Monday, November 28, 2011

Wife of a Stereophile...on Cyber-Monday

While most people are snapping up cyber-Monday electronics to give their loved ones, we, too, are taking possession of a high-tech gift.  It may not be for the holiday, but there's a man in my living room right now, connecting thick cables to two new sentries sternly standing on either side of my hearth.  The man is my husband setting up his Chanuka, birthday and worked-hard-to-earn-it gifts, the culmination of a decade of longing and research, of comparison and pondering.  My husband is an audiophile, and he just got new speakers.

An audiophile cares deeply about the fidelity of music.  Classical music, in this case.

In the old days of vinyl records, the machine that used to play them was called the hi-fi, as in high fidelity.  Fidelity, or faithfulness of what one hears on a CD or record to the original sounds, is the Holy Grail, the great pursuit.  Audiophiles seek sound-quality perfection, the strings balanced with the bass just so, in the way some chefs are said to insist on the exacting flavors of a char-striped salmon fillet perched on a melange of sauteed vegetables. 

My husband adds a twist to his quest for the most realistic reproduction of concerts that may have occurred decades before, now "re-mastered" and released on CD--he's excruciatingly thrifty.  He cannot conscience spending unrequired money for a slight fillip of nuance, knowing full well that his Holy Grail speakers must exist somewhere at a reasonable price.  Hence, he has not actually acquired any stereo equipment in ten full years, an eon in tech advancement.  Throughout that time, he merely salivated at the rectangular forms posed like pin-ups in his monthly fix of Stereophile Magazine and catalogs from MusicDirect.  He looks lovingly and longingly at Bobinga enlargements, internet pop-ups magnifying the strange African wood used as the finish on certain loudspeakers.

He is in love with woofers, the non-canine, hairless devices that define the lower musical register. Tweeters are, to him, not Twitter-message writers but speaker components that deliver the upper range.  His mid-range--well it must be clear and precise.

And we're talking wattage. And connectors that join together the amplifier and CD player and speaker in an electrical snake-cord that looks like it could dock a cruise ship.  Some weekends his sound-hunger leads him to stereo stores, which line a two-block stretch in northerly Seattle.  Each has a living-room-like equipment-testing area to compare their wares.  My husband brings along his favorite CDs with the classical pieces that best show off specific capabilities of a sound system.  While the rest of us waste time on Hulu, he's surfing clandestinely between stereo sales sites.

Admittedly, he's incredibly self-disciplined, and only allows himself this guilty pleasure after writing several columns, reading books and newspapers, screening a new movie and writing its review.  But still, sometimes his last waking moment, as he slides into the dreamland of amplifiers, pre-amps, sub-woofers and of course the Big-Daddy of fidelity, speakers themselves, is filled with a few slurred words of adoration for a particular model.

His collection of classical CDs sit at the ready, shelf after shelf of jewel boxes arranged by composer.  He can tell you the key and opus number of any piece in the repertory, plus a bio of its creator.  When he listens, he is not in contemplative reverie, but prancing and singing, arms raised in active conducting.  It is now becoming known that as an adolescent, instead of carrying a wallet-ful of photos of family or girlfriends, his plastic pouches were lined with the stern faces of Brahms, Prokofiev, Elgar and Sibelius.

He has plotted and revised, considered and mulled until he finally found the proper combination of artistic quality and cyber-Monday bargain mentality. And so, tonight, while others anticipate their new big-screen TVs, he has been connecting and arranging, testing and listening... and glowing like a new father in a maternity ward.

I must admit, it gives me the delight of a parent watching a squealing child unwrap a cherished toy to see him finally complete the integration of machines and, as the drums of Sibelius pound with new-found bass, to see him so thrilled with shades of sounds.

It's been said that fine music is the interplay of spirituality and physicality, and if some pieces of wood and metal can enhance that for my husband, then we can both be in heaven.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Profanity: a Young Man's Poetry"?

Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier in "The Prince and the Showgirl"
I just came out of an advance screening of the film "My Week with Marilyn," touted as the true, 1956 encounter of a 23-year-old movie-set "gopher" (Eddie Redmayne) with "the most famous woman in the world," Marilyn Monroe.  Michelle Williams expertly plays the seductive, always-on-show actress who captivates all in her world while in London to film "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), starring and directed by Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branaugh).

