Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Naked Anti-Obama Guys

Dear George,

I’ve gotten into a routine at the health club. After I do the strength machines, I go downstairs to the locker room, change into my swimsuit, and do an aqua workout in the pool. I haven’t spent any time in a locker room since ninth grade, and I find the whole scene sort of unfamiliar and nervous. Basically, there’s a lot of nude people, and they don’t seem to think anything’s out of the ordinary. Some stand at the mirror blow-drying their hair or shaving. Others are walking un-towelled to and from the showers or the sauna. Sometimes groups of two or three stand around together, telling one another stories in their birthday suits. Unaccustomed as I am, I find it sort of strange. It’s not as though these guys are comfortable because of their finely chiseled bodies. A majority are elderly and pretty tubby. If anything, they look like they belong to an anti-health club.

My other source of locker room strain is that members make a lot of hostile comments about Barack Obama. They claim that he’s arrogant, or they think he’s ruined the economy, or they’re angry about health care or Wall Street. (Curiously they’re never upset about the war.) One guy this morning said he was absolutely certain that Obama was a Communist, and his partner simply nodded solemnly. I think they get their ideas from Glenn Beck and Rush. The health club is on a side of town long known for devotion to Reds baseball and rightwing politics. The people are actually pretty nice aside from their opinions about things. I’m sure everyone is comfortable making anti-Obama comments because they take it for granted that everybody thinks the same way they do. That’s probably a safe assumption for the most part. I know there are a lot of frustrated people out there, and I should work at being more open-minded, but I don’t do well. To me, the very worst locker room occasions are when these factors combine and there are two or three fat naked guys standing around bad-mouthing Obama. I’d like to tell them that they don’t know anything, but I don’t do it. Sometimes I wonder why I even belong here. I’d probably fit in better in my own neighborhood, but, unfortunately, we don’t even have a health club.



G-Mail Comments:

-Linda C (7-29): When you meet a woman friend at a club and both of you are totally naked do you hug with a big hug or arms length hug?

-DL to Linda C (7-29): Actually Ohio isn't that progressive, so men and women still do have separate locker rooms. It does make life simpler. : >)

-Vicki L (7-29): Hi David, I could easily resonate with your health club experience. In California, I'm not subject to so much evocative (right wing) political conversation. But I do relate to the weird combination of people being "naked" and the pull to being open and candid - busting up against the danger of any exchange at all. While estrogen is less threatening than testosterone.....still, 'congruency' would seem to require that nakedness be met with candor. Yet, if we followed our instincts, 'health' clubs would probably become 'fight clubs' or we might revert back to 60's marathon T-Groups. I's all pretty frightening. Love, Vicki

-Ami G (7-28): David: As soon as those strength machines make you stronger, you MUST try to change the minds of the bigots at your health club. I can't think of a better reason to work out!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dogs of Our Lives: Winston

Dear George,

Our most elegant dog was our Bedlington Terrier Winston. We picked his name because his breed originated in England. Katja got him from a kennel outside Chicago, from the only Bedlington breeder east of the Rockies. She told me later that we'd had to pass a foster parent-dog test before we could get him, but, as far as I was concerned, he just appeared one January day in the mid-70’s when I came home. We’d still been very sad about losing our poodle Jacques a year or two before, and it took me only a minute to bond with our new puppy. Winston weighed about four pounds and was pitch black on arrival, though he turned silver-gray within the year.

As you can see, Bedlingtons have a special look, and Winston immediately became one of the best-known dogs in Clifton. J, who was 6 or 7 at the time of his arrival, would help me walk him on Ludlow Avenue, and nearly every passerby would make a comment or ask a question. Winston was super-friendly and would tug at the leash to be petted by strangers. A surprising number of people asked if he were a dog. After a while I started replying that he was a lamb. Quite a few people seemed to believe this.

