Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More Things That Bug Me

Back in November I made a post about things that bug me. I listed a number of items which I found annoying. My son contended that I was just acting like a crabby old man and taking life too seriously. This observation has certainly some truth to it. Old dogs sometimes snarl when pestered. Then again, a number of younger blog followers wrote me some irksome moments of their own, a fact which suggests that lots of people live on the same planet as I do and also react vociferously to stupidity and pretension. Providing my litany of complaints also has a cathartic effect on me. By expressing these niggling vexations, I hope to find allies who identify with my pique and, most of all, share similar sentiments. I can't say exactly that it makes feel liberated, because stupid remains stupid whether it is declared to be so in a chorus or singly. Simply put, my sensibilities and intelligence feel the need to fight back, however futile. Consequently, the following are some additional things that bug me. 

I am not sure why exactly I am annoyed by service people, especially bank tellers, who ask, "How are we today?" or even worse, "How's Lee today?" First of all, the use of "we" sounds imbecilic. If you don't how "you" are, then how can you remotely grasp how I am? The second question about how Lee is, I find even more annoying. I often answer, "Gosh, I think that Robert E. died in October 1870." I understand the rationale that employees are instructed to learn the first names of customers in order to generate intimacy and trust, but this technique reeks of hapless superficiality on a par with the closing response, "Have a Nice Day." 

At a supermarket checkout counter it bothers me when the cashier queries, while I am numb with sticker shock,  if I'd like to round the cost of my purchase up to give to Easter Seals. My urge is to say, "Speaking of deserving people, would Safeway care to subtract down and give the shopper a break?" 

How about people who refer to Hannukah as "Jewish Christmas"? Aside from the fact that such a statement shows true ignorance, it is also depressingly egotistical, as if everybody else's cultural wealth were created by God solely to realize the mission of Christianity. Maybe for a while Moslems should start calling Easter Week "Christian Ramadan."

How do you feel about buying crab spelled with a "k"? I know it is supposed to be like crab, but it is really fish with additives, plain and simple. It is no more crab than a cat is a dat or a dog a cog.

I bet all of you feel the same as I do about people who forget to flush the toilet or urinal in public bathrooms. Even now, I don't want to think about looking down at someone else's pee or mentioning the odor. For Pete's sake, must I say more?  

Speaking of sanitation, when using a fast food restaurant or public eating area, why is it so difficult for people to remember to clear their place? I am constantly throwing away other patrons' cups, paper containers, or napkins in order to feel comfortable at my table of choice. Eventually some waitperson will come and clean up the mess, but in the meantime, must I look at your half-finished chocolate shake and your greasy fries wrapper?

Has anyone eaten at a buffet or salad bar lately? The salad plates are saucer size and the dinner plates look like they belong in a doll house. In both cases they have become so small that you have to pile up your food like a culinary Tower of Babel and this creates a sloppy, unaesthetic, unappetizing mixture. Throw on a couple pieces of lettuce and your plate is full. It is virtually impossible to keep vegetables or dressing from spilling off the sides. It is not difficult to realize that the restaurant's use of small plates is a cost-saving method intended to direct customers to eat tiny portions. Now, I don't approve of gluttony and never liked seeing folks walking off with mountains of food which they can't finish. Neither do I appreciate the restaurant providing cheap, crappy service either. How do you like dem apples?

What is your opinion of a driver who takes up two parking spots by hanging his big vehicle over the line, leaving only the incredibly numerous empty handicapped spots available for parking? 

RECEIPTS: Cashiers have been trained to stuff them in your hand when they give you change after a purchase. Sometimes they even fold one around your credit card. I understanding needing evidence if you buy clothing, but for a cup of coffee? What a total waste of paper, and such litter! After you drink your disappointing java can you imagine waving your little paper and demanding a refund? Don't tell me this piece of trash is essential for your tax return.  A receipt, on the rarest occasion, is proof for a reimbursement. It should be available on request, which will keep the rest of the people from dropping it on the floor or crushing it in the nearest garbage can. 

I am annoyed by salespeople who pass off a clearly stupid policy on "Corporate." For some reason they act like they commiserate and that nothing can be done, and hope, you will, like a dumb sheep, go away. My urge is to say, "Let's get Corporate on the phone and tell them how much we think the idea sucks." After all you know how much the management desires feedback!

Well I have provided a list of ten irritations. Sadly, I have more, but will gladly save them for another time. After all this bombast maybe I will watch TV to calm myself. After all, what is wrong with seeing the same commercial repeated over and over again. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mountain High

These past several weeks I have been going every day either on short hikes or, whenever the conditions have cooperated, downhill skiing. Above are some pictures I have taken on some of my recent outings.

