Friday, November 25, 2011

In the blink of an eye

My alma mater, Northern Arizona University, offered an alumni database CD a while ago. I support my school, and although I was not particularly interested in the CD, I ordered one. It took a few months, but I finally started expIoring it. I was surprised to see that a buddy, Jay, with whom I’d lost touch after graduation, had moved to his family’s ancestral hometown in Missouri. On a whim, I called.
What a conversation! But not with him, but rather with his amazing daughter. Had I a daughter, I would hope for a daughter like her. She was articulate, worldly, literate, confident. She lives in New York City and works as a teacher  the New York Public School System in Harlem. In Harlem! She had read all the feminist authors of my generation: Adrienne Rich, Ana├»s Nin, Betty Friedan. She was strong and analytical. Truly, I was impressed beyond measure away by this self-possessed woman. We spoke for more than two hours. She sent a family photo. (Jay had not changed a bit.)
She seemed to romanticize those early 1980s college days, just as I remember romanticizing my Aunt Rosalie’s college experience in hours poring over her yearbooks. (On the streets of New York, as a child, I once recognized one of classmates from her yearbook photo.) I mentioned the motorcycle and and old light-green station wagon. He still had that car!
In college, Jay was what would now be called a geek, a nebbish: a skinny computer science major wearing clothes a bit too large, riding around on a motorcycle. But oh, that motorcycle! The only time in my life I’d traveled 90 mph on a wheeled vehicle was as a passenger on that motorcycle. He hailed from a small town in southern Arizona, raised with his ne’er-do-well sister by his widowed Mom. The love of his life was a Thai exchange student at his high school.
One summer Jay and I (along with his sister) were housemates while he and I worked as summer interns. We remained buddies through four years of college.
Fast forward. Jay had married that Thai exchange student, and they were the parents of that amazing daughter and a son! I was so happy for him that his dream of marrying the love his life had come true. But then, sadness. They were in California, their daughter said, visiting Jay’s best friend, she probably for the last time together. She had late-stage cancer and did not have long to live.
In the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Author Debra Ginsberg

When I started this blog in 2003 as an outlet for my observations about waiting tables, a friend, Penny Banks Currie mentioned a book found onthe staff-recommended table at Borders bookstore in Austin, and was further approved by the "fun and unconventional" cafe workers there: Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, by Debra Ginsberg.

Ginsberg's nontraditional family moved from New York, where her father had worked as a waiter, to California, where the family established a pizza parlor. Her father determined that the entire family would become vegetarian. Ginsberg herself took a series of jobs waiting tables—in a upscale country club, in an Indian restaurant, in a beachside diner, in a fine dining establishment—and described each with a delicious combination of a technical writer's precision and dispassionate observation.

Debra Ginsberg has written several other memoirs and some juicy fiction—
  • About My Sisters: a recounting of the journeys and triumphs of her unique family and the closeness of the four sisters. One sister is a professional violinist.
  • Raising Blaze: The tribulations and insights about raising an autistic son.
  • Blind Submission: The protagonist works for a book agent, and gives a stark insight into the not-so-straightforward world of book publishing.
  • The Grift: A peek into the world of fortune-telling and its theatre, and, ironically, how real psychic ability ruins the career of a California fortune-teller.
  • The Neighbors are Watching: A pregnant teen-ager shows up on the doorstep of her father, disrupting the shaky order of their neat California neighborhood.
Ginsberg's writing glints with a sardonic edge and an marvelous precision of execution: entertaining and crisp and accurate. Not quite edgy, but not cozy either.

Everyone has had the experience of first hearing someone's voice, forming an mind's-eye image that turned out to be true to life upon meeting that person. Although Ginsberg and I have never met, her Tarty Queen gallery videos reveal her demeanor to be as I imagined in my mind's eye from her author's "voice." She is also an accomplished and creative baker.

Ginsberg's life and mine have some common elements. We spent the early parts of our lives in New York, where we enjoyed time at resorts in the Catskill Mountains; we are writers (although she is a published book author, and I've just published just a few magazine articles and spent most of my working life as a technical writer); and we both worked at National Park concessions (she, at Yellowstone NP, hated it; I, at Grand Canyon and Olympic NP, loved it). And, of course, we had both had waited tables.

Through her website, several years ago, I ventured a short communication to this accomplished writer. Debra Ginsberg responded immediately. Ginsberg was kind and more candid than I expected a published author to be. At that time, with just two (just two!) books published, she was seeking to expand her writing base. And she has!

Any book by Debra Ginsberg: highly recommended.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market

The idea-generator and mini force of nature Lita has turned over the reigns of the Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market to me. So far, so good. My goal is to set the Friends on a stable but upward course, and continue to support the vendors and to raise awareness of this wonderful market in the Bryan/College Station community.

