Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Curbside

I love period pieces.  It's the detail that attracts me the most.  Like going into an antique store and seeing the Christmas ornaments that existed in your childhood, watching a movie or TV show set in the 1950s or 60s offers up those little surprises.

Recently on a TV series set in the late 1950s, I noticed everything from cigarette packs to breakfast cereals.  The parking meters took pennies then.  How impossible does that sound now?
It got me thinking about all that has vanished from our shared popular culture.  I soon realized that one of the mainstays of my childhood is not relegated to misty memories: the milkman.
I think three must be people driving trucks around in 2018 who drop off dairy products somewhere.  Perhaps in more rural settings, but there was a time when neighborhood streets were familiar territory for early morning milk trucks.  In my neighborhood, there were Adohr, Carnation, Arden, Golden State, and a few others all vying to be the one who dropped off a couple of bottles of milk, or perhaps eggs and cottage cheese.  The Milk Man was a welcome visitor.  Not only did he (there were probably a few women) make Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes possible, he was the source of ice to kids looking for something to do on a warm summer day.  Those milk trucks were intriguing vehicles too.  Cases of milk and dairy products packed in ice and two open doors enabling the driver to go on either side of the street to make deliveries.  Often while the delivery was being made, we kids would hop inside the truck and nab a piece of ice.  Nice chunks that refreshed.

On rare occasions, if the milkman had to shuffle a few cases of milk around, he'd leave a pile of snow in the street.  Great discovery on a day that would reach 95 degrees before the sun set.  On a good day, the milk truck would be followed by a bakery truck.  That meant fresh bread, bagels, doughnuts, and Danishes at your doorstep.  I recall the double doors in the rear of those trucks opening to reveal glass cases framed in beautifully finished wood with chrome handles.  Those drawers held a miniature bakery. Those days are gone now. Having a drone drop off morning essentials would hardly be the same.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Suspenders Part V

Part V in which the evening ends and we all become dearly departed from one another's lives

Apparently, there was some set of rules in place that would govern the behavior of all in the aftermath of this group dinner date.  It was fairly simple.  Each person would receive a phone call telling them that either someone or no one was interested in seeing them again.  Sounds cold-blooded.  It was, but it was also a way to move beyond.
By the time my phone call arrived, about a week later, I'd figured out what had happened.  All three of us men were clearly interested in only Bonnie.  Susan and Marsha, though very nice people and fairly good company, inflicted no sparks.  Bonnie was clearly the best looking of the 3 women and given the conversation was less than stimulating, it was all we had to go on.  After all, we were men.  We came into the evening with all the sex-role conditioning that growing up in the 1950s had to offer.  Not that we hadn't evolved.  In fact, Marvin and I, given our progressive politics were clearly impacted by first wave feminism and conscious of the social change that continued to impact male-female relationships as we grew from naive teenagers to centered, sensitive, open-minded men.
Sure enough the phone call I got the phone call and the message went down in less than a minute.  I might have laughed, or smirked, but the emptiness I felt soon overwhelmed me.  It felt like I came close in a job interview but my services were not wanted.  It took all of one day for me to recover.  When I realized that none of these people, including my friend Martin, really knew me, I turned the page vowing never to answer, hell, never to look at personal ads again.
Maybe this entire episode was more complicated than I thought.  Perhaps Bonnie would have gone out with all three of us men, but being the only one any of us was interested in had serious consequences for friendships with the two other women.  Maybe she was saddened that she could not pursue another date with any of us.  Could be.
In the end, I also questioned the suspenders.  I don't think I ever wore them again.  Why would I?
Postscript:
In the months and years that followed, I enjoyed a number of relationships with intelligent, beautiful, women.  Women that loved the music I did and who worked in the helping professions or were creative artists of all sorts.  Ultimately, I married and removed myself from the wheel of fortune that is dating.  As the technology has encroached on the dating game, I can't help but wonder what kind of person I'd meet if I left the algorithms in charge.  Would she be anything like any of the 3 friends who sat with me on that eerily memorable evening.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Suspenders IV

