Thursday, December 26, 2013

Twas the Day After Xmas

On Xmas day, I received a phone call from my first-cousin, twice removed, on my Mother’s Father’s side of the family.

The lovely woman is in her late 80s, lives in the cold and dank Midwest, and she called to tell me about all of the Xmas songs she’s been listening to, and wanted to wish me a Merry Xmas. I wished her a happy holy day, but reminded her that I am Jewish and we don’t celebrate Xmas.  Both of my Great Grandparents on my Mother’s Father’s side are buried in a Jewish Cemetery in Szolnok, Hungary, a place that I have visited twice. My Grandfather was born in Szolnok, and in 1982 I found the records of his birth in a huge ledger in a small Jewish center there, along with the birth records of nine of his brothers and sisters.

I have managed to trace some of his siblings in Hungary, and only one brother immigrated to the United States, and I met him once. I also have met his three children, some of their descendants, and these are the generations where the Jewish connection disappeared.

Thank God for the Pope
Xmas is Xmas, since I don’t want to put “Christ” in my greetings, although I have been more comfortable with him after Pope Benedict XVI exonerated the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are still many who believe that one or more of my kin are still guilty of that crime.

It Was "La La' to Me
When I was in the fourth grade, I was a member of our elementary school’s chorus that entertained at a non-Jewish community center one Xmas. When it came time to sing “Silent Night,” written by Joseph Mohr in 1818, I was instructed to “fake” the lyrics whenever his name was to be sung. So for years, I thought that his name was “La La,” as I earnestly sang, “La La, Our Savior was born.”

It Pays to Advertise
On Xmas Day, Lobby Hobby ran two advertisements in the San Jose Mercury News. One was a quarter page in black and white that offered “All Remaining Christmas Items 66% OFF.”

The second was a full-page in living color, that proclaimed, “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, A SAVIOR who is CHRIST the LORD,” quoting Luke 2:11.

If you wanted to know “Jesus as Lord,” there was a phone number to call, as well a website available to download a free Bible for your phone.

Each advertisement closed with the company logo and a sign-off line that reads, “Super Savings, Super Selection – Everyday.”  However, it’s not quite so, since the hobby store is naturally closed on Sundays.

A Holiday Break
I am pleased that we now have a break from holidays for a few days, and I want to wish one and all a Happy New Year, as well a Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20, a warm Chinese New Years on January 31, a welcome Groundhog Day on February 2, followed by Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Flag Day, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Daylight Savings Time on March 9, St. Patrick’s Day, Benito Juarez Birthday, the arrival of Spring, April Fools Day, Palm Sunday, Passover, Good Friday, and Easter.

Black and Blue
As you may readily realize, many of these holy days seem to have been created by retail merchants, who have added Black Friday to our national traditions. This year it is followed starting today by Blue Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as people line up to return unwanted and unneeded gifts, and then tabulate how much they spent for the holy day.

Some may have had added help spending even more, if they had a Target credit card.

To get more in the holiday spirit, next year I plan to deck my halls with boughs of challah.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Unplug Your Phone

At 4:49 this morning, the ringing of our phone rudely awakened us. When we went downstairs to answer it, there was no one on the line. Usually, a middle of the night call means something unforeseen has happened to someone we know, so we dialed the number. A voice-recorded operator said that this party couldn’t be reached as dialed, pleased try dialing again. Which we deigned not do, since I am averse to following instructions from any unknown, recorded entity.

We usually unplug our phone when we go to sleep, when we eat a meal, when we take a nap, when we watch a movie, when we are relaxing, or doing Tai Ji.

We have survived without an iPhone, an iPad, a Kindle, a Nook, any App, and many other electronic devices whose purposes are foreign to me. I do have a cell phone, as does my wife, but they are mainly used to communicate with one another. When I am playing table tennis with my robot in our detached garage, she will call to tell me when dinner is ready.

This Sunday we will be driving down to Esalen south of Big Sur for a five-day Tai Ji workshop.  We park our car outside our room, and there it stays.

