The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

HAPPY DAZE

One of the classic television programs which first aired in 1974 and ran for eleven seasons was “Happy Days.”  What a wonderful image of the America of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The show explored the day to day lives of the Cunninghams, a typical middle class Milwaukee family and was upbeat, entertaining and extremely popular.

The members of the family were mom, dad, older brother, Richie and younger sister Joanie.  Some of the regulars were Richie’s two best friends and, of course, “the Fonz,” a high school dropout and greaser played by Henry Winkler who, in retirement, is now hawking reverse mortgages.

What a great show.  It was  fairly typical of the output of the time.  This was truly family entertainment – no oversight group needed to rate this or many of the other television programs which were aired on our few channels.  The entire family could watch this program without our parents’ being concerned that there might be violence, cursing, nudity or suggestive commercials.

My father could relate to the hard working Howard Cunningham who made his living as the proprietor of a hardware store.  In those days specialty stores such as his were the norm – places where you not only could buy what was necessary to complete your project but, if you were a little uncertain how to proceed building a birdhouse you could look to the store staff to help you out and give you directions.  We had not yet invented stores the size of football fields where the uninitiated can spend hours trying to find the aisle that has what they need or make the mistake of trying to track down an employee, all of whom seem to go on break together.

Mr. Cunningham did not have to deal with OSHA or any of the other alphabet agencies which had not yet been invented to tell him that the blades for his jigsaws were easily accessible to your average 16 year old and therefore he needed to build a glass, locked case for them so that the little tykes couldn’t accidentally slit their wrists.  No, he had only his common sense and his desire to build his business as a guide for how he laid out the merchandise in his store.

We might have been uninformed in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s but we weren’t complete dunderheads.  Even back then, those of us who were in elementary school were taught the facts about climate change.  I remember distinctly hearing from Mrs. Bounds, my third grade teacher, that it gets cold in the winter and gets warm in the summer.  At least it did in New York.  We did not attribute this to man’s interference with Mother Nature’s work.  She explained to us that the Earth followed an elliptical orbit and sometimes our planet was closer to the sun than at other times which accounted for the variance in temperatures.  Little did I suspect it was all those Nash Ramblers running around which were responsible for mucking up the works.

This evening in the esteemed halls of the United States Senate, a number of those august and most bloviating Democrat members will hold an “all-nighter” to raise the public’s awareness of the gravity of the climate change “issue.”  Personally, I believe that reruns of “Petticoat Junction” will probably command a broader and more informed audience than those busy speechifying.

But I wonder if those stalwarts of climate change are aware that just yesterday we once again resumed Daylight Saving Time – which, at least in theory is supposed to save energy.  (According to a number of studies it also has the unintended side-effect of causing an increase in the number of accidents by altering people’s sleep patterns).

So to the floor of the Senate will come those champions to talk about their favorite subject.  (Actually, almost anything but Obamacare, the IRS or Benghazi is currently on the list of favorite subjects).  But don’t they realize that if their theory is correct, they, in the very act of holding this consortium of the witless, will themselves be contributors to the very problem they rail against?  I mean after all, the lights in the Capitol which would normally be turned off will be on for this event.

Of course, there is a solution.  Let the senators hold their marathon in the dark – which is a comfortable and familiar place from which a good portion of their ideas already come.

ART, TREES AND STUFF

This morning I was thinking about the many considerate and wonderful people I have known in my life.  I have had perhaps more than my fair share of those relationships (though in all honesty I’m not sure that one can ever have too many).

And I thought to myself, “Self, you’re a lucky person.”  I truly believe that.

It all started with my family.  Sure they were nurturing and provided me with the security that every child deserves, but through their example they taught me in a mostly unspoken way the “rules of engagement” which when I grew up seemed to be both generally expected of each of us and practiced by most.

The genesis of this post all began when I gave Gracie her morning treats.  I am always overwhelmed at the quiet dignity of this gentle giant.  How she doesn’t need words to say, “Thank you,” because the gratitude she feels is so apparent in her eyes.

Gracie

It’s as though she and all the other dogs who came before her somehow intuitively know how to act in a civilized and loving manner – a skill which we humans have to acquire through parenting and the example of others – and far too many of us have skipped this class entirely or at least need to take a remedial course.

