Thursday, November 23, 2017

Manson and Cassidy

What a strange week it's been! First, Charles Manson dies, and then Keith Partridge (or his alter-ego, David Cassidy). For those of us who grew up in the '70s, they're both momentous events.

Did you ever read "Helter Skelter," Vincent Bugliosi's book about the Manson murders and the ensuing trials? I read it in high school, or possibly college, and like "In Cold Blood" it scared me to death -- the idea that such deranged people could be wandering among us seemed unfathomable. It still seems unfathomable, even though a little more life experience has shown me it's unfortunately true.

Manson was clearly a nutcase, and his death seems cleansing. But I've always felt sorry for his followers, as terrible and incomprehensible as their crimes were. They seemed like vulnerable, unformed people who sadly fell into the clutches of both psychotropic drugs and a skillful, psychopathic manipulator. Every time one of them comes up for parole, part of me hopes they get it -- that second chance -- although at this point it may be too late for them to truly make a life outside prison.

As for Cassidy, he was a fixture of my childhood, even though I only remember watching "The Partridge Family" in reruns, years after its initial airing. I was more the Shaun Cassidy generation than the David. Still, having him die seems a scary reminder of our mortality, doesn't it?

Back in 2011, I snapped this photo of him from an old "Partridge Family" rerun on the television. I wanted that shirt.

We had some serious wind during the night, and the neighbor's wooden arbor -- which holds up the monster -- collapsed. I heard a loud thunk and knew something had blown over, but I wasn't sure what. I wonder if she'll get it braced up again, or if she'll just take the whole thing down? I hate having to prune our side of the monster, but it is a nice barrier between our properties and I'm not sure I want it to disappear entirely.

The wind made Olga a bit nervous. She got up in the middle of the night and came out to the living room, where she stayed vigilant on the couch. What a good watchdog!

Oh, it's Thanksgiving, isn't it?! It didn't occur to me until now. Dave and I are off work today and tomorrow for Thanksgiving break, and we're going to board a train for Cambridge a little later this morning. I'm not sure what we're doing for Thanksgiving dinner -- I guess we'll eat whatever the Cantabrigians serve us. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

(Top photo: Historic old tiles from the exterior wall of an Italian restaurant in Ewell. I feel certain it was probably once a pub.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nothing is Free

I recently joined our private health insurance plan through work, as I think I mentioned before. One of the percs of this plan is free cinema tickets, which we can get through the insurance company website. So the other day I went to register.

First, the website wanted me to take a health survey. It asked about things like my weight and my smoking and drinking and exercise habits -- all the expected stuff. It also asked about certain specific conditions and recent tests, and then assigned me an "age" based on my overall health.

Now, I think I'm a pretty healthy person. I don't overeat and I'm not overweight, I walk everywhere, and I drink in moderation and don't smoke at all. I don't have any long-term health issues as far as I know.

But this stupid survey assigned me an "age" of 54, which is three years older than I actually am, entirely because of my cholesterol levels. When I got my most recent blood test it detected higher than normal LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). This isn't unusual -- every time I've had a cholesterol test done, even in my youth, it's given a similar result. (My HDL and triglycerides, whatever those are, are fine.)

And yet, in my family, there's no history of heart disease. My mom also has high cholesterol and she's 80 -- although, granted, she was on statins for several years. I'm pretty sure I'm one of those people whose cholesterol level is genetically high with no ill-effects. (I read something about how an LDL reading alone isn't enough to predict heart disease -- for one thing, there are apparently various types of LDL, some more damaging than others.)

I just can't see doing more to reduce my dietary cholesterol. I don't eat fast food, I don't eat processed food (except three or four McVitie's chocolate-covered biscuits, which I have for dessert most nights, but dammit, I'm allowed something sinful), I don't eat a lot of meat or cheese. Dave cooks with butter but I don't see that stopping -- even if I crawled to his feet gasping and clutching my chest he'd slap a hunk of butter in the pan for our next meal.

And then I learned that I have to update the web site with weekly measurements of how far I walk and how much I exercise and that kind of thing to get my tickets. This really annoyed me, because I thought I was going to have to go buy a Fit Bit or something -- and if that's the case, what's the point of "free" tickets? But then Dave showed me that my phone records how much I walk, and has been since we bought it -- I had no idea.

I'll let you know if I ever successfully get to see a movie through this program. I'm not sure there are many movies I want to see this badly.

(Photo: Croydon, a couple of weeks ago.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I'm a 'Me Too' Bystander

In light of the "Me Too" phenomenon, I came across an interesting story in my old journals while I was transcribing them on Saturday. Here's part of the entry, from Oct. 6, 2000. Names have been changed!

