Detroit Part I

Our Trip to the "Midwest"

Brief Rehearsal for the Wedding

After playing at an evening wedding ceremony in a string trio, I had a long night ahead of me. As soon as I came back from the gig, my wife and I had dinner, and then she packed me off on the plane for my midnight flight from Tacoma, WA.

The destination was Detroit - the town where I was supposed to have grown up, and first got married. In this trip into the past, I was to be joined by my son, who would be driving out from Buffalo, NY.

Aaron, an urban specialist, had never lived in Detroit. He looked forward to my recollections, I believe, but he also had a consuming interest in the history of rust-belt cities and their peoples.

Hopping on the plane, I was still thinking about the wedding job, so sleeping that night was probably not going to happen. A three-hour layover in Chicago had me pretty much washed out by the time I deplaned at Detroit Metro and Aaron picked me up, around 10:30 AM.

But seeing both my son and the old city revived me for a spell. We drove to the Eastern Market where he had breakfast and I had a coney island, since breakfast was not on my personal timeframe yet. The Eastern Market was a large Farmer's market on Detroit's near East Side. I explained that as a boy I thought it was called the "Easter" market, partly because I associated it with holiday commerce.

We only had two days to explore the town, and Detroit proper is about three times the area of Buffalo. This is only a personal trip, not an in-depth journalism piece.

The major streets were supposed to be coming from the city center in spoke-like fashion. We drove up Grand River, the thoroughfare going up the Northwest side. Amid all the skyscraper shells and fields of razed houses and buildings, we must've passed where Olympia Stadium once stood but we didn't notice. Northwestern High School, my mother's school, was probably still there, but not the original building.

Memories rushed through me as we went past the familiar sites. I remember driving with my mother to some bus stop to wait for Dad coming from work as manager of the downtown Washington Blvd. Stouffer Restaurant - that building now vanished without a trace.

Once on the northwest side, we turned right onto Hubbell street to head north to see Cooley High School, where I graduated in '64. My first wife, Aaron's mother, also went there, although I didn't meet her until we were both beyond high school.

Built in 1928 by Donaldson and Meier in Spanish Renaissance style. Supposedly the insides have been mined pretty bare by "scrappers".

Our sneakers sunk into the deep snow as we walked aroung the building. It was boarded up, but the exterior seemed in fairly good shape. Architecturally, this was one of the nicer schools I ever attended. Very often, we walked 2 miles home.

This is the closest I will come to a high-school reunion: the building. Because I can't see myself hob-knobbing with people I was only ever peripherally acquainted with, at an advanced age, where the purpose would be to reminisce about our youth.

I suppose some of us might have lived up to our big dreams, or at least would be able to bask in some past glories of the social scene. The teachers must be all happily in their graves.

Since we were nearby, we decided to go on to the neighborhood I lived in starting in the fifth grade, near the corner of Puritan and Southfield. It's still in pretty good shape.

To Be Continued

Return Home from Vacation



March 15th. A Sunny Day. The sky is blue in Tacoma.

Treetop of a tree near us that reaches right up to the height of our 7th floor apartment.

Below: On my bike to buy a present for 2nd birthday of little Simone. In background is a Tlingit statue.


Time to eat. (matter of Timing)

Coming from Tacoma, WA by way of Detroit, I was driving away with the rental car I had just picked up in Dayton. On my way to visit my aged mother, who shows some confusion, but is, at base, good-natured.

I haggled with the rental agent who said of course my world would come to an end if I did not buy their extra insurance protection. He was especially aggressive, and when I fell back on my usual excuse that my wife would kill me if I bought the optional insurance, he was bold enough to say that she would be more upset if I didn't and something happened. I dug in my heels, knowing that either way I could blame Mary.

It was 12:15 PM and my mother's nursing home was about an hour away. I had to get there by 4:30 so I could join her for dinner. It's an important event when everything else is beyond reach.

I had not had lunch, and I figured I had time to grab some in solo before setting out for my mother's. As my mother was 98 years old and was near the end of her life-span, why was I thinking in terms of how much time I had to live before showing up for dinner? Apparently I was reenacting some childhood drama of dependence visa vis independence, expressed in food anxiety.

From a long time back, it was always important for her that we eat together.

And when I showed up without Mary, there was always the inevitable question, "Where's Mary? Did you split up?" -- . No, mother, she just didn't come this time. Please don't even think that we split up.

