Jessica Mitford: Here I come!

by cheri

I’ve decided to rescue my mother and father’s ashes from their joint grave at the Chapel of the Chimes cemetery in Hayward, California.

How  to do this, I am not sure.  And I suppose I ought to run it by my three siblings.

Dad has been mulling around in that joint (as he would surely call it) since 1995. Mom, poor dear, joined him 2.5 years ago. She, of course, makes the best of whatever her circumstances, so unselfish that she has yet to complain that we four, for whom she did SO MUCH,  have  not installed her graveside plaque, a solemn stone tablet which in  seven (prepaid) words, captures the her entire 84-year life.

So Dad and Mom sit or huddle or nest or sink or do whatever ashes do– Dad with a glowing, albeit brief, report of his astounding life; mother, with a grassy roof and no words.

It seems to me they  wait for rescue.

My decision to abscond with their ashes and scatter them in Lake Tahoe, where we as a family enjoyed so many hilarious moments, came last month on a dreary grey day when I journeyed to the Chapel of the Chimes and by graveside, reminded myself that my biggest cheerleaders are really (for sure) gone and would not be returning to tell me how special I am.

I rarely visit the Chapel of the Chimes because seeing the markers of all who rest there in the Jewish section is akin to being at Temple Beth Torah on Yom Kippur in 1961 listening to an anti-war sermon instead of a spiritual one. I fantasize that after the sun sets and we visitors to the cemetery are fast asleep, the whole congregation buried there arises and complains about how long and boring the rabbi’s sermons were.

My feet try their best to avoid stepping on my parents’ friends.

Ahh…yes…there are the Levitts. I wonder how you are, Sarah? and you Sam?

And dear Bobbie Swedelson and Marv Cohen (what a great guy)  and even my high school chum, Cindy Newman. Gosh, I had just attended  your wedding on Treasure Island, with a view of the Golden Gate. Within  a week I learned that you had died in a car accident on your honeymoon. And here you are, at the Chapel of the Chimes of all places!  When we made mischief in Mr. Blum’s chemistry class, we could never have imagined this odd reunion.

I zig-zag among the graves, not wanting to offend my 5th grade Sunday school teacher  or disturb Harry Feinberg, one of the nicest jewelers who ever wore a saffron-colored suit (when he was 80). God Bless Harry. Thanks for selling Ron that little chip of a diamond for my engagement ring. Oh, and I wonder where Harry’s lavender suit went. I should ask Eva, his wife. Oh there you are, Eva. Where did Harry get that suit?

The temperature in the Jewish section of the Chapel of the Chimes is lovely and austere.

However. The entrance to the cemetery is NOT.

The wide lawn with the iron fence along Mission Blvd is now covered with grave site decorations that make the entrance to Chapel of the Chimes  look  either like a junior high science fair, with corrugated cardboard displays and kitschy paper mache volcanoes, or a three-ring circus in miniature, with balloons, whirling ribbons, popcorn and a good old hotdog, slathered with relish and mustard.

Were I a gopher, a vole, or a feral cat and I approached this scene, I would know, without a doubt, that I had died and gone to heaven or at least gone to the midway of the Alameda County Fair with rides, games, and colorful stuff.

A circus atmosphere for sure.

Dad and Mom, I think you would like Lake Tahoe instead.

 

Posted in Life, People, Places | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Crossing Moon River

by cheri block

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photo by r. sabraw

1963

Wallflower, I.

Growing along the banks of the 7th-grade gym, having tentatively planted myself there for stability, with other flat-chested girls whose buds had not bloomed, whose stalks were thin and green, whose flowers were years away.

Waiting for an 8th-grade prince, that one clutching a voluptuous red rose and swaying with her as the clock ticked toward nine.

Awkward, I.

A seed packet waiting for a green house, we girls on the wall,  fertilized with Shalimar and hydrated with punch.

Unselected, we.

The last slow dance announced, we, feeling like weeds instead of the pink tulips we were to become, edged back into the darkness, like cattails in a dark lagoon.

Romantic song, it.

Moon River, by Andy Williams.

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Our oaks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in My childhood, My poetry | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

The sounds and hearts of the winged

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by cheri sabraw

When I was ten, I spent most of a morning fashioning a set of golden wings. Akin to making a kite, which my father Hugh had taught me to do, I designed a balsa wood skeleton, added a thin veneer of paper using yesterday’s  San Francisco Chronicle and then pressed each seam down with Elmer’s glue. I had been saving real birds’ wings, discarded from sparrows and blue jays, and so began the laborious task of gluing each one down on my creation. The wings done, I sprayed them with glittery gold  paint.

Ahhh.

