Archive for category: Fairly Odd Parents-Past

Taking the Message to the Public

09 Sep 2012
September 9, 2012
Chamomile Tea Party Poster in the DC Metro

The Chamomile Tea Party’s First Ad in Washington, DC’s Metro (click image for larger view)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on Life Outtacontext. But I’ve been busy.

With the upcoming election, there is more food for fodder than ever for my Chamomile Tea Party posters (and I have some new ones, so take a look). While I have my personal political beliefs, it’s interesting to step back and dissect this year’s political process. If you’re disgusted or scratching your head, you might want to take a look at an article in today’s Washington Post which sheds some light on why this (or any other) campaign is so negative.

I’ve been making these posters for just over two years. And while I’ve had some success in getting them out into the world (seen at rallies, and written about, I wanted to find another way of bringing the issues the “Party” stands for to the public.

So I thought BIG. I bought ad space in Washington, DC’s Metro, at one of the busiest stops in the system, Gallery Place. And the first of two ads went up this week.

If you’re in DC or know someone who is coming the Nation’s Capital, tell them they can find the poster on the Red Line platform at Gallery Place. And, feel free to pass this on to your friends, even if they aren’t nearby. They can stay in touch by “Liking” the Chamomile Tea Party on Facebook.

And, one more thing: from the beginning, I’ve given digital copies of my posters away for free. I want people to use them. But I’ve also had many ask if hardcopies are for sale. Well, now they are. If you feel so inclined, peruse the Chamomile Tea Party shop. They’re inexpensive and make great gifts!

Just Thinking Good Thoughts

12 Sep 2010
September 12, 2010

My mother’s tombstone is so high above my head, it’s hard to connect with her grave.

Every trip to Los Angeles is punctuated by a visit with my parents. They’re buried at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, just a few hundred feet from each other. I haven’t lived in L.A. since the mid 1980s but it will forever be the place I come from. And this visit has become part of my ritual each time I return. I’m usually alone with my thoughts but this time the city was a stop on a family vacation so my wife and girls were with me. As we drove toward the cemetery gates we stopped by the roadside to buy a bouquet of flowers from a vendor.

These visits are never comforting. My early life wasn’t easy but the city holds those memories, always waiting for me to return. As we walked to my mother’s grave I explained to my family we would divide the flowers into two uneven groups. The larger one would be for my mother and the smaller would be for my father. The imbalance reflected part of that old family history, one my wife was familiar with. But how do you explain the details to your questioning children? I didn’t. Someday, when they’re older I’d get into the details but for now this would have to do. However, leave it to them to understand more than you want to make clear. As we pruned and arranged my mother’s bouquet my twelve year old said “When you and mom die we’ll create two equal bunches.”

This led to further questions. “Where do you want to be buried, Dad; here or in D.C.?” “Do you want to be cremated?” “Do Jewish people get cremated?” Mom had already made her last wishes known but I’d been silent. “Can I be buried here?” my youngest asked. I had no answers to these queries. And, truthfully, I didn’t want to think about them at that moment. I was working too hard on my past to consider that future.

My mother is buried in a crypt stacked ten feet above other crypts. I never liked that distance. It’s too high to really feel a connection with her but she’s buried next to both of her parents and I wouldn’t want to change that. Her grave marker, however, is a different story. “BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER,” it says. Not very creative or personal. Hundreds of beloved wives and mothers surrounded us. But I was connected to only one. When she died my father took care of all the funeral arrangements. And even though my sister and I were adults he never asked us what we’d like to say.

• • •

When I was nine, I watched the scariest movie I’d ever seen, Invaders from Mars. The film was about a boy named David who was just about my age. One stormy night he looks out his bedroom window to see a spaceship landing in the open field behind his house. When his parents go out to investigate the ground opens up and a celestial chorus crescendos as they disappear. Shortly thereafter they return “changed.” The Martians have implanted a device to control them. David knows but nobody believes him. At the climax of the film he suddenly finds himself back in bed, woken up by the same thunderstorm that began the story. His parents come in to reassure him his nightmare was only a bad dream. Even now I cringe.

But as scared as I was back then I watched the movie four more times that week. Such are the inconsistencies of boyhood. I never walked through a vacant lot again without looking down at the ground, ready to sidestep any opening that suddenly appeared.

As I lay in bed after the fifth showing I couldn’t get that vision of David’s altered parents out of my head. I was wide awake, too afraid to close my eyes. When all my young survival skills failed me I yelled for my mom and when she popped her head inside my bedroom door I admitted to my scifi film addiction. She listened quietly as I spilled my guts and when I could spill no more I remember her saying “Just think good thoughts.” That was it. “Just think good thoughts.” As if that would solve my biggest problem ever.

• • •

As we stood looking up at my mother’s grave I mentioned to my wife my desire to change my mother’s tombstone. “What would you like it to say?” she asked. I didn’t know. “Well,” is there any phrase or word you remember your mother saying?” Immediately I remembered the story of that very scared little boy, a set of Martians, and a mother. “How about ‘Just think good thoughts.'”

