Thursday, November 30, 2006


Not my favorite activity. But when the time comes, it must be done. However, this time, I refuse to buy something I don't like just because I need something. I've been wearing the same two sweaters for weeks now and they're getting a little ratty but its better than shelling out good money for ill-fitting, synthetic, poorly stitched, so ugly yo' mama-wouldn't-wear-them substitutes. I've been to great stores and "value" stores and boutiques and department stores and sales and holiday collections everywhere I go I see the same dark hues and saggy seams. Dullsville. Depressing.

This isn't what shopping should be about. It feels like an insult bobbing in and out of store displays: insulting to my unwillingness to join the fray of the fiscally irresponsible, to my aesthetic sense, and to my desire to get that anthropologist-certified pulse-quickening that is supposed to occur when buying new clothes.

To a degree, it is true that what you wear is a statement about yourself. So why would I wear the unimaginative, unstylish, immature garb out there?

If I can't have fun with fashion, at least I can avoid feeling like I'm wearing someone else's clothes. My purchase

1. Red Cross T-shirt. I love the seasonal green and red combo and the classic cross icon. And buying it definitely puts my money where my mouth is.
1 Criterion Collection T-shirt. Nice agate gray atypical of the watered down shade on suits and turtlenecks all over Nordstrom's. The slightly kinetic, askew "C" is in a hip platinum shine. And it is classic, as in Criterion's mission: saving and promoting great cinema.
1 Pearl Bakery t-shirt. In a trendy, flattering color, a rich brown! And what could be more classic than bread?

And they go with everything...

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Back in college, I participated in the campus theater. At the end of a run of a play by Shakespeare, we had the usual closing party. A student brought some home made Mead, made according to some recipe she'd found or concocted. It wasn't very good as I recall. The heck with Beowulf.

But this week, Scruffy Dog friends just back from Lithuania brought a much better example. Now, apparently no one, absolutely no one, has the authentic old recipe. Historians and people who care about these things know there were various recipes, all made with honey and an assortment of spices like thyme, lemon, cinnamon, and fruits like cherries and juniper berries, and then fermented with beer or wine yeast. Normally mead had alcohol content of 10-16%. The stuff in the bottle I sampled was 50%. It goes higher -- up to 70%.

Just the week before, I'd had the pleasure of sampling a very high quality Armagnac -- another spirit of medieval European origins -- at the home of French friends in New York. At 40% alcohol content, the fumes alone were heady enough. But the velvety smoothness and fruity sting of flavor were impossible not to appreciate.

Mead struck me as Armagnac lite. Sweeter but not as rich, more medicinal tasting (mead is purported to have healing properties, but maybe that's only if you have worms and such in your gut that you need to kill) and definitely interesting. It is probably best sampled in a dark, dank, smelly underground tavern, in enough quantities to make you forget that it is freakin' dark for three more months. There was a purpose, after all, to all these inventions.

Thanksgiving Day

I for one American was very thankful on November 23rd. I had home comforts like heat and clean water and friends and family; I am not an Iraqi trying survive a new day under civil war; I am not a Sudanese from Darfur being cleansed; I am not an eminent Russian dissident wondering when I'm going to be poisoned; I am not one of the Americans scratching out a meager living and hoping I don't get sick...I mean, I am one of the luckiest people in the world. How could I not be thankful? I have everything I need and enough of what I want.

Speaking of wants, I'm also thankful I don't have a shopping gene. Or maybe I should say I'm thankful to have better, more fulfilling things to do on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I did my Christmas shopping early and online and kept the gift list simple. I simply will not participate in the orgy of consumerism that follows the day of feasting. At the risk of drawing Bill O'Reilly's ire, I suggest we just ban the Christmas holiday. Imagine -- NO CHRISTMAS MUSIC IN THE STORES. NO SURPLUS OF SANTAS. NO CHRISTMAS PAPER TRASH. NO FORCED CHEER. SOME EXTRA MONEY IN YOUR POCKET, MAYBE TO HELP OUT SOME OF THOSE LESS FORTUNATE.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Nazi in Japan

Just before WWII, fresh out of college, my father left Portland, Oregon and fulfilled a childhood dream to travel around the world. He spent several months each in Cardenas' Mexico, Mussolini's Italy, and Hirohito's Japan. Over the years he would recount a few stories from that series of adventures in the land of the statists as the world fell apart, dwelling on events more than people, but I always wondered about the relationships he must have formed during those times of political turmoil.

When he died in 2004, I came across letters he had photocopied and saved from one of the many travel buddies he must have come to know. Alfred "Fred" K. Hesse was a self-professed "rover," a young adventurous German man traveling on the same boat to Japan with my father. Apparently the friendship they formed on that journey and then continued during those few months in Tokyo was strong enough to warrant quite a prolific correspondence once my father returned home.

What a pity none of my father's letters to him remain. The two sets together would make for dramatic reading -- maybe even a screenplay treatment! -- on the passage of time through war by two erstwhile friends and later official enemies.

Hesse worked for a major German steel company in Tokyo. From the sound of it, he spent most evenings and desultory Sunday afternoons with various "young things", his euphemism for Japanese women. Occasionally he'd travel outside Japan, to Egypt where the women didn't interest him, to China, where they did, and around Japan. His long letters detailing his romantic and professional adventures usually end with a review of "the inevitable political theme" and the "racial problems as we Germans see it". In one he provides a synopsis of the German common man's view of race.