To assuage my anxieties, I began to plan out the solitary meal that I was allowed to have in Dayton before driving on to Milford. Part of my problem is that in trying to resolve issues I overthink them.

Not being a terribly discriminating eater, I looked for a brand chain as I pulled off the expressway into a fast-food strip. As I drove up the street, on my left was Perkins, on my right Bob Evans. To make things simple, I narrowed it down to these two. Which of these was it to be? Perkins carried with it numerous reminiscences from thirty years ago, when our polka band used to stop the van there for midnight breakfasts after hall dances. Not always pleasant memories, but they can be colored that way.

Bob Evans held the attraction of being less familiar to me, as we never had them where I come from.

In my rumination, I was interrupted by the honking of a car behind me, whose driver just wanted to get where he was going. I glared at him as he pulled into Perkins, and that determined my decision to go to Bob Evans.

I was led to a booth, and began to plan my meal carefully. This does not mean I am a gourmet. It just means I wanted to have control over this meal and be able to enjoy it on its own merits. I was floating the notion of having a modest lunch, that might conclude with an apple pie.

As I looked around, I saw a surprising number of obese people there -- I mean really well-fed adults, children and babies. People in the management level also seemed to be quite hefty.

Not everybody was fat, but it seemed to be the norm. And common to all was the emphasis on sweet, buttery, fatty foods. I could hear talk of biscuits, cups of gravy, chocolate muffings and the like. I'm sure they are all good people, largely people of faith, and enjoyment of heavy food did not contradict their concept of a virtuous life. Self-denial was not a part of it, even if it was healthier.

For amusement, I started to put the guests into two categories. They could be neurotic, like the furtive office worker being seated at a table up by the window: carefully dressed and his hair meticulously combed, he seemed to move jerkily like someone damaged early in life. Or they could be "normal", but with an eating problem. I placed myself in the first category, but I had potential to be in both.

One thing you notice about Bob Evans is that they have a prominent display of cakes, pies and other sweets at the entry of the store so nobody misses them.

Most of the waitresses were skinny. One of them I observed working another table was interesting to me because she was very plain and seemed to be very earnest and a conscientious worker -- the sort of person one could imagine having a strictly platonic relationship with.

Then I set my attention to plan my meal carefully. I can be very particular about details -- I am a detail person, sometimes in things that don't matter. The cellist, whom I met at a recent wedding gig, said that at first he had had the wrong impression of me: He now knew that I was "anal". Coming from him, I sensed that this was actually intended as a compliment. He approved of my attention to detail. I don't like to see myself that way, however.

In any case, I believe this poor man should be allowed to say anything he wants, because he seems to be going through some kind of mid-life crisis, and there's no telling how drastically changed he will be when he comes out on the other side.

Anyway, I reached my decision to have just a hamburger, no fries, and a bowl of bean soup. After eating those, I was going to decide about dessert. When it came time, I thought about calling Mary for consultation, but I knew what she would say, so I went ahead and ordered the pie.

As I waited for the pie, it did not come right away, and I almost had time to realize the rashness of my decision. I tried my best to enjoy the dessert, but there was something dissatisfying.

No matter, I paid my bill and set out down the road.

As you drive through Dayton on I-75, there is a big populist "evangelical" church so prominent on the highway that it can't be missed. It once had had landmark status due to a huge oversized bust of Jesus displayed there. This made national news a couple of years ago when the bust, made of some faux plastic material, was struck by lightening and quickly melted down in a flabby mass like the witch in the "Wizard of Oz".

Now as I drove by, a new large-scale sculpture was in its place -- this time a full-body rendering of the Christ in a robe. As I gazed at the figure, it gave me great comfort to know that there was a lightning rod sticking out of the top of the new statue's head: A second apocolypse was to be avoided through practical planning of the devotees.

This new Christ figure was not very gaunt, and seemed in fact a bit rotund: he could have easily fit in as a regular customer of Bob Evans.

When I arrived at my mother's I was given a second apple pie.

For Trio Practice

D. and N., This is a quick practice demo of the "Aquarium" arrangement that we're going to play at the wedding this weekend. This is about all I had time for. Hey, at least this time I am preparing ahead of the gig instead of working on it after the wedding is over.


