An Olive Street recollection.
I last published this here in December 2011, but given my return to Southern California I thought it a good time to share it again. As this essay makes clear, the best place to watch the Rose Parade is in the warmth of your own living room. And, sadly, tomorrow will be the last time we will be able to watch Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards host the broadcast.
December 31, 1975. I had planned on a quiet evening in my Olive Street apartment. My roommate George and his significant other (and my good friend) Alison were at home with their families. I splurged by buying a halibut fillet, which I was just taking out from under the broiler when the lesbian pair Anne and Ann burst into my apartment and told me they were taking me to see the Rose Parade.
I’d always talked about seeing the Rose Parade in person. And it sounded like a lot more fun than spending the evening alone listening to soft rock on Stereo 93, KNX-FM. Besides, the two Ann(e)s can be very persuasive individually, and as a couple were often an irresistible force. I allowed myself to be kidnapped and taken to Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena.
When we got there and we finally found the group with whom Ann and Anne were rendezvousing, I discovered that I was the only male in the group and the only straight person as well. I was in fact in the midst of the undergraduate lesbian elite of the Claremont Colleges.
They did come well provisioned. Included in the supplies were vodka, pineapple juice, and a tray of brownies. There being no orange juice, I started fixing myself pineapple juice and vodka drinks (what would you call that?) and munching on the brownies. It didn’t take me too long to start feeling sleepy and light-headed. It was only months later that I understood the true source of my condition. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but I remember Ann saying to me in a tone of voice that betrayed her impatience with my naiveté, “Mike, it wasn’t the small amount of vodka you drank that caused you to feel that way!” Oh, yeah. Right. Got it now.
The evening wore on, and eventually 1976 arrived. There was a brief burst of energy at midnight when people driving by honked their horns and everyone shouted “Happy New Year!” back and forth to each other. Things calmed down before too long, and we eventually decided it was time to get some sleep. I got into the sleeping bag that had been provided for me, and found myself wedged in between two members of the Claremont lesbian community.
I quote from an essay I wrote in the summer of 1976, something I aspired to get published, but which in fact never made it out of draft form.
I slept about as well as one might expect when lying on a street with a jacket for a pillow, but it was better than no sleep.
About five a.m. I was awakened by the sound of a car idling nearby and the voices of four or five men and women. Apparently the people next to us, a group of three couples, had decided that they had no intention of sleeping on the pavement, and so set up six chairs and took turns guarding their claim. I was hearing the final changing of the guard. After a lot of details being worked out in voices a good deal louder than I would have liked, the car drove off and a new couple took command of the post. It was at about this time that my bladder had begun hinting to me that I wanted to do something other than merely sleep, while the new woman next door found it necessary to do a commentary on what she saw about her.
“Look at those people in their sleeping bags,” I heard her say, “They’re so cute!” Perhaps to someone who had just gotten out of a warm bed my companions and I looked cute.
I, of course, felt anything but cute. I was sore, sleep-deprived, and wanted nothing more than a shower and a shave. I extricated myself from my spot on the street and made my way to the nearest set of portable toilets. When I returned the spot I had occupied had of course been filled in, so there was nothing for me to do except sit and take in the sights and sounds.
The morning wore on and eventually my companions started to stir. Those organizing the event started making quesadillas on a Coleman stove. They were quite good, actually.
The street was full of vendors, including one very clean-cut young man who struck me as perhaps a law or accounting student walking up and down the street with a cart and megaphone saying repeatedly in a pleasant, mild tone, “Good morning. Kodak film.” I wasn’t sure whether we was really trying to sell film, or simply wishing it good morning. I still wonder whether he actually sold any.
Eventually the streets were cleared and the parade started. It was fun seeing the flower-covered floats in person, but we were also all tired and happy when the parade was finished.
Anne had dropped Ann and me off at our camp site the night before and then parked the car. We headed off to where she said she had left it, only to find no car. Again, I quote my essay:
Both Ann and I had shared an apartment with Anne [Ann at the time, me earlier the previous summer ], and we knew how scatterbrained she could be. Our immediate assumption was that she left the car in a no-parking zone and it had been towed away. Anne insisted that she had done no such thing, and that we call the police department at once. One would not have guessed just how difficult it is to find a phone booth in downtown Pasadena.