The film was well-crafted, mesmerizing, and troubling, and my husband (who loved it) and I were discussing it as we walked into the elevator to the mall parking.  Inside, a very tall, young black man with long dreadlocks was talking loudly to two others; engaged in our conversation, we didn't really catch what he was saying.  As he left the elevator, he turned to all who remained and announced, "Sorry you all had to hear that, but hey, profanity is a young man's poetry!"

I was as stunned by his remark as by the tawdry, sad life of Marilyn Monroe.  He'd apparently been ranting in foul language among maybe 10 people enclosed in our confined space.  Profanity as poetry?

Then I came home and found in my email a newsletter from my friend and teacher Rabbi Daniel Lapin, describing the impact of degrading influences in our environments.  His great-uncle, the revered teacher Rabbi Elya Lopian, to whose North-Eastern England talmudical college he and thousands of other Torah students flocked, was asked to give permission for one of the boys to go home to attend a wedding.  Reb Elya asked if there might be under-dressed nubile guests in attendance.

The young man assured his teacher that he felt no temptation and would be unaffected if there were.  Reb Elya gave his consent but insisted the student speak to a particular person before leaving, and handed him a phone number.

Turned out that the required call was to a doctor, which the befuddled student thought must've been a mistake.  Rabbi Lapin related Reb Elya's explanation: " I am nearly eighty years old and blind in one eye, yet I am powerfully affected by the sight of women in scanty dress. Since you, a healthy young man, assure me that you are not, I know you must be suffering from a medical condition."

Rabbi Lapin's lesson: you're absorbing--and reacting to--influences in your environment whether you want to, or not.

Apparently my elevator-mate knew we might be offended by his tirade, but decided (for us) that we should re-define it as "poetry."  Once we accept it as "the new eloquence," our shock would disappear, perhaps replaced by approval.

Truth is, I've indeed been desensitized to profanity by its ubiquity.  But I wish I weren't.
Rabbi Elya Lopian (1876-1970)

Lately, my husband has been fascinated by the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, and launches into excerpts at random times, read from Bartlett's Quotations and his print-outs of Lincoln's oratories.  Our 16th President's parents were illiterate; he received just four months of formal schooling.  He lived in such poverty that he received his first pair of shoes at age 11, a gift from his step-mother (his own mother died when he was 9).  And yet his phrasing is poetic:

"In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.  Other means may succeed; this could not fail.  The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just--a way if followed the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless." (Conclusion to Abraham Lincoln's Second Annual Message, December 1, 1862.)

These aren't 50-cent words, in any sense.  But they are nobly-composed, spare but weighty.  The first book Abraham Lincoln owned, again, a gift from his step-mother, was the Holy Bible.  Interesting to compare the shapers of Lincoln's prose with what forms the "young man's poetry" of today.

Movies exert a huge chunk of media's influence, not only via films we choose to see, but in-your-face advertising for those we don't.  And dialogue over the past 30 years in scripts has slid in the direction of my elevator companion's "poetry."

Classic movies right up to the mid-60s refrained from profanity, managing to convey every emotion, including the frustration of most four-letter words, efficiently.  "My Week with Marilyn" is rated R, and includes a couple casual uses of the f-word; not enough to rile anyone, anymore.  Language is no big deal, which is why a string of expletives in an elevator earns no more than a flippant remark.

We can't put the toothpaste back in the tube (or the announcer back in The Tube, since TVs don't even have them anymore) to return to our more polite society.  But that's the problem for me--lack of concern for others' sensitivities in speech bleeds into a lack of concern for others' sensitivities in behavior, and worse, a basic lack of concern for others. We're so self-centric, managing our Facebook pages and Linked-In images, setting up our Spotify personal playlists and Google-plus circles that the rest of the world looks like a mere adjunct to me, me, me.  It's there as a platform for my own self-expression.  Other people become my audience, my responders, rather than recipients of my efforts, care and concern.

The other reason I was shaken by the notion of profanity as a young man's poetry is the very nature of those words.  You don't use profanity when you're delighted, enthusiastic or grateful. Instead, it expresses anger, frustration or at best, surprise.  If profanity is the medium of emotion for youth, they're really going through a tough time, and might benefit from some more lofty prose to improve their outlooks.

