Friday, February 24, 2012

March to the Sea

Valerie, Dianna and I leave Silverlake a bit after 6 a.m. I wear a tiny owl backpack stuffed with extra socks, band-aids, Neosporin and even though I never touch the stuff, two bottles of water. I very seldom wear a backpack but I think mine is cute but Himself worries people with throw cans at me. We pass the Sunset Junction, dead of hipster frenzy and turn down Santa Monica. The regulars are buying coffee and lottery tickets at the 7/11 and working folks are waiting for buses to take them downtown or to the Westside. We head South through what is now called Virgil Village, although the new moniker hasn't increased the value of the real estate, still rife with taco tables, laundromats and littered sidewalks. We turn west on Beverly, much the same, panderias, bodegas and bus traffic. Around Wilton, Korean signage alternates with Hispanic. I've driven these streets, once primarily white and working class, for as long as I can remember. I've never walked them and while I am familiar with just about every restaurant on the route, I am astonished at the richness of what is in-between.

Many of the signs aren't translated but there is among the food-centric a robust enthusiasm for Korean cuisine. I wander into a crowded place one night with the kids because there are a handful of white diners which make it likely that some English is spoken. We enter and are informed that the restaurant serves only octopus. My kids demur. Perhaps it is venal to spend hours pursuing restaurant menus at the L.A. Library website but perhaps we food-obsessed clean up our karma a tad by nurturing positive interaction across cultures.

We reach Hancock Park. Exercisers in coordinated workout gear walk briskly and young couples stroll pushing fancy baby carriages and walking pedigreed dogs that are picked up after, unlike in the other neighborhoods we've traversed. Dianna says good morning to everyone we pass and I am not surprised, although sort of embarrassed in front of Valerie, that black hatted men in dark suits don't so much as make eye contact. Orthodox families are on their way to Shul. Dianna and I explain to Valerie a little about traditional Jewish customs and religious law. We walk behind a teenage girl with thick glossy black hair. She wears a calf length skirt and black tights and pushes a pram. I explain that there must be an Eruv in place or it would be prohibited to push a baby or even carry a diaper bag on the Sabbath because outside of the home this is characterized as work. An Eruv is literally a string that encircles a neighborhood and thus expands the boundaries of “home.” The girl with the carriage can hear me and tries a few times to glance back surreptitiously. Maybe I'm telling it all wrong or maybe she's impressed that a goy like me has a basic understanding of these customs. Many Orthodox people are contemptuous of non-observant Jews, mere gentiles. Among the Ultra Orthodox there is an even stronger distaste for outsiders and one sect might consider a different group completely inauthentic. Often Ultra-Orthodox Jews refuse food that's been deemed Kosher by an Orthodox Rabbi with a different affiliation. The girl with the carriage, discretion ultimately bested by curiosity, keeps looking back. She is about sixteen and probably is soon a candidate for an arranged marriage and covered head. I'm not sure really what she makes of two frizzy haired women in sweatpants explaining Jewish practices to their African American friend who finds it fascinating.

I am still on my big Jew jag by the time we reach Pico/Robertson. Valerie's a bit befuddled when I recall my parent's sheepishness about their heritage. I ask Val if she's ever wished she weren't black and she posits that she's never been in a milieu where this would be preferable but connects that my parents experiences are similar in some ways to those of her own parents. We stop at a coffee shop and I continue on the self loathing rant, using the story that everyone's heard a million times about my mother 's resistance to being outed. She refused to invite any of her friends to our Jewish wedding. Mom sighed appreciatively that her maiden name Kroner wasn't necessarily Jewish. Her niece married a man named Finkelstein and Mom frequently expressed disgust that they hadn't changed it. Once I was sending a letter and asked if the name was spelled “Finklestein” or “Finkelstein” and my mom snapped, “It doesn't fucking matter.” I add that the tendency to denounce Jewish heritage isn't limited to those born before or during the Holocaust. Dianna thinks Jon Stewart's real name is something like Horowitz but a man at the next table pipes up that the Daily Show host was actually born Jon Leibowitz. The man reports that he remembers this because Leibowitz is his name as well, although other branches of his family changed it too.

