A Breath of Fresh Air

People are coming out of the woodwork to campaign for her. There’s a movement happening in my neighborhood, and it’s huge. Well, okay, it’s pretty big. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we all were cast in one of those feel-good Hallmark movies.

It’s real and the energy is palpable, and it’s wonderful.

Let’s back it up a bit. In this interminable campaign, we’ve slung garbage at ourselves and the world, and the rank air will linger. We’ve perfected “going negative” to a science. Candidates must attack in order to be taken seriously. Like it or not, it’s now part of our culture. Just watch TV; how many shows feature a group of people sitting around a table, all talking at the same time? Listening is out. We don’t debate; we point fingers in faces and yell louder. And we talk crude. Crude is in.

So now we’re exhausted. Families have turned against families, friends against friends. People are “unfriending” loved ones because they don’t see eye to eye and have lost respect for each other. There have been arguments, many arguments. It may have taken years to get everyone in the family on Facebook, but now, with one single click, we’ve cut our ties. Thanksgiving is at hand, but we’ve pared down our guest lists because we couldn’t possibly sit at the table with people who are enemies. How could we have been so blind? We were friends for ages!

And then we come back to a breath of fresh air: the local election in my neighborhood. There’s a woman running for City Council in my district. She’s amazing. Everybody here knows her. Everybody loves her. She’s the voice of optimism and know-how and tenacity and real caring. She has been working and volunteering for neighbors and kids for two and a half decades. She gets things done and really helps people. She shares her successes. And here’s something; she listens. She listens hard to what people are saying; instead of just getting the gist of the idea and forming a quick response as to why it’s never gonna work, she’s listening.

Helen could have gone negative. She had opportunities. Heck, there was a negative campaign against her. But in a way that is purely Helen Chapman, our neighborhood candidate put the facts out there. She quickly proved every word against her was false, posted the substantiating documents on her website immediately so the voters could see them for themselves, and then went on campaigning, fighting the good fight.

There is an impressive list of people and groups endorsing Helen Chapman and there’s a good reason for this. She’s the real deal. But more than that, this groundswell of neighbors coming out of the woodwork to support her, to phone bank and make assembly lines of literature and maps and to put flyers on doorknobs and to walk precincts introducing voters to the person we know to be so perfect for this job – this has been the greatest. There are family members helping and retired folks and moms and kids and old friends and new and former colleagues, and neighbors just wanting to help and people who have heard about her and who want to lend a hand. Volunteers who don’t even live in the district are participating in this positive campaign because it’s obvious that to this candidate, and pervasive throughout her campaign, people matter.

Helen is a role model. We are overjoyed that in our neck of the woods, so many of us who are coming out of the woodwork can focus on those old-fashioned Hallmark qualities of good character and honesty and a strong work ethic and positive energy and enthusiasm and a can-do spirit and successes for people, not on the backs of them. All of it. Helen has built strong relationships with the community; she’s a fabulous resource. She’s smart. Her word means something. She gets involved and stays with it for the long-run. She supports local businesses, and is adamant about using them to create her campaign materials. She’ll buy breakfast for her walkers – again supporting local businesses. Helen says that her number one special interest is her constituents, the residents of District 6 in San Jose, CA, and their concerns.

While making phone calls early in the campaign, I was asked to find out the areas of interest of voters of District 6. So when I made calls, first I introduced them to Helen, and then I asked the voters which issues specifically concerned them, their families and neighbors. Callers did not hang up on me. On the contrary, they were excited to talk to me and several people told me they were stunned; no one had ever asked them what was important to them and on their minds.

So as I leave my own woodwork today to spend the afternoon campaigning, I am enjoying that Hallmark experience of goodness. Yes, it’s a close election. Yes, we are working hard. Rancor among families and voters is pervasive nationally, but with this one race, where the candidate’s campaign slogan is “Working Together,” we embrace individuals. No unfriending here.  Oh yeah, and the air in this neighborhood, anyway, is clear and sweet.

Kathy Galgano

November 6, 2016

 

 

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SOBERING, TROUBLING, and LASTING IMPRESSIONS

Aboard BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to San Francisco from the East Bay city of Fremont, a 20 mile drive north of my home in San José, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the rails. While driving to the station, I have to admit that even the usual aggravating sloth-paced Friday afternoon commuter lane crawl was enjoyable, all because my upbeat, recent college-grad niece accompanied me. I hugged my niece goodbye at the station, and we headed for separate trains. I was excited to hop on anything that would move gloriously faster than what we had just endured. If that thought wasn’t enough to keep my mood elevated, I was thrilled knowing that my vehicle was parked in a well-lit and patrolled lot in front of the station and, as I had timed my trip purposefully for a post-3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon departure, parking overnight for 24 hours into Saturday would be free. So not only was I spared the painfully slow freeway commute to the City, I also would not have to fork over big bucks to park there. BART would bring me very close to the Moscone Convention Center, so things were working out perfectly. Well, I believed that until I walked through the Powell Street Station in San Francisco.

I had not ridden BART in a long time, although weekly I look forward to my niece visiting us for a day or two from her place in the East Bay. I meet her outside the Fremont station; she sits on a bench if I’m running a few minutes late. My niece has never told me she has felt unsafe, and I have not witnessed people who make me worry about my niece’s safety. I see folks of all ages rushing in and out of the station and waiting for rides. However, after my walk through the Powell Street Station last Friday, I vowed to myself that I will not ride BART again into San Francisco as long as I have other available options.