But there was a second reason for this post.  I was thinking back a few weeks to one of the children down the block who graduated from high school and how her house had been TP’d.  Until I moved out west, I was unfamiliar with this apparently common practice which involves unrolling a great quantity of toilet paper and catching it in tree branches at the matriculating senior’s place of residence.

Now this bothers me in several ways.  The first is that, for whatever reason, I have always had a great deal of admiration, respect and love for trees.  Obviously they are the source of this toilet paper and I earnestly feel hurt that we consider their lives and importance to be so trivial that we can can wantonly discard their sacrifice in this manner.  The second is that this wastefulness seems so unfortunately characteristic of our ever-consumptive and under-productive view of our world and our respective roles in society.  The practice, other than for the two reasons given above seems harmless enough and, I have learned, is almost expected.

That doesn’t mean that I grieve less for the trees.  I wanted to share an image of a painting done by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna) entitled “Conversations with a Tree.”  But while I could find the work cited in his catalogue raisonné, I couldn’t find the image itself.  All, however, was not lost as I had purchased a print, which hangs in my home,  of his painting “Noah’s Ark” which bears the admonition, “You Are A Guest Of Nature.  Behave.”

friedensreich-hundertwasser-arche-noah

Whether the artist had the practice of TPing in mind when he executed this work is doubtful.  I’m not sure that the kids in New Zealand, where he moved and accepted citizenship, engage in the practice.  But his words speak to more than one impish prank.  They address an attitude toward life in general.

While the practice of TPing a neighbor’s house is relatively harmless and not yet construable as a Federal offense, this lack of respect (whether for Nature or for our kindred humans) has taken a nasty turn.  Apparently, some of our kids think it’s fun to create their own incendiary devices, housed in plastic bottles, and leave these on their neighbors’ lawns.

This was brought to my attention by a friend who sent me an email on the subject, and while he is someone whom I trust implicitly, nevertheless I thought I had an obligation to check out the facts (as any good reporter should).  Unfortunately, it took me less than 30 minutes to verify the information.

I am not going to list the three ingredients which combine to make this sort of “homemade Molotov cocktail” but they are items which may be found in virtually any American home or are easily purchased at our grocery stores.  When the container is picked up, the movement shakes up the contents, causing them to chemically combine and the result is that they heat up and can either cause severe burns or worse.

So my suggestion is, should you see a near empty plastic container which holds anything more than liquid in it, you should not try to dispose of it but call your local Fire or Police Department and have them handle it.

Having given you that unsettling information, I think it’s time to get back to the sense of tranquility that trees have always afforded me.  And what better way is there than with one of my favorite of the Impressionists, Paul Cezanne and his painting of “A Large Pine Tree and Red Earth.”

paul-cezanne-large-pine-tree-and-red-earth-1890-1895

I wish all of you a wonderful day.

REVELATION

Several years from now in America …

Due to the full implementation of Obamacare many medical professionals have either emigrated or left the practice of medicine.  As a result, even candy stripers are being pressed into service to perform some of the more mundane tasks with regard to patients and their needs.  What follows is a story about them.

Three very young nurses’ aides were in the hospital hallway awaiting their next assignment.  The senior ward nurse asked if they were familiar with prepping a patient for surgery.  “Mr. Robbins in Room 207 Bed 7 is due to undergo abdominal surgery in several hours and needs to be shaved before the procedure.”  All three of the young ladies said they had received training and one of them, Jeanine volunteered to prepare the patient.

Jeanine went in to Mr. Robbins’ ward.

Several minutes went by and Jeanine came out of the room and was blushing.  Her two friends asked what had caused her embarrassment.  She said, “When I was preparing Mr. Robbins, I couldn’t help but notice that on his “member” he had a tattoo.  It said, “Shorty.”  When I saw it I could hardly stop from laughing and I thought before I broke out into a guffaw I should leave the room.

Her two co-workers thought it was ridiculous that any man would choose to have a tattoo placed there so a second aide, Marta said she would take over for Jeanine and finish the job.

After several minutes in the room Marta came out, her face as red as Jeanine’s.

Jeanine said, “See, didn’t I tell you?  His tattoo says ‘Shorty’.”

Marta said,  “Well no it doesn’t.  Mr. Robbins got a little bit excited and I saw the full tattoo.  It says, “Shorty’s Bar.”  Jeanine’s eyes widened but the third young woman, Alicia didn’t believe any of it and thought her two friends were playing a joke on her.  So she decided to see for herself.

