances are trivial and not worth my energy, and that I am here for a higher purpose, although I sometimes lose sight of that fact.

Many of my favorite authors are Japanese, although I have only read them in translation. I am very drawn to all Asian cultures and their highly developed aesthetic, as well as the inconsistencies that only serve to make them more fascinating.

I am supposed to choose five blogs that inspire me. I try not to tag anyone who has already done it, or Seventh Sister would be on my list. Her posts about growing up in rural Texas are breathtaking.

1. Good Thomas at his blog of the same name is a beautiful writer who is unafraid to portray emotion, and his pieces about the intensity of everyday love are staggering. His marvelous creativity should be celebrated from the proverbial rooftops.

2. The Thinker at Theory of Thought is a teenager with an amazing mind and spirit, and an innate understanding of psychology way beyond her years. She has never written an uninteresting post, and someday, we can all say that we knew her when.

3. Ian at Or So I Thought is a professional writer with a fine mind and great wit who is a most reliable source of interesting material and a distinct viewpoint which is always presented with kindness and respect for the views of others.

4. Ms. Little Pea of Little Pea is a sheer delight. She has an indomitable spirit and a strong mind, and is able to imbue the most everyday occurrences with her great sense of adventure and her irresistible charm.

5. Chani at Thailand Gal - I try not to repeat myself when I play tag, but she epitomizes the raising of vibrations. She always inspires by her goodness and fluidity with words which make her a force of Nature, although she would deny it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Catless in New York

Some of you have been asking about our trip to New York. It was glorious! We spent several days with my brother and his family on Long Island, enjoyed his birthday party, reconnected with people I hadn't seen in many years from my hometown, and got to know three of my great-nephews and one great-niece.

My brother and his wife have eight grandchildren, four of whom live in Ireland. The others are all nearby, so they are still intimately connected to the world of childhood. I think it keeps them young. They are both quite remarkable. I'm sure that there is nothing my sister-in-law cannot do well. She has an amazing grace combined with attention to detail, and she gives good party. When my brother and I were growing up, I was his biggest booster. It was wonderful to renew a relationship that time and distance had faded, and to be an adoring little sister again.

The child Flip and I spent the most time with has been our "family baby" since he was born. Jack is a force of Nature. He exists to be worshiped, and seems to be okay with the concept. I have never known a more appealing child, and I was exhausted by all the smiling and laughing he occasioned. (A terrible way to be wounded.) Flip says that Jack is a Cult of Personality.

My daughter, Ellen, took us to Coney Island, which Flip had never seen, and they rode the Cyclone, the world's first roller coaster. I do not ride roller coasters as I think that life is scary enough without inducing heart attacks, and I am old enough that I no longer need to prove my machismo. I took pictures. And walked in the surf, which was not bone-chilling like the Pacific.

Since I grew up by the Atlantic, I feel an affinity with it that I do not for the Pacific, although they are both magnificent. I would find it hard to live far from one or the other. Living inland makes me homesick when I attempt it.

We spent a night in Brooklyn in the Buddha room of Ellen's apartment, and then drove up to Hudson, where she has a home. Hudson is a beautiful historic town filled with great architecture, friendly people and antique stores. New York State is so green. Literally. It almost breaks the eyes. The California hills are brown and tan with only scrub pine for greenery, but flowers bloom all year. Both coasts are beautiful. Pick an ocean, any ocean. It would be hard to choose.

I had forgotten what summer was like. Northern California has no logical progression of seasons. Our weather is likely to be unlikely. When we got back from the airport, Flip turned on the heat in our apartment. I put on a sweater. We were home. Mark Twain once said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." He wasn't exaggerating.

Truffle was well-cared for by our lovely neighbor, Lisa, but she is nervous. She supervised the putting away of suitcases but is taking a wait-and-see position. This morning, she rolled in my hair at 5:00 to be fed, and when I showed signs of lingering by my computer afterward, she made it clear that she needed me to get back in bed where she could keep an eye on both of us at the same time. She isn't taking any chances. Truffle has often been mistaken for taxidermy, but now she is watching our every move with uncommon alertness. We will have to be away from home in shifts for awhile so as not to alarm her. It's the least we could do.

It's Sunday morning. I have a thick newspaper filled with bad news, ads and two magazine sections. Flip is drinking coffee out of his new I-Heart-NY mug from the Albany Airport, and life is good.

Dirty Diaper On Board

Someone has abandoned a used Pamper on the stone bench in the lobby of our building. As far as I know, there are no children living here, unless you count emotional age. What kind of person does this? Flip has printed a sign that says "Is this yours?" with an arrow and taped it to the wall above the offending garment. Even travelers in airport restrooms are more considerate of others.

I noticed a leopard-print baby car seat in the garage, next to our new neighbor's parking space. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but she seems capable of such lowlife, disgusting behavior. The garbage shute is also stopped up and will begin to ripen if it has organic material in it. Like a very large baby. I left a message for the management company asking them to fix it. If they don't, there's always the Board of Health.

I used to believe that such rudeness was mostly unintentional, but I've begun to reconsider. It's hard to imagine accidentally dropping a poopy diaper in a common area, so someone had to go out of his or her way to leave it there. What are they trying to say? If I could figure it out, I might have the Rosetta Stone of Rude Behavior. I could make a fortune.


Before I left for New York, I wrote out all our monthly bills and packaged them neatly in a rubber band so I could mail them at the appropriate time in our travels. I was pleased that I had taken care of such an important detail and mailed them all, including the car registration, from Brooklyn.

Yesterday, back in San Francisco, I went to the Post Office to mail something. I noticed that the last collection time on the box outside had passed, so I took my letter inside and asked if it would go out faster from the counter.

"It needs two cents more," said the woman behind the counter.

"It costs more to mail inside the Post Office?"

"No, no, two cents more you need," she replied in broken English.

I didn't know there had been another price hike on stamps. I own a lifetime supply of 39-cent Ella Fitzgerald and Superhero stamps. I am not a stamp collector, but I always ask what new designs they have when I buy them.

Flip had dropped me off and gone to park the car, and I hadn't taken my purse. My pockets were empty.

An elderly woman asked if I was looking for the Post Office. Um, no. I was standing in front of it, scanning the street for our car. I told her that my husband had absconded with my purse and I needed two cents more to mail my letter.

"It costs two cents more to mail it from inside?" she said.

"No, I think the price of stamps has gone up."

"It went up in May," she said. "It's 41 cents now."


She fished in her purse. "I'm sure I have two cents," she said.

I took her money gratefully and handed my letter to the clerk.

I told her that I had mailed all my monthly bills with the 39-cent Ella stamps on them. Would they be returned to sender?

"You may be lucky," she said. "It all depends."

If our lights and phone service go out, our auto and health insurance are canceled, several doctors send us dunning letters, and we have to pay extra to the DMV when our registration comes back for insufficient postage, I'll know why.

The Post Office really should publicize their price hikes. It's enough to make a person go postal.