Poem by Terrence Moore

“Walking” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…………?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………
faint lines traverse the hiking trail
perpendicular to the path
they appear unevenly
straight and narrow
indistinct and soft and lighter than surrounding earth
…………………………………………………………………………………………………

unobservant gods in higher realms
don’t notice or stoop to see
…………………………………………………………………………………………………
a nature searcher
used to watching for birds and animals in the bush
and insects on the trodden track
blinks in disbelief

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Is this phenomenon real
or am I just imagining?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………
Did some hiker
drag a small-fingered branch across the footpath
at irregular intervals?
For what purpose?
…………………………………………………………………………………………………
bending down
the seeker sees tiny ants
not as big even as the small black colonizers
occasionally on the counter at home
and not as many as those roiling around
a small morsel
…………………………………………………………………………………………………
these few move in fixed path to and fro
following pheromones
making their intention to get across
their existence
visible but barely so
……………………………………………………………………………………………………
Is it water from the stream on the right or
better seeds on the left?
Why so many different roads?
……………………………………………………………………………………………………
Why not take the highway laid out by other ants four feet further?
……………………………………………………………………………………………………
And how many ants does it take to change the color of the trail
if only one shade lighter than the rest of the dirt?
Do they kick up miniscule dust
that settles on the grains of sand and makes marks?
And how long do they have to do it to make the line visible?
……………………………………………………………………………………………………

What hardly noticeable evidence do we leave
on our community journeys?
With lines of poetry?
What marks, however faint—
what kicked up particles of dust—
enough stuff to startle a keen observer
who might seek an explanation
ask a question
while the rest of the universe
much further away and higher up
passes by without noticing?

tmoore revised 6/29/17

“Faint Lines” Photo by Terrence Moore, All Rights Reserved.
“Trails” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
“Labyrinth”  Photo by Steve Karbelnig,  All Rights Reserved

TREADING WATER IN THE NILE

Tiny slivers of my fingernails dropped in miniature new moon crescents onto some books lying on the floor as I clipped away. In fact, I was sitting on a stack or two of books. Meticulously snipping my nails shorter on the left and longer on the right, and pretending to be the great guitar player that I knew I wasn’t and probably would never be, I observed my buddy come in, look around with astonishment and sheepishly ask “Uh Rick, don’t you think it’s a problem?”

“What?” I said with as much boredom in my voice as I could muster.

“You know — I think you’re in denial, don’t you?” Bob persisted.

“No,” I snapped like a dry twig — “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” realizing the pun but deciding this was the wrong time to call attention to it. Desperately trying to change the subject, I quickly interjected, “I’m almost done. Let’s get out of here – want to go to Rudolph’s for a hot fudge sundae?”

“Sure, let’s do it,” Bob conceded with resignation. Phew, I thought with my chest thumping like a timpani drum and relieved to have avoided the topic once again. I was a tiny fruit bat narrowly escaping the razor-sharp talons of a famished hawk. Rushing to my Prius, we trotted across the sidewalk that resembled a lovely polka dot quilt from hundreds of tiny lavender blossoms that had fallen from the enormous jacaranda tree. 

Bob is simply mistaken – I definitely don’t have a problem and while I’m clearly not in denial, it did happen again tonight which freaked me out a bit. I promised myself that I had only gone in to look. That’s what I always tell myself but this time I meant it. Relieved, I had almost made it out of the store without one. I had glanced at a few but somehow—fortunately — I managed to put them down. Looking around, minding my own business, about to flee through the nearby exit and feeling confident, something suddenly caught my eye. Hmm, I thought, What’s this? Okay, I’ll just pick it up and look at it but I definitely won’t buy it. 

Savoring it meticulously, my curiosity compelled me to flip it over to make a full inspection. Inhaling every minuscule detail, I felt myself drawn in, like swampy rainforest quicksand. Then I heard a women’s voice on the overhead speaker–“the store will be closing in five minutes. Please bring your final purchases to the register.”  Great, I can’t stay– I need to leave. There’s no time to buy anything, I kept telling myself, repeating it over and over like a needle stuck on a broken 78 record.  Using my left hand, I struggled to pry open the vice-like grip of my right hand until it released the would-be treasure. I then sped for the nearest door to escape, like an adrenaline intoxicated gazelle with a determined lion in pursuit.

Then, as if an enormous rubber band snapped me back with the gravitational pull of a gigantic electromagnet on steroids, it was suddenly clenched in my fist again. Let go, I struggled and scolded myself, put it down. Put it down already. You don’t need it. You have too many. Enough already!  But then, that convincing soft soothing voice in my brain kicked in. “Ah Ricky, go ahead and get it. You want it. You need it. You can afford it. And most importantly, you deserve it. You absolutely deserve it.”  

No, don’t get it!, I pleaded with myself. The little angel and devil on top of my head were duking it out just like those incessant black and white Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid. “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. You’ll regret it.”

“It’s fine. Ah, come on, do it. You need it. You deserve it. And it deserves you. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

Suddenly the final announcement came, the woman now whining with obvious irritation in her voice, “The store is now closed and the staff wants to go home.” Uh oh- I was suddenly hit with an avalanche of embarrassment, realizing that the announcement was obvoiusly targeted specifically at me. My eyes opened wider than a deer in the headlights of a mack truck. I grabbed it and rushed over to the cashier hoping with every part of my being that she would reprimand me for being last and telling me to get out of the store and never come back!  

I hurriedly said to her, “can you put this back for me? – I know it’s too late to buy anything.” Placing it down on the table and about to sprint for the door, she reassured me, “no worries” with a smile more fake than saccharine. “We actually have a few minutes – let me ring it up.” I reluctantly handed it to her, and quickly shoved my chip impregnated credit card into the hungry card reader praying for the card to be declined. Trigger a fraud alert or set off an alarm, I eagerly prayed to a god I didn’t actually believe in – until now. Instead, it blinked “approved.” Shit, I thought. I need to get out of here.