The first scene was snapped from the deck of the mid-mountain Pine Martin Lodge at Mt. Bachelor after a "bluebird" morning on the slopes. It shows the snowy peaks of South Sister, one a series of three inactive, closely clustered volcanos. Several years ago, I climbed to this lovely lady's crest and consider that trek to the summit the quintessential event of my love affair with hiking. I memorialized the experience by using a photo of my happy but exhausted self as the signature picture for my adventure blog. Today's picture shows a double-layered lenticular cloud, looking like a white bonnet, resting jauntily on the sister's top. If you are curious about this aspect of climatology here is a link to Wikipedia.

The second shot is a perspective of the Cascades taken from the high desert east of Bend. So many people from out of state believe Oregon is a rainy, green, mountainous state, but don't realize that well over half the state is dry and flat. The mountains serve as shield to prevent marine moisture from crossing over them and the result is an ecosystem filled with juniper trees, sagebrush, and rocky outcroppings. Under the ground of the desert are miles of lava tubes, some of which have openings that beckon to cave-exploring enthusiasts. On the day this photo was taken, I was on my way to Pictograph Caves, a hard-to-find destination, where some intriguing Indian drawings can be found adorning its opening.

The third picture is a panoramic view of Mt. Bachelor taken from Bend's Old Mill District, a shopping complex tastefully constructed on the site of an old lumber mill. While standing on one of the miles of riverfront walking paths which meander along the Deschutes River, I spied a number of mallard ducks and pesky Canadian geese bathing in the last glow of sunlight. In the distance looms the imposing, timeless form of the mountain, gazing like a stately, benevolent king surveying his kingdom. His Majesty has bestowed on me some of the richest moments of my life while hanging on to his flanks.

Under the magical light and deep mysterious shadows cast from the jagged, crowned horizon, I do my best to mark my days in increments of joy. The magnetic force which lies within the mountains' heights holds an essence that has embraced me and granted me the thrill of feeling alive. What better backyard could a fella ask for in which to play?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dedicated to Christopher Hitchens

The passing of Christopher Hitchens has caused me to look intensely at my life and to examine some of my earliest memories concerning religion. Consequently these past several days my daily adventure has criss-crossed the trail of recollection leading to my childhood and has led me to a puzzling landscape of long ago. Sadly I have come to realize that so many key memories are like peaks lost in the clouds or are, more similarly, like unrecoverable bytes drifting in cyberspace from a damaged hard drive. I feel like a historian who has to do research on a time where the documents no longer exist and the people who could possibly reveal pertinent information have perished. Even so, the challenge remains the same, namely to glean from the few memories a semblance of truth without judgment.

I assembled a list of questions to help me with the task, which included when I first knew I was Jewish and did I ever truly believe in God. It would be simple if the genesis of my Jewish identity were attributable to one poignant moment, like the recollection of my mother showing me the mezuzah on our doorpost, or on a particular Saturday morning standing next to my father at the temple as the Torah was carried about the sanctuary, helping him touch the scroll with his tallis. Yet this is not the case. Judaism enveloped me gradually and seeped uninvited into my consciousness. Its presence almost totally pervaded my family's social and cultural activities and, like oxygen in the air, I breathed it in automatically.

I don't know when I learned the imperative to believe in God, but at an early age would have professed that I did. I had heard the word in the English translation of Hebrew prayers which were recited and had sensed that this figure played an important role in evaluating the high moral Jewish life that was expected of me. Although I misbehaved a lot, I so much wanted to be understood as a good boy. Believing in God felt obligatory in order to achieve this goal. My first vision of God came while lying in bed before falling asleep. I saw a tall, kindly man looking at me who I thought was God. Only later I realized the face was that of the father of Peter Meyers, a friend who lived across the hall. I suppose many children have similar fantasies. Christian children may have been instilled to see the face of Jesus, but when I asked my son about his first vision of God, he narrated that he had also seen a familiar face, except it was the face of the man he knew from the tail of Alaska Airlines planes. To this day I still feel the compulsion to believe, but not necessarily the conviction.

