Monday, March 18, 2013

My Father's Side of the Family

I can't tell you much about my father's father, as I never met my paternal grandfather Steven Sandy. As far as I know, my father Warren only met him once. It's harder to describe my father's family as things were a bit more crazy on that side.

My father was raised by his mother Francis, who gave birth to him when she was 14. She was Mexican and lived in New York City with my father as a boy, moving back to Mexico City in her 20's to remarry and have another child, my uncle Carl, an architect who still lives there today.

After her second divorce, Francis and my father moved to the heart of Los Angeles in one of those big old wooden two story houses that used to be common in the area and like you see in film noir movies. It even had a basement, which was not something I ever saw in people's homes, growing up in the San Fernando Valley or in Santa Monica and West LA, where my mother's parents lived.

Francis was a very free spirit and loved to party. She had lots of friends and always brought strangers to family gatherings, who then became part of our extended family. She loved her friends and she loved her dogs. She was engaged to my "Uncle Bill" for all my childhood and into my teens, until she died when I was 18.

Ignacio William Walsh was one of the finest men I have ever known and he loved my grandma Francis, my father and me dearly. He was an Irishman and a "corn husker" from Nebraska and I have no idea how he ever hooked up with my grandmother, but he was always around and, as far as I can tell, totally supported her financially as she never worked a day in my life. Francis lived alone with her little white cock-a-poos in her big house and Bill had his own place nearby that everyone jokingly referred to as "sputnik" because it was up on a hill and it was the 50's and 60's.

Bill's house was a literal maze of magazines, newspapers and books and he always encouraged me to educate myself more than anyone else. He was also a very funny and gentle man, always smiling or laughing and telling jokes. I could see that he wanted to marry my grandmother Francis, but they obviously had some kind of arrangement and it seemed to work for them.

My great aunt Flo, Francis' older sister, was a devote catholic who went to mass daily (or so it seemed to me) and was always disapproving of Francis and everyone else, except for my Father, who they both adored. Flo and her husband Bob had no children and so I was treated rather special too.

I am 11 years older than my sister Susan, while my older half-sister Carol, from my dad's first marriage, lived with her mother and adopted father, so I was essentially an only child for most of my youth. My uncle Carl had two children, but they rarely came to the US to visit. When I was 9, my parents and I drove to Chihuahua, Mexico City and Acapulco, a trip that I will never forget and an inspiration for my travels here in Mexico today and for many years after college.

Flo and Bob lived with Frances and Flo's brother Fedencio (uncle Fed), who seemed to spend most of his time writing and publishing a newspaper about revolution in Mexico and was the first person to ever speak to me intelligently about higher mathematics and politics. Everyone told me he was a bit crazy, but I always loved seeing him and he would hug me and call me "chiquito", which means "little one". Uncle Fed was very short and I was already 6'3" by the age of 14 but he always called me that anyway.

Everyone on my father's side of the family was fluent in Spanish, even Bill. My mother and her side of our family (Gertrude, Otto, Lotte, Ellie and Paul) were all fluent in German. I studied more German than Spanish in school, which was handy in my mathematics studies in college. I am finally catching up on my Spanish now and I know that my dad's side of the family would all appreciate this if they were still around.

The food was always awesome when the two families came together at the holidays. Ham, roast beast, turkey and mashed potatoes next to mole, rice and frijoles. German chocolate cake and flan. Rolls and tortillas. There are few things in life that I miss, but I would give just about anything to relive one of those meals.

Francis used to drive my mother crazy at parties, always showing up quite late, which is normal Mexican protocol unless one specifies "English time". Once my mother tried to fool her and invited Francis two hours early and of course Francis showed up on time to my mother's shock and dismay. My mother tried to BS her way out of it and kept asking "where is everyone?" and pretending to not understand why everyone else was so late.

Francis died in a house fire. I'm not sure how it started and neighbors said that she had gotten out, but went back in for her dogs. They escaped and survived unharmed, but she died of smoke inhalation. I think she was still in her mid 50's.

Years later, Bill married one of Francis' best friends and we kept in touch while I was in college. He seemed very happy and would write jokes in all our letters. I think he had always longed to settle down and finally did.

I was very fortunate to have such loving grand parents, aunts and uncles.

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My Grandfather Paul

My grandfather, on my mother's side, fell eight stories from a scaffold while working on a New York hi-rise. He survived, but his partner, who he landed on, did not. There was no workmen's comp back then and he was laid up for two years. He lost his job too.

As a result, he was an epileptic for the rest of his life, having a seizer every afternoon like clockwork. He was never allowed to drive again.

A WWI vet, he had migrated from Hamburg, Germany to Hamburg, New Jersey in the 20's. His wife and my aunt followed some years later. My mother and my uncle were born and spent their early childhood in NJ. They were kids when grandpa fell and his wife worked as a housekeeper and took in laundry to make ends meet. My mother hated the depression and always talked about it in terms of food availability, especially the lack of pork chops, which she loved.

After recovering from the accident, Paul (pronounced 'Powell', by his wife Ellie, my grandmother) migrated to Trona, California, near Death Valley, where he worked as a machinist. The family eventually followed some years later, coming by way of the Panama Canal, to West LA, where my grandmother became a housekeeper for Charlie Chaplin and my mom attended University High School during WWII. My uncle was a submariner in the Pacific. I remember looking at my mom's HS yearbook as a kid; almost all the boys were in uniform.

After graduating, she worked at the Broadway, Downtown for a while and eventually met and married my dad when they were in their early twenties. They said they met in the unemployment line. I showed up about 9 months later.

