Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"The Oxford Experience - Chronicling A Dream"

A hired driver (a capable Bulgarian named Basi) conveyed me from London to the city of Oxford, parked by Tom Gate, the main entrance to Christ Church college, got out to make sure it was the right place, returned to the car and said, “We’re here.”  He unloaded my luggage, and drove away.

And there I stood.


Just me.

And the University of Oxford.

(Contextual Footnote: The University of Oxfordis made up of 38 separate and distinct colleges. The college I’dbe attending, Christ Church college, was built – though probably not alone – by Cardinal Wolsey, in 1546.  Which makes it a “medium-old college.”  Colleges such as Balliol college date back to 1263, earning it the right to call the comparative latecomer Christ Churchcollege, “Sonny.”)

I “cobblestone” my suitcase through Tom Gate, where I am instructed where to check in.  (Chronological Note:  Dr. M’s class “Five Hundred Years of English Gardening”, had occurred during “Week One” of the six-week “Oxford Experience” schedule. {Pronounced:  “Shedule.”}  Myclass – “Political Thinking in the Twentieth Century”, slated for “Week Two” of the festivities, meant that I was there on my own, andI had the helpful advantage of being clued in by a Week One “graduate” on the appropriate procedures, thereby not entirely “flying blind.”)

My assigned room was on the Fourth Floor (which, in England, is, in reality, the 
Fifth Bloor, the FirstFloor located one upfrom the “Ground Floor.”  I had read there were no elevators.  So , adopting my patented “Whiney-Entitlement Mode”, I complain,

“My wife got the FirstFloor last week.  Do you like her better?” 

To which, partly because I had arrived early and partly because I “complain cute,” I am told,

“We can give you a ‘First Floor’.”

So I switched.

(Later that day, I encounter a sprightly 86 year-old woman who, when I inquire, reveals that her room was on the Fourth Floor.  Had she been assigned my original accommodation?  Not necessarily, I’d like to believe.  Besides, did I not say she was sprightly?)

I shall spare you the description of my dorm room, other than to say it was larger and more comfortable than I had anticipated, owing, I imagine, to numerous refurbishings since 1546. (I especially appreciated the indoor toilet.)

My only other dorm room experience was at UCLA, attending the Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshopin 1966.  My Oxford room was practically palatial by comparison to that one.  Plus, assigned to the “Meadow” dorm complex, my large openable windows, offered a landscape-painting-worthy view – Duh! – of an idyllic meadow.  (There had been modern residential additions to the college, I later discovered, another “blot to perfection” I had fortuitously dodged.)

Plus, again – and I learned this was not true of all rooms – my “digs” was supplied with a fan, necessary for the protracted and stifling English heat wave.

A First Floor “Meadow” room with a fan?  

My good luck effusively continues.

After unpacking, I take off to check out the terrain.

And here’s where I run into trouble.  From a personal chronicling standpoint.

Taking in where I’d arrived and would remain for a week,

I found myself literarily speechless.

The English have a slang descriptive of this phenomenon:

I was totally and inescapably “gobsmacked.”

(“Inexpressibly astonished.”)

For the first two days, I made no entries in my omnipresent “pocket” notebook whatsoever.  My pen was literally struck dumb by “Look where I am!

There I was, living in a 16th century university built like a monastery built like a fortress.

Towers, spires, domes, weather-beaten walls, forbidding iron gates and heavy oaken doors barring unlawful entry, surrounded by… you know, like, those teeth you carve on Halloween pumpkins? – They go up, across and down and then there’s a space and then there’s another tooth and then a space and then another tooth and then another space? The entire Christ Churchroofline bordering the “quad” on four sides was etched with Halloween pumpkin or, more evocatively, medieval-castle-like teeth.

Overall impression?

Impregnable.  Which is good.  Because during the English Civil War (1642-1651), a fleeing King Charles the First had escaped London, living exiled at Christ Churchffor four years.  

Possibly in my room!

Those thick walls and powerful doors probably saved him.  Until they chopped off his head in 1649.  But that was because he left Christ Church’s protection in 1646.  If he’d have stayed put, he might have survived well into the 1650’s.

I lack the vocabulary to describe how amazing it felt walking around that place.  That’s not me, being functionally illiterate.  Okay, it’s a little bit me, being functionally illiterate. Mostly, however, it is the University of Oxford, knocking me on my ass. 

One picture, and then I’ll stop hyperventilating until tomorrow.