The annoyed cashier handed it to me in a tell-tale hyper-obvious mint green plastic bag with the store’s name prominently displayed on it, more conspicuous than the hot pink “Girls Girls Girls” neon signs on Sunset Boulevard. Terrified that it would out me to the world, I anxiously whispered “don’t you have a brown unmarked paper bag?” I urged her as she noticed the desperation in my shaky voice. I was practically begging.

“No, I’m sorry we don’t,” she said with the same irritation that had emanated from the loud speaker. I quickly shoved it under my shirt, accentuating my blimp-sized belly that grossly expanded from all the crap I ate during the holidays. Scanning the scene in all directions, and hoping to avoid the nosey surveillance camera, I slinked out the back door like a mangy skunk avoiding a lurking coyote, praying to the same god that I didn’t believe in (just in case) that no one would see me. I rushed to get inside my car and quickly slammed the door.

Sitting in the car and catching my breath, I started to wonder, what’s the problem. I did nothing wrong. Then, with a tsunami of buyer’s remorse, I instantly decided, I will return it tomorrow- I will keep the receipt. But then panic engulfed me, like the static electricity generated by the Tesla coil at the Griffith Observatory.

Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

Would they believe me? Would they believe that it wasn’t used? Those employees are smart as whips — they know all about guys like me, I exclaimed to myself as I felt the skin-tearing sting of my own self-flaggelation tattooing its wounds into the keloid scars from my wounded past. They know exactly what people like me are all about, I thought, disgusted with myself. I pressed the Waze app on my iPhone, found the quickest way home, and I hit the accelerator. 

Going about twice the legal speed limit, I was moving along at quite a clip when suddenly, I noticed those ominous red lights glaring in my rearview mirror piercing my eyeballs like fiery hot lasers. Oh shit, I thought as my intestines clamped down like they were caught in the claws of a mammoth lobster. And the bag was sitting right there next to me, a shady passenger about to betray me and divulge my secret. I felt my venomous shame wash over me like sewer sludge. 

Sweat began to percolate and drip down my frowning forehead, stinging my eyes with its acid-saltiness. Should I tell the officer I have an immediate urge to use the restroom? Maybe he would just let me go with a stern warning. No luck. “Your drivers license, registration and proof of insurance” he said like he was pressing charges for a capital offense.

“Did I do something wrong, officer?” I said with the fakest sincerest voice I could manage to squeak out.

“You were doing 65 in a 35 residential zone.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t someone else that you’re mistaking me for?” I paused in disbelief that I had actually just said that!

He rolled his eyes and motioned for me to hand over the papers. I leaned over way more than necessary to reach for my glove box, hoping to hide the indisputable green bag which I knew would become “Exhibit A.” Grabbing my registration and insurance verification, I heard the officer say “what’s in the bag?” I gulped loud enough to confess the overwhelming guilt I was desperately trying to hide. I wondered whether I should try to distract him by telling him that his nose hairs needed trimming. When I showed it to him, he rolled his eyes, clearly conveying, “oh man — here we go — what a loser,” and then said with the threatening voice of an executioner, “I’ll be right back. You better not move.” 

As I anxiously waited, my thoughts were bouncing around as if they were riding the loop de loops of the roller coaster inside my head. Suddenly, the word “unmanageability” attacked my mind after apparently staring me down for some time. I had heard that word before – and it always seemed oddly connected to the word “denial” which I clearly knew I was not in. The officer returned quicker than I anticipated. I desperately tried to look disinterested as he demanded, “sign here.” I looked at the ticket expecting it to say “Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.” He handed me the contents of my glove box. But those words “unmanageability and denial” were still chasing me like a swarm of killer bees.

The warning signs were all there – as much as I tried to deny, rationalize, bargain- the conclusion shouting, screaming at me was that I am addicted, yes ADDICTED — to buying books. No, I can’t be. There must be some mistake,” I pleaded to myself. They’re so, uh, healthy. The rationalization wouldn’t stop like the nasty rash from a bad bout of poison ivy. Even to me I was unconvincing. I could picture myself sitting in a circle of chairs, like those 12-Step meetings I had seen in the movies. I facetiously quipped to myself, “hey, maybe there’s a 12-Step meeting called ‘BAA’ – Book-buying Addicts Anonymous. Step One – We admitted we were powerless over buying books,— that our lives had become unmanageable. Step Two – Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Wait a minute – am I insane? Could my life actually have become unmanageable? Could I actually be in denial? Where did all this start? How could this have happened? How did things get this bad? What am I going to tell my friends, my kids, my colleagues? So off to Google I went like Indiana Jones on a searching expedition, looking for hidden answers.

Books and Books – Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

My initial excavation revealed that there’s actually a Japanese word for the literary affliction of people who buy more books than they can actually read – the word is “tsundoku.” It seems that book hoarding is fairly common and certainly well-documented. And it also seems that bookworms like me tend to be fairly proud of what they have accomplished as their shelves fill to capacity. Yes, I was proud of all my books and convinced that everyone who came to my apartment was in awe of how smart I must be. So there it is — you see, I don’t have a problem after all. I was floating in a dead sea of relief like a buoyant brick.  

But reading on, my stomach sickened as I stumbled on something known as “bibliomania” which is the obsessive collection and acquiring of books. Could I actually be a bibliomaniac? I panicked and was on the verge of an anxiety attack. And I started to feel faint. Breathe, I need to breathe. 

As I pursued the underside of every stone imaginable, among the slimy algae covered words, I read that “denial” is actually powerful defense mechanism. Really? I considered it for a micro-second and then, my Doubting Thomas (as my mother called me), fortunately lit up my brain with the stark brightness of a flashbulb and I quickly dismissed it. No way. Can’t be – it’s just  psychobabble. My friends and I always tell  each other that we’re in denial about one thing or another — just like Bob told me.

