Sunday, March 27, 2016

yes, but do you believe in the easter bunny?

There are two synagogues in the U.P., and Tuesday I drove to the one in Hancock. I had visited some websites that describe Temple Jacob, but the only hint as to its exact location was that it was just north of the lift bridge. I have crossed the lift bridge over Portage Canal many times. Without skiff or snowmobile, it is the only way into Hancock, to the airport, to Calumet, and beyond. But the only thing I could picture just north of the bridge was the concrete wall where one turns right or left or, I suppose, crashes into the wall. Most turn left, staying on US 41, but some turn right, following M-26. So on the bridge I kept my eyes peeled, then there it was, Temple Jacob, just to the right, just north of the bridge.

There was no parking lot, no drive, and no street parking, so I pulled into the lot at the stove and coal shop. The woman inside said the temple was open only in the summer. I had not been able to tell from the websites if there was an active congregation or not, but I assumed there was. In 2012 (5772 on the Jewish calendar), the temple celebrated its centennial with various events and fund-raising, news of which, at the time, I missed.


The temple is a beauty built of local sandstone and brick with several stained glass windows, a solid cube of a shul on the first rise of a hill. The planes of the temple’s roof continue the upward motion, coming together beneath a copper dome atop of which stands the Star of David. Walking around outside, I realized the mound of snow between the temple and the coal shop must be hiding the temple’s driveway. Come summer, there will be plenty of room for parking.


Back home, online, I found a site for the congregation with a listing of current events and contacts and a map that shows exactly where the temple is.

But I am not looking for religion. Curiosity took me to Temple Jacob, and curiosity has me reading, in small bites, “The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000,” by Hasia R. Diner. In the chapter “Becoming American, 1776-1820,” I found this interesting reminder:
Article 5, Section 3 [of the Constitution] stipulated that all office holders in the national government “shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Interesting because sometimes I feel there is a litmus test for what one might call patriotism, a test that requires each of us to affirm a religion, to declare a set of religious beliefs, and in order to pass the test, to be anointed a patriot or even just a good citizen, you must declare the correct set of beliefs.

Like Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham, I can ramble off a list of things I believe in, like a morning frost of snow followed by an afternoon of steady rain; like pitchers taking their at-bats; like the interior of my mind; like the blossoms on a serviceberry branch cut from its tree in March with just the tiniest of buds, brought inside, put in a vase with water. I believe in a whole bunch of things that are real for the moment but most likely not forever. I also believe in things such as peace and love that are just as temporary, perhaps, but that flirt with this idea of eternity. And then there are things like the slow creep of seasons, the slow creep of knowledge, and I believe in those things, too, but what are they? Are they real? Imaginary? Temporary? Solid? Ephemeral? Eternal? Just nature?

I believe, I suppose, in questions.


I have been told I am part of “the tribe,” that according to Jewish law or somesuch, because my maternal great-grandmother was Jewish, I am Jewish. I carry the heritage, I have the gene. But so do I carry the heritage and genes of those that traveled from England, from Cornwall and London, from mists and moors, and there are genes from Scotland and France and other places, places unknown, but Christian places with Protestant people or maybe, perhaps, they were pagans. I do not want to become them, but neither do I want to lose them. What does it mean? All these genes, all this heritage. Anything? As for my religion, I was raised with a bit of Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church on the east side of town, that is all. I did not much care for it.

The Jewish heritage I harbor dwells in the back of my mind, at the base of my skull, at times heavy, at times nothing. But because of it, and perhaps because of my rather late discovery of it, in middle age, I have thought about and discovered things I might otherwise have never thought about, might otherwise have neglected, might otherwise have passed over and still, I miss so much. But this week I found a beautiful temple, a shul, closed in winter but open in summer, 104 years old, made of local sandstone and brick, just north of the lift bridge in Hancock.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

march malaise

the malaise of march hit 10:17 a.m. Sunday
when I realized—
slow to be sure—
that it was not 10:17 a.m. but 11:17 a.m.—
Spring ahead!
Bah, humbug.
How much I don’t like spring. These
l e n g t h e n i n g
days—twelve hours already!
Enough with the daylight!
It is just the beginning of
sunshine and frolic and
oh,
leave me alone.
Bah.
Humbug.