Rondo alla Turca WORK DEMO:   7/30/2014

For the curious, let me explain that we are a string trio, and the wedding party requested Saint-Saen's "Aguarium". Since this is a highly pianistic piece, I had to do some rearranging to boil it down to three string players. For practice purposes, I put it out here so we can get some idea how it's going to souind. In this demo, I'm playing the violin against synthezised 2nd and 3rd parts. I could work on this a lot longer, but I ran out of time and was content to fix some of the most glaring bloopers.

This is from the well-known "Carnival of the Animals". I believe Saint-Saens wrote this as kind of a vacation from some of the heavier stuff he was under pressure to complete at the time. I hope people will be amused in the spirit of the composer's intent, if not the letter.

Gigs have their challanges and their rewards. Someone once told me "I would hate to play music for money." Since this was a person who has no musical background, and he knew I played gigs, I really didn't know what to make of this dour statement.



Imagine a 98-year-old lady. She is in a home where they care for her and she is pretty happy. Actually lucky, because she only takes the levothyroxin for hypothyroidism, and has good health for that age. Still able to move about, with the help of a walker. Answers the phone and recognizes her son and grandson. In good spirits a lot of the time.

I’m sure you may be able to point to someone else in their 90’s who is living without assistance, goes golfing, and maybe runs track 3 miles a day.

An old person who maintains such an active life style somehow has it figured out, has a better clue on how to live?

Under that paradigm, the person at the top of the hierarchy is 150 years old and has no health issues, and everyone else didn’t didn’t quite cut it. A game, with winners and losers.

This raises an important question about the value of people. For example, consider yourself: If you are 80, and you need help breathing, does this make you inferior to a 90-year-old who does not? What happens to your world-view now? (¿Qué sucede con su visión del mundo ahora?)

Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose at the age of 46. Does this make our lives more valuable in comparison?

(...Parenthetically, I would say that my life has been diminished by the passing of Hoffman and Pete Seeger.) Here I want to remember our dear friend, Rick Harzewski, taken from us too early.

I’d like to hear anybody’s answer on this question. Just email me (as in the Beatle Song "When I'm 64") at the usual address posted on my home-page .

In the meantime, for further research, I recommend "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker (1973).

Avoiding Problems is Challenging

Computer Terror

For people seeking help with computer malfunctions, too often the stock answer is “buy a new computer.”Another frequent tip is: “Reinstall the operating system and all the applications.” Alas, there's always someone that wants to be an authority and causes too many people to suffer.

Sometimes, a solution looks legitimate and still doesn’t pan out. When I was having trouble streaming Hulu on my old XP, most sources were telling me to update the driver on the video card. I found the appropriate NVIDIA driver, correct for my card, and successfully installed it. But the computer crashed with the blue screen, -- a rare event on this machine.

Fortunately, a system restore undid any harm.

It is easy to be fooled, however, no matter how smart you think you are. Just recently, I put up a new mailbox for one of my websites. A message came up saying that I had not allocated enough email storage space. To fix the problem, a link was supplied. There is something ancient about this trick.

Another message flashed up warning me that this was spam, and for a moment I didn't know whom to believe.

My Computer is Eleven Years Old

My computer is eleven years old. Lately, I can't help thinking that in keeping this computer going I may be regarded as out-moded.

When we were seniors in high-school my friend Cliff used to complain that his father was always tinkering with an old VW Bug from around 1960, obsessed with trying to get the car to work. They had just moved to a new house, and Cliff said it was like boarding an airplane that was never going to take off.

We often poked fun at our fathers during those days, but guess what!...

Effects of Obamacare

OBAMACARE Expected to Increase the number of REPUBLICAN LIES

January, 2013 misc

January, 2014

Mi Vida Española

¡Hola! Así es mi nueva columna para mis experiencias en el mondo del Español. Pienso que tengo que practicar, de modo que yo me haga mejor en el escribir. Me gusta escribir y trabajar en idiomas extranjeros, aunque yo no estoy bien en el hablar de ellos. Algo nuevo va a comenzar, espero. En verdad, algo nuevo siempre comienza, pero yo no lo sé siempre. En cualquier caso, aprenderé algo, o dormiré.

I. La Barbería

Este está sobre mi vida aquí en Tacoma, después de la Navidad, 2013. Esto era el Día del Año Nuevo. También, esto era mi cumpleaños. De repente, entendí, que necesité un corte de pelo. Mi pelo estaba sobre mis oídos y pareció ridículo. Siempre pasa de esta manera. ¿Qué barbero está abierto durante el Día del Año Nuevo? No muchos.

