Sunday, November 16, 2014

Herbie: 90 years and Brooklyn...

Late last month, my father turned 90. He’s in pretty good health (knock on wood, keyn eyn-hore,  כײן עַיִן הָרָע) though it looks different from his perspective than it does from that of most others. He lives on his own in the same Manhattan apartment he has for nearly 50 years (when it was new), walks several blocks every day to take his water aerobics class, and takes buses and subways to get around, both to doctors and museums and progressive events and occasionally to visit his remaining friends and acquaintances in nursing homes. He sometimes forgets things, but this seems to be not a lot more than most of us, and his analytic mind is sharp. It is harder on him when he flies places, but he still does. (The time two years ago when we both flew to DFW on Christmas Day and had to change planes to different places and a rare snow there meant the SkyTrain was out and the fact that it was Christmas meant no one was driving little carts and he had to walk from B15 to C36 – B to C is over the highway – was a challenge, but he did it fine.)

This is the part that other people see as great. For him, his left knee hurts a lot – he had his right knee replaced many years ago and it didn’t go well, so he never got the other done, and now it is really bad – so he has to count the days between SynVisc® injections. He is sometimes physically unstable. He hates that he forgets things. He sleeps a lot and takes daily naps (sounds good to me!). He never thought he’d make it anywhere near this long. His only brother was killed at 20 in the Spanish Civil War when my father was 14. His father died of cancer at 53. His mother died at 66. MY mother died, also of cancer, at 57. His oldest grandson, my son, committed suicide at 24. And here he is at 90, outliving most everyone of his generation; he just lost his last, and closest, first cousin. He knows people who are older, but most are homebound (or nursing home bound); a couple are still active, but it is rare that they see each other.

A birthday, he would be the first to point out, is just a day, one more. But it is symbolic, and the weekend before this day his children and grandchildren and spouses, none of whom live in New York, came to the city to spend time with him. In order to break up the constant eating, we rented a large van and driver and went to Brooklyn to see where he (and his children, also, in other neighborhoods) had grown up. We started in the south at Nathan’s (Famous) in Coney Island. This was a real high point. Nathan’s hot dogs and French fries are available in some airports around the country, but they taste different in Coney Island. And there are fried clam strips, hard to find anywhere in the Midwest. The clerks were apparently instructed to push Nathan’s “famous” Mac ‘n’ cheese, but none of us remember this from our childhoods as being part of Nathan’s. No, hot dogs (with brown mustard and sauerkraut), fries (the best in the world) and clam strips. And then, on a sunny but chilly day, walking around on the Boardwalk (there is, however, no more “under the Boardwalk” – sorry, Drifters – there was too much crime and drugs happening there), looking at the huge beach, and some of us (younger ones, and certainly not me) going on rides like the Thunderbolt (the roller coaster starts off going straight up vertical!) and the whatever-it-is-called that pendulums you back and forth starting way up in the air (Andy only). More on the carousel.

And finally we retrieved the driver and headed north, to Sheepshead Bay and to where we grew up. The kind of run-down, two family homes we rented an apartment in looking decades shabbier. But, amazingly, Zillow’s rated at about $1.8 million!! Come on! Then up past James Madison HS, my alma mater as well as my mother’s, and I was able to go into the swimming pool where the teams are now the Golden Knights, not the Highwaymen of my youth, and then to Kings Highway (after which the team name) and up to Brooklyn College, where my mother graduated and my father attended for a while. It is nice there; the quad is as I remember it, but there are more buildings to the west (I keep wanting to say south; I have a good sense of direction except when I think of Brooklyn, where I grew up I always think of what is in fact east as north and west as south, probably because the numbered “East” street where we lived ascend to the east.) Hanging around, my sister discovers a yellow parakeet. For real. Hopping around. The bird is catchable, to the entertainment of a little girl, who is worried it will die. We assure her it will not, as we place it in an empty coffee cup with a lid and an airhole, say goodbye to the girl, and the driver takes us was back south again to a Petco where Rita buys a cage and some birdseed. The bird is ravenous.

So we continue back north, through Flatbush, past Midwood and Erasmus high schools, and the old Ebbetts Field, into Crown Heights and then into Bedford-Stuyvesant where my father grew up. We drive past several addresses where he lived (they seem to have moved every six months or so; in the depression the first month was free), some of which buildings are still standing. We stop at the old Boys’ High, where he went, now not a regular high school (and not to be confused with the newer Boys’ and Girls’ high school not too far away).  It is an amazing, huge, castle-like building of gothic proportions. My father says he never saw the south side entrance in his years of going there; he lived to the north, and came in from that direction, or the east entrance. We wander around; across the street on the south side are big row houses, 4 stories plus basement. It is not the best neighborhood, even now, so we wonder what they would cost. Midblock they change to smaller, only 2 stories plus basement. One is for sale, and we look it up on a phone. Nicely renovated, 2200 sf, only $2.8 million. These prices are more than a little shocking for people from Kansas City.