There is a mikveh across the street and we explain the most prurient details of ritual immersion to Valerie. The mikveh attendant inspects for cleanliness prior to the immersion in the pool. Finger and toe nails are inspected. Hair (carpet and drapes) is combed to insure that there are no strands tangled up with underwear lint. The mikveh is visited prior to ritual events, holidays and conversion to Judaism. A visit to the mikveh is required after menstruation or childbirth before sexual relations can resume. Orthodox women have written that the “niddah” period or abstinence prior to immersion in the mikveh has a salubrious effect on their sex lives. Many women also defend the covering the head of a married women either by hat, scarf or wig in public, and indicate that this enriches and sanctifies romance. It's fine that women feel these practices are spiritually beneficial. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that these customs are not rooted in male notions that menstrual blood is impure and that men are so unable to control their urges that it's best to keep one's wife under wraps.

The description of exotic religious practices shifts to more “Is it good for the Jews?” myopia. The power that the ultra-Orthodox wield in Israeli national affairs is ironic because most sects deny the existence of the nation of Israel because a true Jewish state can only be established after the arrival of the messiah. Yet, huge Israeli Ultra-Orthodox families suck up social welfare resources. The Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) are exempted from military service and demand public funding for their schools. I point out that while the Haredi comprise less than 10% of Israel's population, the small Agudat Yisrael party they support, controls the balance of power between the country's two major parties and for the most part leans very heavily to the right.

I also note that Hawkish American Jews funnel a lot of money into Israel. Operation Birthright is a program that provides a free trip to Israel for all Jewish American teenagers. The kids are inculcated with Israeli nationalism and I presume the visit is designed to groom future boosters and donors. And if bankroller Sheldon Adelson has anything to say about it, Republicans. Adelson also gives generously to a number of right-wing causes. Adelson felt that the liberal media held too much sway in Israel and wrote a blank check for the creation of new daily and weekly newspapers, mere smokesceens for pure propaganda on behalf of conservative Prime Minister Netanyahu. Adelson has made headlines lately for hefty contributions to kindred spirit Newt Gingrich. How Adelson would love having a president who considers the Palestinians an invented people.

Our last stop is the Westside Pavilion. I don't want to sound holy or sanctimonious, like the parents of kids who had no TVs in the 60s, but I really hardly ever go to a shopping mall. This doesn't mean I don't buy lots of shit, I just buy it online. Westside shoppers have the same fervor as exercisers and the families en-route to temple. Slaves to fashion, like food fiends, help smash a lot of cultural barriers. Women of all shapes and colors toddle around wearing over-the-knee boots with six inch heels and black leggings, toting three or four bright shopping bags in one hand and fiddling with an Iphone in a snazzy case with the other. We pass through cosmetics where a teenage girl is having makeup applied for what must be some sort of “come as a drag queen” soiree.

We are on mile 13 or so and noticing really for the first time how dicey, and bereft of public bathrooms that don't require a token, parts of West L.A. are. We pass the old Kelbo's on Pico, now a strip club. The ancient diner Rae's, is unchanged since the seventies, which was probably the last time the windows were washed. I point out, near Sepulveda, the site of a long defunct methadone clinic that employed me about thirty years ago. It was a warehouse with a safe and a locked cubicle for the administration of methadone. There were phony cameras in the bathrooms where clients provided urine samples to be tested for drug use but everyone knew they were fake. Counseling offices were formed by sheets of particle board that didn't extend to the high ceiling. Not only could you hear every word of an ostensibly private counseling session, it had a remarkably crisp, stereophonic quality. The clientele was an utterly mixed bag, sort of what you'd find at the Hollywood DMV. Hookers, gangbangers, movie and rock stars, engineers, lawyers and waitresses. One of my jobs was to arrange for people to receive methadone doses while traveling and I considered myself a real friend of the arts when working with itineraries for a number of concert tours and film shoots.