Though Katja and I adored Winston, J as a kid wasn’t nearly as enamored. My guess is that, as an only child, he wasn’t enthusiastic about sharing parental affection. When he was walking Winston, J would become impatient with the dog’s endless sniffing, and he would tug at the leash and yell at him to move on. I used such occasions for a parental lesson, explaining that these walks were really for Winston’s enjoyment and we should accommodate his needs. That seemed like sound advice until I took over the leash myself and immediately found myself hollering at the dog and dragging him along.

Winston was a happy dog -- good-natured and playful. However, he flunked out of obedience school after a single visit (or, more accurately, Katja chose not to take him back after a single experience). We learned why when we took Winston to Burnet Woods and let him off the leash at the park entrance. The dog looked around at us once or twice, then took off running. J, who had more stamina than I, started chasing him, and boy and dog ran at full pace for a quarter mile. J finally corralled him at the children’s playground. That was the first and last time in his long life that Winston was allowed off his leash.

We took Winston for grooming to the Bow Wow Boutique. The owner, Carla, competed in professional grooming shows, and soon she began taking Winston on the road with her throughout the Midwest and to the East Coast. Carla was an excellent stylist, and she and Winston won many blue ribbons. One year she asked him she could take him downtown to the Toys for Adults show at the convention center where she was scheduled to do a grooming exhibition. We went down on Saturday night, and, at the appointed time, Carla brought Winston onto the elevated stage, put him up on the table, and began combing and cutting. Winston, staring at the crowd around him, arched his back and began trembling uncontrollably. People in the audience began making remarks about “how cruel”, the poor thing, he’s terrified, etc. We were dismayed.

Winston lived for many years. I thought he lived 19 years, but, according to the Westminster Kennel Club, the longetivity record for the breed is 18.4 years. So maybe Winston made it to 17. Anyway we loved Winston so much that we let him live too long. In his final year he was pretty much blind, deaf, and demented. He bumped into things and barked at imaginary intruders. We cut tail holes in Pampers to try to address his incontinence. Finally it was clear that his life was no longer viable, and we cried when we took him to the vet’s office.

Winston was a major part of our family life over a long and important period: J’s childhood and adolescence, Katja’s adjunct teaching in the French Department at UC, her entry into the School of Social Work, Sociology parties at our house, family reunions in Menominee, and trips to Philadelphia and Beach Haven to visit Katja’s parents. Winston gave all our family and friends a lot of pleasure. We still have great fondness in our hearts for dear Winnie.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (7-27)L Even I remember winston is that possible he lived until J*** was in college? Maybe I remember a different dog. Bubbles gives us all so much pleasure. Dances for the boys happy to see all of us, I wish I could keep him from jumping on the bed in the morning and giving me a wet willy. I hate to be awakened that way, any ideas how to stop it?

-JML (7-26): Liked your post Dad, but I have a different memory about his last days. If I recall, you were out of town for a few days and during this time Mom made an executive decision that his time was up. When you came home, he was already euthanized. Did I make this up?

-David to JML (7-26): Memory is a funny thing. I checked with Katja, and your version is 100% accurate. (What a shock.) Love, Dad

-Donna D (7-25): david, what a wonderful story! he looks like he's smiling in the first picture

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

1937: A Perilous Year to Join the World

Dustin Hoffman, born in 1937, looking good

Dear George,

Today is my birthday. I was born on this date in July 1973. That was the year that the Watergate scandal broke, and Nixon tried… Oh wait! No, no – that’s wrong. I was born in 1937! I always get those two years mixed up. Anyway, the world was a terrible place for newborns to enter that year. I can’t imagine what my parents were thinking. The precursors of World War II were fully in place. The Fascists were winning the Spanish Civil War. The Second Sino-Japanese war erupted that year, with China receiving aid from the U.S. and Nazi Germany. Hitler had remilitarized the Rhineland and announced his plans to acquire “living space” for the German people. The U.S. and the world, of course, remained inundated by the Great Depression. Roosevelt was inaugurated for his second term, and 17 million Americans were out of work. On a lesser scale, Amelia Earhart vanished on her round the world flight, the Hindenburg crashed in flames in New Jersey, and the Ohio River had its greatest flood in history, leaving 100,000 homeless in Cincinnati.