We look forward to being without a television set, without a computer (although there are some available), and just enjoy doing Tai Ji with a group led by Chungliang. He also inspires us with his gentle and meaningful philosophy, and we find solace sitting under either the sun or the stars in the outdoor tubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Simple is better, and we don’t have to worry about whether or not we remembered to unplug our phone.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Whom Do You Trust?

This morning I received an email (shown below) from Expedia offering me a $20 hotel coupon. All I had to do is complete a survey which "will help us to develop the right services and offerings that travelers want."

Please take this short survey
  |  View email in web browser
Dear Harvey,

Your opinion matters to us! We are conducting a survey to understand travelers’ priorities and preferences, and we want to hear from you.

Your input will help us to develop the right services and offerings that travelers want. As a token of our appreciation, you will receive a $20 coupon off your next Expedia hotel booking if you qualify and complete the survey.*

The survey, hosted by Qualtrics on our behalf, will be available through Monday, 11/25/2013.

Thank you for your time!

Expedia Travel Team
I normally won't waste my precious writing time for a survey, but I was curious and it seemed like it could possibly be a worthwhile gesture from a sought-after travel group. 

I clicked their "START SURVEY" box, ready to contribute my thoughts to help make the world a better place, and the link took me directly to:

Thank you for your interest in participating in our survey; however, the survey is temporarily down.  Our apologies!   Please try back later.

Expedia Travel Team


Not only have I lost all interest in participating in their survey, but I have also lost all interest in using Expedia. How can they expect you to trust a company to efficiently book airline, hotel, car rental and other travel needs, when they can't get their survey to work? 

Think that I'll continue to do my own bookings, then any foul-ups will be mine.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Insanity at Linsanity

The new documentary movie Linsanity follows the meteoric rise of Chinese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin, who played for Harvard, the only school who offered him a place on its team. He was an undrafted unknown, who in the 2010-11 season was released by the Golden State Warriors and then the Houston Rockets, before becoming a shooting phenomenon for the New York Knicks in the 2011-12 season.

Lin could have been a valuable asset to the Golden State Warriors, since the San Francisco-Oakland area was heavily populated with Asian Americans, as was New York City. He would be the first Chinese player born in America, although some consider his Palo Alto, California birthplace to be a somewhat foreign enclave.

As a free agent, he was offered a three-year, $25 million contract from the Houston Rockets, and when the Knicks refused to match the offer, Lin became the point card for the Rockets.

The independently produced movie has had a very limited run, and when it played at the Pacific Rim Film Festival last month in Santa Cruz, we decided to go early and wait in line to see the free movie. When we arrived twenty-minutes before the movie was to start, there was already a line of more then fifty people waiting outside.  As we waited in the cooling nighttime air, we heard the man in front of us saying that his wife was already inside, that the movie house was full, and there were no more seats available.

We went home and I checked the area newspaper and saw that Linsanity was playing at the Blue Light Cinema in Cupertino, about forty miles away. Since we were going to be in San Jose later in the week for our 2 to 3PM table tennis lessons, we would be able to take a relatively short drive and make the 3:40 PM showing.

I ran off a MapQuest with the directions for the twenty-minute drive, and although the Blue Light cinema was not that easy to find, we were there in plenty of time. The arrow on the ticket window pointed inside, and we saw no one in the lobby, but found and interrupted two rather rotund female workers who were chatting behind the refreshment counter, and purchased two tickets.

The two women pointed out how to get to Theater 4 where Linsanity was playing, and we cautiously entered into the poorly lit, dingy and dirty theater. The rows of seats were set in a haphazard, undulating formation, so that some rows were higher than the rows behind them.

There were ninety-two available seats, although two near the back were covered with black plastic garbage bags, much like the ones you might see covering an unworkable urinal. Unfortunately, the best view from our perspective was behind these seats.

I strolled down the aisle to the stage, inspecting the theater, and found candy wrappers and other debris decorating the floor.  We sat down and talked about the venue and about the movie we had read about and were anxious to see.

