Avocado’s Lament

avocoadoes for a buck

Pastor Mom’s friend from Mexico, who recently visited with us for several weeks, tells me that avocadoes go for about a quarter apiece just the other side of the border.  I am dark green with envy.

Lately, avocadoes have been selling for about a buck each here in California.  I think I need to grab me some pesos and take a little road trip to Mexicali.

I am beginning to understand why the wonderful taqueria just across the street from the parsonage does not serve guacamole.  To obtain any kind of reasonable ROI, they’d have to sell it at a price higher than most of the clientele (well, the sane ones, anyway) would be willing to pay.  And they certainly wouldn’t be setting any out on the salsa bar with the jalapeños or adding it to tacos and burritos as a condiment.

I am told that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I have it on good authority that avocadoes do.  So why they’ve turned out to be some kind of green gold remains a mystery to me.

If anyone complains about the price or quality of produce around these parts, the answer will undoubtedly be “it’s the drought.”  I am used to it being dry here in California, so it rarely occurs to me that Mother Nature hasn’t been particularly cooperative for the past few years.  You can tell I’m a city slicker, not a farm boy.  I’m told that the crops have to be watered and that bringing in water costs money, thus jacking up food prices and pissing everyone off.  Apparently, irrigation leads to irritation.

As we just had our state elections, I keep hearing that it’s all the politicians’ fault.  I suppose Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein should be performing a rain dance on the floor of the Senate.  The legislators up here in Sacramento might want to join in, too.  If nothing else, it’d be a good photo op.

This is the season of the year when observant Jews add the Hebrew phrase mashiv ha’ruakh u’morid ha’gashem to our daily prayers.  It’s a reference to God, “who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”  For centuries, imploring the Lord for rain was a serious matter.  Without it, the people and animals would go thirsty and then nothing would grow, so we’d go hungry as well.  In Biblical times, drought meant death, and often prompted mass migrations to areas where potable water was available.  That’s how Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt, a land irrigated by the Nile.

I wonder if there were avocadoes back then.  If there were, I imagine that they may have been split open against the rocks, after which the insides would be scooped into an earthen bowl and pounded with a mortar.  I don’t know whether we had tortillas, and matzos weren’t invented until the day we finally left Egypt following 400 years of slavery.  But we do know that dough was kneaded and left to rise on hot stones, so perhaps my forebears did know the joys of the guaco taco.

Somehow, the avocado never seemed to make it into classic Jewish cuisine.  I don’t recall having even heard of avocadoes until I went away to college and spied those funny-looking things at the local food co-op.  Was it a fruit or a vegetable?  Are you supposed to peel it?  How do you even spell it?  Pluralized with an –es like “potatoes?” Nah, that doesn’t look right.  I was told that avocadoes are used to make guacamole, an explanation that I found singularly unhelpful.  I had no idea what guacamole was.  I just nodded and smiled rather than further reveal the depths of my ignorance.

Some forty years later, I am still relatively ignorant when it comes to avocadoes.  When they are affordable, my wife buys avocadoes that are in a hard, unripe state and then softens them up by allowing them to sit in a paper bag for a few days.  Then they go in the fridge.

Sadly, the last batch of avocadoes we bought ended up going in the trash.  On the day I got out the lemon juice and garlic, I split open our lovelies only to find that they were completely rotten inside.

You can feel sorry for me now.  I’m singin’ the Uncle Guacamole blues over here.

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Apples of Autumn

apple

Autumn is the time of year when I start obsessing about apples.  I don’t know whether an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, but I do know that my daily apple is a dose of happiness.

Growing up in the New York City area, the only types of apples that I knew anything about were Macintosh and Red Delicious.  If any kid pulled an apple out of his Superman lunchbox (Not a stupid apple again!  Anyone got a Devil Dog or a Ring Ding?  Anyone wanna trade?), it was pretty much guaranteed to be one of those two.

The produce section at Waldbaum’s also carried these funky-looking green things that probably weren’t really apples at all.  Green apples from Mars, I called them.  Mom said their proper name was Granny Smith, but I thought she was joking.  They were horribly sour and I had a grandmother named Granny Smith and my mother hated her guts, so I figured Mom was just calling the mother-in-law a sourpuss.  Anyway, she’d buy a few of those weird green things once in a very great while when she was getting ready to bake an apple pie.