Another question I sought to answer was this: When had I become aware of Christians or Gentiles? Early on, I sensed and learned by listening to my parents' conversation that non- Jews were superficially friendly, latently dangerous, and quite different socially from Jews. Also there were many more of them than us. One of my first memories was of the nursery school to which my mother took me. It was housed in a spacious playroom attached to a Baptist church. As soon as she left I felt abandoned and sat for hours pushing wooden block trains around waiting to be picked up. Feeling like a captive in an ominous building with strange windows, odors, and spires, I knew this place belonged to Gentiles, not us, and it awakened a certain angst which I can still feel today. Also Hyde Park, on Chicago's South Side where I lived, was located near many run-down black neighborhoods. Whether riding with my mom on the IC elevated train to go downtown, traveling by car to my father's sign shop, or looking out the window of streetcars or buses, I saw what was then called "colored people" who, above all, looked scary to me and who also were definitely not Jewish. In fact, I began to believe that I belonged to a family and group that was special and smarter than others and that my sister, cousins, and Jewish friends appeared to feel the same way. I remember never wishing to believe in Santa Claus or having a tree. If anything, I may have thought that Christmas time seemed like a season of weird, silly behavior for others, although I enjoyed the catchy melody of Jingle Bells.

I would be remiss if I didn't relate when I first became aware of anti-Semitism. My parents, who were Holocaust survivors, clearly didn't want to frighten me with gruesome personal stories which, in part, they strove to forget. Nonetheless, on many a Saturday evening, my parents entertained other Jewish couples in our livingroom to discuss the painful past. I was allowed to listen for a while, but then was sent to bed. I understood so little, but was intrigued by the energy level and earnestness of the talk. I would creep out of bed and lie out of sight in the bedroom hall to listen. I heard words like Hitler, Nazis, Roosevelt, the Pope, Catholics and Protestants. Eventually my eavesdropping was discovered and I was ushered off to bed. I knew something bad had happened to Jews but it took place somewhere else, at a different time, and I felt reasonably safe. Likewise on my 5th or 6th birthday, my Uncle Paul and my father started me on my lifelong hobby of stamp collecting and because my parents spoke German, stamps from Germany took on a special importance. I remember sticking into my book little pictures of the bad man I had heard about, Hitler, and attaching a colorful series of stamps embossed with swastikas. These stamps took on a special value to me, as if by hinging them to pages I insured that they couldn't hurt me.

I have struggled to recall when I was first exposed to direct anti-Jewish sentiments. Like children who have buried memories of abuse, there must have been some catalyst which first generated the festering fear of man's cruelty that I still experience today. I know that actual derisive comments by mean-spirited classmates started when I was a pre-teen in Junior High, but by then I had already felt a much greater malevolent, albeit subtle, threat planted in me. It manifested itself as an internal voice that quietly urged me to accept Jesus and Christianity as the true path and reject traditional Judaism. It is possible that the wife of the caretaker of our building, Mrs. De Baer, was a zealot. I think one day she found me playing in the garden by her apartment and told me of the importance of loving Jesus, but I can not be certain. In any case, as an emotionally vulnerable six- or seven-year-old, I lacked the ability to respond. Many other important non-Jewish adults delivered the message in a myriad of ways that it was wrong to be Jewish. Even on television, while changing channels I came upon evangelists preaching to a public which included me. I understood little of what was said, except I felt threatened, almost terrified, by a deep voice in me that told me I was supposed to listen, betray my roots, and give myself up to an obvious truth. Consequently I would rapidly change the channel. Even today I still feel hounded by the voice and therefore have developed a visceral repugnance when I see crucifixes, churches with inane messages marketing faith on their readerboards, Christian bumper stickers, fish car ornaments, or signs attached to trees telling me to "believe" and be "saved." Some evangelicals with whom I have spoken have claimed self-servingly that, what I began to hear as a child is in fact the true voice and love of God. I also have been told that certain coincidences in my life were actually spiritual omens being revealed to me. One thing I do know for certain is that this alleged offering of love which started when I was a child generated both anxiety and guilt throughout my life. Today I see the voice as a virus or a poison embedded in my system which my will has combatted unceasingly all these years.

After reading Christopher Hitchens it seems easy to agree that religion is based on dangerous myth from a more primitive time of human existence, and that it robs people of doing genuine, righteous acts. He suggests that a secular world based on honesty through science and reason is preferable and more applicable for our times. Tonight I ask myself if would I be willing to forfeit the value of the fond childhood memories of my father on Shabbat tearing off pieces of Challa, putting salt on them and, like precious stones, handing the twisted bread to my mother, my sister, and me because I know that the idea of the ceremony is really based on nonsense. Is it worth the sacrifice in order to paint life accurately in logical tones?

It is growing late and my inability to resolve this issue in my mind is beginning to feel toxic so that further consideration best be postponed. Instead it may be time to calm myself and listen on Pandora radio to Vivaldi's exquisitely beautiful Baroque music and sense through its inspiring continuo the praise of God who is forever turning the wheel of the universe. Then again, I could watch the evening news.