Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

For many Americans, their uninformed impression and expectations regarding the city of Moscow - whether they have been there or not - the expectation is that the center of the Communist world is dreary, gray, snowy sidewalks, long lines at virtually every store, and cranky, unhappy party members who would secretly all prefer to live in Miami or New York.  Amor Towles graceful roman รก chambre A Gentleman in Moscow sets us down in a sweet city of European traditions, old friends, and the genteel elegance of a classic world weary hotel.  The protagonist, a former count, discredited by the new communist regime, is 'exiled' in 1922 to a room in the Hotel
Metropole, where you can still savor a glass of Chateau d'Yquem and an excellent roasted duck.  The Count, Alexander Ilyich Rostov, is an unfailing gentlemen who resists any force that might upset him.  His cheerful outlook is unshakable.  How his decade long personal life in exile entwines with the management of the hotel, his loves and friendships, and especially his improbable relationship with an infant he is pressed into service to raise, forms a moving, engaging tale.  It's a sort of an old fashioned novel; not flashy or in any way experimental; just rich, graceful prose, that leaves you longing to be there in the Metropole with the count and his friends, enjoying a late night Cognac and sweet conversation.  The ending is satisfying and appropriate, but really irrelevant.  In the best possible way, the story is really about the journey; Rostov's ability to not only survive, but to do so in style and with endless charm.

The structure of the novel leads one to believe that A Gentleman in Moscow might make a good candidate for a TV series.  Are you listening A&E?

I'll Sell You a Dog

(Review from Amazon.com) Long before he was the taco seller whose ‘Gringo Dog’ recipe made him famous throughout Mexico City, our hero was an aspiring artist: an artist, that is, till his would-be girlfriend was stolen by Diego Rivera, and his dreams snuffed out by his hypochondriac mother. Now our hero is resident in a retirement home, where fending off boredom is far more grueling than making tacos. Plagued by the literary salon that bumps about his building’s lobby and haunted by the self-pitying ghost of a neglected artist, Villalobos’s old man can’t help but misbehave: he antagonises his neighbors, tortures American missionaries with passages from Adorno, and flirts with the revolutionary greengrocer. A delicious take-down of pretensions to cultural posterity, I’ll Sell You a Dog is a comic novel whose absurd inventions, scurrilous antics and oddball characters are vintage Villalobos.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Home (Bitter) Sweet Home

Too poor to be the Waltons...
It's a kind of landmark. With mom Carolyn Beaupre moving to Lakeside Manor (855 Brinkby Ave. #118, Reno 89509 | 775.827.3606), for the first time in 63 years, there is no one with the last name Beaupre living in Virginia City. Seeing the house we built as a family makes me tear up a bit. It was my mom's dream home when we moved in in 1959. It's way too early to know if things will work out in Reno for mom, or what's going to ultimately happen with the house. Just feels very strange to think there is no family in Virginia City. Many, many years of memories, celebrations, great food, and so much love, the walls could barely hold it all.

"OMG, Jon! I was in that house in the summer of 1978 when I was traveling across country via Greyhound bus and dropped a dime (! ) in the payphone to look you up. You weren't around but your sister Heather answered and your folks took me in for a few days (and I went back a few months later for the Clampers (?) ball). It was one of the most unusual, enlightening experiences I've ever had in my sheltered life!!! I know that house!!!!!"
  - Patricia Pippert

Patricia, you make me laugh and cry at the same time. I'm so happy you got to see this place. I had forgotten that you stayed there! Much love then and now to you and yours..  I remember being at a bar with your dad and he asked me if I wanted another drink. I said, "I'm fine." He said, "I know that. But do you want another drink." Really taught me about the power of language/humor and how to accept a compliment.
 -Patricia Pippert

I have some great memories of that house. It was just yesterday! Need to find those photos.  Oh man. We all got a large dose of "adult" in VC.
  - Vickie Wolfe

Hey - you know the place as well as anyone! Do you remember that my dad greeted Birdie at the front door in his jockeys and just about nothing else but a glass of wine?
  - JNB

I don't think I knew another way to open ones front door till I moved away...
  - Desiree Davis

I really have to wonder if you know the family of my best friend. The Jumps. I know there are many in the cemetery up there.  I'm actually originally from Miami, so it's not a completely new experience. I'm enjoying watching the leaves change that's for sure! I do miss my mountains, though.
  - Maureen O'Conner Weaver

