All I want for Christmas is a new right knee

This was my knee a week ago Monday morning. Original equipment. Completely stock, and completely worn out. I groaned every time I got out of a chair. I had to grit my teeth in pain on every stair case, either up or down. Couldn’t dance. It was time to have it replaced.

The process at Kaiser Hospital was not particularly difficult. I saw the orthopedic surgeon, had many x-rays taken, and then scheduled the surgery at their Antioch facility.

Things at a hospital proceed at their own pace, and you have absolutely no control over it. It is wisest to show up with a fully charged phone and a spare battery, prepared to be patient.

Here I am, in one of those absurd hospital gowns , mainly shaved and prepped, waiting. I did a lot of waiting. The large white hose to my right is blowing warm air into a balloon like blanket that covered me and kept me warm yet weighed nothing. It is a wonderful design.

In the fullness of time the surgeon and the anesthetist showed up, asked a bunch of questions I had already answered many times, then marked and signed my right knee. There will be no errors.

Finally, I was taken into the operating room. Then something happened, and I woke up in recovery. The most unpleasant part of the entire process was waking up to find I had no sensation whatsoever below my waist. They had given me a spinal anesthetic, and I could neither feel nor move either leg.

Another surgeon appeared to insert an anesthetic drip into the leg. The spinal was wearing off and a physical therapist presented herself to show me how to use a walker and take myself off to the bathroom. Yes, that means I was walking on the new knee in just a couple of hours. It also meant I had to prove I could pee before the let me go home. Remember the part about no feeling below the waist? There are situations you never really foresee.

Gail and granddaughter Tessa picked me up, and since I hadn’t eaten all day we headed for the most understaffed Burger Kind we could find.  A long time later we managed to get some food and headed home. It was a long day, but I managed to use my new walker and get into the house unaided.

The next morning Kaiser sent a physical therapist to the house to see that I was doing alright and to start the rehab process.  He was incredibly prompt, right to the minute, got me going and pointed in the direction of activity and flexibility.  He took the wrap off the leg.

Wednesday, I played bridge.  This surprised some people, but I could sit at home or be with my friends, which was better?  The short walk from the car to the club was required exercise in any case.

Friday I played again.  People were no longer surprised. Each day was better than the last, I got up easier, moved faster, had less pain.

Pain.  That’s a big subject.  Kaiser gives you a ton of hard narcotics and lots of information on how not to get addicted.  What they don’t give you is an option to use a milder, non-narcotic pain reliever.  I had to call the Orthopedics office, work my way through the phone tree, leave a message and finally get a call back to be clear that I could use up to 3500 milligrams a day of Tylenol.   That solves all my problems and you won’t find me standing on a street corner selling intrafinesses for drug money.

Saturday we had a party, and I overdid it. Too much fun, too much racing around enjoying our friends.  For the very first time in my life I told Gail I was going to bed before the guests left.  The next day, I did nothing and slowly recuperated.

Monday, Christmas Eve, I had my first PT appointment at Kaiser.  People had warned me that this would be difficult and painful, but it was neither.  There is another one tomorrow that may be more intense.

We went to Fresno for Christmas Eve dinner, and I even drove part of the way. Cruise control helps a lot, but I still needed Gail to help drive on the way home Christmas day.

I’m getting around pretty well. Sometimes I find myself walking without the walker because I just forgot. I’ll likely graduate to a cane within the week.

Knee replacement is so common I’m thinking of it as the old guy’s tonsillectomy.  It isn’t fun, but it’s not awful and soon I’ll have the flexibility and strength of a youngster of 60.


Filoli at Christmas

The Ruth Bancroft Garden is thinking of making a Christmas light show in the garden, so 15 of us piled into a van and drove to Filoli Mansion on the peninsula to see how the big boys do it.

All these years, and I’d never been there.  Filoli is a massive Georgian style mansion built in 1915 by William Bourn II, a fantastically rich gold mine owner.  Sitting on over a square mile, the stunning house is surrounded by formal gardens put in by the second owner, Lurline Matson Roth of the Matson shipping line fortune.  It’s good to have money.

Gail going up to the entrance.

The name Filoli is a portmanteau of the Mr. Bourns motto “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”

The house has been used in movies and TV, most notably in the opening sequences of Dynasty

Decorating Filoli takes the entire staff of 20 a full week each year.

The interior has a multitude of trees, so beautiful that they are stored from year to year.

Moving outdoors, even the sales areas are visions of delight

The outdoor gardens are lighted in simple white lights, with the occasional blue accent.  Nothing gaudy or garish, which would be horribly inappropriate for such a formal, traditional edifice.

