Wise Guys

Although it’s been two years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day?


 

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Window Dressing

Peering into shop windows along the streets and canals of Amsterdam…

canal scene

…presents many an oddity that will surely arouse the senses. Although, considering Amsterdam’s predilection and distinction for legal marijuana and prostitution, it would seem unlikely that there could be any room for other surprises.

Yet oddly enough, despite the merchandising overload of everything cannabis,

containers

pot menu

and the city’s penchant for 24-hr flesh peddling,

red light secrets

there is more to Amsterdam than just kink and circumstance.

There are also plenty of museums,

Amsterdam Museum.jpg

and enough al fresco cafés and frites stores to support a cultural and gastronomical battalion.

fast food

Amsterdam is a place for eyes behind your head, because two eyes in front is not enough to sidestep all the oncoming cyclists coming from every direction,

bikers and reefer.jpg

bikes at nite

but also to catch all the head-turning outrageousness of an unrepentant town that still embraces Easter.

20190412_124910.jpg

Amsterdam is a place to relax. Heck, half the population is already stoned, and the pungent waft of weed is a strong reminder to kick back and enjoy the scenery.

canal sitters (2)

park canal.jpg

Amsterdam is a tolerant town, where all kinds of people gather and co-exist without judgement or little reservation. Citizens are proud and expressive, at times aggressive, but mostly helpful–although they smoke entirely too much, and regard the street as their personal ashtray.

Queers

As a laissez-faire society by practice and design, it appears to work. Quite simply, Amsterdam is a libertarian’s delight!

And that leaves plenty of room for rubber duckies and vaginas, and everything between.

think pink

Becoming My Parents

Hiking along New Jersey State and County Park trails the day after Thanksgiving made a lot of sense to Leah, who orchestrated our first return to New Jersey since moving to St. Augustine five months ago. She promised a whirlwind week and a-half of personal appointments and commitments packed with a variety of doctors, friends and family members, all laced with an emphasis on over-eating.

And so, during the course of our visit, as advertised, our food-centric itinerary always included a meal punctuated by scintillating table conversation on family history and folklore–touching on recipes, obituaries, and kin outcasts, with politics and religion occasionally creeping into the dialogue.

But mostly, everybody seemed to be preoccupied with their health. And God help the person who would innocently ask, “So, how are you feeling?” Because this question would open the floodgates for respondents to freely reassign their HIPAA proxy on the spot so they could casually discuss their current condition down to the last agonizing ache and pain, notwithstanding the severity surrounding their prognosis and course(s) of treatments, always followed by a couple of random doctor-horror stories.

It seemed like everyone had a health-related story to tell–whether it was about themselves or someone they knew–not unlike my parents and their friends, who would gather at holiday occasions to compare notes about their medication intake. It was uncanny that the of crux of nearly all of our relationships was now firmly rooted in our faded glory and eventual demise.

Any outsider, after eavesdropping on any of our sessions of non-stop kvetching might be surprised to learn that we are still breathing and have more than one day to live.

And so, it was predictably refreshing to carve out some time to clear our ears of prescription patter, and find an activity that combined friendship and calorie burning. Of course, our opportunity to hike was completely weather-dependent, considering the prior Nor’easter and the Arctic chill that had settled on the Atlantic states.

Like many Northern transplants to Florida, Leah and I had become preoccupied with weather-watching, so we might bask in the warm glow of knowing that we had finally escaped the unfriendly winters by relocating to St. Augustine. But now that we were back in Jersey, it was time to face the hard cold facts of winter; Ramapo Valley Reservation (NYNJTC_RamapoValleyCountyReservationMap-2017) was 18°F at the Reservation trailhead, and expecting to peak at 23°F by the afternoon.

MacMillan Reservoir was partially frozen and dreary…

lake (2)

with the exception of distant water reflections.

frozen reflection

Trails were camouflaged… 

blue trail (2)

by crispy fallen leaves–densely packed and slippery–despite the assortment of Skittles-colored trail blazes nailed to forest saplings.

cut logs

Brooks were running fast and high…

brook flow1 (3)

making each water-crossing challenging and hazardous.

We continued our four-hour excursion with the winds picking up across Campgaw Mountain.

panorama looking east

And it became clear to me that marching through the New Jersey woodlands was not the best birthday present I could have given myself. The cold had already taken its toll on Arlene’s arthritic fingers. Leah, who had recently succumbed to lower back pain and acute Achilles tendonitis was now complaining about her knees.

My knees were also aching from sliding down one too many slippery slopes. Even Doug, the youngest of all of us by at least eleven years had to admit that his right knee was locking up occasionally. The ladies cut their hike short, taking a quick detour to the parking lot, but Doug and I wore our intrepid hats. We continued to the feature waterfall along the Brookside Trail with few delays or complaints…

waterfall

giving us bragging rights to a 7.5 mile accomplishment,

frosty rocks

and leaving me more than ready for my true birthday present to myself: a one-hour Swedish massage at a local day spa, if only to rub my aches and pains away for another day.

 

 

 

 

The United State of Armories

There was another mass shooting the other day–only eleven days after the last mass shooting, in addition to 305 other mass shootings in the past 312 days–bringing the tally thus far this year to 328 DEAD and 1200+ WOUNDED.

With so many well-intended thoughts and prayers offered after each and every tragedy, there must be a reason why this keeps happening. Are we not thinking and praying enough?

Clearly, there must be someone or something to blame!

Donald Trump faults America’s preparedness. He said so when Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day.

If only the teachers had been armed…

And he mentioned it again after Robert Bowers opened fire on congregants at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during Shabbat morning services, killing 11 and injuring others.

If only there had been an armed guard at the temple…

Trump continues to echo National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre’s long-touted notion that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

It’s a familiar refrain by 2nd Amendment activists and lobbyists.

Perhaps they are right, and pacifists have been blind to such an obvious solution…

WE NEED MORE GUNS TO STOP THE VIOLENCE!

America has 4% of the world population, but controls 46% of the civilian guns, globally. Suppose we put them to good use!

grayscale photo of a boy aiming toy gun selective focus photography

Therefore, all of us have the power and responsibility to prevent the next mass shooting by stationing one or more armed civilians at EVERY:

  • bar, restaurant, coffee shop, donut shop, pizzeria, take-out, drive-thru, food truck;
  • shopping plaza, shopping center, shopping mall, strip mall, retail center, department store, discount center, flea market, garage sale;
  • home center, dry cleaner, laundromat, pawn shop, liquor store;
  • firehouse, courthouse, post office, police station, municipal office, county office, state office, federal office, library, voter poll;
  • barber shop, beauty salon, nail salon, eyebrow threading salon, tanning salon, massage parlor, spa;
  • bank, savings & loan, credit union, financial service, investment house, loan shark;
  • realty, mortgage agency, bail bond agency;
  • gymnasium, dance studio, yoga studio, swimming pool, bath house;
  • amusement center, amusement park, dog park, park ground, fairground;
  • food fair, street fair, corn maze, pumpkin patch;
  • horse-riding stable, kennel, boat yard, pier, seashore;
  • public school, parochial school, charter school, vocational school, tutoring center;
  • college dormitory, fraternity house, sorority house, lecture hall, classroom, laboratory, library, bookstore;
  • church, chapel, synagogue, temple, mosque;
  • supermarket, grocery store, convenience store, bakery, butcher shop, produce market, fish market;
  • vineyard, brewery, distillery;
  • hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, dentist, veterinarian, pharmacy, physical therapist, LabCorp office;
  • parking lot, car dealership, gas station, car wash, auto body shop, auto repair, oil change service, tire shop;
  • concert hall, stadium, arena, theater, amphitheater, movie theater, bowling alley, circus tent, carnival, casino, racetrack;
  • bus depot, train station, airport, heliport, car rental, truck stop, rest stop, gas station;
  • cruise ship, riverboat, ferry, freighter, tugboat, tour boat;
  • cruise ship terminal, harbor, port, mooring;
  • radio station, TV station, internet cafe;
  • hotel, motel, trailer park, bed & breakfast, Airbnb, campground, homeless shelter;
  • VFW hall, Moose Lodge, convention center, social hall, catering hall;
  • cemetery, graveyard, funeral home;
  • bridge, tunnel, toll road, railroad crossing; 
  • warehouse, housing park, office park, industrial park, construction site, abandoned building;
  • haunted house, slaughterhouse;
  • museum, planetarium, sculpture park, art gallery, art studio;
  • factory, machine shop;
  • junkyard, trash dump, recycling center;
  • public restroom;
  • march, demonstration, parade, street performance, iPhone launch, rocket launch, victory celebration;
  • wedding, birthday party, prom, anniversary celebration, Ba(r/t) Mitzvah, Christening, Sweet 16, family picnic, school reunion;
  • gun store, shooting range;
  • etc. (in case I missed a place where gun violence might occur)

We can make a real difference with all of our guns, while reducing unemployment below 3% and giving Trump something tremendous to brag about!