Maureen, belated happy birthday! I'll have to look for the 'Jumps' in the cemetery when I am next up there. How do you like living away from the west coast (well, away from Reno anyway...)?
JNB

Oh, I so feel for you,Jon. My family lived in the same house in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for 50 years. When we had to let go of the house, I felt utterly bereft.  Truth is (and was) that a lot of complicated life took place in the house where I grew up....which for me, layers the nostalgia. Maybe this is true for you, too, with your childhood home. Everyone has a unique experience.
  - Melissa Hurst

Melissa, I remember hearing about the Chagrin Falls house when we were in school together - sounds like a magical place (both the city and your home).
JNB

I may have visited that house once or twice when young. Sad times when only memories are attached to a place.
  - Donna Marmorstein

I am so torn. Love the memories keep is informed
  - KJ Johnson

I loved living in V.C. And I love the Beaupre family dearly!!!!!
  - Glenda Jenson

Remember you will always hold the home you loved and memories with you in your heart. It will bring those happy times to you when ever they are needed to bring you a smile. Just like a decamp bus line bus 33. I always think of excitement and stories it was holding to be told by its passengers. : )
  - Valerie Mays

Wow, that's quite the thought...
  - Jenn Violet Callahan

Nice post Jon ... memories ...
  - Jani Buron

Virginia City? I didn't know this about you. I had fun up there when my cousin lived in Carson. Lots of history.
  - Ellen R. Stein


"Jon Thank you for the image of THAT House... The stories you've written and told... The amazing life-context you created of your childhood there rests vividly inside me. I recall my own visit to Virginia City, Nevada and how I walked down the street to see that home and to see the hotel that your family managed... It's so vivid and such a great family history Jon. My spirit is with you just now...Remember the story of the airplane in the basement? Remember the story of ice skating in the bedroom?
   - Lynn McLaughlin

It's a kind of landmark. With mom Carolyn Beaupre moving to Lakeside Manor (855 Brinkby Ave. #118, Reno 89509 | 775.827.3606), for the first time in 63 years, there is no one with the last name Beaupre living in Virginia City. Seeing the house we built as a family makes me tear up a bit. It was my mom's dream home when we moved in in 1959. It's way too early to know if things will work out in Reno for mom, or what's going to ultimately happen with the house. Just feels very strange to think there is no family in Virginia City. Many, many years of memories, celebrations, great food, and so much love, the walls could barely hold it all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stitches & Scars

I’ve never had a significant surgery

…before April of this year.

Scared, anxious, utterly aware of the seriousness of
this surgery, so close to my spinal column, but it simply became a reality:  I was unable to function ‘normally’ without doing something about the shooting leg pain that never left.

* * *
Keck is only 15 minutes from my home
The staff at USC Keck were wonderfully reassuring and supportive.

Then they stabbed me full of needles, put sensors all over my torso,  drew a bunch of my blood.  Plastic tubes hanging off my body, some pumping stuff in, some taking fluids out.  Ok so far.

“You might feel a little pinch…”

The neurosurgeon, Dr. Liu, not only explained what would happen, he also reassured me of the effectiveness of this procedure.

Finally, wheeled into the operating room, filled with massive machines, and a very kind, friendly staff again.  Head nurse – I think his name was Zac – covered with tattoos.  I felt at home.  It is the eastside after all.  I surrender.

Dr. Chbeeb, the anesthesiologist, is impossibly young.  I asked him why he specialized in anesthesiology and would it make any difference that I taught at CSULA while I’m in a USC hospital.  He laughed and said he liked taking people’s pain away, and no, they were happy to accept patients from CSULA.  We bumped fists (less infection possibility than a hand shake).

Someone said “Already.  Let’s put this patient under…”  My body flooded with Valium and other nice things.  I’m instantly warm, comfortable, very drowsy.  This is going to be no sweat.

* * *
Not MY X-Ray, but very similar.
Note the pinched spinal chord at the bottom.
The operation is called a ‘Decompression of the Lumbar Spine.’  What was astonishing was that for the complexity of the procedure, it took just two tiny incisions.  Amazing.

* * *
video
I awake screaming, tears squeezed out of my tightly closed eyes, in more pain than I have ever felt.  I squeeze the side of the bed so hard, I managed to jiggle around all the tubes and needles in my arm so that I end up bruised from the back of my thumb to my elbow.

I thought these people liked me!  Now it just seems like they’ve found exactly the nerves to inflict the most pain possible.  Not true, of course, it just felt that way.