I'd love to tell you a slow account of how that evening went.  Unfortunately, it was not memorable.  What stands out is how much wine was consumed by our rival, Pete.  He was the only one in the room who knew nobody else prior to this meeting.  His attempts at conversation were shallow and diminished dramatically when he got stuck on describing how he likes to shave in the shower.
"Do you?' he kept asking Martin and me.
As Pete continued to suck the air out of the dining room with these nerve-wracking attempts to draw people out and prove his ease and comfort with present company, he kept drinking wine.  When he excused himself to go to the bathroom, Martin leaned over and whispered in my ear, "We got dis guy beat."
I can't remember the food we ate and much about the remaining conversation.  With the exception of Pete, everybody seemed rather serene.  Maybe the thought that none of us would ever see each other again helped our exchanges.
When we went around the table and responded to "What do you do?" I began to wonder how much pretense would fill the room.  Martin told everyone that he was a restaurant owner.  True, if you count a hole in the wall juice bar as a restaurant.  He never mentioned that it was a very successful and well-known Berkeley collective.  I merely mentioned that I was a teacher.
"What do you teach," Susan asked.
"English and Social Studies," I said.
"Oh, I hated English and History in high school," was her follow-up.
I guess that was one way to let me know she had no interest in getting to know me.  The feeling was mutual, so the only thing we had in common was that we weren't interested in each other in the least.
When Pete returned from the bathroom he inquired about the backyard of this beautiful home.  We all walked outside and a view of the East Bay hills in the deepening dusk presented a welcome relief.  I walked over to the edge of the yard and leaned up against a wooden fence.  Sticking my thumbs under my suspenders, I feigned a pensive look and repressed the laughter welling up inside. I kept thinking, how is this evening going to end?

Suspenders/III

"Here's the deal," Martin explained. "I answered dis ad and I need you to complete the three men.  Just say yes, and in a couple a days I'll fill you in on da details."
Martin went on to explain that there was another guy interested and that the woman he spoke to was anxious to pull the ad and get on with the dinner.
I said yes.
Then I forgot about it until a call the following week.
Martin called and explained the date was on for the following Saturday night.  Someone would call me, ask me a few questions and then, if I passed muster, I'd be given an address and a time.  I'd also be given an item to bring, something like a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine.
I could bring both, I thought.  Even flowers?  But I soon realized that there might be rules.  I further realized that every time I thought about this upcoming evening a new question entered my mind.
I knew the entire idea was contrived to begin with, but in the following days, I realized the levels of complexity I could let myself be tangled up in.  How would anything I brought be taken, judged, or interpreted?  What about my looks?  My clothing?  My vocation?  I didn't see any easy outs.  This could be the longest evening of my life or the most intriguing.  Suspense.  Oh, and suspenders.  I decided to wear my new suspenders.
The 1980s produced some fashion alternatives that would be best left buried in time.  Maybe it was a prolonged reaction to the end of the 60s when nobody cared and jeans and leather were favored? Maybe it was the result of too many banned substances?  Colors reigned on jungle pants, loose-fitting light fabrics in pastels came into favor, and acid-wash Levis replaced blue denim.  I would have none of that and opted to wear a new pair of pants I'd purchased because they had buttons on which to attach suspenders.  I figured that this retro look might reflect my interest in history, traditional American music and a bit of a Western aesthetic.
The Friday before the appointed Saturday night I received a call from a woman called Bonnie.  She was pleasant and after a brief conversation about how intriguing the evening might be and how it certainly was a good idea to meet 6 people at a time, I was assigned a bottle of white wine.  I got directions to a home in the Oakland hills, verified the time, and was allowed to ask a few questions.
"What are the names of the other two women, and are they your friends?
Marsha and Susan would be there and yes, they were longtime friends.
After wasting time thinking about what wine to bring, and what that might reveal, I decided to look on a map to see exactly where this home in the hills might be.  Why didn't I ask about the venue?  Whose home was this?
I found the house on a broad sweeping street of homes with a commanding Bay Area view.  I parked and waited for Marvin to arrive.  We'd planned to enter together for some reason.
What followed is one of the more unusual evenings I've experienced.  Unusual because minds raced but very few words of substance were exchanged.  When Pete, the third man arrived 15 minutes late, introductions ensued.  We all remarked on the beauty of the home and the stunning photos elegantly framed throughout.
Pete was a photographer, a sports photographer, so he was immediately drawn to the photos of beautiful beaches, wildlife, and remote mountain ranges.  In asking about their details, we found out that this was the home of the photographer and not one of the 3 women hosting the dinner.  Turns out that the couple who lived in this magnificent home was currently in Austrailia on another of their adventures.  Bonnie was house-sitting.