One day during the week, each visiting student is invited to attend “High Table” in the magnificent “Great Hall.”  (Jacket and tie, required.  Though there was no mention about socks.)  “High Table” is like the Head Table at a wedding, elevated and perpendicular to long rows of tables below, in a vast and sumptuous dining room where we ate all of our meals.  

And you know where that was?


They shot the movie right in that dining room.  (Later constructing a duplicate “Great Hall” on the Harry Potter soundstage.)

Check it out.

Do you see Earlo Pomerantz in the middle, wearing a light summer sports jacket?
It’s like Where’s Waldo.  Hundreds of people.  And somewhere, there’s me.

I still can’t believe I ate there.

Or, in fact, wasthere.

But I was.  


Brief Musical Overview…

(evocatively warbled)



The time of my li-i-ife…”

I just wish I had the words to adequately describe my reaction.

Though their unavailability may exactly be the point.

I will settle for “gobsmacked.”

And show you the picture.

Monday, July 30, 2018

"My 'Oxford Experience' (With A Subsequent Visit To London Thrown In)"

July 23rd, 2018.  (I have been home less than three days.  Please excuse the jet-lagging disorder in my brain, and its affecting blogatorial consequences.)

I need to work my way back slowly.  Even though I like doing this, after two weeks of not, the pertinent muscles relax and the steely discipline subsides. (A passing example of how rusty I am? I’m not sure “pertinent” is the right word.  But I’m throwing it in anyway, being too tired to change it to “relevant.”)

Let me start at the beginning, which, now in hindsight, reflects a thematic luckiness pervading the entire adventure.  (Or, if you don't believe in luck, my “random distribution” kicked  phenomenal butt.)

Precipitating Example:

Thursday, July 5th – “Departure Day.”  I call a cab at noon, ordering a 4 P.M. “pickup” to convey me to the airport.  4:05?  There’s no cab.  I anxiously call the cab company. “It’ll be there in five minutes,” they report. 4:15?  Still no cab.  I call the cab company again.  Some kind of snafu, they explain.  A newly dispatched taxi will arrive as soon as possible.  “How soon is ‘as soon as possible?’” I inquire.  They say, “Fifteen to thirty minutes.”  “Forget it”, I angrily reply.  “I’ll call Lyft.”  (Uber’s, for me, more reliable competitor.)

Now here comes the “lucky” part.

I call Lyft.  The car arrives in less than a minute.

And here’s the explanationfor the “lucky” part.  (Because I asked because I was curious, wondering “How come so fast?”)

No more than thirty yards from my front door, there is a small neighborhood park. And it that park there is a public bathroom.  Apparently, all the drivers know the locations of these emergency “pit stops.”  And to my good fortune, my driver had availed herself of those proximate facilities just moments before I had called.

Don’t tell methat’s not lucky – that the driver had to “go”, and her “go-to ‘go’ place” was mere seconds away from my house.   She held it in, I might still be waiting there.

Jumping to the end of my journey capping a veritable fortnight of incredible good fortune, while heading to our assigned “Departure Gate”, I suddenly discover that I had lost my return flight’s “Boarding Pass.”  

Oh…frickin’… no!

Heathrow Airport is enormous.  I mean, you could land a plane in that airport.  I do not mean at that airport; they do that all the time.  You could land a plane inside that airport.  And comfortably “taxi” to a stop before rolling into the “Duty Free” boutique.

So there’s me with no “Boarding Pass” and no idea how to procure a replacement, short of slogging back to the original “Check-In”, followed by a glorious re-visit to “Security”, the confused agents scratching their heads, going, “Didn’t he do  his already?”   

Frozen impotently to the spot, I survey my surroundings.  (Note: There would normally be an evocative adverb between “I” and “look”, but my turmoiled brain is lost somewhere over the Atlantic.  I’m amazed I recall the entire alphabet.)  

It is during this agonized stupor that I regain sufficient consciousness to realize I am standing directly in front of a booth with a large sign on it, reading, “Assistance and Ticketing.”  I step into the booth and receive a replacement “Boarding Pass” in twelve seconds.  (I didn’t time it.  I am just enamored of the number.)

That’s lucky too, isn’t it?  Being it the right place in that gigantic airport?  I could have just as easily being standing in front of a Cinnabon.  And bought and eaten one, compounding my distress.

Experiencing this final bit feels lucky because it is quintessentially perfect.  Nah, forget the “lucky” motif.  I’m just telling it ‘cause I love it.

