Friday, August 30, 2013

"Our Candianan Holiday - Part Five"

Our records show that we have owned our little log cabin in Michiana since 1987. And we generally get there once a year or so, invariably in the summer. 

In those twenty-six years, every time we drove Highway 294 from Chicago to Michigan City, there were always serious construction delays along the way.  Twenty-six years (and who knows how long before that), and the “294” had apparently still not been entirely repaired, breeding suspicions that late at night, highway construction workers sneak out there and mess the thing up, so when they came back the next day, it’s like, “Oh, look!  There’s more to do.”  I mean, come on!  They built the Empire State Building in three years.  They couldn't fix a highway in thirty? 

Anyway, what I’m getting to is, this year, when we drove the “294”, for the first time in twenty-six years, there were no construction delays whatsoever.  I think somebody finally caught on.  (“Hey, you men!  What are you doing out here?”)

As it turned out, this confounding of our expectations would be the theme of our entire visit.  Not everything, like our ability to travel the “294” without sitting in traffic cursing was better.  But virtually everything was different. 

Every summer without exception, we arrive at the cabin, and if we’re there for two weeks, the first week is spent waiting for repair people to come out and fix something that’s broken, like the time, for example, when there was no hot water, and we endured four days till the plumber arrived, heating water in big pots and pouring it over each other in the shower stall.

This time – and I’m telling you, it was the first time ever – the cabin was in perfect shape.  (if you don’t count the mouse infestation, which was, happily, eradicated before we arrived.) 

A hail and hardy cabin was an unexpected surprise to be sure, but, along with the anticipated “294” traffic snafus, another traditional Michiana activity had been deleted from our itinerary. 

Then, there was the weather.  Though we were visiting at the end of July, with the exception of one day, the local weather was less summer-like than autumnal, with its nippy air and overcast skies.  As a result, there was only one viable beach day, rather than the numerous we were accustomed to. 

Sticking to meteorological territory, there was yet another unexpectedness.  One of our favorite Michiana activities is pulling up chairs on our screened-in porch, and watching the weather.  We don’t have weather in California.  So it’s quite a novelty – experiencing the rain bucketing down, counting the seconds between the lightning bolt and the thunderclap, to determine how far away the center of the storm is.  Waiting for some old tree to collapse onto the telephone wires, plunging the entire neighborhood into darkness. 

Talk about your free entertainment!

This year, there were scattered sprinkles now and then.  But nothing threatening to an aging tree.  Or exciting to terminally deprived weather watchers.

Then, there were the activities.  Normally, we can count on seeing a play at the Dunes Summer Theater, where, throughout the summer, local people mount major musical productions, varying from The Pirates of Penzance to Rent.  

The play scheduled for when we were there was some arcane childrens’ show written by David Mamet. 

So, as they say in Texas,

El Paso.


Movies in Indiana are of a specialized variety, meaning unilaterally mainstream.  If you lived in Michigan City, you would think Woody Allen hadn’t made a picture since Annie Hall. 

I know it’s the summer, auguring the unlikelihood of Oscar contenders, so, you know, you lower the bar.  Which we always do, allowing us to attend three, maybe four movies at the 14-theater Michigan City multiplex per visit. 

This summer, however, as you may have noticed, the cinematic “Quality Bar” is not just low, it’s been buried.  Fourteen theaters, and there not a single offering that could even attract our apathy.

Aw, come on, Earlo.  You can’t be that big of a snob.

The Conjuring, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D., The Lone Ranger (Jay Silverheels has to be spinning in his grave), White House Down, Wolverine, Grown-Ups 2, World War Z…

Okay, maybe you’re right.

Compounding the “not a lot to do there” impression was that, on previous visits, we’d run into annual “Special Events”, involving full-scale “reenactments” and costumed loonies walking around going, “I am Benjamin Harrison!”  One time, one of the multi-masted “Tall Ships” sailed in.  Another time, the Platters (or their descendants) put on a concert in the park. 

The closest thing to a special event on this trip was the highly advertised “Taste of Michigan City.” 

