July 4th

I’m down at Mom & Dad’s on the evening of the 4th because I finally got fed up last year in Pacifica. Despite a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, Pacifica has more fireworks on July 4th than any place I’ve ever been to. Actually, last year was only the last straw. I had noticed from the first year I was in Pacifica for the 4th, that big bombs were common for days before the 4th. That’s in addition to the many ‘safe and sane’ fireworks everywhere.

This year it hadn’t been so bad but last night at around 11 pm a series of a dozen or so large explosions went off seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Thanks, assholes.

(a draft from July 2016)

Belief

I haven’t looked up the definition of belief. I wanted to try it myself. It’s hard to do without a circular reference. Here is what I’ve come up with:

’Belief is holding to be true something for which there is no objective truth.’

This definition is full of problems, I know, but I’m going to run with it. Belief is usually applied to religion, as in, ‘I believe in God’. I think most people would agree that it is impossible to find and objective truth about God, especially a Christian God (capital ‘G’).

But I don’t want to go down that particular rabbit hole today. Many people better than I have debated this issue without satisfactory resolution. I want to pivot to another kind of belief.

Typically, we say that something is true when we see it. Or when we can touch it. We have to be in the presence of our reality for it to be true. At the same time, we believe certain things to be true even when we can’t see them directly. I believe there is an airport on the other side of San Bruno Mountain because I have seen it many times and it is reasonable to expect that it exists when I can’t see it. Airplanes fly over my house all the time which tend to support the notion that an airport is nearby.

I woke up this morning with the knowledge that a belief that I had previously held was gone. I believed in the existence of democracy in America. I believed that at the root of our political system, the people had a voice and that our representatives in government were responsive to that voice.

Is there an objective truth to this notion? I used to think so but events of the past year have made me question that. I want to use the phrase ‘cognitive dissonance’ but that is hifalutin and I don’t think I can defend a definition of that.

When a large group of people act as if they are experiencing a different reality than me, I am at a loss to explain that. Anyway, I can only speak for myself. Today, in my reality, my belief is that we do not have a functioning democracy in America.

I’ve opened up this huge can of worms and now they have grown into snakes and crawling all over the living room. I think I’d better stop now. I’m not prepared to write a whole treatise on belief and perception of reality. I will continue to live what I hope is a righteous life. My seed is sown, for better or worse. I live to contribute my wisdom, if that’s what it is, can be transmitted to the following generations.

Wisdom or folly or silliness, I send myself into the future with these writings. I believe in the future.

Farsi

I was going to write about learning Farsi, but just as I was getting started, Sepi got her phone call from distant parts. Today, it’s Tehran, Gothenburg, and Kish Island (Iran). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Farideh from Montreal showing up any time. It’s ‘The Gang’, Sepi’s phrase for her sisters and cousins who talk regularly via WhatsApp.

Almost always just women, they usually start their call by asking about ‘Daryoosh!’ I learned early on how to say ‘hello’, ‘how are you’ and ‘I am fine, thank you’ in Farsi.

Unfortunately, I seemed to be stalled there. Sepi told me the other day how to say, ‘It’s nice to see you,’ but it hasn’t stuck. I found a really nice web site with Farsi phrases but almost never go to it. You’d think I’d be motivated to learn with all these interesting Farsi speakers to talk to.

The calls are almost always fun, with several people talking at once in happy voices. There have been serious moments, such as when Sepi’s aunt was dying last summer but mostly it’s just people happy being together. One cousin got COVID but seems to have gotten through the worst of it. Sepi’s sister, Mali, was sad when her niece left Iran for Canada but she puts on a brave face. Mali’s own children – with a grandchild on the way – are all still in Tehran.

I’ll keep at it. It’s likely that there will be many more such calls in the months ahead. We can’t go to Iran, but Canada and Sweden are on our short list of places to visit when it is safe to do so.

The other day, Badri, who lives in Gothenburg, tried to teach me some Swedish words. Aieee!

Christmas

Christmas Day and I’m at home with Sepi. It’s going to be pretty much the same as the 200 or so days since the first ‘shelter in place’ in March. We’re not going anywhere. There will be a Zoom with the family this afternoon. There are always chores to do around the house but motivation is severely lacking. I’ll play the guitar a little. We may watch a movie later.

Everyone is hoping for a better 2021. I am too but I am tempering my expectations. Vaccine or no, masks and social distancing are going to be with us for a good long while. At the Symphony, we are among the few in the Local with a little work but it could vanish in an instant if the health authorities decide a full lockdown is necessary. Sadly, that is all too likely. Concerts with a live audience won’t happen until the fall at the earliest.

Merry Christmas!

Ear wax

I remember clearly the first time I saw my own ear wax. The first great California drought I experienced was in 1977 and 1978. Like a good citizen I cut down on my showers. One day I noticed that one of my ears was plugged up to the extent that I couldn’t hear at all on that side.

At the doctor’s office, they put some stuff in my ears and had me sit in the waiting room for a while. I remember it as quite a while, perhaps half an hour, after which I was brought back into the examining room. They had me hold up a cup-like thing to my ear and took a thing like a 409 bottle and stuck it in my ear and commenced to squirt.