I don’t think of myself as a “head in the sand” person, so my shock at seeing homeless person after homeless person, body after body, sleeping on the floor throughout the large Powell Street Station surprised me. No, that’s not accurate. It stunned me. Some people, men mostly, slept on flat pieces of corrugated cardboard. Others slept on the floor with a rolled-up sweatshirt under their head, with no cardboard separating themselves from the floor. Throughout the long underground station, many people had chosen to sleep next to a wall, but others had positioned themselves with their heads against the wall and their feet jutting into the corridor. As it is a wide corridor, at least I didn’t have to step over anybody. Some people sat propped up, and a few were eating. One man was talking to no one in particular, but overall, it was eerily quiet. Walking through the station I noticed two separate empty squares of cardboard, one set in a corner with a blanket on it, and the other against a wall. I figured these “beds” were already claimed. I looked at my watch; it was just after 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon on a bright and relatively warm day without precipitation. What would this place look like in a few hours when it grew dark? I consider myself a compassionate person, but honestly, I did not want to walk through the station at that time to get my answer. I was in shock.

My city, San Jose, has a large homeless population and I’m not immune to it. No one is, really. I choose to live in an urban neighborhood, so I see more homeless people than I would were I to live in a suburban or rural area. My neighbors and I do not turn a blind eye to people near us who are in need. Sometimes meals, clothing, and sleeping bags are accepted, and other times, they are not. Some of the homeless in my neighborhood are very kind people, though neighbors have not been able to engage them in lengthy conversation. At the park where I walk my dog, there is a constant discussion among neighbors as to what can be done, especially since people have been known to sleep on the school grounds. One man has called the school his home now for months and months. I was told that the school administrators have asked him to vacate the grounds when classes are in session, and he obliges. This gentleman uses a small space. There is always evidence that someone inhabits this space, as he may leave food containers or wrappers, trash, there, or some clothing that neighbors have given him. And there is always a rounded depression left in the tan bark where he sleeps.

Can a person live at a school? Other than asking him to leave the grounds during class time, the school does not take responsibility. They say they can’t. But isn’t the school responsible for the health and safety of its students and staff? This homeless man is not a safety threat; he has a gentle disposition and acknowledges us. However, there are other homeless people who have lived in the yard, or who have spent time there, and not all of them have been kind. One is belligerent, and I feel threatened when he is near. There may also be a health threat, even from the pleasant man.

When neighbors arrive to enjoy the park after school hours, conversations frequently progress from noticing if the homeless gentleman is in his usual spot, to asking if other homeless individuals have been seen at or near the school that day, and if anyone knows if they have eaten or accepted recent offers to help. We wonder what can be done when someone is living on the school grounds, as it just seems wrong. Neighbors discuss what obligation the school has to step in. We wonder how this man survived the bitter winter this year. We recognize that while there are more homeless in our neighborhood now, it is still a drop in the bucket compared to the large-scale homeless problem in San José. We discuss just how little the police can do, especially on a long-term basis, even when a person becomes belligerent and throws rocks at us (we do call the police for situations like that). We wish out loud that the long-term school resident would change from his tattered, filthy rags to the clothing that neighbors have given him, and we also wish that he would avail himself of neighborhood services for the homeless. If the man who lives at the school uses bathroom facilities in local businesses during the day, what about after hours? We wonder if local restaurant owners ask the homeless man to leave if he has been standing or sitting outside a business for a long period of time, though we don’t think they have done this. We ask ourselves if there is anything more that we can do. There must be city or county services available. However, just like refusing to wear new clothing, what happens if help is refused? Again, can people live at a school? We acknowledge that we shouldn’t always feel obligated to buy a coffee or a meal every time we walk by a homeless person. The problem is overwhelming and our frustration escalates. One of the neighbors described how one morning, when he was in line at a local coffee shop, a homeless man created a minor scene, talking loudly in the shop, and after he was asked to leave and was standing outside the premises, a patron handed him a hot cup of coffee. That worked; sometimes we see the humor in experiences. We talk about the future, the importance of a stellar education for our youth so they can live and work in society and make good decisions to help end the perpetuation of a cycle of living on the margins. We discuss it all as our dogs run back and forth in the side yard, chasing balls and having fun. And we make a decision as to how we exit the school grounds, which border two streets, depending on which homeless person is stationed where.

As a result of my experience at the Powell Street Station, I opted to take Caltrain to San Francisco and back each day to attend a convention. Not only is the San Jose Diridon train station only a mile from home, the San Francisco Caltrain station is even closer to the Moscone Center, and I did not have to file past dozens and dozens of homeless individuals in either of the stations. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was going to work for me.

While walking to the Diridon station very early one morning, I had to sidestep a man sleeping on the sidewalk of the underpass as I neared the station. I am fairly certain he was just sleeping, although I wasn’t sure; he looked very still. I’m assuming it was his hypodermic needle that I stepped over in the middle of the sidewalk. When I told this story to a colleague at the convention, she said that the night before, when she was walking through the Powell Street BART station and past the many, many homeless people, one homeless man was vomiting. She said it was bad. She didn’t know who was going to take care of it, and she was upset by it.

Sadly, that’s two of us now who are going to elect to start driving again to the City.

Kathy Galgano

June 7, 2014

Minus and Plus

The crop from our orange tree is miniscule this year. Normally, the tree is dripping with fruit and it is dangerous to walk under it; you’re apt to be beaned. This year, we wait days for one orange to ripen for harvesting. While few and far between, these are banner moments as they are the sweetest oranges I have ever tasted.