Don’t you feel safer now?

photo of smoking shotgun
Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

Many Happy Election Returns

Donnie is at it again and again–appealing to the baser instincts of his base by stirring up hate and fear-mongering against the “Others” during eleven “last-ditch” campaign rallies in the past week. He has put immigration front-and-center as a divider rod to ram home the difference between those who are searching for freedom, and those who are weaponizing freedom for themselves.

Trump has swung open the doors of his psychophant wards to fill arenas with thousands of cheering and jeering haters–poised to lap up his lies–in anticipation of the accolades delivered by his adoring acolytes.

Characteristically, even as the midterm elections have approached this fateful day after, I’ve discovered scores of emails from Donnie, Mike, Lara, Eric and Junior choking my inbox like a political virus (as I’ve highlighted earlier in Anatomy of an Email) in a mad attempt to pick my pocket for money in support of Trump’s lies and “Nationalist” agenda.

This time around, a new survey has landed in my account–a tribal and partisan survey that completely guarantees reverberating feedback that’s fit for a narcissist.

Trump email

Okay. So allow me to be the survey outlier–a voice that struggles to be heard above the “LOCK HER UP” din; a voice that refuses to be paranoid of a Latin American stroller brigade that is worn thin by hunger and oppression; a voice that decries the inhumanity of caged children ripped from their parents; a voice that is guided by science, not séance; a voice that still believes in democracy, not demagoguery.

28 sheepish questions that deserve 28 unabashed answers:

Survey 1 (2)

Survey 2 (3)

Survey 3 (2)

Survey 4 (2)

Survey 5 (2)

Survey 6 (2)

Survey 7 (2)

Survey 8 (2)

Survey 9 (2)

Survey 9 (3)

end (2)

I’m doubtful that my responses will be counted among other survey submissions. And I’m almost certain that my responses will never be shared with Trump’s campaign.

But I’m hopeful that I’m not the only person who feels this way. And I’m confident that others will continue to rage against the Trump machine.

Do you agree or care to disagree?

 

Wise Guys

It’s been one year since our visit to Mt. Rushmore, and what could be more American than re-posting this episode on Independence Day…

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Favoritism

When I was growing up, I often accused my mother of favoritism–feeling as if she was more devoted to one of my two sisters or other brother than me. Yet today, I can’t recollect a certain situation that gave me the chutzpah to suggest to her that one sibling got preferential treatment over another.

Of course, whenever I raised the indictment, my mother always answered the same way, “How could you say that? I love all my children the same.”

I don’t know. Maybe what she said was true for her. But I was always suspicious of her definition of equality. None of us was the same in our looks, our likes, our talents and abilities. Each of us had something that made us special. So I was never really certain how our individuality and distinctiveness measured against Mom’s distribution of love. To me, she adopted “separate but equal” as a legal family doctrine in order to avoid conflict, but conflict always had a way of showing up.

Later, as a parent, I wrestled with whether one son was better than another. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t love them equally–I loved them differently.

Many years and careers later, when I was in a classroom setting teaching emotionally and learning disabled students, the notion of picking a favorite became a source of reflection. Of course, I was more inclined to curry favor upon students who were better prepared, less of a discipline problem, and willing to try. These were my “go-to” kids who were eager to respond to open academic questions whether they knew the answer or not, and it was hard not to treat them differently.

And so, it’s much the same with determining which is a favorite of the tens of thousands of photographs I’ve snapped since becoming a “serious” photographer. After scanning through archives of images that still thrill me, I’ve decided that I cannot pick one over another, since each “favorite” has a different integrity, or power, or message.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite photograph is the one I’ve taken last, because it’s in that moment that I’ve given it the most attention, and therefore overshadowing all the other images that have preceded it.

Currently, as I travel south with Leah to meet my new destiny in St. Augustine, I am following a ribbon of asphalt that curls through the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Virginia and North Carolina. And while I’m certain that it’s picturesque, given the large number of overlooks that the 1930’s Conservation Corps has carved out on both sides of the Parkway, the ongoing fog and rain clouds have obscured all sitelines, making this a dissapointing journey.

However, a short break in the weather while passing milepost 176 of Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Virginia gave us a chance to stretch our legs and take a self-guided tour of the mill by the water…

mill in the mill of the mill

built by E.B. Mabry in 1903. Originally, a blacksmith and wheelwright operation,

wheels

drive pulleys

Mabry later added a sawmill,

sawmill1

and seeing the need, added a gristmill as an additional service.

millstones and fences

From all the rain, the scene was eerily green…

aquaduct

water delivery channels

shed and wagon

and serene.

farmhouse with hemlock

And for one precious moment, it became my favorite place to photograph…

The Mill

until the next assignment!

 

Prelude to a Move

From the moment Leah and I returned to Jersey living, we knew our lives had changed forever. There was no going back to the familiar home and life we left behind one year ago. There was only the open road ahead of us, and knowing that our fate would soon be determined by our imminent move to St. Augustine.

After the journey, friends and family told us they noticed a change in us as well. While we wanted to believe the many who tried to convince us that our marathon trip rolled back the years on our appearance, or that we seemed more relaxed than the last time they saw us, they couldn’t see nor imagine our overwhelming anxiety as we buttoned up our affairs in Jersey and prepared for a future in Florida.

There was still a house to sell; a lifetime of stuff to sort through; a long-distance move to coordinate; an avalanche of doctors’ appointments to schedule and attend; an Airstream to relocate; and a need to embrace and say goodbye to as many loved ones as possible before our grand departure. Our calendar was so full, it was hemmoraging with all the commitments and obligations we could muster.

Selling the house became priority one. We returned to our homestead, recently evacuated by our tenant, and staged it for photographs–inside and out–which included clearing a 150-lb. bough that narrowly missed the front façade of the house after crashing down from the weight of a record-breaking 27-inch snowstorm twelve days earlier.

Welcome to a flow-thru floor plan on two floors, representing the best of comfortable living with luxurious finishes.

entry

Feel the warmth of boutique hardwood floors throughout as you enter to a spacious living room/dining room concept,

with one-of-a-kind accented powder room,

powder room

that opens up to 17-foot ceilings, accentuated by a marble-clad wood-burning fireplace, and a wall of light capped by Palladium windows.

cathedral ceilings1 (2)

A modern kitchen awaits, anchored by solid wood cabinetry with granite countertops, and a quad of updated appliances featuring a gas range and oven.

kitchen

Sliders open to a spacious enclosed patio with two-tone pavers.

patio

Take the golden-carpeted stairs to the 2nd level for access to two large bedrooms,

a main bath with tub,

main bath1

a laundry room,

laundry

and a master bedroom with vaulted ceiling.

master BR (3)

Walk past two walk-in closets to encounter a marble sanctuary with floating vanities, a deep-soak tub,

master bath (3)

and a walk-in spa shower with glorious pressure.

spa shower

Located within a diverse community, surrounded by greenspace, minutes from Interstate-287, and priced to sell–this property won’t last long on the market.

front

Your next home awaits you.

