Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Universe, what a trickster…

The $20 check was written and in an envelope in my hand, and I was driving out the driveway when Jon came walking up from the train station, home from work early. He looked as though he was going to pop with some great news.

“Well, I did it,” he gloated.

“I have to get this check in the mail right away. I’ll be right back!” I called, and then sped to the post office, still rattled by an earlier trip to Ardmore.

I had driven over there to have lunch with a friend (who was going to tell me all I needed to know about setting up a website) and then afterwards to pick up a pair of running shoes I had ordered. It was a sparkling late fall day and I had looked forward to the outing. I parked in my usual lot off Cricket Avenue, loaded the meter with enough quarters to get two hours, and headed to the restaurant, the one where you can get a burger and fries. I waited by the register. And waited. And waited. I finally thought to look at my phone, and there was a text message: she wasn’t going to be able to make it because she had to pick up her daughter. (The dreaded call from the school nurse.) Okay. At least I could get my new shoes. So off to the shoe store – where they brought me a box with the wrong shoes in it. “Oh, we are so sorry. We’ll reorder for you. They’ll be here before the end of the week!”

No bacon burger. No website wisdom. No new Nikes.

I trudged back to the parking lot and, as I approached my car, I could see that the meter was flashing that red EXPIRED flag. But I had put in many quarters! It should have had almost an hour left on it! In fact, it should have had exactly the amount of time on the other meter on the shared pole, where there hadn’t been and still wasn’t a car…

Yep. I had filled the wrong meter. It was only then that I turned around and saw the Lower Merion Township parking ticket tucked under my windshield wiper. The ticket had been written five minutes after I had parked the car. The fine was noted in nice big, bold print: $20. I stewed all the way home. There was no way to fight it, of course. It was my own fault for not being careful about the double meter thing. On top of that annoyance, when I got home and read the fine print on the ticket, I saw that the Lower Merion Township office had to have the money in 48 hours or “additional fines could be imposed.” I didn’t feel like driving another 25 miles to Ardmore and back any time soon, so I had to get that check in the mail pronto.

Once back from the post office, I poured a cup of tea and sat down to hear Jon’s story:

Jon: I got her.
Kathy: Who?
Jon: The woman who gets off the train here the same time I do. She always walks up our street ahead of me and gets into a car in front of the Holts’ house. I had suspected that she was parking there all day, but couldn’t be sure. This morning, I had to take the 7:53 instead of the 7:14, and I saw her park the car in the very same spot. As I passed her, I even pointed out the two-hour parking sign, just as a friendly gesture, in case she hadn’t seen it. She snapped, “Oh, I know. Who cares?”  So at lunchtime, I called the township office and asked if they could put an official warning notice on the car. But they don’t do warnings! And when I walked by the car right now, I saw she had a ticket! Hah!

(I need to note that Jon is usually mild-mannered in his conscientiously Quaker sort of way, not one to take revenge or exhalt over another’s misfortunes. But this business of people using our little one-block street next to the SEPTA station as a parking lot gets him agitated. The weird “great news” look was back, he was so sheepishly gleeful that he had taken action.)

Jon: Now she’ll have to pay a fine.
Kathy: Could you see the amount of the fine on the ticket?
Jon: Yes! $20!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Notes from Brewster, MA

And now for something completely different…
Here is a book review I wrote for the Brewster Ladies Library on Cape Cod, one of my favorite vacation hang-outs.

Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowel 
William Zinsser, the late non-fiction writer, editor and teacher, wrote: “Ultimately, the product any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is. I often find myself reading with interest about a topic I never thought would interest me… What holds me is the enthusiasm of the writer for his field.” Sarah Vowel with “Unfamiliar Fishes,” her study of Hawaii’s fortunes from 1819, when the first boatload of New England missionaries left Boston Harbor for the Sandwich Islands to save the heathen, through to annexation in 1898, illustrates Zinsser’s point. Encouraged by a friend to read Vowel, I had no interest in Hawaii, but “Unfamiliar Fishes” was the volume handed to me. From the first pages I knew I was in for a fun voyage.

A caveat:  Vowel’s style and structure are unconventional. Vowel wears her politics on her sleeve – or perhaps more accurately on her hard drive. As early as page 3 she shows her colors, describing the annexation as “a four-month orgy of imperialism” that gobbled up Puerto Rico and Guam in addition to Hawaii and included the invasion of Cuba that resulted in American control of Guantanamo Bay.  As for the book, there are no chapters, no headings, no index. Instead, Vowel unfolds her narrative over 233 pages with occasional section breaks throughout, weaving into the 19th-century history her personal observations of modern day Hawaii and vignettes about her research.

Nevertheless, the dominant focus is the decades of conflict between the native population with its royal families and the sons of the white missionaries who ultimately “dethroned the Hawaiian queen,” handing Hawaii over to the United States. Indeed, some natives who were on the scene when the first missionaries arrived foresaw the conclusion. Vowel quotes David Malo, the native Hawaiian historian who became a Christian minister and died in 1853:
 If a big wave comes in, large and unfamiliar fishes will come from the dark ocean, and when they see the small fishes of the shallows they will eat them up. The white man’s ships have arrived with clever men from big countries. They know our people are few in number and our country is small, they will devour us.

 With warm sympathy she portrays the doomed dynasty of the Kamehamehas, I through V, their passions and also their flaws. With considerably cooler sympathy she tells her tales about the Doles, the Richards, the Binghams, the Gibsons and the Thurstons.