We spent over an hour enjoying the spectacular show. Then on the way out we saw  the most iconic part of the tour.

Christmas is lighted trees, little kids and Santa.

Filoli is open next Friday and Sunday nights, 4-8.  Saturday is already sold out.  The cost is $30, and well worth it.

We’re number 12

These are my toes

This is Waikiki beach

Theses are my toes in the Pacific Ocean on Waikiki Beach

I’ve been to Hawaii 9 or 10 times and never set foot into he ocean until Saturday.  I was in Honolulu for 3 days to play in the Senior Mixed Pairs with Sigrid Price and finally could not resist the temptation to walk to the end of the hotel complex and get a bit wet.  Not the most exciting experience of my life, but not bad, either.

The bridge was great.  Sigrid was great.  I was decent for 3 of the four rounds, and then completely lost it the last round, managing to hold it barely together just enough to make it to twelfth overall, which is pretty exciting, but could have been so much better if my concentration hadn’t utterly folded and flown away.

I wasn’t alone–the pair that was leading the event crashed and burned, turning in a 40% game in the final session. 

The tournament was a disaster–Hawaii is a silly place to hold a national tournament, and the league will lose a fortune on this one.  So much so that they formally decided never to have another NABC in Hawaii.  People don’t want to go there to play bridge, it’s too darn far from the east coast and the costs are horrendous.  There were no concessions because of the shipping cost.  The hotel room rate was exorbitant, which led to many players staying offsite, which caused the league to fail to fulfill its room block, despite sending a begging letter to all the players to PUH-LEASE stay in the host hotel.  A NABC needs the locals to turn out to make it a success, and while the Hawaiian players all came, there are only 43 of them, so they don’t make much of a difference.

Not everyone avoided the tournament–there were two huge Suburban limousines parked in front of my hotel tower where no cars were allowed.  Bill Gates was there to play in the Reisinger Teams.  With his partners and security team that should have helped the room block problem considerably.

I spoke with Gail Greenberg during the event i played.  She has an impressive record of having attended every single NABC since 1966, over 150 consecutive events. 

Since Gail wasn’t with me, I wasn’t looking for any fine dining.  The first night there, I had been kibitzing my friend Barbara, and she took me to dinner at Frescos, an Italian place on the property.  The food was very good and the view of the setting sun over the Pacific was fantastic.  The hotel has a big luau every night, and we got to see that from our seats, with lots of singing and dancing.

The experience was so nice that I went there the next night, with my partner Sigrid and friends from Tampa, Muriel and Phil.   Then the last night, Sigrid and I went back again, rather than try to find someplace else we would like.

In 3 days, I never set foot off the hotel property, which is another reason not to have waste our money going to Hawaii–it doesn’t matter to many players if the event is in Hawaii or Peoria, we come to play cards and then go home.  May as well pick someplace easy to get to and reasonably priced.  

The next one is Memphis, and people are already getting ready, making their plans and finding out the hotel doesn’t have enough rooms.  It’s a great city, with the National Civil Rights Museum, which is worth a trip to Tennessee all by itself.  Maybe we can make back some of the losses from Hawaii.


Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) is a mastermind criminal.  He plans his capers to the tiniest detail, and is greatly successful.

Until he isn’t, and the ‘job’ ends in a massive explosion and fire,  The whole gang goes up in flames.  Not only does this leave 4 grieving widows, it leaves a $2 million debt to a local crime boss/politician.  Said boss pays a visit to Harry’s widow, Veronica (Viola Davis) and tells her she has one month to pay the amount due.

Harry has left Veronica a legacy, though.  His notebook, with the exquisitely detailed plans for one more heist, one that will pay the debt and more.  Having no way out, Veronica contacts the wives of the other gang members and sets the plan in motion.

Widows is an action thriller, a caper movie, a mystery with a big twist and tone poem on women’s empowerment.  Director Steve McQueen (12 years a slave)  has created another excellent film that is perhaps more than the sum of its parts.  This movie got a 91 on the Tomatometer for good reason.

Viola Davis holds everything together by force of will, never smiling until the very end of the movie.  A strong supporting cast, including Robert Duvall, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell and Bryan Tyree Henry give Davis strong characters to work with/against.

The screenplay, by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn, is taut, tense and involving, going deeper than just the usual bang bang to show these women developing their own lives independent of their now late husbands.

Of course there are big twist at the end, but you’ll have to find them out for your self.