As the Civil War loomed, Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugural address (March 4, 1861):
"...we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Perhaps our natures will be bettered by more careful selection of the phrases that form our poetry, and by greater appreciation for the unspoken verses of the universe.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Days on Jury Duty

When we jurors started our deliberations, sequestered in our small room, the vote was 8 to 4 to convict, on both counts.

The process of massaging away the doubts of the four who were unsure in order to reach the unanimous verdict required in a criminal residential burglary case, capped my experience last week--one that was fascinating, emotional, and reassuring about the health of our justice system.

Like most who are summoned (and myself, years ago), I didn't want to serve.  I have a life, after all, and I don't like it disrupted.  I'd have to miss my daily workout, and the classes I take, and the work piled up.  What's worse, I was to start at 8 am the morning after the daughter of our dearest friends was to marry--two states away.  Serving on the jury would mean having to leave the wedding early to make the last plane out, arriving home after 1 am, and battling downtown traffic soon thereafter in rush hour.  It meant the prospect of either awaiting assignment on a case imprisoned in a windowless room with hundreds of others, or worse, who-knows-how-long embroiled in endless testimony and courtroom back-and-forth.

They don't call it jury "duty" for nothin'.  Duty is something you know you should do, whether you want to, or not.

So, last Monday, after flying from LA (pulled from the wedding reception just as my son arose to perform some "schtick" for the crowd) and finally retiring to my bed at 3 am the night before, I showed up at King County Courthouse, endured a long line, a metal-detector beep and wanding, and entered the jury assembly room, a large auditorium-esque space with rows of chairs aimed toward a podium.  At the rear was the restroom, a side area with a few vending machines and a glass-walled "quiet" area where cell phones were banned.

The room filled completely, and soon an employee, followed by a judge, welcomed and addressed the group, explaining that we'd be called to various courts for "voir dire," the jury selection process.  We watched a film describing what to expect; throughout was gracious acknowledgement of the sacrifice made by jurors to further the right to fair trial for citizens.

After not-too-long, the administrator called groups of about 45 names, instructing each to assemble on a particular floor for an individual judge's court.  I was assigned to the third floor, and the bailiff for our court, a sweet-faced younger woman with a melodious voice, gathered us into the courtroom for voir dire.  We each were handed a large laminated number, as if we were about to bid at some grand auction, and told to raise it whenever we spoke, for identification.  As I had been chosen for seat number 12, I got to sit in the cushy exec-chairs of the jury box rather than the spectators' benches.

The defendant, a young, slender brown-haired Caucasian man with a slight smirk, sat next to his female attorney, mid-30s with thick black eye-makeup, clad severely in all-gray.  At a perpendicular table sat the county prosecutor, a square, older woman with short gray bob who appeared all business but offered a soft, upturned inflection in her voice.

The voir dire questions directed to individual potential jurors ranged from clarification about the occupation listed on our brief biography forms to queries about our feelings as victims of home break-ins.  We were asked whether we believed a defendant should testify at his trial, and if we thought that fingerprints were incontrovertible evidence.  We were asked about any potential sources of bias, and whether we knew anyone involved in the case, including names read from a list of witnesses to be called to the stand.

I described how, about 18 years ago when we lived in California, our home was entered while we slept, a packed suitcase and my purse stolen, and with my key, the car from our driveway.  Did they catch the thief? No, but my car was found a week later, abandoned with only minimal damage.  I was asked why a defendant wouldn't testify at his own trial, answering that perhaps he was inarticulate and wouldn't represent himself well.

This questioning lasted about two hours, and finally the attorneys each dismissed seven of the 45 potential jurors under "peremptory" privileges, that is, without having to explain their choices.  As individuals left the room, the line in the stands moved up toward the jury box.  As number 12, since I was not dismissed, I was in.  Immediately, we raised our right hands to "swear or affirm" to try the case according to the law and evidence.  There was no bible or mention of God in any oath I heard, by the way.

Immediately, the prosecutor and defense attorneys laid out their cases.  The prosecutor described how the defendant first attempted to unhinge the secluded back door of the University district apartment of two grad students.  Though the police described screwdriver pry marks, and finding two removed hinges lying next to the door, (which had been installed backward with the hinges outside), the middle hinge was so corroded, it could not be removed.