If only they would carry me to the heavens, I speculated, looking up to a cloudless cerulean sky.

I still look to the sky, both day and night, for inspiration and reassurance that something more than the banal chitter-chatter of the day exists.

And often, I am rewarded not only with milky galaxies and twinkly planets, but often with creatures of iron and feathers.

Yesterday, waiting patiently on our desert patio, camera in hand, hoping for a hummingbird arrival at my feeder, I was awakened from my intense focus, along with the comfort and  silence of the rocks and cacti,  by the thunder of  F-16s, their deep roar in take-off from several miles away at Luke Air Force Base. I thought of the bravery and talent of my nephew Matthew, an F-16 pilot trained there and now stationed in Japan after a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.

A petite and sensitive desert bunny heard them too.

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Four iron birds heading to Utah, no doubt, in a formation of precision.

My nephew Matthew, a pilot of one of these machines, has described to me what it felt like in the cockpit over Afghanistan:

The best way to see God’s creation is in a fighter jet – a single seat fighter jet. The best fighter jet to see it in is an F-16 in which we can fly low to the ground and maintain energy in a turn while sneaking through tight spaces.

In the last half hour of our four-hour sortie, it was as if the earth was on exhibition
before our eyes. The morning light brought out the color of the bronze corridors through the river-carved canyons with immense majesty and clarity.

What I experienced in my cockpits is something that Time’s privileged kings will never know. The exalting adventure of weaving in and out of these
passageways through the rock is more intimately inspiriting than a high mountain sunrise through the misting dawn.

The Viper, my steel Pegasus, armed to the teeth, carried me through some of the most enchanting and bedazzling land that I can imagine a man ever laying eyes on at 450 knots. We were riders in a way today that no one will ever be able to duplicate and I hope that this experience has been permanently woven into my fabric as a man.

I sat in my own cockpit here on my patio, ears pricked and lens focused. Surprising, I thought,  that this little bird stays gripped on his perch with all the racket.

p1070195And then, the hummingbird arrived, an F-16, if you will, in miniature.

p1070200p1070199p1070205It was time to refuel, just as Matt does now, mid-air and then off again, looking down at the sand swirls in the baranca.

Matthew described his view through the Bamiyan as he and his partner flew low through one of the canyons:

The equalized tune, made for our hearts, resonated for 15 minutes at roughly 500 feet and 450 knots. Velvet green foliage of the river’s shores scrolled beneath us placidly on our weaving journey. The walls on each side of the canyon turned in unison out in front of us, forming symmetric bends that subsequently blurred by.

At one point it opened up to a wide, lush and patterned agricultural plateau. I was so low I could see the details of walkers. Two women pacing in unison along a sandstone road, flowing trails of vivid violet in their veiled burqas went down my right shoulder as I knife-edged into another avenue through the ancient rock – thunder ,clapping my respect for their authenticity as the sun glinted off my canopy in a flitting wink that blended into my wing flash.

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photo by cheri sabraw, 2017

 

Posted in Life, My childhood, My photography, Nature photography, People | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Fake

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Highland Park High School, December 2016

by cheri sabraw

Since Donald Trump took office, we have been bombarded by the words fake news.

Fake is not a new word ( 1790-1810) but is without a definitive origin. Curious.

The word fake connotes many images, few of them aesthetically beautiful or authentic but most of them acceptable to a large portion of the  global society.

We in the developed world have grown accustomed to fakeness–in leather, meat, luxury goods, breasts, fingernails, personalities, orgasms, resumes, lawns, jewelry, enhanced photography,and even in extra virgin olive oil from Italy.

Places like Las Vegas and Hollywood are  the epicenters of American Fake.

We rationalize why we like fake: more affordable and interesting, more attractive and sophisticated, more convenient and time-saving. Healthier. Safer. Prettier. Sexier. Alas, our pedestrian lives are SO boring.

The list of the fake grows like Jack’s GMO Beanstalk–taller and taller. Everything from fake pharmaceuticals to currencies to advertising to education has a back room of full of fake.

But what has happened?  The back room has become the front room.

Well.

Steroid-laced electronic carrier pigeons  like Facebook and Twitter drop fake news poop worldwide  in  the time it takes to blink twice (2/3 of a second).

In newsrooms (virtual or concrete), the millenial rush to be the first reporter or collegen anchor to break a news story, the first to portray the sensational, the first to draw attention to one’s news outlet (and oneself!) surpasses the importance of fact-checking because doing so is la-bor-ious.  Besides, dude, literally ,someone else might get the story out first. Yup!

Fake, simply put, is out of control.

News flashes:

To call into question not only the content of the news but also those who promulgate it now dominates the front room.