The timing was perfect! It was officially springtime (although the harsh weather belied the season), the real estate market was hot, and local inventory levels were low. We clearly had the upper hand, so posting an F-S-B-O (for sale by owner) sign by the roadside figured to be a beneficial experiment with a commision-savings payoff that would potentially subsidize our move should we pull off the sale of the home on our own.

I listed our house with Zillow on Thursday for an Open House on Sunday. Over the next couple of days, I tracked the website for hits, and was encouraged by the response; many had saved the listing, and I wondered who among them would show up.

The smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and vanilla-scented candles wafted through the air. It was 10am on Sunday, and we were open for business! Ten families traipsed throughout our home, making it a successful day, but the real proof arrived the following day when we accepted an offer from a retired couple intending to downsize.


Sorting through our belongings proved to be our next and more difficult challenge. While we had a notion of what we wanted to move, we still had to figure how we would liquidate everything that wasn’t coming with us. So, Leah decided to press our luck with a garage sale the following Sunday. She listed the event on-line with garagesales.com, and in anticipation of the event, we tagged all the furniture, furnishings, and assorted knick-knacks in the hope that we could lighten our load.

We intended on selling the complete contents of the living room, dining room, and office, with special consideration given to the sale of our baby grand piano.

baby grand

I reached out to a reputable used piano store that I located on-line, but they balked at the asking price, given the expense of long-distance shipping to Baltimore. Oh well, there was always the garage sale to look forward to.

The weather was glorious on Garage Sale Day. In fact, it was the sunniest Sunday, and warmest day of the new season. At 10am, I hammered the garage sale sign in the same spot once occupied by the F-S-B-O sign, hoping that lightning could strike twice.

“It’s beautiful outside,” I informed Leah. “How can we miss?”

“Somebody’s gonna get a good deal today,” she intoned. “Everything is priced ridiculously low.”

We waited…and waited…and waited…until 2pm…for somebody anybody to show up…but no one…not a single solitary soul paid any mind to our sale…NO ONE!

Maybe our luck had run out? Leah and I blamed it on the weather. Perhaps, it was too nice a day to go rummaging, when so many customers were probably out and about (as we should have been), enjoying the fresh air.

nice day

True, it was a set-back, and a minor complication toward down-sizing, but we were determined to find another way to find new caretakers for our shit.

Enter OfferUp, a mobile app that speaks to millenials in a way that makes garage sales passé. Just snap a picture of the item, add a brief description with a price tag, and wait for the Ka-Ching! chirp to announce an offer.

Over time:
[Ka-Ching!] We sold the living room ensemble to a young guy who had just leased his first apartment in Paterson;
[Ka-Ching!] A young woman from Harrison jammed all of our outdoor furniture into her SUV; [Ka-Ching!] a young couple from Garfield bought our dining room set and loaded it into their pick-up, while their small boys played with wrestling action figures on the floor where the table had stood for so many years;

and [Ka-Ching!] A fellow from Parsippany dispatched two friends to shlep back the office ensemble, needing two trips to complete the transaction.

Here a chair, there a chest, it all entually sold, until only the piano remained. I think we lowered the price twice or thrice to encourage a response, and then it happened!
[Ka-Ching!] “Would like to inspect piano.”

A couple from Hillsborough visited with their two young girls to look and listen. It was awkward at first. The family had come to appraise the piano’s value and maybe make an offer. But I had an additional agenda. While a sale was important, I also wanted to believe that the piano would continue to bring music to a new family–that it would be played and protected.

After we all got acquainted, I could see that the mother of the girls had made an emotional connection, and was excited and determined to return to playing like she had years ago, before children. I played a refrain or two and the deal was sealed.

Days later, professional piano movers arrived to escort our piano to its new home. It was a melancholy Monday to be sure.

piano to the van

piano on the ramp

Our living room was naked, except for a lounge chair and a wicker rocker. Over the next few days, whenever we watched TV in our hollow-sounding living room, we reminisced about how comfortable and relaxing it used to be. But the deconstruction was also a wake-up call. While it rang out with bargains and new beginnings for every buyer–as they carried away, piece-by-piece, all the trappings that became a regular part of our life here–it also reminded us that we were ready to turn the page, in anticipation of writing our next chapter.

And then, [Ka-Ching!]

Leah received a picture-text from the new guardians of the baby grand–showing us its new footprint–and I knew we had entrusted it to caring hands.

Kawai's new home

Not long after, a video followed with a note, “Thank you. We will take good care of it. Good luck in Florida!”

Indeed, I believe they will!

My Place in the World

Where is my place in the World?
Where is my home?

burl
Is it deep in the forest
where redwoods are burled?
gnome house
Or far in the garden
protected by gnomes?
crashing waves.jpg
Could it be by the ocean,
where waves crash the rocks?
Lake Moraine canoe rental
Or how ’bout the notion
of boats by the dock?
Biltmore Castle
And why not the castle
that touches blue air?
TSQ traffic
Or maybe the hassle
of crowded Times Square?
Banff
Could I hike to the mountains,
reaching higher and farther?
Charleston waterfront.jpg
Or lounge by a fountain
with views of the harbor?
villa.jpg
Might I stroll through a villa,
grapes ready to prune?
Kate's
Or sip sasaparilla
at a Western Saloon? 
Salton Sea.jpg
Can I conquer the valley’s
remote isolation?
Theus Bonaventure.jpg
And weave through an alley
of tombs and cremation?

My place is a harvest
of everything listed.

No one place defines me, lest
l ever existed.

Anatomy of an Email

I’ve been getting lots of political email lately. In large part, it’s been requests for donations coming from Trump’s 2020 Campaign for President, with rally words added to hype an emotional response, and misinformation intended to misguide the nation. It amuses me and terrorizes me at the same time.

It all started when my curiosity compelled me to participate in a Republican National Committee (RNC) survey at Donald Trump’s email behest:

https://action.donaldjtrump.com/listening-to-america/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ET_16&utm_campaign=20180417_2585_listen-survey-welseries-2_donaldjtrump_jfc&utm_content=gop_surveys_button_take_bottom_other_all

I was game. I swallowed the bait and jumped down the RNC rabbit hole for a deeper look at the Mad Hatter’s tactics. Confronted by leading questions, I answered in a way that left no doubt about my disapproval of Trump’s policies, his absence of ethics, and his lack of leadership.
For instance, when asked at the end of the survey, “What else do you think the President needs to know about the real America? We’re listening.” I responded in chapter and verse about his controversial WALL:
Humpty Trumpty

Humpty Trumpty wanted a wall
And Mexican pesos to pay for it all
But all the Trump bankers
And all the deplorables
Couldn’t find ways to make it affordable.


I presumed that my straightforward responses would immediately disqualify me from any future Trumpian communication, but I was wrong. I received an immediate response:
Wow! I couldn’t believe I had just earned the right to take $6 off the purchase price of a MAGA cap as a reward for my participation and apparent support! Is this a great country, or what?
However, controversy continues to surround the manufacturer’s claim that the president’s swag is 100% proudly made in America. According to factory employees (who stitch the hat in Los Angeles) and an independent laboratory conducting microscopic fabric analysis, the hat components have been sourced and imported from overseas.
I decided to pass on the hat for two reasons: First of all, I disapprove of the messaging, feeling that America, despite its flaws, has always been great, and doesn’t need to be reinvented by a game show host who panders to white supremacists; and secondly, the hat doesn’t come in blue–only hot pink, yellow, camouflage, and red.
Again, I thought this was the end of things, until I received another blast from Donald J. Trump, forewarning me about my negligent membership status:

membership renewal

Imagine! The President of the United States, a self-professed billionaire–whose estimated wealth is dubious because of withheld tax returns–now counting on me…for a single dollar contribution to his campaign, and pressing me with a renewal deadline!