A pesky insomniac opossum is wreaking havoc in the “hood.” Day and night, it climbs on vines, trees and roofs, causing the neighborhood dogs to bark incessantly. The dogs are in overdrive and nobody’s sleeping. Even the local orange and white feral cat that visits our yard is on edge. Yesterday morning, the water-hating cat stood in the pouring rain in my driveway looking up at me through my kitchen window. I knew something was amiss. Moments later, the ample-sized long-tailed marsupial culprit strolled down the high fence outside my kitchen window and climbed into the budding plum tree on my neighbor’s side. I could have sworn I saw it picking and sampling the delicate plum blossoms. Well, perhaps this spring and summer the opossum will put a stop to the large numbers of squirrels that make that section of the fence and tree their private dining room. It’s bad enough the squirrels pick plum after plum in succession, taking only a bite from each piece before tossing and grabbing a fresh one. What’s worse, they watch me watching them from the window while doing it. If I can’t intimidate the squirrels, and the dog held in my arms can’t intimidate the squirrels, perhaps the opossum can do it. I’ll have to figure out how to intimidate the opossum on another day.

During normal, non-drought winters, after a good soaking rain, I inspect the tall leaves growing from the bulbs planted in the front yard. Snails plant themselves in the leaves, make more snails, and munch on my plants. As gardening does not come easy to me, and as I have paid good money for these bulbs, (much of my garden is comprised of “volunteer” plants) I invite the snails to choose new homes. If they have difficulty deciding on a new venue, as there are multiple good choices available to them, I offer my assistance. I gently detach the snails from their strongholds in my leaves and toss them (again, gently) over my shoulder to the pile of yard waste in the street. From there, they can slime their way a few feet to neighbors’ greenery, or choose to remain in the soft and fresh pile of clippings and cuttings, which I am sure is most satisfactory. It may come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with this process, but there have been occasions where snails have exercised a modification of plans during relocation, adroitly effecting a change of heart while in mid-air! I recall the time that a gentle “thud” caused me to turn around abruptly. A snail had decided, in mid transition, to make its new home on the hood of a squad car parked in front of my home in my urban neighborhood. This must have been one thrill-seeking snail! The snail offered no apology for its “short comings,” and who was I to intervene with this snail’s wish? I do not enjoy the touch of these intriguing creatures, and would prefer that they first made inquiries before settling into my plants. It would be a time-saving and optimal approach for all involved. And while I wonder about the environmental ramifications that so few snails have had to be queried this winter for their first, second and third housing choices, I have to admit that perhaps one small personal benefit of this horrific dry spell is that this winter I have enjoyed a reprieve from the snail relocation process.

Kathy Galgano

February 27, 2014

HOMEWARD BOUND (THANKSGIVING PART III of III)

This piece is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend, Patrice.

I needed two shopping carts to collect everything on my list, and this didn’t even include the turkey. I had ordered a beautiful bird at the mom and pop grocery store near my job; years ago only a handful of markets sold turkeys raised without hormones. That wasn’t the main reason I selected what I now call my “Save the Whale” turkey, however. These birds were fresh, not frozen for weeks on end, and my guests said they could taste the difference. That’s all that mattered.

Looking for ideas in my cookbooks, I landed on this one recipe for stuffing (we had never called it “dressing”), and immediately stopped turning the pages. It’s true that aromas can trigger very powerful memories, but I was instantly transported to another place and time merely by perusing a list of ingredients. Immediately, I was a kid with my family visiting Manhattan for the day. We’d see the sights and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in December, and then would stop to buy a wonderfully warm pretzel from a street vendor. On freezing days, I found these carts a bit of inviting warmth. I can recall the enticing aroma wafting from that stand. It was the chestnuts. Vendors scooped the warm nuts into little paper bags before handing them over to the customers, and I breathed in this drifting essence. I looked down at my page; I would recreate this memory. Roasted chestnut stuffing was on the menu.

Friends began to arrive early Wednesday evening. They brought cheese, crackers and chips, and wine, tossed their coats in the bedroom, rolled up their sleeves, some donning aprons, and grabbed peelers, knives and cutting boards. They were eager to get to work. Throughout the evening, the “Slicers and Dicers” peppered me with questions. “How far down do we need to peel the acorn squashes?” I answered, “You want to peel down to the bright orange.” “Got it.”

Next question: “What do I do with these chestnuts?” “We’re supposed to prick them with a knife before roasting them in the oven.” “Like this?” “That looks about right,” I said. Then I added, “Here, I’ll help you.” I was looking forward to working with the chestnuts. I had even called my dad about preparing them. In response to my question, Dad had said, “Prick them with a sharp knife.” That corresponded with the recipe’s description.

Next I heard, “Are you sure you want us to do two bags of potatoes?” “Sure, just peel ‘em all.” “Okay! You’re the boss.” I figured people would want seconds, right?*

“Do you want the bread for the stuffing cubed like this?” “That looks great,” I answered. We played music, sipped wine, and conversations filled the kitchen, dining and living rooms. There was the inviting expectation of a holiday in the air, and it just felt right.

With this group toiling away, I prepared the standard pre-Thanksgiving fare. When I gave the word, we quickly cleared the table and sat down to a dinner of pasta and meatballs, salad and garlic bread, just like all those times years ago with our friends who had moved to Germany. One time, a neighbor’s cat had wandered in our partially open patio door; the kitchen was so cozy and warm. Hours later, when only a few of the Slicers and Dicers remained, and we began to rearrange furniture for the next-day’s feast, a surprised, long-forgotten sleeping cat jumped down from his perch on a kitchen chair, hidden by the tablecloth. We had truly extended our family of friends that year.