News agencies are nervous for good reason.

Their credibility is front page real news. In fact, they are making it news!

They have an opportunity to restore their reputations as viable checks and balances to the Legislative, Executive, and  Judicial branches of government but will they?

I hope so.

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Winston Churchill’s Map Room, London, England, June 2016

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

A circus tent

by cheri sabraw

A tall handsome man with grey hair, nice teeth, and a positive attitude arrived at my house this morning to turn off our propane so that a fumigation company can tent our house (and kill all of my Boston Ivy vines that I have been enjoying for 16 years).

Although the fumigators are supposed to arrive any minute, they have not arrived.

It’s funny how once you know the heat cannot be turned on, you become conscious of the cold. You wish you could start the dishwasher or  do a load of laundry. You wish you could chop kindling and make a fire in your little stove. You are cold.

You wish you could make a cup of hot coffee but then remember the coffee is packed up and sealed in a gas-proof bag.

You mosey to the pantry for an almond or two or three. Or a cracker with peanut butter. But then you remember that all your foods in plastic packages need to be sealed and packed in a gas-proof bag.

Yep. Ten gas-proof bags hide in the pantry, the refrigerator, the freezer and even in my bathroom.

You  might be developing a headache, just thinking about the future unpacking, cleaning, and sorting all of the food, medicine, liquor, olive oil and anything else that could possibly become contaminated and kill you when you return to your home.

But the aspirin is packed in a gas-proof bag.

Your dog is off property.

When the gas enters the tent, your plants around the house will die, along with their friends the vines.

All of this because you saw a 1-inch piece of evidence that dry-wood termites “might” be in your tower on the second floor.

“Cheri, why are you dragging your feet and not calling the termite people?” the Man of the House asked over 1.5 years ago.

” I don’t want my vines to die,” I grumpily answered, taking a drag on my cigarette (just kidding).

“OK…let’s evaluate  your logic…your vines or structural damage to your home? Which is more important?” he questioned in a rational tone.

With my hands on the Sunset Garden Book, I swore to God and my country “My vines!!! and ran to the couch, sobbing (just kidding).

Today is the day.

The vines die.

And so does the one termite that is probably living in our tower.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life | Tagged , | 14 Comments

The Emerald Rancho

p1070146by  cheri

The rain pounds the East Bay hills and continues its drumbeat to this very moment.

The drought is over.

Moss tells me this is so.

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This rock wall has been on our property for over 60 years. I have never seen a moss fest as lush!

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On my way back to my fire, this branch insisted that I stop and photograph its latest green tattoo.

So much for global warming!

 

Posted in Nature photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

My late night at the Fillmore Auditorium

by  Freedom Dancer

Entering  the iconic Fillmore Auditorium on Friday night, looking hip with a colorful peasant blouse cinched by a thick leather black belt, along with jeans and boots, I put up with a required frisking as we entered the historic venue. Even Bill Graham would have raised his eyebrows to learn that in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, an East Bay chic like me had never visited the concert hall, so rich with the history of the Bay Area music scene.

A Lebowski-ish bearded mellow man with a ski cap asked me open my tiny purse to make sure I wasn’t bringing drugs in to see a bluegrass band concert.

Horseshoes and Handgranades were opening for the headliners, The Infamous Stringdusters.

Drugs? You say? Why I am one of the only people I know who didn’t try marijuana in the 60’s, I said, straightening my babushka and looking at him square in his swollen irises.

Well, you are really missing out, my dear,he responded lovingly.

It’s not good for your brain or your health or your lungs,I said sweetly and softly.

What? are you, a doctor?

Yes, I answered,  a neurologist, so I know what I am talking about.

And with that, I entered a world of yore and lore–the Fillmore in the Fillmore.

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The Poster Room

All the musical names of my youth had played the Fillmore: Jefferson Airplane, Tower of Power, Johnnie Cash, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, the Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, the Allman Brothers, the Who and other groups known for psychedelic tripping to the light fantastic.

And groups not of my youth but of my kids’ youth stood on the stage and wailed or blasted or whined or hooted: the Dead Kennedys, the Smashing Pumpkins, Queen Latifah, the Mother Hips, Jefferson Starship and Counting Crows.

We headed up to the Poster Room where colorful posters of most of the headliners lined the walls like a super-sized stamp collection.

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What I didn’t know was that I would have to stand for the entire show.No seats!

My lower back and feet grumbled upon learning this news, but hey!, I’m Cheri Block, hipster from the East Bay, yeah…Gramma Hipster with a glass of respectable Chardonnay, yeah…

My short-girl survival instincts told me to hustle to the front of the stage as fast as I could or I would see nothing. That move proved to be genius.