Micky and Linda recommended we see Widows, and told me that a third of the way through I wouldn’t have any idea of what was happening.  He was right, but that’s the joy of this kind of flick.

We saw Widows at the new Luxe theater in the Veranda Center.  Tickets in advance on Fandango, reserved seats and waiter service during the movie.  The sound system is great, albeit too darned loud.  The bar pours tiny shots, but that’s the worst thing I have to say. Give the place a try.

Where is everyone

We’re Off to Tacoma for the long holiday weekend. Two granddaughters and a great grandson await us should be a wonderful time.

But this is the security area at Oakland airport this morning at 8 AM. Where is everyone? This is supposed to be the busiest travel day of the year and the airport is pretty empty.

Kate and Brad are walking on the flight with us today, but only because they spent seven hours yesterday waiting for a flight that was eventually canceled.

AHA!! I found everyone.

The line for Starbucks is vastly longer than the line at security. It seems like all Lee’s people got here early just so they could stand in line for 40 minutes for a mocha frappuccino and a sous vide egg bite.

Oh well. We came extra early, expecting crowds that aren’t here. I have time to kill.

Back to the old days


Gail had an appointment in Palo Alto yesterday, so I drove her down there too darned early in the morning–even with the holiday lack of traffic, it took an hour and a half to get there.

Since her appointment was supposed to be for one to three hours, Claudia and I went for a drive to find breakfast. Bypassing Starbucks and McDonalds, we found Jason’s Cafe, an old-fashioned, breakfast-all-day, cheery waitress kind of place.   It was just what I wanted.

I like pancakes.  They don’t like me, and sit like a brick in my stomach for the rest of the day.  That’s why I only order them once or twice a year; it takes me that long to forget.

The sausage went to my little red friend, who was sitting next to me in the booth. We just walked in together and nobody said a word. They know a cool customer when they see one.

See that orange thing-a-majig on the table?  That’s a stand for one’s telephone so you can read while you eat.  The waitress saw me trying to handle the phone and brought it over.  I think every diner in the nation will have them soon, probably with advertising attached.

Palo Alto is its own world.  As I was getting ready to leave, they seated a couple of bearded hipsters at the table behind me.  A couple of minutes later, I noticed the waitress bringing them short bottles of champagne.  Being the nosy/friendly type, I stopped as I was passing to ask them.

“Champagne at 9:30 in the morning?  Did you guys just get funded?”

“YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  they said.

And that’s Palo Alto–an old-style diner, dogs welcome,  with almost no parking, sausage, eggs and pancakes for breakfast and the next Google just got launched in the booth.  Life is good.

Getting REAL


This isn’t Walnut Creek, but it was pretty similar.

You may think you have a real driver’s license, but most likely you don’t have a REAL one, which is to say the new CDL that conforms to federal guidelines, requires much more documentation and will, sometime next year, be required to board an airplane.

I got my license renewed last February, but the bureaucratic nightmare conspired to just give me the old fashioned ID, and as much as we travel I wanted to have the REAL version.

The lines at the DMV are legendary, although they seem to have gotten a bit more funding and they are not as bad as they were a few months ago.  In September I made an appointment, and today, November 1, the lucky day came rolling around.

Gathering up my current license, passport, W-2 and social security card, I motored on over to the Walnut Creek office.  There was a line outside the building, but I was able to just skate on by. I was the only person in the “appointment” line, so I was being helped in seconds.

From reception, it was over to the computers lining the west wall, where I fille out the application online, then went back to reception and got a number.

7 minutes later my number was called–just enough time to go out to the car and bring Claudia in.  No problems with dogs at the DMV. The young woman at the desk took all my papers, made copies, checked the passport electronically, filled out forms, made more copies, had her co-worker check all the details twice, punched a hole in my current license and told me the new one would arrive in 2 weeks or less.

All this took about 5 minutes.

And 21 minutes after my appointment time Claudia and I were back in my car and on the road.

The moral of the story is two fold:

1: Make an appointment.  Make it early.  You can do it online, and waiting at the DMV is a pain. This system really works.

2: When you have to renew your license, make sure you bring all the necessary documentation.  Passport, social security card, proof of California residency, blood sample, first born child.  You don’t want to do this twice like I did.

If you don’t have one of the new-fangled ID’s, next year you will have to bring a passport with you to fly, even domestically. That’s just one more thing to forget or lose or even bring the wrong one.  I’ve done that, too.



Out with the old, in with the new

The Hotel Shattuck Plaza, on the corner of Shattuck and Alston in Berkeley, was home to Five restaurant for quite a few years.  Growing tired of the concept, management closed Five, remodeled the dining room and bar, brought in a new chef from New York, and opened Zino, a Mediterranean dining establishment, in the same place.

