Friday, September 28, 2007

Putting It In Perspective

I’m glad I chose to make the trip again this year. It's always special to spend time with my family for the Jewish holidays. (If you're interested, I wrote about this experience years ago in a piece called "What's Going On?") I don’t mean for this to sound morbid – and it’s not. It’s simply a fact that I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to reach across to each side of my synagogue seat and hold my parents hands like I did yesterday. The days are numbered. Then again, haven’t they always been numbered? The same thoughts flit through my brain every time something exciting happens in a Mets’ game and I pick up the phone to check in with my Dad.

“Did you see that?!”

Every call starts with the same line. And I understand all too well that some day, there won’t be anyone on the other end of those calls. I know this. And as soon as I find myself getting sad at such a prospect, I catch myself and think, simply – "He's here now. They're here now." And I can cherish that fact ... now. The only time that matters.

Sure, sitting with my Mom and Dad in synagogue got me thinking about re-connecting with my Judaism. My presence in Kansas City, far away from family, has sometimes brought on an emptiness that's hard to ignore. And it's occurred to me that it might be good to pick myself up and head to a Friday night or Saturday morning service every now and then. Sitting and singing familiar songs and prayers the other day – it was truly good and soothing for my soul. Not so much in an ultra-religious sense; that's not really my thing. More in the yoga, meditative sense. If that makes sense.

Once the day and fast came to a close, it was fun to walk outside the synagogue and grab some apple juice and honey cake with Adina and Yosi, my niece and nephew twins (that's Adina doing her thing to the left). What a joy to be able to see them, even if it is only every few weeks or so. And then it was time to head to my sister's for the 'break the fast.' The regular fare – bagels, lox, herring, and all the rugelach, babka and cake you can imagine. The highlight this year, as it is most years, was a noodle kugel (noodle pudding) my mom made. It had some kind of crumb topping on it and … well … let’s just say this wasn't for the faint of heart. And I mean that literally, in the artery-clogging sense. I think I had something like three helpings, complete with strawberries and sour cream to top it off. And that wasn’t even dessert!! It’s good to know these types of meals are treats only. I wouldn't last much longer if I ate that way all the time.

A Trying Time: Anyone who is a baseball fan out there and knows what’s going on in the National League these days understands what I’m about to write here. It is a tough time to be a Mets’ fan, let me tell you. Come to think of it. That’s a pretty stupid statement. It’s a much tougher time to be a Kansas City Royals' fan. Or a Pittsburgh Pirates' or Tampa Bay Devil Rays' fan. I say this because at least the Mets are in first place and they still may - I say may - be in the playoffs again this year. The idea that a couple of weeks ago this bunch had a 7 ½ game lead with only 17 games to play and now ... well ... for some unknown reason this team seems intent on blowing off the rest of their season. It's downright nerve wracking to be a helpless witness to this kind of train wreck. It's funny. When my sister mentioned three weeks ago that the Mets were going to be in town while I was in Florida, I thought, "Why not?" Who figured these games would even matter? I mean, who knew!?

The Perspective Thing: Fitting in with what I wrote above - How many more times will I be able to go to a baseball game with my Mom and Dad? Both Brooklyn natives, long time Dodger fans - these are the folks who introduced me to this wonderful game. My father is the one who took my sister and me out of school that crisp autumn day in 1969 to drive to NYC to see a baseball game. But not just any game. It was the final game of the the '69 World Series. The day the Mets became the most unlikely of World Champions by beating the big, bad Baltimore Orioles. I was there. I still have an original program, complete with my dads’ scoring of the entire game. Talk about a cherished memory.

So, to hell with un-nerving pennant race and the mental breakdown of my favorite team. And, believe me, the game ended up being quite the un-nerving adventure. The Mets/Marlins game, the Florida trip - it was all about being with my family. It was about another Yom Kippur; a belly full of bagels, lox and noodle kugel; a tough Mets' win and a chance to run the bases in a major league ball park with the most lovable twins in the world.

That’s what this was all about.

That's my kind of adventure.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I've been hearing the sound for the past month or so. For the most part, it sounded very familiar - that sound. The first time I heard it, I pretty much figured it was cicadas. But not just cicadas. I'm talking cicada's gone wild. The thing is I couldn't be absolutely sure what I was hearing simply because it wasn't the sound I was used to. It was different from the cicada sound from back east. Up in Massachusetts, the sound would come more in bursts, lasting for about 10 seconds or so, followed by a nice, slow, release until there was silence. I loved that slow drop off in tone and melody. That's the pattern I remember from when I was a kid. Hot summer days, bumble bees, Kool-Aid, the Good Humor man, sprinkler-jumping and ... that sound. That comforting sound.

But, this sound - the one I've been hearing every night for the past month ... This has been different. First of all, it is loud. I mean really, really loud. If it is cicadas, there must be hundreds, what am I talking about? Billions - even trillions of them. And the thing that's most striking is that it simply does not let up. These cicadas, if they are, in fact, cicada's - they just don't know how to let up like their New England counterparts.

