Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Banana Chronicles

My brother-in-law is a “Daily Banana” kind of guy. Every day he eats a banana while driving his truck to work. When he finishes the banana he throws the skin on the floor of the vehicle in front of the passenger seat.  He does not bother to keep a plastic trash bag in his truck. He does not bother throwing the banana skin in the trash bin at the next opportunity. Instead he lets the banana skins accumulate on the floor of the truck for several days, until the pile of rotting and drying skins become a shovel load of compost for the garden.

Sometimes my brother-in-law visits his elderly mother at the nursing home during the day, and sometimes he takes her out in his truck for lunch. Every time she gets into the passenger seat of the truck she says “Son, why do you have to leave rotten banana skins on the floor of the car?” She kept on complaining till he started to take the skins out of the car before going to visit her. But sometimes he forgets and gets an earful from his mother again. So now if he forgets he might pick a dry shriveled banana skin off the floor of the truck and put it in the top pocket of his shirt before his mother gets in the vehicle.

One evening we were all at a barbeque party at a relative’s house. His mother was telling some cousins about her son and his dirty habit of leaving banana skins on the floor of the truck. The cousins were all laughing at the story when my brother-in-law checked his pocket and, lo & behold, there was a dried up banana skin in his shirt pocket.

I too have a “Daily Banana” habit. Just like my brother-in-law I eat a banana every day in my truck on the way to work. I also pick up a cup of coffee. After I eat the banana I throw the skin on the floor just like my brother-in-law. When I finish the coffee, I stuff the banana skin into the coffee cup and pop the plastic lid back on and throw it in the trash bin at the next opportunity. But often I do not finish the coffee so the skin goes straight to the trash bin. The remaining coffee goes with me to my office for consumption later when I re-heat it in the microwave.

The other day I went to re-heat my coffee in the microwave in the afternoon. When I took it out of the microwave and put the cup to my lips, instead of hot coffee I got the taste of burnt banana skin. I forgot I had finished the coffee that day and put the skin into the cup. Yech!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sympathy For Smokers

This posting is inspired by a response to my previous posting where I mentioned a man smoking in an office work environment back in 1974.

I have never been a smoker, of cigarettes or anything else. As a youth I tried cigarettes and did not like them. Later I smoked marijuana occasionally but although I found it enjoyable I never felt an addictive need for it. I now live in an increasingly smoke-free world, where smokers are treated like pariahs and virtually ostracized from civilized society. You see them in the street, walking the dog, or in small groups outside their work places, standing there sucking on their pathetic vice in a mixture of defiance and sordid pleasure. Even beaches and parks are now considered off limits to smokers. I expect soon one is likely to encounter a no smoking sign at the North Pole or in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I really feel sorry for some smokers.

I remember when smoking was first banned from bars & restaurants some years ago here in California. I saw the TV news interviewing some old guy outside a bar. There he was with his dog. Poor fellow, all he had was his dog and his friends at the bar, a place to escape his lonely life, have a beer and a smoke. And now he was being told that smoking was no longer socially acceptable.

It was not always that way. When I was a child it was a smokers world, and no place was more smoke friendly than my own home. My Dad was a chain smoker. He picked up the habit during World War II when the British Army sold cigarettes cheaply to soldiers to keep up their spirits in the face of either boredom or traumatic wartime experiences. My Dad smoked at least a 20 pack of cigarettes every day all his life. My father was well aware of the health risks. Even before I was born he had been hospitalized for months with pleurisy. My mother told me that Dad tried to quit cigarettes on one occasion. It was a desperate attempt to cut expenses rather than an attempt to improve my father’s health. My parents were always broke. It lasted about one week. According to my mother, my father became so difficult to be with that she went to the off license and returned with a pack of 20 Players No.6 and threw them at him. The subject of quitting never came up again. My father smoked the cheapest cigarettes he could buy. Players issued an even cheaper brand called Players No.10, presumably with even cruder tobacco ingredients than Players No.6. My father would always say they were good enough for him. He would receive gifts at Christmas from work colleagues such as cigars or exotic imported cigarettes like Sobranie Russian or God forbid, American menthol cigarettes, which he considered effeminate. He would scoff at such luxuries and return to his cheap smokes with relish.