What a dilemma! Of course, I still wanted to track the Trump Big Top. But what if I didn’t come up with the money in time? Would I no longer be welcome inside the circus tent? I decided to wait.

The next day Eric came calling under the guise of FAKE NEWS:

Eric's email

Eric makes quite an argument for my dollar–defending Daddy from a CRUSH of criticism, and a chance to be on the right side of America. This was good stuff.

And then this arrived the day before the FEC deadline:

Are you still with me

…with another declaration of war against the media.

No doubt, being President of the United States is a demanding job that requires intense concentration and extensive hours studying the problems of the country and the world, followed by intense debate and policy development to secure America’s safety and enable continuing prosperity.

Yet, as of April 28, Trump has managed to spend 111 days of his presidency (or 22% of his time in office) at one of his organization’s golf resorts swinging a club, and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in the process. In fact, there’s a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/trumpgolfcount) that’s devoted to Trump’s rising count. And this coming from a man who chided Obama, who spent a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of his time on the links compared to Trump.

We’ve also learned–from Trump’s own admission–that Trump’s day officially begins at 11am, after Executive Time, which essentially translates to TV and Twitter time.

So given Trump’s extreme schedule, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How on earth did Trump have the time to notice that “[my] name is no longer on [his] list of official Sustaining members?”

I passed on paying the dollar, rationalizing that there was no reason to contribute to Donald’s green fees.

March passed into April, and with a new month, it was time again to feed the political war chest, this time in the interest of national security–by parlaying an immigration crisis into a $25B resolution: building THE WALL.

Build the Wall

Considering I had raised my objection to building THE WALL the month before, receiving my financial support was unlikely. In fact, I returned the survey with a comment, petitioning the president to consider an idea more fiscally responsible and in keeping with his laissez-faire principles: privatization. I proposed that he reach out to the Walton family, a fine upstanding bastion of Republican sensibility, and convince them to build THE WAL-MART, a very long and skinny store along our southern border. By day, the Mexicans could buy American, and by night our border would be protected by Wal-Mart security teams. Imagine the savings!

Trump never responded to my idea. Instead I got this:

Real News Now

…an appeal to subscribe to Real News Updates, a weekly webcast hosted by Donald’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump. Interestingly, no one was asking for money, just a commitment of my time to shower me with the real truth on Trump TV. However, after watching ten minutes of noise disguised as news, I found I didn’t have a nose for nonsense, as it reeked of propaganda.

Shortly after, I received another exchange from Donald recruiting me for another purpose: defeating LIBERAL OBSTRUCTION…

liberal-obstruction.jpg

Here was Trump blaming the Democrats for his inability to get America’s work done. By the numbers, there are 1,212 presidential appointments requiring U.S. Senate confirmation, and 353 presidential appointments which do not require confirmation. As of April 27, 2018, 315 of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed for 640 key positions, and 129 are awaiting confirmation.

On what he called Trump’s “glacial pace in selecting nominees,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer posited, “If the President is looking for someone to blame on the slow pace of confirmations, he needs only to look in the mirror,” and suggests that the President should “roll up his sleeves and get to work rather than pointing false fingers of blame.”

Equally as astounding, was Trump’s White House personnel turmoil as diagrammed by The New York Times:

Trump tumult (2)

Even today, in the wake of Trump’s impending historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, there is no nominee in place to head the South Korean embassy, and that’s on Trump.

After a week’s time, I received multiple invitations to renew my 2018 Sustaining Membership and I ignored them all, but then an email arrived from Mike Pence that was impossible to overlook. He was offering me a chance to win dinner and a picture with him in North Carolina.

dinner-with-pence-e1525464357395.jpg

I checked my calendar to make sure I was available. I dreamed of the possibility of gnawing on BBQ ribs with Mike while listening to his sanctimonious defense of zygote life, his hypocritical defense of Trump as an adulterer, and his evangelical discourse of hysterical homophobia, as if he had been touched by St. Paul. I entered the contest…without a contribution…by discovering extremely fine print on the submission page that hyperlinked me to a free entry form, thereby sidestepping the requisite donation.

While I applauded my cleverness, no one called to tell me I’d won. I think I had Chinese take-out that Friday evening, and watched Real Time with Bill Maher instead.

A couple of days later, Donald reminded me that Melania’s birthday was approaching:

Melania

I have to admit, I was taken by surprise that Donald would turn up the spotlight on Melania when the world was wondering out loud about his sordid affairs with porn star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), and Karen McDougal, Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year, only months after the birth of Melania’s son Barron.

It’s now undeniable that Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere paid $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels twelve days before the presidential election. Campaign election law violation? We’ll see.

I was happy to sign Melania’s card, hoping that it might represent even the smallest distraction from her otherwise burdensome existence, and perhaps put a smile on her forlorn-locked face.

Oh, how she shrinks from Donald’s touch as he ceremoniously attempts to lock hands during so many pomp and circumstance moments when cameras are rolling, and oh, how she spurns his pussy-grabbing fingers, sending a silent #MeToo message to her coterie:

 

And then instantly, the news cycle abruptly turned to former FBI giraffe, James Comey’s imminent release of A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Naturally, Trump launched a preemptive strike that landed in my inbox :

Comey's book

…even going so far as to transmit a less than scientific survey to his ardent supporters one day later:

James Comey poll

Comey made the rounds of many a talk show, eager to tell his story, clear his name, restore honor to his bleeding Bureau, and peddle some books. But unlike Trump’s failed attempt to blunt free speech by trying to prevent publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, all he could muster this time around was a weak attempt to disparage, discredit and dismiss Comey as a liar and a leak.

Yet, for Trump to accuse James Comey as lying is no different from a cesspool telling a septic tank that it’s full of shit!

With Trump’s ascension to the White House,

Home of the Whopper

perhaps, the President’s residence should temporarily be renamed, Home of the Whopper.

Jimmy Kimmel put it best in his classic “mockumentary”, Trump’s 2,000 Lies:

 

Finally, Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and TrumPuppet released a final partisan report that the President had been expecting, and considered long overdue:

House Intelligence

Of course, Donald had a shiny new object to distract his core, but the real crime was the damage done to a one-time prestigious watchdog panel once charged with rooting out intel abuses, but now acting as the President’s personal pit bull. By shutting down the investigation and claiming no evidence of collusion by refusing to interview anybody who might have had evidence of collusion was like pulling the ripcord while still inside the plane.

Over the past two months, I’ve received dozens of email communications from Trump and team–all designed to collect a dollar and a steal a soul–while observing a Republican Congress willing to embrace Trump at any cost. And although I was never interested in contributing a dollar, I was more than willing to offer my two cents.

That’s when I received this email:

0 = 0

I clicked on CONTRIBUTE OTHER AMOUNT, and was whisked to the secure Authorized Website of Trump Headquarters:

triple matched

By selecting Other, my blinking cursor filled the empty box in anticipation of a big round number. I entered $0.02 and pressed CONTINUE.

enter an amount (2)

Rejected! The campaign wouldn’t accept anything less than two bits. So here it is, Mr. President…two bits of advice: Stop lying to the American people, and resign before the real truth comes out!

Epilogue

We pulled the Airstream onto Colonial Airstream’s parking lot in Lakewood NJ, on St. Patrick’s Day, ostensibly marking our one-year anniversary Streaming thru America, and my one-year anniversary of blogging with WordPress under the same moniker.