Busqué en la Web. Estuve desesperado, porque tuve prisa. Llamé algunos números. Finalmente, alguien contestó al teléfono. El nombre de la barbería era "Joel's VIP Barber Salon."

La voz en el teléfono estuvo cordial. El hombre dijo, que puedo venir cuando quiero. Yo dije "Gracias," y salté en el coche.

Muchos barberos son inmigrantes, y pensé que este barbero podría ser de México. La barbería estaba en la calle Hosmer cerca de la 84 calle. Hay una población mexicana grande en aquella área de la ciudad.

Cuando llegué a la barbería, casi pude lo reconocer porque él se pareció a su voz. Pareció que él fue inteligente y muy cortés. Su acento era suave. Antes, cuando lo encontré en la Web, creí que su nombre era el judío. Pero, cuando lo pregunté, en inglés, de dónde el fue, él dijo "I am from Puerto Rico."

Durante el corte de pelo, conversamos en inglés. Dije que mi yerno, Pedro, es también un Puertorriqueño, desde Barceloneta. Joel es desde un otro lugar. Le pregunté a Joel, cuantas personas allá quieren independencia. Él respondió que es treinta por ciento, más o menos. Dijo que no hay trabajo suficiente, y ayuda del gobierno norteamericano, y ciudadanía norteamericana son demasiado importante.

Hablamos acerca de los problemas políticos y económicos del mundo. Le mostré mi comenzando lector español. Él dijo que a veces una buena idea es leer a noche antes de acostarse. Dijo que tiene un biblia al lado de la cama. En este momento, cualequiera que sean mis razones, decidí que no fui a decir nada sobre Dios. Dije solamente "Hay mucha información en ese libro."

Es un bueno barbero. Probablemente un artista. Recomiendo esta barbería. Y además hay una taquería cerca.

Winter, 2013


In December, my wife asked me to bring the sage inside to avoid weather extremes. It's been inside for 25 days now, and I've been watering it about once a week. It has been developing a new set of leaves.

Now I am asked to take the sage back outside. Here is a picture of the plant just as I put it outside today on 2/3/14. Does anybody know how much I should water it now, and what to expect?. The temperatures are in their mid 30's.

Before and After Pictures

The first picture of an old man in an old mirror, in an old year. The second one is on January 2nd with my new haircut, shirt and gloves. It's not too cold here, but if a Tea Party operative has to shake hands with me, it will get a little cold and the gloves will offer him some protection against contamination.


Evan Nicholas will be curating a winter show with several of Aaron Bartley's midcentury chairs in a major American city TBD. He's on the road with them now.

December, 2013


Lately on Facebook, I've been noticing frequent posts referring to a "science" website with a title that includes a prominent vulgar word. I'm sure everyone knows what I am talking about.

It's absurd that someone would be able to base an entire web enterprise around the blatant use of an obscenity. I have heard that this author has become quite the celebrity, and is now accepting interviews.

Our society can benefit from the rigor and beauty of true scientific inquiry. There are plenty of good science-oriented websites out there with interesting and worthwhile information, actually helping advance knowledge and understanding. What makes this website special is its author's crass need to be outrageous for publicity's sake, using an in-your-face rudeness to attract attention, get publicity, and make money.

Children, the most precious and vulnerable among us, must be protected from the onslaught of this crudeness. In that sense, the author is elitist, and doesn't care. It hurts us all.

We all make mistakes, but this is not something to be proud of. I hope, sooner rather than later, that the author will begin to adopt a value system and become more aware of the damage she is causing. However, this would require painful steps in self-awareness and maturity.

-- John

Song For the Day:   Out West

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Milford, OH, In Late Fall, 2013

How to Study a Foreign Language Without Losing Hope (Note to myself)

Fall 2013


In Mid-November, 2013, we went east to visit relatives. I made a side-trip to Milford, OH, to visit my mother. On November 18, the day after a rainstorm, the sun was shining and I was sight-seeing.


This river flows into the Ohio in nearby Cincinnati, so the water eventually goes down the Mississippi. In this photo, the day after a big rainstorm, the water is fairly high. There's a nice quiet park there where you can walk up and down along the bank.

Notice how the shadows of the trees behind persist


A mile up main street in Milford, an historic mansion has been newly restored, and is open to the public.

