Dancing in Our Living Room

When we rearranged the living room
to make a passage between kitchen
and patio, we found enough room
for dancing.  

The other day you said when life
returns to normal, we could
take some lessons.

I don’t want to wait for someone
to teach my body how to move when
a tune I love starts playing.

We didn’t need lessons in how to find
each other across a room, either,
though we had come to the party
with other people, and would
go home with them.

I pull you to your feet and kick off
my sandals. The Tennessee Waltz
is playing its old sad story of lost love.

And here we are in the middle
of our 36th year of married love,
in the middle of our Oriental rug,
cutting it.  

©March 1, 2021, Marika Stone

Crowdsourcing to the Vax

We first learned about an artist friend’s serious illness (not COVID) via a Go Fund Me link established by his wife. She was looking for $25,000 to help pay his medical expenses, a fact of life in these United States that should horrify — and motivate — all of us who are not on Medicare, not to mention work to preserve and even extend it to more of the population. We immediately donated to the fund with enough other people (between $50 and $200 each) and soon the fund topped $30,000. Alas, crowdfunding did not save his life, but at least she has some way to help pay his bills.

I’m hugely interested in solutions like this using the kinder side of social media. And I’ve tapped into another version — crowdsourcing — to help my spouse and I and others get vaccinated against COVID-19. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term, chances are you are already using it: Wikipedia. The term crowdsourcing is made up of the terms “crowd” and “sourcing” [that] uses the masses to find a solution to a problem.

If you’re one of my South Florida readers and are over 65, you probably have had direct experience of the complete incompetence and chaos around the Publix vaccine delivery program. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the highly political nature* of this award to the corporate entity that funded the current governor> Or the fact that it leaves out communities of color who are suffering the greatest devastation from the disease: people who have limited access to online services; a local Publix supermarket; and/or the time to devote to enlisting their friends and family to spend an hour or more online to register for a vaccine appointment.

As for the design of the online access to an appointment itself, any one of our computer-literate grandchildren could probably have done better. So here’s what we’ve been going through, and I realize our experience pales in comparison to that of people left out of the process entirely. After three attempts to secure appointments, the last one an early family mini-crowdsource (five adults and seven screens), we came up with zip. Last Friday, as the numbers for Palm Beach County’s remaining vaccine supply plummeted from about 9000 to less than 150, our son managed to pull up the opening form. But by the time he entered our information, there were no pharmacies with available stock, closer than Vero Beach. Two people + two shots each = four different trips. Maybe it will yet come to that for us, and we’re lucky enough to have the time and transport.

We have already filled out Health Department forms (more than once!) and call the Florida Marlins’ hotline (786-629-5752) daily to check whether its vaccine drive-through service is taking appointments. We are on our own UMiami Health system, though they also ran out of the vaccine. We even applied for a drug trial with the J&J vaccine, only to learn during the informed consent process that it was a double-blind study involving a placebo. Does this all sound a tad desperate? Well, when you read about COVID variants potentially extending this pandemic out years, you can get a little anxious about becoming one of the casualties. Yes, at 85 and 79, we’re healthy with no pre-existing conditions, and we have some adorable masks we haven’t even tried out yet. But still and all.

So the latest: Thanks to some friends who have managed to hack the system and get their appointments/first shots through at a Publix nearby, we’re going to give crowdsourcing one more go this week. All of the team is well over 65, so it’s not a small ask them to get up at 5:30 and pull up that screen, then sit there eyes glazing over, watching it roll over ever minute in the hopes your number will come up. Meanwhile, you can scroll down to your county and watch the available doses dwindle until, maybe an hour later, it closes. As I said earlier, what genius designed this?

I hope we get our appointments this week because we’re exhausted spending so much time and energy on what, in the better world I dream of, would be a relatively simple procedure. When I was a child in Burma, the entire country would get vaccinated in a matter of days whenever the was an outbreak of Cholera or other infectious disease. It was mandatory and very efficient. And the country, at the time, was parliamentary democracy.

The good news is, once you’re out of the appointment bottleneck, it’s all easy-peasy. Those who have been lucky enough to get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine say it takes 15 minutes at most, and appointments are made for the next shot, then and there.