Colonial Airstream

This has been a journey of a lifetime after a lifetime of journeys. It seems that everything I’ve done up until last year’s departure has prepared me for this adventure: as a NYC taxi driver, I honed my driving skills; as a restaurateur, I learned to cook using simple ingredients to create meals with complex flavors; as a camper, I grew up with an appreciation of nature and an affinity for adventure; as a producer, I perfected a perspective for planning and budgeting; as a carpenter, I mastered my mechanical skills; and as a special educator, I learned how to gain acceptance with the many special people we’ve met along the way.

This has also been a trip of numbers. As road warriors, Leah and I have travelled to 127 destinations: covering a total of 44,600 miles (5,500 flying miles) to thirty-six U.S. States; one Mexican State (Quintana Roo); and four Canadian Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia).

Cost-wise, Leah acted as bursar for the trip, and took responsibility for all data entry into a categorized spreadsheet. Using round numbers, our largest expense was campground fees at nearly $13,000. We stayed at a smattering of National Parks (only because gaining online reservations are fiercely contested up to a year in advance), a few State Parks, a handful of Provincial Parks, some County and City Parks, predominantly private RV parks (many Good Sam and KOA affiliates), and an occasional Walmart parking lot when we were transitioning between longer distances. As a rule, we rarely travelled further than a tankful of gas, or the rough equivalent of 400 miles.

Entertainment was our second leading expense at approximately $10,000, which covered films, concerts, shows, tours, park fees, and ample opportunities for sampling the best food of the area, from fine dining to dive bars.

Next, we spent nearly $8,000 purchasing food and groceries–including paper products, personal hygiene, and liquor–with the lion’s share spent at Walmart and Costco.

And our last largest expense was for gasoline and liquid propane, which ran us close to $8000. We made 115 trips to the pump for 3300 gallons of gas, yielding an average of 11.8 miles per gallon from coast to coast to coast, while towing mileage topped out at 10.1 MPG.

Living aboard the Airstream for a year was also an exercise in living with less. At 240 square feet from stem to stern…

2017-airstream-flying-cloud-27fb-2-e1521351550640.png

and cargo limited to a folded rear seat and 52.8 cu. ft. of storage behind the cab of our Ford F-150 pickup…

2017-ford-f-150-carry-on-seats-folded (4)

we learned to live efficiently, but never uncomfortably.

Leah and I scaled down to a small wardrobe of layering, using a combination of casual sportswear, appropriate outerwear and a wide variety of outdoor footwear to address most weather conditions.

The galley held two pots, two pans, two mix bowls, and Corel for four; a drawer of utensils and a drawer full of cooking and kitchen gadgets; a traditional assortment of spices and herbs; one presspot (mine), one two-cup percolator (Leah’s) and two coffee mugs; a tiny toaster, a hand mixer, a built-in microwave, a compact vacuum, and a VitaMix–my biggest indulgence for emergency frozen margaritas.

Electronics included: two mounted LED TVs, two tablets, one laptop, a color compact HP printer, a Kindle, a pair of UE Booms, Jaybird wireless earbuds, a Lumix DMZ-FZ300 for photography, and a tangle of cables and charging accessories.

The truck bed was home to a couple of stadium chairs, a CLAM screen enclosure, a 2000-Watt Honda generator, a hefty tool chest, and a portable Weber grill.

Our bicycles clung to the backside of the Airstream, tied to a Fiamma rack.

bikes.jpg

Getting along for 365 days was our biggest experiment, and a wild card for this trip’s success. While there was no denying our compatibility, we would often joke if we would still be smiling and talking to each other by day 365.

Our roles were defined early on, seemingly divided along gender lines: I did the routing, navigation and driving, the setups and breakdowns at RV sites, and all the general maintenance; while Leah acted as cleaning commando (inside and out) and laundry lieutenant. Invariably, Leah prepared a simple breakfast and packed a light lunch, while I played chef de cuisine for dinner.

Although our living quarters were tight, our door usually opened onto something spectacular, from sunrises…

sunrise (2)

Grand Canyon sunrise (2)

to sunsets…

Mt. Pleasant, SC

sunset

sundown panorama (2)

so most of days were spent exploring the extraordinary.

We brought along a cribbage board and backgammon set, thinking that when our conversation ran dry, we could always resort to games, but when it was the two of us together lounging in our lair, we either stretched out along the dinette streaming Netflix when internet allowed, or sought alone time at opposite ends of the trailer, separated by a sliding screen or a swinging lavatory door.

Our queenish-sized platform bed was roomy and comfy. And the only times we slept apart was for five days when I was fighting the flu. Otherwise, our sleeping cycles alternated between retiring together, or more often than not, Leah retiring early while I night-owled to edit photography du jour, or posted to my blog.

Although this blog is by no means the end, it has been a means to an end. Streaming thru America has given me a springboard to dive into my desire to write consistently for a audience bigger than one, and a jump-start to reinvigorating my passion for photography. Combining my writing and photography in a travel blog has been reaffirming and therapeutic, and the motivation I needed to pump out 160 posts of 100,000 words and 2800 photos along the way.

What started as a forum for family and friends has grown organically to a following of 1900 plus fans through WordPress and social media, with viewers from 140 countries along for the ride. I am awed and humbled every day that people from all over world find value in my words and pictures. And I am determined to keep going.

Long before we started out, Leah had already decided on our exit strategy–that once we’d completed our trip, and our Airstream had served its purpose, we’d put it on the selling block. But I had a different vision–that this trip would lay the foundation for future trips around the continent. While it would never be as epic as this particular journey, I could nonetheless foresee regional trips to faraway fields and streams for a month or two or three.

However, after shoving off and putting hundreds of miles behind us, the new and scary gave way to familiar and fearless, and Leah was hooked.

As it happens, there were so many destinations that we short-changed in favor of keeping the whirlwind spinning (see An Olympian Apology), not to mention sections of the country that we bypassed all together, that today we feel compelled to prepare preliminary plans to patch the holes in our past itinerary.

For now, the Airstream sits in the dealer’s lot awaiting its spring maintenance, although the fourth nor’easter forecasted to hit this area in as many weeks makes us yearn for the Texas heat spell we endured last April (see “We’re on the Road to Nowhere”).

When we return to Towaco, we’ll have a house to sell and a household to pack away for our anticipated move to St. Augustine (see Finally!). Then, in a few months, we’ll recapture the glory of living as seasoned road warriors, as we savor the feeling of hauling our reconditioned Airstream through the Shenandoah Valley and over the Blue Ridge Mountains to a long-term storage solution in Charlotte NC.

And before too long, it will be time to hitch up the Airstream like old times, and follow the road on a new course and a new adventure.

Until next time,

streaming thru america

Happy Trails!

Duty, Honor, Country

It’s a solemn ceremony choreographed with the precision of an atomic clock, executed by a regiment of warm-blooded automatons, and directed with the authority of a no-nonsense commander who only knows perfection. It’s a six-minute pas de trois that happens every hour on the hour during fall, winter, and night, and every half-hour during spring and summer–regardless of the weather or challenging conditions. And it’s a sacrament that’s never stopped since 1937.

The changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is carried out with the pomp and circumstance of a Shakespearean ceremony, yet with the reverence of a canonization.

The rigorous training and commitment of the corps serving the monument is legendary. They are the best of an elite color guard from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, the nation’s oldest fighting force, serving since 1764.

The highly-selective unit is composed of impeccably dressed volunteers of similar stature, in peak physical condition, and with unblemished military records.

Sentinel (2)

As if marching to a metronome that only he can hear, the sentinel paces to the south, rolling his feet effortlessly along a catwalk of worn rubber,

guarding the tomb

His gait and silent cadence is measured and precise…19…20…and 21 steps, a broad leg sweep, and CLACK, his heels lock with the force of two magnets attracted to each other. He quarter-turns sharply to the east, and whip-snap, CLACK, his heels lock again.

facing east

One Mississippi, two Mississippi…until he reaches 21, and his feet quarter-turn north, and CLACK, his shoes revealing the effort from hours of spit-polishing only achieved through tubs of Kiwi and micro-sanding.