During a portion of our visit we were joined by daughter Rachel and her family – husband Tim, mid-forties, Milo, 6, and Jack, 4.  Standing in front of an elevator, “Pappy Earl” reverts to habitual “Pedagogical Mode”, in which I explain things to children.  (Whether they are listening to me, or not.) 

The day’s lesson involves the fact that some things are called different things in England than they are called in the States.  For example, I inform them, in England, the elevator is called the “lift.”  A car’s trunk is called the “boot”, sneakers are called “trainers” and French fries are called “chips.”

Moments slip by in silence. Then, four year-old Jack curiously inquires,

“What do they call ‘chicken’?”

So much for writing on remnants of cerebral consciousness.   Tomorrow, brain cells permitting:  “My Oxford Experience Begins.”

And don’t think I am unaware of being luckiest of hot dogs for getting to go there.

Friday, July 27, 2018

"Musical Send-off"

As a drumrolling billboard for my upcoming report on my Oxford experience and subsequent visit to London  this is the last post written before I left town, which is happening tonight.  The exciting chronicle begins Monday.  As for now...

Final impressions before the upcoming adventure…

I feel the excitement of going to camp.


“Hart Pomerantz…

Earl Pomerantz…”

Ooh, there’s that jolt. Off we go into the wild blue yonder…

The class at Oxford is entitled Twentieth Century Political Thinking.  Subsections:  “Democracy”, “Feminism” and Multiculturalism.”  

And you thought I was a lightweight.

Which I may, in fact, prove to be should the curriculum fly tauntingly over my head.

“We’re up here… Dumbbell.”

As if “intellectual deficiency” wasn’t enough, there is actually something even more troubling gnawing at my innards.

What if I fly six thousand miles with a mind that is impenetrably closed, not closed, as I see others’ on both sides minds closed, but closed in a uniquely different way – and I’m not sure about the “uniquely” – hewing, not angrily to the extremes, but set unshakably in the middle?

Imagine traveling that torturous distance and returning, holding the same views and perspectives I had when I left home. 

That can easily happen when personal preconceptions filter and distort, my “Confirmation Bias” accepting only what I already believe and rejecting all outside assaults to my ideological status quo.  

What if it’s there’s no escaping that phenomenon?  What if that is simply the way it is?

What if there is actually no such thing as a truly, acceptingly “openly mind”?

I take these worrying concerns, as per usual, down to the ocean.  And wouldn’t you know it?  There’s my invisible Mariachi band – nine strong – hovering over the Pacific, dressed in festive Mexican attire, but honoring the occasion, doffing their traditional broad-brimmed sombreros in favor of towering “Beefeater” helmets.

The band regales me with a personalized creation – including a sensitive response to my conundrum – which goes something like this:

“Tell them all you know
Let your wisdom show
Tell them what you think about
And listen

Pretty good, eh?


It’s not “Bus 4”, ‘cause it’s going up in the air.  But as I did then, I climb aboard the awaiting transportation, the knot tightening in my stomach, 

And away we go. 

I’ll see yuz, okay?       

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"A Random 'Saddle Up!' Selection"

(From the Subcategory:  “Critters”)

The Old West – movie-style – from the unique perspective of the classic “Critter’s” character…

“The Hoot Owl”

(Speaking in his own words.)

“The Hoot Owl creates heightening tension.  Uncertainty reigns.  Is it a Hoot Owl?  Or is it Indians?”

“It’s pitch dark nighttime. Perilously surrounded, a troop of cavalrymen huddles around the campfire, drinking coffee, and listening for trouble. Feeling relatively safe because Indians don’t attack at night.  Although sometimes, they do.  Their behavior, frustratingly inconsistent.  Maybe it depends on the tribe.  Though I could not say for certain.  I am only a Hoot Owl, and my education is limited.

But boy, can Icreate heightening tension.

“A ‘Hoot Hoot-Da Hoo-oo’ pierces the silence.  A ‘hair trigger’ tenderfoot blurts, ‘What was that!’  An ‘Old Hand’ in such matters says, ‘Take it easy, Sonny.  It’s only a Hoot Owl.’  ‘Only a Hoot Owl,’ they collectively agree.  And tranquility returns around the campfire.

“And then, 

“There it is again!

And the jangling question returns.

“Nerves are beginning to fray.  It is really a Hoot Owl?  Or is it Indians, signaling in the dark via cannily accurate Hoot Owl impressions? It’s a tough call determining which ‘Hoot Hoot-Da Hoo-oo’ it is – the ersatz or the authentic – the two sounds indistinguishable to the untutored ear.  

