Monday, May 31, 2010

Family of Hand-Held Devices

So I spent time tootling around San Diego with the family last week. All of us visiting, none living in San Diego. So we needed travel aids to find our way around. That is how I happened to find myself shoe-horned into the back seat of a rental car, between my oldest and my youngest children, with my stepson driving and Ron attempting to exercise paternal prerogative by navigating, but failing to establish authority in this regard. Everyone in the car had a hand-held device except for me. Ron was on his beloved Tom-Tom (we have Tom-Tom v. Mapquest wars, he and I—him with his visual though somewhat impishly unreliable Tom-Tom and I with my trusty though word-based Mapquest). I think they should make a Tom-Tom voice for Black folks that says things like “Dang, you done turned the wrong way, fool.” Or maybe a Jewish voice like “Go ahead, turn that way, don’t listen to your mother, you’ll see what happens.” But I digress.

Ron had his Tom-Tom. My stepson had his cell phone (not sure what kind) tuned in to Google Maps. My daughter had her Blackberry navigation system turned on. And my youngest was getting directions off his iPhone via internet. Ron’s Tom-Tom would squawk and he’d pronounce a direction. My son would call out a street name. My daughter would read from the Blackberry. And my stepson, being as stubborn as he is, would turn in the opposite direction of every command as he followed his Google Map. It’s a wonder we ever made it to Cox Arena for the graduation at all. And yes, my stepson was driving and reading Google Maps off his phone at the same time, while being bombarded with conflicting commands by everyone else in the car.

I felt so out of the loop because I did not have a hand-held device. (Well, I had one, but it was turned off.) I was more concerned about my hair, which was rapidly turning into a seagull’s nest because all the windows were rolled down. I begged Sudi to close his window. “I don’t want my hair to look like I did it with an eggbeater by the time we get to the graduation,” I explained. “Your hair always looks like you did it with an eggbeater,” he reassured me as he rolled the window up and continued to shout out street names, only to be ignored yet again by his big brother.

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Graduation

Here are some pictures of the graduate and his proud family. We are going to L.A. tomorrow for my cousin's wedding so I won't be able to post my usual Sunday blog until we return Monday night or Tuesday. In the meantime, enjoy seeing us overjoyed at our son's graduation!

The Graduate Walking to the Stage

The Graduate and Proud Parents

The Graduate with Family

The Graduate with Girlfriend Tina

Monday, May 24, 2010

Akili's College Graduation

I just returned from Akili's graduation from San Diego State (which was on Saturday). I have had children in college for 10 years, with 3 more years to go for Sudi to finish up at California College of the Arts (if he can complete in 4 years, which seems likely because of the nature of a small fine arts college). I read in the paper that only one-third of students who graduate from California State schools are able to graduate in 6 years or less, and only 56% of those who enter ever finish their degree at all. My oldest took six years and the next one took five, which is apparently better than the norm. (Back in the 1980s, it took Ron 10 years to graduate from San Francisco State.) I think the low completion rates and extra years have a lot to do with the cost of college. Not just the tuition, but the years and years of low-income living, scraping by on part-time jobs, eating beans. Lately many students at the Cali State schools can’t get the classes they need (because of budget cuts) and that prolongs the process. It is a magnificent accomplishment to complete college. But what does that investment secure for a young person?

I have to confess that I have not needed to have my college degree to land a single one of the significant jobs I have had during my more than 30 years in the world of work. For the past 10 years, I have worked as a freelance writer and made more money at that than at any of the 9-to-5 jobs I had prior (none of which required a college degree). Yet I treasure my degrees (I have a bachelor’s in English and Drama and a master’s in English Language and Literature). My years in college were happy years. I didn’t need to work (I had scholarships, fellowships, and family help) while in college. I had the rare opportunity to dedicate my time to the study of literature, theater, art, the humanities, politics, philosophy, etc. I had the luxury of time dedicated to creative reverie. I adored writing papers, as well as a great deal of sophomoric poetry. I adored reading and discussing. I adored thinking so hard about life and all that. I think every person deserves a few years learning and pondering before embarking on the great adventure of living. In the words of Flaubert, I had “A Sentimental Education.”

