Excuse Me, Do You Know What time It Is?

Timex Navi XL
Patek Phillipe 5711 Nautilus

The other night I was running an errand in downtown Los Angeles and on my way home, just northeast of the downtown core of the city, I passed an area heavily populated with sidewalk tents of the homeless. Now, this is not new to me as I have been living in the area for the past 11 years, and my reaction to seeing this has not changed over time: These people need to be helped in so many ways, but that is not going to happen anytime soon for always the same reasons: Money and politics. And it’s not just Los Angeles, as the unfortunate aspect of this type of the urban landscape is repeated all across this country. So, why am I choosing to write about this now? Well, as they say, “timing is everything!”

On this particular evening, after getting home, I happened to start flipping through the latest Vanity Fair magazine (April 2022) and came across a story that looked intriguing: “In Search Of Lost Time,” with a wonderful photo of Paul Newman. It wasn’t until I looked closer that I realized that this was not about the actor per se, but about the watch he is wearing in the photo. The small print in the top right corner of the photo page informed me that the watch is a Rolex Cosmograph, with current prices of this model ranging between $14,000-$46,000. (Newman’s wife bought this particular one for him at Tiffany’s in 1969 for $300)! The print then proceeds to inform us that the watch sold at auction in 2017 for 17.8 million dollars! Let that sink in for a moment, because it gets worse.

In December of 2021, there was a watch auction held in midtown Manhattan. Hosted by Phillips and featuring the celebrity auctioneer, Aurel Bacs, the first lot up for bid was the Patek Phillipe 5711 Nautilus pictured above. The watch’s retail price is $52,635. The people attending this auction wouldn’t even blink an eye spending this much on a watch, but ask them for $48,000 to house and feed four homeless people for a year. . .well, who knows how their eyes might twitch. The bidding for this particular watch started at $20,000, less than half the original retail, and when the gavel hit the desk with Bacs yelling sold, the winning bid was $5,350,000! (Actual price after fees etc. $6.2 million, or just over 100 times the original retail). If you had to read that multiple times you’re not alone. If you use the figure I mentioned above ($12,000 per annum to house and feed one homeless person), then for that ridiculous winning bid you’ve just housed and fed 446 people for a year!

The Timex watch pictured above to the right (one of the more expensive ones of this brand) retails for $279.00, or 0.005% the cost of the Nautilus. While I am sure there is a vast difference between the two in terms of materials, inner workings, and aesthetics, ask two people wearing one or the other the time or the date and you will get the same answer!

One of the main reasons politicians cannot appear to get their heads around finding solutions to the growing problem of homelessness in this country is that it does not have the same voting appeal as building a shiny new bridge, shopping centre, or any other symbolic bauble that can be pointed to — “I did that, vote for me.” In much the same vein, a person with $6.2 million to spend on a watch — the shiny new bauble — will get more cachet from the watch than taking care of the needy.

While the following sentiment (s) have been around for quite some time, they are worth repeating here. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” This quote is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although there are some that suggest he never did say this in so many words. Two others have weighed in on this sentiment: Pearl S. Buck, who wrote: “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way it cares for its helpless members.” And the last words belong to Hubert Humphrey, who in a 1977 speech stated: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” It would appear, given the current homelessness crisis in American cities, that those in a position to affect change need to revisit these sentiments.

Los Angeles 2022

Pet Peeves

Really!

I am pretty sure that the title alone is enough to elicit an audible groan from many of you and a hurried search for pen and paper. You’re not alone! Everyone has pet peeves, some more than others. When I sat down to write this, I wondered whether or not as one ages the number of pet peeves one has increases. My first inclination was that it might be due to the inherent “crankiness” that tends to coincide with the golden years, but upon further reflection I merely chalked it up to the longer you’ve been around, the more stupid shit you’ve seen!

The phrase itself has a long history and is rather intriguing when you consider that the word “pet” usually refers to something you adore, cherish, and love, but couple it with the word “peeve” and those three words revert to, abhor, detest, and hate. The word itself derives from the much older word “peevish” (circa 15th C) and by the 20th century we had the word peeve as a verb and soon after that as a noun, with the first pairing of the two words around 1916 when Ford auto owners listed “cranking a cold motor” as a pet peeve.