We cover a few filthy blocks under the freeway, pass Centinela and arrive officially in Santa Monica. We are picked up by Dianna's accommodating husband Richard at the 16 mile mark. We are fetched from a bus stop in front of a crowded 99 Cent Store and chauffeured to The Lobster, a fancy place with a swell view of the Santa Monica Pier. This is sort of funny. Despite all of my contempt for the tyranny of Orthodox practice, I myself abstain, according the Jewish dietary laws, from pork and shell fish. Fortunately I find a lovely piece of bass on the menu that would have been at home on the Chief Rabbi's Passover table and a nice white ale on tap. We share a blackberry cobbler although I think I eat the most. The sun is rising when we set out in Silver Lake and six hours (and the giant city I was born in fifty-five years ago) later, the ocean shimmers and it's fine to have dessert.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Whatever is written here is generally composed at my office and begun, in a good week, on Wednesday, or at least Thursday. Once in a while, after a fretful night worried at having written nothing, I do face a completely blank page on Friday morning. I will not leave the office on Friday until I am able to hack out at least something that isn't embarrassing. Once or twice I haven't made it home for Shabbat until 7 or so, too late to start cooking, and had to resort to take out pizza. Whether a piece comes easily or is an excruciating struggle, posting it always results in a satisfying sensation of completion and having made the week worthwhile. I write this from home on Thursday afternoon where I am marooned waiting for a plumber. I keep an eye on the office email and there is nothing requiring much attention. I wash five loads of towels used prior to the arrival of the plumber but other than that, I've had a free morning to write. Usually my laptop at home is used for web surfing, email and crossword puzzles. there is a word processing program but the most recent document in the file is dated from my last trip to Santa Cruz, just about the only occasion I write not from work. It is one of those breezy electric blue days after a little rainstorm. Because the dog ripped the curtain rod off our living room window I have a lovely view, all bright green and blue. What a fine and homey place to write.

Which brings me now to Friday, and but for the tiny paragraph above, I am faced with a empty page. Having been unable to produce anything from my airy living room I am now returned to my windowless closet sized office where apparently, as a creature of habit, my inspiration flows more naturally. A friend marvels at how ritualized her retired husband has become, even leaving his slippers beside the bed in the perfect position to step into. Small potatoes. But I won't get into my own embarrassing details.

I am teaching Spuds to drive. The silver lining is that, as I'm dead unwilling to so instruct any grandchild, once Spuds is licensed I will never ever have to do this again. I have been driving now for forty years and, when, for example, I guide Spuds into a parking spot, he has to ponder each movement considerately and in order and I realize how I routinely I complete a long string of steps without even thinking about it.

The NY Times Magazine has a terrific article , ostensibly about Target Stores and their reliance on a sophisticated method of analyzing customer's buying habits. Target, and most other retailers (but apparently Target does it best) commission studies by scientists, sociologists, psychologists and statisticians in order to plan marketing strategies. Neuroscientists have experimented with rats, mazes and chocolate. By observing brain activity, researchers have divided habitual behavior into three distinct phases. The first is a cue, for the rats there is a distinctive noise when a gate opens the entry to the maze. The second is the automatic pilot phase. When the rats figure out the maze, their brain activity decreases more and more as the activity becomes habitual. The third, the catalyst for behaviors becoming habitual, is gratification, chocolate for the rats and maybe the driving corollary is not looking like an asshole if someone is watching you park.

The challenge for Target to get customers to spend more is to change deeply engrained shopping habits. Many customers are used to shopping at Target only for specific items, and ignore the huge variety of merchandise the store offers. Research determines that people are more likely to change habits when they are in the throes of a life change. The most dramatic of these is a pregnancy which is proven to be an incredibly fertile opportunity to change customer's buying habits. Target has access to a huge amount of demographic information and based on telltale purchases, like prenatal vitamins, attempts to snag customers even before the creation of a baby shower registry. Once it is determined that a shopper is most likely pregnant she is barraged with coupons for baby items, with offers for lawn mowers and detergent thrown in to make the targeting less obvious.

