Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Best People

Sunday I drove up to Ashtabula to attend a graduation party for the daughter of one of the former volunteers at Townhall II, the local crisis intervention service here in Portage County. I became a part of that organization 37 years ago as a volunteer, became the training director and then ran the community education/prevention program until I retired 16 years ago. Renee, the mother of the party honoree, has been living in North Carolina for 14 years, and it was so good to see her. She was one of hundreds of Kent State students and community members who had volunteered at the agency over the years. Another "old" volunteer, Elaine, was also at the party, so there was a lot of reminiscing done. One thing we all agreed on was that our time there, especially back in the 70s, was spent with some of the best people we had ever known.

The crisis line began on campus in the winter of '71, instigated by the counseling center as a response to the many students who had returned to Kent State in the fall of '70 after being traumatized by the shooting of students the previous May. The center was seeing a lot of students who just needed to talk about what had happened and how it had affected them. The psychologists had already thought of training paraprofessionals to deal with the mostly short term effects of crisis and decided the time was ripe to set up a training program and began recruiting volunteers. Within 2 years, the service moved off campus and became part of the county mental health system as a 24 hour crisis intervention service.

I volunteered in the fall of '71 and found myself in a group of 25 or so trainees, almost all of whom were students, with the exception of another community member, Nancy. She was a secretary and the wife of an older student, and I was pretty much a housewife and a member of the PTA and the League of Women Voters. The rest of the people looked like John and Yoko, with the beads and the peace signs and the hair and the beards. Four letter words I had never heard spoken aloud flew around, used as nouns, verbs and adjectives in most creative ways. The first party I went to with the group announced its location by the scent of pot wafting from an apartment. I didn't stay long, fearing the possibility of a headline featuring a local matron caught in a marijuana bust. It took some time to adjust, but we seemed to all fit together quite well.

As I got to know these kids, I realized that they were some of the brightest, funniest, kindest, most humanitarian and generous folks I had ever known. They were probably about the last generation of college students before technology took over person to person communication. They were pre-internet, pre-Ipod, pre-video game, and pre-cell phone people. It was also when the cost of attending a state univesity was within reason, so that these kids had the time to volunteer several hours a week. They also had a social conscience. They read books, they liked films, they played games, they made music. They knew how to listen, of course, since that's what we were trained to do, but you could also have a real conversation with them, using real words. Of course, it wasn't just the students who were endowed with these qualities. More community members joined the group: we had a bunch of local ministers, a priest, more housewives, a college instructor or two.

I have kept in touch with a number of these great people over the years. Some of them stayed in the area: Dave, Annie, Bill, George, Kat, Bev, another Dave. Craig, Rich and another Renee live in Columbus but come up once in a while. Judi and Toni both ended up in Atlanta, as did Ken. Nancy, after getting her master's degree in theology, is in Philadelphia making quilts. Sue retired from being a corporate lawyer in Chicago and returned to Cleveland to do pro-bono legal work. Jackie travels around the world with her music. Elaine quit her job as a newspaper and radio restaurant reviewer and has gone into online marketing. There were a number of marriages: Ted and Saunis, JBell and Ed, Elaine and Brad, Joyce and Dan. Quite a number of those hippie kids became lawyers, doctors (one also an author), nurses, school teachers, college professors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, business men and women, writers, editors, musicians, and journalists. Some are gone from us: Carol, BJ (who insisted on being called Zachery) and Joyce.

The "kids" are now in their late fifties, early sixties. They're older now than I was when I met them. Some are even grandparents. Whenever I run into one of them, they always say. "Those were some of the best times of my life." They tell me how the skills they learned have helped them in their careers. It was a real community of like-minded people who got as much as they gave from the experience. As Renee said in Ashtabula the other day, "These are people I keep in my heart."

(The above photo does not include any actual people I know. It's a Photo-shopped combination I put together from the web.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Much Too Much to Munch

I have been concerned lately by the HUGE amounts of grub piled on the plates of diners-out here in America. Today, after our storytellers' meeting down in Wilmot, some of us adjourned to a local Amish restaurant, a touristy place full of very large people lining up at the trough. I ordered a simple chef salad and was shocked when the server delivered this enormous bowl, filled with about a half-gallon of lettuce and fixin's. There was enough for about three people, and had there been a few empty bowls on the table I would have insisted that the others partake. They, however, were trying to cope with their own loaded plates. I ate about a third of the salad and brought the rest home.
This is not unusual, especially in this part of Ohio. I see many people walking out of restaurants these days bearing Styrofoam boxes, straining with the weight. I had dinner at a place a few weeks ago on their Chicken Marsala night. What I got was a platter - a platter! - with a whole chicken breast, an Everest of garlic mashed potatoes and about a half pound of mushrooms, swimming in brown gravy. I mean, throw in a couple of legs and wings and you've eaten an entire chicken all by yourself. Who could eat all that? Why would anyone eat all that? Then they come around and ask if you want dessert! On the dessert list there is always a chocolate brownie with ice cream amd chocolate sauce. And there are takers! After eating an almost whole chicken!
Ohio is one of the most obese states in the U.S. of A. If you watch TV commercials for those chain restaurants, you see what I mean, and they're proud to say, "All you can eat." Maybe Ohio is the only state where these commercials are run. Maybe in other states when you order a chef salad, you get one you can eat in one sitting.
Here's a good site to see how Ohio feeders end up:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dupree's Very Bad Day

As one of those Hanna-Barbera cartoon cats once said, "All us cats are high-stringed and I'm high stringder than most." Today was not a good day for our high-stringed cat, Dupree Danticat. First of all, on hot days he likes to stretch out and sleep in a window, any window. Today he chose a north-facing window in the living room, behind my throne.

