Hotel California

Okay.  I ripped off the title of a song by The Eagles for one purpose only: to get your attention.  The more accurate title should be A Hotel in California.  But that sounds like a chapter in an in-flight magazine for American Airlines.  Tonight is our last night here, at the Standard Hotel, on Sunset Strip.  It’s a kitschy holdover from decades past…and that’s what gives this place a charm that is infectious and amusing.  I sometimes think of myself as a kitschy holdover from 1967.

[The sign for The Standard.  Don’t rotate your iPhone, it’s meant to be upside down.]

The Strip itself (according to what I’ve been reading) is undergoing a makeover.  Since the 1960’s its appeal had been to the hipsters, rockers, winners and downright losers.  Even now, as I stroll seven or eight blocks, I pass two strip clubs, several tattoo parlors, used cars dealers and quick loan storefronts.  It’s quirky.  I like it.

As we were checking in last Tuesday, I noticed a large glass ‘box’ behind the front desk.  Inside was a mattress and a single pillow.

“Any significance to that?” I asked nodding to the glass enclosure.

“Oh, we have people who go in there for four hours and do whatever,” responded the female clerk.

Was this some kind of sex club?  I wondered.

[Young woman in a camisole with her laptop.]

[For the ladies: a middle age dude with cell phone.  I’d do it too for $40/hr.]

We ate dinner beside the pool that night, but something special was going to happen at 8:00 pm.  It was movie night!  The movies are chosen by two guys who seek out “the worst of the worst”.  Tonight’s feature: “A Hard Ticket to Hawaii”.  The plot was dreadful.  The acting was ludicrous.  But the snake was real as far as I could tell.  The audience was encouraged to ‘get involved’ with the film so there was much hooting, booing and moaning.

[A still from the “movie”]

I loved every minute of it.

Last night, we were treated to two bands who played with vigor and talent.

Tonight?  Who knows?

The Standard was not the original name.  It was known for many years as the Hollywood Sunset Hotel.  Years ago, when a twenty-two year old Eric Clapton was arrested for possession of pot, he gave his address as 8300 Sunset Boulevard…this hotel.

Across the street was located the Chateau Hotel where John Belushi OD’d.

As I write this, I am sitting by the pool.  It’s 74 F.  I’m watching the pink floating tubes drift about the pool.  I look up and watch the palm fronds stir in the breeze.  The sun is low enough to put the entire pool area in the shade.  People are slipping on light sweaters.  My weather app tells me it’s 72 F now.

[Pool tube.]

We’ll be eating at a Cantina across the street tonight and then come back to hear or see whatever entertainment there might be.

Then we pack.  Call Uber in the morning to take us to LAX to pick up a rental car.  From there we head into the desert to spend a month in Joshua Tree.

Maybe, at the edges of the Mojave, I can get over this hacking cough that’s been hanging on for a month.

New adventures lay ahead.  But I will always find a place in my memory bank to store the images of what was once the infamous Sunset Strip.

[Note: All the historical information I used in this post is mostly from oral sources.  If any of my readers specialize in fact checking, any mistakes are mine.  All photos are mine.]

 

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The Three-Eyed Turkey From Mars

Reprinted from the Journal of Unbelievable Results, Nov. 2017. Vol. 1, No. 1.

About ten or fifteen years ago, the New York Post ran a bold, full-page headline which read: Life On Mars!

(or something like that).  It seems that one of the NASA Mars rover vehicles turned over a small rock and analyzed the sand beneath.  Some sort of Amino acids or complex molecules were discovered that indicated that Mars could, indeed, support life.  Well, thirty-five years of teaching science has taught me one thing at least: Don’t believe everything you read in the New York Post.

I’ll put it out there as kindly as I can.  There is no verifiable evidence that life exists anywhere except here on Earth.

I firmly believed that until this Thanksgiving past.  My soon-to-be-five-year-old grandson, Elias, was given the opportunity to construct a turkey in his pre-K art class.

What he constructed is the first example of an alien fowl.  He told me that it had to be an alien because it had three eyes.

I submit the enclosed photo as proof of this amazing discovery.  I leave it up to my faithful readers to decide for themselves the validity of this evidence that clearly disproves the long-held theory that Mars is a lifeless planet.

It remains to be seen, however, if, given the current state of politics, whether or not there is intelligent life here on Earth.

[Actual photograph of the alien three eyed turkey as constructed by Elias.  Photo is mine.]

 

Love At The End Of The Tunnel

[My photo. Elias leaves pre-K.]

The longest and most uncomfortable, painful and seemingly endless flight I ever undertook began at 4:00 am on Monday, November 20 when I forced myself out of the bed.  I forgot our wakeup call was for 4:15 am.  Our flight was scheduled for 7:00 am.  It was going to be a long day.

We were at a lower level Marriott about two miles from Logan Airport.  Our shuttle picked us up at 5:00 am, on time and the driver was even awake and courteous.  I was numb with lack of sleep.

The first leg of our flight required a stop-over in Chicago.  Time to breathe real air and stretch our legs for an hour.

Then we boarded American Airlines flight #1239 for Seattle.  I bought one of those neck pillows but it did nothing but keep me upright with my head forced into one position, much like you see in the photos of the poor souls in the electric chair..  Everything in my body hurt when we finally landed.