We continue north, into and through Williamsburg, now hip to the north of the el-covered Broadway we are on and still Hasidic (including enclosed sukkahs built on the terraces) south of that street. Finally across the Williamsburg Bridge and back to Manhattan, tired and, on this Saturday afternoon in October so crowded we decide to even forego a stop at Yonah Schimmel for knishes, a major sacrifice, and make it back to his apartment in time for sunset. It was actually a great trip, and this is the consensus of a group of family who hardly ever all agree on what to do and whether it was fun.

And, I think, my father liked it. No matter how well he is doing, he and we know that he is 90, and that the opportunities to do things like this may be limited in the future.

Not too soon, though, we all hope.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A visit to the National Zoo

Having spent the last two weeks a short walk from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Woodley Park, I took that walk today, to and around the Zoo. It was good. I like zoos. Pat doesn’t, I think because of the fact that the animals are trapped in cages. I think this attitude mellowed a great deal many years ago after we spent the night at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, part of a program called Roar and Snore. It is remarkable how many species would now be extinct if they only existed in the wild, and have been restored by breeding programs in zoos.

Zoos also have a lot of families, with kids and strollers, which can be inconvenient. Strollers take up a lot of room, and while large groups of teenagers (like the band from Toronto HS in Toronto, OH, who are apparently here to take part in the Memorial Day parade, and are identifiable by their T-shirts) reduce their impact by dividing into groups of 5 or 6, families (even as small as 3, and frequently quite a bit bigger, especially with grandparents) have a way of blocking things up. Someone – an adult, let us be clear -- is usually leading the way off, while looking back at the group rather than in the direction they are headed. 

I like the kids. I like them most of the time even when they are crying, or walking back and forth across the path following a line that may be imprinted on the ground in elephant footprints or may be only in their head. Even if they bump into me, although usually I see them coming. I think, unsurprisingly, it brings me back to when I had young children, and how wonderful and exciting it was to go to places like the zoo. (And, sadly, those good memories also lead to other ones, not so good.)

Of course, my boys were wonderful and – this is actually true – we didn’t have strollers. When they were too big for a backpack, they walked (ok, spelled sometimes by being carried). What is it with these strollers, sometimes for kids who look 4 or 5 years old? I am amazed about their ubiquity all over the city. At one time strollers were a step forward, in the sidewalk-space-occupying sense, from the big perambulator-type baby carriages, but now they have grown larger, so that many (especially the ones for two kids) approach the size of a motorcycle with side car. 

Which reminds me that other groups were wearing their motorcycle club colors (all the ones I saw from outside DC, MD, or VA) another nice thing; people of all kinds enjoy getting out in the zoo. Incredible numbers of races, ethnicities and national origins, not infrequently mixed in the same family. 

It helps that it was a nice day. I saw lions, and tigers and bears (oh, my!) and apes and wolves and ibises and alpacas and Przewalksi horses and Amazonian sting rays. Now I have had lunch and am headed toward downtown to see some memorials.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Santa Fe April...Fry and the coyotes

Well, I’ve been in Santa Fe pretty continuously for more than 6 weeks, and have a routine. Wake, take dogs out (Fry on leash) for shortish hike, have breakfast, work, then maybe go to Eldorado to work out. Nap, work, take a longer hike.

It is beautiful. This will be mostly a vehicle for pictures.

We do worry about Fry; he goes off and comes back in his own time, and there are coyotes out there. Why I don’t like him out at the dawn and dusk times when they are more active (like deer; the word is crepuscular). Last summer, he got attacked by coyotes and had some bites, so we have reason to worry; haven’t seen many in a while, but that means little. Also means little to him; he really doesn’t learn.

Monday, I took Pat to the airport in Albuquerque. It snowed last night, not a lot, but the morning walk was colder than it has been in weeks, about 23. Gray skies and some flurries. The snow is good; we need all the moisture we can get; several years of drought. By the time we got past Santa Fe, no snow on I-25, and down a little more bright sun. Albuquerque nearly 50 when I dropped Pat off about 10:30, 10:45, and the trees that had had white and pink flowers last time we were down there were now green.

