Monday, December 22, 2014

It Doesn’t Pay to Be First

We go to Las Vegas every December, not to gamble or to celebrate any holiday, but to play in the US Nationals Table Tennis Tournament held in their huge convention center.

We stay at the Westgate Hotel, which is a short walk away, since they offer rooms to the players for only $49 a night, and don’t charge any exorbitant resort feels.

To get to the table tennis venue, you have to wend your way through the glitzy, smoke-filled, noisy casino.

For years we would eat at the Paradise Café near our elevators, and far away from the casino gambling raucous hullabaloo.

We ate there the first day, and were pleased to find familiar, friendly servers who were thoroughly acquainted with the menu offerings, and knew what they were doing. As we were leaving, the maître de told us that Paradise would be lost, for it would be closed down and replaced by Sid’s Café the following day.

Sid’s Café was totally unprepared to open, with the majority of the waitpersons still learning what was on the menu, how to serve, and how to use the computers.

Although the menu was similar, the meals were not quite the same. The cost of each meal was higher, the service was slower, and the orders delivered didn’t always match the orders requested. However, the silverware was wrapped in linen napkins, and all restaurant employees were garbed in drab black, funereal-looking uniforms.

You have to understand that when you try something new and untested, there may be a chance for some problems. You should never be the first to try either a new restaurant, or to purchase the “new and improved” model of any electronic device when it’s first introduced.

Some Things Last Forever
Sid’s Café sits in the middle of the casino’s cacophonous deluge of irritable sounds, accompanied by annoying flashing lights attempting to entice guests to come to try their luck at any of the many gambling choices.

While Paradise Café was devoid of these unpleasant sights and sounds, they surround you in stereo at Sid’s. The week before Christmas, there was the added joy to the world with the continuous playing of requisite music for the season.

The selections, which were loudly played again and again and again, seemed to be designed as waterboarding to the ears. Among the more stirring renditions played were “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Oh By Gosh, By Golly, It’s Time for Mistletoe and Holly,” “Deck the Halls,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Jingle Bells” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” The holiday’s name is found in other musical numbers, including “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “”Oh Christmas Tree,” ”I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Mele Kalikimaka.”

An exuberant and boisterously loud soul sister provided the grand finale to the musical loop, by bellowing out a song I had never heard before — “Merry Christmas, Happy New Years to All of My Friends.” I hope to never hear it again.

Happy Birthday, La La
When I was a lad of eight or so, the choir at our primarily Jewish elementary school was invited to put on a December concert at a Catholic convent on the other side of town. When my Mother discovered that the lyrics to one of the songs praised Jesus Christ, she convinced me to substitute the words “La La,” instead of using his name. Being a naïve boy then and not understanding why I was so instructed, I did as I was told. I still use the revised lyrics some seventy years later whenever I hear that music, and still sing to myself, “La La, Our Savior Was Born.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Applause Needed

If you read Lauren Bacall’s August obituary, you might have skipped over the notation that she had starred in the play Applause that ran on Broadway from March 30, 1970 to July 27, 1972.

The obit did not mention that in the fall of 1972, she and the play toured the country, stopping at the Fresno Convention Center in October. At the time, the city of Fresno had a population of approximately 170 thousand, and it was an agricultural center. It was heavy on the “agri,” and light on the “cultural.”

The exceptions were occasional, national theatrical touring companies like Applause, and quality musicians brought in for a one-night performance. Such was the case on Tuesday, October 31, 1972, when Carlos Montoya performed, and at the time, he was a truly great master of the Spanish flamenco guitar.

Being a bit bored in Fresno much of the time, I would regularly take off on weekends weekend to visit friends in either San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Learning A Lesson

To combat the ennui, I decided to take classical guitar lessons with John Uretria on his farm just outside of town. While living in Detroit in the mid-1960s, I had attempted to learn to play folk guitar but when I had two guitars stolen, I decide that the harmonica was easier to hide from potential thievery.

When I discovered that Carlos Montoya was coming to Fresno, a neighbor and I bought balcony tickets for his performance, which was to start at 7:30 PM.

When There’s a Will

It was a dismal, rainy evening and we arrived before 7 PM. The front door to the Convention Center was locked and rather than go back to the cold car to wait, I suggested that we try and see if there was another door that was open.

There’s Always a Way

Around the back, I found that the stage door was unlocked, and we carefully and quietly entered. We walked up a short flight of stairs, and we were on the stage which had several checkered-cloth tables set up for the next day’s performance of Applause. We sat down at one table, and waited.

In the distance, I heard the sounds of someone playing a classical guitar, and convinced my reluctant companion to come with me to see where the magical sounds were coming from. We approached an open door to a small room, peeked in, and I pulled her aside. We saw a beautiful woman with long, black hair pulled tightly back, and a man with a guitar.

“That’s Carlos Montoya. He’s warming up,” I said with unbounded excitement. My friend wanted us to leave, but instead I entered the room to see the master playing his guitar. In my best high school Spanish I held out my hand and introduced myself, “Pardon Senor Montoya, con su permiso. Mi nombre es Harvey,” and then reverted to English. “I admire you so, and am now taking classical guitar lessons, and wanted to hear you play tonight.”

In the Beginning

Montoya took my hand, turned it over, and said that I must not have been playing long since there was no deep callouses. Then he showed me his hand with callouses deeply embedded from years of playing and practicing, and then he laughed.

As we continued to talk, a man entered, looked at us and pointedly asked in a thick Australian accent, “What are you doing in here?” This Aussie was Montoya’s manager, and didn’t want anyone disturbing him before, during, or after a performance.