After walking twenty or thirty blocks, and asking innumerable people where we might find such a rarity, we found a pay phone on Colorado Boulevard, next to an abandoned automobile showroom. The phone shortage in Pasadena that day was acute, and Anne had to wait in line for ten minutes before even getting to use it. I don’t suppose that we could have expected otherwise, but once she got through to the switchboard, she was put on hold. After just enough delay to make us fidget a bit more, Anne discovered that she had, in fact, parked legally, until the police decided that they needed that particular street for through traffic, and summarily towed away all of the cars parked thereon. But she did not tell us this until she finally returned with the car. She merely mumbled something about a high school and 200 blocks, and went wandering off, leaving Ann and me to sit, dressed for a cold night, in a sun that was becoming increasingly warm.
Nor did we have a particularly panoramic view front of us. It was past noon by this time, but traffic officers were still at all of the intersections directing an interminable flow of departing spectators. The gutters were a mass of trash, and tired purveyors of pretzels were returning their carts to some spot near where we were waiting. I had some change in my pocket, so I wandered across the street to a tiny and somewhat seedy-looking liquor store and picked up a soft drink and candy bar for Ann and myself. Then we sat and waited. I tried to write a letter and got nowhere. It got warmer. We became more sore and more tired. At length Anne reappeared in front of us and asked, “Anybody want a ride home?”
We were too exhausted to even throw our empty soda cans at her.
We headed back to Claremont and piled into the local Howard Johnson’s. We were slightly surprised that they let us in given how we looked: three people who came straggling in off the street. But then, we did just come straggling in from off the street. We had a mid-afternoon breakfast, and the Ann(e)s dropped me off at home.
I don’t recall what I did when I got inside, but I must have either taken a very long soak in the bathtub or stood under the shower until the hot water ran out.
Since that adventure, seeing the Rose Parade at home on television has always been more than adequate for me.
Punctuation is important. It is a topic I have written about before. It matters not only in the case of written prose, but in other forms of communication as well. The sign below is in the window of a local Chinese restaurant, which in fact we really like.
To convey what they want to convey there should be a hyphen or comma between the words miles and minimum. Or better, move minimum down to the next line. As it stands the sign strangely suggests that you have to live more than five miles from the restaurant to get delivery.
This photo caption in the Los Angeles Times some months back caught my attention.
I was a bit surprised that the Times style guide allowed the use of summit as a verb. So I checked my three standard dictionary references to see what they had to say. In fact, all three of them have an entry for summit as a verb. American Heritage and Oxford Dictionaries Online say the verb can be both transitive and intransitive. Merriam-Webster only lists an intransitive form.
This, in fact, is the normal progression of language: towards simplification. “…helps wounded veterans summit the world’s tallest mountains” works perfectly fine and conveys the message clearly. Why say “…helps wounded veterans reach the summit of the world’s tallest mountains” when the simpler form works?
I remember being startled back in the 1970’s when my roommate said that someone “had suicided.” Not because of the act, but because of her use of suicide as a verb. But the principle is the same. Once again, all three of my dictionaries include suicide as a verb.
In one of his lectures on language from The Great Courses, linguist John McWhorter uses the analogy of someone trying to sweep back the ocean as the tide comes in. It is a losing effort. Language is going to change.
This is not to say that we should not maintain standards in grammar, spelling, syntax, and style. We should. At the same time, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge the fact that language does change.
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
W. W. Norton & Company (November 2, 2015), 320 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon Hardcover $19.90
The Only Street in Paris is a delightful diversion. In the wake of the terrorist attacks there, this book portrays the Paris we like to think about.
Elaine Sciolino is a journalist living in Paris. She rented a house a block over from the famous Rue des Martyrs. It is a street filled with restaurants, bars, bakeries, meat markets, bookstores, and other locally-owned businesses. Sciolino writes about her interactions with the owners of those shops. She writes about how one location might be, for example, a bakery for over a hundred years, simply changing owners. She also writes about the history of the street. She describes the historic church Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, badly in need of repair. She tells us how she took Arianna Huffington shopping in a vintage clothing store, the only essay in the book in which she does anything resembling name dropping.
Sciolino does a marvelous job of transporting the reader into the world of the Rue des Martyrs. She made me want to visit the street with her as my tour guide. There are a number of photos in the book, and it felt nothing like the 320 pages it is listed as in the print edition. I finished The Only Street in Paris wishing there was more.
Joy to the World!
Christmas Blessings to all.