I know my children did not savor every moment of college in the same way that I did. I am more of an academic than they. But they enjoyed much of the experience and I am gratified that I have managed to find a way to give them those years of discovery and learning, whether they need them to land a job and launch a career in the real world or not. There are many types of education and a college education is one that I cherish and wanted to pass on to my children. Having a college degree does not make you smarter or better than anyone else, it certainly doesn’t make you morally good. It makes you proud of a significant achievement. It demonstrates a level of perseverance, the ability to face a challenge and conquer it. It makes you accomplished in your chosen field of study. It makes you think. It makes you feel lucky to have had the experience.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ron's Speech at the Day of Action to Save Our Schools

Today was a Day of Action across the State of California to save education. Here is Ron's speech from our local rally this evening here in Ukiah.

My name is Ron Reed. I’m a computer support technician for the Ukiah Unified School District. I was born in a big town; you may have heard of it: Chicago. I live here in Ukiah now. There were several stops along the way, but for 20 years, this has been home. I have been in some interesting places; some were rough, challenging. But, I wanted to succeed in raising a family. My wife and I wanted to raise our children in a relatively safe environment; we needed options. We chose Ukiah. We had 2.5 children when we got here. The .5 part evened us out to 3 whole children. Our address put our children in the Hopland Elementary School, which seemed to be the ideal school setting; small campus with a huge play area. The children weren’t lost in a swarm of anonymity; it was a very intimate learning environment. All 3 attended Hopland, then Pomolita Middle School, and the high school. They all went to colleges in the state; one has graduated, the second one will be walking this weekend, I’m proud to say, and the .5 is entering his second year of college. All 3 are creative and pursued educational opportunities in the arts and humanities, such as writing, drawing, painting, media arts, and music, which are fields that are becoming harder to pursue at the elementary and secondary school levels as funding squeezes out programs that would nurture such interests.

The budget fiasco relay has me baffled. If you have limited funds, how do you choose to spend? What is important? Apparently, to the state, education is not. When I face drastic cuts and spending in my own household, I have to make changes. Carpool. Turn off the satellite T.V. for the summer. Be more economical buying groceries. The idea of telling our children, “we can’t afford to send you to college,” would not even be an option. I grew up in the projects in a large family with not much money and we valued an education even though very few of us were able to go to college. It took me 10 years to earn my own college degree. They say that education is the ticket out of poverty and I can testify that it worked for me. Education is also the pathway for people to fulfill their potential. All children deserve this opportunity.

We are a community, from this gathering here at Alex Thomas Plaza in Ukiah, to the global community. What we do matters. What we don’t do matters. We can let it roll over us and not respond, implying that it is okay to cut education funding. Or we can insist that it is wrong and do something about it.

Your children are my children. Our children will be productive citizens. They will become leaders of the school systems, cities, the state, and the country. They will heal us, feed us, transport us, compose music and play it for us, teach us; protect us from crime, fire, and foreign enemies; run thriving businesses, invent new technologies, solve global problems. But they cannot achieve any of those things if we don’t educate them. Now.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Everyone is out to make a buck. Jews call someone who is always working on a profitable business transaction “an operator.” An operator is someone who actually turns crap into money all the time, has connections and uses them, is always “on.” An operator is always working it, all the time a salesman, a negotiator, a businessman, a wananbe Horatio Alger. I just never had it in me to be that kind of person, who seems to be in people’s faces too much for my taste. That’s probably why “The Call to Shakabaz” hasn’t sold a million copies, why only about six people read my blog, why I have 2 blogs and a website and don’t make money off them. I get quite a bit of junk email now from people who want me to sell their products off my blogs. I’m not willing to bombard my six readers with that garbage.

Yesterday I discovered (in an e-zine that I get about writing awards and contests) a grant available to writers to “develop” a blog. Up to $30,000. Whoa. At first, I thought I should apply for money to free up time to do more with my recipe blog. But then, I realized that “developing” a blog means monetizing it and spending hours and hours on the internet at other blogs and sites talking to people I don’t know and don’t care about just because they can send business to my blog. Not interested. We watched a grade B sci-fi movie the other night called “Surrogates” about a world in which people stayed at home and sent surrogate robotic versions of themselves out into the world. The main character pines away for a real experience like kissing his wife again in the flesh. Internet Land is kind of like that. Not the real thing. As for me, I still like the feel of newsprint on my fingers, still want to prop a book up on my lap in bed (could never read off a Kindle or iPad, too much like reading a computer screen, get too much of that at work), still look forward to a Shabbat dinner with friends. Can’t monetize that, but sure can enjoy it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mom as Fail Safe