Flanked by my 13-year-old musical grandson, my 6’2″ son-in-law, my daughter (who earned several yellow cards and one red card in her high school soccer career) and my husband wearing a very cool cap and who is not to be messed around with when things get tense–I felt, well, safe.

By the time the headliners were in full throttle,  it was the 60’s. People with grey hair (Class of 68), beards and hippie shirts, young Appalachians and Alaskan-looking fishing and hunting men chugging one craft beer after another, solitary weirdos doing their version of the bluegrass hokey-pokey by themselves in the corner,  lots of clean-cut folks  having a good ol time, and yes, baby boomers vaporizing weed and blowing it into the air (for all of us to breathe)–so much for checking for DRUGS at the door.

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Horseshoes and Handgranades

The New Orleans dinner we had at the Elite Cafe, about as heavy as an anvil in my stomach, proved to be a sustaining fact0r throughout a curious blast through the past.

How lucky was  I to have been to my first Fillmore concert at the age of 66 with my 13-year-old grandson?

On the way home in the BART car, I put on my doctor hat and discussed Mary Juana with him. He is a jazz musician with a great brain and good judgement, so I think he listened.

Right on, you groovy dudes!

Posted in Places | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Flow

 

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by cheri

Here in California the water continues to fall from the heavens. Reservoirs overflow their dams, waterfalls heave over their rocks, and our babbling creek boasts her widening waistline.

Flow.

As with  many words in the English language,  the word flow can evoke diverse images and feelings, making way for imagination and creativity.

The flow of conversation, the flow of music, of dance, of physical expression. The flow of syrup onto waffles, of olive oil into a decanter, of wine into a glistening goblet.

And then there is blood flow.

Blood flow, unlike water flow, is not subject to political debate.

Blood flow determines tissue, respiratory, and sexual health.

Perhaps the most important area of blood flow is to the brain–for  without adequate infusion of blood, the brain malfunctions. Memory fogs.

Although some of us concern ourselves with fading muscle tone (and push-ups), the most significant reason to exercise is to stimulate blood flow to all parts of the body.

Especially to the brain.

To that end, I am now doing 50-100 jumping jacks a day. Not all at once, mind you.

I challenge you to increase your blood flow and brain function by doing the same.

Just try it for a week. See if your brain works better.

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Alaska, 2016

Posted in fitness | 11 Comments

The NEA protects incompetent teachers

 

 

 

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by cheri block sabraw

Are you going to be buried or cremated when you die?

You can make that choice now, or let your relatives make it for you.

Whatever choice they make doesn’t affect you any more anyway.

But In the marketplace of goods and services for the living, most of us have choice.

One of the most important decisions many of us have to make concerns health care. Which doctor will operate on our knees? Our hearts? Which doctor will administer chemical therapy?

Many of us conduct research about medical centers  and doctors, ultimately choosing the place and the person whom  we believe we can trust with our lives.

Who will care for our teeth? Who will service our cars? Who will cut our hair? And draw our blood and package our food and cut our nails?

But when it comes to public education, we do not have a choice about who will teach our child. We cannot do our research and then choose the English teacher in whose classroom our high school student will sit in for 180 days. Most of the time, the computer chooses our child’s teachers and schedule.

As students ourselves, we have all had that one magical teacher who inspired us, maybe, to pursue a course of study. Some of us have been lucky enough to have 3-5 magical teachers.

Alas, we have all experienced more than one terrible teacher from whom we learned nothing.

Our children and grandchildren, those raised in the 70’s until the present time, have had a few great teachers, some good teachers, and many bad teachers.

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You do not have a choice because of the powerful and member-driven teachers’ unions, which stymie school choice at every corner of every street in every town across this country.

Their  predictable narrative emerges:

Poor black urban children will not be afforded the educational opportunity they deserve.

Good teachers will lose their jobs to teachers to those at charter, private, and religious schools.

The entire public school system will be stripped of the funding necessary to educate United States citizens, (and a number of illegal aliens), leaving our country at risk.

Be clear about one thing: teachers’ unions exist not to protect the educational rights and opportunities of students; rather, they exist to protect their  members—the teachers—the good, the bad, the incompetent.

For twenty-six years, I worked at all levels of public education—elementary, secondary, and adult education. During that time, I met about 20 teachers who were just the type I would want for myself, for my son or daughter or my grandchildren—positive, smart, engaging, dedicated, and instructive.

The others, well, they varied from the average to the fair to the poor to the incompetent.

Choice—and thus, competition—is the only option left which has a chance to provide a quality education to those who might not be afforded one, especially poor kids in urban ghettos.