So I had the chestnuts in the oven. The potato “KP” team was on a roll; I grew up believing that “KP” meant “keep peeling.” I was stirring the large skillet of sizzling sausage, diced celery and onion, and at some point would add the diced apple and fresh herbs. The chestnuts would be shelled, chopped and added, too. Early on Thursday morning, I would toss this savory blend in with the bread and eggs, and then stuff the enormous bird. While from year to year I may have changed recipes for stuffing or side dishes, there are a few established components of my turkey prep that I will never alter. An entire bottle of chardonnay gets poured into the bottom of the roasting pan, and I choose from fresh herbs, rosemary, sage, thyme, growing in my garden. Very early on, my visiting cousin had explained to me the value of draping bacon over the bird. The bacon drippings baste the main course. When our guest list included people who didn’t eat pork, I switched to turkey bacon. As I was stirring away that night, making one mental note after another, I glanced at the clock. It was time. Grabbing a potholder, I opened the oven door and began to smile. Just as I had hoped, I was back in New York City, next to a little cart filled with warm pretzels and chestnuts. What heaven. I knew the aroma was starting to drift because I heard a few others murmur “MMMMM.” Not bad for a first-timer, I thought. As I began to draw the tray out of the oven, it happened.

POP! POP! Chestnuts exploded in the oven. What a show! My dad had warned me that if they weren’t pricked deeply enough, the steam inside would cause them to erupt. I smiled again. Dad was 3,000 miles away and right again. I lingered in front of the oven. After a few seconds of all quiet, I withdrew the tray. More POPS! There were a few shrieks; I think they were mine. Bits of chestnut hung from the ceiling. They clung to the refrigerator, the walls, the floor, a few guests, and me. Nobody was burnt, thank Goodness, but what a mess! We were all laughing hard now, but I had gotten my wish! In all the years that I have been making Thanksgiving dinners, I have never lived that moment down.

Dinner was delicious, and there was good reason for this. Over the years, so many friends and visiting family members have pitched in, not only to complete the Wednesday night prep work, but to cook entire dishes, and to stir, mash vegetables, season foods, create desserts, prepare the cranberry sauce from scratch, make roux for the gravy, heroically attempt to keep up with the growing mound of pots and pans, and most importantly, remember to add charcoals to the grill each hour. And as carving is not my strongpoint, yearly I have relied on one guest in particular to help me. As the turkey rests on the counter, and I spoon the stuffing from it into a bowl, we all stop to enjoy the crisp smoky bacon that basted the turkey. Now that’s a fitting hors d’oeuvre.

Some years, we’ve rented tables and chairs and extra linens, even chafing dishes. With the extra tables, we have formed a giant “H” configuration in the living and dining rooms so everybody can be seated. The largest group was 34 people. Sometimes, I’ve knocked on neighbors’ doors requesting oven space because the briquettes weren’t catching in either grill (one grill for each bird.) A few times, the turkeys were done ahead of schedule, and my electric warming tray came to the rescue. The year we hosted 34 people proved to be one of those “Help! They just aren’t cooking!” years. My sister and her family were visiting. When my sister asked what she could do to assist, I quickly responded: “Play! Please play.”

My niece calls her mom a “human jukebox.” What a fitting description. While I was frantically checking my watch and chanting, “Cook, Turkeys, Cook,” my sis was leading the guests in an impromptu sing-along on our yard-sale-purchased upright piano. Who knew two opera singers would be in the crowd that year? The crew in the kitchen started to hum, too. After playing popular show and movie tunes, my sister segued into Beatles’ songs. The animated group was really into their pre-dinner show now. When I heard, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” I couldn’t even imagine the appetite this gang had worked up. The place erupted in cheers when I delivered my sing-song, long-awaited message: “The turkeys are done!”

Every year there comes a time when several of my returning guests approach me individually, and whisper, “Are we going to do it again this year?” I smile. My response is always the same. “Yes!”

Returning guests can’t wait to see the faces of new guests as they experience this time-honored tradition. It is the moment we have long awaited, or dreaded, perhaps. It is our signature Thanksgiving experience, and so we crank up the volume, loud. As the bowls of heavy cream make their way around the table along with the whisks and my ancient frilly pink apron or my moo cow apron with little cloth bovine ears on the bib, guests are inspired to work by the appropriate, mood-setting tunes. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Booming is the Devo classic, “Whip it.” Guests recite, “Whip it. Whip it good.” The bowl gets passed to a newcomer. Someone places the apron on their neck. While whisking away, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” comes up next on our personal Thanksgiving hit parade, again played at eye-popping decibels. It’s likely that not everyone has had a chance to whisk, and the bowls of cream aren’t quite ready. Now people are dancing to Weird Al Yankovic’s wonderful spoof, “Eat it.” Guests clap and groove to the beat. It’s a raucous affair.

Imagine this scenario as experienced by quite an elderly woman who spoke not a word of English. Our dear friend’s daughter brought her boyfriend and his grandmother for dinner. We had never met. A little unsure of what she would think, I went ahead with the tradition and just kept my fingers crossed. As the music rocked the room, she was the life of the party. Another time, a friend brought a guest whom we were excited to meet, but as I was behind schedule, I hugged each of them and handed over a large bunch of freshly washed parsley. “I’m so happy you came,” I told them. “Now, can you garnish all the plates with a sprig, please?” Another year a friend brought a colleague from Japan to our home. Experiencing his first Thanksgiving, this engineer settled in at the piano and played magnificent jazz. Somehow, guests found just enough room between tables and chairs to dance before dinner. It was a thrill.

Other years, it wasn’t just unlit charcoals that created drama. When the kitchen sink stopped up, we couldn’t run the water without catching it in pans lest we’d need to call out the rowboats. That year my husband’s family was here. Not only were my sister-in-law and brother-in-law fabulous cooks, they were quite handy with tools, too! Another time we had a small flood in our basement. No little plumbing issue is going to put a damper on Thanksgiving. One year I had to set-up a booth at a crafts fair I was participating in, to be held on Friday. Our family of friends took care of everything!