“It’s important to know the difference.  One’s an unthreatening  “night sound”; the other, a prelude to an attack.  You can see how it would be helpful to know which one is which.  

“The thing is, you can never be totally certain.  That’s where the heigtening tension comes in.

“Finally, the camera cuts to a “close-up” of me, sitting on a branch, hooting away in the moonlight. ‘It wasonly a Hoot Owl’, they relievedly conclude, sharing a good laugh at their own trepidatious expense, as they comfortably bed down for the night.

“Of course, there are times when the random hooting’s followed by an all-out Indian assault. Proving two things:  

“One – It wasn’t a Hoot Owl.

“And Two – ThoseIndians do attack at night.”  

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Aspects Of Love"

An atypical (for this arena) area of inquiry.

(Note:  This post was written before I departed for Oxford, although it was published after I got back.  Sorry about the temporal whiplash.  Feeling excessively jumpy, I filled the time writing stuff beyond what was practically necessary.  Otherwise, I’d be hugging myself going, “What if I hate it?”)  (Possible code for "What if they hate me?")


“Aspects of Love.”  (Accompanied by an anticipatory sigh.)

Love expresses itself in various fashions.  

All of which are better than hate.

That may be the most definitive statement in these proceedings. Everything else, I’m just guessing.

Can you tell I’m uncomfortable with this subject?  


We know this long-married couple who totally adore each other.  You can tell how viscerally connected they are by this expository anecdote.

The three of us go of the movies.  As I head towards the theater our movie is screening in, I suddenly notice I am walking alone.  I turn back, and there are my friends, standing at the concession stand, where they will temporarily part, one remaining to buy popcorn, the other, accompanying me into the theater.  

The parting kiss they exchange for a separation that will last less than three minutes was the kind you see in movies when someone’s shipping out for “The Front.”  

What could possibly go wrong between the concession stand and “Theater One”?  (God forbid, it was “Theater Seven.”)  I know we have earthquakes.  But how likely is one to cleave the lobby?

Okay, so that’s them. And they’re delightful, and charming and demonstrative.  Two of which I wholeheartedly admire.  The third?  Do what you want but don’t make me watch.

There are otherways to say “I love you.”

Here is definitely one of them.  

I drove my wife to the airport three times in nine days. 

If that isn't love, what is?

Personally, I don’t care who drives me to the airport or picks me up when I return.  I am just fine with a shuttling professional, paid for their services.  We talk, exchange biographical backgrounds, I am dropped off, and we never see each other again.  Sure, it’s impersonal.  It’s a cab ride.  It’s supposed to be.

Some people – one in my immediate family – read emotional import into their mode of traveling to the airport.  It’s like this meaningful ritual.  I do not hear, “Nobody loves me.  They refuse to drive me to the dentist.”  But this “passage” is different.  For those in this category, a cab to the airport means, “I am totally alone.”

Here’s the problem.

Driving at the easiestof times is difficult for me.  As mentioned before, my personalized bumper, if I had one, would read, “I Brake for Shadows.”

As a congenital pessimist, I see every intersection as an opportunity for someone to “run” a red light or a stop sign and slam into me, and then I’m a goner.  That’s why I slow down at every intersection, irritating my spouse, and anyone with the misfortune of driving behind me.  It’s not my fault I do that.  Blame the people who “run” things.

Here’s the perplexing conundrum.  I am an uncomfortable driver, and here’s a woman for whom being personally driven to the airport says, “I care” more than flowers on her birthday, and the Los Angeles airport is lunatic traffic on steroids. 

They’re coming from every direction.  Buses. Taxis.  Spouses, equally unwilling to risk their relationships by saying, “Why don’t you take an Uber?”

Chaos.  Horns blaring.  It’s like “Bumper Cars”, with actual vehicles.  Augmented by the pressure of “Departure Times”, hurrying traffic personnel and the daunting awareness of extended suspension in mid-air.

Basketball announcer Chick Hearn coined the term “Nervous Time”, applied it to tight games, coming down to the wire.  I apply it to driving my wife to the airport.  Where – who knows? – could be coming down to the wire and not know it.

If only she saw “love and devotion” in a generously provided chauffered limousine.  


I actually only do half the driving.  She drives us both there.  And I drive back, alone.  (Or, for “pick-ups”, I drive there alone, and she drives us both back.)

Still, the airport “driving alone” part is just terrifying.  There are too many places to look.   Miss one, and you’re playing “Who’s your insurer?” with a stranger.  The last time I dropped her off, I was so anxious, I started away with the car door still open.  