Many years later, when visiting Mom in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley, I discovered the local favorite apple that went by the moniker of Rome Beauty.  But it wasn’t until I moved to California that I discovered an entirely different kind of apple.  I fell in love with the Fuji, the Pink Lady and the Gala.  These small, crisp, heavenly treats are something like biting into a juicy candy.  They are by far the sweetest apples I have ever tasted and it’s hard to believe that such a snack is actually fresh fruit that is good for you.

Although it’s been some time since I’ve owned a Superman lunchbox, my noon meal at work never seems complete if it does not have an apple to serve as a final flourish like a sweet punctuation mark.

And no, I won’t trade you!

Not even for a Ring Ding or a Devil Dog.

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Speed Blogging

Several weeks ago, I informed my wife that I would not be participating in NaBloPoMo this year.  Last year, I was able to write daily for an entire month because I was unemployed and didn’t have a lot else to do.  You can only prepare so many job application essays before you drive yourself crazy, and NaBloPoMo seemed like a perfect opportunity to improve my writing skills.  I knew that, if nothing else, it would be a “butt in chair” exercise that would get me into the habit of pounding out something every 24 hours, even if I didn’t particularly feel like it and didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to share with my audience.

As expected, a number of my posts took inanity to a new level and no doubt inspired a good deal of eye rolling among my readers.  Fortunately for me, the month of November always presents some ready-made topics, such as the change in the weather, the family foibles surrounding Thanksgiving and the arrival of the holiday season.  I held forth on the challenges of being a vegan on Turkey Day, waxed nostalgic on the occasion of my father’s eightieth birthday and described the river of emotions that resulted from spending time with my one year old grandniece (and hence, Elmo and Abby Cadabby as well) on a nearly daily basis.  NaBloPoMo was also when I began writing about homelessness in earnest, following my first month of living in the church parsonage and seeing the needy arriving regularly at our door in search of succor and sustenance.

It was a great feeling to proudly paste the NaBloPoMo logo at the end of each post and an even greater feeling when December 1 rolled around and I realized that I had risen to the challenge and succeeded.  I felt amply rewarded when A Map of California was featured in the NaBloPoMo section of WordPress’ Recommended Blogs page for months on end.

This year, of course, is different.  After nearly twelve months of unemployment, I was finally hired by state government in mid-September.  I have been blessed with a job I truly enjoy, one of the best bosses I have ever had and a rather interesting daily commute.  As grateful as I am, it doesn’t leave me much free time for writing.  I’ve been doing my best to post once weekly, but even that can be a stretch sometimes.  So writing every day for a month is, as I related to my wife, out of the question.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted my decision.  One of my favorite things about NaBloPoMo is that it makes me feel a part of something big.  Look at all the other bloggers around the world who are pounding away at their keyboards at the same time that I am!  I want to be a member of that club.

I soon realized that there is only one possible way that, with a little luck, I might be able to pull this off.  The idea I came up with is “speed blogging.”  At work, I have an hour lunch break every day.  Now, an hour isn’t much time to think of a good topic, develop a decent thesis and flesh it out with appropriate arguments and witty examples (while eating a soy cream cheese and olive sandwich and a banana).  But I figure that if I keep my posts short and concentrate on my day-to-day experiences rather than on huge issues that require hours of research, I might be able to push myself through.

And so, faithful readers, please wish me good luck as we embark on this adventure together.

Okay, hour’s up.  I have to get back to work now.

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Great Pumpkin

Among the few things I still enjoy about Halloween is watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on TV.  They usually run it a couple of times, but this year I had my wife record it on DVR so that I could watch it on the weekend when I knew I would have time to enjoy it properly.  I know that I could have watched in online, but it wouldn’t be the same experience as seeing it on a big screen TV with a bag of potato chips and a tall iced tea.  All in all, I suppose it’s become one of my guilty pleasures.

We are now just a couple of years away from the fiftieth anniversary of this classic show.  I wish Charles Schultz had lived long enough to witness that milestone.  Not many performances, live or animated, on the big or small screens, can boast of that magnitude of longevity.

