Friday, February 29, 2008

Meeting Some New (to me) Cousins. . .

We had a wonderful, very long day yesterday. A 1st cousin of Donna's, one she hadn't seen in 40 years, was in Newport Beach for a couple of days. Bob Brenner and his wife Linda are visiting from Osage Beach, MO. So we picked them up in the morning, about an hours drive from our house, and continued on to San Diego for the day to spend time with Donna's parents. Bob had just one request of something he insisted on doing; eating at a good delicatessen. They simply don't have any Jewish style delis in his area of Missouri.

Below is a picture of Bob and Linda seated at D.Z. Akins, an outstanding deli in San Diego before lunch arrived at the table.

I mention that this was before the meal because Bob ordered what seemed like half the menu. . .and ate just about all that he ordered. He's a thin guy but he polished off a chopped liver appetizer platter, a potato knish and a corned beef sandwich. And all the time he was eating, he was regaling us with stories of their life in Osage Beach and other communities in which they lived before moving there. While Linda had been raised in southern Kansas, the rest of us (Donna's parents, Donna, me, and Donna's brother Ron) had ties to Detroit and recalled many stories about family dating back to the middle third of the last century. Linda didn't get a chance to say much but was busy with the matzoh ball soup and, if I recall correctly, a sandwich. Once the meal was over, Bob was happy for the rest of the day and then some. He had gotten his deli fix.

The rest of the afternoon was talking, talking, talking. Oh, the stories and the memories. Resa and Sy (Donna's parents) had moved to southern California about 57 years ago, not long after Donna was born. I left Detroit in 1961 and have only been back a handful or so times since. But we shared stories of the city, of families, of events, of places that we remembered. Bob shared a few more stories than the rest of us but we got our share in. And then for dinner, we made sure they got to eat at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants because we just knew that it couldn't be matched in their part of Missouri. Of course Bob, having eaten so much for lunch, ate very little for dinner; all he ordered was a bowl of freshly made guacamole.

After dinner, we drove Bob and Linda back to Newport Beach, talking all the way, and continued on home. I know how much Donna enjoyed seeing this cousin she hadn't seen since she was a teenager. For me, it was a chance to meet a part of the Brenner family I had only heard about. . .and to make some new, very dear friends.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Everyone Has An Interesting Story. . .

This morning was my 476th exercise session at the Delpit Cardiac Rehabilitation Center at the Torrance Memorial Medical Center. I started there about 3 months after my open heart surgery in August, 2004. After Phase II (the 33 visits paid for by Medicare), I moved into Phase III (paying for it myself) and I like to refer to the Center as my “health club staffed by cardiac nurses.” Over the past 3½ years I have made some good friends while exercising. In fact, some of the conversations with others while walking on the treadmill help make the time go by more quickly.

Occasionally, after my workout, I will join some of my cardio-friends downstairs in the cafeteria for a cup of coffee and more talk. This morning, as a couple of us were comparing notes, one of the guys said, “You know, everyone who exercises at the Center has an interesting story to tell.” And he’s right. We all have faced some form of heart disease or malfunction; that is our common bond. But we all got there by different routes and that is the source of the many stories. In sharing our stories with each other, we form a strong support group of people who have flirted with death but have survived to regain our health and live active lives. There is at least one in our group who is in his 90’s and still exercising regularly.

The results of my exercise regimen that started with the recovery from triple-bypass surgery are amazing. I am about 40 pounds lighter than I was back then and have better muscle tone than at almost any period of my life. I lost 4 inches from my waistline and my jacket size dropped from a 54 to a 48. And, I am not an exception among those who have survived cardiac “incidents” and decided that there was a lot of life still to live.

I truly value my cardio-friends and the time we spend together. For me, they are as much a part of my ongoing treatment as my cardiologist. They are a truly inspiring group of men and women.

Added Note: I can't figure out why the spacing of this post turned out as it appears above.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Flying Colors at a Deli – Banners 5

We spent the day yesterday with Michelle and Tino Julian, their 2 young daughters and Tino’s mother. Tino and my oldest son Bill became close friends when they both were freshman at Occidental College in 1985. Over the years, Tino has been a member of our family as well as his own and we often joke that he brought Michelle over to meet us and get our approval before he could marry her. We approved and he did!