It is very fitting that the first pet peeve is tied to an automobile, as there are many tied to cars and driving: Driving too slowly in the passing lane, not using turn signals, talking, or texting while driving, to name just a few. There are so many different kinds of pet peeves one could probably come up with categories for them! My aim here is to address two particular and very different pet peeves that make my skin crawl, but before I get to those here is a sampling of some of the ones I came up with when thinking about this topic – it is by no means an exhaustive list: Passwords, crushed chips in a new bag, not covering your mouth when you cough, people not knowing how to go through airport security, loud music on earbuds, substituting “no worries,” “no problem,” and “uh-huh” for thank-you, slurping on a straw when there is clearly nothing left in the glass, people who are always late, and getting gum on the bottom of your shoe. Has your blood reached the boiling point yet? Good, now you’re ready.

The first of my two is directly related to my former career as a teacher/professor and the aphorism attributed to Mark Twain (although there are many phrases attributed to him that are suspect): “Never use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do.” Now I fully realize that there are those out there with elevated vocabularies that may balk at this notion, and I agree that in certain types of writing a well-placed bon mot or three is perfectly acceptable. Nor am I suggesting that one needs to use the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) method of writing, but there is a great deal of room for something in between superfluous, sumptuous, verbiage (big words!) and the simplistic. Although I am no longer teaching, I do a great deal of reading, and every once in awhile, I come across an author who seems to push the limits of the acceptable bon mot rule. One in particular, whose books I love for their biting sarcasm, humour, and poignancy, is guilty of littering his pages with these words. Just for fun, the last time I read one of his books I jotted down words that I felt could have easily been replaced with, well, fifty-cent ones. I recorded 34 of them in 20 chapters. Here is a sampling: Exgurgitating, ululant, mythogenesis, vituperative, somnambulants, risible, lugubrious, blancmange, zygomatic, pellucidly, pertinacity, perfervid, satyagraha, homunculus, perfidious, myrmidons, and rictus. If you had to look up any or all of these, I am sure you’re not alone!

The second concerns people who refuse to return their shopping carts to the designated cart return racks after loading their vehicles (cars). The worst are those who leave them in a way that means you have to move them to get into or move your car. Now, this happens all over this country and I’m sure in other parts of the world, and it is done by both men and women. In Los Angeles, where I now live, it looks like this. Many of the men I’ve witnessed doing the deed are usually between 35-45, buffed, wearing a Gold’s Gym t-shirt, and shorts. They are pushing their cart towards their Porsche and yelling into their cell phone completely oblivious to what is going on around them. The women, more often than not, are in leggings, tank top, and a terry cloth headband. They are pushing their carts across the parking lot with a small yappy dog under one arm, a yoga mat under the other and are yelling at their cell phones, otherwise known as multitasking. They have not eaten bread since they were pre teens, and they are throwing their bags of organic groceries into the back of a Land Rover. Of course, the irony here is that these “fit” people going to gyms and yoga classes can’t walk the extra fifty feet to return a cart! I have to stop now and meditate before my head explodes!

Los Angeles 2022

Musical Memories

Do you remember that song. . .

“If music be the food of love, play on,” says Duke Orsinio in his opening line of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. And who can argue with that! Music is a very important part of my life, as I am sure it is for many people. While I do enjoy music as a background to whatever I happen to be doing, I also spend a great deal of time listening with nothing else going on, just the music. It should come as no surprise that music has the ability to unlock all kinds of memories from one’s past which, in part, explains the abundant amount of “oldies” stations devoted to playing the “hits” of yesteryear. Just about everyone has heard a song on the radio that triggers an instant memory of an event, especially from your teenage years. While I still appreciate, and on occasion seek out music from my past, I have widened my musical tastes over the years to include music from many different genres and eras.

Sometimes the memory invoked from hearing a song is much more personal and goes much deeper. For example, in 1992 I was driving on my way to work at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. and, as I often did, I stopped to pick up a student hitchhiker. I was, of course, listening to music on my commute, and in the C.D. player at that moment was a new album (Logozo) by Angelique Kidjo. I had heard her for the first time a few weeks before and immediately rushed out to purchase the album. Kidjo hails from Benin, on Africa’s Atlantic Coast (adjacent to Nigeria), and although she sings in many different languages, including English and French, the particular song that was playing when I stopped was in an African language and a particular dialect from the town she was from. When the gentleman got into the front seat the speakers filled the car with Kidjo’s voice, he promptly began to cry! At first, I thought I had said something to offend him, but he quickly composed himself and asked me who was singing? I told him, and then he proceeded to tell me that he was an exchange student from Africa, and he hadn’t heard his own language and dialect spoken in quite some time, and since she was relatively new on the music scene at the time, he had not heard of her!