I was pleased to learn that ABC continues to bring in ratings and advertising revenue from “Great Pumpkin” (although not from my wife and I, as we fast forwarded through the commercials, thank you very much).  Well, duh, if it were otherwise, the show would long ago have faded into history and ended up as the subject of an obscure trivia question on Jeopardy.

I noticed the hash tag in the corner of the screen and then read online that the show received a fair bit of traffic on Twitter.  I don’t think anyone could have imagined Twitter, the internet, DVRs or big screen TVs back when the show first aired in 1966.  I am pleased to see that the best of popular culture survives the tests of time and technology.  And I hope that, generations from now, the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the Baby Boomers continue to have the opportunity to usher in the holiday season with “Great Pumpkin” and still find it to be a treat rather than a trick.

A few of the lines in “Great Pumpkin” strike me as rather forward thinking and ahead of their time.  I am particularly thinking of the scene early in the show when Charlie Brown can’t believe that Linus is actually writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin again.  When Linus describes his beliefs regarding the Great Pumpkin rising out of the pumpkin patch and bringing toys to all the girls and boys, Charlie Brown shakes his head and mutters “must be denominational differences!”  Remember, this was written a good forty years before the concepts of political correctness and multiculturalism entered into the public consciousness and vocabulary.

I get a particular kick out of the way that every major character in the show nurses his or her own favorite fantasy.  We may feel sorry for Linus spending the night in the pumpkin patch and having his most fervent hopes dashed once again.  But what about Charlie Brown?  He, of course, is the perennial loser.  He believes that:

  • this will be the year that Lucy finally allows him to kick the football (before falling flat on his face yet again)
  • he will collect lots of goodies when he goes out trick or treating with all his friends (and then ends up with a bag full of rocks)
  • he has finally come up in the world in that, for the first time in his life, he has been invited to a party (before Lucy disabuses him of this foolish notion, noting that his name must have been erroneously taken from the “list of people not to invite”).

But what of little Sally, who remains (at least for a while) loyal to Linus, as both of them freeze out in the pumpkin patch?  Just as Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin, Sally believes in Linus (and thereby loses out on both candy and the Halloween party).

And what about Snoopy, the World War I flying ace, who believes that his doghouse is a Sopwith Camel and that he can chase down the Red Baron?  (At least until he is shot down behind enemy lines in France.)

Even Lucy, smarter than all of them combined and forever cast as the villain, opines that one’s Halloween costume should be diametrically opposed to one’s personality.  The joke, of course, is that she dresses up as a witch.

I like the way that Schultz has Linus compare and contrast the Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus.  Just because GP isn’t as well known as the jolly man in red, he muses, doesn’t mean that the flying squash is any less deserving of his loyalty.

Let’s hear it for equal opportunity cultural myths.

I can hardly wait for the airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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Bridges and Ferries

November has always been one of my favorite months of the year, despite the bad reputation it gets for the bare, leafless trees and the cold winds that serve as harbingers of winter.  To me, November is all about celebrations.

When I flip up the October page of the calendar and stare at glorious November, a goofy grin appears on my face.  The holiday season hath begun!  I feel no compulsion to wait until Black Friday.  I now feel license to put on the holiday music without feeling like an utter goofball.  Granted, I’ve been known to do this in March or August if the mood strikes, but then then it’s a guilty pleasure.  Now I can finally feel appropriate.  And so I revel in the Home Alone soundtrack on my headphones, the precision of the orchestration so incredible that, if I close my eyes, I can see John Williams waving his baton at the horns and strings.

For me, November is a month of anticipation.  As a kid, I would relish the approach of Thanksgiving, an opportunity to stuff myself with abandon.  And right after that, we’d be celebrating my father’s birthday, and you know what that means.  Cake!

Now that I am once again a member of the workforce, November is prized (at least by employees of the State of California) as the only month in which the calendar features three paid holidays.  First, we have the day off for Veterans’ Day on 11/11, then we have not one, but two days off for Thanksgiving.  This represents the only time of year at which I have four consecutive days off without the necessity of burning a vacation day.  That’s just enough time to celebrate with my wife’s family here and then head down to the Central Valley to celebrate with my own family as well.