Topping it off, the “Exit” signs are extremely confusing.  Especially if you can’t read them.  

I get home, and I immediately lie down.

The “Kissing Couple”, of course, never experiences this problem.

They go everywhere together.

Besides, both of them can drive.

That’s the thing – he concludes, groveling for sympathy.

You get no credit for doing something everyone else finds easy.  

I earned a pat on the back for driving my wife to the airport three times in nine days.

But I got it from me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


That’s what my Bubby (Grandma) Sonia called me, and I was.  In fact, “stubbrin” was – and possibly still is – one of my most endearing characteristics.  Which does not speak flatteringly of the list.

I talked recently about food.  And summer is “Camp Season.”  So today, it’s – 

“Summer Camp Food.”

You see how that works?

It is probably untrue – though that has never stopped me from repeating it – that I had two sets of clothing at camp – one set for July, and the other for August, when the July clothing did not fit anymore because I’d lost twenty pounds during the previous month.

The Guaranteed ‘Miracle Diet’:  Four weeks of Camp Ogama cuisine.

At least from my skewed perspective.  Which is the only perspective I have.

I refused to eat anything. The milk smelled sour.  The hot cereal was lumpy.  Cut the gristle and fat off of the veal chops and what was left were three morsels of meat… and then bone.

I did not eat eggs. (Runny and yellow.)  I did not eat salmon.  (It has black spots in it.)  Cottage cheese would be acceptable… it weren’t for the “chives.”  Why did they think that was a good idea?  

“Cottage cheese needs added pizzazz.  Let’s chop in some onions!

I’ve got a better idea.

Leave it alone!

I survived almost entirely on peanut butter and Wonder Bread.  Though by the first week of August, I was holding my pants up with my hand. (Playing badminton, it was “Serve. Hike up my pants.  Return volley.  Repeat.”)

Here’s the thing about “Picky Eaters.”  Subsection:  “Picky Eaters At Camp.”

The camp controlled everything.  When you woke up.  The obligatory “Lights out.”  When you had “Swim Instruction”, although the water was freezing.  (And if you complained, they’d pick you up by your bathing suit and propel you directly into the lake.  Trust me.  I was a regular propel-ee.)  They controlled when you wrote home.  (And, not infrequently, what you wrote.)  And when you’d have to see the camp doctor, lower your trousers, and cough.

Camp maintained rigorous control over every element of our (actually their) scheduled itinerary.  

But they could not control your literal intake of food.  They could control what was available.  But they could not force you to ingest it.

Although Lord knows they tried.

Case in Point:


Most foods fool you by not looking like what they are.  Not liver. (Or kidneys.  Or tongue.)

Liver is shiny, like an actual liver.  Palatable Exception:  Chopped liver, which they “schmaltz (chicken fat) up” and puree to a farethewell.  Normally, however, you can actually see what liver wasbefore being forcibly extricated from its owner.

“Hey!  I needthat!”

Nobody listens to a cow.

They served liver twice per summer.   Though an atypical culinary selection, campers were encouraged to try it.

But some of us were “stubbrin.”

Here’s exactly howstubbrin.”  

COUNSELOR:  “You are not leaving the table till you take one bite of that liver.”




Three hours later, the only ones left in the Mess Hall – me and my counselor – locked in the same configuration since dinner – my counselor, hovering above me, me, adamantly refusing to relent.

(Just writing that, I felt the encouraging impulse of, “You go, boy!”)

The unshakable impasse proceeds.

COUNSELOR:  “Come on. One bite, and it’s back to the cabin.”


You could detect my counselor’s cumulating anxiety.  His “controlling authority” was on the line.  His superiors were monitoring his behavior.  Also, possibly a girlfriend, judging his “manly assertiveness” by the ultimate results.

GIRLFRIEND:  “You made him eat liver.  I’m yours!

I refused to give in. They could control when I ate candy – Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I could buy a “Burnt Almond” chocolate bar from “Tuck” – but no way they could ever make me eat “Organ Meat.”

Finally, there came the (somewhat imaginative) “Nuclear Option.” 

COUNSELOR:  “If you do not eat that liver, you are sleeping in the rafters tonight.”

(I do not recall if he “buttoned” the punishing consequence with “Mister!”, but it felt threateningly “Mister-y” even if he didn’t.)

My immediate response to his ominous ultimatum was,


And it was not“Okay, I’ll eat the liver.”