The actual market vendors pursue their goals through the efforts of a parallel organization. The groups work hand and hand, with many common members. The Friends group organizes special events, promote the market at workplaces and community bulletin boards, donate produce to the local food bank, and even prepare baskets of produce to introduce local chefs to possibilities of the market.

A strong core group of volunteers and a dedicated student intern form the core of the Friends. One volunteer, dedicated to community service, is married to a professional musician. Using her contacts, she arranges for live music. A dedicated intern with a strong social conscience and fierce work ethic provides  support, continuity, and a wonderful flair. The vendors are engaging, hard-working, likable, friendly people. I have learned so much from them.

Now, in addition to setting up, staffing for four hours most Saturdays, then tearing down and stowing the information booth, I'm writing a newsletter, helping with the 2012 calendar a bit,  vetting mailing lists, dealing with grant reimbursements, balancing a checking account, and soon will be figuring a system for annual dues payment, recruiting business members, and worrying about finding booth volunteers.

A friend in Arizona, my hiking companion from 25 years ago with whom I recently reconnected, has also carved a niche as indispensable volunteer at her market.
For me, volunteering for the market a labor of love, of course, but often I wish I were, if not retired, working part time. With only 10 hours of sunlight per day, I don't see the sun between 7:30 a.m. Monday to 7:30 a.m Saturday. I can understand why some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with the oddly appropriate acronym SAD. Staffing the information booth, though, give me four hours of glorious sunlight.
Lifelong blacksmith and market manager Harvey Wise at the anvil.

Local farmer David Elsik with one of his "wearable produce" trademark gourds.


Local musician Joey McGee framed by custom tie-dyed t-shirts from the info booth.

Market manager  (and blacksmith) Harvey Wise, Millican Farms owner Tonya Miller, and Tonya's dad. Tonya has returned to California and will be much missed by the market.

Community Potluck

Every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and every Sunday at 1:00 p.m., a loosely organized group headed by community activist Dan Kiniry meets at at a pavlilion Neal Park, west of downtown Bryan for a community potluck. Everyone is welcome. Those who can cook or bring something to share, all the better. Those who are hungry or down on their luck are welcome. Most everyone comes for spiritual or social succor and sharing.


Much of the food seems to be donated by local restaurants and bakeries. Dishes and utensils are washed each week by a volunteer. Before each meal, the group holds hands in a large circle where announcements are shared, from the need for toiletries at the house of a volunteer who helps the homeless to campaign to save from demolition the historically Black Carter Elementary School.


Sometimes there is a volleyball game. On cold days, some people lay in a large fire in the grill. At initial inspection, it seems to be a motley crew: homeless folks, community-minded college students, church-group members, laborers, farmers' market volunteers, and other citizens.


But, to quote Dan Kiniry: "We are all brothers."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Contra dancing Independence Day celebration

To celebrate Independence Day, our Brazos County contra dance group started off the evening of dancing with a potluck supper. Actually, it was originally meant to be a cookout, but the county-wide burn ban precluded that. Fine with me! I'm all about potlucks, and I volunteered to organize this one. Organizing, for this group entailed sending out two e-mails and arriving a big early to set up tables. Oh, yeah: that's the type of simplicity I could get accustomed to. Only four parties responded prior to the even, but, as is usual, we had a cornucopia of dishes, from King Ranch Casserole, to fresh salads, to sublime desserts, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs from the oven. No grilling due to a burn ban in drought-stricken Texas.
The band, Jalapeno Honey, really got into the patriotic spirit with their red, white, and blue banners unfurled from their music stands. A gentleman playing the pennywhistle even sat in with the band! The musician who writes the arrangements even worked in a Sousa march or two.
This dashing fellow in Scots regalia has frequented our dances of late.




Monday, July 11, 2011

Treasure on road's edge

In the past six months, I have found the two cell phones  in locations about 100 feet apart on the side of the road as I was bicycling to work.
The first phone was an iPhone in December. I first saw the magenta rubber case, then the phone itself. (A length of purple nylon tulle netting in the vicinity caught my eye.) I charged it up using my iTouch cable, and found the owner via the Facebook app. The young mother was grateful to get the phone back, and I was happy to help.

Today, about 100 feet south of the first phone, I found a Samsung T-Mobile flip phone whose owner was obviously Spanish-speaking. I called one of the most frequently called numbers, which turned out to the be owner's wife. The three recent semesters of non-credit Spanish came in useful when we made the exchange at a fast food restaurant close to my office. She and her husband both worked at IHOP.  Apparently he had left the phone on the roof of his car when he drove to work.

