I’m a Jewish white boy who was raised in an
upper middle class suburb outside of New York City where almost no black people
lived. I say almost, because there was one black student by the name of Sam
Houston in my class in grammar school.
The Houston family lived at the north edge of
town on a road running… Read the rest
I first met Jacques Lehmann and Katou Fournier when they walked
into my booth at the New York Stationary show in the early 1980s. At that time
conventions in New York were held at the Coliseum, a multi-story building with
escalators located at Columbus Circle, where the 55-story Time/Warner tower now… Read the rest
When I was just a wee lad seven decades ago, Sundays were
different than any other day of the week. For many Americans, Sundays were a
day for Church or Temple; we were not a religious family, however, and Sunday
services played no major part in my upbringing. What made Sundays different was
1967 was one hell of a year. I’ll try to make it short. It broke open in February, six weeks into my second semester at Rhode Island School of Design; the art school administration, in an attempt to purge hippies, used rule 153.b. in the college handbook to… Read the rest
People like to take care of living things, like plants or pets. Watching plants or animals grow and change stimulates physical and emotional reactions only possible between living things. A pet rock may be attractive and a cute idea, but little more.
When I gaze up into the trees from my backyard I’m always struck by the ways they grow into and towards the light. A very large red-barked Eucalyptus over nine-stories tall in my neighbor’s yard dominates the sky from down below, its silver-colored leaves shimmering in the sunlight. In … Read the rest
The 60s changed my life, or more correctly, the 60s changed my mind. I am a member of the “love generation”, that cohort of baby boomers who discovered that a sacred presence permeates all things, that words can never do it justice and that one of its manifestations is life.
I recently returned from a five-day convention of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, held in Tempe, Arizona. That’s right, I’m a cactus and succulent nerd. For the past forty years I’ve been growing and collecting cactus and succulents, and some of the very first plants… Read the rest
Like many, I find myself thinking about how best to resist the powerful emergence of reactionary, right-wing politics in America, and I’ve decided to go with the Our Gang School of Political Resistance. It’s an approach that worked wonders… Read the rest
I recently went back east to attend my 50th high school reunion. I’ve attended other reunions; the 20th and the 40th, so I’ve had contact with some classmates over the years. This time, however, quite a few former students showed up who have never attended a reunion before. Accordingly,… Read the rest
When I was eight both of my grandfathers were sixty, which in 1956 actually was old. They were already stoop-shouldered and mostly liked to sit shirtless in lawn chairs in the hot sun for hours, smeared with sun tan oil. They wore suspenders and their pant-waists rose almost to their chests. Sometimes… Read the rest
I know it sounds like the name of some aggressive law firm, but Mean and Hurtful is the way we sometimes treat each other. Exposure to the news is most often how I witness Mean and Hurtful, but the other evening I unexpectedly found myself on the direct receiving end of such behavior.
I love to read books; pencil in hand I underline points and passages that strike me as important, add margin notes, and often return to read significant portions over again. I do some reading online, but for me it’s no substitute for resting a book on my lap for hours.
I’m a confessed plant lover, what my late friend Keith Cahoon called a “Hortisexual.” This passion does not include sex, but has led to what I’ve called the infidelity of “Multiple Simultaneous Relationships with Plants.” Though I’ve never cheated… Read the rest
My granddaughter, aged seven, and I were watching an animated movie about a curious fairy who is told by her Fairy Master not tamper with Pixie Dust. She does, of course, and an accident caused by one of her experiments wreaks havoc with the Fairy Village.
Among the plants in my greenhouse are many in the Gasteria family, a type sometimes called “Cow’s Tongue” due to their thick stems, lack of leaves and dappled surface coloration. Many Gasterias display varying patterns of white spots on green backgrounds, which vary from species… Read the rest
I remember a childhood cartoon in which the main character – it could have been Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny – found himself in the middle of a struggle between a little devil and a little angel version of himself, each of which sat on one of his shoulders. The little devil tempted him to indulge … Read the rest
I’ve come to hold synchronicity in high regard. Coincidence is too light a word for the ways in which waves of information sometimes pass through human culture: signaling a simultaneous, penetrating and all-pervasive coming together of cause and effect that verges on clairvoyance.