Finally, they could turn off the lights in the Mess Hall, the three of us departing back to the cabin – me, my frustrated counselor, and a plate of cold and glutinous liver. Along with cutlery, a glass of Freshie(Canadian Kool-Aid) and possibly a napkin. 

The word spread quickly after our arrival:

Tonight, a fellow cabin-mate would be sleeping in the rafters.

(Rafters are perpendicularing overhead crossbeams, I guess holding the cabin’s roof up, but also storing the suspended metal trunks the campers’ clothing was shipped in.

Still refusing to comply, I was instructed to climb onto an upper bunk, and then ascend to the nearest trunk, to which my pillow and blanket were then hoisted to me.  I “made my bed” on the trunk, a cheerful “‘Night-night”, and it was then off to beddie-bye.

My distraught counselor appeared noticeably agitated.  Although I’ddone the climbing, it was hewho was precariously out on a limb.  A negative outcome – of the “Kerplop!” variety – would bode poorly for his resume.  

“What was he doing up in the rafters?”

“It was a punishment for not eating his liver.”

“We’ll let you know about that job offer.”

Me?  I was having a ball.  I had resisted all inducements to “knuckle under.”  I’d become the coveted center of peer-group attention.  And I held the winning, strategic “upper hand”, knowing my counselor would finally tell me to come down.

Which he did. Although not right away, his continuing failure heightening the shame of his total capitulation.

Which, not surprisingly, did not bother me a bit.

You may brand my behavior “stubbrin.”  I found it as consistent with the values my camp taught me.

Over the years, we had put on numerous pageants involving fearless “resisters” fighting totalitarian oppression.
The message was meant as a stirring, political “Call to Justice.”

All I did was simply apply that to liver.

Monday, July 23, 2018

"I Did It Once"

Note:  My blog went offline for a while, but now it's back.  I hope you're back too.  I got lots to tell you about my trip.  But first, some residual scheduled posts, while I get back my coherence.  Anyway, I'm back from my trip.  And my blog's back from wherever it went.  I don't know what happened.  Maybe it got jealous and went on a blogatorial vacation.
I think about Anthony Bourdain more now than I did when he was alive.  And what nudges my consciousness is this.

According to his television persona– and hopefully in real life as well – Anthony Bourdain treated everyone he encountered with equality, empathy, decency and respect.  

Which got me thinking,

“Have I ever done that?” (I think in quotation marks.)

My mind delivers me to Bob Kettle.

My quintessential “Bourdainian Experience.”

Which was the following.

As the line goes:

Look in the dictionary for the word “truculent”,

And you’ll see a picture of Bob Kettle.

I do not want to stereotype, but in a high school class on a college-bound track, Bob Kettle seemed to be included be mistake.

Bob Kettle got a grade of “3” on a French exam.  That’s out of a hundred.  When his failing paper was returned to him, Kettle defiantly proclaimed,

“What do I need French for? I ain’t goin’ to France.”

Diffident.  Hard-faced.  Unapproachable.  Judging from his demeanor and deportment, Bob Kettle was a “Wanted Poster” waiting to happen. 

Were we afraid of him? 

Iwas.  And he hadn’t doneanything.   He just looked like he could.

Okay, enough of that. (Possibly morethan enough.)
Once a year, our school scheduled “Oral Compositions.”  You selected a topic of your choice and prepared a five-minute-or-so presentation, to then deliver in front of the class.  Two of my more scintillating offerings, I recall, were “The Story of Radio” and “The Origin of Surnames.”  Grading was relatively easy. If they stayed awake, you passed.

Okay, so there we are, “The Students of 10A”, serially orating, in alphabetical order.

The teacher gets to the “K’s.”


The room turns frozen, as Bob Kettle, a ton of “Bad News” in sneakers, rises to his feet and trudges truculently to the front of the classroom, the surrounding desks cowering as he proceeds.

“I’m going to talk about submarines,” he glumly reports.  “I need some help with the pictures.”

Which was factually correct. 

Bob Kettle would need two hands to negotiate his notational three-by-five cards, and would require one morehand for his accompanying visual aids, a mounted collection of submarine photographs. 

Bob Kettle literally needed a hand.

The room turned funereally silent, all eyes directed towards the floor.  The class’s wall clock ticked backwards.  Time didn’t stand still.  It moved in the opposite direction.  

A human tragedy was unfolding before us.  Bob Kettle needed assistance.  And no one was willing to step up.  For what appeared to be… hours.

Mercifully, the tension was finally broken by a volunteer.

And it was me.