She went into Mr. Robbins’ room and in a few minutes stumbled back through the door and passed out on the floor.  When she was revived, her two friends asked her what happened.

Alicia, still gasping for breath said, “Girls, the tattoo actually reads, ‘Shorty’s Bar And Grill, Albuquerque, New Mexico’.”

I thought I would offer you a laugh to begin this post because what follows is anything but funny.  It is the story of how nationalized health really works when services are rationed.  It is the story of future medical “care” in the United States.

THE UNITED KINGDOM … TODAY

Following is a story about the “Liverpool Care Pathway.”  I was shocked when I read the article and would advise that it will be disturbing to those who are sensitive and might feel queasy reading about the way medical practitioners in the UK “euthanize” new born infants.

I became aware of this because of a re-blogged post I saw on www.Oyiabrown.com.  This blogger has helped broaden my perspective by offering a European view of the world and is a follower of mine and vice versa.

Before clicking on the link below to the story, let me repeat that this is not something that the faint of heart will want to read – as much as it needs to be read by all of us in America because I believe this will be our future under Obamacare.  Please understand that is not a political statement – it is a logical one.

Incidentally, this same procedure for ending the lives of elderly patients is followed as well.

I am not one of those single issue people whose lives revolve around Pro-Life or Pro-Choice issues.  I have clearly stated my position on the subject in many posts and explained my reasoning.  Some of you agree and others do not.  I respect your right to hold your opinion whatever it is.

I see abortion as a subset of a far deeper and more dangerous philosophy.

As I have cautioned, when we are willing to trivialize life (even the potential of life as in the case of an embryo), it is a short step for us to lose perspective of our humanity and to engage in the practices that the story describes.

I celebrate life in all its forms, human or animal or vegetable and even extra-terrestrial should I live long enough to encounter our brothers in space.  I have contributed financially to organizations that encourage animal conservancy and protection for many years.

To me it is amazing that many of those in that movement will go to extremes to preserve the egg of a Spotted Owl – which, of course, only has the “potential” of becoming an owlet yet do not extend that protection to a human embryo and even worse to a baby who has been birthed.

To me, greater than the one written by St. John the Divine, that is a true Revelation about who we are as a species.

http://vineoflife.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/now-sick-babies-go-on-death-pathway-doctors-haunting-testimony-reveals-how-children-are-put-on-end-of-life-plan/

I invite your comments.

COMMON GROUND

Every so often a thought occurs to me that, well modesty prevents me from calling it “brilliant”, but which I believe could fairly be categorized as “insightful”.  Just such an experience occurred the other day – and I’ve been mulling it around so that I could entertain you with it in this post.

I am disturbed that so much of the focus of this election seems to be centered around the skin color of the two candidates for President.  There is no doubt that many people who are black will vote for Obama for that reason alone.  It is equally true that there are people who are white who will not vote for him because he is a black man.  While I consider people in either camp to be racial bigots, their bigotry is not the common ground which is the subject for this post.

I make no qualms about the fact that one of the few gifts that I possess is a keen ability to do math and calculations.  It may be one of my few redeeming qualities.  And so I started to look at the President and his genetic background from the standpoint of pure mathematics.

Now the nice thing about math, unlike political races, is that it is one of those absolute sciences on which we can rely for truth.  In our base ten math system, the correct answer to 2 x 2 will be 4 whether you are an American, a Chinese, a resident of Mali or a charter member of Al Qaeda.  I hope we are all in agreement so far.  I’m further hoping that even recent graduates of our public school systems have mastered this basic bit of multiplication.

But then we turn to the more difficult and challenging question of percentages.  (Please don’t hit the “X” button at the top of the page quite yet because I know even those who struggled with fractions will find this easy).

Moving right along, it is the consensus of belief and without dispute even from Donald Trump that President Obama’s father was a black citizen of Kenya and his mother was a white citizen of the United States.  That would make the President 50% black and 50% white.  Are you with me so far?  After all, this is just really, really basic math.

My question – and I would love to hear from anyone who can explain this to me – is why is it that we consider President Obama to be a “black” man rather than a “white” man since he has equal parts of his genetic material from each of his parents?  Are we saying (much to the consternation of women everywhere) that the male’s sperm contributes more than just its fair share to the fertilization process than does the female’s ovum?  If we make that argument it’s a good thing that Betty Friedan has passed on as it would undoubtedly require her to write yet another book.