But as we came back up the hill toward Santa Fe, the skies got grayer and the temperature dropped. By the time we hit home, it was 27 and flurrying. I opened the back of the car just a little, as I usually do, to tell them to sit before I opened it all the way and with maybe 8-10 inches open Fry was out and gone. Yonkel out too, but not gone. Didn’t see Fry back for about 2 hours. 

So I worked for a while, and about 4:30 got ready to go for a walk. Sweatshirt, windbreaker, tie on boots (may be muddy out there), sunscreen, sunglasses, hat – getting ready to walk out. But they are barking like there was a rabbit out there. Because there is a rabbit out there. I decide to wait for a couple of minutes, presuming the rabbit will be wise enough to run off. He is not. I am getting antsy. I open the door, and the two of them are off, giving chase, even Yonkel looking young. They do not, I think, catch the rabbit but they are gone. I had assumed that 1) Yonkel would come with me after a few minutes, and 2) Fry would go off on his own as usual, so what’s the difference?
Neither one came to join me. I kept calling. Hike was very lovely, around and back through the valley. Took about an hour. Yonkel sitting on the deck when 
I got home. No Fry.

About a half-hour later, up Fry runs being chased by two big coyotes. I open the door to 1) let him in, and 2) chase the coyotes off, and, instead, Yonkel bolts out and the two of them chase the coyotes off. After a minute or so they come back, with me frantically yelling. Yonkel comes in, Fry stays out, avoiding me. Looking out for the coyotes to chase! Licking at his sides. Must have been bitten again, but he won’t let me get near him.

I leave the door open and about 20 minutes later, needing a drink, Fry comes in. I examine him. Pretty big gouge out of his left hip, smaller cut down by right groin. I sponge them out with peroxide. (You think it’s easy, one person, holding a dog and putting peroxide on his wounds?)

I hope they don’t get infected. Obviously, having been chased and bitten, he’s learned his lesson – not! DIdn’t they immediately – and with Fry wounded -- both immediately give chase after them? It was heroic of Yonkel to go out after the coyotes, to protect Fry. It was brave of Fry, chased home and bitten, to immediately respond and join Yonkel in chasing them off. (It is unknown whether my presence on the deck had more to do with the coyotes’ departure.) Stupid, yes. Foolhardy, also. But heroic and brave. Heroic and brave often go together with foolhardy and even stupid. In dogs, and in people.

Leash for the next few days for sure. Leash and peroxide.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Geese at the Lake

It has been a long time since I have been down to the cabin at Lake Fort Scott; winter has been either too cold or we have been traveling and trying to get things done. But this weekend, with Pat out of the country, and the weather predicted to be in the mid-40s, I thought it was a good time to come down and clean up a little and winterize the house – or at least empty and turn off the refrigerator, both to keep stuff from going bad and keep our electric bill down, as it is old and inefficient -- in case we don’t come back for a while. As it turns out, we had guests a few weeks back and they left it cleaner than I ever do, so it is mostly shoveling out leaves and dirt from behind the house, and picking up stray branches.

My neighbors had written to me that there were flocks of geese gathered in front of my house, which apparently was the only unfrozen part of the lake (some combination, I guess, of shallowness and where the sun shines). When I got here mid-day on Saturday, it was obvious. Hundreds of geese sitting on the ice, but close to the open water to swim and feed. And, as the day warmed up into the mid 40s, the ope

n patch of water began to expand, and by sunset the amount of ice for the geese to sit on began to decrease. I was told that they put up a great racket at night, and I guess they might, but I didn’t hear them enough to bother my sleep!

And then, this morning, walking the dogs this morning the open area seemed even bigger. OK, let’s get this straight. Giving permission for the dogs to go on a walk, especially Fry. They won’t leave the area around the house alone, but will jump all over me to accompany them up the drive and to the road. Once there, however, while Yonkel will usually stay with me, or near enough to come when called, Fry is gone and one his own and comes back when he is good and ready. A great blue heron sat on the edge of the lake as we returned, and when startled by us, took off, scattering geese!

And now, at 11:30am, and temperatures in the low 50s, there is almost more water than ice! This afternoon it is supposed to get up to 61, so I imagine that this pattern will just increase. And the day is sunny, so it would be a lovely time to sit on the deck and read and watch the geese and the dogs cavort – were it not for the really high wind that makes being outside kind of unpleasant. I guess I’ll watch from inside. And soon time for lunch and a nap.

THEN I’ll clean out the refrigerator!