Before the lights dimmed, we looked around Theater 4 and suddenly realized that we were the only Caucasians in attendance. The other ninety seats were unoccupied.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oldies But Goodies

When I started teaching at San Jose State in 1969, I was thirty-three years old, and the majority of the students were around twenty-one. There were one or two who were my age, including Dan from Philadelphia who was working his way through college selling plastic bags for $12 each. After my divorce in 1970, I occasionally dated some of the older female students, but even with just a relatively small difference in our ages, we were living in different worlds.

By the time I started teaching at Central Michigan University in 1984, the majority of the students were still around twenty-one and tried to look either like Farrah Fawcett or a mustachioed Tom Selleck. Some of the females, who were undecided, took on Tom’s appearance. I was now forty-eight, and under the right circumstances, some students could have been my children, and I did not socialize with any of them outside of the classroom.

After returning to San Jose State in 1986, I lasted until I retired in 2008 at the age of seventy-two. The students were still around twenty-one, and could have been the age of my grandchildren. We had even less in common as they texted, phoned, and spent up to six hours a day surfing the Internet for nothing in particular.

These children kept me on my toes trying to be up-to-date on their electronic narishkeyt (nonsense), but I found more comfort being with people older than I.

Tonight I will be calling my cousin Edith Tarjan in Australia to wish her a happy ninety-ninth birthday, and in February, I will do the same with my cousin Isabel Hart Cress, who lives five minutes away from me here in Santa Cruz. The conversations are always interesting, stimulating, and enjoyable, since they both have a wonderful understanding of the sometimes ridiculousness of life.

Joseph and Sarah Hart of England, had twenty-one grandchildren, including my father, and Isabel is one of two who are still around. Her younger first cousin Chrissie Shay, is also in her nineties. 

In January, I will be going down to Florida to be with younger friends whom I first met in the 1950s and are now in their late seventies. I will also be having lunch with cousin Hilda Gordon, who was eighty-nine last July, and writes a wonderful blog. Cousin Joyce Christian in Bay City, Michigan, will be eighty-seven this month, the same age as Bob Johnson, with whom I worked in San Francisco in 1960, and lives in nearby Hayward.

When I went to a Holocaust survivors meeting last month, I was heartily embraced by Bill Rooz who calls me “Habibi,“ who at eighty-seven, regularly speaks to school groups about his Holocaust experiences. It was also wonderful to talk with Emery Fabri who is now ninety, and he shook his head in wonderment when he announced his age to me.

Gordon Greb, a former fellow professor of mine at San Jose State, turned ninety-two in August, and had yet another book published in 2009 entitled Google Brain. He will probably be adding even more credits to his extensive Wikipedia page, now that his iMac is running again.

Later this month in San Francisco, I will help celebrate the eighty-sixth birthday of my friend Zora Kolkey, who is still one of the feistiest, stand-in-a-picket-line women I have ever known. On December 11, my friend Herb Rossman will also be eighty-six, and plays table tennis twice a week at the Santa Cruz club. In October, Herb won a bronze medal in his age group, in a national table tennis tournament.

Finally, there are my good friends in the Japanese-American community in San Jose, including eighty-nine-year-old Katsumi Hikido, who was a regular speaker in my classes, talking about the Internment and the role he played as a soldier during World War Two. Jimi Yamaichi, the titular head of San Jose’s Japanese-American community, was also a speaker and politely shortened our conversation on his ninety-first birthday last week, because he had work to do at the Japanese-American Museum. “Work” was not sorting file cards, but probably supervising or building a new exhibit.

All of these people have had a positive attitude, and are trying to stay as active as they can. My Great Uncle Samuel Goldsmith who lived to be more then one hundred, remodeled his bathroom at the age of ninety-five. When it was done, he stood back and said, “That should last a life time.”

A few years ago, a good friend and Holocaust survivor Adam Cintz died one month before his one-hundredth birthday. When he was in his late nineties, young reporter asked him to reveal the secret of such a long life. With a grin on his face, he replied, “Don’t die.”

You can find earlier blog posts by going here.