Oh! for the dark evenings of winter …

So it was 10:17 a.m.—ho ho! Silly girl!
11:17 a.m.,
see what happens
when you
tune out the world—
the world creeps in anyway, under the dark of night,
steals away time—
and there is so little dark! so little time!—
and then covers it all up
with a jolly song:
Spring ahead, me lassie, spring ahead!

So now daylight until
all hours of the night and
leprechauns dance
as if
’t’were
a good thing.

All week now with the sleeping late
the lethargy
the malaise
and I don’t s’pose it helped much—
that one day of seventy degrees—
hot and sunny,
and lo! But wasn’t that gorgeous?
Door  w i d e  o p e n
blue sky and porch settin’,
basking in the sun,
records on the turntable,
spinning and spinning
with the constant drip of snow
melting rivulets
off the eave.

But then the theft of time, and
yes, the hour will be returned, come fall, so
perhaps
I should be happy to have
less time in spring,
more time in fall.

I’ll think about it.

Done.

And then came the rain and the snow
and you see I knew all along—
even while basking in that sunny day past—well,
I knew it was false, but that was OK—
OK! I said, I love this!—
and the rainy day really wasn’t so bad
and the snowy day really wasn’t so bad—
it was beautiful, actually, and a lot of deer showed up,
just moving through, spring fever, I guess,
and one morning Josie chased a whole gang of deer—
Josie, who loves all seasons!—
he chased them deer right out of here
making such tracks in the snow and
ruff ruff!
and Josie and I walked the riverbank, the river now
so HIGH
and one day I thought TOO HIGH—
and that was the rainy day—
so halfway along I said, Come on, we’re turning back,
but the next day, the snow day,
we could see more clearly—
white earth / brown water—
clear distinction—
so we went the whole way,
the regular walk through the woods
along the riverbank and what a delight—
how can I complain?
To watch snow fall while
listening to snowmelt
gurgling through culverts;
to see the island
in the crook of the river
disappearing, reappearing;
and in the mornings and evenings
tawny deer ambling through,
pawing at the snow,
grazing,
looking up—
they give me the fisheye and
I give it
right
back.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ho ho kam or bust: it was 1987

I spent 1987 in Columbia, Missouri, a student in the Graduate School of Journalism there at the University of Missouri. I rented a small one-story house of four rooms with a small front porch, a small front yard enclosed by a chain link fence, and a large back yard with no fence. In one corner of the porch were two front doors set at a right angle. The doors opened in to separate living rooms. I used only one door and one living room, the one with the large heating vent covered by a metal grate set in the floor. A few doors down, on the corner, was a particularly small white clapboard church. Many nights it grew big, rocking with hallelujah and song.


The house was about a mile north of the university, and most often I would walk or bike to class taking Hickman to Eighth then over to Ninth which led me through downtown to campus. The only downtown establishment I remember is a pool hall called Booches. There you could get a beer and a great burger and fries. Sometimes I would drive to campus. I had a VW Rabbit, fire engine red. It came in handy for my jobs—I worked for a while delivering newspapers, for a while delivering pizza.

In the spring of 1987 I used my VW Rabbit to get out of Columbia and to Ho Ho Kam Park, the spring training facility of the Chicago Cubs, in Mesa, Arizona, a trip of about 1,500 miles. I took with me my dog, Dandy, and met there my sister Jennifer and her partner, Jill. We stayed for a few days at the Western Lodge in a room with a kitchenette and a color TV. The motel had a pool that I remember as littered with leaves or dead bugs or something.

Jennifer and Dandy at the motel.

We went to a few Cubs games, lounging on metal risers, sunbathing, drinking beer, talking with fellow fans, taking pictures of ballplayers. It was the year Ryne Sandberg sported a mustache, and I tried to get a picture of that. One day the Cubs played the A’s, and I got a nice picture of Reggie Jackson warming up, doing leg stretches. I got a picture of a bare-chested, gold-chained Shawon Dunston signing autographs outside the Cubs locker room. There is my sister in the crowd, raising her scorecard and pencil. We also spent time in the desert, went out to bars, hung around the motel room. We ran into people we knew from back in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. One was a woman I knew only as “Tidbit.” She wore nothing from hair ribbons to shoelaces if it did not sport a Cubs emblem. Another was the woman who worked as the bathroom attendant under the right field bleachers.