One neighbor really jazzed things up one time. Guests watched him as he walked back and forth in his yard outside our dining and living room windows. First, he wore a red wig. The next time he walked by, he modeled a different one. I don’t know how many wigs he owned, but he sported a different one with each pass. We were dining on seconds before somebody finally said something. Then, everyone howled. While they were perplexed, guests figured they should be polite, so they had said nothing. At my urging, my sport of a neighbor had advised me that he would “come up with something” for us that day.

Just like the Thanksgivings of years ago, everyone here always inquires about each other’s family living in other parts of the country. Over the years, many of us have lost loved ones back home, and sadly, we have lost one of our own, a dear friend with whom we shared every holiday and who always graced us with her presence, her spirit, her smile, her sense of humor, her great conversation, her friendship, and her incredible desserts. While we miss her, we feel her presence through time spent with old friends.

Unlike the Thanksgivings of years ago, we no longer think of ourselves as “transplants,” or “orphans.” We no longer play “Homeward Bound” with each meal. Each year, when our house is brimming and the living room windows are steamed up because of all the cooking, we build on the treasured memories of years past, and know that we are home.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

*Note to self: Making 20 lbs. of mashed potatoes is ridiculous.

Kathy Galgano

November 18, 2013

HALLOWEEN REPRISED

With about a hundred Trick O’ Treaters, (neighbors closer to the elaborately decorated “Halloween House” down the street get many times this number) and candy tossed to some cleverly-dressed parents, a few costumed kids jump to the top of my memory.

But for starters, I am saddened to say we didn’t get one single toddler who insisted on marching into our living room, believing he would be visiting with us for the evening. Last year, this kid was inconsolable. He had completed the requisite dressing up with parents fussing over him at home, had taken the nice long walk, (I’m guessing that to a toddler, a short block or two is enough), arrived at the door, and rang the bell via mommy-help. We hadn’t met before, but even the dog was happy to see him. Why wouldn’t he want to settle on the perfect height of a chair, the bottom stair in our house, and remove his wrap? From there he could relax, see everybody and easily pet the dog. This little kid really understood the rules of hospitality.

Think about it. Would you want to spend the money and time to buy or make a new outfit, then linger over looking your best, walk or drive to your friend’s house, anticipate the wafts of a fabulous meal as you ring the bell, only to be greeted by a smiling host, who, upon opening the door, shakes your hand, thrusts a doggie bag in your clutches, and bellows, “You look great! See you next year!”?

The only way we could get the toddler to make his next call, (and of course we told his parents they were more than welcome to stay and visit), was for me to leash the dog and accompany them to our neighbors’ house. The tears stopped flowing when we all took a friendly walk together; the little guy even held the leash. And once again, he rang the bell via mommy-help, and my neighbors opened the door and smiled and greeted him. The toddler marched into their living room and made himself comfortable. I didn’t wait around to see what happened next.

This year, lots of kids really fussed with make-up (or their parents fussed), to spectacular results. One little girl modeled a Dia de los Muertos costume. Her colorful and ornate dress was handmade, and her make-up was less skeletal, prettier. She looked beautiful. I can’t imagine how much time and patience it took for this team to achieve these expert results. Then there was the kid with a zipper realistically applied to his face. The zipper was open, and I could have sworn it could be zipped shut. Chilling and amazing!

But the kid who wins my Candy Corn award for embodying the spirit of their character (an award I just now devised) goes to a hobgoblin whose costume was quite popular this year. While I greeted kids one-by-one in a large group who all happened upon my door at the same time, I heard this familiar little tune from somewhere in the crowd: “Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada dada, Da-da dada dada, dada….” Each princess and ninja and devil and kitty cat and zombie and candy corn and tree and cell phone and Star Wars character (sadly, no Minions this year) selected a piece of sugary goodness from the bowl. The singing continued. Da-da dada dada dada…. He was last in the group, and when I looked up, I saw that one dad alone remained in the driveway. With great confidence, Batman selected a treat, still singing his theme song, and gazed up at me with a serious look on his face, and shouted, “Thank you, citizen!” He turned, ran down the steps, with his cape billowing as he ran, and joined his father, who was laughing even harder than I. Looking at the dad quizzically, I wondered if his boy had rehearsed this routine. The dad shook his head to answer my unspoken question, and exclaimed, “I had no idea!”

Runner-up goes to this very little guy who smiled when I remarked that I liked his magician costume, with cape and all. While he selected a treat, I asked him if he could provide me with a trick. He happily obliged. Removing his top hat, he waved his wand over it. Very quietly, he whispered something close to “Abracadabra” and reached inside the hat. He had a little trouble maneuvering a fabric panel, but moved it enough for me to see that a plush bunny was hidden inside. After a few more minutes of struggle, his mom helped him to extricate the rabbit, and he held it high. Pretty impressive! This kid was beaming. I tossed him a second candy as he turned to go. He earned it!

