Friday, September 19, 2014

Clifton in Verse, Part Three

Clifton Ave., looking north toward Ludlow Ave.

Dear George,
I’m sure many (maybe even most) people are inspired to poetic musings by their neighborhoods.  That’s certainly the case in our Clifton village.  Our two major thoroughfares are Ludlow Avenue which runs east and west and Clifton Avenue which runs north-south.  Ludlow contains the center of the business district, while Clifton houses several major institutions and an elegant residential area.  I did two previous photo/poetry postings about places on Ludlow Ave. (see “Clifton in Verse”), the first one for the south side of Ludlow and the second for the north side.  The present photos and accompanying poems are mostly for Clifton Ave.  I haven’t covered everything of note, but this completes my neighborhood poetry-writing project.

Hebrew Union College

Hebrew Union’s a quick walk away
So many fine treasures of old
It’s a famous fixture, I’d have to say
With scores of new rabbis enrolled

Brueggers Bagels

In Bruegger’s they stare at their laptops
There’s only one patron per booth
The youth are all clad in their flip-flops
And the geezers look long in the tooth


UDF means “Farmers, United Dairy”
They sell eggs plus milk plus ice cream
Some like the peach, others black cherry
But it’s egg nog that leads us to scream

Good Samaritan Hospital

Good Sam is only eight blocks away
We got sitters from the nurses’ dorm
They took good care of our young son J
They were always so nursily warm

Burnet Woods

Whenever I long to get away
Burnet Woods is a soothing respite
Our sheepdogs wander about and play
On the trails they’re the handsomest sight

“The Muse of Clifton”

I’d say I’m in love with this sculpture
She’s the symbol of springtime and youth
I don’t know if she’s really high culture
But she radiates beauty and truth

Dewey’s Pizza

We go to Dewey’s for a married night out
They cater to adults and kiddies
The pizza is splendid, of that there’s no doubt
And their salads give people the giddies

Presbyterian Church and Day Care Center

The Presbyterians offered a center
We  sent off our son at age four
J’s teacher was an outstanding mentor
She taught him to mop up the floor

310 Bryant Ave.

My inlaws came to Bryant 310
They moved all the way from Philly
Helen would do it all over again
But my father-in-law thought it was silly

3507 Clifton Ave.

This was our home in ‘74
It’s a mansion befitting a king
We occupied the entire first floor
It made Katja smile and sing

Clifton School (now the Clifton Cultural Arts Center)

Clifton School had oodles of stuff
Like reading and cursive and art
Multiplication was ever so tough
But the kiddies who got it got smart

Mt. Storm Park

Mt. Storm Park is not much of a mountain
It’s more like a pretty high hill
The dogs like to sup at the fountain
And the cityscape gives us a thrill

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Standup Comedy Routine

OMG, I look just like my father

Dear George,
I watched a lot of Last Comic Standing on TV this summer.  It made me laugh out loud. It reminded me that when I was a kid I wanted to be a standup comedian more than just about anything. It’s not an easy business, of course, but making people laugh is one of the noblest things you can do.  I don’t know when I got sidetracked, but it’s never too late to begin a new career.  I've been trying to figure out what I could develop as a standup routine.  Being married fifty years is pretty funny.  Or living with rowdy sheepdogs.  Growing up in the U.P. has some amusing stories too.  Finally I decided that getting older would be the best.   

You don't see that that many older standup comedians. On TV, most of the comics seem to be in their thirties and forties.  Of course, there’ve been comedians like Groucho Marx in his eighties or George Burns who was still performing when he was a hundred.  But these guys got their starts in vaudeville when they were teenagers.  I never heard of anybody trying to break into the comic business in their seventies or beyond.  Maybe most seventy-year-olds don't think life is that amusing.  Or it could be that youth audiences don't think really old guys are hip enough.  On the other hand, everybody likes grandfathers.  Grandfathers are usually funny even when they’re not trying to be.

I have to admit that I’ve been obsessed with aging ever since I looked into the mirror a while back.  I was astonished to discover that I look almost exactly like my father did when he was in his seventies. That came as quite a shock.  I have no idea when it happened. Most of my life I’ve thought of myself as the firstborn son in our family rather than a member of the older generation.  But there was my aging self, staring back at me – very hard to deny.     

Age can be confusing though because it’s not always obvious how young or old people really are.  When I went to my last college reunion some of my friends looked forty and some looked 102.  Since I was a kid I've always looked younger than my actual age.  When I was 16 I could still buy a child’s ticket for twelve-and-unders at the movie theater.  At 30 I had to grow a beard because all my students thought I was an undergraduate.  It took three weeks before people even noticed I had any facial hair.