Choice will not take away the jobs of competent teachers. This is the weakest argument made by the union. The evaluation procedures conducted by public schools administrators are laughable.

Choice might get rid of bad teachers simply because we consumers will go elsewhere.

The terrible irony of the new Democratic Party is that it purports to be the party of the people but by protecting lousy teachers, the people , especially those who are poor and underrepresented, are poorly served.

Let’s give Betsy DeVos and School Choice a chance.

Why not?

What do you have to lose? (Same comment Trump made regarding Chicago)

 

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Reading the Green

by cheri sabraw

To attend any major outdoor sporting event these days takes the will of a wolverine, the shoes of a marathoner, and the sunscreen of a swimmer.   I had all three last Thursday which, if this vignette were about baseball, I would call a home run. It was, in a few words, an eagle of a day.

No lob shot. No slice or hook. No divot or bogie. Everything I had imagined about attending the Phoenix Open Golf Tournament went 17 under par. Splendid. And so did the eventual winner, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.

Showering early that morning, in an effort to beat the 100,000 other fans who were expected to jam the venue in the Valley of the Sun, I visualized myself strolling alongside golfers Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Louis Oostheizen as they walked down a lush fairway   250-275 yards from their tee shots, a  trio of young gladiators dressed in white slacks and pastel shirts.

As for me, one fan of 100,000? In an effort to be spotted in the crowd,  I wore a red wide-brimmed hat, black tight golf pants, and a long-sleeved Puma top with UV protection in the fabric. If I weren’t “spotted” in the crowd, at least my husband could find me among the masses.

When we arrived in Scottsdale,  we parked miles away and waited for one of dozens of  shuttle buses, lined up like  dutiful pack animals. A woman with a security wand made sure we had no hidden weapons and off on we were herded with 60 other sober (at the moment) fans—only to be dropped off into a sea of golf fanatics.

Told that Thursday was the only day to go—if we didn’t want to party with thousands of drunk millennials on Friday and Saturday—we obeyed and were rewarded with as polite a crowd as any professional golfer could desire.

What a day!

The weather was perfect (mid-70’s); the fans, polite; the company, magnificent (my husband, sister, and brother-in-law); the golf, incredible; the venue; challenging, not only for the golfers but also for us fans, who walked up and down the Bermuda grassy hills and dales in this stadium course, one designed for fans. Most of the holes had hills on which to sit as in an amphitheater.

In our search to find Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, K.J. Choi, Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, and Jordan Spieth, we parked ourselves at the 8th hole and waited for them to pass by us. Seeing these guys from ten feet away was a rush.  More interesting was watching their idiosyncracies–how they anchor their feet, dig their heels in first right and then left,  wiggle their back ends, place the head of their drivers by the side of the ball, wind up in a relaxed (or not) back swing, release in a robust revolution , and launch a small white ball into the air like a satellite.

Some of the golfers were all business; others (probably under the care of a sports psychologist) laughed and joked with each other.

After a dog and a beer, we made our way to the 7th hole. I stood by the pathway where the golfers advance to the next hole when they have finished putting the previous one. When Hunter Mahan and K.J. Choi walked three feet from me, I said, “ Hunter!” and he looked right at my large red hat and said, “ How are you?” I said, “Great!”

When K.J. Choi walked by in his dark pink shirt and crisp white pants, I said, “K.J.!” and he said, “Hi! Are you having fun?”

Their kindness to a dorky fan in a red hat must be why they didn’t win. Perhaps the focus of Matsuyama (who also walked by but did not make eye contact with any of us) was the reason he won the tournament.

After lunch, We entered the famed stadium rebuilt yearly for 16 thousand fans around the raucous 16th hole. The noise was deafening as we waited in line in a tunnel. For a moment I thought of the Coliseum in Rome and wondered how Roman  gladiators might have felt in the shade of a tunnel before bursting into an arena, cheered on by drunk and crude men and adorned by loose women dressed in nothing. The bright light at the end of the tunnel ended my reverie.

Hot. Loud. Different.

We could only stay in our seats for 30 minutes before I said, “ Let’s get out of here,” but not before two drunk young guys insisted we fist bump them as we filed out. They slapped my hands, but when I considered that they had slapped the hands of 300 other people exiting, I headed for the hand-sanitizer stations.

We saw every golfer we came to see, enjoyed the spectacle of it all, and left, rather tired,  to catch a shuttle bus.

The next day on the 13th hole where I was playing golf, I hoped that some of what I saw had magically made its way into my drive, my chip, my putt.

It was not to be. I shot a 108.

But, I did feel good in my red hat.

 

 

 

 

Posted in golf, People | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments