Author Archive for: jgates

Our Real Family Vacation

13 Sep 2009
September 13, 2009
Shadow Puppets in Santa Fe

I went to Santa Fe and all I got was this wonderful portrait of my daughters. Click image for larger view.

It’s the week after Labor Day. The girls are back in school and I’ve got deadlines at work. It’s been rainy and cool and I’m starting to see just a hint of fall colors on the trees above my head. Way too early, I think. Summer, my favorite season, has instantaneously migrated to fall, my least favorite. I know what’s coming (PDF). Our family vacation to Santa Fe just two weeks ago is starting to seem like a very distant memory.

Family holidays end and what do we have to show for them? Some worn out maps; a few bills to pay. My daughters came back with a few beautiful baubles from the annual Indian Market in Santa Fe. Nice, but I’m hoping they’ll eventually look back on these annual trips with more substantial family memories (and more uplifting than my wife and I took away from our own childhood family vacations). That’s evolution, right?

In order to help that along I’ve documented our time in New Mexico. I brought my video camera but didn’t touch it once. Instead, I wanted my souvenirs to be those special slices of life in between our normal family dynamics (which never seem to take a vacation). It was a chance for me to be creative while really getting away from my daily grind.

I got my best souvenir just a few days into our trip. On our visit to the International Folk Art Museum I took this portrait of my daughters. In addition to the amazing folk art tableaus from the collection of Alexander Girard, they had an exhibition of Indonesian shadow puppets and instruments. The girls gravitated to the family room off the main exhibition space where they immediately began to put on their own shadow puppet show.

I caught them in play, but the photo reflects the girls’ relationship. My older daughter on the left, a newly anointed teen, seems to be admonishing her younger sister for something. A new constant in our lives, the image reflects our family dynamics captured on camera as a family vacation memory. So much for trying to document the “in between.”

There were other photos, more stereotypical of travel. And I hope my children remember the vacation part of these vacation images: my oldest mistakenly drinking from a large water bottle of holy water at the Santuario de Chimayó or my youngest’s excitement at attending a performance at the Santa Fe Oprah. But I’ll best remember this photograph because it reminds me of where we really spent our family vacation in the summer of 2009.

The Pickle in Me

19 Aug 2009
August 19, 2009

I woke up with it and by mid afternoon I had a full-blown craving for a nice crisp dill pickle. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of focus. Thinking it merely a strange, but temporary condition I carried on as if nothing was out of the ordinary. But it didn’t go away. It was only on the first day my two week vacation that buying the perfect pickle had risen to the top of my to-do list.

Half Sours on the right and the more pickled Dills on the left. The choice was mine.

I surveyed the choices in the refrigerated section of my local kosher market. Dill, garlic dill and half sours –it had been so long since I’d eaten one of these I couldn’t remember which one I was craving. My sister had worked in a kosher deli when we were teenagers. I thought of calling her.

Garlic seemed too over the top and half sour, just barely a pickle, seemed more like a cucumber really. I wasn’t in the mood for a cuke. I picked a jar of the plain dill and made my way home. With a nice thinly sliced turkey sandwich on the side this would make a perfect lunch.

As I opened the jar and removed the pickle I heard myself saying out loud “Please let this be the one. The perfect one.” The closer to satisfying a craving, the more intense that craving becomes. I knew what I wanted and now I had it. “What are you talking about?” my wife asked.

As I slid the pickle into my mouth my taste buds went on high alert. It tasted perfect. But then I bit down, my palette meeting the pickle’s center. Mush. The inside of the pickle wasn’t merely soft, it was mushy! I bit down again, rolling the pickle around my mouth just to make sure. How could this be? There were bendable pickles but mushy ones? My disappointment was audible. This was not right. “I’m taking this back,” I said. Reading the determination on my face, my wife made a safe retreat out of my way.