As a boy in the 50's and 60's, I would often stay with my grandparents. Paul would get up very early every morning, make coffee and have a smoke, while making me a light breakfast of smoked fish on toast. I used to love that and still do. He would always bring my grandmother a cup of coffee and kiss her good morning, but otherwise they spent their lives watching TV in their separate rooms. They both liked to watch wrestling (my grandmother hated "that Freddy Blase") and she would cook dinner for the two them, which they ate in their rooms on TV trays. Whenever I came to visit, Paul would hide Ellie's teeth as a joke, which I thought was hysterical. They loved each other in their own funny way.

In his 70's, grandpa would hold out his arm and I would swing from it. I was a skinny kid back then. In his 80's, he was hit by a car and tossed several feet, breaking his arm and collar bone, but otherwise recovered ok. He finally died at the age of 84, within a year of my grandmother's passing. He was still taking his morning walks down Wilshire Blvd, from Bundy to the Santa Monica Pier and back, running errands and always dressed in his olive drab or dark blue Sears work shirt and pants.

He gave me the best advice anyone ever has. He told me: "Marky, I go to bed every night with no worries, let a good one out the backside and turn over and go to sleep."

He liked one good belt of scotch at night (Black Label) and smoked two packs of Pall Mall everyday until he died. He never showed any adverse effects not attributable to his accidents. Not everyone gets cancer from smoking.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sounds of the city - Veracruz - Elotes

I love the city sounds that I can hear from our apartment, here in Veracruz. I often hear this one going by at night and have wondered what it was. I knew it was a street vendor, but could never quite make out his call.

Tonight on the way... to dinner with Alicia, he passed by and I could hear him clearly sign out "elotes!", which is cooked corn, either on the cob or by the cup full. A very popular snack in mexico, it is usually cooked in butter and served with salt and lime, or other toppings that I have not tried yet.



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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shannon Hacks My Photo

Shannon Noble, a vlogger friend whom I have long admired recently applied his techniques to one of my photos. I really dig it and am seriously thinking about dying my beard blue. Thanks Shannon.

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Lazy Sunday in Veracruz

Lazy sunday, warm, sunny day outside. Laying naked on the bed after a shower with the AC on. Her body still excites me after all these years. Making love slowly. The kids, now in their late 20's, would probably think we are nuts. They'd be right. We are. About each other.

Life does not end at 50 (almost, 60 now).

Tip: sell everything and run away with your beloved.

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Learning to Code

I've only ever taken one course on computer programming. That is, if you don't count the more than 100 that I have taught (tip: teaching is the best way to learn something).

It was a course in HP BASIC taught by a Mr. William Gibson at Santa Ana Junior College (Community College today as JC seems to have fallen out of favor over the years).

We used an HP computer that was about size of a small... fridge (tall, but narrow). We used a single teletype terminal like a DEC-writer to enter code and stored our programs on paper punch tape (looks like a thich ticker tape with brail).

We had a quiz every week, in which we would be asked to write out the solution in HP BASIC to a specific problem like reversing a string or something simple. There were generally 10 blank lines on the quiz sheet and the scoring was simple: if the program was correct and under 10 lines, you got an A. If you got it correct and needed more lines, you got a C. Otherwise, F.

It was a fun class and I learned a lot about problem solving.

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How it all started - Programming

How it all started:

When I was 17, I used to hang out with my next door neighbor Jim, who went to UC Irvine. We used to get high and play cards or pinball at the student union. Then we'd go over to the computer lab for some all nighters, playing a text version of Star Trek on professor's accounts that Lurch had hacked into.

I didn't find computer games very interesting. I was a pinball wizard. ...Fireball was my favorite. But I loved getting high and hanging out with the older kids, especially my friend Jim, whom we called "Lurch" because he was 6'7" and skinny. I was 6'4" and skinny and hi called me "Clyde".

I would play the Star Trek game a little, but it would usually crash at some point and I'd have to ask Lurch how to restart it. It was written in some variant of BASIC and he would say "just type run" to restart it.

One night, I asked him what else I could type and he said "type list".

That simple command, together with "edit", opened up a whole new world to me. It is still one of the best games I've ever played.

Thanks Lurch.

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

La Crepe et la Lune Restaurante

OMG! two super FTW's today. First, Alicia needed a crown repair and found a totally excellent dentist who did the complete job today for under $70. The woman was very friendly, spoke English and had the latest equipment. Most US dentists would have made this a two appointment job, but she got it done quick and neat.

Second, Alicia has been wanting to try out a little restaurant down the street for some time and we finally made it over to La Crepe et la Lune.

OMG! Did I already say that? The service and food was to die for. Everyone is so accommodating there. Near the end of the meal, Alicia wanted to step outside for a smoke and so they just picked up our coffee's and drinks and moved them outside to one of the outdoor tables. We had drinks, Carpaccio (again, i know, that's twice this week), a Roquefort salad, french onion soup, Dijon chicken with asparagus, tomatoes and mozzarella, an imported rib eye in a wine reduced sauce with a side of some pleasantly spicy spaghetti, an apple strudel crepe with vanilla ice creme and some of the best French roast coffee I've had in a long time. Cost was about 687 pesos (~$54), plus tip.

— with Alicia Shay at La Crepe et la Lune Restaurante.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mr. Pampas

A short video of our trip to Mr. Pampas Brazilian style restaurant last week. A great little place near our apartment in Boca Del Rio, Veracruz, Mexico. Warning: this is for meat lovers only.

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