Hotels have to have restaurants.  They don’t have to make money, just be there to attract guests who will take expensive rooms.  People won’t stay in a $300 a night room if they can’t get breakfast, lunch and dinner on-site.

So, Zino!!  A very nice, modern, fresh Mediterranean restaurant with good food and service, as befits a 4 star hotel.

We had lunch there Sunday with a couple of the grandkids–if you can call successful adults “kids”.  The food was first rate, the service excellent.

We started with the hummus.


House made hummus, topped with baked tomatoes and served over fresh pita.  Not quite like Habib’s House of Hummus in Israel, but not bad.

Granddaughter Tessa had the eggs and chorizo.


She chose to have the eggs poached.  Served over potatoes, peppers and chorizo.  Beautiful to look at, tasty to scarf down.

Presentation and attention to detail are the hallmarks of fine dining.  See how they serve toast:


Sure, it’s just warm bread.  And only 1 slice.  But the presentation!  That triple dish with butter and housemade jam, diagonally bisecting the bread.  It’s a picture–and you eat with your eyes first.

Strangely, Gail and I both ordered the same dish–the Za’atar Omelet.


And we were both a bit disappointed.  Nothing wrong with this dish, but he Za’atar just didn’t have much flavor.  It is a North African spice mix of oregano, marjoram and thyme, mixed with toasted sesame seeds.  We were hoping for an exotic flavor, and got—nothing.  Eggs, feta cheese yes.  Strange African spices? No.  The potatoes were just cubes of fried spuds, needing spice or onions or cheese or something.  The arugula was, well, arugula.  There was nothing particularly wrong with this dish, but it’s just an omelet, nothing special.

Grandson Chris had the “tartine”–I’d be more specific, but the Zino website doesn’t have a brunch menu.  In truth, it was just fancy avocado toast.


Toast, avocado, tomatoes, radish, something green, onions.  Looks good, tastes good.

Service was absolutely first rate, perhaps because we were the second table of the day and there was more staff than customers.

The new chef, Brandon Hicks, is also a Certified Sommelier, so there is a fine list.  I guess. What do I know about wine?

I do know about iced tea–and Zino is on the bandwagon of fruity, flavored, sport drink iced tea.  They were good about bringing me a pot of black tea and two glasses of ice.

Zino was fine for Sunday brunch, and will, I expect, do an excellent dinner trade because they are just a block from Aurora Theater and Berkeley Rep.  Prices were reasonable for being in a hotel, which isn’t necessarily reasonable at all, but I don’t have any complaint.

Five is dead, Zino is alive.  We liked it, you will too.

Not the best catch

A couple of months ago Gail and I wandered into Pacific Catch, a new restaurant in Walnut Creek, for lunch.  We liked it, so I wanted to go back for dinner.  Tonight, we tried it out with Mike and Linda,

The food was just as good as I remembered.  The service was execrable. Ghastly.  Random, bizarre, and incomprehensible.  We were not impressed.

Pacific Catch is part of a growing West Coast chain of reasonably priced, family-friendly, hip and happening fish emporiums.  The facility is bright and airy, open and modern, loud as a roaring freight train.  We had planned to sit outside, but they don’t seem to have very effective heaters so we moved indoors–by pleasant coincidence the granddaughter was home babysitting Claudia.

Drinks were ordered.  In a few minutes, Gail got her wine.

Then we waited

10 minutes later, Linda got her wine and Mike got the sissy cocktail of the day.


If this just had a little umbrella it would be perfect.

The ‘iced tea’ at Pacific Catch is one of those tropical fruit/mango/peach/hibiscus/broccoli concoctions that restaurants for some reason inflict on innocent tea drinkers.  Fortunately, I’ve learned to ask first, and then order a hot tea and two glasses of ice.

So we ordered.  This restaurant has an interesting menu with ceviches, pokes, sashimi, tacos, fish and chips, grilled fish, and the odd hamburger for the unenlightened.

I started with the original Ahi poke, small cubes of raw Ahi tuna in a mildly spicy sauce, served in something like a martini glass with fried wontons to scoop it up.


All well and good, but I was the only person at the table with food.  For the next 15 minutes.  The situation was utterly absurd.

Eventually, we got hold of the manager, who said they were swamped because 3 staff members had called in sick.  That might explain the slow service but not why they had brought just the one dish–they should have waited until all the dishes could be brought at once.