As I pulled into the store lot I wondered what reception I would get with my return. I imagined talking to an unsympathetic and surly Israeli who would bat my dismay to the floor. Instead, I met Iris. Formerly from the Lower East Side of New York, I immediately let Iris know I was from the long lost LA Jewish tribe. What do those chosen people from California know? Taking my hand she led me back to the refrigerated case and immediately began my pickle lesson.

“Are you pregnant?!” she asked, laughing. Well, the thought did occur to me.
“You know, I was in LA last year,” she continued. “I was staying with some nice people. But they weren’t Jewish. So I was a little leery about taking them to a kosher Persian Mexican restaurant just off Pico. I figured, if they didn’t like the food I could eat the leftovers myself. You know what? They loved the place. And there weren’t any leftovers.”

She ran over the choices in front of us. “I like the half sours but with a bit more pickling. Here’s what you should do: when you get home unscrew the top and place the whole jar in a bowl. Let them sit at room temperature. Some brine will drip out. That’s what the bowl is for. Every now and then just pour it back in the jar. I like to let it sit for a couple days.”

But I wanted my pickle now. And I couldn’t wait a couple days for it to mature. Yet I still wasn’t sure. “Well, come over here to these barrels,” she said. “These are the dills and those are the half sours. You want a taste? Mario, cut this man up a couple slices of each for him to taste.”

To evaluate each pickle’s flavor I rolled both samples around in my mouth before chewing. Definitely the half sours. Crunchy, they had the taste I craved and they were pickle enough for me. So Iris picked out two really nice ones, covered them with brine, and warned me not to let them dry out.

Never underestimate the power of a craving. But if it hits you, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. There aren’t enough Irises in this world to set us straight every time.

Nailing a Good Photo

09 Aug 2009
August 9, 2009
My fellow commuter on the subway

My fellow commuter. Click on image for a larger view.

It had been a long week. I’d just completed two days of teaching teachers how to podcast: a rewarding activity that reminded me of my years in the classroom. But teachers know teaching is exhausting. And teaching technology is even more so. You closely examine your students’ faces, ferreting out those who get it and those who are lost. To bridge those techno-fears I succumb to using humor to push on through. By the end of the session I surveyed the room, happy to see their relaxed faces. But I had lost my voice in the process.

So, on Friday morning, knowing that my instruction had ended and I could tie up my regular loose ends before the weekend, I was in an easygoing mood on my commute into work.

As we pulled into Union Station I noticed the woman sitting next to me. My, what long red fingers you have, I thought. If I could get a good pic of those nails holding your book’s pages at bay I’d start the day feeling creative. Should I ask you first? An age-old question. If I did your body language would surely change and that special relationship between your nails and the book would be lost. Yet, I’ve always felt a bit weird about being surreptitious. What if I got caught? What if she questioned what I was doing? So much the better I finally decided. The tension woke me up.

I pulled out my iPhone and nonchalantly aimed it her way. The man across the aisle was watching me. But my next door neighbor continued to read. When you work undercover the pressure’s on to get your shot quickly. But once I looked through the viewfinder I knew this: to get a good photo I would make myself take the extra second to compose it just right. Every extra second increased the chances of an engagement. But that’s all it took. I moved the camera a bit to the left.

I only took one shot. And I had gotten my voice back.

One Small Step for Man, One Giant Souvenir for Me

20 Jul 2009
July 20, 2009
LA Times: Men Land on Moon

Click on the image for a larger view.

As you get older your collection of chachkas increases exponentially. And, one day, you realize your whole attic is filled with the most “important” and “valuable” memories of your life. Well, not really. Most of it is junk that at various times you predicted would define your life. So much for prognostication. My track record isn’t the best and this is precisely why I rarely play the stock market.

However, every once and while the life event is so big you know the artifact is worth saving. Years later, if you can remember just where you filed it, you can pull it out on an anniversary just like this.

To be honest, I’d forgotten I’d even saved the front page from the L.A. Times from July 21, 1969. If it hadn’t been for brownpau’s tweet about rummaging through his grandmother’s basement this weekend, this headline would have remained filed away. As luck would have it, despite transporting this souvenir through five cities over the last forty years, I knew immediately where I’d stored it.

