Ojai, Spring 2014

After Jake’s passing we were devastated, distraught, depressed, in the agony of grief. We needed to get away from this house, from the overwhelming absence of our son. Every place we thought about going was fraught with memories of family trips with Jake. We were paralyzed. Our dear friend E. suggested we get away to Ojai. She owns a beautiful cottage in Miners Oaks, a hamlet just west of the Ojai center. Three weeks after the funeral, we were finally able to think about going, we packed up our car and made the short trip north.

The cottage sits on a large piece of property surrounded by fruit trees and towering ancient oaks. This was a place Jake had never been. There were no haunted ghosts lurking, no memories of wonderful times gone by. It was a neutral place. Just what we needed.

We managed to eke out a bit of solace from the unspeakable events of the previous weeks. Still too shell-shocked to do much of anything, we were able, nonetheless, to have a few meals out, do a little wine tasting, visit Meditation Mount, a beautiful serene retreat atop a ridge that overlooks the entire valley.

We would return several times that first traumatic year, every six weeks or so. We found a routine and rhythm to the visits – dinner at a favorite restaurant, shopping at the farmer’s market, picnic at Meditation Mount. Mostly we just laid low. The photographs represent three trips to three restaurants and a shot of the main street colonnade.

We still visit from time to time, but having that place to run away to that first horrible year was a blessing and a godsend. Thank you, E. for your gracious hospitality.

Hillside-The Saddest Place on Earth

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Hillside Cemetery, Los Angeles. December 29, 2013

The day after we learned of Jake’s death, we went to Hillside to make arrangements for his funeral. It is a place no one goes to willingly. It was December 29th. Today is March 29th. Exactly 27 months after his passing. We were in shock, in some ways we still are, and will never recover fully. The deceptively innocuous appearance of the comfortable waiting area belies the agony of what you go to this place to do. Only the box of tissues on the table gives a hint. Somehow we managed to get through the ordeal of choosing the spot, next to his  grandfather in the Garden of Rachel, and the details of the ‘ceremony’. Maybe that is a misnomer, but I can’t think of what else to call it. It’s freaking expensive, that little piece of ground. It even got us thinking about our own “final resting place” and we decided to buy the plot immediately next to him. Our family will be together once again, someday. Of course, that is not where Jake is, really.  Jake is wherever we are, wherever his friends are, wherever the people who love him and remember him are.

Two days later, on New Year’s Eve day, we laid our beloved, beautiful boy to rest. RIP Jakey Jake.

Roberta’s House

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Roberta’s House, Palm Springs. December 2013

This is in a little courtyard outside Jake’s apartment in Palm Springs. Not exactly a waiting area per se, I don’t remember seeing anyone waiting here, but we were waiting for Jake to join us. I liked the slight bleakness of the image slightly softened by the wall hanging. Not too much to say other than this was during our last trip to visit him. During our visits we usually took him shopping for groceries, out to lunch and dinner, and on this occasion for the haircut and some new shoes. He always loved new shoes. One of the very first sentences he ever spoke as a baby was “Lucky boy got new shoes at shoe store.” The last words I ever said to him, via text, were Shabbat Shalom.

Pacific Sales

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Pacific Sales, Torrance. December 2013

For many, many years we cooked on an antique gas stove, the Detroit Jewel. My dad gave me the pieces of this 100-year old bit of Americana he had bought at a swap meet way back in the 70’s, and once restored, I schlepped it back and forth across the country a couple of times.

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The Detroit Jewel

When I settled in Venice, it took its place in the kitchen. We prepared thousands of wonderful meals on its 4 star-shaped burners. T. coaxed many marvelous cakes, pies, breads, and cookies out of its temperamental oven. Jake learned to cook on it; it became a part of our family.

Finally, it started to show its age and it was time for a new stove. My mom had started a ‘stove fund’ a few years ago, and instead of gifts for anniversaries, Hanukkah, etc., she made contributions to the fund. In December we began our search for a worthy replacement. We narrowed it down to Viking, Wolf and Thermador, Ultimately, we chose a beautiful Thermador Professional range. 6 blazing hot Star burners, reminiscent of the Jewel, huge oven with three racks and thermostat control, (something the Jewel lacked), and since Thermador was running a promotion at the time, a free matching dishwasher to boot. We wouldn’t actually buy it for a few months, but the photo of the floor was on the very first foray to explore the possibilities.

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The New Thermador

We would come back several times to look at the contenders, and finally, we stood in that line, followed those arrows and came away with our new stove. We had to modify our kitchen to make space for it, added some new cabinets and counter tops, and once ensconced, it looked right at home. It didn’t take long to get used to the Thermador, but sometimes I miss the old Detroit Jewel. The Jewel ended up in Manila. Yes, the Philippines. But that’s another story.

 

 

 

Dumpling Quest

 

When Empress Pavilion closed, we were distraught. We embarked on a quest to find a replacement for our beloved Dim Sum lunch. Fortunately, there is a multitude of dim sum restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area, and our search took us from Redondo Beach to Monterey Park, from West Los Angeles to Glendale. NBC in Monterey park was high on the list for a while, but they have a limited number of chicken dumplings, and when they changed the recipe of T’s favorite purple sweet potato dumpling, that was the final nail. Din Tai Fung is famous for it’s soup dumplings, the xiao long bao, but they are made with pork, so we couldn’t eat them. There is a place in West LA we tried, ROC (via a Groupon) which makes a chicken Xiao Long Bao. It was good at first, they have a stir-fried rice noodle dish that is delicious, but faded after the first few visits. We tried a couple of venerable places in Chinatown, one in Redondo Beach that had gotten good review by Jonathan Gold, but time and again we returned to Ocean Seafood, another Chinatown institution.