More challenging than encouraging a harried pregnant woman to turn to Target for one stop shopping is to change habitual behavior in those who are not facing a major life change. People who do not exercise regularly are divided into two test groups and prescribed an exercise routine. The only difference is that scientific findings regarding habitual behavior are shared with one group and members are encouraged to create cues and rewards. The other group is merely instructed to exercise. The subjects who understand their own brain chemistry spend twice as long exercising as do the members of the other test group.

I have been an off-and-on dieter and exerciser my whole life and it is only recently that I have started to understand how cues and rewards influence me. By leaving my sweats folded prominently and getting into the habit of rising early I think it is safe to say that I have developed the habit of walking every morning. I have never been a breakfast eater but because this is so encouraged in any literature pertinent to weight loss I begin to force myself to consume a morning meal. Now, after my walk, egg, wheat muffin, fake bacon and fruit are as delicious as any meal I've ever eaten. I set my place at the table and lay out a magazine and reading glasses the night before. I am shocked at how much pleasure this daily ritual affords. Occasionally, usually due to rain, I skip my walk but breakfast is still a must. I find that on days I haven't walked I have no enthusiasm for my a.m. repast and take little pleasure in eating it.

I am thrilled when the show Fat Chef is announced but it is beyond awful and I feel sorry for the chubby cooks it features. Instead of capitalizing on the participant's love of food and encouraging these food professionals to create delicious cuisine that's high in flavor and low in fat,food is completely demonized. The participants are given a ridiculous (particularly for women) 16 weeks to reduce their body weight by 25%. Science has proven absolutely conclusively that rapid weight loss is dangerous and inevitably leads to weight gains well exceeding the original loss. Fat Chef contestants are put on a draconian diet and subjected to physical workouts that leave them weeping and/or barfing. Weight control for people who adore food is a big challenge but the Fat Chef approach flies in the face of all the recent research and any sequel will undoubtedly be called Fatter Chef.

It's ironic that research funded to get us to buy more stuff may be useful towards helping us better understand why we are vulnerable to habitual behavior. The awareness that a lot of compulsion is actually triggered by cues makes it easier to rework responses. Likewise, fully understanding the ramifications of cue triggered behavior might be useful towards managing it. Having skipped breakfast I always felt virtuous munching down a muffin or four or a couple of bagels at work in the course of a stressful morning. Surely muffins and bagels are way better than donuts. Actually some muffins have as many as 600 calories and the big modern bagel can have as many as 500 and both, of course, require cream cheese or butter. A glazed donut has about 170 calories. But an apple and a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese has even fewer and takes way longer to eat, is filling and tastes fine. I still struggle with eating as my cued response to stress (or happiness, sadness, depression or boredom) but with a bit of knowledge I do better at least in selecting my gratification.

The food industry fought like hell against posting calorie counts on restaurant menus. Statistics show that this indeed has influenced what people order and most chains have started to offer more low fat selections. Ironically, fast food purveyors are exempted from posting calorie counts on drive-thru menus although people who are too friggin' lazy to get out of their cars are probably the folks who would benefit most from this. Poor nutrition is almost as great a health danger as cigarette smoking and we all pick up the tab for treatment with tax dollars fueling publicly assisted healthcare or inevitably increased premiums from private insurers. Food industry lobbyists would go apoplectic but all food advertisements should contain nutritional information and foods that don't meet certain nutritional standards should be taxed, just like cigarettes. And at the risk of going into judgmental white lady mode, I don't think that Sunny Delight should qualify for purchase with Food Stamps. A huge public awareness campaign greatly reduced the number of smokers in America and nutrition is just as significant a health issue.