Even though we all live in the Los Angeles area, it is a long drive between our home in Palos Verdes and theirs in North Hills. So yesterday was a day to visit and get caught up on all that was going on. Once there, we all went out for brunch at Weiler's Deli Restaurant in Northridge. And a fine meal it was. As we came out of the restaurant to head back to their house, I glanced up and saw a series of 4 colorful banners (or flags, if you prefer) aligned along the front of the building. Using my trusty cell phone camera, I got pictures of them to share as the 5th in my series of banner posts.

These banners were an extra bonus added to our wonderful day!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

One Year Old and Going Strong. . .

I started this blog one year ago today. My initial purpose was to write vignettes from my life and my family's history. I wanted to make sure my children and grandchildren would have some knowledge of what I like to refer to as the Cohanim, i.e. this particular Cohen family. But the blog seems to have taken on a life of its own and the 230 posts prior to today also contain a lot of reflection on daily happenings, especially as they relate to my relatively recent (13 years) love affair with acting. And I talked about things that struck my fancy "along the way" whether it be the beautiful peafowl in our neighborhood, colorful banners (or flags) neighbors hang in front of their homes, some of the spectacular or unusual views I would come upon on my daily walks, the books I've read, movies and plays I've seen, and even new fangled things like waterless urinals.

To celebrate this 1st anniversary, a new banner graces the top of the screen. Although I took the picture on one of my walks, the banner itself resulted from an offer from blogging friend Eric Valentine and his wife Elizabeth. They are responsible for the actual design. Thank you Eric and Elizabeth for adding a touch of class to my ramblings. [Eric shares his own life experiences and writing at Scattered Chatter where he recently added his own new banner which, I suspect, has Elizabeth's mark on it.]

Those who may have stopped by for the first time in recent months might wonder about the title and subtitle of my online journal. I explained The Ancient One, Blessed Be He in the initial post on February 23 of last year and then added and posted about the source of Ruminations of a Cantankerous Old Curmudgeon in a March 15 post. One comes from my children; the other I borrowed from my father about 40 years after his death. In their origins, these phrases help keep me grounded as I move into the early stages of my 8th decade on this planet.

As Year 2 begins, I thank all of you who have been part of the nearly 4,200 "hits" to the blog in the 1st year. I hope you keep coming back and that some of your readers will stop by too!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tonight’s Total Lunar Eclipse

There was a full lunar eclipse tonight that was, for the most part, visible here on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I tried to get some pictures and offer up the following that start from the full eclipse and end when the full moon has just about returned. Light clouds made it impossible to get photos of the time leading up to the full blocking of the moon.

I had hoped for better shots but the light and rapidly moving clouds made taking pictures difficult. Maybe I'll do better when the next full lunar eclipse occurs in 2010.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Castro and Cuba in 1959. . .

This morning, shortly after the news broke about Fidel Castro stepping down, I received an e-mail from lifelong friend Gene Konstant recalling that we seen Castro in Havana in September, 1959. It was about 8 months after Castro came to power and a little more than 3 months before President Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with the island nation.

Conjuring some very old, and I hope not too dim, memories offers some perspective. Gene and I have been friends since grade school when we lived on the same block in Detroit. It was a natural friendship since our fathers had been friends for many years. Gene was a year ahead of me in school and, as it happened, we both graduated from Detroit Central High School and went on to earn our undergraduate degrees at Wayne State University. We were both involved in student politics at Wayne and became involved locally with the U.S. National Student Association (USNSA)chapter as well as its Michigan Region. We attended several USNSA national conventions and I spent some time on the National Executive Committee.

As I recall, the 1959 convention was held at the University of Illinois. A delegation of Cuban students attended and, before they headed back home, they invited a delegation of American students to visit them in Havana. A little over 200 students were selected for the journey. We were to appear at one of the New York airports (I can't remember which) at a stated date and time from where we would be flown to Havana and hosted by the Cuban student association. Gene and I were in that group.

I remember a number of things about the trip, which was taken up with tours of various sites in the Havana area, meetings with the host students and a number of social gatherings. I also remember a reception at the Havana Hilton hotel where a young Fidel Castro greeted and welcomed the American visitors. I believe he shook hands with as many of us as possible. That was 48 years ago last September. As Castro stepped down today, he had been in power for 49 years.