The best way we can think of thanking friends for their effort on our behalf, is to pay it forward (now there’s a movie to add to my ‘feel good’ list!) So if you are still among the Great Unvaxed and live in South Florida, and don’t want to wait for the Federal Government to step in, please zap me an mail at yogimarika at gmail.com. If you have a good hack for the current system, please let me know that, too. And, as one of my book group friends noted: we have to make more political noise about the sheer awfulness and injustice of this vaccine rollout in Florida, especially for those who have been left behind. Let’s do it!

Photo: Hakan Nural https://unsplash.com/photos/niBllet7sTw

————————–

*Palm Beach Post: “I’m absolutely, absolutely disgusted that the governor of this state has 100% taken the authority to administer the vaccination program out of the hands of the public health department and given that authority to a corporate entity,” said Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. This decision is completely oblivious to the reality of economic disparity. Publix does not generally place its stores in poor neighborhoods. If you’re in Belle Glade or Pahokee along Lake Okeechobee, there’s no Publix for 30 miles. “There’s no way in humanity my seniors can make such a long drive, and I wouldn’t want them to,” says Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.

Something There is That Doesn’t Love a Tree

I stopped once to hear a sitar
played in a leafy shade.
A carpet had been laid to soften
spreading roots, and when the musician
paused, he rested his instrument
against a sturdy trunk.

Felled for a utility pole, says the young gardener
with outraged face. Couldn’t they
have found another place?

Now, where just a week before
we gathered in uncommon grace,
a stump and side-lying trunk.
Growth rings slowly weep sap.
Severed branches collect in a heap.

Something there is that doesn’t love a tree,
that sees only expendability; sees logs,
split and stacked for firewood;
sees timber, 2 X 4’s, cash.

That looks at shade and wants full sun;
that wants to make way for a lawn,
a fairway, a putting green.

©July 29, 2020
#68 of my 100 Poem Pandemic Challenge

Revised 1/12/21 with Susanna Rich

Enough of This Excitement!

We knew it would end with a bang!
Because bang gets eyeballs, enriches
The already rich, and besides,
No one is really interested
In reality, these days.

It’s all Disney, all the time –
Let us entertain you and you will
Come back for more. You will
Empty your wallets; max out
Your credits cards; go into debt;
Vote, to keep the damn show going. 
You will confuse your performance
With actually doing something,
Because that’s how we roll here.

I say, bring back the dullness
Of a government that actually works —
No soundtrack, no makeup,
No lights or camera, no Academy Awards —
For the least of us.
Let public life be respectful,
Again. Let’s reward the people
Who just do their essential jobs in obscurity
That they and we may all sleep better.

Boring is beautiful. All the world’s
Not a stage.

January 4, 2021

Just This Morning

Our steps along this section of boardwalk have led us here again.

The rocking chairs are motionless until they hold a body or catch a breeze.

The thatch above is fragrant. Reeds bend to the wind.

We have added nothing but our presence for a short time, and when we are done rocking, all will be as if we’d never been here.

So too the earth, before and after humans.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday from the neighborhood
– Billy Joel, New York State of Mind

Not me. I’m more of a staycation kind of person, which like being an introvert, is an advantage during a global pandemic.

I’ve played tourist in New York City while living across the Hudson in Hoboken, N.J. How else would I have discovered gems like The Jewish Museum that had a Chagall exhibit at the time, and two other less well-known museums on the northern reaches of 5th Avenue?  El Museo has a collection of Caribbean and Latinx artists you rarely see elsewhere, and you won’t do better than the Museum of the City of New York, for a dose of history and view of the diverse citizenry that make NYC unique. I had never been to Ellis Island before my NYC staycation, either, though my spouse’s mother passed through there as a 3-year-old arrival from Poland. As an immigrant myself, I found it intensely moving to stand at the foot of a towering exhibit of all the suitcases and trunks donated by other people who first laid eyes on this country from New York Harbor. If objects could talk, what stories these might tell!