Beneath the stands at Ho Ho Kam was a batting cage and we hung out there a bit, watching Andre Dawson, Bobby Dernier, Thad Bosley, and others take their swings. In my notes from the trip, I see that one day: “I got Thad Bosley’s autograph and fell in love.” One night eating out at a Chinese restaurant we saw the legendary Billy Williams and, for 30 seconds, I talked to Thad Bosley.

Bosley was an outfielder, not an everyday player, but an excellent pinch-hitter—the kind of guy who bounced around playing for a few different teams in a good, but maybe not great, career. He had his best years with the Cubs, joining the team in 1983, and if the Cubs had ever made it to the World Series while Bosley was there I could well imagine him coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, the whole spiel on the line, and there he would go popping a base hit or a home run or whatever was needed. He was that kind of player, just doing his job. Plus, he was good-looking and could sing.


One evening at a bar we found ourselves sitting next to Dan Gladden. A conversation began when my sister recognized him, said something like Hey, aren’t you Dan Gladden? Somehow this impressed him. He was kind of crying in his beer because he had just been traded from the Giants to the Twins, that’s San Francisco to Minnesota, San Francisco with a won-loss record of 83-79 to Minnesota with a won-loss record of 71-91. Gladden felt his career was over. But Jennifer set him straight—she knew he was a good ballplayer, and she told him so, illustrating with a story or two about specific plays and at-bats she had seen. A few months later, I was watching the World Series at Booches cheering wildly for the Twins, who were playing the Cardinals, and there I was deep in Cardinal Country, St. Louis being just two hours from Columbia, and Cub fans and Cardinal fans (as you may know) have an unusually antagonistic bond, so I was risking my life, rooting for the Twins, and I know all too well how peckish Redbirds can be when they lose, their feathers all ruffled and out of place, which comes from, I imagine, lack of experience, but, anyway, that year, in the World Series, the “Twinkies” were my team, Dan Gladden my man. To the Twins’ eventual victory he contributed seven RBIs, four of which came in a Game One grand slam.


Driving to Mesa, I spent the first night in Oklahoma City and the next in Gallup, New Mexico. It seems strange to me that on my recent trip west it didn’t cross my mind that I had been down America’s historic Route 66 before, had spent a night in Gallup before, just me and my dog, though of course in 2014 it was just me and my cat. In 1987, I stayed at the Road Runner Motel in a room with Magic Fingers and WGN-TV. Earlier that day—a Friday, March 13—I had stopped for gas in Clines Corners. The attendant, a skinny, toothy guy with just a few missing, asked me if I knew the people in Chicago who had committed suicide. I had read about four teen-agers, I thought from Pennsylvania, who had committed suicide together and thought that was what he referred to. As I was leaving he said, “Don’t commit suicide. Life’s OK.” That night in Gallup I watched the news, saw there had been another suicide pact carried out in a town called Alsip, not far from Chicago.


Driving home from Mesa I did not stop. Not to sleep, anyway. I drove straight for 30 hours, my only drugs being caffeine and nicotine. It wasn’t the plan, just what happened. I remember thinking somewhere around Oklahoma City If I don’t stop now, if I don’t stop now and sleep, if I don’t stop now and sleep in Oklahoma City which of course is the only sensible thing to do, I will not stop, I will drive all the way to Columbia with no sleep, no sleep at all since Mesa, no sleep at all since Ho Ho Kam Park, and that is crazy; and I remember at some point—maybe in southern Missouri around dawn—feeling desperate for coffee and more and more cigarettes. Could there possibly be enough coffee and cigarettes to keep me awake? And I remember huge rolling clouds and a long rolling road and I remember that I made it home safely, where the drains were all clogged and the cats had peed here and there and barfed everywhere else; to where University administration had sent me a letter threatening to kick me out of school unless I came up with proof of a measles vaccination; to where my landlord came quickly to try to fix the clogged drains but he couldn’t; to where my cat sitter wandered by just after I had fallen asleep on the sofabed in the living room, where I usually slept, a la Mary Richards, but I did not have a big “L” on the wall, and I usually was not sleeping in the middle of the afternoon or whenever it was, and his knocking on the door woke me up but then I fainted dead away, right at his feet. When I came to babbling about Ho Ho Kam it freaked him out.