Following is a short list of items I've fond while cycling over the years:

  • combination adjustable wrench/pliers
  • Leatherman tool
  • wood-handled screw driver
  • Stanley tape measure
  • wire stripper
  • lots of towels
  • wallet empty of money but with ID (after a diligent search, unable to find owner)
  • two driver licenses (both returned to owners)
  • briefcase and contents strewn over bushes (returned to owner)
Update 22 September 2011. Found a third cell phone, a Samsung flip phone, which the owner had no interest in retrieving, in a honky-tonk parking lot and about 100 feet from cell phone number 2. This phone belonged to an undergraduate student majoring in business. I texted one of his correspondents that his phone had been found, but instead of picking it up, he cancelled his phone service. If he had brought the AC adapter, I could donate it to the women's shelter.

Monday, July 4, 2011

My nephew, Max, will represent the United States at the International Six Days Enduro in Finland

Max Gerston, my 20-year-old nephew from Scottsdale, Arizona, a pro enduro motorcycle racer, was chosen to represent the United States at the International Six Days Enduro, the premier race in the world, in Finland this August.

Enduro racing takes place on an offroad course with obstacles. And what obstacles! Six-foot-diameter culverts, enormous tractor tires embedded in the earth, concrete walls, rock formations! For long distance, he rides atop, longitudinally, a concrete culvert. He also somehow scales culverts crosswise, seemingly traveling vertically. And don't get me started on Max navigating rock formations.

View a professionally edited video of Max pushing his motorcycle to the limits of the laws of physics.

You can purchase a custom-designed shirt (designed by my sister, Laura Goldfarb of Goldfish Creates) on Max's website. A fundraister at Speed World in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, attracted 400 supporters.

Max is a true gentleman, soft-spoken and respectful, and a very hard-working young man. My sister-in-law, Erin, and brother, Marshall, are tremendously hard-working people. Marshall retrofitted a van to transport Max to his events. Marshall also races motorcycles.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Wedding Royal

Two irreconcilable thoughts.

First, the British Monarchy (all monarchies, actually) is a ridiculous, anachronistic holdover from feudal days that has held the British Isles in its thrall for centuries. Why do the otherwise reasonable Brits continue to support--and supplicate to--these aristocrats? What is the fascination?

On the other hand, I totally understand the fascination. I watched the nuptials of Kate and Williams with rapt attention, rewatched on the internet, then pored over almost every still photo I could find. With bated breath, I watched as Kate emerged from her Rolls to reveal "the dress," and sat entranced as maid of honor Pippa Middleton and, presumably, the dress designer, Sarah Burton, fussed over the train. Oh, lovely, elegant, modest, classic, contemporary. Stunning lacy jacket with a becoming high collar and V-neck.

(Trivia point: the conservatively dressed woman in the blue hat in the passenger seat of the Kate's limousine was  Scotland Yard detective.)

My East Coast intellectual aunt years ago asked an English classmate during their undergraduate days why the British continue supporting the medieval notion of a royal family. This otherwise reasonable woman sniffed, as Rosalie recounted, "We British love our Royals."

I cried at the thought of Diana, Princess of Wales and the pride would have felt seeing both her sons in uniform at the head of the aisle in Westminster Abbey. I so wished she could have been there.

And the hats. The HATS! OMG, THE HATS! Involuntarily, I burst out with, "You've got to be kidding" at the cartoonish protuberance on Princess Beatrice's head, or rather, forehead. It looked like a prop from a surreal production of Alice in Wonderland. Princess Eugenie's hat: also a fashion misstep, looking like a sinking ship carrying a load of grapes and with a feather in place of a flag. (They are the daughters of Fergie, a.k.a.Sarah Ferguson, a.k.a Duchess of York, and Prince Andrew. Incidentally, the are fifth and sixth in line to the British throne.) And what about the Beetlejuice number worn by the pregnant Victoria Beckham, a.k.a Posh Spice? (And those spiky platform shoes are downright dangerous to a woman five months' pregnant.) Barbara Walters helpfully pointed out that the wedding invitations required ladies to wear hats, but let's be reasonable. Wheres is the storied British reserve?

My prediction: come Fall 2011, hats, the more outlandish, the better, will be the next must-have fashion accessory here on this side of the pond. I can't wait!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good and loyal friends

As a counterpoint to the previous pitiful post, I will talk about five good friends.

One was a friend from college; we played ice hockey together. A nurse, she moved to a distant state, married, had a child. but we have kept in touch for years. With prescient timing, she sent a gift with the note "... to a great friend!" This came immediately after Entomologist determined I would never have a long-term friend. Maybe I have not been the best friend I could have been to her, but I am striving.