Back in my office cell where I belong, I am able to complete a short essay, as is my habit every Friday. I wonder how much Target has invested in sizing me up. They probably know more about me than I know myself but at least the research isn't all proprietary and by studying their tactics perhaps I can rechannel the evil as a force for good. My Target circular this week has coupons for Centrum Silver, Oil of Olay, Depends, and I guess to throw me of the scent about being spied on, Tampax.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Casting in the Out

Aside from raising two fairly well adjusted good-hearted children and making a successful marriage after starting out clueless as to what that was, I guess the thing in my life about which I am most proud is having been a teacher. I taught for a year at a Compton middle school, having started as a day-to-day sub and ending up after a year as the chairman of the bilingual department, even though I'd had no experience teaching and my Spanish skills were pathetically limited. I discovered adult school the same year and found this so much more gratifying and while not easy, a lot easier. I left the middle school at the end of the school year and then taught at night for over ten years at Roosevelt, Lincoln, Hollywood, South Gate and other adult schools in predominately Hispanic areas. I retired from teaching when my first kid was born because I no longer had the stamina but it was wildly satisfying and I still miss it.

The budget for the Adult Division of LAUSD has been slashed to smithereens and given the financial crisis, adult education is being eliminated entirely in many cities throughout the state. My own coddled white child with the turbo charged helicopter mom couldn't hack a big urban high school and flew the coop after two weeks. Fortunately his parents were sophisticated enough to get him instantly admitted to a small charter school but for thousands of other kids who find high school unbearable the adult ed. alternative of academic and vocational coursework might well completely evaporate and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that the consequence of this will be reflected in our prison population.

There were gang-bangers at just about every school I taught. I am embarrassed now to think about how frightened I was at first. I soon learned that most cholos lapped up attention and were ready to return a smile. The cultivation of a scary appearance was really just a buffer from the mainstream culture that was perceived as malicious and exclusionary. Better to walk the planet with a fearsome countenance than a frightened one. I hired a few adult school students to work at my film library and I never regretted it. None were cholos but they were all kids whose childhoods made mine, with a narcissistic mother and disengaged father, look like Ozzie and Harriet and without the grounding of adult school they could easily have slipped through the cracks.

Oddly, the one gang member I did hire was the daughter of the president of our synagogue. The girl was five when her mother died and her father struggled to raise three daughters and the youngest, motherless, with a harried father, gravitated toward a gang. All of the gang girls and many of the boys use cartoon character monikers and gang loyalties and the attendant violence perhaps cloaks a yearning for the innocence of an idealized childhood. My chola was called Snoopy and this was tattooed inelegantly on her forearm and many other crude gang symbols graced her hands and face. She started work at a time before most of our business was done by Internet and people still came into the office. A few customers commented about the girl with the tats and when I noted that while I didn't mind tattoos, hers were really shitty, and then asked if she wanted them removed she responded affirmatively.

Having taught in the East L.A environs I was familiar with Father Greg Boyle's work with gang members through Homeboy Industries, which provides social services, job training and placement and tattoo removal out of its 1st street office. I arranged for Snoopy's tattoo removal which she said was quite painful but except for a scar from a gun shot wound on her abdomen, obliterated all of the physical evidence of her lousy youth. She now has a good position at a bank which I doubt she'd have been hired for if she were still all tatted up.

I heard Father Boyle speak at the Downtown Library a few weeks ago and ordered an audiobook of his recent “Tattoos on the Heart-The Power of Boundless Compassion.” I was expecting a collection of heart warming redemption stories and a sense of connection with a kindred spirit who gets it that gang-bangers aren't garbage. The book has all that but I was gobsmacked how Boyle's book touched me in a way few others have. Boyle reads the book himself on the audio version which is unusual for a non-celebrity writer, but perfect because he completely nails the cadence and vocabulary of the street and his delivery is dead-on but not mocking. Spuds requires much transport this week and while I listen to my Father Boyle tape he tunes into music on his Iphone and wears headphones. He often looks over and sees tears streaming down my face and asks if I'm ok and if maybe I should pull over. At other times I laugh so loudly that I penetrate the thudding bass in his ear-pods. Scientific studies conclude that people are unlikely to laugh out loud when they are by themselves but Boyle got to me a few times when I was on the freeway, after dropping Spuds at school. A bit alarming given my coffee addiction and fifty-five year old bladder.