"God did not create all man alike, but he created many races, white, black, yellow as the three main races. These 3 main races are subdivided again and as well as they differ from another by color they also differ by phisical stature and above all by mental capabilities. No doubt, there live many an intellectual jew or negro or asiatic, but what distinguishs [sic] one race is whether they have a genius to create, to build up and to use existing strengths in union for the benefit of all. Jewish people as well as the tolerant attitude of the Vatican towards the racial problem did not serve to mankind."

It goes on. "God created us and the prceious token we got is our blood. This is, fundamentally, on what we Germans build our philosophy of life."

In response to what seems to have been a rebuke by my father about the treatment of Jews in Germany, he writes:

"After the great war was lost and the German people near to starvation, humilated and contaminated in its honour and literally torn to peaces [sic] by innumerable political parties, jews from all parts of the world came to Germany and began a dirty business...In this period the jews made their huge fortunes...this should however become disastrous to them, for in the old european world exists comething called national honor...I do not hate jews and I consider them in some way a clever race, although I do not like to have them as my superiors...I do not seek their friendship....Life in Europe is once again very active and the progress which is going on now is unique in the universal history."

He tells of the harassment and even threat of blackmail of his boss, a German of Argentine nationality, by pure-blood Germans and Nazi party officials in Japan. He moves up quickly, landing a well-salaried position with Krupps Germany. Then things take a dark turn. He is watched and doesn't dare bring girls up to his room. By 1941, his mail is being censored; foreigners are restricted in their movements; their business comes to a standstill, and they are detained in Japan. His letters implore my father to send money and shoe leather.

"Honestly I am in an awkward position, having 12 pairs of shoes, yet 8 of them without soles. Next I will have to go to the office in dance shoes or ghettas...I therefore, asked you to dispatch sTraight away sole leather for two pairs of shoes. Please, Bill, I know I bother you with this request but I cannot help, I am broke, try to understand."

Meanwhile, Jews were begging for their lives.

"Here enclosed you find $24, they are my last stock in enemy currency and this bloody war has devaluated them to a good percentage."

But despite his difficult circumstances, he does not waver in his core beliefs. In Yokohama he meets a German who is returning to "the fatherland" after 14 years in the U.S. "He lost within the last 2 years all his earnings and returns actually broke. The reasons are the politics, the anti-German propaganda...everybody knows the broad American masses don't love American news paper film and radio propaganda is in the hands of those, who were kicked out of Nazi Germany."

This from a representative of a country where communications were managed by the arch-propagandist, Goebbels.

"Incidentally, in the hotel were [sic] this fellow stays, ousted German jews on their way to the USA are also staying, giving each other advices on how to handle things, in completly peaceful atmosphere, of course."

The injustice of it all!

"The tragedy hereby is, that the Americans too have their jewish problem." He explains that after Germany and Italy win the war, the American jews will prevent the USA from trading with Europe to the USA's economic detriment. He suggests my father is having difficulty finding a job because of his Italian ancestry and war-time bigotry.

It is chilling reading. This man was intelligent, intrepid and probably quite charming. But everywhere he went, he carried an innate sense of superiority that drove him to a hatred of others. It blinded him to any self-awareness, any sign of irony in his position. Fundamentally, he was an unempathetic man, complaining about relatively small discomforts as his country annihilated Jews, Gypsies, the infirm and disabled and wreaked destruction on its neighbors.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Today I took a detour home from the gym to pick up an organic whole chicken at Wild Oats, seduced by the sale price of about $.10 less per pound into thinking I was taking advantage of a real deal (did you ever hear about the experiment with a dime on the photocopier? People who found one said in interviews later that they had felt happy all day long, as opposed to people who had not "found" the dime).

The parking lot was full and I was leaving in frustration at poor planning on the part of developers when a spot opened up. Leaving with my chicken a few minutes later, I hit the traffic jam ACROSS THE STREET where a new Whole Foods was celebrating its first day of business. There were traffic guards and people in yellow jackets directing drivers to open parking spots as though the event was a U2 concert.

People, what is wrong with us?

We have more than twelve major grocery stories within seven miles of our house: two Safeways, Two Albertsons, Two Wizers, and one WinCo, Costco, Thriftway, New Seasons, Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Fred Meyer each. This list leaves out the Plaid Pantry type of mini-grocery stores, of which we have several. From May to October we have a Saturday Farmer's Market as well. When will we have enough? And I wonder how much traffic and pollution is generated by going to and fro all these food temples.

Frankly, this overabundance makes me sick. How much waste is generated by this food obsession? And what is missing from our lives or souls that we have to feed our stomachs to this exaggerated extent? Certainly all of this is not leading to an overabundance of good health, as obesity, cancer, heart disease rates testify. Plus, what's all this talk from Christians about values? Isn't gluttony one of the seven deadly sins?

Now, caring about food is a good thing. In balance, and with food that is treated with integrity and in a simple manner, paying attention to what we eat is vital for health. And enjoying food is one of nature's gifts. But take it too far and it's just another form of substance abuse.

Plus, there is enough hunger in the-world's-richest-country USA to make me ashamed when I even think about people indulging in $20 chickens and $3.00 avocados, knowing that so much gets tossed out long before it close to inedible. It's almost enough to make me want to go on one of those low-calorie longevity diets as a protest.