I’ve spent considerable time with my granddaughter watching Sponge Bob Square Pants, the kids’ cartoon show featuring an ensemble of recurring characters living in the undersea fantasy town of Bikini Bottom. It’s wacky, weird and colorful, but also presents a coherent vision of moral character … Read the rest
There’s a lot in a name, and potentially, even more in a nickname. Given names often reveal seemingly mysterious connections to the meaning of each life; Cutters who are surgeons, Woods who are carpenters and so forth. Nicknames, on the other hand, are bestowed later in life, and associated with physical… Read the rest
No, this is not the first line of a Henny Youngman joke (if you don’t know who he was, Google him, the King of the one-liners), it’s an honest question. You see my wife is descended on both sides of her family from Puritans, one of whom came on the Mayflower. She’s traveled even farther back in time, and viewed… Read the rest
“Ashes to ashes, shed to shed.” So go the notebooks of Von Meier. For over 40 years my friend Kurt von Meier kept a daily notebook. A compulsive documentarian, he stored his filled notebooks in file boxes, and as they accumulated, placed the boxes in a shed in his backyard. When he died in 2011 the thought… Read the rest
Conventionally, time as we know it is a socially-constructed artifact of civilization. Subject to the application of widely differing schemes, intervals, periods, adjustments and methods of tracking, time has been variously rendered according to the seasons, phases of the moon, growth habits… Read the rest
“But words will never hurt me,” says the childhood aphorism, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Try yelling “oatmeal!” in crowded theater and watch nothing happen but annoyed stares and admonitions to please be quiet. Yell “fire!” and watch chaos erupt.
Of all the difficult things in the world, watching myself get old and decrepit will surely rank among the toughest. Unless I keel over and suddenly expire, fate dictates I will likely suffer indignities of pain, weak bones, altered gait, low energy, debilitating disease, and/or dementia before death… Read the rest
Death often arrives unannounced, of course, and at my age more frequently. This past year has brought the passing of family and most recently my dearest friend of 41 years, Kurt von Meier. Kurt was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. Even as he grew older, he never stopped being a surprise. … Read the rest
I know it’s inexplicable and defies understanding, but somehow I received an email from the distant future yesterday! From what I’m told, it’s traveled 36 light years (roughly 212 trillion miles) to reach my desktop, from the constellation Vega. As I said, it’s inexplicable. It’s from a young woman… Read the rest
I’ve been back in New York City for a while visiting my mother. She’s nearing 89-years-old, slowing down and not quite up to whipping up a big dinner like she used to, so we’ve been going out to eat quite a bit. Having run the gamut of neighborhood joints during the week, coming up with someplace exciting … Read the rest
Ringing, actually. Like millions of others, I suffer from tinnitus, in my case a continuous squeal of high-pitched hissing, sounding much like the steam valve in a turn-of-the-century radiator I lived with in my first one-room apartment in New York.
It’s said humor is tragedy revisited, like slipping on a banana peel or getting your foot stuck in metal bucket. It’s not very funny while it happens, but gets funnier when retold or remembered. I keep trying to find the humor in everyday tragedy, something I learned … Read the rest
My mother will be 89-years-old this year, and during a recent visit I suggested we rent a car, drive to New Rochelle from Manhattan, and take a look at the house she grew up in. I’d never seen the house at 10 Argyle Avenue, and my mother had not been back to see it in 80… Read the rest
As a bull facing certain death stubbornly raises its head one last time, kicks up dust and charges the Matador, so my Brooklyn-born father faced his own end; ninety-one years old, and he truly thought he’d never die. “Why is this happening to me?” he asked me while hospitalized,… Read the rest
“You are a very strange man.” My wife Norma is smiling at me and gently shaking her head. Her comment follows my latest effort at romance. “Inherent non-locality means that when we kiss the entire universe is involved,” is what I said. Admittedly, this does not have the poetic charm of Shakespeare’s sonnets.… Read the rest
Our granddaughter Isabelle loves to paint. She’ll be three years old in late February, and seems to have gravitated to making art. Unconstrained by matters of self-criticism, perfectionism, or rules of any kind, her work is completely expressive, uninhibited and spontaneous. Watching her playfulness… Read the rest
I don’t watch too many television shows, but I’m hooked on Mad Men. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, where my businessman father lived the Mad Men life alongside the other post war executives.
A episode this season featured scenes in a restaurant called The Forum of … Read the rest
Many of the most moving moments during the last weeks of my father’s life were experiences of hospice. In this age of modern medicine where every effort is used to successfully prolong life, hospice instead focuses patient comfort and dignity.
Prolonging life, even when it comes at the high cost of family… Read the rest
Having never been to Las Vegas my wife and I planned a visit to celebrate my birthday. We felt excitement mixed with horror; and every friend we told about our plan reacted with: “You’re kidding!” But kidding we were not. Like Ishmael… Read the rest
I had a lunch date with a friend in San Francisco last week at Green’s in Ft. Mason. I hadn’t been there in years, and the entrance to Ft. Mason had been re-engineered, requiring me to find my way to the new entrance. As I ducked through the Safeway parking lot, a fellow in white pick-up pulled up to my passenger… Read the rest
My wife says I remind her of the story of the princess and the pea, the parable about making a big deal about nothing. It’s true I am a picky person, though I prefer to think of my self as discerning. That distinction notwithstanding, there are some complaints that I find perfectly reasonable, and among … Read the rest
Dogs Howl. A pink twilight speaks of rain. The ground, dear one, Is always shaking.
My wife’s sister and our niece were the first to join us a decade ago, moving to town four blocks northwest of us. It turns out she and her daughter were an advanced guard; over the last six months our family clan has continued… Read the rest
I have an orderly mind but a disorderly desk. In this, I think, I am not alone. There are those, to be sure, whose desks are neat and tidy, pens and pencils standing upright in a cup like good little soldiers, perhaps an in-box holding one or two pieces of paper. This, however, is not my desk. My desk has piles.… Read the rest
“Hello, this is Larry. Hi Mom, hold on, my other line is ringing.” “Hello, this is Larry. Hi Bill, hold on for a minute, my cell phone is ringing.” “ Hello, this is Larry. Oh hi, Amy, can you believe I’m talking on two other phone lines? Can I call you back? Oh, OK, then. I’m putting you on hold.”
If there is a heaven, and many believe there is, it has a hot tub. Three hundred years ago there were perhaps ten or twenty people in the entire world, kings and queens all, who at any hour day or night could lower themselves into a piping hot tub of clean water. Those hot tubs of old required the constant toil… Read the rest
Our granddaughter Isabelle is now two years old, speaking in sentences and learning how to work with the world. Along the line she started calling others “honey,” most likely because that’s what she’s been called; either that or in a past life she was a coffee shop waitress. In any case, when Isabelle … Read the rest
My old man, he’s a corker, always ready with the comeback line. Take the time we were at the airport; he’s in a wheel chair being pushed by a hyper-active airport employee and I’m power-walking alongside while lugging my Eddie Bauer bag from the gate to the curb.
I recently returned from my annual silent retreat in Colorado. I continue to be fascinated by what happens when my mouth is shut. I have an active mind prone to playful ideas and deep inquiry, and when they surface, like many I am inclined to share them with others. Deprived of this option through the discipline… Read the rest
I recently went shopping with my friend, Mr. Peach. Peach is not his real name, of course, it was bestowed upon him by a confused foreign government which upon welcoming him to an international event left him an envelope addressed to “His Divine Excellency, Mr. Peach.” Such is the nature of diplomacy.… Read the rest
I am walking downtown in a pleasant cosmopolitan city, perhaps Portland or some other northwestern community. I notice that a light-rail transportation system is in full operation, and crowds of people are hustling and bustling, as they tend to do in active metropolitan spaces. Moving into the swirl,… Read the rest
My father recently turned ninety. He’s had a rough couple of years, progressively losing much of his hearing and his eyesight. Neither entirely deaf nor blind, his deficiencies are nonetheless significant enough that he can no longer read and must wear hearing aids in both ears. His gait has slowed … Read the rest
It’s been 36 long years since tiny feet pressed against my back in bed in the middle of the night, to say nothing of little arms wrapped ‘round my neck and kisses planted on my cheek for absolutely no reason whatsoever. There is nothing like a 13-month-old granddaughter to crack open your heart. Watching… Read the rest
One of the challenges of writing a 550-word column for general consumption is finding the proper balance between simplicity and depth. The discipline of 550 words imposes a limitation not unlike that of an artist’s canvas, that is to say,… Read the rest
I receive a fair number of reader comments about my columns, mostly appreciative, and occasionally not. While notes of appreciation are a pleasure to receive and easy to respond to, nasty notes are a challenge.
During my twelve years in public office, I learned to roll with the punches. After a few unsettled… Read the rest
Over the past several years I have become enormously fond of drinking tea. My father used to drink tea each morning, and I remember as a boy joining him at breakfast with a cup. I didn’t really enjoy the tea, but I enjoyed sitting with him sipping Lipton’s and feeling grown up.
At one time people’s names were a reflection of their role within society and culture, not simply historical surnames passed on by tradition and birth. Accordingly, the Colliers were the makers of charcoal, the Coopers were the makers of barrels, the Smiths were the forgers of… Read the rest
I recently enjoyed my five-year colonoscopy. OK, enjoyed is not the correct term; endured is more like it.