The theme of the book is kinship and it challenges our ideas about compassion and charity. We go though the motions of ministering to those flung outside the margins but we still cling to the notion that we are superior. We strive to inculcate the downtrodden with our own values and standards and fail to drink in their grace. Father Boyle was slated to head the department of student services at the finely manicured University of Santa Clara but after spending time among the impoverished of Bolivia he asked if instead if he could work with the poor, whose holiness is palpable. He was sent to Dolores Mission, in one of the poorest and most gang ridden sections of L.A. and his ministry there grew into the legendary Homeboy Industries.

Boyle is a member of the Jesuit order, sort of the long haired, brainy branch of the Catholic Church. Father Boyle reminds us that Catholicism is not really about the institution but the teachings of Jesus. I do wonder how much free rein Boyle has and how he feels about the home office position on issues like birth control and gay rights. When interviewed by Pat Morrison, at the chola operated Homegirl Cafe, Boyle says, “..within [my] own sad, tragic church, there's a clerical culture that's not very helpful -- it's just about power and privilege and secrecy and sometimes even a willful wandering away from Jesus and the living of the Gospel. I think that the church can be returned to itself. It's about standing at the margins and with the right people, with these people and that's what the church ought to be.” Boyle also voiced some skepticism about Opus Dei affiliate Jose Gomez who was named to replace Cardinal Mahoney, although he also indicated he would give him the benefit of the doubt after an eloquent press conference in which Gomez posited that the real home for any priest and bishop is in the love for the people.

This is a big news week when Proposition 8 is overturned. As a reminder that Catholicism is not synonymous with Vatican doctrine, Pew Research reveals that 53% of American Catholics are in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. More locally, the revelation regarding the sexual abuse of children at a local school has snowballed into a public relations nightmare worthy of an acid social satire by Tom Perrotta and bodes to result in a huge financial hit to the already destitute LAUSD. I presume that Boyle had in mind the revelation of decades of child abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy in his reference to the church's code of secrecy during the Morrison interview.

In “Tattoos on the Heart” Father Boyle recalls how excruciating it was to forgive gang members who shot and killed a twelve year old boy he had known and loved. He adds that a much larger obstacle than poverty or lack of skills and education for those outside the margins is a sense of worthlessness and shame. I think in this way the experience of gang members mirrors that of those who prey sexually on children. These outcasts also have in common, in most cases, childhoods marred by neglect and abuse. There are options such as Homeboy Industries available for those weary of gang life. Those driven to sexually molest children do not set out to be mentally disordered sex offenders. Usually the uncontrollable urges are manifested during horrific childhoods but the subject is so taboo and we have so stigmatized those who suffer from this mental illness that it must be near to impossible to locate preemptive psychiatric treatment. The thought of children being preyed upon is painful to chew around but true compassion does not require us to condone the actions of the outcast or minimize the suffering of the victim, only that we see ourselves in all of mankind.

It's when we face for a moment the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know the taint in our own selves, that awe cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart.

—Denise Levertov

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dawn-Kite Hill

When I get all antsy or upset about something the college kid sneers and mutters, “white lady worries,” and for the most part he's dead on. I am in a dither because the boy's car needs a battery and I don't want him falling prey to an untried auto shop so after making sure his car has enough gas to get to L.A. he's been instructed to get a jump start on campus and drive straight, without stopping, to Jimmy, our true blue neighborhood mechanic. I am afraid about the car stalling on the freeway and I keep stepping outside nervously all morning waiting for the boy's arrival until finally he comes ambling down the street and I race to meet him. He condescends to let me hug him but rolls his eyes. My kids have little patience when I worry excessively about them or caution them about stuff I did myself when I was a kid and now regret.