Shortly they were done and I could hear again! Miraculous!

Then the doctor showed me what was in the cup. Aiee! It was a huge black, greasy-looking cylindrical thing about a half inch long!

‘That came out of my ear?’ I was dumbfounded. I had no idea such things existed. Then they did the other ear and another greasy black thing, not quite so large, came out of that one.

Over the years since, I’ve come to realize that my ears generate wax and must be cleaned out periodically. Recently, I’ve mostly gotten it  done along with my annual physical. I thought I had it done in January but I can’t remember for sure.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I felt that familiar sensation of my ear plugging up. I didn’t want to go to the doctor now just for that so I looked into what was available OTC. Sarah told me about a squirt system she had used that sounded like the one the doctors used so I got one.

Today I got it out and got everything ready. After I had left the drops in for a while, I got Sepi to come over and run the squirt bottle. She was almost to the end of the water when the big plug came out. She was dumbfounded! She had no idea such things existed!

Sepi is very worldly so when I show here something she’s never seen before, it’s worth mentioning. My astonishment from 40+ years ago was somewhat validated.

Now she wants her ears cleaned out!

Rec league basketball

We watched a movie last night.

This is not about the movie.

I watched the credits, as I always do, and saw a name from Zach’s past. The character was a minor one – really just a cameo – so I really didn’t remember what he looked like. The movie was from 2014 and I hadn’t seen James since about 20 years ago when he and Zach were in rec league basketball together. They were pals at 12 years old but it didn’t last into high school.

Still, it was a good memory. The basketball team had their moments but they weren’t overpowering. They went into the championship tournament hoping to win one game but things started working for them and they got to the championship game against the hot shots.

It seemed like there was always one team in rec league that was put together by an ambitious dad who thought his kid was NBA material. Typically they steamrolled everyone else. It always pissed me off when they ran the score up against gawky kids who didn’t spend every free moment practicing basketball.

These were the guys Zach and James’ team were playing for the championship. I don’t remember it well enough to narrate the details but I remember that they played smart and tough against the hot shots. James’ dad was not the official coach but he was a savvy basketball guy who participated in the huddles and helped the kids believe in themselves. Jeremy was there too, providing support.

Well, they won, and were joyous.

In the big picture it would seem meaningless but our personalities are built from many small things. It was a fun moment. Rec league basketball was usually so frustrating. Zach was tall but not the tallest on the team. Soon after this, he really started growing and went on to play on high school and college basketball teams.

The actor turned out to have been born in 1965. Not even close!

Here are James and Zach in their championship shirts:

My other family

There was another milestone event today in Sepi’s family – my other family. Farideh, Sepi’s sister in Montreal, has been trying to get her daughter Sara to come to Canada from Tehran for some time now. Sara’s travel arrangements were complicated by the fact that she wanted to bring her 12 year old son with her. Not to mention complications due to coronavirus!

Sara had been all set to come in August, but at the last minute there was a snag and she had to stay in Tehran. After much agonizing, Sara had decided to come ahead this weekend even if it meant leaving her son in Tehran. She bought tickets for two, though, and they both went to the airport yesterday with hope in their hearts.

At the last minute, the authorities allowed Samyar to board the plane! Joy was spread across three continents! Sepi and I embarked on a marathon FlightRadar24 viewing session. We ‘watched’ the plane take off from Tehran, cross the Persian Gulf and land in Qatar, then a couple of hours later take off from Qatar and head for Montréal.

This morning, when we picked up the track they were over the North Atlantic. We ‘watched’ them as they first made landfall over Newfoundland, then crossed the top of Maine and landed safely in Montréal.

Through the miracle of modern communications – mostly WhatsApp video calls, we were able to be in nearly constant touch with Sepi’s sisters in Montréal and Tehran. Farideh’s joy over the prospect of seeing her daughter for the first time in three years is tempered by Mali’s sadness over losing her niece. Mali’s daughter is grief stricken as the two girls are almost the same age and are very close.

Sara is only on a visitor’s visa so she will most likely have to return to Iran but Farideh’s goal is to get her permanent residency in Canada. Once Sara and Samyar are out of quarantine they will be working on that. There will be some big hugs first, though!

just smoke

The day after my ‘heat and smoke’ post, the weather turned cooler but the smoke descended down to the ground and stayed there. Today is now the 5th day of AQIs in the high 100s.

I’ve become an expert in calling up the Bay Area Air Quality Management District website and checking the AQI map and data. Just now I see that we’re right around 200.

I went in to work on Friday but other than that, I’ve stayed in the house except for brief – really brief – forays outside to water the plants. I wear the N95 mask for that.

I’m beginning to feel like the inside of the house is starting to smell. Last night around dinner time, I noticed that the breeze was blowing for the first time in days. I thought that we’d have improvement by morning.

Nope.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s sister and her family have had to evacuate their home near Portland and are staying with Ashley in Washington. Their air is about the same AQI as ours but the forest around them isn’t on fire.

