Monday, May 14, 2012

Wanna Buy Some Plants?

It was a beautiful morning in May, a blessed month I have always thought. Sun shining, coolish air in the 60’s, and a Saturday. I had planned to take the two year old to Home Depot to buy some plants, probably inpatiens for the shade, maybe some herbs as well. We like to do it together. Last time at OSH she grabbed a few plants and pots, but them in the cart and hung on to the end of it, facing me as we walked, knuckles just showing and blond hair bobbing an prominent. This time we headed for the plant sale at Martin Luther King, Jr., Junior High School where Alice Waters has pioneered the edible garden. The little girl was in the car seat in back, surveying the landscape as we proceeded from South to North Berkeley, not missing a thing. First past John Muir Elementary School, where she hopes to play in the playground, and where she told me that Allie, Nick, and her Mommy had attended. She doesn’t miss a thing. Then past the Clark Kerr Campus, where I informed her it was a school and she said she wanted to go to school. Then past the field on Gayley Road where they play lacrosse and soccer; she wants to play soccer. Then down Hearst past the Goldman School of Public Policy, where I told her I had gone. “I want to go there, Baba,” she said, thus becoming one of the earliest applicants. We found the plant sale, got her out of the car seat, and toddled in. On the way to the plants was a little pond, really a mud puddle. She wanted to stop, so who was I to say no? She got a couple of little sticks, stirred the water, then decided throwing them in was more fun. There were lots of little reeds and they all got thrown in. We proceeded on and found two girls who were face painting. She got up on a stool and decided she wanted to be a zebra, which was the picture on her T-shirt. OK, a zebra it was to be, some white blotches and some black, but for some reason with whiskers, too. Can’t blame people for thinking she was a cat, but they were corrected by the little girl, “A zebra!” Which she confirmed by looking in the mirror again and again from different angles. Then we saw some chickens in a cage, and she saw pointed out to me that there was one duck, as indeed there was. Over to the goats. Back to the mirror for the zebra watch. Then it seemed possible to buy some plants, but she took off for the mud puddle again, with reeds, and this time slipping in to it up to her knees. She didn’t cry much at all, but we repaired to a flat rock in the sun, took off the little socks, rolled up the pant legs, and used the little sweatshirt to dry the legs and put the shoes back on sans the socks. It could have been time to visit the plants, but she looked up and said, “Snack?” We avoided the pizza, it was 11 AM, and found her a chocolate cupcake and myself a cup of coffee and Acme sticky roll, and we repaired to a picnic table in the sun. Shared with grandparents, parents, and a couple of little kids and found that the grandparents were from Philadelphia and resented their son’s transplantation. I got the little girl some water and she washed her face, wiping off some of the face painting. The grandfather told her not to do that, that the face painting would come off, and the son said, “Dad!” which made the grandfather retreat with some resentment. That’s not what we do in Berkeley, he knew. The grandparents live in Jenkintown and a different era, I guess. I told them I was from Philadelphia originally but they didn’t seem thrilled, since that meant that I, too, had moved away. It was time to go, so we toddled off with the cupcake in a little box, mounted the car seat, turned around and drove down Grant and then onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. The little girl looked around and commented as we drove home, “Want to buy some plants?” Instead we got gas and arrived home two hours after leaving, ready for new adventures in the here and now. Budd Shenkin

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Not To Be A Dick

The wonders of the modern world – telephony. An instance where modern finance actually helped us – ATT was broken up, and no more do I have to listen to the modern equivalent of my father trying to get off the phone as I called home from my freshman year at Harvard, Boston to Philadelphia, “Well, it’s long distance….” My Mom, on the other line, remonstrating, “Henry, he needs to talk to you!” “Well, everyone knows that math and science are harder,” said my Dad, responding to my expressed concerns with my studies. And I guess that was all I had to hear, even if it wasn’t particularly true. What was harder wasn’t math and science, it was Harvard. But encouragement was what I needed, and even just a word or two was fine, and still remembered 52 years later. So I called my son Allie where he lives in Panama yesterday to chat, and with modern telephony and computers, it was a free call. He is pursuing ye old Ph.D. in environmental science, commuting from Panama to Bolivia, his field work site, and to Gainesville, his home university. Jet planes with competitive fares, free telephony, and calling him from my car. I’m used to it all, but still I can appreciate it. I called Allie to chat and asked how he was doing and he said the dissertation was going fine, making good progress. So I remembered something else about my Dad. It was the summer of 1970, and my ex-wife and I and Allie and Nicky were spending a few weeks in my parental home in Society Hill in Philadelphia, in between leaving my post with the Public Health Service in Washington, D.C., and driving out to Berkeley for graduate school. Somehow I just kind of assumed that it would be OK for this family of four to stay with them. A nice summer time, and while they enjoyed us, I’m sure they had other ideas besides our squeezing into their house for the duration. I was pretty unconscious, gotta say. Anyway, there we were. My Dad said I should write a book about my fascinating experience the previous two years in the Public Health Service, heading the Migrant Health Program. He was right, I should and I eventually did. But at this point there was only the idea. I guess I was writing an outline. I was downstairs. But actually I wasn’t writing the outline at that point, I was reading “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. Sitting in that white scoop chair that swiveled around, reading about the club house attendant for the Yankees who told Bouton he had stopped ordering orange juice for the team because it disappeared too fast, as Bouton wondered at the logic of the stupid of the world. So, down comes my father to look at me, and he says, “You’re not writing your book? You’re reading Ball Four?” Then paused, looked at me, and said gently, “You’re really disgusting.” That’s what I told Allie that I was reminded of, and Allie said, “He really said that?? ‘Disgusting?’ Oh, man!” “Yes,” I said, “but it wasn’t so bad. My Dad said it with love. He always said it with love. My mother, well, maybe another story.” So Allie said, “So that reminded you? And you’re wondering how I’m doing on my dissertation?” “No,” I said. “I’m wondering if I’m being a dick.” He laughed, and I laughed. And actually, I don’t think I was being a dick. Especially since I remembered what it was like to be a dick, when I was on the other side of it. Budd Shenkin