Monthly Archives: December 2016

ties that bind

I have a closet full of ties . I gave a box full of them to Goodwill a few months ago and I still have a closet full of ties .

I dislike ties . In any practical sense they are a useless piece of clothing . Hundreds of years ago they might have made some sense . They tied your collar together . A little neck warmer .

But the nobles , of course , had to tie their haughty necks with expensive materials  so everyone would know they were more important people . Then the rich non-nobles needed to compete and show their importance , too . So they tied up their necks  with their own emblems of authority . And the less rich merchants had to get into the act . And so on , and so on , and so on .

And now we have ties . Do you know how to tell a high-quality tie ? Someone showed me  once . Turn it over at the pointy end and rub its belly . There are things to check and I don’t now remember what they are . Labels ? Thread count ? How it’s folded ?  Something .

I’m sure that everyone knows but me how to spot a superior tie . And also , of course , you have to be sure the thing is fat enough but not too fat , or skinny enough but not too skinny . Be in style . If you bow so low to society to wear ties then you may as well be in style . I think that there are , also , the right colors for certain seasons , or correct patterns for the current  year .

Don’t wear an out -of-date tie if your business or law firm or venture marks you partly by your tie . You want to show that you’re up-to-date , innovative , and creative , so for god’s sake  blend in and don’t wear the wrong tie !  Your tie and your career are somehow intertwined . If so  , then your tie might have you by the neck in more ways than one.

I wear ties sometimes because I still feel that  I have to , to funerals and weddings mostly . They are uncomfortable . I don’t keep up on the latest tie trends . My ties are mostly long -ago hand-me-downs from my executive brother who must rotate his ties regularly , or dollar purchases from thrift stores or yard sales . One was a gift from someone I met in New York . It might be a collector’s item now with the  two towers prominently displayed . I have two fish ties . I have a Santa tie . I have a colorful tie made by my sister . I have paisley ties . I have an orange tie .  I have wide ties and thin ties , long ties and short ties . I have dull respectable ties too. I’m ready .

Tecnologically the society has advanced but we are still stuck in the middle ages when it comes to ties . We  still want to show that we are subtly somehow better than others  when we wear our idiotic neckwear  , that we deserve more respect . The inexplicable thing to me is that , generally , people seem to go for this fantasy .

Congress should pass a law against the manufacture , sale , and wearing of ties . There should be a one year amnesty during which time ties can be turned in to the authorities with no penalty . After the one year : mandatory jail time .  Meanwhile the government should fund anti-tie ads on TV and radio . Tie wearing can and should be stopped .


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I use soap like I use water . For water I go to the faucet , move the handle , and out comes the water . For soap I go to the bathroom or kitchen and reach for the soap and there it it !

I don’t think about either one much . But if they weren’t there I’d freak . If all of a sudden no water came from any of the faucets ? There’d be panic , frustration . Maybe I could go to my stockpile of water that I have in anticipation of  the BIG ONE and use some of my emergency supply . If I had a stockpile of water . Water not working suddenly turns the world upside down .

Suddenly no soap ? Well, maybe not the same panic . Maybe frustration . Now someone  has to go to the store and buy some . I bought soap once in the last twenty or so years . Ada , the soap buyer , was in Poland and I saw a great deal on two bars of Irish Spring . I jumped on the opportunity .

Not that I needed to buy soap . Our bathroom is stuffed with soap , I think . We have an extensive collection of motel soaps , for example ,  the little bars . Some have fancy floral shapes and some are plain . They sit there year after year and most of them are probably so dried out by now that they are useless .

A note about useless soaps :  Ada likes to put the bar of soap to use right down to the end little flake that inevitably slips down the drain in an amorphous little clump . Meanwhile , she has put two or three used bars of soap together to , supposedly , make a full bar . There are at least a couple of problems with this idea . The first is that these left-over pieces of soap are so old by now and so dried up that they don’t  soften up  enough to be used . I could hold them under hot water for five minutes trying to make a lather , but it never works . The second problem is that when I attempt to use this multi-layered ” bar” of re-formed soap the pieces come apart . One little piece inevitably escapes . I try to put it together with its cohorts but that never works for me . Apparently it works for Ada because she chews me out for breaking up the bar . Those useless bars of hard soap last for months , even years , because they don’t soften up .  Ever .

We also have a supply of fancy soaps . Some came from friends who gifted us with  perfumed soap sculptures of roses or lilies or lion faces . One friend made us a few bars of bright green somewhat transparent soap . We put these special soaps away since they seem too nice to use . Eventually we use them , though , when our soap supply gets to be too much .