As I write about these memories from my college years, it occurs to me that not many of us have the opportunity to meet someone who has had the kind of impact on history that Castro has had. He has been one of the most polarizing figures in this hemisphere over the past half-century. Without being political, I can look back nearly 50 years and know that I had a rare opportunity and I still smile when I recall some of the places we visited in Havana and the wonderful welcome we received from the Cuban college students. I suspect Gene was smiling too when he sent me that e-mail this morning.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Best Bosch I’ve Read. . .

City of Bones by Michael Connelly is only the 4th of his Detective Harry Bosch books I've read, but, for me, it was the best so far. It isn't his most recently published mystery, but it was a spellbinder. It starts with a dog finding a bone in the Hollywood Hills and it follows many twists and turns until the final, unexpected moment of the story.

Once again, Harry Bosch is an all-too-human protagonist. And he is a solid, honest, good detective. He will not settle for "easy" answers that might cast a better light on the LAPD. As in other Connelly novels, Bosch's gut instincts are as good as his detecting skills. The bone, it turns out, was that of a child and had been in the ground over 20 years. This alone makes the case interesting and the path to a solution a rather twisting one. Obviously, I will not provide details; that would make it less of a read for others who might seek out City of Bones. [As it happens, I found it at our local Costco warehouse store.]

I will say that this Connelly effort fell into the I-can't-put-it-down category for me. It started as one of my "morning walk" books and was finished less than two days later during dinner hour because, well, I just had to get to the end. I am a relative newcomer to Connelly and Harry Bosch but I will continue to seek out the rest of the novels in which this likable detective plies his trade.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Bucket List

We went to see The Bucket List this afternoon and I was very pleasantly surprised. From previews and trailers, I expected to laugh a lot at the antics of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. I was not expecting anything more than a comedy filled afternoon. However, this Rob Reiner directed movie was a lot more than film humor.

Much to my surprise, The Bucket List was a very intelligent, thoughtful, well-written movie. While very funny, it also dealt sensitively with issues that cross the minds of all of us, especially those who have reached septuagenarian and beyond status. The humor was not insulting or offensive. Nicholson and Freeman were outstanding. They truly seemed to enjoy working together and their interactive timing was absolutely marvelous.

All of us, not just the characters, can learn a bit about living life to the fullest and not crawling into shells when the remainder of our future is defined in starkly finite time frames.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Disturbing Tale, Yet True

I have long been a fan of John Grisham's legal thrillers. His first written, but second published, A Time to Die was his finest novel in my opinion. Now I have finished his first work of non-fiction, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. The book is painstaking in its detail and it has to be a true story because if it were submitted to a publisher as fiction, it would probably be returned as being too implausible.

This is a terrifying tale of a legal system gone awry. And the fact that the wrongful convictions were eventually overturned, thankfully before a death penalty execution could be carried out, is of little solace. As Americans, we take great pride in the rule of law and the importance of those accused of crimes having fair trials. It is depressing and reprehensible when the system fails and when those responsible for the miscarriage of justice refuse to apologize or admit their errors after massive evidence led to a reversal of earlier convictions.

I found this to be a hard book to read because Grisham's laying out of the facts makes it so clear that the wrong men were on trial. But it happened. And it reminds us that we have to remain ever vigilant to protect the rights of the accused and to be certain that innocent people are not convicted and incarcerated (or worse, put to death by the state). It is also an important book in its laying bare the inadequacy of the rights and protections provided to indigent defendants.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hit #4000 - All in the Family?

This site received its 4,000th hit at 5:26:33 p.m. PST this afternoon. It came from a Mindspring/Earthlink address in Brooklyn, NY at 8:26:33 p.m. EST (the sender's local time).

I do believe that this milestone stayed within the Cohanim; I am fairly certain it came from the original blogger in the family that many know better as either Oxypoet or BillyBlog.

If that was you Bill, thank you for being #4,000 in 17 days short of The Ancient One's 1st blogiversary. (OK, I shouldn't invent words, but I sort of like that one.)

And, as I was writing this, hit #4001 arrived. That one appears to have come from my friend Eric Valentine, aka Scattered Chatter from an ISP out of Guelph, Ontario.

I am sure if I am wrong about the sources of these hits, Bill and/or Eric will let me know.

Anyway, thanks to all who have stopped by and contributed to so many hits in less than a year!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Literary Meme. . .

Eric Valentine over at Scattered Chatter
tagged me for this little meme, 'Open Book'. I do forgive you Eric; I know you did this as a friend! Grrr!!