A few years and another staycation ago, we rented an AirBnB guest house in nearby Flamingo Park (West Palm Beach) for a long weekend, partly to test if the walk score of 83 was accurate. Yes, but only in Downtown. The average for WPB is more like 43, though the public jitney makes many things nearer. From where we were situated, we had easy access to The Armory Arts Center and the new Grandview Public Market developing just across the railroad tracks, and to The Norton, where we are members of long-standing. Flamingo Park itself is filled with beautiful stucco homes, some of historic interest, and we enjoyed just walking and taking photographs. Of course, someone had put up a little free lending library by their walkway. The Antique Row was also an easy stroll for morning coffee and window shopping, and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to Flagler and the waterfront. (BTW, if you’re interested in walkability and how it raises the value of housing stock, you might want to check out this article from Strong Towns.)

Now that exercise, cooking and eating healthier have become even more central to well-being, I content myself with 2-3 visits a week to Grassy Waters Preserve and with a heightened attention to where I source our food. I have always enjoyed grocery shopping and after all these years here, remain in awe at the abundance available to the average American. But the new normal means making different choices. Not so much stocking up at Costco (though I like how they treat their employees), but shifting my business to smaller purveyors like the produce and Asian specialties spot near me, or its neighbor, a well-established organic supermarket. Neither is ever crowded at the times I choose to go, and both observant of CDC guidelines for masks and barriers. It maybe a while before I’m near real farmers markets with locally grown and raised offerings, let alone New York’s Chinatown, but small is ever beautiful.

As Joanie Mitchell sang, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone,’ the months-long closing of Grassy Waters for repairs made me realize how important it was (and still is), to have a complete reset of pace, mood and mind throughout your day, however you manage it. As I step onto that boardwalk, I can feel my shoulders soften and my breath deepen. I’ll sniff the air like the animal I am, for a whiff of what other living things are out there (preferably not another of my species wearing cologne). I love knowing that, to the various inhabitants of this pristine wetlands (and fresh water source for West Palm Beach) — even the larger creatures like bobcats, deer or wild boar — I’m no big deal. I’m just a part of the scenery, of what goes on here:  an alligator’s leisurely swim along one of the waterways; an anhinga warming its wings; a Moorhen couple; bright green lizards; the croaking of a bullfrog; and even, one day on a picnic, a shy little girl with her father, drawn to the sound of my daughter’s live harp music. Perhaps, it’s a shift in perspective worth cultivating for the long haul, even when vaccines have made the world safe again for hubris.

We usually do a couple of rounds on the boardwalk, then find an open tiki hut and rocking chairs to sit for a short meditation. The thatch overhead is fragrant. The reeds bend to the wind. It’s not escape I’m seeking so much as simply being still, because there is no getting away from the neighborhood of the here and now.

Term Limits

My elder friend, Margaret, once told me that one’s 70’s were ‘a piece of cake,’ but the 80’s … well, she just rolled her lively eyes and chuckled. She was about to turn 90 and would become widowed soon after this conversation. She had stopped attending Sunday services regularly, though she scolded me, right in the middle of the produce section, for leaving the congregation. I hope she lives a long time.

This month I turned 79 and it wasn’t until I took the training for being a poll watcher that I began to seriously question whether some tasks are beyond my ability to perform with aplomb and confidence. I’ve kind of taken for granted the good longevity genes I inherited from the women in my line: Mom died at 94; her sister, Josie made it to 96; and Granny Daw Thant was well into her 80’s. All were physically active and mentally with it. Mom was swinging a golf club until her knees gave out, and remained a canny bridge, poker and Rummy 500 player until near the end. Aunt Josie, who spent her adult years in the UK, never cared to get a driver’s license. She could run down a bus carrying shopping bags, and worked in her vegetable patch past her 90th birthday. Granny? Legendary for her Thai-style massages, she could hop up on your back to knead the muscles with her feet, never losing her balance — or wicked laugh — until she died, instantly as she always wanted, of a heart attack.