Nurse is is not a "talker." Sometimes when I want to learn the latest, I get the buzz from her husband. Nurse epitomizes the phrase: "Still waters run deep." I treasure her friendship. Her life on an even keel, she is takes things in stride.

The other two friends are about the same age and both with the most popular first name of for girls born in the middle 1970s.

J1 the first person to befriend me in Bryan/College Station. She makes me nuts sometimes, but she unfailingly invites me to her rocking Halloween parties. She overlooked a bout of unsociability at one of those parties. She forgives my foibles. She is always supportive, always seems happy to see me, always friendly, always upbeat. We were somewhat in the same line of work, and I am thrilled that she has succeeded in making this job her own and become a statewide leader, all while pursuing a masters degree.

J2 and I worked together, or rather, we both worked for the same guy, and odd man with an encyclopedic knowledge of sports trivia. She is now the busy, conscientious mother of four, but we still have a great rapport. I hope she feels as refreshed by our in-person and telephone visits as I do. She is cheerful, upbeat, can-do and loves to share her knowledge to help other Moms. She works part-time as a freelance web designer, even when she moved far fro the community whose website she maintained.

Photographer and I were acquaintances in our southern Arizona town, but not close friends. We became closer with frequent phone calls full of advice and recounting of experiences, mostly of the outdoor adventure variety, after I moved to Texas. He is droll, exuberant, and an excellent father figure, despite having no children of his own. When he learned I could not afford a mammogram a year after completion of breast cancer treatment, when I was uninsured, he sent me a check with instructions to make an appointment immediately.

Founding Mother (so called because she founded a chapter of our alumni association in our town) is possessed of a true sixth sense: she is an empath, and has predicted events to the effet of averting disaster. Founding Mother is, without question, the most intuitive person to come into my life.

Founding Mother nominated me for an alumni award, which I won. I was and remain so touched.

I remember with embarrassment a day she asked me to lunch. I forgot about the appointment (very out of character for me), and went to lunch with a co-worker. It was not until I saw her sitting in the restaurant did I remember our date. She was totally forgiving. Even 15 years after moving away, she invited me to her daughter's wedding in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Friendship is a two-way street

When I was a child, I asked my mysterious European-born maternal grandfather what he did at shul (synagogue).  He said he counted his blessings.

It's a lesson I endeavor to apply to my life. Despite the content of this post, I still spend time every evening counting my blessings.

My mind is not in a very good place on the friendship scale. Of late, several friends--or women I thought were friends--revealed themselves to be manipulators who availed themselves to my good nature, helpfulness, compassion, then cut me loose when my utility to them had run its course. In short, they used me.

Artiste/Cleric declared, almost self-righteously, that she was using me. She needed to vent (same almost-verbatim rant on four separate occasions), and I was "available" one time and more or less a captive audience the other three times. I listened with care and compassion--all four times--despite the fact that I had pressing tasks and a limited amount of time. Now that I've served my purpose, Artiste/Cleric has no further use for me. She said she had no intention of ever pursuing a friendship. For others in our community service organization, she spoke of books; to me, rants and venting. And I was glad to listen. She told me I should be happy to have served a purpose. Happy to have served a purpose! I'm not happy, however, to be used and discarded.

Entomologist, from a previous post, summoned me for multiple vent sessions, under the guise of inviting me for a hike. She asked if I wanted to meet her in a nature area south of town in 15 minutes, although she was aware the trailhead was at least a 20-minute drive from my house. Ostensibly, I was to drop what I was doing and hightail it on down there. Both times I had just returned from a long bicycle ride. Not only was I coated in sweat and salt from evaporated sweat, but I was wearing bicycle garb and shoes, so had to at least change clothes, fill up a water bottle, and find a hat. A quick shower would have been nice. Both times I said I could meet in 45 minutes. But you know: a friend in need is a friend indeed, or so I thought. I was delighted at first to have found a hiking partner, not so much when every hike was an unrelenting rant about her work and personal life.  I was not permitted so much as a word.  Of course, she had no interest in reciprocating when my life hit a rough patch.

Entomologist once told me her family was going to spend a week at a beach house. Stupid me! I actually thought she was inviting me for a day or two! Nope. My task was to 50 miles round-trip daily for a week to caretake her one-acre vegetable garden, six cats, dog, fish, ornamental plants, plus feed the squirrels and birds. The second and third year, Entomologist just assumed I would be caretaking and summonmed me to each year to pick up the key and receive my instructions.

Yes, once again, a friend in need.

(I know; I know, several people have told me I was on a fool's errand, and if were stupid enough to accept this task then I deserved the consequences.)

It's in my nature to be a good, loyal friend, to be supportive when people are in need. Why do these seemingly good people treat me as a utility rather than as a friend?