There is a hamper full of the boy's laundry when I arrive home. Our dryer is on the fritz and I threaten to send him to the laundromat or make him schlep the stuff back to school and wash it there but I end up doing it and resetting the timer on the impaired machine every hour for about eight hours until his garments are finally dry. The thought of what the pile would look like if he folded it himself is unbearably repugnant to me. I realize I will have to teach the boy to handle the business of washing clothes eventually although after over twenty years of my tutelage his father's folding technique still suggests that he is restrained by handcuffs.

Monday morning I stomp through the hills fretting about my dryer, a looming tax deadline and the fact that I'm going to be several hours late arriving at the office because Spuds is getting his braces installed. More of what Joe College refers to as “white lady problems” but they chap my hide nevertheless. I reach the top of Kite Hill, which the kids used to call “Top of the World” and the sun rises, casting a pink glow on a downtown below that has morphed into a real city since my childhood. Sometimes, despite the no parking sign, there is a car, undoubtedly filled with young-ins winding up a long night of revelry with sex, drugs and hip hop. Often we encounter a pack of surprisingly aggressive coyotes. I have learned that coyotes are shy of anything that seems large and loud so I wave my arms and scream, probably harshing the mellow of any illegal parkers. I yank the dogs' leashes to keep them from chasing skunks and pick up after them even when Himself has disregarded my admonitions not to feed them table scraps, particularly barbecue sauce. Still, there comes a point every morning when the worries that fester are dissolved by the sensation of being outside as a new day breaks.

While I am preparing Spud's breakfast I learn that one of my closest friends, who moved to the Bay Area about 20 years ago, has suffered a heart attack. I am gobsmacked that a youthful, long time fastidious eater and regular exerciser is so afflicted. I have a number of minor complaints, mostly the consequence of youthful excess and indiscretion, which require diligent management to keep them minor, but a coronary is the most dramatic malady to befall a member of my small inner sanctum and the victim's healthy lifestyle makes this all the more disturbing. I remain in touch throughout the day and Spuds gets braced and I manage to get my 1099 forms postmarked by the deadline. The boys from the office repair the dryer and even find my long lost favorite sports bra underneath which tightly holds my Iphone in place while I walk so it doesn't slide under my sweatshirt. It is very difficult to manage an Iphone that's slid under your bra and is flapping around your knees while managing two dog leashes. To the kids, the only thing more trivial than the things I worry about, are the things that make me happy.

My friend's final diagnosis is severe blockage and a stent is inserted, medication prescribed and the patient is sent home and admonished to “take it easy” which I hope the workaholic is capable of. His prognosis is excellent but full recovery and the maintenance of good health will require some rigorous self analysis and examination of priorities. I remember when we met and we both had more hair and less of it was gray. I was in my twenties and still reeling at the inconvenience of having been born and going out of my way to behave in ways which affirmed that my existence on the planet was due to some cruel prank.

Youth seems so infinite as we rail at the long lists of perceived expectations and are clueless about what will bring real meaning to our lives. How ironic that when we finally start to figure out all that stuff our bodies start to crap out. It wasn't all that long ago that changing my habits in order to prolong my life actually dawned on me as not a bad idea. I still don't drink water and am addicted to coffee and diet soda but I am pretty careful about what I eat and I drag my butt out of my warm bed every morning at 4:30 to traipse up the mountain and fend off wildlife human and otherwise. When I started the routine I'd have to stop and catch my breath several times while ascending the steepest hill but now I'm not even really conscious of whether I'm going uphill or down. I sleep well and no longer eat myself into a stupor. I feel fine but am aware that health surprises may arise due to heredity, previous bad behavior or pure dumb luck. I spent many hours sitting with my parents in physician's waiting rooms filled with other frail elderly patients. “My God,” I said to myself, “if this is what old age is about, maybe I'll opt out,” but as I approach my fifty-fifth birthday, which throws me into the lower reaches of senior citizendom, eligible even some discounts of which I will shamelessly partake, to see just one more sunrise on Kite Hill or grouse about my family's ineptitude at folding laundry, I'd endure waiting rooms forever.