They set a high bar. At 56, I trained as a yoga instructor and launched classes in my stripped-down living room in Hoboken, N.J. I called it 11th and Yoga and filled the space with students three nights a week. My body-mind was my business card. In yoga, I felt as though I’d discovered, if not the fountain of youth, then flexibility and resilience for my later years. I retired from teaching after 20 years, but maintain a regular practice with an app that let’s me choose the kind of class, the music, and the teacher I want to deliver instructions into my ear: Australian Chad, these days. One of my daughters-in-law is devoted to workouts with stretch bands and got me interested in this as well. I put all of this to the test recently, by moving my writing desk up one flight of stairs while my spouse offered sight lines so I didn’t take out the bannisters or scrape the wall.

Post-carding and texting were perfect get out the vote activities during lockdown. But as this particular election looms, I find myself drawn to poll watching because it’s clear we are up against some formidable attempts to interfere with the peaceful process. I have always admired those who serve every election year in various capacities. At my polling place in 2016, I witnessed one very polite worker remind an apparently confused Dr. Ben Carson that having cast his ballot, he needed to vacate the premises immediately. She gently but firmly escorted him out. Doesn’t that sound civil and orderly, the way a democracy is supposed to work?

But I must admit that the hour-long Zoom training to be a poll watcher has given me pause as to whether 1. I can be in the room from 5:30 a.m. to poll closing or even manage a 7+ hour shift during the early voting period which began in my state today, or 2. be mentally sharp enough to challenge my counterpart in the other party if I need to, and text reports of what I observe to the ‘boiler room’ of the Lawyers Bound for Justice. Not to mention that I use hearing aids. As they say, I’m on the fence about this. But it does make me think about the wisdom of knowing when you have reached your personal limits, legends like RBG notwithstanding.

This is going to sound odd coming from the co-author of Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life, an argument for staying in the game long after so-called retirement age. But term limits for all forms of government service are beginning to make sense to me, if only to forestall Murphy’s Law*. Congress is currently full of people who have forgotten why they ran for office in the first place. You don’t need a better argument for term limits than the spectacle of a 48-year-old SCOTUS nominee whose views don’t represent the majority of Americans, possibly gaining a lifetime appointment.

*“If something can go wrong, it will and usually at the worst time.”

Waiting Is

Even if you’re not a Robert Heinlein fan, this pandemic can make you feel like a stranger in a strange land. I’ve used the upside down emoji more times than I can count as it perfectly expresses how I’m feeling: inverted, but with a little smile on my face because, well, I agree with those friends who think that some good has already come from our changed world, and more may be on the horizon. Yes, you’re hearing this from someone who is no stranger to the dark side in these pages. So, as an example of how quickly shift happens these days, let me just mention two things that are in orbit for me right now, both of them new. Mars juli-kosolapova-pZ-XFIrJMtE-unsplash copyPhoto by Juli Kosolapova on Unsplash

I. Last fall, I became a member of a newly-formed book group, most of us women of a certain age with sufficient differences of backgrounds and views to make discussions lively. We started meeting in each others’ homes, with socializing and food always an important component. But now, like so much else in this strange landscape, we’re holding our monthly discussions on Zoom. For some of us getting used to the meeting technology was and is a quick study and we’ve taken to it like the proverbial web-footed to water. So, we mentor our sisters. Video conferencing is also the only way we can gather in the summer when we are geographically dispersed. After a session or two, we all got the hang of muting when not speaking, and some may be experimenting with the feature that helps you look your best in that little lighted box, whether you’re in pajamas or haven’t had a haircut or manicure since January.

There’s a serendipitous glitch in the program caused by distance and terrain, evidently mountainous: a slight lag between one speaker and the next. Musicians find this intolerable and most professional video conferencing involving music or dance, has found ways around it. If you watch CNN,  you have probably grown so accustomed to that slight pause between question and answer, you no longer find it odd. For my money, that extra beat or two of silence promotes better attention, patience and possibly even respect. We’re obliged to simply wait. “I speak, you wait. You speak, I wait,” as my friend, Sylvia, puts it. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

II. Here’s an article from Motif, a newsletter based in Providence, RI,  where I am now, that covers news, events, music, shows, film, art. If the pandemic has sharpened your concern about our very sick healthcare system, a recent article, No Doctor? No Problem! offers a different perspective. It resonated with me because:

1. Although I deeply respect the professionals who devote their lives to the healing arts and sciences, the system in which they — and all Americans — are all currently trapped, needs more than tweaks. It needs a revolution. You probably know the stats as well as I do: how much we spend on healthcare vs. our dismal metrics compared to the rest of the developed world. We may also be the most over-prescribed population in the world, and certainly have among the highest rates of drug, including prescription drug, addiction. This is intolerable.