A bedroom window, about a foot higher than some stairs along side it, did, however, provide an entry.  The female student victim described arriving home and opening the front door, noticing her computer gone from where she'd last used it in the living room.  In the bedroom, she spied the window she'd left slightly ajar slid wide, screen removed.  Her bed was amiss, and a glass of water once on a bedside stand spilled.

She realized the disturbance and began noticing that items were gone: two cameras, two trombones belonging to her music-major boyfriend, her expensive computer with hard-drives, jewelry, music equipment.  Unable to reach her boyfriend or family, she "called the cops."

The police fingerprint analyst determined that one of the prints was clear enough to form the basis for a search.  And, she found a match.

This was the entire basis of the case.  One clear fingerprint inside the apartment window, matched to the defendant.  We heard extensively from the police fingerprint expert, a grandmotherly woman whose 18 years in her position with the Department, 2,500 hours of training, and experience teaching others seemed to qualify her well.  She'd prepared a power point presentation to carefully detail the process she uses to compare prints, and point out the particulars that convinced her that a match was certain.

We heard extensive testimony about the stolen items, in which the victims described and justified their dollar values.  This was the boring part of the case for me, as I didn't know at the time that the prosecutor needed to ascertain a $5,000 loss in order to convict for "first degree" theft.  The defense lawyer didn't question any of it.

As I'd guessed from voir dire, the defendant was never asked to take the stand, and in fact nothing was said about him at all other than his name. The defense relied entirely on trying to plant a "reasonable doubt" in the jurors' minds--are we sure enough that this print really belongs to the defendant? After all, the fingerprint expert is "only human, and humans make mistakes."  Did we want on our consciences that we sent someone to prison based solely on a single fingerprint?  Why didn't the police use new bio-technologies for identifying; why wasn't there a security camera photo of the perpetrator, or stolen merchandise found in his possession?

"If you have even the slightest doubt," the prosecutor insisted, "you are bound by the law to acquit the defendant."

Her tactics worked on four of the jurors.  One said she didn't feel comfortable convicting when the "case was built on just one brick."  Another had fallen for the prosecutor's attempt to confuse, by implying that the evaluation was based on a tracing of the print by the analyst, rather than on the print itself (not the case).  Another had sympathy for the victim, since he had a friend who had faced trial (and was acquitted).

I was rather frustrated, because of course "the slightest doubt" is not the same as a "reasonable" doubt, but everyone in the room maintained respect and calm.  One juror took the lead:  "Let's establish first that this is indeed the fingerprint of the defendant."  That involved discussing the qualifications of the analyst, the details of the power point, the fact that the match was verified.

In measured, logical terms, several of the jurors explained why they thought this had to be the defendant's fingerprint--focusing on its nineteen unique similarities (disconnected ridges, combinations of shapes, distance and placement of oddities) that formed the basis of the match.  We'd heard testimony that in some cases, matches are made on far less--even two unique similarities.  When most of the jurors politely repeated "this is what convinced me..." the facts finally brought the doubters clarity.

Once it was established that the defendant's print was found inside the apartment, we turned to, "did he enter with intent to steal"?

Most amusing was when the "don't convict on one brick" juror tried to come up with alternate explanations for why the defendant's print was inside the window ledge. "Well, my husband does parkour, and goes around hanging off of different places..."  With great respect, we asked if he'd ever removed the screen of a stranger's bedroom in order to swing off its inner sill.

Several clever possible explanations later, we agreed there was no reasonable explanation for the defendant's print to be inside that apartment, which moved us into a lengthy discussion of the value of the items stolen.  Since the prosecutor had valued them at $5,600, and we had the option to convict "second degree" (for total stolen $750-$5,000), we spent time considering the figures in the testimony in the light of the expertise of various jurors.  The techies confirmed the big items' worth; a musician vouched for the trombones; we dickered about the jewelry.  In the end, the calculations still topped the $5,000 threshold.  Our vote was taken and "guilty" on the two counts declared.

In the courtroom, the clerk read the verdicts and then "polled the jurors," asking each if this was his personal verdict as well as the verdict of the jury.  With twelve double yeses, we were dismissed from service, told to wait in our room until the judge could address us.

We were allowed to ask questions, the most interesting answer revealing that the defendant had a record of a prior conviction on the same charges.  I wondered how many break-ins he might have done without detection or successful conviction, which would add to the importance of this verdict in sparing further victims.