However, reading further, I read in disbelief that a person in denial refuses to except reality or fact, acting as if the painful event, thought or feeling does not exist (gulp). In other words, the individual recognizes or is conscious of the existence of the truth or fact, but consciously refuses to except it as such (gulp gulp).  I have known and certainly heard of people who continually drink too much alcohol despite its negative consequences yet deny that they have a drinking problem. I pictured the world of addiction spinning on the axis of denial like a lopsided wobbly old globe. But book buying? Ah, come on.  I could hear my insides reassuring me that I should not believe everything I read on the Internet. But then, I stumbled on the fact that even Mark Twain, yes, Mark Twain, one of greatest authors ever- I have every one of his books (of course!) apparently quipped, “denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Oh, why wasn’t there a “Denial” character in the movie “Inside Out“? Did they purposely leave him out? Hey Pixar, I love you guys but is anybody home? Did you forget something? How was I supposed to figure this out? Where is “Buzz Lightyear to the rescue” when I desperately need him

But then I was reminded that Dr. Seuss, one of my favorite authors (yes, I have every book – of course!) said “Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and in all the nooks.” There you go. If it’s good enough for Dr. Seuss, it’s good enough for me. I immediately shut off my computer, and I even unplugged it, as I was absolutely convinced that I did not have a problem, nor was I in denial (or the Nile). And that was that!

But something was still nagging at me because during my exploration, my miner’s headlamp had illuminated something I tried to avoid – that addiction is often associated with a history of trauma. With my curiosity prevailing as it often did (which sometimes got me into trouble), and determined to make sure and prove once and for all that I was not addicted, I decided to delve into my history with books to see if I could have overlooked something. So down memory lane I went. Bewildered, the yellow brick road was slopped with mud and much bumpier than I remembered. It was riddled with enormous pot holes and detours. It caught me off guard. 

As it turned out, books and I had a rough start and actually, as it turns out, a traumatic past. It started with those stupid “Dick and Jane” beginning readers that I was unfortunately forced to read somewhere around the first grade. I didn’t like them or the icky girly illustrations. Besides the main characters, Dick and Jane, I remember Sally and of course, Spot the dog. And yes, I could and did see Spot run. But the dialogue was ridiculous and boring. “Look Jane. Look, look. See Dick. See, see. Oh, see. See Dick. See it Go. “Look” said Dick. “See it go. See it go up” (Yes, these are actual quotes). I didn’t want to read this stuff.  Where were the exciting stories about dinosaurs like tyrannosaurus rex and pterodactyls, or even pirates, cowboys and Indians or super heroes?   And so I didn’t do so well with reading – or just about anything else in school. In reality, I was lost but didn’t really know it at the time.

My reading was excruciatingly slow – a snail was a race car in comparison as I trudged through the thick muddy path of each arduous sentence after another. As I somehow progressed into the next grades, I continually found myself in the lowest reading group. Time and time again, I found myself in Group 3. I knew it – everyone knew it – and I felt like a loser, stupid, defective – it pervaded my soul. I was lost and didn’t know where to turn. And it didn’t seem as if anyone cared about why I was in the lowest reading group — it just was how it was. My teachers tattled to my parents, “Ricky has the ability, he just doesn’t apply himself.”

So instead of my parents trying to figure out what the disconnect was since I clearly was capable, they yelled at me repeatedly and told me, “you need to buckle down—and stop talking in class.” Whatever the fuck that meant. I was lost, overwhelmed, anxious, exhausted — I was patrolling the house every night to make sure my parents hadn’t set the house on fire after I caught them nodding off while smoking on the couch or in bed night after night (in the days before smoke detectors) –  why didn’t they get that? Anyway, enough of the pity party that I just threw for myself and invited you to. Thanks for coming. After all this time, the ache is still there, like the stinger left dangling in your arm with its stringy intestines still attached after a wayward kamikaze honey bee mistook you for a real threat.

My frustration about school grew like rat infested ivy. I was desperately trying everything I could to distract myself from the reality that I was hopelessly defective and in disrepair with parts missing and out of stock. To numb out, I became an incessant TV watcher. I knew the TV Guide by heart. Suddenly, I had the answer. It was easy. It was brilliant. I decided, with conviction, that I simply hated reading. Yes, I hated reading! I could feel my young undeveloped brain convincing my amygdala which was already swollen and oozing with shame more toxic than a baby rattlesnake’s venom. “I hate reading and it hates me” became my mantra. Why do something I hate to do? So I didn’t. And that was the end of it.

It was around that time that my grandmother was visiting from Chicago. One day, she serendipitously happened to ask me if I liked to read. What timing! I promptly apprised her that I hated reading, expecting her to marvel at the stellar reasoning that had brought me to this important conclusion. Instead, I immediately sensed her harsh judgment which I realized was working overtime. Her disappointment tore into me like shrapnel from a Jewish granade. Hopefully she hadn’t figured out what a fuck up I knew I was. After all, one of her own kids was a renowned surgeon and the other was a brilliant Juilliard grad. Now, try to compete with that! I wanted to slink down into the cracks of our tile floor as I melted quicker than the wicked witch of the west

So fast forward maybe about 20 years. Somehow, I found myself loving to browse in bookstores. The books were fascinating and every topic – well almost every topic — was interesting except murder mysteries and sci-fi which were clearly not my thing. I began to buy books. Lots of books. I mean, lots of books. And I intended to read every one of them. They began to pile up on my nightstand, they stuffed my bookshelves, my dresser, my desk, my bathtub and almost everywhere else. Just the same, I reveled in the fact that people seeing my avalanche of books would have no choice but to conclude me to be of superior intellect and of course, very well read. And that was the point. Sort of. Yes, I knew I was compensating for my shaky educational foundation, and probably a few other things, but hey, it worked – at least some of the time. 

While my busy life got in the way of my reading plans, I continually convinced myself that I would definitely find time to read my books, each of which I couldn’t wait to experience. Yes, really! And I continued to buy them and they continued to fill my shelves and stack up even higher on my nightstand. They began to overflow the counters of my dresser and desk, my living room furniture and even my dining room table. A few books were getting read. And I kept buying more and more — and more —and the collection grew- as my apartment got smaller and smaller. Some piles were beginning to touch the ceiling.  Maybe I could open my own library, I told myself with the confidence of — well, maybe it wasn’t confidence, but it was convincing nonetheless.