And so we find our basis for the common ground between your run-of-the-mill-black bigot who will vote for the President because he is black and your run-of-the-mill white member of the Aryan Nation who will not vote for him because he is black.  We have found a point on which these two groups are in agreement, that the President is a black man.

I hope that members of both extremes will have the opportunity to read this post.  I am certain that knowing that they have found some commonality will allow them to sleep comfortably – although the realization of their agreeing on anything may cause them to endure a horrible nightmare.

As for me, I am going to take the alternate position and, supported by the mathematical analysis I provided, I am going to insist that President Obama is indeed a “white man”.  This simplifies my life and my voting decision since I no longer have even to consider the matter of race as a potential issue.  Hopefully, this might simplify your life too.

So what it all comes down to for me is the President’s track record and the campaign promises on which we relied in 2008.  One of those statements in particular keeps ringing through my mind.  That was, “If I can’t cut the deficit in half in my first four years, I would not deserve to be re-elected.”  Rather than a fifty percent reduction we’ve seen a sixty percent increase.

Relying on the President’s own words, I’m compelled to vote for “the other White Meat”.

ON CARROTS AND LIFE

Mary was born, raised and lived her whole life in the big city.  She was industrious and held a good position and as she had never married, devoted herself to her work.

She was careful to make sure that she saved something out of each paycheck and had invested her savings wisely.  She felt certain that her savings, together with her retirement benefits, would enable her to enjoy a comfortable if not luxurious retirement.

One day she received a call at her office from an attorney, informing her that her favorite uncle, Steve had passed away suddenly and had named her executrix of his estate.  This news floored her as she had spoken with her uncle just a few days previously and he seemed to be in excellent health.  She wept bitterly at the news of his death as she and he had shared many pleasant evenings together at his beautiful and historic cottage about an hour’s drive from the city.

Mary made an appointment to meet with her uncle’s attorney the following day.  Much to her surprise, not only was he her favorite uncle but she was his favorite niece.  Uncle Steve had left Mary the cottage in which he lived as her inheritance.

Mary loved going to visit her late uncle at his home.  The cottage had been built in the early 19th century out of brick and flagstone.  It was small but beautifully picturesque, almost as though out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  After the affairs of his estate were settled, Mary began driving to the cottage as frequently as she could, usually every other weekend.

Uncle Steve was a gentle and kind man and at his funeral his neighbors attested to his good nature by fully filling the church at which his services were held.  All of them had the kindest words to offer Mary and his other relatives who had attended his funeral.

Like Mary, Uncle Steve had never married nor did he have any children.  He was from an older generation when getting married normally preceded having offspring.  But he was a very nurturing man and, perhaps because he didn’t have children of his own he turned his attention to gardening, raising some of the most wonderful vegetables in his community.  He always had an oversupply of this vegetable or that and frequently brought bags of them that he had freshly harvested from his garden to neighbors who greatly appreciated them.

Mary was an excellent cook and she noticed how much tastier the meals Uncle Steve prepared were using his own garden’s vegetables, than when Mary made the same thing using store bought produce.  She particularly noticed this taste difference in Uncle Steve’s carrots which were Mary’s favorite vegetable.

Mary loved carrots in whatever form they were prepared.  She loved the sweet taste and beautiful color of freshly squeezed carrot juice.  She loved making carrot salad with some golden raisins and slivered almonds.  Her neighbors in the city always were delighted when Mary would make a carrot cake and come by to offer them a few large pieces of it.  Whether they were steamed or raw, pureed or in a soufflé, there was no way that carrots could be prepared that Mary did not enjoy them.

Well, a year went by and Mary retired.   Her co-workers took her out for a very festive evening at a fancy restaurant and, to Mary’s delight, the restaurant had carrots on the menu that night.  After the many years they had worked together, Mary felt bittersweet about leaving her many friends at her company.  But she invited them all to come and visit her at her new cottage in the country.

So in mid-winter Mary packed up the remaining things from her apartment that she would need in her new home and moved to the cottage.  She looked forward to the spring when, keeping alive the tradition her Uncle Steve had started, she would plant her new garden.

As I said, Mary was a city girl and the specifics of gardening were new to her.  But she bought a few books on the subject and attended a class at one of the local nurseries to get a better idea of all that was involved in vegetable gardening.  Although she was inexperienced, she was bright and felt that she was up to the challenge.