Smoke was everywhere in those days. It’s a miracle we were not all asthmatics. When my father was at home he filled the living room with cigarette smoke. On cold winter days and evenings when the doors and windows were shut tight to keep out the cold and damp, the family huddled together in front of the fireplace and the TV, my Dad would blow a constant supply of smoke into the room. No one would ever object. It was just the way life was. When I was very young I remember not being able to sleep. I would call my Dad for a glass of water. He would sit on the end of the bed to help me to sleep. He would smoke and I would be comforted by the red glow of the cigarette in the dark and then fall asleep with the smoke filled air in my nostrils.

On my way to school we always rode on the upper deck of the bus. The lower deck was filled with women and their shopping bags and smoking was not allowed. Kids and men who smoked always rode upstairs. First we spent twenty minutes at the bus stop, breathing in the leaded petrol fumes of the cars idling at the traffic light in the damp air, mix in the rampant bus stop smoking of men and women on their way to work, then get on the upper deck to breath all the second hand smoke we could get in the closed quarters of the bus. It was the same on the trains, and the London Underground. Smoking was everywhere. At school the teachers all smoked. If you knocked on the door of the staff room at lunch time to talk to a teacher the door would open and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke would billow out of the room. People smoked in all sorts of public places, railway stations, restaurants, parks, and even while shopping in the supermarket. Smoking at work was also the norm, in offices, factories and shops.

My two older sisters started to smoke when they went off to college. Both of them would later quit. For the eldest sister it was a serious struggle. This was long before such cures as the patch were available. She attended how-to-quit-smoking classes for several weeks. The attendees made lists of all the things that triggered their smoking, and then made lists of all the alternative things they could do instead of light up a cigarette. After going through the entire list of alternatives my sister was reduced to curling up in bed in the fetal position and crying her eyes out for an hour. My younger brother also started to smoke in college and still smokes to this day. For him it is not only a habit but also a militant gesture. The quintessential artist, he rolls his own smokes with Old Holborn tobacco, and smokes them unfiltered. His teeth are dark brown and he seems not to care at all. One has to admire his independent stance. After all, it is his body. For my other sister smoking was all about style and the way it made you look. She smoked the kind of slender menthol cigarettes my father hated. She did not really inhale the smoke, but just posed with the burning stick in her mouth and her nose in the air. But she got more boyfriends than her older sister.

I once saw a man in a supermarket smoking at the checkout. The checkout clerk told him smoking was not allowed in the supermarket. The man was perhaps 60 years old, overweight, watery eyed and wearing a scruffy Hawaian shirt and Bermuda shorts. He wore a button that said, “Keep your laws off my body”. Some folks just have a style all their own.

Smoking was just not my thing. When I was about ten years old I smoked my first cigarette with my pals, behind a bus stop shelter. I thought it tasted awful and felt bad in my throat. I suppose I was a bit of a sissy to my friends. Many of them became addicted at a very young age and went on to smoke for decades. Oddly enough I always liked the smell from pipe smoking. I especially liked to go into an old style tobacco shop and smell the variety of rich tobacco leaves. Such places were once common but are now far and few between.

For some people, quitting is not a problem. Two of my best friends, a couple from Ireland, came to visit me in California several years ago. They had always been heavy smokers of unfiltered roll-their-own cigarettes. They arrived as non-smokers. I was impressed. They confessed they had felt embarrassed about coming to visit us in California for the first time as evil, corrupt, unhealthy smokers. They had both quit cold turkey on New Years Eve after smoking for twenty five years. They told me they drank and smoked as much as possible until midnight and then simply stopped. I asked them if it had been difficult. They both replied that it had been no big deal. They both knew they had been risking their health for years and were determined to make the change and the visit was an excuse to start.

Smoking can trigger nostalgia for a world that is now gone. Classic Hollywood movies featured legendary stars like Humphrey Bogart puffing away in smoke filled night clubs. Twenty years ago we came home from bars and restaurants with our clothes smelling of smoke. Now there are fewer and fewer places where you are likely to encounter smokers.

Perhaps its because I was never addicted that my attitude towards smoking is not exactly hostile. I would probably not enjoy being around heavy smokers any more, but I tend not to get too upset if someone smokes near me, as long as it is not in my house or car.

My father did not die as a result of smoking, at least as far as we know. He had a nasty disease for which there was no cure. The doctor told him if he wanted to keep on smoking it was OK with him because there was no point taking away the man’s pleasure when he was dying.