“Give him some more…” someone says.  Still, screaming pain in the core of my body.  “A bit more” the voice commands.

Pretty quickly, the absolute worst of the pain subsides, but I’m clearly in for the long haul.

* * *
Working through the pain at home has been hard, as the anesthesia has worn off, and I’m back to existing outside the all-encompassing embrace of the hospital.

My former student Luis has temporarily moved into my place to help
My best pal and care-giver
me out for a couple of weeks.  He’s as close to a son as I can imagine.  We have a long history, mostly of my mentoring and developing a close friendship, helping him in any way I can, and he helping me numerous times by staying in my place when I am out of town, shooting and editing news projects, and in general hanging out with mutual friends.  Right now, I’m really leaning on him as my main ‘wing man’, helping with the heavier chores and cooking.

On that front, Luis is a grad of Cordon Bleu, and every time I turn around, he’s cooking delicious, tempting food – this may turn out to be the best thing about recovery.  T-Bone steaks, grilled squash/eggplant/onion & granny smith apples.   Potato leek soup with smoked pork neck bones.  Chilaquiles, with salsa.  Croissant bread pudding with stewed strawberries and pears.  Luis is great company; we have lots to talk about, and he laughs easily.  Compared with what I would be getting in a recovery hospital, I’ve struck it rich.  Luis brings friends over, which helps make my place a little more lively – he’s a great room mate, and really puts me at ease.  I know if there was a problem, he’d be there.

* * *
Which brings up the big issue of this post.  A week after the surgery is my birthday.  I’ve finally attained 62 years, which a week ago didn’t seem possible.  Today, with back brace, a walker, pain meds, and rehab on the horizon, I’m really feeling every one of those years.  The two hour surgery requires only two band aids.
Amazing, tiny incisions worked their magic


Despite the obvious care and concern of the great staff at the hospital  (especially to prep nurse Simone, who kept up a steady stream of conversation with me that was both funny, reassuring, and graceful in what she had to do and supervise in prepping me for surgery.  I’m quite simply in awe.)  The surgery and my birthday being so close to each other inevitably raised questions of age, mortality, fragility and how our lives are likely to be more and more impacted by health care, medicine, examinations, labs and the like as we grow grayer.

Also, this is a big one.  Sixty two was the age generations before us were allowed to move off the production line, and start taking life easier.  For my generation, 62 will just fly by.  As soon as I recover from this surgery, I’m back to work, and not likely to even consider retirement for at least another decade or more.

So I’m back to feeling a little anxious; not short-term, like worrying about the surgery, which is done, but long term.  How much productive time do I have left?  Have I treated the people in my life with the respect and affection they deserve?

Have I thanked people enough?  Not just regarding this surgery, but in life, in general?

* * *

George, Cecilia & me (Ctr.)
On my actual birthday, April 19, my personal social media started going crazy early in the morning.  By 12:00N, there are 19 voice messages, 26 texts, and an uncountable number of emails and FaceBook birthday messages.  A lot are from students, both current and from the rest of my teaching career, and from so many people from my past, some I haven’t seen in decades.  I get a call from my friends George Lewis and Cecilia Alvear.  George's birthday is a day before mine, and I've celebrated with their families for a number of years.  Cecilia called me up so that the whole gang at her house could join in singing happy birthday to both of us (and Cecilia's sister Magdalena's 4 year old grand daughter Sasha). 

The birthday messages move me.

I’m a cynical journalist, media watcher and teacher.  I remind everyone that it takes just a couple of clicks to send a birthday wish, usually from people who wouldn’t be reminded if it wasn’t for the electronic wizardry of FaceBook.  So as a media theorist, I’m jaded and unimpressed.

On the other hand, no one is forced to send me these kind thoughts.  On this count, I have to give FaceBook my grudging admiration.  The simple ability to send a nice thought to someone easily is the internet at its best.

I am virtually positive that there are folks who deserve more recognition than I do, and I don’t see this long string of postings as proof of my popularity.  Rather I see that long list of messages from people who took a few seconds to write me as part of the rich web of relationships, shared experiences, and connections we have stitched together over the past half century or so.

Old pal Linda was a friend in high school.  We had years of adventures in her VW bug, getting into the kind of benign trouble you are supposed to at that age.  I’ve had no connection to Linda and that circle of friends for 45 years.  Students, like Carlos in San Diego, who has been a pal since he was my student, nearly a decade ago.  I’ve always been proud of his accomplishments and love hearing of his adventures (newly minted dad!).  Friends in Pakistan, Singapore, Europe, and all across the country, from Hawaii to New York, Australia to Canada check in.