The last time I saw my doctor he said, "You don't look 77 and you don't act 77, but don't kid yourself -- you are 77."  That caught my attention.  I don't feel 77 either.  But now it's like there's an old person locked up inside of me.  He's probably banging away at my rib cages at this very moment.  I'm doing my best to keep him confined.  My only hope is that he'll be too feeble to break his way out. 

It’s also disturbing when you realize you’re the oldest person in the group.  When I was a little kid, I was the very youngest member of my family .  Now I'm practically older than all the rest of my relatives combined.  I don't know what to make of it.  Family members differ in lots of ways.  Somebody’s the tallest, the thinnest, has the most Facebook friends, the happiest marriage, has gone to Acapulco the most times.  But of all these different things, people are the most aware of who's older and who’s younger.  There might be some positive things about being the oldest. But I’ve never heard anybody say that they can't wait to be the oldest member of the family.

In our family, when our parents reached their seventies, my siblings and I began to address them as the “Oldies”.  Like, “Hey Oldies, where have you hidden the peanut butter?”  I don’t know who thought up this name, though it could have been my sister.  Anyway “Oldies” had many connotations.  Affection, poking fun, stark recognition of reality, horror at our parents’ imminent decline.  My mother was not enthusiastic at all about being called an “oldie”.  My father took it in stride, confident that he could contradict any wicked stereotypes we were entertaining.  Nowadays the younger people in our family haven’t yet thought about calling their elders “oldies”.  I’m not going to remind them. 

I wasn’t always nervous about getting older.  In fact, years ago I and my friends believed that being older was the best.  When I was in kindergarten I thought that sixth-graders, who were twelve, were the coolest people ever.  Then when I actually got to the sixth grade I was in awe of high school students.  When I was thirty the people I respected the most were forty- and fifty-year-olds who had accomplished a lot in their careers.  But at some point that all changed.  I can’t remember ever looking ahead and thinking how great it would be to be sixty. Of course, now when I think about sixty, I think of that as a pretty desirable age.  Maybe someday I'll look back with nostalgia at my mid-seventies.  I'm in no hurry though. 

The main thing about getting older is that different things start to go wrong.  For me, one example is that my feet ache more.  I figured out on my calculator that I've walked over a hundred fifty thousand miles since I was one year old.  That would make anybody's feet sore.  I usually wear running shoes because they're more comfortable.  I buy them at the big sports store at the mall because there's always a knowledgeable salesman who helps me pick at the best shoes.  Last time the guy showed me a pair of Porky's that had been marked down from $110 to $50.  I'd never heard of Porky's, but he said they were the best.  The cashier at the checkout counter couldn't believe it.  "Porky's for $50.  Wow!  I wish I'd seen those."  I wore them the next day, but my feet really hurt.  They were way too tight.  The box said they were a size 9, but they felt more like a size 8.  No wonder they were on sale.  That was a year ago.  I’ve been determined to get my fifty dollars out of them, so I've worn them every day since.  I thought my feet might adjust and shrink a little bit, but I’ve just gotten more resigned to the pain.  You'd think these shoes would be worn out by now, but Porky's seem to be very well-made.  Just like the guy said.

My hearing is getting crummy too.  This started happening when I turned fifty.  I was having trouble hearing student questions in the classroom, especially from young women.  I finally figured out that the students find it amusing to torture older professors by asking questions from the audience in soft voices and watching the teacher squirm up on the podium.  Nowadays I consider closed captions on TV to be humanity’s greatest invention.  I've also started borrowing "assistive listening systems" at the movie theater.  You put on these big headphones, and you can adjust the volume.  It does make the soundtrack much louder.  Now, instead of listening to inaudible distorted dialogue, I can listen to noisy distorted dialogue.

Poor hearing is bad, but an even worse thing about aging is how fast your nose hairs grow.  It doesn't make any sense.  Everything else is slowing down.  Why should your nose hairs grow faster?  You’d think that teenagers would have the fastest growing nose hair, but that’s not the case.  My biggest problem is I don't know how to get rid of them.  I tried using a tweezers, but that didn't work.  Mostly I grab them between a fingernail and the tip of my thumb and yank them out.  I usually do this while I'm driving in the car.  It's convenient because you can throw them out the window.  It may not be the best idea because the pain makes you wince and close your eyes.  I told Katja if I die in a car crash, they should engrave on my tombstone, "Done in by his nose hairs.”