Spit and Polish

He executes a sharp shoulder-arms, repositioning his sparkling M-14 from his right shoulder to his left, as if popping with his prop–his weapon always closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel always stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

After another 21 seconds of silence, the sentinel returns 21 steps north…

marching north (3)

and CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK. Shoulder-arms, one Mississippi, two Mississippi…always counting, always focused, no matter the distraction.

The significance of number 21 corresponds to a 21-gun salute, the highest military honor posthumously bestowed upon any service personnel.

A crowd of spectators has lined the marble steps outside the Memorial Amphitheater in eager anticipation of the one-o’clock ritual.

Memorial Amphiteater

The hour tolls, and the sentinel on duty stands motionless, but at the ready.

sentinel awaiting replacement

From the opposite end of the plaza, the regiment commander appears beside the runway, and CLACK. In this ritual variation, the count-up to 21 continues, and marching resumes until the two honor guards pass.

passing (2)

Upon the commander’s return, he pivots to face the crowd of visitors:

Commander announcement

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please. I am Sgt. Davenport of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, United States Army, Guard of Honor, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This ceremony which you are about to witness is The Changing of the Guard. In keeping with the dignity of this ceremony, it is requested of everyone to remain silent and standing. Thank you.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the plaza, the relief-sentinel stands at attention and awaits formal inspection from the commander–now marching past the on-duty sentinel.

2nd pass

After a graceful, yet deliberate weapons and uniform check from head to toe…

head down inspection

undertaken with the scrutiny of a dermatologist examining for basal cells…the relief-sentinel is deemed mission-ready.

They parade across the plaza in lock-step…

parading

where they take up new positions in front of the shrine…

the ordered exchange

commander salutes

 

When the on-duty sentinel is officially relieved…

dismissing

the new sentinel’s patrol resumes for the remaining hour.

new patrol

However, on this particular day, at this particular hour, we were also witness to a wreath dedication ceremony from a local high school marching band…

carrying the wreath

placing the wreath

bugle

playing Taps

marching band honor

which only added to an already moving tribute and ceremony.

But there was one last vital piece of business remaining before our day was done: an obligatory visit to the gravesite of JFK to pay my respects.

JFK viewers

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963–the day before my 11th birthday–the announcement by Principal Simon came over the PA system, interrupting my Happy Birthday-song tribute. Immediately, the class went from cheers to tears in an instant, like a bipolar meltdown.

The pervasive sadness swept my home that evening, and I can’t remember when the sadness lifted. There was nothing any of us could do to keep from crying.

JFK quote
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility. I welcome it.

My 11th birthday was a turning point in my life–one of those moments where it’s impossible to forget where you were or what you were doing when you learned of something so profound, or horrific, or cataclysmic that you knew right then and there that your life had changed forever.

JFK grave

And while there’s no going back to a wrinkle in time, processing the tragedy is always hard to reconcile, even after all these years, as is wondering about the wonder that might have been.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance.
My standard will remain
Through the years of diligence
And the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this Soldier in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

PBS has produced the following video which masterfully demonstrates the precision of the pageantry, and reflects the awe of the ceremony.

 

My Word!

It’s always a pleasure returning to DC’s National Mall…

mall (5)

where I like to keep an eye on my tax dollars by walking through the Smithsonian museums…

Smithson remains

to inspect the work being done by museum curators on my behalf.

nave (2)
Smithsonian Castle Commons

Aside from being a great depository of great aeronautical history at the National Air and Space Museum…

Spirit of St. Louis
donated by Charles Lindbergh

or interpretive history at National Museum of American History…

WE BUILD
Horatio Greenough

I’m always inspired when browsing through the Hirshhorn.

dry fountain
Gordon Bunshaft–Hirshhorn Fountain
rockface and car
Jimmie Durham–Still Life With Spirit and Xitle

where I get a chance to meander beside the curvy gallery walls, as I contemplate Mark Bradford’s updated Civil War cyclorama detailing Pickett’s Charge

Pickett's Charge panels (2)

or introspect on a retrospective of the 80’s, where everything is rele-vent again…

ON VEND DU VENT
Haim Steinbach–ON VEND DU VENT
SILENCE=DEATH (2).jpg
Gran Fury–SILENCE=DEATH
stripes
Jenny Holzer–Inflammatory Essays

or think deeply in the basement, where I’m reminded by Barbara Kruger’s BELIEF+DOUBT installation that words matter…

Belief

Bad Day

FORGET

Men's Room1

Women's Room

…and can make a difference…something I’d rather be doing.

L’Chaim

A second pass through historic Savannah on our way north left us with a day to cover a small part of the city left unseen from our last visit. Previously, Leah and I had budgeted two days in Savannah–between Thanksgiving and Christmas–as we ever-so-slowly slipped into our winter’s hibernation in Florida. Additionally, our obligation to celebrate Dad’s 93rd birthday in West Palm Beach (Happy Birthday, Dad!) on December 11th didn’t leave us much wriggle room for extra time.

Nevertheless, our first visit was rewarding, with memorable stops to: Bonaventure Cemetery, a fabled 18-century burial ground;

Bacon (2)

the revival of River Street, along the Savannah River;

Georgia Queen (3)

neighboring City Market, an 18th-century open-air marketplace;

unintended consequences (2)

Forsyth Park, with its famous oak-lined pathway…

Forsyth Park

leading to legendary Forsyth Park Fountain;

Forsyth Park Fountain

and finishing at the landmark Gothic-Revival Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the centerpiece of the historic district.

St. John exterior

But Savannah’s geo-positioning (part of the I-95 corridor) made it an easy transition point for routing our return home, and a welcoming destination for a second helping of Southern hospitality…and of course, we were not disappointed.

“So, we have another day here,” announced Leah. “How would you like to spend it?”

“You’re probably gonna laugh,” I stated seriously, “but just like Charlotte, there’s lots of Jewish heritage in Savannah, and there’s a historic congregation in the historic district we could check out.”

“But it’s Saturday, so there’s no way we’re getting in during the Sabbath,” she forewarned, so the best you could expect is an outside picture of the building.”

“Unless we attend services.” I added. “C’mon, it’ll be spiritually enlightening, and you can pray we made the right choice by relocating to St. Augustine.”

We arrived at Congregation Mikve Israel, walked past a uniformed police officer, and through the anointed doors…

doors

where we were met by welcoming ushers who immediately apologized for the temple’s appearance, and offered us a program outlining Catherine’s Bat Mitzvah. We were twice surprised.

Ordinarily, we would have taken a seat at the back of the temple making it easy to leave at our earliest convenience, but it seems that God had other plans for us.

We crossed a chuppah of scaffolding shrouding one-half of the sanctuary’s neo-Gothic architecture, and placing the back rows of the pews off-limits.

scaffolding

Instead, we took a seat closer to the altar among other congregants, while feeling somewhat out of place.

Bimah and Ark

We opened our siddurim to the selected text announced by Rabbi Haas, and subsequently followed the service to its conclusion, as it was meticulously led from the bimah by Catherine.

Catherine at the ark

While chanting familiar prayers with familiar melodies, I reflected on the original forty-two Sephardim and Ashkenazim who disembarked from the William and Sarah in 1733–having sailed aboard a London vessel bound for Oglethorpe’s fledgling colony in Georgia with their precious Sefer Torah in tow–

1733 Torah (3)
1733 Torah

in search of religious freedom and a fresh start.

1737 Torah
1737 Torah

As we prepared to exit after the last refrain of Adon Olam had echoed through the hall, we were approached by an elder of the congregation who encouraged us to stay behind and enjoy lunch with the other members in celebration of Catherine’s mitzvah.

There was no way of turning down Jack’s invitation. He wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. We feasted on lemon chicken, orzo with roasted vegetables, artisan lettuce with dressing, mixed fruit salad, and challah. The company at our table was as delightful and fulfilling as the meal.