These were the instructions:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it at page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence/ phrase.
4. Blog the next four sentences/ phrases together with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig your shelves for that very special or intellectual book.
6. Pass it forward to six friends

So I reached for the closest book to my work station, a technical work edited by J. Bradley Collins with the title, Process Use in Theory, Research, and Practice. It is a volume that came to me recently as part of my membership in the American Evaluation Association. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the book is only 115 pages long. It did not fill the requirements of the meme.

The next nearest book, which I grabbed next is Faye Kellerman's Straight Into Darkness. I am a great fan of her mysteries featuring Peter Decker and Rina Lazurus but this work was directed at events in Munich during Hitler's rise to power. It is a powerful novel; the back cover carries a quote from The Jerusalem Post stating that, "This extraordinary book combines authentic social history with a first-rate murder mystery." For once, an accurate promotional statement!

Page 123, go to the fifth sentence; blog the next four: < "She was?" Again, Elisabeth gasped. "Oh that is awful! Poor, poor Anna. . . ." >

Now I must choose 6 others to tag. I hope they remain friends, blogging or otherwise:


The Philosopher Mom

Living in the Woods

Jill Shalvis

Rex Hoss

The Frumpy Professor

Good luck. And if this tag upsets you, all I can say is: Scattered Chatter made me do it!

Friday, February 8, 2008

I Was Roared. . .Last November

When Eric Valentine was Roared last November, he, in turn roared others, including me. I thanked him in a comment and then let the event disappear into the recesses of my busy memory until January 28 when Eric was granted full membership into the The Shameless Lions Writing Circle. The following day, Eric selected a name, Sangilak, for his lion and wrote a poem about the regal creature.

Borrowing from Eric, when he Roared me and others: "Shameless says: Those people I've given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs. Also, a small size of the award for sidebars can be found over at the writing circle site."

And like Eric and others, I am not sure what is necessary for "good, powerful writing" although I think I know it when I see it. In the past, I have said that I like writing that is: 1) both literate and literary; 2) is engaging to my mind; and 3) touches me in a way that I want to see more of what the writer has to offer.

In selecting those who I would like to Roar, I surely don't want to offend anyone. But there are a few blogs (not yet roared) out there that I really look forward to reading, even if they don't post every day. (Admittedly, the first 2 are clear examples of nepotism as they are written by my eldest son.) So, here's my list:

1. BillyBlog is son Bill's original blog in which he shares poetry (including some of his own), views on music and literature, and whatever else happens to pique his wonderfully creative mind.

2. Tattoosday also is authored and photographed by Bill. It originally started as a weekly post on BillyBlog but he created a new home for his fascination with tattoos and the people who display them on their bodies. The "back stories" and photos are equally impressive.

3. Solid Gold Dancing in the Holy Land is written by a friend my daughter met in Israel and who has settled there. She doesn't post very often but when she does, I am mesmerized by her writing and the images she conveys of Israel and aspects of her life there.

4. Living in the Woods is written by Cameron, a professional French Horn player who has settled in the woods in northern California. His writing is engaging and vivid. During a recent power outage (for several days), he wrote out a blog entry by hand and then scanned it in when power was eventually restored.

5. Frogma is written by Bonnie, who grew up in Hawaii and who now describes herself as "A New York City kayaking & sailing enthusiast." Whether writing about life on (and in) the water or her urban garden, she offers delightful insights and has an engaging, self-effacing sense of humor. I was steered toward her writing by son Bill.

So there they are, the 5 blogs that I selected to Roar from the many I visit each day. Thank you again to Eric Valentine who roared me, and whose Scattered Chatter would be on my list if he hadn't been roared first by someone else. And my apologies to Eric for not acknowledging his selection of my blog for this award for 2½ months. It has been a busy, hectic winter.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Another Banner Day – Banners 4

Some construction in the neighborhood made it necessary for me to alter my route on today's daily walk. And that provided a bonus; a number of colorful banners I had not previously seen. As you will see, the first 2 clearly target Valentine's Day and the final one in the group of 4 seems to be left over from the holidays.

Maybe I'll get back to writing tomorrow instead of showing the latest photos of what is seen along the way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Harbingers of Spring – Banners 3

New colorful banners now fly from homes in the neighborhood, replacing those that celebrated the holiday season. A sunny day last week gave me the opportunity to capture pictures of several of them, including the following 6:

Enjoy these harbingers of spring, southern California style!!