This silliness is further compounded by the fact that Linda was having the salmon poke,  Gail the soup and Mike the ceviche–all dishes that are prepared in large quantity in the afternoon, and need only to be portioned and plated, just like my dish.  Why they did not come out all at once is just a mystery.

The good news is that we all thought our food was extremely good.  We didn’t like to admit it, given how cranky we were with the place, but there was no denying that my poke was simply succulent, with just the right amount of spice.  Gail, a picky soup lover, was quite pleased with her salmon chowder. Linda loved her salmon poke and Mike left no crumbs of his fish.


Mike’s fish platter, with a side of elote, Mexican corn.

I then had the two taco platter, with a salmon and a rockfish taco.


Gail thinks it’s odd to serve fries with tacos.


I thought the tacos were excellent, the fries crispy and the black beans just right.

I also ordered a side of the Thai brussels sprouts, both because I like them and because Mike hates them–memories of his frat house.  A very interesting treatment of the little green things, they were quite sweet with none of the bitterness often associated to them.  Linda took the leftovers home because she never gets them.

As we were all finishing, they dropped off Linda’s beet salad.  Another item it doesn’t take long to prepare.  It was a very good salad, with interesting pink beets, perhaps a cross between the usual red beets and they yellow ones.  If only it had come before her main dish…..

The waitress came to clear some plates, and I called for the check.  We made sure to have our credit cards ready when she returned to prevent her from dropping the tab off and then disappearing, and we were out of there.  Yes, we left a tip, but it wasn’t large.

I have to say that I’m crushed.  This place has so much potential and so little delivery.  They have a great menu if they could just get it to the table in some kind of reasonable order and time frame. The prices are reasonable, the room is clean and inviting, but I don’t think I’ll ever manage to get Gail to go back.

Half a century


Class photo from Mrs. Schieble’s 8th grade

I graduated from Miramonte in June, 1968. Last night, we had our 50th reunion. Somehow, I feel old and young at the same time.

Old because the reunion was a room full of old people, talking about their grandkids, cataract operation, retirement plans and knee replacements.

Young because I grew up with these people, and I still see many of them, and myself, as the teenagers I remember.


Chris and Greg not only look much like they did, but Greg still dresses like it was the Age of Aquarius.

APC_0339-EditThis is Sandy York Dierckman.  I followed her around for all 4 years of school, to very little avail. Now she’s a grandmother in Southern Cal.  She’s still the first person I look for.


Alex Ablanalp.  He gets the prize for coming the farthest–he was an exchange student from Switzerland our senior year and still lives in Zurich.

Three teachers attended last night, with the star being Mr. Grbich, the art teacher who is now 86.  His passion is tap dancing, so he put on a performance for us.  He has tap danced across the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, and now at Orinda Country Club.


There was a table full of memorabilia, including cheerleader dresses, varsity sweaters, and the program from the senior play.  A group of high schoolers putting on an absurdist play seem so very 1968.


Gail stayed home–she wouldn’t dream of spending an evening with a bunch of people she doesn’t know and won’t see again.  I don’t blame her an iota–I took a couple of photos of spouses who seemed to have been dragged along, and it isn’t all that pretty.  Who wants to get all dressed up to sit and read their phone?


The timing of the event was strange, with cocktails at 5:00.  There was schmoozing, a dinner buffet, more schmoozing, and I was still home by 9:00 including a stop for frozen yogurt.  Except for Mr. Grbich, there was no dancing.  Eating and going to bed early is a sure sign of old age.  Will our 60th begin at 3 in the afternoon?

I don’t know about other people, but I’m pretty nervous about attending a reunion.  People didn’t much want to talk to me in high school, and I think they still won’t.  Time heals many wounds, though, or maybe they’re just surprised I’m still alive.  (Lord knows it surprises me that I’m still here.)

It was satisfying to see so many people I remembered who remembered me. Some look great, some less so.  The women are better preserved than the men. People have their story ready to tell, and they omit the parts they aren’t proud of.  You don’t hear of any kids or grandkids in prison, divorces, or business failures, but that’s only natural. Everyone had a fresh haircut; there were lots of new dresses and sportcoats–we all wanted to look prosperous and happy, and I hope they all are.

The same people who were the in crowd 5 decades ago still are, and they are the ones who form the organizing committee and make all this happen–which probably explains why they were the cool kids then and now.

Half a century, 2 score years and ten, is a long darned time.  Nobody is mad at anyone else anymore, we’re just glad to see each other and spend a happy evening together.  Perhaps the next one will be in 5 years, not 10. Have to see these people while we still can.