While getting older is interesting and often enjoyable, there are various other negative things that can also be connected with it.  Curiously, most of these start with the letter “D”. For example, disease, deterioration, decay, disability, deformity, disfigurement, depression, drunkenness, delirium, dementia, dunderheadness, dandruff, and death.  This plethora of D-words makes me a little nervous because my first name, David, also starts with the letter “D”. Then I realized that most of the other bad old age things are “C” words:  cancer, cardiac arrest, coronary thrombosis, colonitis, cirrhosis, canker sores, corns, cramps, clammy palms, and crows’ feet. Of course, my middle name – Cramer -- starts with a “C”.  This does not strike me as a coincidence.  Since I’m a DC person, I worry that I might be especially vulnerable to these frightening DC outcomes.  So far though I’ve only been afflicted with drunkenness and clammy palms.  Thinking more positively, it could be that my DC name will actually protect me against the bad DC things because my electrical field gives off the right vibes.  Only time will tell. 

That’s it for tonight.  Thanks a lot, guys.  You’ve been a super audience.  I hope to see you again soon.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Local News, Sept. 8

Dear George,
It’s been quieter than normal around our household recently.  Katja flew to Sacramento last week for her nephew Tyler’s wedding.  She, her sister Ami, her brother David, and her sister-in-law Susan drove down to L.A. for the big event.  The wedding, Katja reports, was a great success.  Katja has never been to Southern California, so it’s been an exciting adventure.  I chose to stick around here with our aging sheepdogs.  Mike and Duffy have never been in a kennel, and, given that they need extra attention at their creaky ages, boarding them at this point in their lives seemed out of the question.   It’s actually enjoyable being home on my own.  It’s quiet and relaxing, the dogs are faithful companions, and I get to set the air conditioning wherever I want. 

Dog space

You’d think that with only one human in residence there would be excessive room in our kingsize bed.  The dogs, however, have taken it as an opportunity to enlarge their dominion.  There’s always been an unspoken rule in our house that the dogs get whatever spaces on the bed that they like.  Since they claim the entire lower half each night, it means that I lie sideways at the top.  That works out all right.  The dogs get about nine hours of sound sleep a night.  I get at least six.  

The new Moroccan restaurant

The exciting addition to our neighborhood business district is the new Moroccan  restaurant.  We’ve had five Indian restaurants on our street for years, and, when one of them closed, the Moroccan Restaurant opened in its place.  Katja and I visited it on its second day, and we liked it a lot.  The service wasn’t perfect.  Katja’s Bastilla dish arrived on time, but they entirely forgot my order until I went up and reminded them.  The waiter was better the next time around, and I’ve been there a couple more times since.  It’s definitely my favorite.  

Buying a share in the co-op

Our local IGA shut down three years ago, and our neighborhood business district has lacked a grocery store ever since.  There’s been a serious move afoot to establish a co-op grocery store, and residents have been invited to buy ownership shares for $200.  They’ve now reached about 700 members, though they need to raise $4 million to make the co-op actually happen.  I’ve been besieged almost every day by e-mail to buy a share, but I’ve put it off to get a better sense of whether the venture has a hope of succeeding.  Recently I got an e-invite from an acquaintance who was holding a house party to promote the co-op.  I didn’t recognize any of the invitee’s names.  I promptly walked down the street and purchased my $200 share.  This suggests an effective strategy for fund-raising with introverts.  Invite them to a house party with strangers, and they will pay practically anything to get out of it.  

Checking our breath for liquor

Katja and I were coming back from a Thursday night outing via one of Cincinnati major north-south streets when we ran into a sobriety checkpoint staffed by around a dozen sheriff’s deputies and police officers.  One of them stuck his head right into our window to smell my breath, asked me a couple of routine questions, then waved us through.  My initial reaction was relief at not being caught drinking and driving.  Later I got more indignant about the police stopping me and thousands of other drivers indiscriminately with no probable cause to check us out for criminal violations.  My understanding from a quick Google search is that about 1.5% of motorists wind up being arrested at such mass traffic stops. I guess our checkpoints in Ohio are fairer than New York’s stop and frisk procedures since the police here stop a lot of white people and not just black and Hispanic males.  Nonetheless, they treat a lot of people as potential criminal suspects with no justification.

(Un-)controlling my blood sugar

On my last annual physical exam all my lab tests turned out normal except for my blood sugar.  That’s been running above normal for a few years.  The doctor gave me a self-testing monitor and a batch of test strips which I use every morning.  If anything, my readings have been steadily creeping upwards.  I saw in a tabloid at the grocery store that Jennifer Aniston had lost ten pounds in ten days, and I decided that I could reduce my blood sugar if I were to lose five pounds in eight days.  I went on a strict diet of water, salad, and red wine as soon as Katja left town.  After six days I’ve lost one pound.  My blood sugar is higher than it was a week ago.   I’m still confident I have complete control over my own body.  Unfortunately, my inner organs don’t seem to be listening.  Perhaps the next step is to cut down on the water and the salad.    