Kathy Galgano

November 4, 2013

It’s A Barn Raising! Show Up And Give A Hand! – Day Eight Of Shutdown

Inherent in every crisis is the opportunity to do good. Look at any event, and neighbors and citizens are there for each other. We are quick to open our wallets and write checks and make micro-donations. We’re also very good at rolling up our sleeves and pitching in during times of need; my guess is that it hearkens back to the days of barn raisings, when neighbors pulled together to help a family get the job done. We provide expertise, the right equipment and sweat equity in addition to food, clothing and a roof. My parents used to make sandwiches for the volunteer firefighters when difficult blazes in the hills of Northwestern Connecticut kept crews working for long stretches. In mid-August, during the most threatening days of the California Rim Fire burning in Yosemite National Park, the locals jumped in their vehicles and knocked on doors to help neighbors evacuate. In Kailua, Hawaii, friends call friends when they receive early word of a tsunami threat, and start making the move to higher ground even before the official alarm has sounded. In Los Alamos, New Mexico, wildfires have spread through populated mesas and even through the town, and each time, locals have evacuated to other neighbors’ homes farther away from the blaze. When winds push the flames even closer to the evacuated area, the host family and guests caravan to other homes of colleagues, friends and family where they camp out in living rooms and track the fire from a safe distance. And we don’t forget about pets and livestock, either. We choose to help people at home and around the country and the globe. That’s just our way.

Pictures representing the partial government shutdown aren’t as dramatic as photos taken from helicopters of flood, hurricane and ice storm ravaged areas. Furloughed workers aren’t clinging to poles as flood waters sweep away everything in sight. Well, not literally, anyway. We can’t forget, however, that for those of us not directly encumbered by the shutdown and experiencing it through media, it remains a federal emergency and quite possibly a disaster with dire personal, local, state, federal and even international consequences.

Here’s one illustrative anecdote. A friend of mine shopping at her local Safeway yesterday said that many young Marines were pushing grocery carts there. The store is located just outside a Marine Corps base, but the commissary was closed due to the shutdown. My friend was next in line to be checked out, and heard the cashier ask the young couple in front of her for their Safeway card to receive the discounted prices on some items. It was a $249 transaction. My friend said the wife had a puzzled look on her face and responded they didn’t have a card. My friend said, “WAIT!” and put in her card number that gave the couple a savings of over $70. Most importantly, my friend asked the manager if he can’t help with this and scan a card for people in this situation.  “Lamely and unsympathetically,” my friend told me, “he said he could be fired for that.” My friend implored him to contact the corporate office.

Think back to the news coverage just after the planes flew into the Twin Towers. This one detail sticks in my memory – I recall a reporter saying that firefighters were buying bottles of water from a nearby Starbucks. I had the same reaction as my friend yesterday – Can’t they help these firefighters and just give them the water? Eventually, the store did exactly this, but the initial news did not present the best public relations campaign for the coffee shop.

Let’s step up, people! I’m calling on grocery and hardware stores and pharmacies to offer deep discounts to people furloughed. The establishments can reinstitute their pricing to these hundreds of thousands of citizens once the Congress-approved back pay checks have been cut and delivered to these workers.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of the more global implications people might not have considered. In the meantime, this is a public emergency so please lend a hand.

Kathy Galgano

October 8, 2013

I

WHY I WAKE UP AND CRAVE SPAGHETTI

When my dog’s stomach starts to growl, his little internal clock flashes: “Feed me now!” “Feed me now!” “Feed me now!” He jumps on me, slobbers kisses, shakes, “paws” me and then circles around. I’m the treadmill. It’s time to get up. I arouse rather quickly because unlike most alarm clocks, I cannot press the “snooze” button for another few minutes slumber. This dog does not know snooze. He only knows eat. I’m awake.

“No breakfast before going outside,” I tell him. After opening the back door, some days I just let the dog explore the yard and I don’t venture too far down the back steps. But I always check the weather. What’s the temperature and are there any clouds, I wonder? In the winter, the cold blast hits me quickly and I shut the door, watching for the dog to come up the steps. A warm insulating blanket of clouds keeps temperatures more mild. On those early January mornings when I open the back door and stroll outside, I have to be careful not to slip on the dew-turned-ice deck, and the dog steps gingerly because he doesn’t like speed-skating either. He has done it. It really is cold. Usually there is ice in the bird bath and I secretly wish that a birdie hockey game would erupt. I check the oranges on the tree and really hope the frost didn’t damage the fruit, as they are a winter crop. I enjoy checking the dark sky for stars and planets, or the moon. Living in the city, I rarely see more than a dozen stars at that pre-dawn hour, but I always enjoy the search, especially if I remembered to grab a toasty sweatshirt.

During the non-rainy and warm months of spring and summer, the early morning hour is a great time to begin watering the garden, so sometimes I’ll turn on a hose or a sprinkler before getting the dog his breakfast. If I wait too long and the sun gets higher, the temperature warmer, the water evaporates before it can percolate down to the roots. If I’ve elected to walk outside in the early morning, I explore my garden patches, looking for a new rose bud or a dahlia blossom, or check to make sure the kiwi vine hasn’t entangled my patch of daisies. Kiwi vines are a lot like pumpkin vines; they really take over.

Once I’m inside, I can check out the wildlife. Stretching across our backyard and all our neighbors’ yards is a power line. The eight thousand squirrels that live near us love this little cat-free way, especially as the neighborhood offers a rich supply of tasty, sweet fruit throughout the growing season. After exiting the cat-free way high up in the air, the squirrels make their way down a pole, and head to the fence between our house and our neighbors’ house. Not only do the grazing squirrels love this fence, cats love it too. It is the perfect height and offers a just wide-enough perch for feral cats to nap, hide, search for birds, or stare at me through my kitchen window. And when it’s warm out, squirrels stand or sit atop the fence, extend their little paws and tug a sweet and perfect plum, apricot, or peach off one of the trees my neighbors planted along the property line years ago. The squirrels hold the fruit with both their little paws and take a few bites. It’s cute. What happens next, though, infuriates me. This is when I start knocking on the window and yelling, or pick up my little “Cujo,” an eighteen pound white curly cuddly fluff attack dog who falls asleep in my arms. I try to get him to press his little nose to the glass and look menacingly at these squirrels. They just look at my pooch for a moment, maybe two, and then go on with their grazing. It would really help if I could teach the dog to keep his eyes open. These well-fed critters have a routine; they reach up and pull a piece of fruit off the tree and nibble on that. After a few bites, they drop that piece and grab another fresh piece of fruit. Squirrels are very delicate nibblers. They just keep picking, maintaining their balance on the fence, and graze, then drop. I dutifully scoop up all the partially eaten fruit every day. This starts early in the morning and continues on throughout the day, with so many of the eight thousand squirrels visiting the fence throughout the summer. Sometimes, a squirrel will actually take a siesta on the fence, just the way the feral cats do. If it’s light outside, it’s squirrel-time!