I did have a really good talk with Simon a couple of nights ago. He told me a story about making a move on Jeff L. back when he supervised Jeff -- and how Simon was then scared he'd be fired. Poor Simon. Jeff, needless to say, rejected his advances.

What struck me about this is that I seemed to take it pretty casually -- the fact that a friend of mine had sexually harassed one of his employees. Obviously, in talking about it at the time, we both knew it was wrong. I was aware of the hazards of getting involved with anyone I worked with, and I was aware of sexual harassment in general. But isn't it curious that I apparently sympathized more with my harassing friend in this situation than with the harassed employee! "Poor Simon" indeed!

I suppose that reaction makes some sense, since I knew Simon better than Jeff. I obviously found the story scandalous enough to write it down. I have no idea now what "making a move" meant -- what Simon did, or where he did it.

As long as we're talking about "Me Too," though, let me just say there are things that bother me about it. Obviously in some circumstances a harasser's behavior was so outrageous that it's beyond the pale. It could never have been seen as acceptable, even in an era of less stringent rules about sexual behavior. Bill Cosby drugging women, for example, or an adult Kevin Spacey jumping on a 14-year-old -- in any recent era, even 30-plus years ago, that behavior would have been considered outrageous.

But there was a time -- before Simon and the story above -- when hitting on someone at work wasn't seen as such an affront. I worry that men who mildly approached women (or other men) decades ago are now being held accountable according to our evolved understanding of sexual harassment. And I worry that men who did relatively minor things, like touching someone inappropriately (and maybe just awkwardly) during a photo, are now being lumped into the same category with people like Cosby and Spacey (who, let's face it, are assailants, not just harassers).

Obviously, sexual harassment is a problem and the victims deserve our first consideration. But there are many gradations of being the target of someone's amorous advances, and there are evolving social standards of behavior over time. Has the "Me Too" phenomenon been able to adequately distinguish between them?

(Photo: A dewy geranium in our garden, Sunday morning.)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Briglin in Dulwich

Yesterday was a busy day -- two social engagements, which for me is a lot!

First, Dave and I had brunch with some friends at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, on the South Bank of the Thames. It's an ideal brunch spot, with St. Paul's directly across the river and the Tate Modern right next door. Very scenic!

Then I hopped a train and then a bus to Dulwich to meet up with blog pal Linda Sue, who's enjoying an extended stay in London. She's been here a couple of months and it's embarrassing that we haven't met up before now, but we finally got our act together.

When we planned the day, Linda Sue said something like, "Hopefully the sun will be shining!" I scoffed at that, because we've had pretty gray days recently, and of course that misty rain on Saturday. And then, like magic, the sun came out! Yesterday's weather was chilly but glorious.

Linda Sue found a Mid-Century Modern furniture and housewares show in Dulwich, in far south London, and that's where we met up. I walked in saying I wasn't going to buy anything, and walked out with a pillow and a vase. The pillow is very psychedelic -- an abstract pattern of green, orange, red and even a bit of purple, printed on cotton velvet. It reminds me somehow of Jefferson Airplane. The vase is a neutral design of abstract flowers -- they look like Queen Anne's lace when it begins to fold up in Autumn -- produced by Briglin Pottery, which operated in London between 1948 and 1990. Neither item was very expensive, so I was quite happy with my finds!

Afterwards Linda Sue and I walked through the autumn afternoon to a pub and talked about life and the sad state of political affairs in the United States and, with Brexit, in the UK. A pint made things better, at least momentarily.

I came home, had dinner with Dave and, continuing the retro theme of the day, watched an episode of "The Saint" while Dave did some work on his computer. Now, back to the daily grind!

(Top photo: An autumn tree in Dulwich. Bottom, the furniture show.)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sitting Down, Journals and Joni

Yesterday the weather was "soft," as the Irish allegedly say, with mist that eventually turned into a gentle rain. I took Olga on our West Heath walk before the rain really got going, and she seemed to enjoy it, but she did this peculiar thing that she does sometimes when it's rainy or damp -- she sat down.

She did it over and over, in between chasing squirrels and running after her Kong and her tennis ball. Whenever the action paused, she'd take a seat. This is a dog who almost never sits down while on a walk.

I am at a loss to explain this behavior, unless she's just keeping her rear end warm. It's very strange.

When we weren't walking I was transcribing my journals and reading my Joni biography. The journals continue to be pretty darned entertaining. I'm at a point in the fall of 2000 when things were ending with a longtime friend/love interest, who I memorably described in one entry as unfeeling and "a styrofoam cut-out of a man." I was also casually dating a 22-year-old Bosnian Muslim and angsting over a fling with a Brazilian bank employee who helped me set up my new account in Manhattan. (He went on to become a friend.) Let's just say it was an eventful period.