“Don’t you recognize me?” I boldly asked, “I’m in the cast of Applause and this is our night off. I wanted to hear the great artist Mr. Montoya play,” and with that his manager stepped back.

Montoya said that he had to relax now, and wondered where we were sitting. When I mentioned the balcony, he said “Oh, no,” and told his manager to get us two seats up front.

That’s where we sat, and although my guitar lessons didn’t last long, the memory of that night still makes me smile as I write this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


By now, after incessant coverage on all major and cable networks, you should be aware of the problems the National Football League has had with its grossly inept mishandling of sexual and physical abuse incidents perpetrated by some of its players. The publicized incidents primarily involve actions by young men mainly from the rural south and southwest. Ah, ‘alleged actions’ claim NFL honchos who want to keep the game pure and lucrative.

One exception is New York-born Ray Rice, formerly of the Balti8more Ravens football team, who was the star of a much-played videotape showing him slugging his finance in a casino elevator. She thought that he must have really cared, because she married him after the incident.

When he was cut from the team because of possible financial repercussions for the Ravens, Steve Bisciotti, the team’s “naïve” the owner, showed empathy for Rice’s wife, who “is still the one who’s suffering the most.” “Now she has an unemployed husband,” he said.

Unemployed, but if he had any smarts, he may have saved a few dollars from earlier times.

Rice originally signed a 5-year, $35 million contract and received a $15 million signing bonus a few years ago. In 2012 his base salary was $2 million, in 2013 it was $1 million with $1.75 million option bonus, and Rice received  $25 million in first two years of his contract.

Can you truly feel sorry for young men playing professional sports, when some of them “earn” more in a game that the average American worker earns in a year or longer.


There’s a lovely park not far from our Santa Cruz home, and my wife Carmen and I enjoy an after dinner walk through its rolling hills, forest, meadows, and we especially love to stop at a bend in the road. At that point, there’s an inlet from the ocean, with a myriad of birds on the water. It’s the ideal place to do a few minutes of Tai Ji to calm the heart and soul to end the day.

As we were doing gentle Tai Ji movements the other day, only a few feet apart from one another, we heard a noisy couple approach, along with a quiet dog. We paused and waited for them to pass, and watched as the woman and the dog continue on. Then the black-clad man in his forties, pushed his way in-between the two of us, and started doing contrived motions as he loudly proclaimed, “Push out the bad. Bring in the good.”

I turned to him, and asked him how do we push out the bad that’s standing between us and disturbing our bit of tranquility. Oh yes, my wife just reminded me that my language may have been a little harsher, and he seemed insulted as he reluctantly strode away.

Homeless people have a First Amendment right to make signs and express themselves, even when they stand on a medium by a light, disturbing traffic while soliciting funds. There is a rotating group of regulars, each with their own signs and times, at the light where Capitola Road ends at Soquel Drive in Santa Cruz. When that solicitation slot is vacant, drivers see a printed, government sign affixed to a post, which reads:


The San Francisco 49ers, a semi-professional football team, received nine penalties for a total of 107 yards in their recent loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Anquan Boldin, their wide receiver, caught only six passes for a meager 36 yards, and was obviously frustrated by his own mediocre performance. After one play ended, Anquan walked over to a Cardinal player and deliberately butted him in the head. In a press conference after the game, Boldin blamed the officials for the penalty.

There’s a group of less inexpensive parking options away from the on-site airport parking, and we use one of them whenever we leave town for more than a week. A few days ago we received an email from their national headquarters with the headline, “Can Airport Parking Kill?”

Within the email they described the death of a man at a parking facility on Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. They concluded their sales pitch with, “Don't be late and end up in a crate. Save stress and possibly anything worse by utilizing technology and reserving all your travel needs in advance.”

Two days later they offered a mea culpa in a second email, which read in part, “There is no excuse for the topic of the recent email sent to our customers, and we can only extend our deepest apologies to those disrespected by it.”

Why did they try to make amends? Just like most everything you read about when an error in judgment is made, it’s based on the almighty dollar. They further confessed, “We appreciate your continued business with us and apologize once again for this unfortunate event.”

Ultra-Orthodox leaders in a suburb of London placed posters in Yiddish and English declaring that “Women should please walk along this side of the road only.’ The volunteer Jewish police said that the signs were put up in advance of a Torah procession “in order to prevent men and women from coming into physical contact with each other.”

In an obvious anti-Semitic action, non-Jewish citizens of the town objected, since some Gentile and less religious Jewish couples prefer to walk with one another. It should be noted that no Gentile objected to Haredi wearing fur hats, black coats, dark suits, having their tzitzis hanging free, and creating as many offspring as needed to ensure a Minyan within each household.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The State of Higher Education at SJSU

Two short pieces in today’s San Jose Mercury News might best illustrate the priorities today at San Jose State University.

On page B3, the headline reads “SJSU water damage closes building,” and the building is where I taught journalism classes for more than twenty-four years, off and on.

It goes on to say that SJSU will not hold any journalism classes in the century-old Dwight Bentel Hall on the first two days of the new fall semester

Students assigned to courses in this building were instructed to report to the Student Union, and not to Yoshihiro Ushida Hall.

In the C6 piece in the sports section, you would have learned that renovations are nearly complete at Ushida Hall, with new locker rooms and office space for the basketball, volleyball and gymnastics programs. The locker rooms feature an area where there is “locked access so coaches and players can leave their gear in their lockers.” How novel to find lockers that lock.

The SJSU's athletic director called this "a significant improvement that is nice and adequate, and has a little glitz to it."

The Ushida project cost about $55 million, and there is no mention whatsoever as to whether or not there are any dry classrooms nearby.