One soap we don’t use is the Jesus-on-a-rope  soap. I don’t remember where that one came from . Ada would know. Maybe someone gave it to us .  How does a person use a Jesus soap ? Wouldn’t that be a little wierd ? Soon it would lose it’s face and hands and melt into a phallic shape . Then , wouldn’t that be wierd , too ?  If your answer is NO , then someone should consider Obama soaps or Romney soaps or Brad Pitt soaps . Nicki Minaj  soaps ?  Ronald Reagan soaps ? Queen Elizabeth II soaps ?  Better stay away from Mohammed-on-a-rope soaps , though .

I like soaps not too hard and not too soft . The soft ones disappear too fast and the hard ones hang around too long . There is one in our bathtub soap holder now that is just about right , but it slips out of the porcelein holder if I don’t set it on it’s side . It’s oval -shaped and has a smooth curving edge and it seems counter-intuitive to have to avoid putting it down flat to keep it from sliding into the bath water . I have to put it on its edge or it escapes .  But , every soap has its idiosycrasies , I guess . And there are millions of soaps around .

I suspect that the Babylonians around 2800 B.C. had an easier time with soap . Or the ancient Egyptians . Or , later , the Romans . They probably didn’t have to make many decisions about soap . We are not so lucky ! Even the early American settlers didn’t have to wonder what type of soap to buy . They made their own soap . It had lye in it and it hurt to use it . Heaven forbid they should get it in their eyes !  Some of it was made in forms that gave the bars some decortive form . But it still hurt , at least until Andrew Pears made a kinder soap beginning in 1789 .

Nothern Europe didn’t get soap until the 13th Century . A world without soap ! Just imagine .


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random animals

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December 26, 2016 · 3:36 pm

merry christmas

IMG_7695I am in Szczecin , Poland . There is frost this morning on the tops of cars parked on the road . People here say the weather could be worse and that it’s not so cold . From what I hear , much of people in the United States would agree with that . Nevertheless , I wrote this post while still in southern California , with  pictures that would most likely look the same if I were taking them today . So , here goes .

In parts of my neighborhood , were we to shut down all electric power for a couple of weeks around Christmas, we might save the planet . Global warming might just be relegated to a looming problem of the past . We might be able to see stars again , and the population would begin , once again , to dream  romantic thoughts in the moonlight , to sing of swinging on a star . All of that kind of thing .

My immediate neighbors are still restrained , however , when Christmas comes around . Many of them put Christmas lights or icicles around the edges of their roofs , as is the custom. Some of them add a few touches too , of course , such as hanging on their front doors a Christmas wreath  made of real or fake evergreen branches , and berries , and maybe a little figure of an elf or a reindeer stuck in there too . santa-and-front-yard-2016-003

I usually put up the lights , Ada puts up a nice wreath , and we have a wooden candy cane that we stick out in the front yard . I have an angel flag that I like to put out , but Ada doesn’t seem to like it much . I’m not sure why . Maybe two angels in the house is too much competition ( Ada , are you listening ? )

This year , however , we’ll be away for Christmas , so the roof lights will stay in the garage . That’ll save me a few bloody scratches from rosebush thorns as I try to get between the bushes and the house . Ada will probably place a wreath on the door , and I’ve put the wooden candy cane out on the front yard .santa-and-front-yard-2016-005

Neighbor to the north is always good with the inflatable figure , one for every holiday . For Halloween he has an inflatable witch , for example , and for Thanksgiving an inflatable turkey . Now it’s Christmas season , so he has an inflatable ghost wearing a Santa cap . No , no . Now that I’m taking a closer look , it’s got a carrot nose , so it has to be a snowman .

Neighbor to the south has a Santa riding a tractor . During the day the thing is completely collapsed . After dark it pumps up , but the two lights inside are weak and so it’s hard to tell what it is . One light shows part of Santa’s face and the other seems to light up a small window on the side of the tractor . This one is due for a re-think for next Christmas , I think .

Everyone will celebrate the season in their own manner , their houses dark or light or somewhere in between , wreaths or no wreaths , live trees or artificial , or none at all , yard figures or not , Santas or snowmen or Mary and Josephs or , for that matter , flamingos ( there is a street near here on which every house displays flamingos at Christmas ) .

No matter what each of us decides to do or not to do this Christmas , it would be great if everyone could have peace in their hearts this holiday season.  santa and front yard 2016 011.jpg



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christmas memory

We always had a large Christmas tree . My father loved to decorate it , and I think  all of us kids helped too . There were colorful bulbs and glass birds with feathered tails , and tinsel . On the top went , as I remember , an ornate glass orb-and-star decoration . I made a tin-foil reindeer when I was in , maybe , third grade , and that went onto the tree , too . I still have that thing and Ada and I put it up on our trees .BELLS

We had a colorful neighbor when I was a kid , Lance Kaufman . To us kids he was Mr. Kaufman . Lance did construction work now and again and always had his eyes and ears open to what was happening in the neighborhood . During at least one Christmas season he picked up a few extra bucks working at a local Christmas tree lot .