A dozen or so restaurants were represented.  And four of them were pizza.

Summing up:  No highway traffic jams, no cabin emergencies, no eye-catching weather patterns, no days at the beach (We took a short walk on the sand, but we ran into an area designated as a “Private Beach” which had a posted sign that said, “Enjoy walks for miles.  Please sit in park limits.”  Apparently, we could walk, but we couldn’t sit down.  We decided not to risk it.  What if we got tired?”)  No amateur theater, no movies, and no annual special events, if you exclude the opportunity for evaluating thick crust versus thin crust.

So, was our Michiana stay uneventful?  In the literal sense, perhaps. 

And yet, I would not have missed it for the world.       

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Our Candianan Holiday - Part Four"

My brother, his wife Nancy, myself and my wife Dr. M head for the country, 150 or so miles north of Toronto.  Land of the silver birch, home of the…I don’t remember the rest.)  

Our first stop is the camp my we used to go to.  My brother met his future wife at this camp.  As did I.  Not my wife.  I met his wife there too.  (Guffaw.)
Snapshot reaction of my return to a camp I had gone to for thirteen summers:  The surroundings remembered me.  The buildings did not. 

They couldn’t.  They hadn’t been built yet.  Everything not naturally there had been altered, including the camp’s name after it was purchased.  The Counselor’s Lounge had morphed into the Rec Hall.  The former Rec Hall was now the Arts and Crafts Building.  The Mess Hall was in the same place, but it had been rebuilt and expanded.  I cannot vouch for the food, as our visit did not include a meal, but I can imagine an upgraded cuisine.  I promised our guide, the owner’s daughter, I would not make a face, and then I asked her how much it costs to go there for two months.  The quoted price was almost twenty times higher than when I was a camper. Full Disclosure:  I did make a small face.

The camp’s layout was the same, and they hadn’t moved the lake, though the water skiing area boasted six motorboats to our one.  (Well two, but one was always broken.)  There is no way around it; it was a fancier camp.  And their programs no longer focused on consciousness-raising world events such as the Hungarian Revolution (including teams like “The Workers”, “The Students”, “The Miners” and “The Farmers.”)  Instead, a camper’s mother informed me, one recent camp-wide program involved the burning question of where the camp owner and his wife should go on their upcoming vacation, the competing team names representing luxury travel destinations from around the world.

What I’m saying is, it's different. 

The campers looked like I once did – healthy but soft – and the energy felt the same, a positive vibe, with kids waiting to go swimming group-singing songs from the show they had put on the night before, Beauty and the Beast.  I was fortunate to be introduced to the eleven year-old who played the Beast.  He didn’t look that bad. 

Overall, there was something missing in the experience.  Maybe I had left my return visit too long.  Maybe I was anticipating a bigger emotion shtoch (stab in the heart.)  Or maybe I was just jealous that, rather than a camper, I looked more like a camper’s grandfather.  Still, with all my misgivings, as my brother noted, I appeared in no hurry to leave. 

There is still something about it, I suppose.  But it is apparent that a (long overdue) “handover” is in order.  The camp now belongs fresher faces, people who are really nine, rather than people who believe they are.

Our temporary Northern Ontario home, the Colonial Inn, was not far away, on Peninsula Lake.  (Here’s how “not far away.”  The camp in on Fox Lake.  Fox Lake empties into Lake Vernon, which empties into Mary Lake, which empties into Fairy Lake, which empties into Peninsula Lake.  You could paddle by canoe from camp to the inn in less than a day.  Of course, if you drive, it takes ten minutes, so we drove. 

Yesterday I referenced (including a picture) “Ragged Falls”, where I braved jagged rocks and tumbling waters for an exciting “photo op.”  The “backstory” of that picture is that while Dr. M hiked half a mile down the hill to retrieve and return with her phone-camera, it began to rain rather heavily, meaning I was not only in jeopardy, I was also getting wet.  Honoring my spouse’s effort, however, I refused to seek shelter until she returned.  