The song was barely over when we reached the point for him to get out of the car, but I asked him if he was in a rush (as I wasn’t) and when he said no, we sat in the car and listened to the entire C.D. When it was over, I popped it out of the player, put it into the case and gave it to him. I just felt like it was the right thing to do. That was 30 years ago, and I still listen to Ms. Kidjo on a regular basis. Better than that, I had the opportunity to see her live in Los Angeles when she performed at the Ace Hotel Theater in 2018. Musical memories, you can’t beat them!

Los Angeles 2022

How Old are You!?

The Staff of Life

Have you ever met someone new and during the course of a conversation the topic of age comes up, you tell this new person your age and you get the following response: “Wait, you’re how old?” This phrase is usually accompanied by a bewildered look, or one of shock and surprise. Well, I am at that age where this happens on a regular basis and I’m not trying to brag! I don’t feel that I look my age, which is of course a very subjective statement, and may have more to do with the way I talk and act than with how I look. Where this breaks down for me is when that same person proceeds to tell you that you look like you’re in your late 40s and you’re 71! Now this can be chalked up to politeness, or even flattery, and while I’m usually okay with that, there are times when I find it annoying but most of the time it makes me feel good, even warm, and fuzzy!

Of course, many people don’t look their age, and this is especially true nowadays. In general, not only are people living longer, but many are keeping fitter and eating healthier. Can you say kale, protein smoothie? Combine a healthy diet with fitness gyms, personal trainers, pilates, Orange Theory, CrossFit training, boxing, kickboxing, and yoga – all thirteen of them from Anusara to Yin – and people are bound to look younger. But here’s the thing, looking your age and feeling your age are two very different things! Let’s face it, if you partake in a healthy lifestyle as mentioned above, it is not that difficult to look younger than your years (alterations excluded), but what’s going on inside your body. . .well, that’s a whole different ball game.

Take, for example. the wonderful combo of the bladder and prostate. I don’t care how young you look; if you are a male 55 and older you are at the age (although it can happen earlier) where your bladder capacity is diminished, and your prostate is enlarged (BPH – Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia). Either one of these conditions leads to more frequent urination; put the two together and . . .wait, I have to pee! Not only do you have to go more often, but it takes way longer than it used to. When my wife and I are getting ready to leave the house I will usually say: “Hang on, I have to take a quick pee,” which is usually followed by peals of laughter! The doctors tell you all this for sure, but what they don’t tell you, at least I’ve never been told this, is that when you get older the time between when you first realize that you might have to pee and when you have to pee NOW is about two seconds. So, if you’re out for a walk or hike in nature, no problem. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in the 1983 movie “The Big Chill” says to his friends as they are surveying a piece of property and he has to pee: “That’s the great thing about the outdoors, it’s one giant toilet.” But if you’re walking in a urban environment, you’d better hope that the coffee shop is coming up soon and there isn’t a line up!

All of which brings us full circle to the glass of water photo at the beginning of this musing. According to The U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine (a government agency in desperate need on an acronym), men should drink a minimum of 3.7 liters (1 gallon for the metric impaired) of water daily. The figure is slightly less for women – 2.7 liters or 3/4 of a gallon. If you add to this volume of water the daily coffee, tea, sodas, and other refreshing liquids, not to mention any alcohol you might consume on a daily basis, well you know where this is going. I know that some of you will think my photo caption is off, thinking it is “bread is the staff of life.” While this may be the more popular saying. one can live without bread – just ask anyone in Los Angeles – but you cannot live without water, at least not for very long. You can maybe go three days without water before you die, but you can live without food between 43-70 days! And there you have it, one of the cruel ironies of aging. Drink lots of water to stay fit and healthy, but make sure you’re close to a bathroom at all times!

Los Angeles 2022