"Take a powder!" I say. "For God's sake, please give us a break."

It's Research Time - Part of my pleasant Heather visitation week included more than a few long walks together around the neighborhood, topped off by several laps around the gorgeous Loose Park. It didn't take long for the conversation to turn to "that sound."

"Have you ever heard anything like it?" I'd laugh. "The thing is, it's probably coming to the end of their run now." The long hot summer (there were more than a few triple digit temperature days here during July-August) is winding down, although it's still pretty hot on some days, even midway through September. From all indications, the cicadas are reaching the end of their life-cycle. That theory has, in fact, been confirmed by the spotting of a few carcasses on the park pathway - they're growing in number each day.

The sounds and carcasses, coupled with my bug conversations - you know what? It was time for a Wikipedia visit. It was time to find out more than any person would want to know about - the marvelous cicada.

"Cicada-Mania" - What did we do before the web? I mean, it really is like having a public library at your fingertips, every second of the day. Did you know, for example. that there are over 2500 species of cicadas all over the world? And the sounds they produce (males only) are as plentiful as the number of different species. Also, did you know that the sound they create (called a "song") is known to be among the loudest of all sounds made by any insect? (FYI - for everything you'd ever want to know about cicadas, feel free to check out this Wikipedia link). Don't worry, I'm not going to spend the next half hour feeding you all kinds of cicada knowledge. Still, I found it interesting to find out how these creatures actually make that "sound." For the most part, they do it to ward off birds or, how is it phrased? Their "avian predators."

You know what? Now that I know why they're making the sound, the racket doesn't seem to bother me as much. Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that there's been about an 80% drop off in soundage over the past few weeks. Still, if I were a cicada, I'd be rubbing my timbals pretty frantically to prevent my being swiped off a treetop and carried away, trapped in the grip of a strong beak. (By the way, that shot to the right and up - he's from Metuchen - for all my New Jersey friends).

Anyway. That's my cicada shpiel. But, before I sign off today, I'll add just this. Wikipedia is one thing. As always, that site gives the user a good solid "101" basic knowledge infusion of just about any subject in the world. However, my absolute favorite cicada finding is this site, aptly named - "" If you're not squeamish about such things, this is a must visit. The best feature? Check out the u-tube movies of cicadas in action. Since most of us aren't able to climb trees at a moment's notice (and I'm not sure the cicada's would enjoy our moving into their territory like that - birds are enough for them to think about, let alone crazy humans with camcorders), these short videos are pretty remarkable in that you have a chance to see the facts behind the mystery sound. Sort of "Cicada's - The Untold Story." I'm hoping this link will work - here is one video sample: - the poster isn't exactly sure what the hell is going on here, by the way. Also, the photo on the left gives you a glimpse of the cicada's moulting process, giving new meaning to the phrase, "slips into a nearby phone booth."

So now, whenever I'm walking around on a hot summer day, no matter where I am in the world and no matter what variety of cicada is doing it's thing, I'll have a idea about what's really going on up in those trees. And I'll be rooting for those guys in their quest to avoid their avian predators.

Here's to the cicada.

Come to think of it. It's too quiet around here these days.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Ultimate Time Capsule

My first trip down to the River Market was during my orientation tour with Aliya back in June. The area immediately pulled me in, reminding me of Boston's Faniuel Hall where I worked for five years during college selling prints of Boston for a talented artist, Helen McDermott. I was crazy about that job and would love to find out where Helen is these days. My dream is that people like her will stumble into this site one day... think "Oh, my God, that's Harry!!" ... then shoot off an email to say hello. I look forward to those kinds of reunions.

Anyway, with Heather coming to town, I knew I wanted to show her KC's River Market and figured it would be a good idea to ask folks at work more about the area. A few people, including my boss, Karen, mentioned a river boat tour, which I didn't remember seeing during my first visit. But, sure enough, as soon as Heather and I walked through the market's main doorway, there it was: The "Arabia" Steamboat Museum.

“People don’t just go one time,” someone told me at work. “They're always going back to see more.”

“What kind of place is this?” I thought. "We're not talking "The Louvre."

Well … of course it's not The Louvre. But, I have to tell you. It is, indeed, pretty fantastic and I'm not exaggerating. The museum and tour is built around the history and excavation of an old river boat, The Arabia, which sank in the Missouri River in 1856 after hitting a snag, (a piece of drift wood lurking in the muddy river bed). Apparently, a snag is the river equivalent of the Northern oceans' icebergs. The museum had the actual snag on display and, when I saw it, I was immediately reminded about the demon berg that brought down the unsinkable Titanic. Steamships routinely carried precious cargo along the rivers, the 19th century equivalent of today's trailer trucks racing up and down our superhighways. So when the Arabia went down, it was loaded with "literally tons of all kinds of goods of the day. Hats, shoes, jewelry, guns, liquor, pickles, all kinds of china, glasses - anything you can think of." Heather and I were both astonished at the sheer quantity of goods on display behind the glass dividers. And it's an ongoing enterprise. When you take the tour you see and speak with actual archaeologists, cleaning and preserving newly uncovered artifacts.