It was perfect.

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.

The Diving Bell and the Brain Tumor

14 Dec 2008
December 14, 2008
Still from the Diving Bell and the Butterfly

From his vantage point: sewing Jean-Dominique Bauby’s eye shut after his stroke. Still from the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Today is my mother’s birthday: more accurately, the 87th anniversary of her birth. She died in 1971 just days before her fiftieth birthday. Eleven years before she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor: acoustic neuroma, Clinically speaking, this tumor is “a non-cancerous growth that arises from the 8th or vestibulo-cochlear nerve.” But the effects of her illness and treatment were as toxic as any chemotherapy would have been. At 11 I was too young to be included in the discussions of her disease, prognosis, and treatment. Invasive and targeted, today my memories of her illness are still as imbedded in my brain as her tumor was in hers.

Yesterday, while the rest of the family was out on holiday errands I decided to force myself to watch the Netflix movie that had been sitting next to the TV for months. Next in our queue was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. While I couldn’t remember the film’s exact synopsis I knew it had something to do with a man locked in his body, unable to respond to the world around him. This certainly wasn’t on my list of comedic films I’d gravitated to recently, hence its longevity on our TV shelf. And as the plot unfolded I was totally unprepared for the striking similarities to my mother’s illness the film would convey. I was shocked at how raw my feelings and emotions were 48 years after the fact. And I was glad I was alone.

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Digging Up Artifacts in Ancient Beverly Hills

22 Jun 2008
June 22, 2008

Unearthing High Quality Threads

3x5 card of my father's buying record

One of my father’s early buying sprees: two sport coats for under $40, size 44L. Click image for a larger view.

Happy Father’s Day! Wait, you didn’t get the memo? I was out of town last weekend so here at Chez Gates we’re celebrating Father’s Day today. Last week I went “home” –back to Los Angeles for the opening of a photo show I’m in at the Huntington Library. And, as luck would have it, I had an unscheduled chance to reconnect with my father.

My sojourns back to L.A. are always frenetic and filled with mixed emotions. Too much family history. Arranging meetups with relatives and friends while driving the severely clogged freeways is exhausting. As always I’d pay a visit to my parents’ graves (sadly, my family reunions are slowly moving from my relatives’ homes to Mt. Sinai Memorial Park). But this time I had one day all to myself so I scheduled in some culture. Starting with a small show of George Hurrell photographs at the California Heritage Museum in Santa Monica, I then made a beeline down Wilshire Boulevard to the L.A. County Museum of Art to see their new Broad Contemporary Art Museum. The eight and a half miles from start to finish took an hour. There is no “immediately there” there in LA these days. But it didn’t matter. I had no appointments to keep or so I thought.

As I drove through Beverly Hills I passed South Beverly Drive and without warning I thought of my father. South Beverly Drive: my father used to buy his suits at a men’s shop on this street. What was its name? Malibu Clothes, that was it. As a youngster my father dragged me with him on his periodic trips to buy his suits (you can imagine how exciting it was to tag along with dad to a stuffy store to buy clothes). He bought me my first sport coat at Malibu for my cousin’s bar mitzvah in the late 50s. But what was so intriguing back then was the gatekeeper at the store’s entrance. They sold wholesale decades before outlets and you had to be referred in order to get in. There was always an old man sitting at a counter waiting to get your name. It was my first brush with exclusivity. To a seven year old it was like a secret club.

Now I was trying to unearth this flashback. I continued on my drive towards the museum but the memory gnawed at me. And when I noticed a free curbside-parking slot I pulled over to google the store. Could it still be there? If something lasts twenty years in L.A. it’s ancient. Yes! According the Web page Malibu Clothes had been in existence for 65 years! I called to make sure this was it. “Is this the store where you have to be referred in order to get in?” I asked. “Yes” came the answer. “My father used to buy me suits there. Do you think you’d still have our names on file?” “Oh, we keep all records,” came the reply. I turned around.

When I entered the second floor store my vision of the place returned with total clarity. This was definitely it. There was the small counter where you gave your name and as I looked up I had confidence they would be able to find records of our familial visits. Before me stood the largest rotating card file cabinet I’d ever seen. Thousands upon thousands of 3×5 cards with clients’ names were filed away. I told them who I was but they couldn’t find any record. Perhaps it was under my father’s name. Suddenly I remembered the last time I was in there.

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A Veteran of Secrets

01 Oct 2007
October 1, 2007

Gene Gates in the 103rd "Cactus" Division during WW II

My father, like many in his generation, didn’t talk much about his past. And, as much as that past fascinated me (as a petulant young man in the 1960s and 1970s I was used to demanding answers), I learned not to ask. My father was good at keeping his secrets. But there were exceptions, small gems that surfaced now and then without announcement or demand.

In 1994 my father came to visit me and my new wife at our new home on the outskirts of DC. It was a special event because he didn’t like to travel alone (his wife, my stepmother, chose to stay at home). This man who was so solitary in his thoughts had a hard time being alone with them. In fact, it was the only time he would visit us.

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