Each of my siblings, who know me better than anyone, call to rib me and offer me canes and walkers. (Sadly, I actually have the walker as part of my rehab.)  Rod, who was not only a student, but was also a staff member of our department, and after that an extraordinarily generous and successful producer at one of our major local networks.  He’s come back to school so many times to give inspiration and advice to our students, I don’t know how I can ever repay him.  The whole circle from a decade and a half in New York.  Undergrad school (Univ. of NV, Reno) and Grad School (NYU), a students from a semester teaching in Indiana – not just friends, but groups of friends; circles intersecting with other circles; faculty friends at my current school, Cal State LA, from my old life in radio at KPFK, KPCC and on NPR…representatives from all of them.

* * *

So, sure, it’s never been easier to pop out a Happy Birthday and be cynical about it.  But even from that perspective, I get a lump in my throat as I read down the list.

You didn’t have to write me, but you did.

It’s not a competition, but I can’t help but feel that there are a few people out there who remember me, who care about me, and in many more cases than I can count or deserve, who love me.

It’s humbling, but nourishing and about the best medication someone recovering from surgery could ask for, regardless of age.

It will never be enough, but I hereby post my thanks nonetheless.




Stitches & Scars

I’ve never had a significant surgery

…before April of this year.

Out of body, scared, anxious, utterly aware of the seriousness of this surgery, so close to my spinal column.  But it simply became a reality:  I was unable to function ‘normally’ without doing something about the shooting leg pain that never left.

***
The staff at USC Keck were wonderfully reassuring and supportive.

Then they stabbed me full of needles, put sensors all over my torso,  drew a bunch of my blood.  Plastic tubes hanging off my body, some pumping stuff in, some taking fluids out.  Ok so far.

“You might feel a little pinch…”

The neurosurgeon, Dr. Liu, not only explained what would happen, he also reassured me of the effectiveness of this procedure.

Finally, wheeled into the operating room, filled with massive machines, and a very kind, friendly staff again.  Head nurse – I think his name was Zac – covered with tattoos.  I felt at home.  It is the eastside after all.  I surrender.

Dr. Chbeeb, the anesthesiologist, is impossibly young.  I asked him why he specialized in anesthesiology and would it make any difference that I taught at CSULA while I’m in a USC hospital.  He laughed and said he liked taking people’s pain away, and no, they were happy to accept patients from CSULA.  We bumped fists (less infection possibility than a hand shake).

Someone said “Already.  Let’s put this patient under…”  My body flooded with Valium and other nice things.  I’m instantly warm, comfortable, very drowsy.  This is going to be no sweat.

* * *
Not my X-Ray, but very similar - note the pinched spinal chord
at the bottom of the images; much like my spine
The operation is called a ‘Decompression of the Lumbar Spine.’  What was astonishing was that for the complexity of the procedure, when it was all over, I ended up with just two band.  Amazing.

* * *
I awake screaming, tears squeezed out of my tightly closed eyes, in more pain than I have ever felt.  I squeeze the side of the bed so hard, I managed to jiggle around all the tubes and needles in my arm so that I end up bruised from the back of my thumb to my elbow.

I thought these people liked me!  Now it just seems like they’ve found exactly the nerves to inflict the most pain possible.  Not true, of course, it just felt that way.

“Give him some more…” someone says.  Still, screaming pain in the core of my body.  “A bit more” the voice commands.

Pretty quickly, the absolute worst of the pain subsides, but I’m clearly in for the long haul.
 * * *

Working through the pain at home has been hard, as the anesthesia has worn off, and I’m back to existing outside the all-encompassing embrace of the hospital.

My former student Luis has temporarily moved into my place to help me out for a couple of weeks.  He’s as close to a son as I can imagine.  We have a long history, mostly of my mentoring and developing a close friendship, helping him in any way I can, and he helping me numerous times by staying in my place when I am out of town, shooting and editing news project, and in general hanging out with mutual friends.  Right now, I’m really leaning on him as my main ‘wing man’, helping with the heavier chores and cooking.