We were on the first segment of our winter vacation.  First stop was to visit and spend Thanksgiving with my daughter, Erin, husband Bob and, my one and only grandson, Elias.

From their home in Orting in Washington, we were due to fly to LA and then spend the month in Joshua Tree in the Mojave desert of California.

But, I digress.

We called Erin who was waiting in the cellphone lot.  Within a few minutes, she pulled up in front Pick-up Station #1.

We loaded her 2013 Hyundai Accent.  We drove south for about forty-five minutes and we were at her home in Orting.

I had been awake since 4:00 am and was drugged with Valium and Dramamine so I was grateful when every one else left to do some shopping, I drifted on the sofa, the large black cat, Guinness, sleeping on my lap.

Everyone returned from shopping.

Then the real fun began…Elias began to remember his grandpa and Emmy.

It seemed to me to be the longest and most painful flight I’ve ever made.  But the love at the end…made it all disappear.

[My photo]

Postscript: Guest proofreader for this post is my daughter, Erin.]

The Quiet Feast/The Great Cycle

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

Concentrate.  Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of  “lunch duty”.  A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders, and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you.  Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room.  Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription.  Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty home room and eat alone.  It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass.  Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River.  It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands.  It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates.  A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

A year ago, in October, along with our great friends, D’Arcy and Judy,  Mariam and I took a walk along the Silver Lake Bog trail.  The sky was azure.  The foliage was at a peak.  Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

I hung back and walked alone.  I stopped to listen.  The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain.  I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead.  What was alive was consuming what was dead.  This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed.  Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words.  I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life.  I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me.  The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material.  The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that was breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

And, all this was done in total silence and  would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

And, that fly would find out where I lived.

 

 

Fathers and Coffee

One more cup of coffee before I go…

                               –Bob Dylan

[My photo]

This gray, almost monochromatic morning, I lounged in bed reading yesterday’s New York Times.  It’s something we did every weekend for years while we lived in Manhattan.  The fact that’s its Monday is a moot point.  When you’re retired, everyday is like a Sunday.  This may, however, be due to the fact that all the days seem to drift together and half the time I’m never totally sure what day it is.

But, to clear away any misgivings, I can state that it is Monday, November 6…and it’s gloomy outside, like a Tim Burton take on one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

But, I digress.

I was sipping my coffee, once steaming and now, just below the stage of lukewarm.  It tastes just like it sounds, lukewarm coffee, barely potable.  The odd thing is that if I drop in two ice cubes and wait three minutes, it’s transformed into Iced Coffee!  And, it’ll be a cold day in Yuma before I’ll walk away from a Starbucks Cold Brew.

So, as I sipped the cooling mug, I began to recollect on things my father said to me when I was growing up in the 1950’s.  I’m sure he was not alone in using phrases like:

“If I wanted a fool to do this, I would have done it myself.”

“Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Post-war idioms.

I was strictly a tea drinker well into my teens.  It was mostly a camping thing.  I never had a Lipton before scurrying off to elementary school.  In fact, I was never really that big on caffeine ever, even now.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a mug of Irish Breakfast tea now and then.

I’m recalling an incident that occurred when I was about fifteen.  My family was sitting at a diner and the waitress asked about drinks.  I asked for my first cup of coffee.  My father looked aghast at me.  He shifted his position on the vinyl seat of the booth.  When the server left, he leaned over to me and actually said:

“You know, it’ll stunt your growth”.

It was a cliché that every parent used to threaten their kids about; coffee, tobacco and so many other vices.

I lay in bed and chuckled to myself.  How antiquated, how naive his threats seem to me now.  Then the smile left my face and I felt an overwhelming sadness wash over me.

I thought of my own son and how, because of a divorce, I did not take part in his life when he had his first coffee.  The sadness deepened.  I had missed so many of the years when I, as his father, should have been by his side.

My father’s remark came back to me with a new kind of understanding.  I really don’t believe he truly thought that my first cup of coffee was going to stunt my growth.  I think he was blindsided by my request.  And, most importantly, I think he was terrified.  In a certain way, that first coffee was a sort of rite of passage…something he knew deep within and something he dreaded with great sorrow.

He was losing his son, his youngest son to the terrors of a fast approaching place called adulthood.  His comment was the only thing he could think of to slow down the separation that was to come.  He wanted to hold on to my childhood as long as he could, because after that, there’s no going back, no reversal in time and no going home again.

The separation of father and son.

When my umbilical cord was cut sometime during the evening of May 31, 1947, I was separated physically from my mother.  No such action happens between father and son…until the son asks for his first cup of coffee.

I cling to my son these days.  I kiss his cheek when I see him.  I tell him how much I love him.  I wish I had to lean over, sore back or not, to pick him up.  I wish I had to walk at a tilt while I held his little hand in mine.  I wish he had to lift his head upward to look at me and to extend his arms, asking to be picked up and carried.

Everyday, I can feel the fear my father felt that afternoon, decades ago, when I said yes to a cup of coffee.

[Photo credit: Keith Daniel, Restitutio. Google search.]