During dessert…

cake

we lamented over a missed opportunity to learn more about Mikve Israel’s storied history, given that tours only occur on weekdays. However, a temple docent–conveniently seated at our table–volunteered to escort us to the second floor for a personal inspection of museum exhibits…

 

Wall of Presidents

GW decree
“… May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”

Ford's visit

A Colonial Congregation (2)

Historic Preservation (2)

Building for a Congregation (2)

and museum artifacts…

artifacts1

artifacts2

artifacts3

As serendipitous as this adventure was, I knew as I descended the stairs…

window and stairs

that I was meant to tell the story of Mikve Israel’s descendants: about their unwavering regard for their American Revolutionary roots, their continuing crusade for community; and their unconditional code of acceptance and inclusion.

Leah and I were invited to return and sample real Southern Jewish hospitality the next time we pass through Savannah, and I think that’s an invitation that I can easily accept, regardless of the obstacles.

scaffolding1 (2)

Titans of Industry

Every student of science, history and commerce knows the importance of Thomas Edison’s contributions (2332 worldwide patents),

Early-Light-Bulb (3)

and how through his imagination and industry…

patent schematic for kinetescope

kinetescope projector
Kinetoscope Projector

inside the phonograph

he single-handedly reshaped the 20th century.

No less famous and equally as successful, Henry Ford’s lifetime commitment to automotive innovation was without peer.

Edison's Ford

V-8 engine (2)

Now put the two titans together…

Historic Friendship

as next-door neighbors within their Ft. Myers, FL winter compound…

Eden

beside the Caloosahatchee River…

dock1

and the sum exceeds the parts. Adding John Burroughs, the nation’s leading naturalist and conservationist of his time to the party,

Edison_Burroughs_Ford (2)
Edison, Burroughs, Ford

resulted in the birth of the car-camping movement in America as we know it today: motoring across the country in search of fulfilling outdoor recreation and adventure.

camping caravan

Better known as The Vagabonds, the caravan later included tire magnate, Harvey Firestone, who would travel with the pack across America for the next ten years, taking vacations in an elaborate Packer and Ford motorcade that always included Edison’s battery of batteries to light the campsite,

batteries

a Ford chuckwagon attended by Firestone’s personal chef,

chuckwagon (2).jpg

and a pack of newspapermen and paparazzi who would record The Vagabond’s every step and conversation.

Edison’s inventions are presented in historical perspective in a comprehensive on-site museum space that credits Ft. Myers as an inspirational Eden for Edison’s genius.

There Is Only One Ft Myers

Additionally, by recreating his West Orange, NJ laboratory in Ft. Myers,

In the Lab

Edison's Lab

Lab2

office

Edison could work uninterrupted throughout the year, never missing an opportunity to tinker or embellish on an idea, while enjoying the comforts of a home…

Living Room

dining room.jpg

Pantry

bedroom

and grounds…

Edison home

Caretaker cottage

pool

the tree

that he designed in 1886,

Designing a Retreat

and Mina attended until his death in 1931.

Mina and Leah

Henry Ford acquired the neighboring bungalow known as The Mangoes in 1916,

Henry Ford and cottage

and the two titans drove each other to continuing heights of excellence in achievement.

But of all their noticeable accomplishments, their mutual love of country living coupled with the enormous publicity generated by their expeditions most certainly inspired an army of auto owners and outdoor enthusiasts to follow their example.

Thus, The Vagabonds paved the way for the popularity of motor camping, and gave rise to a recreational industry that advances the dream of this sojourner’s lifestyle: where the highway is my lifeline and my Airstream is my cradle.

Note: Historic photos courtesy of Edison and Ford Winter Estates collection.

 

 

Finally!

We bought a house! It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast, but it did, and it’s still a pinch-me moment.

Always a part of our plan while circling the country, it was our mission to scope out a place to settle at the end of our epic trip. We figured that there was a definitive advantage to traveling through all parts of America for an up close and personal look at what could be next for us, making it easier to sort out all the fodder, and focus on the merits of communities that caught our attention. But we never counted on finding a new residence this quickly. And we never counted on settling in Florida!

We knew starting out, that our days in New Jersey were numbered. After growing up and growing old in the Northeast–with sixty-four winters of low temperatures and high taxes–it didn’t take much figuring to realize that retirement was anywhere but New Jersey and the surrounding snowbelt. Yes, it meant saying goodbye to friends and family, but the notion of trading the comfort and familiarity of an old sweater for a tank top and flip flops was too profound to ignore.

As we streamed thru America, we carried a quiet list of must-haves and desires that we would superimpose from time to time over different destinations in order to analyze the community credentials, although it seemed that our list was so exhaustive and exclusive that we wondered if there was a place for us at all.

We wanted a beach and the mountains; we wanted a quaint yet vital town or city–not too big, but not too small–that would still have a cultural identity reflected by its diversity of good restaurants, music venues, art galleries and local merchants, all within reasonable proximity; we wanted affordable tax-friendly living to stretch our dollars into our late nineties; we wanted space around us to protect our sacred privacy, just in case we wanted to run around naked; we wanted newer construction to ease ourselves of homeowner headaches; we wanted a climate that would allow us generous outdoor time, and while the passage of seasons wasn’t a high priority, it would certainly break the monotony of spring, summer, spring, summer, etc.

Immediately, we ruled out the Northwest because of the rain, the cold and fires. We rejected the Southwest for it’s dryness and heat (although Sedona was in the running). California was too expensive, and Texas was too Republican (except for Austin, ahh, thank goodness for Austin). After disqualifying the Midwest for its lack of mountains or beaches, we knew we were running out of possibilities.

We concentrated on our search in earnest after returning from our New Jersey Thanksgiving with family, and reboarded the Airstream temporarily stored in Charlotte. We resumed our country tour in Charleston, which seemed to me like a perfect location. It had everything that we were looking for, except plantation living proved too costly. The closer we got to the historic city, the further removed we got from affordable real estate. And the closer we got to affordable housing, the city inevitably slipped further away from sight and touch. Unfortunately, Savannah was no different. Sadly, we crossed South Carolina and Georgia off our personal prospectus.

I had mentioned to Leah from the beginning that I never considered myself Florida material, yet here we were in Jacksonville, considering the likelihood of St. Augustine. Interestingly, America’s most historic city (founded September 1565) ticked all of our boxes (other than mountains, eight hours away). All that remained was finding a house that we could make our home.

Local friends recommended an agent friend of theirs who picked us up from a nearby Walmart parking lot (where we drycamped the night before), and patiently chauffeured us from one development to another. But everything Bob had shown us was underwhelming until we walked through a custom-built house on a cul-de-sac bordering a preserve on two sides–originally built for a client who’d lost her financing and had to walk away from the sale–and offered at a price that Leah and I could afford, with a floorplan that suited our needs: open-concept, single floor living with 12-foot ceilings, a gourmet kitchen with natural gas, a screened-in lanai, and a 3-car garage.

Concord Floor Plan-2258-Madeira

We didn’t commit right away. Leah had her doubts about community amenities, but a 10-minute bicycle ride to historic downtown, and 6 miles from Vilano Beach proved to be a winning combination, even though the association pool was unheated. We deliberated for a week before coming to the conclusion that we might regret passing on an amazing opportunity.

We called Bob and the builder’s agent to find out if the house was still available. It was.

After negotiating the details, the extras, and the price, the house now belongs to us and the bank, contingent upon closing.

We still have three months of traveling ahead of us, but we are finally free to explore the balance of our road trip without the pressure or burden of where we’ll relocate.