Some random domestic trivia:
- I am a huge fan of full-spectrum, or daylight, light bulbs. This time of year they do a great job of staving off whatever mild symptoms similar to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter blues, that I have experienced in the past. We had them all over the house in Gilroy, and they were always easy to find at any home and garden store. Here in Hemet I only have them in my office, and they are hard to find. Earlier in the summer I could only find them at Stater Bros., our regional grocery chain. This month not even there. When one went out I bought what I thought was the equivalent, but the light was not that clear, bright, white color that I love. It was a dirtier yellow color. Thank goodness for Amazon. Yes, I know that I’m picky, but it does make all the difference to me when the days are short.
- The smoke detector in our bedroom went off the other night when Terry was cooking. I didn’t think there was that much smoke at all, but apparently the detector did. What’s interesting is that our smoke detectors here are not interconnected in the same way that they were in Gilroy. There, when one went off they all went off. Not so here. Perhaps it’s the difference between a two-story house and a one-story house. The nice thing is that I don’t have to remove the detector from its ceiling fixture when changing the battery. I just have to slide out a little drawer. I wish I had realized that when I did Terry’s office, but at least I had that knowledge when doing the other three.
- I got in the shower the other day and started to put water on my hair when I realized that I was still wearing my hearing aid. Yikes! I have never leapt out of the shower so quickly. I immediately grabbed the hair dryer and turned it on. Fortunately, all was well. Whew!
And while I’m at it, here’s a bit of tech trivia:
I was in the market to buy some sugar-free vitamin C lozenges. Our local CVS had plenty of their house brands with sugar, but no Hall’s sugar-free. Rather than running all over town looking, I went online and checked drugstore.com. As I was looking there a message popped up on my screen that said, “Hey, look over here! We have a much better price at Amazon!”
They did. And I bought them from Amazon.
I later figured out that this came from the Amazon Assistant, which is on my Firefox web browser’s toolbar. But still, that is rather spooky (and a little creepy and scary).
Turning Points in Medieval History
Professor Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back – the sale price will come around again
This course is different from most produced by the Great Courses. The vast majority of courses are created on video with appropriate accommodation made for those of us who listen via audio. Turning Points in Medieval History, of the other hand, is strictly audio. I liked that because I had no concern about missing any images.
Professor Armstrong discusses twenty-four turning points in the medieval world. She suggests that there are four kinds of turning points.
- An immediate turning point that is recognized as such at the time.
- A decisive event in itself whose impact was felt beyond the initial event.
- A turning point whose effect was most strongly felt years or even centuries later.
- A turning point that was seen as such at the time, but which really changed little.
Armstrong discusses the fall of Rome, the rise of the kingdom of Al-Andalus in what is now Spain, the Norman Conquest, and other similar medieval events. She uses a James Burke “Connections” style of presenting these events, describing how unrelated events and circumstances often converged to create these turning points.
Dorsey Armstrong is my current favorite Great Courses instructor, and Turning Points in Medieval History is fascinating listening.
Yesterday’s Gospel lectionary reading was the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Luke 1:39-45. When we read in Luke about that journey we don’t think much about it.
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Tradition says that that Mary and Elizabeth were somehow related, perhaps cousins. But as Pastor Kathleen pointed out yesterday morning, this was an extraordinary, probably unheard of, journey. First, Mary was likely a teenager. Luke 2 tells us that Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem for the census. So Mary must have been in Nazareth with her husband Joseph when she set out. As the quote above tells us, Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in the hill country of Judea, outside of Jerusalem, in the South of the former united kingdom of Israel. Remember that Galilee is in the North, in the region then still known as Israel. That would have been quite the journey for Mary. Fifty miles at least, Kathleen said. And as she pointed out, not only did Mary not have a driver’s license, but there weren’t any cars then anyway.
So why, Kathleen asks, after hearing from the angel the news that she we would be giving birth to the Messiah, would Mary have made such a journey when she no doubt had relatives in Galilee to whom she could talk, and probably a BFF or two there as well. Kathleen suggests that Mary wanted to talk to someone who would “get it.” The much older Elizabeth conceived in a miraculous manner as did the young Mary. Elizabeth would get it.
Kathleen went on to say that we all need someone to talk to in our lives who will get it. I’m fortunate to have people in my life I can talk to who will get it. My wife Terry, certainly. Definitely my spiritual director. My brother and sister-in-law for certain things and my dad for others.
I hope you have that person or those people in your life as well.
Clare College Choir, Cambridge