Wasn't that nice?  I'd say so.  Would I be nicer if I hadn't blown my own horn?  I suppose.  But how nice does a person have to be

We stopped at Algonquin Outfitters for a souvenir baseball cap and a t-shirt with a moose on it (although I had canoe tripped to the Park many times and had never once seen a moose.  I did see a skunk.  But a t-shirt saying, "Algonquin Park - You Might See A Skunk"?  You're better off touting an invisible moose. 

Among Algonquin Outfitters other offerings was a confection I had never seen before – “Ant Candy”, which came in three flavors – apple, watermelon and banana.  I mean, maybe it’s a joke but the “List of Ingredients” – I mean, can they mess around with the “List of Ingredients”?   It says it right there on the package:  “List of Ingredients” – mallot syrup, ants, artificial flavoring, and coloring.” 

Truth in Advertising.  The flavoring and coloring are artificial.  But the ants, apparently, are real.     

And people actually buy that?

The Colonial Inn had visitors from as far away as Germany.  But I was more interested in my fellow Canadians.  You could easily pick them out because they said things like, “We live just across the border from Detroyit.  We arrived here early Satterday morning.” 

The guy sounded weird.  Though it’s possible I once sounded the same way myself.

There’s a part of me that does not know the rest of me is old.  Apparently, my older brother is in possession of a similar component.  And so, belying our ages – of slightly under and slightly over seventy – we hopped into a canoe provided by the inn, me manning the bow (in front), he, the stern (you steer from the back), and we paddled across the lake.  I’d been fearful that upper back issues might preclude such activities.  But my upper back said, “Paddling is fine.  Just don’t make me hoist heavy suitcases off of the airport carousel.  That’s just asking for an appointment with the “Horse Doctor’” (my bodywork specialist who repositions my body parts, until I do it again.)

For me, this was the highlight of our Northern Excursion:  two Jews in a canoe.  Paddling peacefully on the glassy-smooth waters of Peninsula Lake.

I wish I had a picture of that. 

I’ll have to settle for the picture in my mind.

After three spirit-enriching days, we returned to Toronto, where my friend Alan had procured two ducats for a Blue Jays-Dodgers game, at which, surprisingly, I found myself rooting for the Dodgers, (and, less surprisingly, the Dodgers won.)  Late in the game, when the Jays had pulled ahead, the local fans, who to that point had been acting like attendees at a “tail-gait” party where there happened to be a ballgame going on, finally started to root.  The Dodgers went on to trounce the Blue Jays 8-3, the lesson learned, at least according to the defeated faces of the departing faithful, “That’s what you get for rooting.” 

Early the next morning, we went to the airport, on our way to the Indianan leg of “Our Candianan Holiday.”  Waiting to depart, the Toronto paper I was reading heralded the wonderful news:

“Piano Stolen From Hospital Recovered"

(See:  "Our Candianana Holiday - Part Two:")

I wonder what the miscreants were charged with:  “Grand Theft – Piano” of “Theft – Grand Piano.”

A departing conundrum. 

Something I could think about on Chickadee Trail.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Our Candianan Holiday - Part Three"

“I’m goin’ home
But I don’t mean heaven…”

(Made-up Spiritual, 2013)

This spontaneous tribute to my roots sprung to mind at the L.A. airport, prior to our departure for Toronto, which was what I believed at the time it was referring to.  However, with the tune reverberating ever more forcefully in my ear, as my brother chauffeured his spouse, my spouse and myself straight North from the metropolitan area of my birth, it was revealed that “home”, in reality, meant something uniquely and generically different.

“Home” meant the rough and untrammeled heartland of Canada, the real Canada, the Canada where, as my brother insightfully observed,

“Nature is the show.”

“I’m goin’ home
Home to see my country…”

Dr. M had shown me Michiana, where she had spent many youthful vacations.  I wanted to show her Northern Ontario.  Not to prove it was better, but to introduce her to the essential magnificence of my Home and Native Land.

And to prove it was better.  (It’s in me; I can’t help it.)

Driving North in Ontario means not only driving up (in a northerly direction) but also driving up (as in higher in elevation.)  As we proceeded northward, “out the window” became more and increasingly beautiful.