All that remains is the when and the how.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

With our travels slowing while we hunker down in Florida during the impending winter months, Leah has redirected her focus and efforts inward. She has contemplated doing something with her hair after growing it out for the nine months we’ve been on the road–originally citing the ease of pulling it back or putting it up when we were spending a fair amount of time enjoying the great outdoors–but recently she’s grown tired of her look, thinking that a change might boost her self-image.

I have learned long ago to always offer a compliment when asked to comment on how something looks. For example, on the occasion when Leah would buy a new article of clothing that I know she likes, it’s always easier to agree with her purchase.

“What do you think of this?” Leah might ask.

The safest response is usually: “I like it if you like it.”

…although, sometimes a question could provoke unwanted friction, and would demand tightrope accuity: “So what do you think about this dress on me? Do you think it makes me look fat?” she’ll ask, primping in front of the mirror while admiring the line or the color.

This is a quicksand question for which there is never a delicate answer. And the trap couldn’t be more obvious. Answering “No dear, of course not. The dress is very slimming!” can only complicate things, and warrants a surefire response: “Great! But you think I’m fat!”

However, by stating the obvious and acknowledging the pitfall, it’s possible to defuse the situation, and escape unscathed: “Only a fat suit could make you look fat, dear.”

Yet when it comes to offering “solicited” advice, I’m usually on terra firma, and free to speak my mind.

“I’m thinking about changing my hair,” began Leah, “and I’ve been thinking about getting lilac highlights. Whaddaya think?”

Of course, she’s asking the right person, because lilac highlights is something I happen to know a lot about. In fact, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about lilac highlights.

I considered my words. “I think that if you do it, and like it, it’s a great look for you. But if don’t, you’ll be miserable until the color fades away,” I replied cautiously and conclusively.

“Well, I have to do something,” Leah continued, “so why not risk it? I’m making a hair appointment at the next place we visit!”

The day of reckoning arrived the other day.

“You need to drive me to the salon for my 9:30 appointment,” informed Leah.

“Okay,” I relented. “Have you figured out what you have in mind yet?”

“I’m not too sure,” Leah confessed, “I have a few ideas, but nothing certain. We’ll see. Come and get me in a couple of hours.”

I went out for breakfast, and reflected on the direction that Leah might go. I didn’t expect anything radical, because Leah’s not that kind of person. She seldom wears makeup and eschews the glitz and glamour in favor of the practical and casual. Besides, as I often remind her, she’s beautiful and doesn’t need it. Once in a while, a touch of color on her lips tells me that we’re dressing up for a night on the town.

Still, when we met nearly 13 years ago,

Leah and me 2.jpg

Leah was periodically dying her hair to chase away gray tones in a Sisyphean effort to postpone the inevitable.

She continued to be a honey blonde until she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and made a conscious decision to go gray after chemotherapy. While Leah fortunately kept her hair during treatment, the fear of losing it by introducing harsh chemicals soon after was considered too risky.

Leah’s hair remained short, and the temptation to go back to blonde eventually faded to resignation…that maybe going gray didn’t suck so bad after all. Friends and family offered encouragement and compliments on the amazing color long-hidden by the hair dye. Over time, Leah embraced the color and the look.

Meanwhile, Leah’s hairdresser was documenting the makeover…

preparation

back of head1

I could have stayed at the diner, and waited for the phone call, but I drove back to the salon and waited inside the F-150 in eager anticipation.

When the phone finally rang–more than two hours since dropping Leah at the door–I played coy.

“I’m just finishing up, here. You can come and get me any time.” she propositioned.

There was an inviting lilt in her voice.

“Are you pleased with the result?” I asked, not wanting to appear too anxious.

“You’ll see,” she teased, “I just can’t believe that it’s me.”

3-4 view

“Well, in that case, I’m already parked outside, and it’s time for the big reveal,” I declared.

new do

She exited the salon, and stepped inside the truck cab. “How do you like it?” Leah asked hesitantly.

portrait (2)

I immediately forgot all the sage advice I’d ever followed to hedge against potential fall-out.

“I love it!” I blurted out.

“You do?” she second-guessed, looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely! It’s stunning,” I gushed. “But where’s the lilac highlights?”

“Good. The hairdresser said that it would get all over my pillow, and it would fade after only a couple of weeks. Besides, she said it’s what all the teens are doing these days. Anyway, we decided it would be better if I worked with what I had. So, all the highlights are my natural color, and she worked her magic to match the rest underneath the gray. Nothing too extravagant, just enough, don’t ya think?” Leah explained.

That’s when I realized that there was nothing wrong with a little glitz and glamour in our lives, and I was somewhat hopeful that some of it would rub off on me.

Living with Less

As an outgrowth of downsizing, I have routinely reflected on the virtues of the  mimimalist mantra of less is more.

Robert Browning is credited with creating the phrase, which was later mainstreamed by architect Mies van der Rohe to explain his philosophy of design. It appears to be a contradiction of quantitative terms, and as such, represents an apparent oxymoron. But the quote also has a number of practical as well as esotetic applications.

Less is more is a cause and effect–an itch that requires a scratch, but in an opposite kind of way. So, if less is more, then what is it more than, or more of?

For instance, if less is a number, like income, then what logically follows is more frugality or poverty. And if the number relates to temperature, then less heat requires more clothing or blankets, and lower temperatures may certainly create conditions for greater risk of frostbite.

Insurance actuaries will tell you that less risk assures more surety.

Musically, less noise produces more clarity. Conversely, less clarity produces more confusion.

For dieters, less food intake results in more weight loss. Additionally, doctors will tell you that less exercise results in more illness.

Donald Trump would benefit from considering that less diplomacy promotes more hostility; that less suspicion builds more trust; and less insight produces more ignorance.

Personally, traveling in a road home has taught us certain restraints. The less water we use, the more space we conserve in our disposal tanks. Limited storage between the truck and trailor means making do with less clothes, and consequently, more laundry time. Most importantly, the less Leah argues, the more peaceful things are.

And so I open up the discussion to the blogosphere. How many examples can my readers come up with. Record your thoughts in the comments box for all to share.

After all, it was never my intention to create an exhaustive list, since less is more.

Blogger’s Preamble

This trip has been in the planning stages for the better part of two years, but it’s been a vision of mine for over 30 years. Two things I realized early on: I’d have to wait until I retired, and I’d have to find someone compatible enough to join me on this wacky adventure. I’m happy to report that both conditions have been met.

Most importantly, Leah and I have been together for nearly 12 years because we forgive each other’s most embarrassing moments and tolerate each other’s most defining idiosyncrasies. We have become formidable collaborators regardless of our separate opinions and talents. Our curiosity knows no boundaries, and our appreciation of the “great outdoors” is a driving force to explore the outer limits.

We spent four weeks together last summer romping through Alaska and Yukon in preparation for this trip. Our objective was simple: to still be talking to each other by the time we returned home. While there were some tense moments along the way, it was always the laughter that eased every crisis. By passing this test, it allowed us to set our sights on bigger goals.

Of course, all of this became possible by my retiring from the NYC Department of Education after eleven years of teaching high school to students with special needs. Teaching Special Education was not a calling; it was an assignment. By enrolling and being selected into the 2006 cohort of the Teaching Fellowship, I was introduced to an urban population of teenagers that collectively knew the struggles of academic failure, the isolation of being different, the limits of parental/guardian support, and the epic challenge to be better than everyone’s expectations.

It wasn’t easy. There were a few victories along the way, but way too many disappointments made more disappointing by a system that lost its way. Too often, colleagues of mine were reminded by administrators that “It’s all about the kids,” yet the rhetoric always exceeded the reality. I’ve seen my share of budget misappropriations, bully pulpit principals, invisible discipline accountability, and city denial. I’m sure it wasn’t always this way, because I’ve met so many great teachers during my tenure who would do anything for their students, and leverage their students’ successes in order to continue teaching. Yet, it was enough to make me weary and yearn for more.

This trip is all about yearning for more. It’s about discovery, reflection and purpose.