I do not intend to become a smoker at the age of 55. However if I should become a grandparent I hope someone remembers to give me a nice fat cigar, so I can puff on it and look cool for 10 minutes. No hurry on this request by the way.

Smoking has been around for a long time. There seems to be no question it is bad for your health. But I sometimes wonder if like everything else it’s a case of “Everything in moderation”. Perhaps the occasional smoke is really OK. It certainly would be ironic if one day someone were to discover health benefits from smoking tobacco.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Air Raid Siren

In 1974 I was working as a young clerk in an Import/Export office in Bishopsgate, London. It had been announced on the television news that the authorities were going to test the old air raid sirens that were used in London during the World War II German air raids. The scheduled time for the test was announced but of course we forgot all about it. It was lunchtime on a weekday. I was in the office on Bishopsgate when the sirens went off for the first time in thirty years. I was sitting close to my manager, a man about forty five years of age. He would have been eleven or twelve years old during the London Blitz. I will never forget the look on his face when the siren started its distinctive winding, wailing sound. He stopped in his tracks, the color drained out of his face, he looked as if he was having a heart attack, until someone reminded him “Oh yeah, they are testing them ain’t they”. The manager took a deep breath and regained his composure, “Cor, that brings back some memories”. The fear had gripped the man so suddenly. Thirty three years had not erased the physical & emotional reaction to the sound of the sirens. He was shaking as he took out a cigarette to calm himself. He abandoned his work and sat down.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Missing Neolithic Dagenham Idol turns up in San Francisco

Police in San Francisco discovered a valuable British pre-historic wooden artifact during the arrest of a man for drunk & disorderly behavior on Friday evening. The eighteen inch tall carved figure of a man, has been identified by experts as the “Dagenham Idol”, a 4500 year old Neolithic artifact that went missing from a castle in England a year ago.

SFPD answered a complaint call from a neighbor reporting a man dancing naked and chanting loudly in his back yard on Clement St. A police spokesman said the man’s wife allowed officers onto the property where they found Nigel Bunt, a US Citizen who was born in the town of Dagenham in the United Kingdom, in a condition of inebriation. Bunt pleaded with officers to help him “harness the power of the Idol” and told police “they would perish if the warnings of the Idol were ignored”. Bunt was taken into police custody where he is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

Bunt’s wife Dawn Bunt gave the police the carving, and told them it was the source of her husband’s distress. Bunt had carved a 6 foot tall replica of the idol in his back yard with a chainsaw and was dancing around it and was burning an illegal bonfire when police arrived. Dawn told the police Nigel had brought the Idol back from England after a recent visit home. The police contacted experts at the DeYoung Museum who were able to identify the carved figure from a report by Interpol. The piece was stolen from Colchester Castle Museum in Essex, England in November of 2009 during Bunt’s last visit to his hometown.

When questioned about the Idol, Bunt admitted the theft. He told the police “I was visiting Colchester Castle and the Idol spoke to me, as soon as I saw it I felt its power, its hard to describe, I just suddenly felt Neolithic and I knew I had to have it”. “When I came back to San Francisco strange things began to happen, I soon felt my life spinning out of control and I knew it was the power of the Idol, I thought I could speak to it and it would help me but the more I spoke to it the worse things got”.

A curator from Colchester Castle Museum said in a statement Friday “It’s a relief to all of us that the Dagenham Idol is safe and will be returned to Colchester, it has a bizarre history and its exact meaning and value in Neolithic Culture are still being studied. Some very odd and unpleasant things have happened to people who have dealt with the Idol over the centuries, it is said to be cursed”.

Since returning to San Francisco with the Idol, Bunt’s personal life had taken several bizarre turns. “My construction business really took off when I got back, despite the recession I started making more money than ever, while everyone else was struggling I was having success, it had to be the power of the Idol-then all of a sudden everything turned upside down, my cat died and then my favorite cactus, and then I got a visit from the IRS and things really went downhill, I started drinking heavily and gambling and I squandered all the money I had made, Dawn threatened to leave me, worst of all, my football team started losing every game”.

When interviewed by this reporter Dawn Bunt said “I am standing by my husband for now, I thought his obsession with the Idol was crazy at first, but now I see the damage it has done to him I think he may be right about its evil powers, I am glad it is being returned to Colchester Castle where it belongs so we can return to life as normal here, I arranged to have the six foot tall copy of the Idol removed from our yard, I hope the men who took it will destroy it before it causes more harm”