We each received a nifty "Certificate of Recognition" and were offered the opportunity to chat with the attorneys.  I would have loved to do so, but my husband was awaiting me.

I was impressed with the care and seriousness of the justice process, and sincerity and earnestness of my fellow jurors.  They were a collection of people of all ages, most taking time from full-time, higher-level occupations, and seemingly well-educated.

When you look at the newspaper (my diversion during several recesses) the contrast between the treatment of citizens in the United States and other countries is stark. We are indeed fortunate to live in this greatest nation on God's green earth--and our justice system is perhaps the basis of its integrity and success.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Same Day, Three (Conflicting!) Diets

Today the three newspapers I get decided to duke it out about what you should eat. It's not the first time--conflicting diets, each purporting to pare you or spare you, are a near-daily feature in most publications, because, well, diets sell.

The Wall Street Journal addresses its comments today to the 20% of adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), suffering from bloating, gas and discomfort after meals.  A diet developed by Sue Shepherd, a dietitian in Victoria, Australia, bolstered by limited research published in UK journals, admonishes against consuming Fodmaps, if you want to resolve the issue.  Fodmaps, an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, all words that must now roll off the tongue before anything else rolls on, are foods we otherwise would consider the epitome of healthful, that can nastily miss absorption in the small intestine, moving on to indelicate results in the large.

Many fruits, like pears, watermelon and apricots; veggies that are not only cruciferous but seemingly beneficial, like mushrooms and garlic; cereals and carbs of most ilk; dairy products including the yogurt we'd formerly lauded as "probiotic;" beans (of course) including soy, and sweeteners including honey, are all verboten.  The Land of Milk and Honey is now only in your dreams.

Of course, those suffering from IBS would gladly forego wheat products (yes, those, too) and apples, asparagus and pasta if they could feel better.  And the program allows adherents to gradually add back restricted foods after six weeks, to determine tolerance.

chart from Wall St. Journal 11-8-11
Acid reflux and heartburn, one might logically deduce, could be related to IBS, but according to today's article in the New York Times, the suggested "strict two-week 'induction' diet with nothing below pH 5" for those ailments doesn't seem to mesh with its Fodmaps counterpart.  Dr. Jamie Koufman, whose new Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure aims to minimize the enzyme pepsin in both esophagus and stomach, banishes all fruit but melons and bananas, tomatoes, plus a host of reflux-generating non-acidic foods including chocolate, all dairy, cucumbers and alcohol.  It's the pH level she aims for most, however, noting a study where "19 of 20 patients improved on the low acid diet, and 3 became completely asymptomatic," simply by eliminating such culprits as diet sodas, barbecue sauce and strawberries.

But an article in my third newspaper of the day suggests that while you're fighting IBS and reflux, you might be opening yourself up to colds and flu.  USA Today touts Tonia Reinhard (Superfoods) and Joel Fuhrman, MD (Super Immunity)'s "top immunity boosters," most of which happen to be on the no-no lists of the other two diets.

Mushrooms are a major IBS-stimulating Fodmap, though they they "regularly stimulate the immune system by increasing the production and activity of white blood cells, which help you fight off infection," insists USA Today.

Onions are enemies for both Fodmaps and high-pH, but star as immunity-boosters, due to their "health-promoting flavonoid antioxidants such as quercetin, allicin and anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory effects that fight infection and bacteria."

Yogurt, too, must be eliminated for IBS and Fodmap, but pumps immunity with "active cultures which are a [sic] friendly bacteria that keep down the population of pathogens in the GI Tract."

And of course beans are the classic flatulencer, prohibited by both the low-acid and Fodmaps regimens yet lauded for their immunity protection:  "Rich in zinc, beans increase the production and aggressiveness of white blood cells fighting infection."

If it's not one thing, it's another.  As you may know, I'm working on a book with the message to trust your body's natural cues to eat when, what and how much.  It certainly seems the experts can't decide.  However, noting how your body reacts to what you consume probably can't hurt, and in the meantime, we can muse with amusement about how little the food gurus really know.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Going Home Again--to LA

Just about to jump on a plane from Seattle, my home for the last 15 years, back to Los Angeles, where I was born and raised.  Peculiar that much as we feel the same as ever, everyone and everything else is so different.