Nothing’s ever a complete disaster, and 1937 had some positives. Queen Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey, and Batman made his inaugural appearance in Detective Comics. Krispy Kreme opened for business. It was a Golden Age for movies. Spencer Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor (Captains Courageous), Luise Rainer was Best Actress (The Good Earth), and Walt Disney’s Snow White was the top-grossing picture for the year. Pop music was off the charts. The biggest hits of 1937 were Count Basie, One O’Clock Jump; Benny Goodman, Sing, Sing, Sing; and Bing Crosby, Sweet Leilani. The AP named Tennis player Don Budge the Male Athlete of the Year and swimmer Kathleen Rawls the Female Athlete of the Year. The Yankees won the World Series. War Admiral won the Kentucky Derby.

In 1937 our family lived in the second floor apartment of the white frame house at the foot of the Interstate Bridge on Ogden Ave. in Menominee. My dad, a young lawyer in the beginning years of his practice, was 29 years old, and my mom was 27. Vic and Doris had been married for five years. Decades later my dad handed me a silver dollar that dated back to those depression era times. He and Doris had kept it throughout the 1930’s and early 40’s as their financial reserve in case they lost everything. He wanted Katja and I to have it as a symbol of family security.

A pretty impressive age cohort came on the scene in 1937. Ever since I turned 40 I have been keeping track of people born that year. Here is my short list: Warren Beatty, Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Hopkins, Saddam Hussein, Jack Nicholson, Colin Powell, Vanessa Redgrave, Billy Dee Williams. That’s reassuring to me. Aside from Saddam Hussein who has been devoured by worms, this group looks to be in pretty good shape (or at least they have access to good makeup artists).

I don’t know what to think about turning 73. In my youth I regarded 70 as ancient. In fact, anything over 50 was ancient. One’s perspective on these matters, though, seems to adjust as one grows older. Nowadays 85 looks pretty old to me, and I don’t see my same-age friends as very old at all. It does make me nervous to contemplate my numerical age, but, in fact, my mind, body, and life are pretty much the same as they have always been. I think the best advice is to take things one step at a time. So I’m going to take the sheepdogs out on a good hike. Then we’ll see what happens next.



G-Mail Comments

-Donna D (7-21): Well put day at a time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hanging Out on Mammoth Street

[Note: This post contains pseudonyms for places and ends with the most disgusting photo ever taken.]

Dear George,

There’s a big gap in our family’s shopping preferences. Katja likes to spend her leisure time shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, but J and I seek out the Goodwill. It’s always been that way. When J was a kid, we’d go to a nearby neighborhood and check out the used furniture stores, thrift shops, and flea market emporiums. In recent years that business district has upgraded itself with hip boutiques, so now, when J comes to town, we’re more likely to go across the river to downtown Beaufort. Beaufort, of course, has a fancy upscale side, with a booming entertainment complex and an elegant historic residential area. The business district on Mammoth St., however, retains a funky 1940’s feel about it, and it’s there that we like to walk around and take in the sights. It reminds me a bit of my hometown of Menominee. Beaufort was known as “Sin City” in its heyday because of its gambling casinos, nightclubs, and prostitution. It’s been cleaned up since then, though there’s still a lingering aura of disrepute. Here are a few photos that illustrate what I find to be Mammoth St.’s quirky appeal.

In my view, one of the biggest secrets to happiness in life is to collect a lot of weird stuff without spending a lot of money. As you can see below, Mammoth St. is excellent for this pursuit.

If you are into culture rather than consumption, Mammoth St. is known by insiders as a pop art capitol.

Tired? Enjoy some peaceful relaxation at this charming downtown park.