Completed in 1867, Promont is an "Italianate-style" home of Governor John M. Pattison from 1879-1906. A four-story tower offers a panoramic view of the town, according to the web-listing. I didn't go in, because the visiting hours were so limited.

An old pine tree on the grounds is probably taller than the house -- must be unusually tall for this area.


I. I would like to learn language "X", but it's pointless, because you can't understand the various dialects.

Actually, dialects in many major languages are mutually intelligible, so that if you learn one dialect, you can understand them all.


II. Adult language learning is now quick and easy because of revolutionary advances in teaching methods:.

Many of us have seen the Facebook ads, and they are eye-catching. But the pictures, however motivational, somehow don't validate the claim of learning a language in days. It just ain't gonna happen.

Incidentally, whoever created this ad must think men are more gullible than women. Or maybe just forgot to diversify the target audience.

III. Quality foreign language instruction is pricey.

That notion is from the days of language course monopolies. In the field of commercial language instruction, there is no correlation between price and success-rate. There are many good low-priced options out there. The cost of slick advertising could well cut into the quality.

Nowadays there are plenty of free resources out there, thanks in part to the burgeoning availability of free web-based instruction.

And if you are a senior, you can monitor a university course free in many localities.

A fun practice experience is a website called, that lets you start at your own level and progress at your own pace, in an interactive environment; like a computer game, except that it is productive.

With so many resources available, the only question that remains is whether or not you really want to put in the time.

IV. No matter how hard you try, you'll never learn to speak like a native.

This wins a grand prize for defeatism. Yes we do strive in vain to speak like a native. But there are other benefits that make language study worthwhile.


Simpson Tacoma Kraft went to court earlier this year to try to keep Proposition 1 off the ballot. Simpson has poured $35,000 into its group "Stop Higher Utility Taxes". It complains that Proposition 1 will cost it $500,000 per year.

This paper mill is very energy-intensive. Simpson obtained a $17 million tax break to develop biomass electricity production, allowing it to become energy self-sufficient.

Instead of using that electricity, it sells the power at a premium to other utilities who must meet renewable quotas. As a result, Simpson replaces the energy it sells with lower-cost electricity from the city of Tacoma.

Simpson Tacoma Kraft should start using the biomass power it's been subsidized to produce, and Tacoma voters should vote yes on Proposition 1 to get the street repairs we so desperately need.

What Did I Do?

I missed Mozart's birthday. That is, I forgot to remember it. Why was that?

Oh..That day, Friday, January 25th we were going over to watch the grandchildren for a weekend, letting their parents take a getaway trip to S.F.

In a coincidence, two or more things can happen at once. In this case, I was starting to get a cold. That first day, I had a mild sore throat, and hoped that I wasn't a health hazard to the 3 youngsters. We spent some time talking and playing with iphones, kindles, etc. and planning for the next couple of days and what chores Mother had set each child to do and get credit for.

The first night my cold made me a little delirious. I dreamt that I was a doctor, treating a patient who had suffered massive, catastrophic injury to the left side of his head. This dream had a happy ending, because the patient slept peacefullly and made a dramatic recovery. I am not a doctor, and have no healing skills, and when Liam came to me with a wood sliver in his finger, I turned it over to Mary.

I am able to mend people's computers, though.

The next day I had fun watching Jack's basketball game, in which he played with great skill and sportsmanship, even though the opposing team had a habit of stealing the ball illegally. Later, we saw the planetarium, and then returned home for dinner.

The older dog was sick all day, and had dry heaves for a considerable amount of time. Eventually, she threw up on the stairs, just as we were getting ready to eat our pizza. I got praise for cleaning up the mess, though Amelia helped with providing rags and cleaning supplies.

That night I was not sleeping well, and spent a considerable amount of time semi-awake, reminiscing about a song we did when I played in a polka band about 35 years ago -- a cover of Kenny Rogers' "While I Play the Fiddle", in which we attached Polish oberek riffs to the beginnning and end of the song. It seemed important. Fortunately, Amelia's piano rendition of a klezmer tune, "Tumbalalaika," distracted me part of the time.

The last day, Sunday, we all went to the donut shop for breakfast: A celebration of my twenty-dollar gift certificate there.

We kept watch over Cali, and she seemed better. Then we got ready to pick up Mother and Dad at the airport.

I still have a cold, but it's getting better. I should study my Spanish lessons, or think about Mozart. Or not.

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