The differences between the “small fishes” and the “large and unfamiliar fishes” were profound. An expansive people comfortable with sensuality vs. a Puritan people pretty much uncomfortable with everything. A deep love of nature for its own sake vs. an attitude that natural resources exist solely to be exploited for the benefit of man. A society willing to ask its members to chip in when monetary resources are needed vs., in Vowel’s words, “upper class white guys…exceedingly touchy about taxation.” Vowel depicts all of the clashes with engaging scenes, often filled with drama and almost always ending in tragedy for the “small fishes.”

Along the way Vowel also shares some surprising (at least for me) information. The first newspaper west of the Rockies was published in Hawaii (though it lasted only one year). The British government supported Hawaiian independence and welcomed Hawaiian royalty to London. A private missionary school, founded in 1839 by Juliette and Amos Cooke (who had not gone to college) so “the children of chiefs will be taught,” was sending its graduates off to Williams and Harvard  by 1868. Punahou became a world-class school and still sends its graduates off to the mainland, including one Barack Obama, who went on to Occidental College and then Harvard Law School.

If you happen to share Vowel’s politics, this book will be a delight. If you happen to lean more to the right, but have been known to happily spend a long evening with a highly opinionated but also highly intelligent friend, someone you consider a worthy adversary who regales you with entertaining and enlightening stories, this book will also be a delight.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Have a Nice Trip

Last Saturday morning I fell down and broke my crown.

Well, I didn’t really break it, but I certainly gave it some rough treatment.

I had gotten up early to check When could I work in my run? The forecast the evening before had been gloomy, threatening rain all day. I hadn’t run in the rain for decades, choosing as I advanced in years to wimp out and use a treadmill. But this time I had no choice: the HealthPlex, with its trusty treadmill, was closed for its annual three-day mega-maintenance and facility projects weekend. told me I was in luck: 0% chance of rain between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., my usual running time.

At 7 a.m., I strapped on my Garmin watch, headed down the street … and heard raindrops patter in the leaves overhead.  I kept walking. After five minutes I started my usual slow lope. Down Blackthorn Road I went, and the raindrops came a little faster. I decided to persevere. The temperature was mild and it wasn’t exactly pouring. I continued my trot, left on Green Valley Road, right on Providence Road, and then right again onto the old concrete walking path that had been laid down 80 years ago between two yards to connect Providence Road to Dogwood Lane.

The next thing I knew that concrete path was rising up to meet me. This was no Irish blessing. I saw the sidewalk coming with the green lawn beside it and had just enough time to put out my hands and think, “Aim for the grass and roll.”

It half worked. I felt the right side of my head bounce off the concrete and I was on my back on the grass. Interesting sensation that – one’s head bouncing.

I lay there for a moment. I hadn’t seen stars, but I felt a “sensation” on my forehead that I was pretty sure was the inception of a goose egg. I drew a couple deep breaths and stood up to take stock. Two scraped knees, the left one oozing blood, the right one closer to dripping. Two scraped palms, the left one slightly abraded, the right one gouged with blood leaking along the edges. And that interesting sensation on my forehead.

I took some more deep breaths and started the ten-minute walk back home. At the intersection of Providence and Green Valley, I greeted one gentleman walking his dog, who gave me a strange look.  (The man, not the dog, though I can’t swear to that.) I put the unbloodied fingers of my left hand up to my face and pulled away with some sticky red stuff. I kept my head down for the rest of the walk home to avoid more greetings.

When I came in the kitchen door, Jon looked up from his paper and said, “That was a quick three miles.”

“I took a tumble.”

“Oh. I thought you stopped because of the rain.” And he went back to his paper.

No use crying if no one notices, so I didn’t cry. I inspected. I already had a good idea of the condition of my knees and hands, but the face was fresh territory. Having caught the edge of the sidewalk, I had scratches along the brow bone above my right eye, now very tender, scrapes high on my right cheekbone, giving me a rough-and-tumble action hero(ine) look,  and a sprinkling of bright red pockmarks along the right side of my nose (from pieces of loose gravel?). I did my best at mopping up.

After disposing of the damp and bloodied paper towels, I grabbed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer to hold against my pate. It was only then that the adrenaline drained right out of my body, leaving me dripping with sweat and feeling lightheaded. Jon sprang into action, fetching for me the magic elixir for all ills: a glass of ginger ale.

An hour or so of holding a pack of peas against your face can get pretty tedious, and I had done only three or four minutes of my run. I went back out to finish, but this time to the local college track, and Jon came with me. It was either that, he said, or he was going to make me wear a helmet.

Three days later the major reminders of the fall are:
(1) A swollen top joint of the pinky finger on my right hand, which I apparently jammed when I landed but which also apparently kept my head from hitting any harder than it did (well done, pinky finger) but now hurts like the dickens (and does anyone even know what a dickens is?).
(2) An intriguing black eye that isn’t swollen but looks exactly as though I have gone wild with deep purple eyeliner and eye shadow from my eye lashes right up into my eyebrow. (An office colleague commented that the color looked good on me.)

It could have been worse.

I do not know what triggered the fall. I’ve run that same route, padded along that same path for seven years, two to three times a week, April through October. Perhaps I was just too focused on being so proud of myself for running in the rain just like I used to do 30 years ago. (Clearly a physical manifestation of the proverb.)

I do know that I had not gone up a hill.