These photos show the difference in energy between an empty waiting area and the same room filled with people. In both, the first shot is while we were waiting, the second one of vacant chairs is after lunch, as we were leaving.

Discount Shoes

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DSW, Palm Springs. December 2013

We took Jake here for a new pair of gym shoes on December 16, after his haircut. He wanted to start working out, and the shoes I sent him via USPS got stolen from the front porch of where he was staying. Palm Springs I Love You? Not. Shopping with Jake was always an adventure. Not so much for shoes, but whenever he walked into a store, he had to look at nearly everything in the place. A trip to Home Depot was an hour minimum, even if we were only going for a package of screws, and forget about a trip to Frys. It was an all-day affair. He had impeccable taste in clothes, we both have a  penchant for all things Italian, and could unerringly pick out the finest and most expensive suit, shirt, shoes, tie, watch, wallet, you name it. Runs in the family. This shopping trip was fairly uneventful, we managed to find some shoes for him, and a photo of a long empty line for me.

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These are photos of the barber shop in which Jake got his last haircut – Monday, December 16, 2013. T and I were visiting him in Palm Springs. We took him for the haircut and dinner. It was the last time we visited. I snapped these pictures while I waited for him. You can see him through the window in the upper left and lower right photos getting one of the worst haircuts ever. I could never make up my mind which of the pictures I should select, so I am including all of them. We had a lovely visit. He was living in his own apartment with a roommate, had a job prospect lined up at a local restaurant, seemed like he was doing well. Less than two weeks later, we got the dreadful news of his passing.

I think I like the large one in the upper left. It has all the elements. Empty chairs, inside and out waiting places, someone waiting, Jake, and a slightly skewed perspective. Little did I know that this is one of the last photographs I would take of my son. I have taken thousands of them throughout his life, but none as poignant. We returned home the next day. I would speak with him during the ensuing weeks, would text, but I would never see him again.

Domino’s Pizza

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Domino’s Pizza, Venice. November 2013

Back on Lincoln Blvd., this Domino’s is two blocks away from my house. Not that we ever, EVER order from Domino’s, but I pass it on my way to Spring Nail Spa or to our shul. When Jake was living in our guest house, he used to make the short walk over frequently, and I would often look out our living room window and see him trucking down the street holding the flat red, white, and blue box on his way home. It still baffles me how a wonderful chef like Jake would stoop to eating take-out pizza, but hungry is hungry. Plus they have coupons.

I guess as far as fast-food chain pizza goes it isn’t too bad; I confess to having eaten Domino’s more than once in the past. In fact, we even had it delivered a few times. Did I mention it was in the far distant past? Now we go to Eddie’s Italian restaurant down the street. The pizza is way better, but I have to drive the 4 blocks to get it; they don’t deliver. Anyway, our local Domino’s recently replaced these red metal chairs with a couple of red upholstered booths to encourage people to “dine in”. No longer “Carryout Only”. Why anyone would want to dine in the foyer of a Domino’s is quite beyond me. ‘Dining’ seems an overly optimistic description of what you would do in a Domino’s. The ambiance isn’t quite … well … anything. I guess it takes all kinds.

Costco

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Costco, Palm Springs. November 2013

I love Costco – The home of the $600 toothbrush. What I mean is, when you go to buy the electric toothbrush that is on sale for $79, full ADD kicks in even if you don’t have it.

“Oh look at these storage boxes, we need some of those. And some ink for the printer. In fact, we need a new printer. And some new towels. This is a great bottle of wine for the price. And a brick of Parmesan. And a package of lox. And some mushrooms. And a chicken. Oooh, Calvin Klein polo shirts for $19.95. I’ll get the purple one, the blue one, and the grey one. And a 3-pack of reading glasses. And some cans of tuna.”

And, and, and and. Suddenly your cart is brimming with items and $600 later, you have a new toothbrush.

Jake was living in Palm Springs and we went to Costco to get him a new phone. His old one had gotten lost or broken or died, I can’t remember exactly which, and Verizon was having some kind of promotion. He ended up with a Samsung Galaxy for a ridiculously low price, a modest increase to my bill, and a bunch of free accessories. No toothbrush.

On the way out, I noticed that in Palm Springs, the food court is inside the air conditioned building, unlike our Marina del Rey Costco where it is outside. Probably because of the heat. But it’s a dry heat.

Hammer Museum

The Hammer Museum in Westwood Village is a lovely intimate place. The bulk of its permanent exhibitions comes from the collection of Dr. Armand Hammer, the former Chairman of Occidental Petroleum. Between Dr. Hammer and J.Paul Getty, the oilmen have some of the best museum spaces in the city. In addition to the permanent collection, it features rotating exhibits by a diverse spectrum of artists, numerous public programs, workshops, symposia, film series, lectures, and admission is free. Always.

On Thursday at 12:30 the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center has a regular 30-minute Mindful Awareness meditation. T used to go frequently, and I came along on this day because Michael Perricone, master of the Tibetan Savasana Bowls (also called singing bowls) played during the half-hour session. The hypnotic music enhanced the meditative state and although I am not a regular practitioner, I emerged from the session relaxed and present. The bowls are a centuries old instrument used for meditation practices throughout the world. They come in different sizes and tunings. During the early days after Jake’s passing, a casual acquaintance sent me a link about how different frequencies of sound affect different areas of the mind and body, and certain tones are held to be beneficial in eliminating stress, fear, and grief. We did a little research and bought two bowls from Bodhisattva – one for her and one for me.

After the meditation, we wandered through the galleries admiring Dr. Hammer’s taste in art, spending a lovely afternoon with Daumier, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Goya, Stuart and Sargent, among many others. It is a wonderful, accessible museum with an ever-changing mix of art and artists.