Running out of space, I realized that I needed to slow down so I put a moratorium on buying books. I felt proud of myself when I could go a day or two, or even three without buying a book, but then I would find myself sneaking into a bookstore where I would spot another book that I simply had to have. I was great at convincing myself all the reasons that I needed it as I expertly rationalized and bargained my way into more written treasures. Then, Amazon Prime came along and it became my new best friend. Now, in just two days, my lovely new bound acquisitions would arrive without me having to go anywhere. 

You can probably see that by this time, I had actually become quite the expert at book buying. I could go into just about any bookstore and within two minutes, or sometimes less, I would find a book that I absolutely couldn’t live without and couldn’t wait to read. Gazing at the book’s cover, my imagination ran wild, like a mustang caught in the loop of a cowboy’s lasso. I became mesmerized, as if ensnared in the trance of a circus hypnotist, his pendulum swinging back and forth before my eyes, enveloping me in the astonishing fantasy and adventure that I knew I was about to embark on, get lost and escape into. I had to have it. And I had to have it now.

I would decide then and there that no matter what I was reading at the time, I would drop it and dive right into my newest book as soon as I got home. However, by the time I arrived at my apartment, my left prefrontal cortex would kick in allowing me to become more rational and agree with myself that I would at least finish the book that I had been reading and then begin my new book. The others could wait. But in the meantime, I began to notice that I had dozens of books laying around with book marks in various places inside them where I had left off while opting to read my newest acquisition.

Besides Bob thinking I was in denial, he also thinks I have OCD — obsessive compulsive something or another. He’s wrong again. Doesn’t everyone want their new books to be perfect?  I mean, the covers and pages need to look like they just came off the printing press. No creases, tears or marks. Before every purchase, I look through every copy of the book I’m about to adopt (that sounds much better than buy) and find the one that is flawless — or sometimes, but rarely, the least flawed. Or I will simply go to another bookstore to find the perfect one. And when I read my books, I am meticulous not to bend the cover or mess up the pages, unless it’s a text book or something for my profession – and then it’s yellow highlighter city. Of course, I never, or almost never go back and review the yellow markings which by that point have more yellow on the pages than the plastic tape surrounding a crime scene.

As the years have gone by, I eventually found that I could hardly get in my apartment because my books were everywhere, floor to ceiling. One day, I couldn’t get to my bedroom – or the kitchen – or the bathroom. In fact I could hardly get through the front door. Standing on the porch trying to figure out a way in, I heard some noise behind me. Glancing back over my shoulder, I began to see many familiar faces of numerous friends and family members who had apparently been trailing me. Wait, what day is it? Is this a surprise party?  Then, Bob approached me slowly and said “Rick, we need to talk to you a minute – is that okay?”

“About what” I snapped quicker than a Victor mouse trap snagging a mangy rodent.  

“We think you know,” Bob continued sounding like a mortician. I had never heard him sound like this before. 

 “What do you mean? as I attempted my best worst impression of being oblivious. I looked with astonishment at the number of  people who had gathered, trying to avoid eye contact at all costs.” No one was fooled. 

“The books….”

“Shit,” I thought. No, anything but my books. I’d rather go to Detroit. (Ok, I borrowed that one from the Zucker brothers). I knew I was in the last chapter. Actually, the epilogue.

So, as I was sitting in the small circle of chairs, I heard myself say in unison with the others, “We admitted we were powerless over buying books — that our lives had become unmanageable. Came to believe that a power greater than our selves could restore us to sanity.”  As I felt the cold hardness of the metal chair against my back, I realized maybe they were right — that I had been treading water in the Nile.  Perhaps, some day, I’ll write a book all about it. The only thing is, I won’t be able to buy it.  

The Night Before Hanukkah- A Holiday Poem

This poem was originally written by Steve Karbelnig on December 24, 1995.  It has been slightly revised and updated and published here with his permission (All Rights Reserved).  We at the Cafe hope you enjoy it and feel free to share it with others.

The Night Before Hanukkah

’Twas the night before Hanukkah
And all through the land,
The latkes were ready
To be fried in the pan.

The menorah had candles,
The dreidels were near
Would Hanukkah come late
Or early this year?

The goyishe children
Were in bed thinking ways,
of having a Christmas
That lasted eight days.

They couldn’t stand fruit cake
Or egg nog instead,
It was dark chocolate coins
Dancing inside their heads.

Hanukkah Bush in Havana, Cuba (Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved)

My partner in pajamas
I slept while he read
And of course, all our pets
Were asleep on our bed.

When out on our pool deck,
There arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my blanket
What could be the matter?

To the sliding glass window,
I flew like a flash,
Opening up all the blinds
Stubbed my toe with a bash.

And what to my wondering
Eyes should appear,
But a turquoise blue Prius
Had parked very near.

It was shiny and sparkled
As bright as a star
With an Equality sticker
Right there on the car.

With a little old driver,
Cheeks redder than cherries,
I knew in an instant,
It was Hanukkah Harry!

His helpers came quickly,
Kippas holding tight,
He called them by name,
And it took all his might.

Now Hershel and Moishe,
Irving and Saul,
There was Max and ol’ Jacob,
He included them all.

They avoided the rooftop,
What a shlep, oy so high!
With a sack full of goodies,
Tons of dreidels, oh my!

Such a noise they were making,
I started to frown,
We were trying to sleep,
Couldn’t they just keep it down?

He wore a black coat,
His beard darker than slate,
And oy, for a Jew,
He was up very late.

His eyes how they twinkled,
A bit like an elf,
His kippah was crooked,
As I laughed to myself.

It was Hanukkah Harry,
What a mensch, what a guy.
And so many gifts,
Where on Earth did he buy?

It could have been Target,
Or Amazon Prime,
With two-day delivery
Would have taken no time.

He spoke not a word,
But went straight to his work,
He gave out the presents,
And then turned with a jerk.