I went to the front of the classroom, and I stood beside Bob Kettle.  I accepted the stack of submarine pictures, flashing them appropriately at Bob’s synchronizing command.

“Surprised” is too mild a descriptive for the reaction.  Dust off “incredulous” instead.  My classmates knewme, and it was, like,

“You?  Nice?

When it was over, there was no “Thank you.”  No follow-up friendship.  A brief, humanitarian connection.  And that was that.  

I am encouraged by this spontaneous gesture of compassion.  

It occurred when I was sixteen years old.

I figure it’s just a matter of time before it happens again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"What I Did Once"

When you do something right once, there is a hopeful indication you might…

Wait.  I’ll do that tomorrow.  Instead…

“Regrets Around Food”

I’ll keep this short and simple.  The recollection hovered around as I wrote yesterday’s post and it will not receive peace till I let it come out.  Or so it insists.

There’s a chance these things don’t matter to anyone but me.  Still, I harbor the hope that, though the specifics are alien to you, it will rekindle some unresolved memory in your life.   Think: A personal issue, residing in a coma. Suddenly awakening, because something reminded you of it.  Which, for me, was yesterday’s post.

The entire trauma around food preferences and their contorting consequence on one’s everyday responses sounds, in retrospect, theoretical, and sometimes, I fear, “theoretical” may be synonymous with “I think I’ll skip this”, the “this” being a motif enjoy that lacks wider appreciation.  

This time, it’s different.

What I am offering today is an example, wherein the theoretical became practical. And the practical became paralyzing.  

Returned to mind writing yesterday’s post is a situation I have regretted for some fifty-plus years. That’s a long time to go “Whoops.”

Okay, here it is.

When I was nineteen years old, attending my second year at the University of Toronto, I won a two hundred-and-fifty dollar prize for Philosophy.  Don’t ask me how.  I just answered the questions on the exam.  I guess a lot of them were right.

Although hardly a fortune, the award covered more than half the tuition – of four hundred-and-eighty dollars – for my third year of university.  (The remainder, paid for by counseloring at camp.)

Okay, so I’m the winner of the – I am making this up – “The Digby Huffington Prize for Undergraduate Philosophy.”  Which was great.

Until I received a call from Digby Huffington himself.

My heart pounded thunderously as I trudged to the phone.  I’d had no thoughts beyond taking the money.  Now, I was “Voice-to-Voice” with the august source of my pecuniary windfall.

His voice was dignified and refined, reflecting a Canadian cultural elite, defined as, “Not me, or anyone I knew.”  

I immediately felt small. 

He congratulated me on my award – which was actually his award – and I no doubt said “Thank you”, wanting to sound as gratefully appreciative as I was.  More importantly, I wanted desperately to get off the phone.

Before that transpired, however, I would endure the reason – beyond personal congratulations – for the call.

Which was this.

On behalf of his wife – possibly Eunice or Felicity – and himself, Digby Huffington, as was apparently traditional, was inviting the current recipient of “The Digby Huffington Prize for Undergraduate Philosophy” to tea, scheduled for an upcoming Saturday afternoon.

Consistent with my culinary peculiarities, my immediate reaction to this surprise invitation was,

“What are they going to serve?”

Although unfamiliar with the included offerings of the traditional “Tea”, my mind flashed on “Egg Sandwiches” – which, mentioned yesterday, I had difficulty with, or its popular alternative, “Ham and Cheese,” which, for religious purposes, is off the menu.

I immediately panicked.

“I’m sorry,” I nervously replied to the invitation.  “I will not be able to attend.”

Subsequently adding, pulling an excuse out of the air,

“I think I have a Bar Mitzvah that day.”

I could hear… I don’t know what I could hear… confusion, annoyance, a generous benefactor considering stopping payment on a check… Whatever it was, Digby Huffington did not take the rejection easily.  Neither did I, though the “discomfort inducement” was my fault and not his.

You may not find this believable because it’s crazy.  But truth be told, I turned down an honoring invitation to tea because I was worried about the food.

As I said yesterday, you do not have to visit some distant, impoverished country to offend people by refusing to join them in a meal.

You can be an incredible idiot without leaving your house.

Monday, July 16, 2018

"Just Eat It!"

I am saddened by the seeming necessary relationship between connecting with strangers and eating what theyeat.

I’d like very much to get along with everybody.  We would not have to agree on every issue – or virtually anyfor that matter.  It would be great if we could just sit down together and talk, ultimately realizing that, despite our acknowledged differences, our similarities as human beings outweigh them by a mile.