That year the Cubs finished last in their division with a record of 76-85. Despite being in Columbia through the summer, I managed seven visits to Wrigley Field. I went twice to Kansas City—neither time was Bosley, who had been traded to KC at the end of March, in the line-up—and to Busch Stadium, in St. Louis, three times. I kept score for several games I watched on TV, either via WTBS or NBC (I railed against the local cable company for not having WGN in their line-up—they told me, and I can still hear the shrug in the voice, “We took a vote, WTBS won”), and I worked the sports desk at the Columbia Missourian under the guise of News Reporting and Editing 101 or something like that. It was great to go to the newsroom and get wire reports of the games.

That summer I read “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” by Jules Tygiel, and a friend sent me “My Brother Morris Berg, The Real Moe,” an unusual book written—or should I say put together—by Berg’s sister, Edith. Moe Berg was a catcher in the 1920s and ’30s, playing for a few different teams. He was also graduated from Princeton, the Sorbonne, and the Columbia School of Law. He spoke a dozen or so languages, travelled the world, was one of the first ball players to visit Japan, to take baseball across the Pacific. He was a son of Russian immigrant Jews. During World War II, Berg served the U.S. as a spy. The book is a hodge-podge of photocopied letters, memos, notes, photographs, receipts, telegrams, itineraries, speeches, newspaper articles, and more interspersed with scraps of vignettes and memories written by Edith.

I didn’t know if I still had the book after all this time, but I found it in the crate with my scorecards, and it is falling apart—its spine was already cracking back in 1987. I remember holding it together with rubber bands.

Pages 305-306 of “The Real Moe”



Sunday, March 6, 2016

elliott’s big beautiful head: an x-ray art extravaganza

As the vet pulled the lot of three x-rays out of the big brown envelope I told him I was going to try to take pictures of each. He slapped the first two up on the light box and said wait, the best is yet to come.


Well, I hope so. As interesting as they are, these first two are not that exciting, and, in practical terms, they don’t show much: they don’t show why Elliott has been sneezing for several months with occasional dramatic, spraying nosebleeds. The vet slapped the third x-ray onto the light box.


Oh my. There is Elliott’s big, beautiful brain and everything else, including, as the vet explained, a clear view of Elliott’s problem: a swollen right nasal passage. “Rhinitis.”


“It's beautiful,” I said. I felt I could stare at the image for days, and I have, and it has stared back.






These x-rays were, perhaps, unnecessary. Once the vet knocked Elliott out and looked up his nose, it was clear that the right nasal passage was swollen and inflamed. We could have stopped there, said OK, infection, now what. But x-rays assure us there is nothing else there, well, nothing bad, anyway, like a big bad tumor or a mess of worms. I figured it was worth it to know that, and I thought maybe the images would be interesting. But I never thought they would be downright beautiful. And so much fun.




I thought briefly of starting a line of greeting cards: Skeletal Greetings, The Bones of Any Good Relationship. Or a typed-by-hand book with printed pictures: Elliott’s X-rays.


Anyway, Elliott is now on a twice-a-day 30-day antibiotic regimen coupled with, for a while, an anti-inflammatory. He has been subdued since arriving home from the vet Tuesday afternoon and, oddly enough, not sneezing much. I have been sneezing a lot. I go through spells of massive sneezing, no other symptoms, don’t think much about it. But Elliott thinks I should go to the doc, have my head examined.


I googled “x-ray art” and found links to flowers, a man with emphysema, Hugh Turvey, and more. But, all good things must come to an end. No, wait—that sounds like something my mom would say! Maybe we have time for a short documentary. It’s kind of like being in science class with that quirky teacher who all of a sudden flashes really cool pictures on the screen. Late in 1895 …

“It seems both incredible and paradoxical that the rays which are themselves invisible can reveal objects which are otherwise also invisible, but that is exactly what x-rays can do,” Dr. Coolidge says.
I think we have time for one last picture.


It’s such a fascinating world in there.