Oy my back he exclaimed,
As he lit the menorah,
And saw Irving and Moishe,
Were dancing the Hora.

Then he left in his Prius,
To his pals made a kvetch,
Saul was dawdling as always,
Max was having a stretch.

On his radio he heard
as he thought with dismay,
The words in a song,
“Make the yule-tide Gay”

With the gifts to deposit
And resolving his doubt,
He had been in the closet
And it was time to come out.

So I heard him call out
Without even a pause,
That his partner in life,
Was of course, Santa Claus.

How wonderful I thought,
With a smile on my face,
This only could make
The world a much better place.

And I heard him exclaim,
As he drove off away,
You must never buy retail
Oh and yes, by the way-

Remember that everyone
Is as cute as an elf
And it’s always important
To just be yourself.

Have the Happiest Hanukkah,
With good health through the year.
And next year, if it’s Kosher,
I’ll use a sleigh and reindeer.

Mr. & Mr. Claus (Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved)

Review: Manchester by the Sea offers the potential for hope

Manchester by the Sea is a story that revolves around unimaginable tragedy, devastating grief and hope for possible healing. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who receives a call that his brother Joe has died (not unexpectedly) and goes back to his hometown to help out. Besides handling Joe’s affairs, an issue arises as to the guardianship of Joe’s 16-year-old son (Lee’s nephew), Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges and whether Lee is willing or able to take on this responsibility.

Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Lucas Hedges (as Patrick)
Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Lucas Hedges (as Patrick)

As the story unfolds, we learn that Lee has previously experienced a horrendous tragedy along with his wife, Randy, played by Michelle Williams. It is here that Affleck reveals his outstanding talent for his credible portrayal of a man who is attempting to move himself forward despite his nearly paralyzing grief and self-blame. Williams gives a predictably excellent performance and even though her appearance in the movie is relatively short, her presence is felt throughout the movie especially after the tragedy experienced by both Lee and Randy is revealed. Hedges also gives an excellent performance and the remaining actors do a very good job as well.

In light of this background, the dialogue continues with the ongoing interactions between Lee and his nephew, and the challenges they both face given the circumstances in which they find themselves. While the interchange is at times funny and even sarcastic, the use of humor is merely a defense mechanism as the movie tries to divert its viewers from the very difficult events and themes that have arisen and loom in the characters.

Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Michelle Williams (as Randy)
Casey Affleck (as Lee) and Michelle Williams (as Randy)

The tragedy’s severe impact on Lee has no doubt changed him forever. He becomes a loner, shut down and isolated. However, Lee’s interactions with his nephew fosters  the viewer with hope, yet who is left wondering whether this could be an opportunity for Lee to be able to find meaning in his life once again. Unfortunately, Lee’s devastation and loss are so vast, one cannot help but question whether he ever will be able to actually move forward at all.

The movie, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, while very well done and beautifully filmed, has a chronology that can be a bit difficult to follow at times. But overall, it is an excellent film and well worth seeing. It is one of those films that stays with you for days afterwards, pondering its themes and reliving its highly memorable yet disturbing moments while holding onto the hope that people like Lee who have had they worlds turned upside down and badly shaken, can somehow find their way back to a life that has meaning, love and renewal.

A Charlie Brown Halloween?

For many adults, it seems that they either love Halloween or they just don’t like it and try to avoid it. For me, Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. This probably has something to do with my birthday falling near Halloween so all of my birthday parties growing up were Halloween-themed and often costume parties. And nothing was more fun than trick-or-treating. Before going out, I would transform myself into whatever I wanted to be that year – costumes were serious business. 

Then I, together with a bunch of friends would go roaming door to door, singing in chorus, “trick or treat” and hoping for anything other than apples and raisins to be dropped in my bag. We proceeded through the neighborhoods for hours – literally until our legs were falling off – or so to speak. Arriving home late, I would then empty my over-filled bag onto our kitchen table and my mother would carefully separate anything suspicious looking and the rest was cleared for consumption. In the days ahead, I munched on the treats I had worked so hard to get except the raisins which I hated. And as the years went on, I continued to trick-or-treat in high school and then in college, even though some people would question “aren’t you a little too old to be doing that?

Ready for Halloween or Pie, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Ready for Halloween or Pie, Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

A couple of years ago, I moved to a house in a cool neighborhood in Los Angeles that I was convinced would be great for Halloween. I was excited at the prospect of having lots of trick-or-treaters visiting our home. Or so I thought. Last year, to my surprise, we had no trick-or-treaters. In my denial, I decided that we had gotten home a bit too late that night and had missed them all. But this year, I knew it would be different and I was going to be ready.

So a couple of weeks before Halloween, I decorated the outside of the house as if I was competing for the “best scariest house on the block” award (I also decorated the inside too but that’s another story). I had plastic skeletons’ arms coming out of the planters, and witches’ legs were sticking up out of the ground as if she had had a bad landing. 

Shortly after moving into our house, I had purchased the obligatory plastic pink flamingos to go on the front lawn. However, this year, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found online, black plastic flamingo skeletons that I bought and strategically placed on the front lawn near a “dying” pink one. It couldn’t have been more perfect. I carved a jack-o’-lantern and placed it outside along with a Mexican terra-cotta jack-o’-lantern that I bought at  Sunset Nursery, a favorite of mine. I even had scary Halloween sound effects ready to go on my iPhone so as soon as I opened the door, the trick-or-treaters would think that they had come to a real haunted house. I was ready and eager with anticipation.

Jack o' Lantern, Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Jack o’ Lantern with bad acne, Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

The back story is that I actually thought that I would be missing most of the trick-or-treaters this year because I had a work obligation that would keep me from getting home much before 8:30 p.m. However, I was thrilled when the meeting unexpectedly cancelled and I knew I could be home by around 6 p.m., just in time for the beginning of a fun and frightful evening teeming with trick-or-treaters. I couldn’t wait!

Fighting the typical heavy Halloween traffic, and carefully following the directions for the fastest route home as promised by Waze, I arrived just after 6 p.m. I ran into the house to carve one more jack-o’-lantern which I decided was necessary to ensure a successful night. Then, I carefully lit the candles inside the two real jack-o’-lanterns and the one made of terra-cotta. They glowed with the spookiness of a ghosts eyes. I carefully checked the placement of the plastic skeletons’ arms and the witches’ legs to make sure everything was as realistic as possible. And of course, the black flamingo skeletons along with the dying pink one were lurking on the front lawn for unsuspecting kids in costumes to be freaked out by the spooky and icky sight. I had purchased bags of the “really good candy” assorted packets of different kinds of M&Ms — only the best at our house – which I placed in a large bowl right near the front door along with a dish of candy corn, a necessity at Halloween. With everything all set, I impatiently waited and stayed close to the front door, my heart beating faster than a bat’s wings.

Before I knew it, I noticed it was 630 p.m., then 7, then 7:15, then 8 p.m. and no trick-or-treaters. What in the heck was going on? I could hear giggles, fake screams and excited voices up the street so I was relieved to know that they were on their way. I waited with anticipation but still, there was no knock on the door. Was our house just too scary and creepy?

I suddenly decided that what I really needed was to hire a sign spinner – you know, those guys that stand on the street corners twirling signs to get your attention to buy new homes? I decided that a sign spinner standing at our corner near the adjacent main street would do the trick (no pun intended). “Hey everyone, there’s great trick-or-treating at the spooky house up the street with the best candy” the spinner would convince everyone driving by. So I quickly Googled “sign spinners Los Angeles” (I Google everything) and found a few companies to call. Dialing each as quickly as I could, I found that all of them were closed — at 8 p.m. on Halloween? Didn’t these companies know that their services might be needed for people like me in need of trick or treaters? Then I blamed myself, “why didn’t I think of this sooner? I should have had a sign spinner. Darn!

Jack O'Lantern "Scar Face" Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved
Jack O’Lantern “Scar Face”
Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

At about 815 p.m., I decided to investigate the lack of trick or treaters further so I took a walk up the street to where I had heard the giggles and pretend screams earlier in the evening. Just up the street from our house, there were still bunches of trick-or-treaters doing their thing. As I walked along, I got funny looks from some of the parents, and even one mom asked me where my costume was? Did she really think that I was actually trick-or-treating? (Yes, I had actually and finally given up trick-or-treating a number of years ago — at least 3). After they walked passed, I had to stop myself from running back after them to tell them (persuade them?) that there was great trick-or-treating just a half-block down the street. I continued to walk through the neighborhood admiring (with some envy) the other Halloween displays, feeling secretly glad there hadn’t been a decorating contest after all.  I just couldn’t figure out why these kids were not coming down our street.

Feeling defeated, I went back home still holding out a little hope that someone might arrive after all. Unfortunately, no one did. At about 10 p.m., holding my head low like Oz’s scarecrow after realizing he couldn’t scare a crow, I went outside to blow out the candles inside each of the jack-o’-lanterns. The real ones had that familiar burnt pumpkin smell that is so characteristic of the end of Halloween. Feeling like Charlie Brown, the lovable loser from the Peanuts cartoon, I shut off the lights, closed the door and plopped myself down on the couch and gazed mindlessly at whatever was on TV, binging on M&Ms, candy corn, and the pumpkin seeds I had baked earlier in the day.

As I sat there, I thought there’s always next year. Maybe I can decorate our house even better. But then, reality set in, like the overcast skies that blanket Los Angeles in June. So I reluctantly decided that next year, I will forget about Halloween. My bah-humbug friends were right. I will just sit inside our undecorated house with the lights out, watching TV as many of my friends do while ignoring any knocks on the front door in an effort to avoid Halloween altogether. I’m done. 

The next day, trying to numb my stinging disappointment from the evening before, and feeling like I had been all dressed up with nowhere to go, I wandered into a store to look around. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a large display of Halloween items that were 75% off. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I should rethink this. So I purchased a few new cool Halloween decorations just in case. Now that’s a scary thought!

Perspectives and Reflections on Age and Aging

When you were a kid, do you remember how a year seemed to last forever? Three months of summer vacation seemed “so long.” And most of us couldn’t wait until we got a little older. At some point, we got “big enough” so that we could stay home alone without a baby sitter. And most of us couldn’t wait to get older so we could drive, stay out late, turn 18 and then 21 when all the fun really began, or so we thought.

Gilbert Chemistry Set
Gilbert Chemistry Set from the 1960s. Photo courtesy of  Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

I know that at some point during adulthood, I began to realize that the years were starting to pile on even though in some respects I still felt like a kid. I began to wish that my birthdays weren’t coming around so quickly each year. (Of course, it beats the alternative). I remember freaking out a bit when I noticed my first gray hairs (which I promptly pulled out), and then I started noticing that lines were forming on my face. Yikes! I even tried dyeing my hair but then I felt conspicuously like a guy with dyed hair, paranoid that everyone would (and did) notice.

I find myself very conscious of the aging process. I carefully study my face for the presence of new lines, or the status of those I’ve had. I evaluate whether they are getting worse, or deeper. And I have spent fair amounts of money on face creams in hopes they will actually work to remove the lines and wrinkles, or make them smaller as the labels always promise they will. I work feverishly with a personal trainer in hopes of stopping or at least slowing down the sags in my body.  I notice my legs are starting to get that old appearance and that the marks and bruises on them last much longer or don’t seem to go away at all.

I also notice the aging process in my friends and family members. I notice how their appearance changes, how their faces wrinkle, the graying in their hair and beard, the wobble in their necks and wonder if they notice these things about me. I hope that the lighting I’m in hides some of my own aging side effects from those I am with. And I convince myself that I look much younger than my actual age since I tend to feel fairly youthful, at least most of the time.