I have made people laugh with didn’t speak English.  On a trip to Turkey, I saw a Senior-aged Asian traveler readying to take a picture of, I imagine, his longtime spouse, standing in front of a certified Istanbul tourist attraction.  I immediately ran over and smilingly stood next to her, amicably posing as if I belonged. It was a risk to do that, but it worked. They got the joke and they immediately cracked up.  

I can “connect” thatway.  But the more traditional way of bridging cultural differences:  Enjoying the offered hospitality in the sharing of a meal.

That one I am unable to pull off.

Think of the things Anthony Bourdain regularly consumed during his worldwide travels, sharing traditional “People Food” in every destinational hemisphere.  

And loving it all.

“Best ‘penguin’ I ever ate!” 

“This ‘mouse’ has been cooked to perfection.”

“More ‘yak’ please. It’s absolutely delicious.”

By sitting down and “eating what theyeat”, Anthony Bourdain was able to decimate the barriers, allowing people of disparate cultures to relax and open up to each other, comfortably revealing, “What it means to be them.” (I believe, massive consumptions of alcohol alsoloosened some tongues.) 

I am unable to follow Anthony Bourdain’s example.  Or even come close.

My dietary restrictions stopping well before “Anaconda Souflee.”

If  “Eating what they eat” is the “Litmus Test” of collegiality and mutual respect,

I cannot possibly succeed.

Which is unfortunate, because I genuinely want to.

The “dividing obstacle”, however, is what they’re serving.

Which reminds me of the Chevy Chase line in The Three Amigos, where the “Amigos” have been invited to dinner in the impoverished Mexican village of Santa Poco and, having physical difficulty negotiating the tortillas, he inquires,

“Do you have anything beside Mexican food?”

My culinary proclivities would be etiquette “Deal-Breakers” wherever I went.  And it would not have to be that extreme a menu, or that far away. I’d be an unwelcome dinner companion irtually anywhere on the globe.

There are just a lot of things I don’t eat.

Some items are outside my acceptable menu are for religious reasons.  Some are personal taste issues.  Others involve nutritional health concerns.  I also avoid dishes my nose never smelled before.

I’m not exactly a “Picky Eater.”  (Compared to Anthony Bourdain, a vulture’s a picky eater.)  I just, probably, eat fewer things than other people.  And I have witnessed the consequences.  People think I don’t like them.  When it’s just the stuff they are giving me to eat.  


I am invited to dinner. I accept.  

“Any dietary restrictions”

“Well… okay.  I do not eat pork or pork by-products.  I do not eat shellfish, or bottom-dwelling crustaceans – which may, in fact, be the same thing, that’s how much I know about subterranean comestibles.  I will eat beef, chicken, turkey or fish.  Exceptions:  No liver.  (Or other “Organ Meat.”)  No duck. (To “Donald-y.”)  Or game that tastes… “gamey.”  Nothing I’d cut into and discover a bullet.  (Writer’s Note:  I once sampled “Prairie Oysters”, but I was extremely inebriated.)

“And absolutely no insects.”

“I do not eat tomatoes. (Too acidy.)  Or eggs.  (There is something off-putting about the word “Albumen.”)  No olives, anchovies.  Virtually anything in a small jar in the refrigerator – pickled gherkins – I generally avoid.

“No fried foods, overly spicy foods, dishes smothered in onions.  I strictly limit my intake of fat, carbs, sugar.  And of fermented versions of anything.   (That one probably belongs in a different paragraph, but it just came to my mind.) 

“Oh, and I am assiduously careful about “Portion Control.”  So if my plate still looks full when I’m finished, that is no indication I did not thoroughly enjoy the meal.  As the girl said in True Grit, “‘Enough’ is as good as a banquet.”  I eat only till I’m full, and hope the chef doesn’t get angry.

“And I guess that’s it. Would you like me to bring some wine?”

With such dietary proclivities there is almost nowhere on earth I would not piss my hosts off. There are someplaces it could trigger a war.

I don’t know…

Why couldn’t it be Ping-Pong?  Not that I’m good at it; I’m not. But I would happily play Ping-Pong anywhere in the world.  I might stink up the place.  But we’d laugh our heads off and then permanently bond.

I’d be “The Anthony Bourdain of ‘21 to 0.’”  People in grass huts would go, “Remember that idiot?  And “That idiot” would be me. 

You see, thatI could do.

But invite me for bacon and eggs or barbecued eel?

I just sighed.

I’m a wonderful person.

I just don’t eat any of that.