There’s a happy atmosphere on the street because of the friendly citizenry (who include very tall people and talking rabbits).

When Elvis returns, he will undoubtedly live on Mammoth St because he remains so popular here.

While the strip has been cleaned up, there are still a couple of “adult” clubs. The Brass A**, though it has seen better days, remains the most famous.

For your night on the town, high fashion is readily available (especially if you are a gangster’s moll).

Plus numerous salons offer an Extreme Makeover.

Beer and booze flow freely in Beaufort.

This guy had one drink too many. Actually it looks as if he might have been near death. Or maybe he just swallowed too much hot salsa. I’m sure he was dismayed to discover what his innards look like.

So that’s just a sampling of Mammoth St.’s unique ambiance. Let me know if you’re interested -- I’m already ready for another visit.



Saturday, July 17, 2010

Deadly Serious Matters

Dear George,

I was chatting with my friend Royce recently. I was telling her about an anxiety dream I’d had, and she told me a similar dream. Before we knew it, we’d drifted into this serious discussion, and I’d have to say we resolved several of life’s deepest questions. It went something like this (Note: “D” = myself; “R” = Royce):

-D: Now that I’m retired, I don’t think I’m going to have any more anxiety dreams about failure. I’ll think I’ll get into death anxiety instead.

-R: If you were a Christian you wouldn’t even have death anxiety. Because you would know you were going to live forever.

-D: Hmm. Actually that sounds pretty good. Maybe I should become a Christian. What kind is best?

-R: Well, they all believe in the after-life. So I guess you could pick any one.

-D: I want the one that has the most ideal version of the after-life. Who has the number one picture of heaven? Would it be the Catholics?

-R: No, it would be the Baptists.

-D: Then I should be a Baptist. But aren’t they into sin and guilt pretty heavily?

-R: I did suffer a lot of guilt, that’s for sure.

-D: Even if I became religious, I don’t know if I could believe in the after-life. Do you believe in the after-life?

-R: I can’t really say. I can’t say that I do believe in the after-life, and I can’t say that I don’t. For me, it’s an unknown.

-D: I don’t think that’s right. People should believe one way or the other. If you had to pick one, which would it be?

-R: If I absolutely had to pick one, I guess I would lean toward believing in the after-life.

-D: Oh no, that’s not good. It’s totally obvious that there’s no after-life. You would be fooling yourself.

-R (getting irritated): How can you say that it’s obvious?

-D: Well, do ants have an after-life? I think it’s pretty clear they don’t.

-R: That’s not clear. Ants could have an after-life.

-D: And what about frogs? Frogs don’t have an after-life.

-R: Frogs could.

-D: Did you ever hear a frog speak to you from the after-life?

-M. No. But I never heard a frog speak to me from this life either.

-D: And what about Old English Sheepdogs? Or even humans. Did a dead human ever contact you from the after-life.

-R: No, they can’t contact you. The after-life is a totally different plane of being.

-D: And did you ever see any evidence of heaven? Did you ever look up in the clouds and see people with wings who were carrying harps?

-R: Who said they carry harps in heaven? Who says heaven even exists? Why are you having all this death anxiety anyway? Are you scared of the pain of dying?

-D: No, it’s not that. Here is the actual reason why I have a fear of dying. I have all these hundreds of thousands of antique postcards. If I die, they will just be left over. I know I should dispose of them first, but I don’t want to, and so I’m just going to die without having taken care of business. It’s sort of a bureaucratic thing.

-R: If heaven did exist, I’m sure you would be able to get some new postcards there.

-D: I don’t even know if I want that in heaven. What’s heaven about anyway? Just playing your harp and looking at your postcards? For all eternity? That sounds awful.

-R: Well, maybe the best choice for you would be to not die.

-D: That’s such good advice. That’s what I’m going to do. Thank you so much. (The conversation comes to an end.)

So that’s how we got rid of those little questions. I don’t think I’ll have any death anxiety dreams after all. Just postcard anxiety dreams.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (7-19): absolutely one of the best, i am still laughing

-JML (7-19): great one dad

-Gayle C-L (7-17): Hi. How r u. Give my love to all I would love to see u ;) will we meet anytime soon???? Lots of love G

-Jennifer M (7-17): I like this entry very much. It captures your personality as well as life's anxieties so nicely. Maybe C's exploration of the world's religions will lead to a conclusion about the best afterlife option among the religions. Or at least, a good this-life option for dealing with anxieties. We'll let you know. :-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fish Story

Curie in her tank [DCL photo]

Dear George,

The caller ID said it was one of our friends on the phone, but, to my surprise, it was their preteen daughter Violet. Violet was calling to ask a favor. They were leaving town, and, because she’d had no luck asking kids in her neighborhood, she wanted to see if I could take care of her fish. I felt flattered and said sure. We made arrangements for her to bring the fish over before they left.

Violet and her mom came over the next afternoon. The fish was called Curie, so named because it seemed Curious about the world when it left the pet store in its plastic bag. Curie is a betta fish – fairly large, black, with big shimmering fins. Violet’s mom explained that male betta fishes are more colorful, but that Violet had wanted a female fish. Violet gave me all the instructions -- they weren’t that complicated. I expressed some nervousness, but she reassured me that Curie had been taken care of by children much younger than her, and she was certain I would do fine. Running through my mind was a bad experience many years ago when we had left our tank of tropical fish in the care of our 85-year-old non-English-speaking upstairs neighbor. The water filtering system in the tank failed, and all the fish died. My neighbor left the dead fish for us in our freezer. He was mortified and apologized to us for at least a year, even though we insisted that it wasn’t his fault. I promised Violet that if her fish died I would replace it. She said she wasn’t sure she wanted another fish. So I said I would get her a dog. But her mother balked at that. Katja suggested maybe we should put the fish in the kitchen window, but I didn’t think all that sunlight would be good for it. We told Violet and her mom to have a wonderful trip and that they shouldn’t worry about Curie. They said they wouldn’t.

Curie lives in a little plastic tank, about 7” long, 3.5” wide, and 4” tall. I put her tank right next to our sheepdogs’ food container on the kitchen counter where we would be certain to see her at least twice a day. As a further precaution, I put the dogs’ hip and joint pills on top of her tank. Violet had shown me how to feed Curie eight little flecks of fish food twice a day. To be on the safe side, I’ve been giving her ten. Curie gets quite excited about this and darts at the little flecks as they float to the bottom. Aside from feedings though, I haven’t given her much attention. I feel badly about that. Her world seems very boring, since it consists of swimming slowly for a couple of inches in one direction, then turning around and swimming slowly a couple of inches in the opposite direction. She never seems to sleep, so she repeats this routine incessantly twenty-four hours a day. She does have a tiny brain, so maybe that’s all she wants in life. I have tried to give her some stimulation, putting my nose up to her tank or doing a few line dancing steps. But she doesn’t seem interested.

Compared to the sheepdogs, Curie is a different sort of pet. On the one hand, she isn’t as much fun. You don’t take her for hikes in the forest or play ball with her. You don’t even get to pet her. On the other hand, she doesn’t bark loudly at random noises or throw up on the carpet. You don’t have to walk her when it’s raining out, and she doesn’t take up space in your bed. There are no vet bills; she doesn’t need to be groomed. Her food costs are ridiculously low. When you spell out all the details, it turns out that a betta fish has a lot more advantages than drawbacks. I am getting more confident that Curie will survive until Violet returns. So far, so good.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (7-14): J

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Burnet Woods: A Forest in the City

Dear George,

My siblings and I grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in the forest along the Menominee River, and the impact of that experience extended into our adult lives. We were the first family to move out to Riverside Boulevard, a mile and a half out of town. The original old one-lane road, parallel to Riverside and by then overgrown with shrubs and fallen tree trunks, cut through our family property. It ran from Riverside Cemetery at its east end to Mason Park to the west. My brother Steve and I used the old road for bicycle expeditions through the woods. We gathered birch bark for writing letters, poked sticks into anthills, collected leaves to press, released milkweed seeds into the wind, climbed tall oak trees, and generally made the forest our personal world of adventures. In the woods behind our house I built a full-fledged camp with a lean-to hut, a a stone-lined fire pit, a table constructed from alder branches, and all the accoutrements necessary for pursuing a wilderness existence. Years later, when my parents moved to Birch Creek, the forest there was of great importance too. My dad had bought 240 acres of woods and farmland as part of the property, and he planted thousands of trees and carved out trails to faraway places like Jennifer Lake. He regarded the property as his private fiefdom and introduced his grandchildren from infancy on to its many wonders.

By the time that Katja and I moved to Cincinnati in the late 1960’s, we were confirmed urbanites. We lived first in a new townhouse complex at the city’s northern edge, then in an apartment in Clifton, and moved a few years later to our present house a couple of blocks away. We’ve always enjoyed city living and have been happy with our choice. Cincinnati has the special advantage of an excellent park system – Mt. Airy Forest, Eden Park, Ault Park, Winton Woods, and one of the gems of the system – the 89-acre Burnet Woods in Clifton. Its northeast corner is just a few blocks from our house on Ludlow Avenue. The forest land for the park was purchased by the city in 1872; a lake was added in 1875 and a bandstand in 1911. In J’s childhood we took frequent hikes in the woods, usually with our Bedlington Terrier, Winston. Once you enter the interior of the Burnet Woods you’re surrounded by untamed forest, and you lose all sense, visually or auditorily, of being surrounded by a city. The trails run for a full mile from the edge of our Ludlow Avenue business district at the north end to the University of Cincinnati campus at the south. For decades I walked through the forest on my way to and from the office. It offered a peaceful place for mental preparation for the workday and a cooling down period at its end. Now I bring the sheepdogs to the park, and they enjoy roaming on the hiking trails. Sometimes I bring some plastic bags and pick up litter along the way. Last week I trimmed away the overgrown shrubs and weeds to clear sections of the trail. I imagine myself to be one of the collective owners of Burnet Woods, and being there gives me a sense of well-being.

Here are a few photos of the trails I take on my way to and from the UC campus. It’s easy to imagine oneself in the wilds of northern Michigan. (Even though I know I’m really not.)



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (7-16): I love these pictures.

-Donna D (7-11): david, you make it sound so wonderful that everyone who reads your blog is going to want to go there! are you ready for all those people?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Brand New Dream

Dear George,

Like most of us, I’ve always had recurrent nightmares. As an adolescent I’d dream that I was driving across the Hattie Street Bridge from Menominee to Marinette, but the midsection of the bridge had collapsed, and I’d plunge to my death in the whitewater below. I always interpreted this as a not too subtle expression of apprehension about my current life transition. In college I’d wake up in a cold sweat after learning on the last day of the semester that I was enrolled in an advanced math class and had to take the final exam, though I’d never even attended the class. As a college professor, this same basic dream morphed itself into my being assigned without notice to teach a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about, e.g., Chinese or geology, and there I was in the classroom on the first day, confronted with a huge bunch of students and having no idea what to say. An even worse incompetence dream involved my getting a letter from the University of Michigan saying that I’d never actually completed my dissertation and didn’t really have a Ph.D. after all. Now, decades later, I would have to return to graduate school, begin studying all over again for my doctoral exams, and finish the dissertation which I’d been unable to complete in the first place.

Happily, all these painful dreams vanished when I retired a year and a half ago. The other night, though, I had a brand new dream. I’d gone into my office space at the university. But it wasn’t a private office. Instead, it was just a desk space in the midst of a very large room with many other desks occupied by faculty and grad students in the Chemistry Department. I hadn’t been there for a while, and I was upset to find that my desk had been emptied out, as had my file drawers and the bookcase standing next to my desk. I sought out the person in charge. She was an attractive, professionally dressed woman, but it was clear she was a “by the books” sort of person. She informed me in a business-like fashion that the University had removed my belongings. She had no idea where they had gone. I went into a panic. I told her that that was all my lecture material, my research projects, manuscripts I’d published. Then I realized that my entire collection of books had disappeared as well. I asked the woman who I could contact, but she had no idea. She also didn’t know whether my things had been put in storage boxes or had been destroyed. It occurred to me that I could call Cheryl, the former head secretary in the Sociology Department -- she would be able to help me. Then I woke up.

Like my earlier anxiety dreams, my new dream seems pretty transparent. I’ll simply call it a retirement dream. Before I knew what was happening, the impersonal University eliminated all the trappings of my career, and, in doing so, my entire professional identity had been stripped away. And there wasn’t any recourse. I’d lost my place forevermore. While this recognition was pretty upsetting, I’d have to say that it wasn’t as painful as facing a room full of students and having no idea what you are doing. I guess loss is easier to assimilate than terror. It is interesting to note that the contents of one’s dreams change in direct correspondence with changes in one’s actual life stage. I’m reminded once again of Sigmund Freud’s respect for the rich creativity of the unconscious mind in translating one’s deep anxieties into symbolic constructions.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (7-10): Your dreams are great. I also often had a dream about not taking a class and I was no longer a lawyer. Now that I think of it , I have not had that dream since I retired. But I have lot of dreams that art is still alive. So that is a dream I hate waking from. So glad you stopped and stayed a short time us Linda. Ps. Love that picture

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Famous Cincinnatians: James Levine

Dear George,

One thing we like best about Cincinnati is the richness of the arts scene – theater, symphony, opera, fine arts. Katja has always been an opera lover, as were her parents, and she has a certain pride that the Metropolitan Opera’s musical director is a Cincinnatian. She has met James Levine’s mother Helen and is always happy when she sees her at the symphony. Levine was born in Cincinnati in 1943 to a musical family. His maternal grandfather was a cantor in a local synagogue, and his father was a violinist and leader of a dance band. Levine began playing the piano as a young child and made his concert debut at age 10 as a soloist at a youth concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He studied music with Walter Levin, first violinist in the LaSalle Quartet, then took piano lessons with Rudolf Serkin. After graduating from Walnut Hills High School, he entered Juilliard in 1961 and graduated three years later.

Levine was assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra in the late 1960’s and made his debut in 1970 as guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell, a favorite destination of Katja’s parents. He debuted as guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in a 1971 performance of Tosca and became principal conductor in 1973. He has subsequently conducted over 2500 performances at the Met and has been awarded the National Medal of Arts and Kennedy Center Honors, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. When we go to New York, the first thing Katja wants to see is the Metropolitan Opera, and Ami always gets us tickets. Levine is also a distinguished pianist who has accompanied many of the great singers of our day. Under his leadership the Met orchestra and chorus have been recognized among the world’s finest, he has initiated yearly orchestra tours of Europe and Asia, and he began the PBS TV broadcasts of the Met. Katja has devoted Saturday afternoons to his Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts for years and years. James Levine is currently taking a break from conducting because of back surgery, requiring him to cancel a recent appearance at Cincinnati’s opera gala. We hope he’s back soon.



Saturday, July 3, 2010

Stonelick Adventures

Dear George,

Mike, Duffy, and I are just back from a three-day camping trip to Stonelick State Park in nearby Clermont County. We had perfect weather, arrived early and got a nice campsite, and enjoyed hiking and relaxing. The photo above shows our campground setup. When I resumed camping a few years ago, I was uncertain about my commitment so I outfitted myself at St. Vincent DePaul. That somewhat dated but good-looking Wal-Mart tent cost $2.50, as did the green and white gazebo. Our son J bought the wooden dog playpen at a yard sale for $5. I bought the rest of the stuff (cooking, dining, sleeping, etc.) for about $20, so our total gear ran about $30.

The campground was pretty busy this trip. There was a big RV on our right side, and a friendly lady RVer came over to say hello to the dogs. She and her husband have been married for 39 years, live 10 miles away, and have been visiting Stonelick since the 1960’s. I asked her about the hiking trails, and she said they’d never done that because they’ve been coming here so long. It seemed to me they spent a lot of their time sitting quietly in their lawn chairs in front of the RV with their two dogs at their side. They seemed to have achieved a perfect camping marriage. Another family was a couple of sites over to our left, a man, woman, and two kids in a pretty small tent. One of the boys was riding his skateboard, which drives Duffy out of his mind. When the younger boy, Louie, walked over to see my dogs, his father started hollering at him. I politely suggested as he walked by that the dogs were friendly and liked kids. He asked me not to say that too loudly or he’d have nothing but trouble.

The sheepdogs still don’t care for camping that much. I can tell this because every time we walked anywhere near our SUV (actually near anybody’s SUV) they’d drag me toward the vehicle’s door, begging to be taken home. Aside from the SUV, the only two places they like are the playpen, where they get to be confined in a restricted, familiar space, and the tent, which is walled-in and even more confined. Both dogs wanted to sleep on the air mattress with me, but, when we turned in for the night, I wouldn’t let them. After I’d fallen sleep, Mike joined me on the narrow air mattress the first night; Duffy, on the second. Just like home – way too crowded.

Thursday afternoon we took a hike on the Red Fox Trail. About ten minutes in, Duffy suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, eyes fixed ahead, nose quivering. His natural instincts signaled danger. I looked, and thirty or forty yards ahead there was a jet black “object” at the edge of the trail. It was the exact shade and sheen of the American black bears that I’d recently seen at the zoo. The dogs stood motionless, and the thing was perfectly motionless too. We seemed to be staring at one another, and to me it was looking more and more like a bear. I whispered to the dogs to turn around, and we started walking hurriedly back in the direction we’d come from. As I looked over my shoulder, the bear hadn’t moved an inch. I paused to take its picture, using my zoom lens. You can see him at the center of the photo below. While the image isn’t perfect, I think it’s pretty clear that that’s a bear.

We went back to the lake after our narrow escape. By then the dogs were covered in burrs, and I knew Katja wouldn’t be pleased. Then, before I knew it, both dogs had jumped in the lake and were wading around in the water at mid-chest (guaranteeing badly matted hair). When they got out Mikey started rolling around in the weeds. That too is a bad sign, and I yelled at him to stop. In a matter of seconds he’d managed to cover his right ear, neck, and shoulder with fresh, foul-smelling poop that came from some very large animal (like a bear). I stripped off as much of the goop as I could with my bare hands. Both Mike and I were unpleasant to be around for the remainder of the trip.

I took half an Ambien that night and slept o.k. Just as we drove out of the campground on Friday noon a doe and two fawns darted right in front of our car. They were so close that I thought I’d hit one of the fawns for sure. Fortunately I saw in the rear view mirror that they’d all made it. I thought to myself, that is such terrible mothering. But it did have a happy ending – a good omen which seemingly called for us to return to Stonelick.



G-Mail Comments

-JML (7-6): Always seeing the silver lining when it comes to camping. Glad you have the dogs to alert you to approaching bears.

-Jennifer M (7-3): A bear! Eek! I remember worrying about bears a great deal as a child when we camped in the mountains. I recall that you're supposed to try to intimidate them with loud noises- clapping hands, banging of pots, and such. Nonetheless, I would have done the same as you and left the scene.