I can clearly remember that as a kid, I thought that people in their 70s, 60s and even 50s were old. I’m one of the people that is categorized as a “Baby Boomer.” Baby boomers are the demographic group born during the post-World War II baby boom which occurred approximately between the years 1946 and 1964. So as of 2016, us Baby Boomers are presently between the ages 52 and 70 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now that some of us Baby Boomers have reached these ages, most of us realize that we are not as old as we thought we’d be once we got here.

As we age, our perspective on age changes. Looking back, during our lifetime, there have been certain historic events involving famous people who were considerably older than we were at the time that they occurred. You will recall that at the time, they seemed much older than we were – because they obviously were. Or so we thought. Now that we are in the ages ranging from about 52 to 70, or older, we can look back at the following events and notice how our perspectives have changed. You will find that all of these people were surprisingly quite young when these events happened. Take a look, see if you agree and let us know your thoughts.

John F. Kennedy (5/29/17), our 35th President, was only 46 when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. He was only 43 years old when he was elected President of the United States in 1960. Today he would have been 99 years old.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1/15/29) was only 39 years old when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was only 35 years old when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Price on 10/14/64. He was only 34 years old when he delivered his “I have a Dream” speech on 8/28/63.  Today he would have been 87 years old.

Paul McCartney (6/18/42) was only 21 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. This is believed to be the same year that he wrote his classic song, “Yesterday” (although it is credited to him and John Lennon). Today he is 74.

Beatles
Paul McCartney, John Lennon and the Beatles. Photo courtesy of Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

Ringo Starr (7/7/40) was only 23 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Today he is 76.

John Lennon (10/9/40) was only 23 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. He was only 40 when he was killed on December 8, 1980. Today he would have been 76 years old.

George Harrison (2/25/43) was only 20 years old when the Beatles first played on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. He was only 58 when he died on November 29, 2001. Today he would have been 73 years old.

Brian Epstein (9/19/34), the Beatles manager was only 32 years old when he died on August 27, 2967. Today he would have been 82 years old.

Karen Carpenter (3/2/50) was only 32 years old when she died on February 4, 1983.  Today she would have been 65 years old.

Jim Morrison (12/8/43) of the Doors was only 27 when he died on July 3, 1971. Today he would have been 73 years old.

Janis Joplin (1/19/43) was only 27 when she died on October 4, 1970. Today she would have been 73 years old.

Jimi Hendrix (11/27/42) was only 27 when he died on September 18, 1970. Today he would have been 74 years old.

Mama Cass Elliot (9/19/41) of the Mamas and the Papas was only 32 when she died on July 29, 1974.  Today she would have been 75.

Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy (11/20/25) was only 42 when he was assassinated on June 6, 1968. Today he would have been 90 years old.

Marilyn Monroe (6/1/26) was only 36 years old when she died on August 5, 1962. Today she would have been 90 years old.

Judy Garland (6/10/22) was only 47 when she died on June 22, 1969. She was just 16 years old when she played “Dorothy” in the movie, Wizard of Oz.  Today she would have been 94 years old.

Elvis Presley (1/8/35) was only 42 years old when he died on August 16, 1977. Today he would have been 81 years old.

James Dean (2/8/31) was only 24 years old when he died on September 30, 1955. The movie, Rebel Without a Cause, which made him a cultural icon, was released about a month later on October 27, 1955. Today he would have been 85 years old.

John Glenn (7/18/21), was only 40 years old when he became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth aboard Friendship 7 (he was also one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts). On 1/16/98, at age 77, he became the oldest person ever to fly in space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. He died on 12/8/16 at the age of 95.

Neil Armstrong (8/5/30) was only 38 years old when he became the first person ever to step foot on the moon on 7/21/69. He died on 8/25/12 at the age of 82.

Sunset from Griffith Observatory. Photo by Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved.
Sunset from Griffith Observatory. Photo courtesy of  Steve Karbelnig. All Rights Reserved

Isn’t it interesting how our perspective changes when we see the ages of these historic figures? And yes, we are getting older, and hopefully it’s occurring gracefully. Our perspective about life also tends to change and improve over time along with gaining a little wisdom along the way as evidenced by our gray hairs – or at least I’m told.

Remember, “wrinkles should only indicate where smiles have been.” –Mark Twain.  “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein.  “Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them.” – Bob Dylan.  And do not forget what we learned from the song in Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress: “There’s a great, big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day. There’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, and tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

Theater Reviews

Here at News From The Pollywog Cafe, you will find a quick and easy way to find and check out local plays in and around the L.A. area. Below you will find some of our favorites and some not so favorites. No need to read those long rambling reviews, or a re-telling of the story – and you don’t have to worry about spoilers. We just get to the point so you can get to the play if it’s one not to be missed.

Since we grew up in the City of Los Angeles, we rate the plays by the grading system used by the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1960’s and 70’s (maybe they still use it.)

We grade: the story, writing/script, the production value, and the acting.  So an “A” is outstanding; “B” is good; “C” is average; “D” needs to improve” and “F” is, well, fail (or forget it).  We will also use pluses (+) and minuses (-) as appropriate just like they used in school.  Also, we may also use “E” for excellent; “S” for satisfactory; and “U” for unsatisfactory which they used, in addition to the other letter grades, in the report cards for junior high (that’s what they called it before “middle school”).

We admit that we are tough theater critics but hey, L.A. is one of the entertainment capitals of the known world and we know you want to keep it that way. We are experienced theater goers and have seen theater all over the world, including other renouned theater districts like New York City and London.  And our tickets are never “comped” nor are we ever paid for our reviews so you know that they are honest and real.

So here are some plays that we’ve seen – they are not ranked in any particular order. Look through them all and if you see one, let us know what you thought. Check back often for the latest and greatest reviews:

  1. Heisenberg by Simon Stephens; with Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker. This is currently playing at the Mark Taper Forum, Center Theater Group (CTG) at the Los Angeles County Music Center. CTG only tells us
    Heisenberg
    Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles County Music Center, 
    Cast List:
    Mary-Louise Parker
    Denis Arndt
    Written by: Simon Stephens

    “Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train station, Georgie spots Alex, a much older man, and plants a kiss on his neck. This electric encounter thrusts these two strangers into a fascinating and life-changing game.”

