Archive for August 23rd, 2006


Our apartment is currently filled with the sound of simulated gunfire -- tons of it -- as my son and his best friend engage in a multi-computer world-domination game. Now, these are both really gentle Berkeley kids -- my son's even been a vegetarian since he was four, for purely ethical reasons -- but what boy can resist a cool war game? I certainly couldn't. I can remember coming home from anti-Vietnam-War protests and then running outside with the BB gun my dad had given me -- I believe it had been confiscated from a member of the Royal Bishops, then the largest gang in New York, which my dad was monitoring as a social worker for the city.

Those were good times, though in retrospect they were possibly also bad times: our neighborhood, on the Lower East Side, was sliding from lower-class to hopeless -- drugs and gangs everywhere, chubby kids running around with BB guns ... But to me, it was wonderful: fascinating people, unpredictable action (including frequent busts of our neighbors), and -- mostly -- my dad and his friends. One of his best friends, the Rev. Chuck Yerkes, lived down the hallway; he and dad had met when Chuck also started working with the Royal Bishops, trying to get at them from the spiritual angle. How an atheist Jew could get along so well with a fifth-generation Presbyterian minister can be explained by (a) the amazing diversity made possible in multicultural America, especially among those concentrated into urban areas, and (b) the fact that they were both adamant leftists who came from extremely troubled families. (Also, they were both great people.)

Chuck ended up presiding over the wedding of my dad to my stepmother, Sue. I still remember the horrified look on Dad's face when Chuck showed up at our apartment (where the ceremony was to take place) wearing a black turtleneck and love beads (this was in 1968). My father, the atheist, was aghast that Chuck wasn't wearing his ministerial garb. Chuck quickly put Dad at ease by showing him the dry-cleaner's bag with his freshly pressed vestments. In the preceding weeks, they had gone through tortuous negotiations about how often God could be mentioned in the ceremony (Dad insisted on "never," but allowed Chuck to sprinkle in some vague references to the importance of a couple's spiritual life). Yet now, when the pedal came to the metal, Dad wanted his minister friend to be dressed ministerially, goshdarnit! The Lord indeed works in mysterious ways. ...

I was thinking of both of these fascinatingly self-contradictory men (both now gone, sadly) yesterday, as I biked to the first "Wandering Josh" shoot for our upcoming second season. Chuck bicycled everywhere -- often shuttling between our apartment and the Union Theological Seminary, where he spent many years procrastinating on his doctoral dissertation, about something called "the I/Thou relationship." (This experience probably helped introduce me to the myriad joys of procrastination, which remains one of my few skills.) As for Dad, in the very early mornings, he'd ride his green Raleigh folding bike to Harlem, where he'd climb the steps to the platform of the commuter train to his teaching job in Connecticut. ... My own bike is a folding bike as well -- which came in handy yesterday, as I was able to take in on BART during rush hour when all normal bikes (ha!) are prohibited.

But in the back of my mind, I knew that my biking days might be numbered -- since my destination was Ann's Driving School, where I was to receive my first-ever driving lesson (on camera, no less -- we taped it for a "Wandering Josh" segment). Let me tell you, after 47 years of being a passenger, it felt weird to be behind the wheel. Also, I'd like to mention that the difference between the gas pedal and the brake is not intuitively obvious. (My apologies especially to our sound technician, Hugh Scott, who was essentially curled up in the trunk.) Still, after a few minutes my incredibly soothing instructor, Judy Lundblad, had me feeling, if not actually relaxed, then at least in a state of edgy enjoyment. I wanted to keep driving! I wanted to drive to Reno! (Wherever that is.) I wanted to buy a big bottle of Mountain Dew and drive for 24 hours, listening to random tracks from my iPod!

Who knew driving was so much fun? Why didn't anyone tell me? (Then again, next time we have to cover parallel parking, so things could get worse really fast.) ...

Ah, well ... That was Tuesday, and now it's Wednesday -- and there are two hungry cyber-warriors to feed, and DVD's for me to watch in preparation for our first in-studio taping of the new season (on Sept. 1), so I will sign off for now and move away from the computer -- the old-fashioned way: on foot. ...

3 comments August 23rd, 2006

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