The TV weather people are making noises that there will be improvement by Wednesday but others are saying it will be weeks before it is better. When I go outside, the mask helps my nose and throat but it’s my eyes that are stinging when I come in.

Just like with the startup to the COVID-19 outbreak, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’m in a vulnerable group now.

heat and smoke

I think it was about three weeks ago when I was awake in the early hours and witnessed a lightning storm unlike anything I have ever seen outside of the Midwest. At the time, I thought it was really cool: huge forked lightning bolts I could see stretching from the clouds to the ground, bright flashes and huge booms of thunder. the only thing missing was the torrential rain.

There was rain, but only a little, and I should have known that the lightning would be a big problem for the forests in the state. Within a couple of days, news reports started coming in about fires around the Bay Area: one in Napa, one in Santa Cruz County and another in south Santa Clara Valley. They were all given names related to the lightning, and called ‘complexes’ because they were many smaller fires all started by the lightning.

Soon, it was 2018 all over again. San Francisco was covered in a thick cloud of smoke. Any outside projects that I had been considering went on the shelf. Going outside required an N95 mask and it still burned my eyes. I only went out briefly.

Last week it got a little better and I did some work trimming the tree in the front of the house. The summer pattern had resumed with cool ocean breezes and it wasn’t as smoky.

But over Labor Day weekend it got hot. Really hot. Saturday, Sunday and Monday we kept the shades and windows closed and wore as little clothing as we could. We couldn’t cool the house down at night so it stayed in the 80’s for three days. Outside . . .  take a look:

Besides being hot, the smoke had returned.

This is hard to see, but there is a gray cloud over downtown SF and Oakland. There was no wind.

Then later on Monday the sea breeze finally showed up. The smoke got pushed further into the East Bay and the temperatures fell by 20 degrees.

But something odd was happening. We awoke yesterday to what seemed to be a typical marine layer except the sun seen through the murk was red. As the day went on, the clouds never went away. In the afternoon I noticed that there was fog coming in over the Daly City hills but the sky above the fog was not gray so much as yellow. The temperatures were cool and the air did not smell smoky but something wasn’t right. It turns out that there is another fire started by lightning, in Mendocino, that is sending smoke to the Bay Area but the smoke is above the inversion layer.

Then, this morning, we are in some kind of science fiction movie.I took some pictures but they don’t convey how creepy it is. Everything outside is suffused in a dark red glow. Eating my breakfast at 8 o’clock, I had to turn the dining room lights on to see what I was doing.

I went outside briefly and rinsed the soot off of the cars. It’s on everything but for now I only did the cars. No outside projects today . . .

family

This is really Sepi’s story but she doesn’t have a blog and I think it’s really cool so I’m going to tell it. The best part, anyway.

Sepi came to the US in her early 20s. Growing up in Tehran, she had always wanted to be here and she did it despite the fears of the family for her safety. They helped her out but, especially after the revolution, communication became very difficult. After Sepi got elected to the City Council it was even dangerous. She only went back twice in over 30 years. Two of her brothers live in Southern California and she kept in touch with them but not the other siblings in Iran.

She knew one sister had emigrated a couple of years ago to Canada. Toronto, she thought. Her niece went too, but to another city, maybe Quebec. She wasn’t sure. And there were some other cousins in Sweden.

Another sister and another brother were still in Tehran. Eleven and a half time zones away.

Last year, we heard about a messaging app called Telegram. It was supposed to be super secure and used by many people in Iran because of that. We signed on and had some nice text conversations with her brother and sister and their kids. But one cousin was always posting links to pop songs and long diatribes in Farsi so we opted out.

Then, one day in April, Sepi’s phone rang. Somewhere along the line she had installed another messaging app called WhatsApp and her sister in Canada was calling her using it.

It was a video call! And her other sister in Tehran was on it too! I happened to be right beside her when this all happened. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying but I could hear the joy in their voices and I could see the tears in their eyes. They chattered back and forth for quite a while, at least 15 minutes, before regretfully signing off.

The best part is that Farideh kept calling. Sometimes the brother in Tehran was on, sometimes the brothers in Southern California came on. There were (at different times) nieces and nephews and cousins on these wonderful cacophonous conversations across thousands of miles. They all got a good look at me and decided I was OK.

Sepi calls me Christopher most of the time and that seemed to be a name that confused the Farsi speakers so I got to choose a Persian name. Someone suggested Cyrus so I thought of Persian kings and decided I liked Darius better. I especially like the Persian pronunciation, Dar-YOOSH.

Now we have long conversations several times a week. We’ve clarified a lot of family ancestor information. We’ve gone for a virtual walk around Farideh’s neighborhood in Montreal (not Toronto). We got to talk to a cousin yesterday who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was sad, but talking to Sepi made her happy. Some of these people hadn’t seen her since she was a teenager.

I listen carefully and am becoming able to pick out a few words here and there. Sepi sometimes translates as we go. Otherwise she fills me in after the call is over.

The calls make me happy every time!