Spring finally arrived and Mary, following the instructions she had received, had readied her garden to receive the plants she had bought.  She had purchased tomato plants, Bibb lettuce, a variety of herbs, several different kinds of beans and chili plants and had allocated space to each of them.  And she had, of course, bought an ample supply of carrot seed – the only thing that she was going to start from scratch.

The weather report suggested that the possibility of frost had ended and so Mary took her plants from the nursery and began placing them in the garden.  She had done a good job adding compost to the already rich soil and stood back to admire her work as she saw these little plants all nestled in their new beds.

Of course, Mary had reserved half the garden to her favorites, her carrots and, according to the instructions on the seed packet and the advice she had received from the nursery, had created three rows of furrow into which she placed her carrot seed and then covered them gently with earth.

Mary dutifully tended her garden, watering it in the morning and evening.  She could see the growth in all the other vegetables and herbs, but her rows of carrots showed no evidence that they were germinating – until two weeks went by.  Mary came out one morning and saw the smallest little green growths popping their heads along the three rows where she had planted the carrots.  She was overjoyed.

Pleased with herself, she continued her twice daily watering and could see how well her tomatoes and chili plants were doing, but the carrots showed a much slower growth than they.  Yes, she thought, the growth is now a bit taller, but I wonder how the carrots underneath are doing.  So she gently dug around one of her carrots to inspect it.

When she pulled up this carrot, she was delighted.  Although the carrot was very slender, perhaps only an eighth of an inch in width and an inch and a half long, it was truly a carrot.  So Mary gently replaced it in its little spot, tamped soil around it and went into the cottage do so some cleaning and washing.

A week went by and Mary noticed, when she watered the garden, that the carrot she had inspected did not seem to be doing as well as its neighbor carrots.  There had been no growth in its green top – in fact, it looked as though it was beginning to wither.  So she pulled that carrot out again and saw that the carrot had, in fact, died.

She wondered, “Did I not fertilize and prepare the soil properly?  What did I do wrong?  Are my other carrots going to have the same unfortunate end?”

So Mary pulled up the carrot next to the one that had died.  To her relief, this carrot seemed to be doing just fine.  While it was far from mature, it had grown to three times the size of the one she had dug up the previous week.  Mary breathed a sigh of relief and put this second carrot back in it’s place.

But as another week of dutifully tending to her garden went by, Mary noticed something disturbing.  The green top of this second carrot, like its neighbor, seemed to be withering.  So she pulled it out from the bed and looked at it.  Despite being larger than the first one, it too had died.

Mary suddenly realized why these two carrots had not matured.  By pulling them up, she had interrupted their growth and so she left the rest of them alone until they were ready to be harvested.  She had an abundant crop of her favorite vegetable and used them in all her finest carrot recipes.

Mary had learned an important lesson about carrots and about life.

Moral:  Whether it’s butterflies or blue whales or babies or carrots, most things, if left alone, will become what Nature intended them to be.  Whether or not that happens is up to us because we have the ability to make the choice.

A WINTER’S TALE

I must admit that my favorite season of the year is autumn.  Growing up in New York it meant I was in the midst of another school year which I loved, piano lessons had resumed, which I loved, and the leaves of the trees in Central Park were turning their incredible shades of gold and red, which I loved especially.

In addition to all these, autumn was a precursor to the Holidays.  When the leaves began their transformation, Thanksgiving and then Christmas could not be far behind.  And I always looked forward to those because there seemed to be such a spirit of gentleness and kindness that people naturally acquired during that time of year and freely shared with others whom they met.

When I was seventeen I moved to Chicago for college.  Like New York, Chicago had lots of beautiful trees which performed their rainbow dance in the same way.  But what I discovered was that Chicago, unlike New York had only two seasons -winter and August.  What had been a progression that mimicked a long term transformative counseling session in New York had been transmuted in Chicago into shock therapy.

Well, the advent of winter was alright with me as it was my second most favorite season of the year.  The fact that it seemingly lasted forever until the first few brave crocuses would poke their heads out of the ground in early spring in the park across from the apartment didn’t bother me.  Nor did the cold winds or the streets filled with snow, then snow with salt, then slush.  Because I had a defense against all these.  That shield which held off all assailants was flannel and it never failed me.

Most people are grateful for the weekend because it is a respite from going to school or work.  I never minded either of these and yet I looked forward to my weekends because it was then that I could set aside the business attire I had worn for five days and slip into a warm, comfortable, ever-so-soft flannel shirt.