Monday, January 29, 2018

Suspenders/II


II
Personal ads filled the classified sections of various publications.  From the literary periodicals like the New York Times Review of Books to the New Republic to the free local alternative publications in every major city, these attempts at reaching out to find a friend, mate, or just a temporary romance, flourished.  They could be a fascinating read.
People who would never answer an ad made a point to read them.  They offered a full exercise in fantasy.  Who might this person be?  Could there be someone out there I'll never know? Often the challenge and attraction of the ad were in the voice and word selection.  An example would prove useful here.  From a published collection of personal ads from New York city comes the following:
Within a few square inches, lies all that is positive and negative about these ads.  Their unpredictable truths and falsehoods lie ready to be revealed.  And, all the while, whether that slim, attractive, highly sensitive person is male or female, or has equal parts of both, there is only one way to find out.  Most people reading the ads never did follow up.  The stigma of having to depend on a personal ad to get a date prevented many people from doing anything other than reading the ads.  But read them they did.  Often first.  Eventually the opportunity to take a workshop or class on composing the perfect personal add appeared.  For a small fee, a talented writer would work with people seeking to put their best qualities and true soul into that small square of print that would lead to an exciting new romance.  These tutorials helped would-be lovers find just the right voice to sing their praises.
Speaking of voice, I was listening carefully to the voice on the other end of the line and considering a reply to the question before me.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Suspenders

A story in 5 parts

I.
"I want you to do something for me," said Martin on this rare telephone call.  Those words have never been easy for me because the foretell something either secretive or a request that leaves me little choice in the matter.
The last time I heard those 8 little words was when my sister converted to Catholicism.  I was to answer all questions from the Monsenior who would soon call.  "Do this for me and please don't question my motivation," Donna said.  "I'm doing this for my husband, can I count on you?"
She could.
But there was Martin, my Berkeley friend with his New Jersey accent asking me the same question.
"What is it you want from me, Martin?"
"I want you to go on a date, not with me, but yeah with me and some women?"
This couldn't be simple, but I was intrigued.
Martin explained that he'd answered a personal ad in the East Bay Express.  3 women were looking for 3 men to join them for dinner.  The three men need not be friends but that wasn't out of the question either.

Point of historical clarification:
In the years immediately before the personal computer changed the social order in this culture, there were various attempts that well-meaning people used to meet other well-meaning people.
A brief survey of those methods would be useful here.
(to be continued)


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sitting on Pins


It's like going to the dentist or sitting in a waiting room waiting
   to discuss blood tests with your doctor,
Longing to hear about the health of your car,
   Only the only dent is in your checkbook.


I don't want another vehicle, I don't mind
   walking, only it's raining today.
It's like receiving a Dear John letter,
   wondering how much is true and how much an
air sensor really costs and how long it takes to
install one.
It's not my heart or my blood sugar,
maybe it all comes out even some day.

A neighbor once gave me a large grocery bag
of Chanterelle mushrooms he'd gathered in the woods.
$28.00 a pound; does that help balance the books?

Lots of ways to weigh it up,
   even more when you appreciate trading smiles
nobody gets hurt, nobody dislocates
their attitude

This car dealership is a plantation,
   social justice can't be deducted from anything
worthwhile.