Los Angeles was a great place to grow up, and of course I took it for granted.  When the daughter of an army buddy of my dad's met me for the first time, she was awed that I came from the land of movie stars.  She was from Goshen, Indiana, a tiny town known for manufacturing motor homes (at that time, "trailers"), not far from Elkhart, Indiana, known for its violins.  When I visited her one time, I was the celebrity; California was the golden land where everyone was perpetually tan and beautiful, as seen in the news stories about Muscle Beach.  I was even asked to write a feature story for her high school newspaper about my fabled home.

In those days, a yellow-gray scum of smog hung over Los Angeles like a heavy blanket.  Gasoline was 19 cents per gallon, which, given the incomes then, wasn't so very cheap but fueled the car culture.  One of my best school chums moved away because the 5 freeway "took" her home.

We had guavas growing in our back yard, and avocados and lemons, and pink hydrangeas that bloomed all year long.  We had bird-of-paradise in our front yard, and a jacaranda tree that dropped lavender bells onto the grass every June.

The flora are probably still there, though the last time I drove by my childhood home, the owners had brought out its fake English styling by digging a mini-moat in the front yard with a bridge as part of the walkway.  The smog has lifted, one of the beneficial effects of environmentalism.  But the car culture has now become oppressive.

This is the LA I know now:  traffic.  What used to take me half an hour to drive now takes two.  When I worked downtown, in the early 80s, I used to play a game on my way westward on the Santa Monica freeway.  Even then, it moved sluggishly at 6 pm, a stop-and-go trudge.  But if I carefully managed my use of the accelerator on my manual-transmission Honda Civic, I could sometimes make the drive without having to press the brake.  Now, such a mind-occupier wouldn't be necessary.  The freeway stays at a stand-still for minutes at a time.  Merging onto it is a wrenching push against drivers who would sooner risk a ding than let you in.

Pico Boulevard was a magnificent thoroughfare that carried cars effortlessly from my west-side neighborhood all the way downtown.  I could walk to Pico Drug, not far from my home, and sit at the old-fashioned soda counter, looking at myself in the mirrored wall behind.  A cherry Coke, served in the classic inverted-pear-shaped glass, was 5 cents.  That's Coca-cola with maraschino cherry juice in it. A nickle.  I like to talk about it now, but I think I got two of them in my life.  Even then, I was taught that carbonated drinks were unhealthy.

Over the years, I watched the town change.  It became a magnet.  In the same way New York was the Big Apple, some started calling LA "The Big Orange."  Now, anyone who wants to enter show business has to go there.  And that superficiality, the emphasis on competing to "make it" in a field based as much on connections and appearance as talent, lends what was a family-centric place a different emphasis.  Both my parents were born in LA, and my dad recalled driving as a kid with his folks across open bean fields between downtown and the beach.  The Valley was orange groves, and in fact an uncle of mine became quite wealthy subdividing a swath of it.  There was room to play, room to expand.  But now, with the hopeful throngs, that competitive mentality has carried over, and the traffic symbolizes it all.

I'll be back there tomorrow, staying with my brother-in-law and his family. They never left the region, but bought a home just over the Ventura County border.  His commute to work is an hour each way, on a good day; two if it's rush hour.  When we moved from Santa Monica 15 years ago, we had to pay more for the house we bought here in the Northwest. Since then, our old home has quadrupled in value; the "more expensive" one we still live in has increased by maybe one-fourth.  This reflects the new urgency of LA; gotta be there, gotta get there, gotta elbow the competition out of the way.

I still have good friends and wonderful memories in LA.  The beaches are still deep and white, the palm trees line the Venice Boardwalk where Harry Perry still roller skates playing his electric guitar (now only allowing a photo if you buy his self-promoting t-shirt).  The weather still lures me, and Jewish life there is vibrant and abundant.

In fact, I look forward to dancing at the joyous Jewish wedding of a girl whose birth announcement I remember well.  Her dad, our rabbi, stood at the front of our beach-front synagogue and explained the name of his sixth daughter.  He'd named her something forever identified with the city where she will now, as a married woman, make her home:  Tamara, Hebrew for the palm tree, and I do hope she keeps her wonderful young head above her surroundings, like the palms' lofty view of the confusing scene below.