Once upon a time Lands End had graced my mailbox with one of their catalogs.  Now I have never been someone who could be described as a clothes horse and I think their first attempt to gain my interest resulted in my placing this rather hefty document in the recycling bin without thumbing thru it.  But then they struck a chord on a subsequent effort.  There was the picture of a beautiful flannel shirt on the cover and it intrigued me enough to turn to that section of the catalog.

I bought four flannel shirts from them in various bright and vibrant colors, two solids and two plaids.  I remember removing them from the box the day they arrived.  Taking off the plastic outer wrapping of each shirt, the cardboard stay in the collar and removing all the pins which held the shirts in place.  I knew that I was going to enjoy these shirts.  Their quality was apparent in each garment.

And so began my love affair with my flannel shirts.  And the bond between us grew deeper with each washing as these amazingly soft shirts became even softer and more inviting.  While I could only wear them during winter, still they got a tremendous amount of use and were hung in a special place of honor in my closet.

After ten years of wear I noticed that the cuffs on several of the shirts had begun to fray slightly and the same had happened to one of the collars.  But I viewed this as a badge of honor – a job well done and lovingly performed.

But the frays got more noticeable, so I reversed the cuffs and the collars and held on to those treasures for another four years.  By now, with their frequent washings they seemed to me to be less like shirts than they were outgrowths of my own skin.

One day I realized that I had worn a thin spot in the elbow of two of the shirts.  But I still wore them around the house until the thin spots became tears in the fabric.  After fourteen years of a beautiful relationship I realized that my shirts had done their duty and been good and faithful servants.  So I removed all the buttons and turned them into rags to dust and polish around the house.  It was a sad moment when I took them apart – as close as we had been for so long.

Although for my friends in the northern hemisphere it is not winter, I am writing this now because I wouldn’t mind if it were.  Hundred degree plus heat becomes tiresome after awhile (which for me is about two hours).  Talking about winter cools me off almost as effectively as a quick dip in the pool.

My point in this post is not only to reminisce about my flannel shirt fixation but to speak of merchandise that is made with quality.  I do not know if these Lands End shirts were manufactured in the United States or elsewhere.  What I do know is that the retailer obviously insisted in providing a high quality product for its customers.  I think you would agree that a shirt that withstands the ravages of fourteen years’ wearing meets that definition.

This occurred to me this morning because as I put on a pair of cargo shorts which I had purchased a few months ago at Walmart I noticed that the cuffs were already starting to fray.  As I examined this I also noticed that the material where the cuff met the leg of the short was beginning to separate.  I don’t think these shorts have been washed more than five or six times.

I thought to myself, “Where were these things made?”  So I looked at the label and saw that they had been manufactured in Bangladesh.  Who knew that the Bangladeshis made garments for sale in America?  I certainly didn’t.

Now I am not trying to make a case against the quality of workmanship that is the output of the people of Bangladesh.  These workmen are doing their job with the materials that are specified in their company’s contract with Walmart.  I am sure that they do so in a very workmanlike manner.  But they are obviously starting with inferior materials – and the result is an inferior product.

If we think about it, Walmart which bills itself as the “low price leader” may well  live up to their motto.  But we should remember that “low price” and “low cost” are not synonymous terms.  These cargo shorts have a life expectancy of about one more wash before they start falling apart completely.

It makes a great deal of sense for us to stretch our dollars as far as we can.  But making decisions based simply on price do not accomplish that goal.  The difference in the value I received from my flannel shirts and my cotton cargo pants demonstrates that principle.  So I learned something from this and will not be making further purchases of cargo pants or any other clothing at Walmart.  I simply can’t afford to buy clothes that are that cheap.

This reverie about winter has made me feel a deep need for some spiced apple cider, so I think I’ll go downstairs and make myself some.  But as this is a winter’s tale as told in July, I believe I’ll serve it over ice.

And what better way to enjoy that than by listening to some Vivaldi:

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MY TOMATO PLANT (UPDATE)

Sometimes I put up a post that I think is one of the best things that I have written only to find the response from you, my audience, is about as deafening as the silence of a tomb.  Other times I put up a post that I like but don’t think will get much response, only to find it is exceptionally popular.

The latter is the case for the post, “My Tomato Plant.”  As it garnered a lot of interest I thought I would give you an update to let you know how things are going.  Of course, if you have been following along for any period of time, getting directly to the point is not my style.  But bear with me – we will make it there.