If that’s not enough to distract me, the growing population of fat squirrels is visiting my garden and raised beds after their successful raiding sessions in my neighbors’ yard. How do I know this? The critters pick the walnuts off the same next-door neighbors’ prolific trees and scurry up and over the fence, and then bury them in my garden. They are digging up shallow bulbs I’ve planted. I find so many walnuts throughout the season that I wonder if my neighbors ever see a single one. But I digress.

Here’s my point. Early every morning, I let my breakfast-motivated pup outside. If it’s really freezing and I don’t feel like checking for birdie hockey games, I quickly close the door and watch through the window to make sure he doesn’t slide completely off the icy deck into the rose bushes. On other days, I keep the door open longer, and I can hear the planes taking off from the airport, or a train whistle, or trucks going by on the major cross street. And for a couple of special weeks in late July and early August, it matters not that I may open the back door for just a single moment, or longer, because it hits me instantly. This aroma, this heavenly scent, is wafting in my direction. I only need to breathe in the outside air for one second and I’m hooked. I’m always surprised when it happens; this magic essence is so prevalent. Instantly, the cravings start. Forget the coffee. I want pasta and meatballs and garlic bread. Now! I envision a plate of spaghetti with a wonderful flavorful garlic red sauce. Fusili would be nice, or lasagna. Mmmm. I had planned on a croissant and some yogurt, but now I want pizza. It’s 6-ish in the morning. What’s going on?!

Let me offer a little geography here. The city of San Jose, California is a 33 mile jaunt to the city of Gilroy. By car, it’s either a short hop of 35 or 40 minutes, or a long hour or hour-plus commute if the traffic on US Route 101 is bumper to bumper. This happens during drive-time hours, as many people who work in Silicon Valley live on the southern side of San Jose or in the outlying communities of San Martin (San Mar-‘teen), Morgan Hill, and Gilroy. Also, traffic snarls on late afternoons on Fridays when everybody is going somewhere for the weekend. It’s roughest on the eve of holidays, like Thanksgiving, when the one-hour plus drive will turn into a miserable two or three-hour trip. But commute time aside, San Jose to Gilroy is roughly the same distance as my hometown in Connecticut is to Hartford. It’s close, but it’s not next door.

So when I wake up and open the door and immediately crave pasta and red sauce, and don’t even want to think about smelling the roses or lavender in my garden, or even enjoy my fabulous coffee brew I love so much, I know it’s because of Gilroy. Gilroy is known as “The Garlic Capital of the World.” Besides the farms, you’ll find the processing plants there, staffed for three full shifts. Huge hoppers of garlic grown in Gilroy, surrounding communities and from the Great Central Valley are driven to the processing plants. There the garlic is being diced and crushed. During the winter, while driving through Gilroy, I have noticed the aroma and found myself craving meatballs. But now it’s happening at home, at 30-plus miles away.

Gilroy is amazing. Shops and wineries (these are really good wineries) and vegetable stands along the roadside all sell garlic products. You can find freshly-peeled, freshly-roasted and organic garlic, garlic braids, garlic ice cream (Yes, you read that right), garlic wine (Again, you read that right), the diced- or crushed-in-oils garlic, spicy marinated garlic, jars of basil-garlic pesto, garlic croutons, whole garlic sold in bulk, and elephant garlic, these giant cloves that are remarkably mild in flavor. There’s the yearly famous Gilroy Garlic Festival with the annual garlic cook-off. There are garlic recipe books and garlic-only stores that sell garlic snacks and garlic-infused oils, and aprons, key rings, postcards, and calendars, all with pictures of garlic or recipes or both. The Garlic Festival was just last week. My early-morning aromatic experience usually coincides with the festival, but I think that’s purely coincidental. I consider myself one of the lucky people in life who can actually wake up and smell the garlic. For two weeks every year, I don’t know why the winds carry the scent to San Jose, but I love it. My neighbors remark about it, too. These early risers are also mesmerized, and so I’m not the only person in San Jose craving scampi for breakfast. I realize that there are many other cuisines that showcase the bulbous plant, but it’s the cuisine I know best and so my cravings take me there.

After the dog comes back into the kitchen and starts jumping and howling for breakfast, and I’ve closed the back door, and fed him and tidied-up and pet him a little before he runs to another room to return to sleep, I tell myself to make a little coffee before cooking anything. My mind starts to think about other things. The scent is fading. I soon forget about pasta, and open the fridge for my yogurt. I get on with my day, and if the dog returns in a short while and wants to explore the yard again, I open the back door and don’t even think about Italian food. The goodness is gone.