What a day that was. I’d been reading Issac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy that summer and was filled with interplanetary wanderlust. I immediately called Pan Am’s reservation desk to reserve my tickets to the moon. When the ticket agent asked how many seats I wanted I told her two, one for me and one for my wife. When she asked for my wife’s name I dutifully informed her I didn’t know yet. I wasn’t married but was sure I would be by the time the airline started its service to the Moon. She was not amused and told me she needed a name for the record. Without any hesitation I replied, “Mrs. Gates.” And that seemed to satisfy her.

I wasn’t good at predicting the future but somehow I knew this was one chance I was willing to bank on.

Sixty is the New Forty!

17 Jul 2009
July 17, 2009
Horoscope for July 17th

As I enter geezerhood my only consolation is that someday I’ll look back and say “Ah to be 60 again!” To those of you who might discount those of the older persuasion remember the words of John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” There but for the grace of God go I. Some day you too will ask yourself “How did this happen?” It seems to happen with quiet determination.

So when do I get my senior discount? No, better yet, when do I get my own Wikipedia page?

A Catalogue for Life

28 Jun 2009
June 28, 2009

I missed Father’s Day. Again.

Like last year, I booked a trip to LA only to discover it coincided with the day my family was supposed to honor my fatherhood. And just like last year everyone was happy to celebrate my family contributions this weekend instead.

These yearly sojourns to Southern California are meant to keep connected to family and friends. Our mundane moments are communicated pretty well through email and periodic phone calls. These trips reveal more subtle changes: walking with a walker after a Thailand accident, no longer dying her hair, the desperate need for a dentist, and the bright smile I’ve forgotten.

On last year’s trip I discovered a gold mine when I unearthed a bit of Gates family history: Malibu Clothes in Beverly Hills. This, my faithful readers will remember, is where my father bought all his suits wholesale for fifty years. And, this is where he bought me my first suit at the age of seven. You had to know somebody to get in. Cheap prices for quality material, yes. But this was Beverly Hills. Even in the 1950s exclusivity was a must.

On this trip I decided to make a return visit. I certainly didn’t need another sports coat but a pilgrimage seemed in order if I wanted to truly reconnect with my father for Father’s Day. And, I wanted to get a photo of the biggest Rolodex I’d ever seen: The Acme Visible Strat-O-Matic.

The Strat-O-Matic at Malibu Clothes

Looking for my buying history in the Acme Visible Strat-O-Matic. That’s Jimmy Smits’ photo in the background. I told you this place was exclusive!

Not to be confused with the Strat-O-Matic game company, purveyors of sports simulation games, this Strat-O-Matic neatly housed thousands of clients’ clothes-buying histories on a million 3×5 index cards. “Don’t you have a computer database of these records?” I asked my salesperson. “Yes, but having something tangible to carry with me while you shop allows me to quickly scan your buying habits –what you like and don’t like and how many times you’ve come in and bought nothing. Stuff like that.” As I scanned their latest selections I knew my entry for that day would be ¡Bought Nada! Bought nothing! But as I said, I wasn’t there for the luxurious fabrics. I was there for the Strat-O-Matic.

The owner chimmed in: “We’ve had five computer systems over the years. But our Strat-O-Matic has lasted 40 years and hasn’t broken down once. I saw it in a library back then and knew right away I had to have one.”

I wanted one too; really bad. All that organization potential made my head spin. But where would I find a million pieces of information to fill it? Perhaps I could start cataloguing my friends and relatives. After my trips to Los Angeles I’d go to my Strat and pull out their thick card decks. For every occasion I’d write down the details of our visits. Yes, there’d be those days every now and then when I would write: Bought nothing. But then there’d also be those subtle moments I’d savor: the slightly overcooked asparagus she apologized for, kicking my foot under the table when he thought I was carrying a joke too far, and the childhood embarrassment finally explained.

Good relationships are filled with these moments. And they need to be catalogued.

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