One of dad’s avocations was handicapping thoroughbred racing.  He enjoyed the excitement of watching these magnificent animals challenge each other and introduced me to the sport when I was around ten years old.  But beyond the thrill of watching them race I learned that he utilized this as a way to supplement his income.  Dad had developed a system – and that system generally worked.

When he was not out of town on business and the horses were racing either at Aqueduct or Belmont Park, on many a Saturday he would take me to enjoy a day at the races.  There was a ritual involved with the day.

First stop – White Castle to pick up a few sliders each.  (Of course, we never told mom about that as she considered it junk food).  And then when we got to the track we would each have a bowl of Chicken Gumbo Soup served with a large roll and a couple pats of butter (fifty cents) or if dad had a few winners we might upgrade to the Manhattan Style Clam Chowder (sixty cents).

Dad was very disciplined in his wagering.  He would only risk a small percentage of the bankroll he had accumulated on the races he had decided to bet.  And he adhered strictly to his mathematical formula – not feeling compelled to bet every race but only those in which he felt he had a mathematical advantage.

The net result was that a typical day might involve an outlay of around one hundred dollars and a net profit (even after White Castle, soup and the gas he had burned getting us to and back from the track) of around thirty dollars.  Dad kept rigorous account of his expenses and deducted them as a “cost of doing business” when he analyzed the results of his system.

Now this might not sound like a lot of money to you but let me put thirty dollars into the perspective of the time.  Thirty dollars would buy three hundred comic books or six hundred candy bars.  Thirty dollars would pay for dad’s carfare on the subway to and back from work for twenty weeks.  A high quality premium lipstick cost one dollar.  And thirty dollars would pay nearly one quarter of our month’s rent on the apartment.

I remember going with him one Saturday and everything that could go wrong did go wrong.  Two of the horses on which dad had wagered had won their races and then been disqualified by the Stewards for jostling other horses.  We hadn’t had a winner all day and I could tell that dad was questioning his handicapping abilities and feeling frustrated.  We weren’t going to bet the eighth race and that left us only the ninth to try to recover from what had been a very disappointing day financially.

The eighth race had finished and dad turned to me.  He folded  up his racing form and put it in his pocket and said, “Things aren’t working out today.  There are days like that.  So why don’t you pick our horse for the ninth race?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted that responsibility.  In fact, I was sure that I didn’t.  But I thought if dad had enough confidence in me to try to pick a winner I was going to do that.  (Of course, my “system” was picking the prettiest horse in the race who wore the nicest colors).

Ten minutes before the race the horses came out on the track for the post parade.  The number four horse was a beautiful grey.  He was wearing colors of emerald green and white and held his head high as he pranced in front of us.  “Number four, Daddy,” I said.

“OK.  Number four it is.”

Dad went off to place our bet and it was at that point that I looked up at the tote board.  The horse I had selected was the longest shot in the race – ultimately going off at 32-1.  My heart sank as I realized that I had sealed our fate of having a losing day.

The race began and our horse got off to a good start but was being challenged by  the favorite which was a beautiful chestnut mare.  The two horses dominated the race and it was obvious that, barring anything unusual, one of these two would be the winner.  The announcer, Fred Capacella did his usual superb job of calling the race and heightening the excitement of the audience.

It came down to the stretch, the two horses battling each other, gaining and losing advantage, and then they crossed the finish line – a photo finish.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hold all tickets,” Mr. Capacella said over the loud speaker system.  My heart was pounding.  I thought the other horse had won – but I couldn’t tell from where we were sitting, a little before the finish line.

When the Stewards finished their review, they put up the four horse as the winner.  We had won – and despite a terrible day took home a net profit of $3.25 after deducting all expenses.

Getting back to my tomato plant, there are still fifteen fruit on it and she is doing her best given the weather we’ve had.  These tomatoes are smaller than the first crop which I attribute to the 110 degree plus weather we endured for a week which coincided with the formation of the fruit.  One is beginning to ripen and is only twice the size of a cherry tomato.  Others on the vine are still green and appear to be growing and are much larger.  So I am sticking to my discipline of giving her filtered water morning and evening and offering her a few kind words at each feeding.  We’re both trying to do our part.

By the way, the reason that I devoted most of this post to our day at the races was that it taught me an important lesson both about life and tomato growing.

The name of the horse I selected in the ninth race was, “Keep Pitching.”

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