All was well until a storm blew up from the north. He is terrified of thunder, so he headed for the basement. When the thunder blew over, he got back into his window. However, the rain was blowing into the window and onto him. He jumped down and climbed up into my lap, looking pitifully into my face. I smoothed his damp and windblown fur and he settled down next to me to resume sleeping.

The phone rang and when I got up to answer it and disturbed him, he stalked to the front door and demanded to be let out, since the rain was over and the sun was out. Almost as soon as he started down the front steps, before I could finish the phone call, a very,very loud ice-cream truck drove by. Not only was it blasting away with that annoying chime-y "Maple Leaf Rag" tune (Scott Joplin turning slowly in his grave), but the driver suddenly said a very chirpy and loud "HELLO" through the speaker, and Dupree was clawing desperately at the door.

When he came back in and settled in the window, the sun went away and the rains came again. He returned to my chair, a little damp and ruffled, and went to sleep, twitching his ears a bit. Soon it was time for me to start chopping vegetables for the evening's stir fry, and I had to disturb him again. The sun was out again and he went to the door to be let out. This time there was no truck or thunder so he strolled across the street to check out the neighbor's bushes. He's not a hunter, so I think he was looking for another shelter in case it started to rain again.

About this time he saw that John was coming around the house, home from work, so he dashed back across the street and complained to him about his rotten day. Normally he can sleep undisturbed for 8 or 9 hours and the poor thing hadn't had more than an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep. Spring weather is hard on high-stringed cats.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Well, Who Knows?

Yeah, yeah, I know that Obama has the nomination and it is history-making and IF he is elected he will make a good president. It was great to hear him speaking last night, to hear an articulate, intelligent person for a change after all these years of terminal stupidity in the White House. There's going to be a tough battle ahead for him.

My favorite complaint against him, coming from the right, is the charge of elitism. The god of the right wing is the late William F. Buckley, whose program on PBS (PBS!!) was introduced by one the Brandeburg Concertos. I'll never forget his column about what a burden the luxury tax was on yacht owners. He wrote articles in the New Yorker about tooling around the city in his chauffeured limo and yachting across the Atlantic. He played the harpsichord for God's sake!

And his followers want to label Obama an elitist because he addresses the mind instead of the gut. Or because he mentioned arugula?

There will be a lot of code words thrown around as a cover for outright racism and I don't know how to fight that. If there are still people in this country who have not caught up forty some years after the struggles of the Civil Rights movement, what needs to be done? Or what CAN be done?

A lot of people are feeling very hopeful, happy and excited to be behind this fine candidate. I haven't seen anything like this since the days of Clean for Gene McCarthy and he didn't get nearly this far. Now we'll have to see how many people can get behind the candidate and get the vote out. Since Karl Rove, that fat spider, is running the Republican campaign from his sticky web, there will no doubt be more scare tactics pulled: gay marriage again, right to life stuff again, Iran....who knows what evil lurks in Bush's Brain?

Why is Al's picture once again gracing this blog? Well, it ain't over 'til it's over.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Market Day

It has been months since I have been to the West Side Market in Cleveland, one of the best places to be. On Saturday, a gorgeous blue-sky day, I decided I needed to get a market fix. I thought if I waited until afternoon I could avoid the usual Saturday crush. Well, I guess everyone in Cleveland had the same idea. The parking lot, which is huge, was just about full. As usual, the aisle of the outside arcade was packed solid with the usual mix of suburbanites, street people, young couples from the trendy re-habbed neighborhoods nearby, women in headscarves or saris, old ladies with carts, the usual ethnic mix from the west side, etc. The vendors, who used to be mainly Italian, Polish or German, are now heavily mixed in with Hispanic and Middle-Easter merchants. You'll hear Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese and Korean spoken all around you. All of the fruit vendors offer a taste, cutting into oranges, melons, or peaches (in season). This is not a farmer's market any more, but the prices are much cheaper than at the supermarket.

Inside the main building are a variety of stands: meat, fish, cheeses, eggs, fish, sausages (Hungarian and Slovenian are the best.) There used to be a sauerkraut and pickle stand, but now there are Indian, Mexican, Jamaican and Lebanese vendors and you can eat your way across the world, Oh, the bratwurst people are still there, of course, as are the pirogi folks.

There are tons of bakeries, some with very fancily decorated cakes and cookies. Some commercial types have crept in, but many of the original stands are still around. One of my favorites is the Greek bakery, run by the daughter of the baker. The old man was actually there this time and I told him how much I enjoy his wares. He makes a wonderful torte, like the kind of cakes you can get in Europe but not here. The daughter and I always have a chat. She said she had missed me and wondered where I had been. She spent a month in Greece last year and the stand was closed while she was gone. A couple of years ago she told me that her brother was in Germany, helping Christo wrap the Brandenburg Gate. That's a great obscure connection to fame if I ever heard one.

What I like to do is to get a bratwurst sandwich (hard roll, dark mustard) and go up to the balcony and look out on the whole main floor. Didn't do that this time because I wanted to take some pictures from up there and I can't juggle a camera and a sandwich at the same time. I love to look at the ceiling. It was designed, back in 1914, and is part of a ventilation system through a series of holes and a space between the ceiling and the roof. I'm not sure how it works but it is beautiful to see.

I always get too much stuff when I go to this market. I mean, it's there and it's cheap. Until our local farmer's market starts up in July, it's the only chance to see so many colorful, good smelling, edibles right in front of you. And I like the crowds. Ohioans don't shove, regardless of the country of origin.

Here are some of the tempting bakery items which must we resisted - with effort.