The Joni book is fascinating. Initially, as I read it, I lamented leading such a tame life compared to La Joni, but in rereading those journals I see things weren't so tame after all! Memory can be quite selective.

The book takes a fine-grained approach to her albums and songs, explaining the genesis of many of them and recounting certain memorable lyrics. I'm learning a lot I didn't know. For example, I'd never heard that the song "Hejira," from the 1976 album of the same name, alludes to Camus:

I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones

Apparently Camus, in his notebooks, wrote: "What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country...we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being."

I love both his description of travel, which strikes me as absolutely truthful, and Joni's adaptation of it.

It's going to be interesting to see how the book maintains its momentum, now that I'm finishing the part of her life when she did most of her best known (certainly to me) work. At this point she's recorded and released "Hejira" and she's moving on to records that I just never really clicked with. At some point I owned them all -- "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter" and "Mingus" and "Wild Things Run Fast," but they never really spoke to me.

Also, the book motivated me last night to rent "The Last Waltz," Martin Scorsese's movie documenting the final concert by The Band in 1976. Joni appears in the film, and I managed to hang on until those parts -- but I have to say, and I know this is sacrilege in the music world, that I didn't enjoy the movie at all. In fact I turned it off after Joni sang "Coyote." I'm generally not a blues fan or a country fan and The Band, for all their undoubtedly excellent musicianship, are heavy on bluesy stuff -- at least, to my uneducated ear. They're just not my thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Autumnal iPhone Photos

Here's another collection of random pictures from my phone. I confess that I'm using the phone camera more and more -- many of the pictures in my recent blog posts have been from the phone. It's just so much easier to carry than the big camera.

Someone lined up some horse chestnuts (or "conkers," as the British call them) atop this tombstone in the cemetery. They always look so shiny and clean, like jewels lying among the leaf litter on the forest floor.

I found this scrap of gift wrap lying on the sidewalk on my way to work. Yes, those are penises. As Dave said, "At least it's multicultural!"

Tube Ad of the Week! "Dave" is, improbably, the name of a TV Channel in Britain.

We have a bust of Andrew Mellon, our library's benefactor, in an alcove at work. Someone put this stocking cap on his head, and we've left it there. He probably gets cold just sitting in the corner looking dignified, poor guy.

The fig tree has gone entirely yellow for autumn. Soon the leaves will fall and I'll tuck it into the shed for a few months of hibernation.

Speaking of autumn leaves, I'm always amazed at how big the leaves of the London plane trees get. (I've blogged a similar shot before, I admit it.)

Some colorful spilled oil on the roadway, coordinating with a passerby's umbrella.

Finally, Olga and I found this huge headboard while walking the other day. Someone just left it (precariously) standing upright on the sidewalk. When I walked by yesterday, it had been moved and was leaning against a nearby fence. It looks like really nice wood. I hope someone claims it! (We do not need a headboard.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fallen Leaves and Drinking Games

This is what our garden looks like now. We've pretty much just let it go -- we saw Mrs. Kravitz out weeding and raking a few days ago, and she said something like, "What happened to your garden?!" We told her that in the fall, we let nature take its course.

I probably do need to rake those leaves at some point.

Wasn't the news from Australia encouraging? I'm so happy marriage equality passed there by referendum, and by such a solid margin!

On the other hand, I've been reading about the college students around the USA who have died recently from alcohol poisoning. I was just talking to my boss about this the other day -- she was saying that some students at the school where we work have needed hospital treatment because they've had too much to drink at parties. Maybe I'm naive (likely) but I never heard of this phenomenon when I was in school. I mean, people got drunk, sure, but I didn't know anyone who had to have their stomach pumped or who suffered any long-term effects.

The students in my dorm, in college, turned drunkenness into a game. We had a weekly "puke award" that hung on the door of whichever resident of our floor got the drunkest at the weekend. This was not only sanctioned by the RA, I think he might have started it. Can you imagine such a thing happening now? (For the record, I never won the "puke award.")

My boss said that in our day, we drank with mixers, but she thinks kids today (particularly girls) don't like to use much mixer because they're worried about extra calories. So they wind up drinking much stronger drinks. And fraternities, in particular, seem to use drinking as a rite of initiation that often goes wrong.

Anyway, I'm glad high school and college are behind me!

Apropos of nothing, the other day I was walking down the street past a woman and a little girl, and the girl, seeing a pigeon, started crowing at it like a rooster. "Cock-a-doodle-DOO!!" she yelled at the pigeon, over and over. The mother said, "Dear, that's not a chicken." But the girl just kept right on crowing.