As good as the tour was itself, the afternoon's highlight came immediately after they showed a short video about the boat and the history of the excavation. Just as the video ended. a man entered the room from the back. Harland "Bob" Hawley, is one of the original excavators and co-director of the museum. (Feel free to check out the story of The Arabia's re-discovery at this link) As soon as Bob walked past me and down the aisle to speak with the crowd, he grabbed my and everyone else's attention.

“It’s probably one of the single most unintelligent things I’d ever done in my life,” he smiled when asked why he and his partners stuck with the dig, even when faced with no financing. As Bob spoke I knew I wanted to hear more about his story, the risks he took and the incredible rewards they're reaping, growing larger each day. (That's a shot of Bob on the left).

As the room cleared out, I introduced myself and Bob and I had a chance to chat for a bit. When the conversation turned to my Kansas City adventures and what brought me to the area, Harland seemed genuinely interested in Eldercation. Of course, I would love for him to participate in an interview, but who knows? Still, it's not like I need to get something else out of of my visit to The Arabia Museum. Another visit with Bob would merely be a cherry on top of the sundae.

So - if you're looking for something interesting to do if you're in the Kansas City area, put this place right smack on top of your list. I'm telling you, you will not be disappointed.

It's the ultimate time-capsule.

And I see why so many people head back for more.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Visit From A Friend

When my friend, Heather, mentioned a few months ago that she was thinking of coming to Kansas City for a visit, the wheels in my head started to turn. I was craving, I mean craving company here so, once the visit was confirmed, I immediately started thinking and planning out a basic itenerary. I mean, I'm here what? About three months so I'm still learning my way around. But there is no better way to discover new territory than by doing it with a visiting friend. And Heather was just that.

Even the pickup from the airport was fun. Well, kind of fun. The part where Heather couldn't believe how easy everything was, from deplaning to getting her baggage - night and day from the sublime La Guardia or JFK experience. The hard part for me was the constant stream of bad Mets' news being supplied by the phone calls to and from my brother. The Mets were playing a huge series against the Phillies in Philadelphia and, just as Heather's plane landed, Stuart called to tell me about an abrupt extra inning ending, with the Mets on the losing side for a second straight night. Still, with Heather about to step off the plane, that bad news soon became a memory. For about fifteen minutes or so. Heather likes baseball, so she was the perfect listener. I'm sure I drove her nuts.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame - The first day was set for some planned relaxation - a nice walk, a short Plaza tour, and then ... a return Kauffman Stadium engagement. "Let's see a game," is what Heather said two months ago. Obviously, I'm not one to turn away from a baseball game, so her wish was certainly my command. And the seats were great, right on the 3rd base line and with the weather finally cooling down, it was a gorgeous night to take in a game. Other than the fact that the scoreboard kept reminding me of yet another tough Mets' loss to the Phillies, (strange interference call at 2nd base) it was the perfect night - a Royals win over the Tigers, combined with one huge scrumptious all-beef hot dog and an ice-cold Coke. I don't know the last time I ate a hot dog like that. Does a hot dog taste better any place else?

Lawrence, Kansas - I'd heard so much about this town from a number of sources, so I was really looking forward to taking an afternoon drive with Heather to see Lawrence - home of the University of Kansas. So, after breakfast and a walk around the park, we headed west and took in the sites along Route 10. Then it was all about walking up and down Lawrence's main drag - Massachusetts Street - great shopping, restaurants - it reminding me a lot of Northampton or Cambridge. Most small college towns have the same kind of allure and this was no exception. We ate lunch at The Free State Brewing Company and discovered a new pasta ("ear" pasta? Strascinati?), which was delicious the way they prepared it with goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. By the way, that's Heather up above, striking her best Kansas pose on Mass. Street. Of course, leave it to me to be interviewed by a man-on-the-street for The Lawrence Journal -World & News. The question posed was, "How are you going to be spending Labor Day?" If you want, you can check out my fascinating response at the this link.

It just struck me that it would be silly to describe the entire week to all of you. So, I'll just say this: I loved having a good friend here with me. There was something nice about knowing there was someone to share things and experiences. I miss that, I can't lie. And, aside from a disastrous four game sweep of the Mets at the hands of the Phillies, this KC adventure with Heather was a lot of fun. A Mets collapse was a small price to pay for such a special visit. "The Bourne Ultimatum," long walks around Loose Park, a delicious jointly prepared dinner (my chicken Francaise and Heather's incredible garlic-Parmesan roasted potatoes), a trip to the Nelson Adkins museum (love that birdie!) as well as down to River Market to see an extraordinary sunken steamship exhibit (see the next blog posting - that experience deserves its own entry) - and the other meals - Classic Cup, Cheesecake Factory as well as one more solid visit to Gates' Barbecue ... add it all up ... I must have gained 10 pounds as the gracious host.

Not that I'm complaining.

And, by the way. By the time I hugged Heather goodbye at KCI airport, I'm happy to report that the Mets had recovered from their nightmare with a three-game sweep of those Atlanta Braves.

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