Monday, February 4, 2008

1 Weekend; 6 Performances . . . and It’s Over

One weekend. 6 performances in 4 days. And it's Over!!

Acts of Desperation, the premier production of The Relevant Stage (TRS) came and went too quickly. I had joined the cast just 25 days prior to opening. We hardly had time to bond as a unit, but we did. We became a tightly knit ensemble, delivered our important, thoughtful message over 4 days and are now moving on.

One of the more interesting aspects of this production was the variation in the audiences. Two of the 6 performances were matinees for middle and high school students; about 1,000 teenagers saw this production focusing on the issues of bullying and school shootings. They were uninhibited, wonderfully reactive audiences. They were rarely quiet and laughed at times some would consider inappropriate. But I suspect that was because they were thinking about the harsh realities of their own lives that were being depicted on the stage and screen. Most of their questions after the performances suggested how the show affected them in the moment.

The evening performances and Sunday matinee were played to primarily adult audiences and their reaction was more of thoughtful silence. This was not a production designed to entertain the paying customers; it challenged them to think hard about what they could do to make the world our children grow up in a safer place. Unfortunately, I am told, there were a handful of patrons who walked out early in the first act when they realized that this was not a light, entertaining production. But, if the conversations at the opening night reception are an indication, Acts of Desperation succeeded in its goal to bring about thoughtful discussion and contemplation of what can be done.

At this point, I have few pictures to offer. There is just one of my "blatant self-promotion" shots, taken of Grandpa (aka The Ancient One) as one of his video monologues was running.

Below is a photo of a number of the cast members at a nearby restaurant between Friday's 2 performances. (It was taken on TRS Artistic Director Ray Buffer's camera by a very helpful waitress.)

(L to R): Ray Buffer, Rita Merrson, Adam Roa, Victor Kelso, Roberta McMillan, Karina Farah, Randa Walker, Jeanette Stojcevski, The Ancient One. (Not present) Lucas Pakes (Director), Sean McElhone. Tristan Nieto, CJ Archuleta

And one last picture (courtesy of Ray Buffer as is the photo at the top of the post), offered up for fans of art deco architecture; a view of the Warner Grand Theatre's exterior.

So, now on to getting caught up on sleep and moving on. It was a great, albeit too short, experience. I might so one more photo post if pictures become available.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Perfect Flower. . .

Every winter I start thinking about rearranging my office. If I moved my workstation away from the window to the opposite wall where the power and phone outlets are located, I would have more flexibility and fewer wires and cables in which to get tangled.

But then comes the beginning of February when I look out the window and see the first bloom of the season looking back at me:

Yes, that beautiful perfect flower, the harbinger of Spring, appeared this morning and told me to stay seated there by the window. And again this year, I will take its advice!

Friday, February 1, 2008

It’s Been a Helluva Week

This week has reminded me of why actors often refer to the final days of tech and dress rehearsals as "hell week." With Acts of Desperation having a Thursday opening, it was a short but intense week leading to a wonderful opening yesterday. The venerable old Warner Grand Theatre offered its own challenges, particularly with lighting, but director, crew and cast persevered. The Relevant Stage is now launched and is well on its way to making a major contribution to thoughtful theatre production in San Pedro and surrounding communities of southern California.

The two opening performances yesterday were exhilarating. After technical problems resulted in the cast only getting in one full run-through over the 3 days leading to the opening, we were really cooking. I am honored to be part of what has become an outstanding ensemble of actors and dancers ranging in age from 13 up to The Ancient One's 70 years. The pacing, energy and intensity for both performances were amazing. And each performance was different, partly due to the difference in the audiences.

The matinee was played to several hundred middle and high school students. They openly reacted to what they were seeing and appeared (based on the Q&A following the performance) to be touched by this multimedia look at the impacts of bullying and school violence. The evening audience was quieter and more reflective. They were pushed to look at the subject matter in ways they may not have previously seen it. At the opening night reception following the performance, audience members were clearly supportive of what the production is attempting to do and some were urging Artistic Director Ray Buffer to find a way to take the show "on the road," directly to local schools.

Right now, I am exhausted. And I leave in 2 hours for today's 2 performances; another school audience matinee this afternoon and a paying audience tonight. I will write more after the run ends. Right now I can only say that I am proud to be part of this production, delighted to be working on the stage of the historic Warner Grand, and honored to be part of such an outstanding ensemble.