Up we went, from flattened farmland, to gently rolling hills, to a highway cutting through blackened boulders bracketing the roadway, to, finally, the forests.

“I’m goin’ home
To the Trees and Waters…”

Waters “to come.”  But first, the trees.

The Michiana trees seem primordially majestic.  Till you see Canadian trees.  The Michiana trees, it has been suggested, are the products of an intentional re-forestation.  Canadian trees have been there from the get-go.  These are the country’s true Original Inhabitants – the poplars, the pines, the birches, the firs.  Rising to the sky, a hundred feet in the air.  Or thereabouts.
Canadian trees have seen it all.  They are so old they remember the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.  (The L.A. Kings won two years ago.  I‘m just sayin’.)

And there they are, standing stoically, telling their story to those any who would stop and listen:

“Once, it was just trees.  And a few animals.  Then came the Trees That Moved – perhaps an inaccurate description but in the world we live in, everything is a tree.  The Trees That Moved wore feathers on their heads.  We knew not where they had come from, though the more learned of us believe it was Asia.

The Trees With Feathers on their Heads chopped us down, making strange crafts that would float them across the waters.  Mostly, they used birch trees for this purpose.  We were sad for our Brothers the Birch, but not devastated, because we were not a birch. 

But you know what they say:

“First they came for the birch.  But I wasn’t a birch…”   

And so exactly did it transpire.

After the Trees That Who Had Feathers on their Heads came the Trees Who Wore Hats (some of them with buckles.)  The Trees Who Wore Hats chopped down all the trees.  (At least until they got tired.)  Nobody knew why the did that.  Though some believed it was to improve the view.

We tried to oppose such devastation, but there is only so much a tree can do.  Sometimes, lighting struck one of us and we would fall down on somebody.  We hoped they would learn from that that we were angry.  But they considered it an accident, and they continued chopping us down.” 

There is, of course, more to the story.  But we only had so much time, and how long can you stand listening to a tree?

I’m going to jump around here, because I have a picture. 

One of the highlights of our Northern Ontario Adventure was a place my brother took us to called “Ragged Falls”, in Algonquin Provincial Park, where, as I camper, I was taken on canoe trips. 

Algonquin Park is a pure and pristine tripping and camping preserve.  No hunting.  No fishing.  No unpleasant Deliverance shenanigans.  You cooked your food, and you slept under the stars, (or in a tent sprayed emphysemically with mosquito repellent.)  Biggest Excitement?  A bear eats your salami (not a euphemism.)  At night, black bears sometimes roamed into our campsite, gnawing away at yard-long salamis hanging from trees.  (We’re not talking a “Salami Tree” here.  It was a single salami we had brought out from camp, and had hung (carelessly) from a tree.

To reach “Ragged Falls” you hiked up a footpath for about half a mile, hearing the raging waters before actually seeing them.  Then, if you are brave – or if your older brother shames you into it – you step carefully onto the sharp and slippery rocks, searching for footholds on your way to a perch at the center of the roiling turbulence cascading around you. 

An intrepid undertaking, producing the following commemoratif:

"I'm goin' home, oh Lawdy,
I'm goin' home."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Our Candianan Holiday - Part Two"

The first day of our vacation was allotted to visiting my brother, his wife, Nancy (who is seemingly ageless), their children, Bill, Shauna and Jennifer (and their respective spouses, Gail, Jon-Eben and Erik), and their children, Adam, Amanda, Josh, Owen, Miriam and Shane.  

This is my family, and I rarely get to see them.  Our reunions, therefore, are always somewhat bittersweet.  I am reminded of the price I paid, leaving to seek my fortune in the States.  But the shared history, the warmth and the connection remain.

And they actually seem to like me.  As I most sincerely do them.

We brought presents for the young ‘uns.  I was excited to present the three older boys with Yasiel Puig t-shirts.  Then, the inevitable ripple of insecurity set in.  Two questions jangled disturbingly in my easily arousable nervous system.  One:  Would the t-shirts fit?  And two:  What if they never heard of Yasiel Puig? 