    Our ranking:  Story: A; Writing: A+ (Simon Stephens also wrote the adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which ran on Broadway and is coming to L.A. very soon); Production: A (simple and very effective); Acting: A+ for both Arndt and Parker – they are brilliant.  We obviously loved this play and it’s one of our favorites at the Forum this year.  Don’t miss it and try to sit on stage if you can for an even more interesting and up close and personal experience. Although there really are no bad seats at the Forum.

 

Restaurant Reviews and Ratings

Here at News From The Pollywog Cafe, you will find a quick and easy way to find and check out restaurants in and around the L.A. area. Below you will find some of our favorites and some not so favorites. No need to read those long rambling restaurant reviews – we just get to the point so you can get on with your day – or your meal.  At times, we will point out some great restaurant qualities we come across, like great service or ambiance, and of course, those outstanding food items that we wouldn’t want you to miss out on.

Since we grew up in the City of Los Angeles, we rate the restaurants by the grading system used by the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1960’s and 70’s (maybe they still use it.) We grade: Food, Price, Value, Service and Ambiance (Atmosphere).  So an “A” is outstanding; “B” is good; “C” is average; “D” needs to improve” and “F” is, well, fail (or forget it).  We will also use pluses (+) and minuses (-) as appropriate just like they used in school.  Also, we may also use “E” for excellent; “S” for satisfactory; and “U” for unsatisfactory which they used, in addition to the other letter grades, in the report cards for junior high (that’s what they called it before “middle school”).

The pricing is per person, as indicated right after the restaurant’s name,  ranked as follows: $ (up to $15); $$ ($16 to $30); $$$ ($31 to $50); $$$$ ($51 to 70); and $$$$$ ($71 and above).

It’s important to note that we visited each of these restaurants without them knowing who we were so we could get (and rate) an authentic experience. None of our meals were ever “comped” nor were we ever paid for our reviews so you can rest assured that they are honest and authentic.

And yes, we admit that we are tough restaurant critics.  But we are sophisticated foodies and have eaten all over the world so we know what we’re talking about. L.A. is a world class restaurant destination so we expect the best and we know you do too.

So here’s the list – they are not ranked in any particular order. Look through them all and tell us what you think. Check back often for the latest and greatest reviews:

  1.  Philippe, The Original –$ (While some pronounce it Fill-leeps, we say Fill-leep-ays because it’s more fun to say!) This is one of the oldest and best known restaurants in L.A. and has been family owned since 1908! It’s located at 1001 N. Alameda, Los Angeles, CA  90012, in the heart of L.A. just a block or two from Union Station (which you must visit) and of course, our beloved Olvera Street (which you also must visit and which has it’s own Haiku featured on L.A. Haiku!). This place is awesome and in our opinion, there in only one thing on the menu – the original French Dip sandwich. That, along with their homemade hot mustard will set you up
    “Philippe” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

    or a life-long addiction to this legendary sandwich. We’ve tried a lot and none compares. They sell about 6,000 sandwiches a week!  Philippe claims their famous beef dip sandwich is the original and we believe them!  And if they weren’t, then it’s a tie with the other guys (whose beef dip is not as good – trust us).  Philippe has plenty of other items on the menu – including other dips like turkey, roast pork and leg of lamb, lots of breakfast items including eggs and pancakes, chili, stew, beans, and other sandwiches but the beef dip can’t be beat! It’s an order-at-the-counter, sawdust-on-the-floor kind of place with character plus!

    “Philippe” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

    And coffee is just 45 cents a cup!  FYI, your beef dip goes awesomely (is that a word?) with their amazing cole slaw and fresh homemade iced tea. And don’t forget pie or brownies for dessert. So our rating is: A for food (A+ for the beef dip); A for value; A for service; and A for atmosphere (which is L.A. authentic vintage deluxe!) Enjoy.

2.  Bestia $$$$$ – 2121 E. 7th Place, Los Angeles, CA  90021. Have you ever heard great things about a movie and then when you saw it, you felt it didn’t quite live up to all the hype? Well, that’s how we felt about Bestia. But don’t get us wrong – this is definitely a place to check out. Bestia (Italian for “Beast”) has been recognized for a number of years now as one of the best restaurants in L.A.

“Bestia” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

It is owned and operated by Ori Menache and Genevieve Gergis, a great looking and highly talented husband and wife team, both of whom are L.A. area natives. (Genevieve is the pastry chef and we love the fact that she learned to bake while studying to be a classical French horn player. Ovi’s background and experience is very impressive as well.) Bestia is multi-regional Italian and very popular. It can be hard to get a reservation without persistence unless you want to go at an off-hour. While the food was very good and sophisticated, there were no wow moments or tastes that made us think OMG. It is located in the very cool Arts District of L.A. and the restaurant itself is upbeat, trendy, bustling, a bit phrenetic and noisy with a lively crowd filled with lots of hipsters and wannabes. However, unlike some of the snobbery and attitude that we have found at other hip places, Bestia is friendly, welcoming and delighted that we were there, especially for the first time. The restaurant’s look is mostly unoriginal as it looks like so many newer restaurants these days, done in early industrial, wearhousey (it is a converted industrial space), lots of exposed brick, rustic fixtures and plenty of reclaimed-looking wood. (Check out the unique display of bathroom tile!)

“Bestia” Photo by Steve Karbelnig, All Rights Reserved

The tables are close together and there is outside dining that is pleasant and quieter. Nonetheless, we did enjoy the atmosphere and it’s cool boisterous vibe. The service was excellent bar none and we did not feel rushed. The house specialty cocktails are delightful, unique and fun. The tasty food is presented very nicely along with a detailed description of each plate as it is served.  The wine list is more than adequate and mostly in the pricey range. So our rating is: B+ for food; B+ for value; A+ for service (the restaurant gets a B for keeping us waiting for 15-20 minutes past our reservation time); A- for atmosphere.