December may be feted as the premier holiday month, but we state employees have only a single paid holiday then, on Christmas Day.  In every place I’ve worked, there has always been much discussion about the possibility of cadging days off for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  Some of my employers have allowed staff to leave two or three hours early on those days while being paid for the full day.  A few have even expressed their holiday generosity by granting staff a half-holiday, a full four hours off.  I’ve also worked in 24/7 businesses where such largesse is not possible.  That’s when the jockeying for vacation days begins.  Those with seniority put in for those days at the earliest possible opportunity.  When I was a manager, I would have staff make weak attempts at reserving Christmas Eve off some six months in advance.  I’d have to tell them to see me again in about four months or so.

This year, holiday scheduling turned up as a staff meeting subject back in September.  It’s not the eves of Christmas and New Year’s that are the issues this time around, but the days after those holidays.  The calendar informs me that Christmas and New Year’s each fall on a Thursday.  That means that the corresponding Fridays are regular workdays.  Hence, the mad scramble to lock down vacation days and secure two consecutive four-day weekends.

It seems to me that the logical thing to do in this situation would be to treat Christmas and New Year’s just as we do Thanksgiving:  Give everyone a paid day off on the day after.  Say “happy holidays” with the gift of a pair of long weekends and plenty of time to spend with family and friends.

The French have seen the wisdom of this course of action stretching back decades.  Any time a public holiday falls on a Thursday, the next day is a holiday as well.  They call this maneuver faire le pont (“making the bridge”) and refer to the extra day off as le jour férié (“the ferry day”).

I think the French have the right idea.  We often call upon “bridges” and “ferries” not only as a literal method of making physical crossings between the mainland and the islands, but also as a metaphor for making connections between people in a multicultural, multilingual world.  And as we approach the time of year when we bow our heads in thanks and celebrate the joys of family, I urge that more employers consider creating those bridges and ferries that will give their loyal employees the concentrated time off they need to recharge their batteries and remind themselves why they are working in the first place.

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February Holidays

February has always been a strange month.  Well, let’s say a unique month.

After all, January is a hard act to follow, with its celebration of the new year, noisemakers and fireworks, hope and resolutions.  By comparison, February is the poor kinfolk.  It’s the dead of winter, which has been going on for two months and we’re pretty sick of it already (particularly if you live in the northeastern United States and have to shovel snow again).

As if looking out the window or sticking one’s head out the door weren’t enough to confirm the deep freeze, we start out the month with Ground Hog Day.  We really needed to be reminded by a rodent (from Pennsylvania yet) that we have to put with six more weeks of this crap.

As the month progresses, we celebrate true love on St. Valentine’s Day and, here in the U.S., honor our first president (famous for crossing the Delaware with his troops in the dead of night on Christmas Eve and taking the partying Redcoats by surprise in New Jersey) and our sixteenth president (famous for the Gettysburg Address, freeing the slaves and holding the nation together during a time of deep divisiveness).  When I was a kid, we celebrated by having two days off school, Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and Washington’s Birthday on February 22.  But by the time I hit high school, the two holidays were more or less merged into one, Presidents Day always being celebrated on a Monday to give us a three-day weekend.  Then, somewhere along the line, the holidays seem to have been split again, Presidents Day becoming synonymous with Washington’s Birthday.  Thus, at my last job, each year we were off for Lincoln’s Birthday (on February 12, which frequently fell in the middle of the week) as well as for Presidents Day/Washington’s Birthday on the third Monday of the month (giving us our three-day weekend).

I honestly can’t think of a single tradition associated with Washington’s Birthday, other than shrill TV and radio ads for department stores and used car dealers.  Lincoln’s Birthday seems to have a loose association with the eating of cherry pie, based on the outsized myth that, in his youth, “honest Abe” could not tell a lie and hence admitted to having chopped down a cherry tree and accepted the consequences therefor.  In fact, the importance of cherry pie appears to have increased over the years to the point at which it now has its very own holiday, divorced from Honest Abe’s birthday.  Yes, that’s right, February 20 is National Cherry Pie Day.

Cherry pie isn’t February’s only comestible rock star, however.  Apparently, the month is loaded with food holidays.  The Nibble informs us that the day before National Cherry Pie Day is National Chocolate Mint Day and that the day after is National Sticky Bun Day.  This weekend, we have National Gumdrop Day on Saturday and National Almond Day on Sunday.  I need to make a supermarket run for some Jelly Bellies and a can of mixed nuts.