The answer, to my relief:  They did, and they did.  (Sudden New Insecurity:  What if you never heard of Yasiel Puig?  Exemplifying the one exception to the Terminally Anxious Person’s Litany of Concerns:  You will never run out of things to worry about.)  (Noyr:  Yasiel Puig is an electrifying rookie Dodgers baseball player.)

The next morning, we had breakfast at the hundred year-old – though not at the same location – United Bakery, which, is what, in the Hebraic tradition, is called a “dairy” restaurant.  No meat, only bovine bi-products. 

The waitresses at the United are habitually personal.  Ours explained to me that the bagel I had ordered was so fresh, there was no need to toast it.  My face said, “I don’t need you to be that personal”, and my mouth said, “Toast it.”  As I recall, it was delivered to the table somewhat burnt.

We took a postprandial stroll around the Lawrence Plaza Shopping Center, a mall located a few blocks from where I lived as a teenager, midway and walking distance, even in the winter where it didn’t actually get further away it just felt like it, between my home and my High School.

Everything was different.  All the familiar (from decades past) Lawrence Plaza landmarks had entirely disappeared.  Little Jack’s, where I consumed illicit (read: non-kosher) hamburgers – gone.  Maynards Ice Cream Parlour, where I enjoyed chocolate nut sundaes, imagining the company of the girl of my dreams but settling inevitably for “Cuppy” Taichman (a male buddy) – replaced by a discount sneakers outlet.

The Health Bakery, that sold my favorite type of Gingerbread Boy – a bank.  The barbershop down the alley where there were eight chairs each manned by a haircutter named “Tony” and I was always shuttled to the eighth and least experienced “Tony” – not there.  In fact, the alley was gone too. 

And so, for that matter, was my High School.

It is a funny kind of cognitive dissonance, afflicting only the “rapidly advancing in age.”  You see the place.  You know the place.  But it’s not the place. 

It’s a frustrating feeling.  You have this hunger for nostalgia.  But there’s nothing to nostalge.

On our way back to the car after this less than satisfying meander down “Memory Lane” (now changed to “Erased Your Past Avenue”), we pass a large department store called Winners (formerly The Bay, before which it was The Hudson’s Bay Company, before which it was Morgan’s), where I spot a giant poster plastered in the store’s window that reads:

60% Off –Every Day.”

I ponder that announcement.  Sixty percent off.  Every day.  And I think to myself,

“Why don’t people just wait?”

“Sixty percent off.”  “Sixty percent off.”  “Sixty percent off.”  In not long a time, that stuff’s gonna be really cheap!

Perhaps not the funniest observation, but it’s how I cheer myself up when they detonate my history.
Wherever we travel, I like to scan the local newspapers, to get a sense of what the metropolis I am visiting finds newsworthy.  Consider this article, billboarded on the First Page of the Toronto Star concerning the recently completed Tour De France:

“Canadian Svein Tuft, a 36-year-old Tour rookie, earns the Lantern Rouge as the cyclist who finished last.  Folio, Pages A6-7.”

Imagine that.  Two full pages of coverage, in the First Section of a major newspaper, chronicling a Canadian cyclist who came in last in the Tour De France.  I imagine in an American newspaper, that story would appear, I don’t know…


Another story – this one headlined prominently on “Page 4” –

“Thieves cart off hospital’s baby grand”

“Toronto Police are hunting for three men in connection with the brazen daytime theft of an expensive baby grand piano from Toronto General Hospital.”

In a follow-up story – this was like a “multi-parter” heinous “Hospital Piano Theft Saga”; it ran over four days – it was reported that when hospital personnel confronted the thieves rolling the purloined instrument out on a dolly – “Where ya goin’ with that piano, eh?” – they were informed that they were taking it out to be tuned, an explanation the hospital personnel accepted, unaware, apparently, that the piano tuner generally comes to the piano.

Tomorrow:  Headin' North.

Just Curious:  If “Missing Children” is “Amber Alert”, what color is “Missing Pianos”?