Duffy’s pee

Like myself, the dogs’ recent lab tests were mostly good, though one of Duffy’s liver enzymes was running high.  They did another blood test, and it was still high, so the vet ordered a urine test to check for the possibility of liver disease.  I gathered a sample of Duffy’s urine in a plastic cup on our morning outing the other day.  That turned out to be easy to do, and Duffy never noticed this intrusion on his privacy.  Now we’re awaiting the results.  I guess at Duffy’s and my age we can’t expect everything to be perfect.    

Sculpture garden

I bought a tall and handsome plastic rabbit at a neighborhood yard sale last year, and I was thrilled to find his identical twin along with a short pudgy rabbit at a Dayton thrift shop this summer.  My vision is to create a sculpture garden in our rear patio.  I wasn’t sure that Katja would be as taken with the new rabbits as I am, so I kept them hidden behind the porch for a few weeks.  When I did bring them out and tell her about my plans for a sculpture garden, she was less than enthusiastic.  I hid the rabbits temporarily, but now I’ve brought them out again during Katja’s absence.  I’ve never been to Disneyland, but I think it might look like this. 

School starting soon

Just before Katja left we registered for OLLI courses (for people over age 50) at the university.  I was wary of being back in a classroom when I started OLLI last year, but then I discovered it was more pleasant to be a student than to be an anxious teacher.  We are both signed up in the autumn quarter for “Poetry Writing Workshop” among other things.  We’re sort of apprehensive about it, but perhaps a few poetic rhapsodies will show up on this blog.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

September Eve

Dear George,
It’s hard to believe, but another September is almost here.  All of these months are rich in meanings, but September is certainly one of the best.  Perhaps it’s most important because it’s always the beginning of the school year.  But there’s lots of other stuff too.  When I was a kid, we’d go with my dad to the union Labor Day picnics in Menominee County to help with his political campaigning for prosecuting attorney.  As the weather got cooler, our summer swimming season would come to an end, and we’d begin toasting marshmallows in our outdoor fireplace.  The squirrels would be busy gathering acorns from our front lawn, milkweed pods would release their fluffy innards, and the maples and oaks would be turning to their brilliant reds and yellows.  We had stored dried cattails in the garage all summer long, and now we’d douse them in kerosene, set them on fire, and race in circles around the driveway.  Best of all, the Menominee and Marinette High School football seasons would start with all their accompanying excitement.  

A lot of famous people have been born in September.  Just to name a few, Adam West (TV Batman), Twiggy, Rocky Marciano, Trisha Yearwood, Mama Cass Elliott, Jimmy Fallon, and Joe Morgan of the Cincinnati Reds.  Closer to home, our son J’s entire family was born in September: our daughter-in-law K on Sept. 15 (Independence Day throughout Central America), our granddaughter V on Sept. 16 (Grito de Dolores, Mexico’s Independence Day), J himself on Sept. 19 (International Talk Like a Pirate Day), and our grandson L on Sept. 30 (Martyrs Memorial Day in China).  September is practically a nonstop birthday party in their NOLA household.  For us oldies, National Grandparents’ Day is on the first Sunday after Labor Day, and the Japanese celebrate Respect for the Aged Day on the third Monday of September.