Lance liked my dad , and so he brought him a Christmas tree one night after the Christmas tree lot had shut down for the night . It was a good tree , as I remember . My dad tried to ask how much the tree cost as Lance lowered the tailgate and pulled the beautiful tree out of the bed of his beat-up old red pickup truck . My dad insisted on paying whatever the tree cost , but Lance refused to take any payment .

Well , maybe you had to know Lance , and maybe you had to know my dad . Let’s just say that my dad was intensely and unquestionably and scrupulously honest . I remember my mother saying that if Dad found a pencil on the ground he’d be sure to ask around if anyone had lost it . He didn’t like the thought of claiming something that wasn’t his . Lance , on the other hand , was more of a pragmatist , I guess you could say .

It was fairly clear that Lance had simply absconded with one of the trees at the end of his shift at the tree lot . No one will ever know for sure . It was clear that Dad thought that at the time .

So , what to do ?

Lance just smiled. ” It’ll be my Christmas present ,” he might have said . My dad must have struggled with the moral quandary . Here was a good neighbor offering a present of a tree , albeit most likely a hot tree .

I’ve decided not to tell you the end of this story . Let me simply say that nobody is perfect .

After  my dad had his heart attack a few years later , and died suddenly , Lance walked over to our front lawn when he saw me walking from my car toward the house . He was crying uncontrollably  . ” It should have been me , ” he said through his tears .

Lance  had a growing cancer at the time . The cancerous growth on his neck was apparent .  He lived for a few more years , but with a lot of suffering .

My mother called me to tell me the news the day Lance died . I was in my apartment near UCLA at the time , when  I was finishing up my BA.  I completely broke down and cried and cried all of the tears for Dad that I hadn’t been able  to cry at the time that he had died .

My college roommate walked in and saw me . He was shocked and wanted to know what it was all about . Easy to understand , but hard to explain . I told him that I was crying because my father died . He knew it had been years since my father had died , so he might have considered me something of a nut case .

And , now , here it is Christmas and I’m thinking about all of this old stuff and remembering how much my father loved Christmas . christmas tree 1


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christmas question

Here I am crossing a cobblestone road in Szczecin , Poland , watching a work crew inspect a paved-over section . The new asphalt is nice and smooth and the street will be much quieter when cars pass by , and the immediate area has lost a lot of its charm all of a sudden .Poland 2016 art etc 053

They repaved most of the steep narrow street behind the castle , too , only here they replaced the cobblestones with smooth bricks that try desperately , with some color variations ,  to pretend to look like the old cobblestones . In my opinion it doesn’t work , and kind of makes a mockery of the picturesque  old road . Too bad , I say ; but no one asked my opinion before going on with these projects .

I read recently another good post from the other Dan  blogger in the East about Christmas traditions . Part of his family tradition is to go to Old Sturbridge Village and , evidently , suffer some old time chill in some reconstructed unheated edifices of old . Old Sturbridge Village seems to host a comprehensive Christmastime event , though , which sounds entertaining and heartwarming for young and old .

All of this got me to thinking about traditional Christmas in  my family . Just one thought to share about that today .

Every Christmas eve my parents would take all of us kids out in the Country Squire station wagon for a night drive  ” to look for Santa “.  We’d  see him , too , usually , up there in the night sky . Well , we’d see a light at least , maybe a shooting star , or thought we saw something  at Dad’s urging . What we saw , or thought we saw ,  was Santa , of course , in his high-flying sleigh . Did the sleigh have running lights ?  More likely the light was Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’s nose flashing . If there actually was a light .

Eventually , Santa- sighting or not , we’d return home . When we got into the house and looked under the tree …………. Yeah , surprisingly , presents !  Santa had been there when we were out looking for him . Tricky old elf , that guy !

By the time I was twelve or so , I guess , I began to see that there was a pattern to all of this every Christmas eve . Not only did Santa sneak into the house at the same time every year that we were out in the station wagon looking for him , but as we all got into the car , my dad would realize that he forgot something in the house . Each and every year . Maybe he’d forget his cigarettes . It would take him a few minutes to go back into the house as we all waited excitedly for him to return to the car.

My youngest sister believes to this day that the next door neighbor , Lance Kaufmann , would coordinate with my dad and that it was  Lance every year who would put the presents under the Christmas tree when he saw us drive off . Maybe it was Lance who placed the presents and not someone else  , and maybe Dad every year actually would forget his cigarettes inside the house and that it would always take him  a while to find them , although I never remember another time that my dad would forget his cigarettes .

There are still a few unsolved mysteries in the universe , I guess .  I’m willing  to leave this Christmas question  an open mystery for now . Who knows what really went on  , after all santa-and-front-yard-2016-011?   I suppose only Santa knows for sure .


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some characters

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Walt whitman


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