Five years ago, I had to drink what seemed like a bathtub’s worth of putrid liquid, but they’ve made great progress. This time I only had to drink half a bathtub, and the flavor was lemon-lime, not … Read the rest
The plant kingdom predates animals by millions of years, and trees are ancient masters of survival, the oldest among them estimated at 6,000 years. Without trees, human beings never would have survived. What appears to us as our mastery of the plant kingdom is more likely the opposite. Just ask an ear… Read the rest
As the world economy continues its tailspin, like many, I am wondering how we got into this mess. While it’s easy to point fingers and demonize politicians and government, target deregulation and find fault in the global capitalist system, assigning blame is always easy when we look outside ourselves.… Read the rest
When contemplating 9/11 many terrible things come to mind: The mind-numbing footage of two jets crashing into New York’s twin towers and the towers’ collapse mere hours later, the Pentagon on fire due to another attack-the crash of flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania-the loss of life, the utter failure… Read the rest
Every once in a while something meaningful appears on television, and at present it is a series on AMC called “Mad Men.” Taking place in the very early ‘60s and set in New York, the fictional series written by Mathew Weiner of HBO’s “The Sopranos” explores the period’s… Read the rest
While walking with my friend Stanley a few months ago, I happened upon an orphaned hardball in the gutter. It’s been 45 years since I held a hardball, sensed the stitches snaking around the leathery surface and grasped its perfect hand-held size.
I tossed the ball to Stanley. “When’s the last time you … Read the rest
When I first joined the Sierra Club in 1975, I fully understood that being labeled an “environmentalist” was not too far from being labeled an “anarchist.” This was, after all, in the era when “tree-hugger” was not a compliment, and many thought that recycling was about riding used bicycles. Despite… Read the rest
For the past seven years I have enjoyed the dependable companionship of a pacemaker. I’m not talking about a life coach or a personal trainer; I’m talking about a pacemaker that is actually wired into the chambers of my heart and makes it beat.
Actually, it’s more than just a pacemaker, it is also an implanted… Read the rest
I spent last week attending to my ailing 88-year-old father. Generally good-natured and optimistic, he had been laid low by a sudden painful swelling in his right knee, accompanied by weakness, chills and shortness of breath. The combination landed him in the hospital for a week, where it was determined… Read the rest
For my birthday last September my mother sent me a 100 percent cotton, lovely pink shirt. Unfortunately, she imagined I was 40 pounds heavier than I am, and the lovely pink shirt from J. Crew was the size of a small tent. I forgot to bring it with me when I visited New York in April, but threw it in my suitcase… Read the rest
I lived in the suburbs of New York City for the first 18 years of my life. Our family home was bordered on both sides by other homes built in the ‘40s, but our backyard was adjacent to undeveloped land we called “the woods.”
When I was 22 years old my wife, newborn daughter and I moved into a small 1950’s house in the eastern hills above St. Helena. We shared the old orchard property with the original 1920 farmhouse, in which three elderly… Read the rest
There’s a lot to see and do in New York City, my home town: Music at Lincoln Center, exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum, theater on Broadway and foods from every corner of the globe. And of course, there is also my family. But honestly, the main reason I visit New York is for a great shine.
In a rather remarkable transformation of the ordinary into the precious, wine, tea, chocolate, pots and pans – even salt and pepper – are no longer just everyday things but have become symbolic indicators of the superior life. Williams-Sonoma founder… Read the rest
For people like me, who have implanted medical devices such as pacemakers, a trip through the airport has become a bit surreal. Unlike the general public, we “bionic” humans must identify ourselves and submit to a full-body search by a uniformed member of the Transportation Security Administration.… Read the rest
Now that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has spilled his guts about his obsessions, it’s high time for those of us in the public eye to come clean. So, here’s my confession: I have had, and continue to have, multiple, simultaneous, meaningful relationships…with plants!
How can one summarize the experience of 12 years on the Sonoma City Council? Well, for one thing my hair has turned gray. And, wait a minute… 12 years ago I had hair! Consider this; 12 years ago councilman-elect Sebastiani was 14 years old! Congratulations on your election, councilman Sebastiani… I will… Read the rest
In 1910, like a lot of other refugees from Eastern Europe, my grandfather arrived in America at Ellis Island in New York harbor. Twelve years of age, he had spent 38 days in steerage on a freighter, looking after his eight-year-old … Read the rest