I think one could plot out one’s entire life course just by listing personal events in the month of September.  Here are some memorable Septembers that come to mind for me:
  • Sept. 1942: I started kindergarten at Boswell School in Menominee’s west end.  The main thing I remember is being petrified.
  • Sept. 1948.  My sixth grade teacher, Miss Guimond, appointed me Captain of the Safety Patrol.  That meant that I had to stand guard at the street corner over the lunch hour while the rest of the boys were playing football (actually with my football that I brought to school each day).
  • Sept. 1949:  I began seventh grade at Menominee High.  Going from being a big shot sixth-grader to a puny seventh-grader was petrifying.
  • Sept. 1953: I was elected president of the junior class at M.H.S.  That’s only because everyone thought it was such a nerdy thing to do. 
  • Sept. 1955:  I started my freshman year at Antioch College in Yellow Springs.  I won’t say I was naïve, but, when my new classmates started talking about “socialism”, I thought they were referring to some type of social disease like syphilis or gonorrhea.  I was really confused.   
  • Sept. 1957: I moved to New York City on an Antioch coop job and, after a single visit to Times Square, I decided New York was the only place I was ever going to live.
  • Sept. 1958: My steady girlfriend Katja W. left for a year abroad in France and Vienna, a painful and perilous separation. 
  • Sept. 1960: Married for one week, Katja and I moved to Ann Arbor after Labor Day to begin graduate school.  Though we were initially snobs about the Big Ten, it only took one game for us to become devoted U.M. football fans.
  • Sept. 1965:  As a teaching fellow I had my first experience of teaching discussion sections of a large social psychology class.  Consumed with anxiety, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. 
  • Sept. 1966: I taught my first class in my new faculty job in Cincinnati and immediately came down with a stress-related fever blister (which was to recur annually every September for the next 43 years).
  • Sept. 1969:  Our son J was born on the nineteenth.  Back home from the hospital, we’d tiptoe into his room every night because we couldn’t tell if he were breathing from next door.
  • Sept. 1978:  I began my first academic year as a new full professor.  I came down with double pneumonia on the first day of classes and spent the next three weeks in the hospital. 
  • Sept. 1984: Katja began graduate study in the M.S.W. program at the university, switching from adjunct teaching in the French department to a better paying career because of imminent college expenses.
  • Sept. 1987: We drove J to New York City to begin his freshman year of college.   After dropping him off, I immediately became deathly ill and was confined to bed for the next three days. 
  • Sept. 2006:  I began a two-year term as Acting Head of the Sociology Department, a job I’d always dreaded but which proved surprisingly tolerable.
  • Sept. 2008:  Our sweet grandchildren were born, V in NOLA, L in China. 
  • Sept. 2009:  I began my last academic quarter of teaching social psychology before retiring at the end of the year.
  • Sept. 2013: I started taking OLLI classes for people over 50 at the university.  I thought I would hate being back in the classroom, but it was actually kind of pleasant to be a student again.     

Now that I’ve made my list, it looks like September has been a stressful month for me.  But that’s just because it’s the time of the year for new beginnings.  I don’t know what this September holds in store.  We’ll find out as we go along.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So Long, Old Chum

Dear George,
I wrote a couple of months ago about the sad state of the massive yew tree in our front yard.  It was ailing all last year, and a guy from the Ulysses Tree Service* came over, pruned off the dead branches, and infused the root system with vitamins and fertilizer.  Despite his best efforts, half the tree was dead by the end of this past winter, and Mr. Ulysses said there was little or no hope for it.  He didn’t see any evidence of disease or insect damage and concluded that the tree was simply declining from old age.  He gave us an estimate for taking it down, but we were  so attached to the yew that we couldn’t bring ourselves to take that fateful step.  For the past five months I’ve gone out and looked at it every day, hoping for some miraculous sign of rejuvenation.  But no such luck.  Several of Katja’s acquaintances have asked when we plan to chop the tree down (because its sort of a blight on the neighborhood), but she’s been noncommittal.

Last week a guy named Rich knocked on our door and asked if we’d like to have the yew tree removed.  He gave an estimate that was $200 less than Ulysses Tree Service.  I’m usually wary about people who knock on the door, but Rich looked at least semi-reliable and so we went with it.  He and his partner Rick arrived the next day, and they proceeded with the tree cutting as shown in the photos below.  They cut many of the branches into eighteen-inch lengths.  I set aside a pile to use for firewood, and they put the rest at the curbside.  All were gone within 24 hours.  Rich said that carpenter ants had killed the tree, and we actually did see a bunch of them scurrying about.   Katja asked Rich about his tattoos.  He had one on his arm for his ex-wife, three across his shoulders for his kids, and WILD AND CRAZY tattooed in large letters down his right side.  Katja asked what that meant, and Rich said his coworkers nicknamed him that because he was such a hard, intense worker.  I wasn’t so sure, but that was his story.  A few days later a stump guy came by and took out the stump with his grinder.  I’d counted the rings before he arrived; there were 72.  This tree had begun its life during World War II. 

I was bagging up the wood chips this morning when a neighbor from down the block walked by.  She said that she was shocked to see the tree gone and couldn’t believe we’d done that to her tree.  She said her dog was confused and upset that the tree was missing and has been looking here and there.  I tried to explain why we had to do it, but she just kept shaking her head and looking grim.  She wondered whether the tree would grow back, an unlikely possibility.  I understood how she felt -- I feel the same way too.  It’s sort of like losing a grandfather or a long-time friend of the family.   

*Pseudonyms used in this story