On that front, Luis is a grad of Cordon Bleu, and every time I turn around, he’s cooking delicious, tempting food – this may turn out to be the best thing about recovery.  T-Bone steaks, grilled squash/eggplant/onion & granny smith apples.   Potato leek soup with smoked pork neck bones.  Chilaquiles, with salsa.  Croissant bread pudding with stewed strawberries and pears.  Luis is great company; we have lots to talk about, and he laughs easily.  Compared with what I would be getting in a recovery hospital, I’ve struck it rich.  Luis brings friends over, which helps make my place a little more lively – he’s a great room mate, and really puts me at ease.  I know if there was a problem, he’d be there.

* * *

Which brings up the big issue of this post.  A week after the surgery is my birthday.  I’ve finally attained 62 years, which a week ago didn’t seem possible.  Today, with back brace, a walker, pain meds, and rehab on the horizon, I’m really feeling every one of those years.

Despite the obvious care and concern of the great staff at the hospital  (especially to prep nurse Simone, who kept up a steady stream of conversation with me that was both funny, reassuring, and graceful in what she had to do and supervise in prepping me for surgery.  I’m quite simply in awe.)  The surgery and my birthday being so close to each other inevitably raised questions of age, mortality, fragility and how our lives are likely to be more and more impacted by health care, medicine, examinations, labs and the like as we grow grayer.

Also, this is a big one.  Sixty two was the age generations before us were allowed to move off the production line, and start taking life easier.  For my generation, 62 will just fly by.  As soon as I recover from this surgery, I’m back to work, and not likely to even consider retirement for at least another decade or more.

So I’m back to feeling a little anxious; not short-term, like worrying about the surgery, which is done, but long term.  How much productive time do I have left?  Have I treated the people in my life with the respect and affection they deserve?

Have I thanked people enough?  Not just regarding surgery, but in life, in general?

* * *

On my actual birthday, April 19, my personal social media started going crazy early in the morning.  By 12:00N, there are 19 voice messages, 26 texts, and an uncountable number of emails and FaceBook birthday messages.  A lot are from students, both current and from the rest of my teaching career, and from so many people from my past, some I haven’t seen in decades.

The birthday messages move me.

I’m a cynical journalist, media watcher and teacher.  I remind everyone that it takes just a couple of clicks to send a birthday wish, usually from people who wouldn’t be reminded if it wasn’t for the electronic wizardry of FaceBook.  So as a media theorist, I’m jaded and unimpressed.

On the other hand, no one is forced to send me these kind thoughts.  On this count, I have to give FaceBook my grudging admiration.  The simple ability to send a nice thought to someone easily is the internet at its best.

I am virtually positive that there are folks who deserve more recognition than I do, and I don’t see this long string of postings as proof of my popularity.  Rather I see that long list of messages from people who took a few seconds to write me as part of the rich web of relationships, shared experiences, and connections we have stitched together over the past half century or so.

Old pal Linda was a friend in high school.  We had years of adventures in her VW bug, getting into the kind of benign trouble you are supposed to at that age.  I’ve had no connection to Linda and that circle of friends for 45 years.  Students, like Carlos in San Diego, who has been a pal since he was my student, nearly a decade ago.  I’ve always been proud of his accomplishments and love hearing of his adventures (newly minted dad!).  Friends in Pakistan, Singapore, Europe, and all across the country, from Hawaii to New York, Australia to Canada check in.  Each of my siblings, who know me better than anyone, call to rib me and offer me canes and walkers. (Sadly, I actually have the walker as part of my rehab.)  Rod, who was not only a student, but was also a staff member of our department, and after that an extraordinarily generous and successful producer at one of our major local networks.  He’s come back to school so many times to give inspiration and advice to our students, I don’t know how I can ever repay him.  The whole circle from a decade and a half in New York.  Undergrad school (Univ. of NV, Reno) and Grad School (NYU), a students from a semester teaching in Indiana – not just friends, but groups of friends; circles intersecting with other circles; faculty friends at my current school, Cal State LA, from my old life in radio at KPFK, KPCC and on NPR…representatives from all of them.

* * *

So, sure, it’s never been easier to pop out a Happy Birthday and be cynical about it.  But even from that perspective, I get a lump in my throat as I read down the list.

You didn’t have to write me, but you did.

It’s not a competition, but I can’t help but feel that there are a few people out there who remember me, who care about me, and in many more cases than I can count, who love me.

It’s humbling, but nourishing and about the best medication someone recovering from surgery could ask for, regardless of age.

It will never be enough, even though I try to answer all of them.  I hereby post a thanks nonetheless!