I do smell garlic cooking at 10:30 or 11:00 most mornings, when the local Italian and Chinese restaurants start prepping for lunch, and that’s enjoyable. I think of the people who work at these restaurants and smile, knowing how tasty their food is. This is part of the joy of living in an urban area. When I take the dog for walks past the restaurants, the cooks and staff sometimes wave through the window.  On occasion, I order takeout, or we dine there, and if we sit outside we can bring the dog. But the garlic wafting up from Gilroy is a summer’s gift that reminds me how close we are to the wonderful and bountiful growing centers of California, and to the farmers and makers of products that offer such profound connections with a cultural past, with family, with a love of the food and memories. It’s a treat. Even if I don’t make spaghetti for breakfast.

Garbage Day

It’s “Garbage” day. That means that we put our trash bin, a tall green container with two back wheels and a hinged lid (our lid has one missing hinge), a second, larger, gray container for recyclables, again with two back wheels and a hinged lid, and either a large green container for yard waste, or a yard waste “pile” of leaves and clippings away from the curb so the “Claw,” a hinged bucket apparatus, can pick it up. The containers are supposed to be against the curb, but lots of people move them away from the curb a few inches for the truck with the hydraulic arm to grab, raise, dump, and return the bins to the street. Some neighbors have an additional garbage or recycle bin, depending on their individual contract with the City.

On Monday mornings, the truck with separate partitions for garbage waste and recyclables empties the bins on the “odd numbers” side of the street first, and then returns for the “evens” side. The truck arrives in the morning, but the times can vary for reasons not understandable. It’s always a game to run out the house in the morning and throw a few last-minute newspapers or cereal boxes, and perhaps a last, small bag of garbage into the proper bins before the truck arrives, especially when the truck can be heard coming down the street. Score!

Some neighbors have been upping the ante with this game, calculating the arrival of the truck – early morning, mid-morning, late-morning, afternoon, and rolling their bins to the curb just before pick-up. They have to hope that no one has parked in front where the bins go, but they can always put them in their driveway. Residents stay tuned to the sound of the streets, listening for just that particular truck engine roar, which is different from the sound of the fire engine, or the “Claw.” And living in an urban residential area, there is a fair amount of traffic. Trucks come and go, and with drivers intent on snagging that perfect cup of coffee at one of the local haunts, neighbors’ ears are tuned to the traffic and quickly dismiss the private vehicles. Folks working from home stay tuned to the street noise, noticing not only the din of engines in front of the house, but in the streets behind and to the sides. Built into the discernment of pinpointing just the right engine sound is the calculation of time needed to roll the bins from the back or side of the house to the curb. Besides the adrenaline rush of just “making it” in time, knowing that a “loss” means opening and pushing down a full and stinky garbage bin to try to fit more trash, several times in the upcoming week, and potentially sneaking around the “hood” at night the next week, looking for an emptier bin in which to stash your bagged goods, the neighbors know this is not just a game.

It used to be that a few individuals would walk up and down the streets the evening before Garbage Day, removing bottles and cans with the CRV California Redemption Value for personal profit. So after weeks or months of putting up with these recycling bandits, and being annoyed that the City cannot profit from the CRV value of the cans and bottles, like a little gift to the municipality, most folks now drive their own containers to a recycle center, and deal with the noise, smell and broken glass in the parking lot to pocket the redemption value. It adds up; one neighbor jars the cash and plans a fine dining experience — all on the cans.

Cash is always a good reason to recycle. But if a wonderful dinner “on the cola cans” or supplementing your grocery bill isn’t high on your list, then avoid the hassle of storing these cans and separating the colors of glass and searching for those little stamps on unusual containers, and emptying the final drops out, and tossing them in bags, and dragging them to the car, and dealing with the recycling center, and just let the City, or the entrepreneurial bandits do it for you. But what happens when the bandits start messing things up?

One neighbor hasn’t had a garbage pick-up in two weeks; the driver attached notices that “garbage” and “recyclables” were mixed. So the bandits rifle through the recyclables and toss the non-CRV items in the trash as they make their way to the bottom of the bin. And bandits digging through trash hunt for treasure and toss the already-scanned trash into the recycle bin. Neighbors have caught bandits reading discarded mail, even torn-up mail, and yes, even taking mail. Some of the bandits aren’t that neat – they just search the bins and toss everything on the ground.

Usually the trash and recyclables are thrown in the street away from the yard waste pile, so that’s something at least.  But then patrons park their cars close to the yard waste pile, stopping for coffee or lunch, and no one is sure if it’s a quickie take-out thing or a longer business meeting, so when that telling roar of the Claw comes and it’s time for yard waste pick up, and the view from the front window shows cars on top of the leaf pile and with no owner holding car keys in one hand and a to-go cup in another in sight, and it took days to create a pile that large, and now the Claw can’t scoop it up and toss it in the awaiting truck that crushes the yard waste all together, there’s that “NOOOOOOOOOO” moment!

No garbage pick-up. No recyclables pick-up. And no yard waste pick-up.

But in case that’s not enough disappointment, and you either have to sweep up all that yard waste and store it, and then dump it back in the street next week, or just leave it there ’til next week pick-up day and it blows all over the place and more cars drive through it, there’s the chance that some elderly coffeehouse patron will try to park his older make, large by today’s standards and large for the sixties when it was built, and drive in front of your and your neighbor’s house, and systematically ram each bin, one after another, Bam!, Bam!, BAM!, until there is room for his enormous machine and the bins are now scattered and shredded.

This is a long time away from the days when our son waited for the garbage and recyclables pick-up, and the Claw was a thing of beauty. We used to pull out the yard chairs and wait for the guys to come by. Pick-up was a banner day. Our kid owned large garbage trucks and smaller Matchbox-sized ones. His toys were stored in plastic red “garbage” bins. Those were happy memories. Now I’m thankful that there are a full seven days until the next pick-up. Recuperation takes that much time.