Although I no longer eat seafood or dairy, at one time I would have been delighted to learn that February 9 is National Bagels and Lox Day, just two days after National Fetuccine Alfredo Day.  I may have missed Homemade Soup Day back on the fourth, but I think I made up for it this week by enjoying a pot of my wife’s wonderful vegetable soup with cabbage.  Thank you, dear!  Oh, and could you please replenish a supply of our favorite green nuts in time for National Pistachio Day on the 26th?  Particularly since our last can, um, disappeared before I could get any?  Not that I mind, but hey, it’s a holiday don’t you know.

Needless to say, Uncle Guacamole is particularly pleased that February is National Avocado Month.  Just think of it, an entire month to honor my favorite fruit!  Good thing the 24th is National Tortilla Chip Day.

And lest we be accused of selfishness, let’s not forget to set aside a special day to celebrate with Rover this month.  How about, say, February 22 (Walking the Dog Day) or 23rd (International  Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day)?

It’s not all about food, though.  It may be time to visit the dentist (since the ninth is Toothache Day and the last day of the month is National Tooth Fairy Day).  Then there’s National Battery Day on the 18th (I know I have some triple-As here somewhere), Polar Bear Day on the 27th (sorry, I’m not taking a swim in the freezing cold ocean) and, bringing up the rear at the end of the month, Public Sleeping Day (when I get to find a park bench and practice being a vagrant).

When I found out that February 20 is National Hoodie Hoo Day, I had to look that one up.  On that date, apparently North Americans are supposed to step outside at noon, wave their hands over their heads and holler “hoodie hoo!”  I swear, I am not making this up.

I see that the tenth was Clean Out Your Computer Day and that the sixteenth will be Do a Grouch a Favor Day (I may visit Oscar from Sesame Street and make it Clean Out Your Trash Can Day).

But my favorite February holiday of all, and one I fully intend to celebrate, is Random Acts of Kindness Day, which is marked this coming Monday.  If you find yourself in line at a drive-through window on that day, don’t forget to pay for the meal or coffee for the car behind you.  Then drive away as fast as you can.

Trust me, the smile on your face will warm up even the coldest day in February.

 

A California December

electric blanket

It has gotten really cold here.

I know.  It’s December.  It’s supposed to be cold.

Not here.  I mean what the heck?  This is California, for crying out loud!  When I lived in New York and New England all those years, everyone spent the winter whining about the snow and cold, wishing they could live in a warm place such as Florida or California.

California, in particular, was mythic.  The home of Schwarzenegger and Mickey Mouse.  Everyone there was either a movie star or a surfer dude, and we’d all seen the romantic photos of couples walking along the beach and enjoying the ocean at any time of year.

Joe Dee Messina sang “Heads Carolina, tails California, somewhere greener, somewhere warmer.”

The Mamas and The Papas were busy California dreamin’.  “I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.”

Even in L.A., the weather people are calling for 41°F tonight.  But here, two-thirds of the way up from Mexico to Oregon, we’re going to have a hard freeze tonight, 23°F.

Just for kicks, I checked the forecast for some of my old haunts back east.  They may hit the low forties tonight.

Somehow, being in a place that is significantly colder than New York seems to defeat the purpose of living in California.

I am reminded that we don’t have blizzards here.  Sure, how often did that happen back in NYC?  Once per winter, maybe?  I remember my last winter on the east coast very clearly.  We barely had two flakes of snow to rub together the entire winter.

Be that as it may, this type of weather does not bode well for the homeless in our area, particularly those unable to reach a shelter or unwilling to stay there.  I am told that our homeless friend is still sleeping in his sister’s car, inside a fleece-lined sleeping bag, wearing a coat and covered by blankets.

I think what I’m supposed to do is smile and be glad it’s the holiday season.  It’s the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, and Christmas is just around the corner.  Cold weather is supposed to be a part of the whole ambience.  Mittens, scarves, hot chocolate and all that.  We wouldn’t want Frosty the Snowman to melt, now would we?  And perhaps, as we see our frozen breath while running about shopping, a taste of the North Pole will encourage empathy for the hardships endured by Santa and his elves.

I suppose that’s all well and good for the children and the Christmas carolers.

As for me, I stand with my bloggy friend, Vagina.

I want my electric blankie.