My mom modeled the Mom as Fail Safe and even though I have far fewer resources than she, I continue the tradition the best I can. When in panic attack, call Mom. My mother could usually make it better because she was a Class A problem solver and she had the means to help. When I lost my one and only corporate job because I was a muckraker, Mom bought food for our family for more than a year until I could get back on my feet. (After that awful experience, I stuck with the nonprofit sector.) When our dog got old and started to have expensive health problems, Mom took the dog to live with her (and Dad of course, whom that dog loved). If we wanted to attend a family wedding but didn’t have the money, Mom bought the airplane tickets and the fancy clothing. If we were struggling through a particularly cold winter, Mom bought space heaters for the bedrooms. If our couch was falling apart, Mom paid to have it reupholstered. Napkins too wrinkly for a fancy dinner? She would iron each and every one. She provided sound advice, particularly about finances, and a helping hand when most needed (babysitting, cooking, cleaning). After Akili was born at home, Mom managed to launder all the blood out of the sheet that was underneath me during the birth. No matter what went wrong, Mom was there to pick up the pieces.

Sudi had his wisdom teeth out last week and, as Ron put it, I went into “mother mode.” Something like mother lode only not as lucrative. I became the queen of purée. I could purée an entire goat if my son needed to eat it. When my daughter was laid off her job, she came home for a few months to regroup. I feel fortunate that I have a room for her to live in for a bit and could offer her that safety net. Akili called three weeks ago in a panic because his water pump sprung a leak and spilled anti-freeze all over his timing belt, destroying it. I talked to the mechanic (and talked him down on the price), and $450 later the car was fine. Oddly enough, Sudi’s car was due for a new timing belt (because of the mileage on it) and I had to have his replaced last week. With timing belts on my mind (if a timing belt goes in a Honda then the car is gone), I checked on my daughter's Honda’s mileage only to discover that it was due for a new timing belt 15,000 miles ago! So I had hers replaced too. I think there’s something about when siblings are close they all get into the same rhythm and need new timing belts all at once. (Maybe something to do with the moon and tides.) Ouch. My credit card runneth over. The point is that when the timing belts go, it’s time to call Mom. Fail Safe. It’s good to know that no matter what befalls, Mom is there to pick you up. I miss you Natalie.

Mom and Me in Schenectady

Sunday, May 2, 2010

More Adventures of the Starving Parents Moving Company

The CCA student housing (apartments) closed Saturday and all students needed to be moved out by noon, having completed a walk-through with the Residence Advisor for their floor. Totally crazy. What are these CCA administrators thinking? Students have classes right through to the end of the day on Friday (day before noon check-out) and these are art students so they are not just taking final exams but trying to complete projects. Films. Paintings. Furniture. Ceramics. Textiles. Prints. Sculptures. The students are fried and then they have to pack up all their possessions, not just in a dorm room, but in an entire apartment (kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom) in less than 24 hours and be OUT. Sheesh. Something is wrong with this picture.

One of Sudi’s roommates arrived from Hawaii in August with little more than a suitcase and a computer. Then he sort of went squirrelly a couple months ago and moved out of the apartment. Sudi hasn’t seen him since. The other roommate is a gem and became one of Sudi’s best friends. He arrived in August from Japan with one suitcase, a pillow, a computer, and a gigantic yellow bag of white rice (I mean gigantic). Sudi brought all the kitchenware (plates, bowls, cups, utensils, pots, pans, blender, toaster, etc.), cleaning supplies and equipment, towels, first aid kit, tools; in short, everything needed to run a basic household (because he has a Jewish mom). Yesterday the roommate from Japan packed his suitcase, threw out the rice he hadn’t managed to finish (in a year—I mean gigantic bag), shook Sudi’s hand, and left to catch a flight. Sudi packed up the rest of the apartment, mopped the floors, cleaned out the refrigerator, emptied the cupboards, and on and on.

When I arrived at his apartment at nine, I helped pack and clean, took one carload over to the storage facility (he’s moving back to Berkeley in a month) with one of his friends who helped me unload, then returned to get him and the things he was bringing home for the month: basically a computer, a bike, a skateboard, and a heap of dirty laundry (I took all the musical instruments last weekend). I think he was the very last student to check out of the building at ten past noon. We stopped at the mall on the way home to buy him a pair of shoes because every pair he has is falling apart. I fell asleep in the car while he went in to get the shoes. His greatest regret of the day was that I couldn’t fit a couch that was up for grabs into my Honda Fit and take it to the storage facility (“but Mom, it’s such a comfy couch, it’s perfect:”).

In one month, I get to help him move into his sublet in Berkeley. Starving Parents Moving Company is still in business.