We recently subscribed to an organic vegetable delivery service. We received our first box of mixed produce, from the Imperial Valley, dropped at our front door before 5 AM Friday morning. I left the produce on the kitchen counters, not putting it into the refrigerator, so the aromas could fill the kitchen. For dinner, I made chicken pasta alfredo with roasted vegetables. The vegetables are pictured below: heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower. The tomatoes and peppers were made into an antipasto salad, the zucchini and cauliflower were mixed into the chicken pasta alfredo. Our dinner party of six finished all.
A woman friend of my wife pleads to her for help. She is ill. She can't find a job. She isn't on Medicare yet. Her live-in male friend is ill. My wife has known them both for several years, watching as their lives disintegrated. We agree to hire the man to work at minimum wage doing paint prep work outside the house. It's 108 df in the direct sun today. He works five hours, grinding blistered and cracked paint off wrought iron fences. The wages will keep them living in their trailer. A young black man knocks at the door and begs for work. He has a truck. He can take salvage and sell it. We have an ancient cast iron bathtub we removed when remodeling the basement bathroom. We had left it in the backyard, because at an estimated 800 lbs. no one could or would remove it. The man says he can do it. I and my nephew help. He strains mightily and pulls it 50 feet to his truck. We manage to get it lifted onto the body. I am concerned he has given himself hernias. He groans in pain. He says it's okay. He needs the money. He calls a girl friend and explains to her he is alright. A Pacific Islander family repeatedly comes to the house, offering to do yard work. We already contract yard work to a naturalized Mexican friend, whom we have helped over the past eighteen years. His son bosses the yard crews who maintain the lawns and shrubs. I plead we have no work. I feel guilty about it. I pass the Pacific Islander's home every day when I run. I see the family, with three teenage kids, living on little in their rental house. I talk with my wife. We agree that we hire the family to clean up our back yard. Perhaps a days work. It'll help. Our Guatemalan housekeeper, twice widowed and raising two boys in a one bedroom apartment, lives hand to mouth. In the summer, when her short list of clients go on vacation and leave her without work, sometimes she cannot make her rent. Her plight touches us. My wife's maternal grandfather was brought with his six brothers and sisters to New York City from Russia just before World War One. Upon arrival, the parents tragically died, leaving her grandfather to care for the family at eight years of age. He sold soda crackers on the sidewalks of Manhattan's Lower East Side to support siblings. So we hire our Guatemalan housekeeper to do extra work in our home, so she can earn the money she needs. She is an excellent painter and has a knack for applying, with a sponge brush, naval spar varnish without bubbles or waves or ripples. Sometimes the work is not enough. I pay to have her car, which has 400,000 miles on it, repaired and get new tires. I make the $2000 repair a gift to her, because there is no way she could ever repay it. She is embarrassed by the gift, but accepts it. I told her, we insisted in fixing her car, because we could never live with ourselves knowing that our failure to do so would be the cause of an accident that injured or killed her and her children. These episodes of need and aid are typical of what I see in my neighborhood, where middle class households--black, Latino, Anglo, and Asian---are besieged by requests for assistance and most find a way to help. You find workers at their homes engaged in this casual labor and sleeping in the backs of dilapidated vans parked on the streets. This is a whole level of social catastrophe that is unknown by the President and would find no empathy from him even if he was aware of it. The only solution to it is a rapidly growing capitalist economy, that is generating a million new businesses hiring to fill millions of jobs, but the ideological commitment of the President to an antiquated socialist vision prevents him from leading the government to enframe such a recovery through growth.
We celebrated Independence Day a couple of days early, on Friday, July 2. Every Friday we host a Sabbath dinner, inviting friends to our table. I cook. I decided to have a Fourth theme for the dinner on Friday, since we did not plan any special festivities for the Fourth itself. An appetizer of a French goat-milk gouda, sent by my daughter, on multi-grain crackers was greatly enjoyed. I made potato salad, greens with smoked turkey, and cherry pie for dessert. My wife got inspired and joined in with homemake Boston baked beans. Of course, we had hot dogs and buns for the meal--kosher dogs. Tortilla chips for crunch--this is Southern California, after all. Lemonade, flavored carbonated water, and gin-and-tonics to drink. We supplemented the usual prayers with formal expressions of gratitude that we live in America. A festive happy occasion, with much laughter. My wife said the cherry pie was wonderful--it reminded her of the Grange dinners in farming country in upstate New York in her childhood. She could remember, as a child, peering over the long tables at Grange Hall, as the farm ladies placed out the many pies they baked. She was filled with wonder at the cornucopia and loved the cherry pies most of all. I can't get a better compliment than that. Sunday afternoon, we went to a friend's house, just across the street from us, for a BBQ with her very large, extended, black and Latino family. Later that evening, we watched some of the municipal fireworks from our home. We were happy, without discontent, the entire weekend.
Three weeks ago our neighbor, Kenya, found this baby hawk. She brought it home and released it, feeding it raw chicken livers on the ground. It immediately flew next door to our home, stationing itself on a branch about five feet from our second-floor bedroom window. It appeared to be molting its baby feathers, which were gray and white and stuck out awkwardly here and there through its plumage. And it cried incessantly for its mommy. A high pitched whistling cry, uttered in three bursts. From before dawn till after dusk. I don't think its mommy has found it, and it has been ignored by the Coopers Hawks family--a mother, a juvenile, and another juvenile now independent of mom--that lives in the trees around us. We haven't seen baby hawk make a kill yet, or found evidence, usually a scattering of small bird feathers, of a kill. But baby hawk appears to be plump and hasn't lost its enthusiasm for whistling for mother.
My wife and I were crippled with grief for months after 9-11, as our son and daughter had been at the World Trade Center that fateful morning, escaping by only minutes Islamic terrorism's terrible anger in the collapsing towers. Our grief expressed itself through a mood of gratitude, but our gratefulness had no objective personification. Later in the year, we were in Las Vegas and browsing an antique shop. We came upon several reproductions of Victorian angels done as bookends. Instantly, we knew we wanted them in our home. They could provide a location, much as would a shrine, for our continuing emotional turmoil and our gratitude. Prior to this time, as a secular, humanist atheist, an emotionally barren ideology that accompanied my allegiance to Left liberalism, I had scorn for persons whose households contained religious icons, shrines, framed inspirational poems and prayers, and illustrations. Superstition! After 9-11, that political ideology dropped away from me as a repugnant thing, much as the survivors of the bombings might brush ashes off their shoulders. So I discovered myself susceptible to a range of emotions I had not previously experienced. And I discovered the reason for those material manifestations of belief, worship, hope, and gratitude. Now, whenever I see garden sprites, angels, cherubs, elves, even plastic deer, stone frogs, and stone rabbits, I feel a connection to the persons whose emotional longings embodied themselves in their yards in the approaches to their homes. The icons are not objects, but doors inviting us to walk through them to another world. As in this photograph of the under-utilized side entrance to a home on my 4.2 miles jogging route, the neglected, little angel seems to be saying, that is not the door, I am the door.