2. Pandemic has postponed all but the most urgent procedures to make room for Covid patients. These ‘routine’ procedures include annual physicals, redundant tests, and some elective surgeries. This hurts the business of medicine immediately, of course, and possibly permanently. But it also raises these questions: are we over-medicalized as a nation? are we paying too much for below par care? are there some circumstances when less is more? The fact that even emergency rooms have started to have fewer non-Covid-related visits suggests this could be true. Elder care and end of life care, are two categories I’m actively concerned about given my age and age cohort. If you are also, get hold of a copy of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.  There is a readers’ discussion guide in the back. You could consider warming up by forming an ad hoc reading/discussion group based on the Motif article.

Our groups next book selection is Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion. Though written in English, the language is so of its period, you have to slow down, sometimes circle back. Yet I’m finding much to appreciate about the author’s witty skewering of the landed gentry with their endless amusements and schemes to preserve their wealth and status. Without a class system and convenient wars that built fortunes, Austen’s world could not have existed. No less ours.

Signing off with another back-to-the-future idea:  now that human habitation of Mars has become a thing, I’m thinking Stranger in a Strange Land could reward a second reading.  Maybe dig out your copy of the other cult classic of its moment, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig while you’re at it. Stranger things have happened. Time expands. Waiting is.

 

Nesting and Resting

Perhaps you are, like me, following the so far voluntary stay home recommendations except for essential re-supplying. I’m hearing from friends about all the projects they are tackling during this hiatus from normal life, and I have a few of my own. But mostly, I’m contented to nest and rest, mend, repair, read, write and watch shows I have missed until now. Which brings me to the opening episode of The Crown.  I might have anticipated being flooded with memories from a brief moment in my own childhood that is of particular relevance today. Here goes.

When I arrived in England in 1948 in time to enter convent boarding school, many of the wartime protocols were still in place along with the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ culture that kept the country going in a dark time. The one law I found most difficult, was food rationing. No doubt this was because I had lately arrived from Burma (now Myanmar) where everyone, regardless of wealth or status, enjoyed a diet rich in tropical fruits and fresh vegetables as well as abundant rice, and where meat and fish were not the center of the plate, a subject I may address at another time.

The plan was that until school began and my mother could find her own living space (my father had remained at his post in Rangoon), we would live with her sister, Josie, and brother-in-law, Ken Birdsey, We had been issued ration books upon arrival that would enable us to get our weekly allotment from the various food stores: the greengrocer, bakery, fish monger, and butcher. Although sugar and eggs were severely limited, milk in glass bottles was still being delivered to the door.  I’ll admit to tremendous nostalgia for dairies and other independent purveyors!

The four of us were crammed into the Birdsey’s flat above a corner newspaper shop on The Square in Marika 1948Dunstable, Bedfordshire. We shared a single bathroom and took our main meal — high tea about 5:30 when they returned from work — in the tiny front parlor that overlooked the square. It was a lively spot and I never tired of looking out the window on all the comings and goings. Despite our limited quarters, my uncle managed to pursue his passion for photography and had a small dark room tucked into their warren of tiny rooms. This is a photograph of me, age 8,  he took and developed, that won Honorable Mention in a district contest and made me a local celebrity for a short while. He also used the photograph for their Christmas card that year, which suggests it was taken during the Christmas break after my first term at St. Francis de Sales in nearby Tring. My memories of the convent were straight out of Oliver Twist —  including the mandated surrender of my own ration book to the nuns — yet I look surprisingly well-nourished in Uncle Ken’s photo. This is likely due to the starchy meals, a lot of porridge and potatoes, with an egg and a very small, very fatty piece of bacon served on Sundays. I had sneaked a look into my ration book before school began, and someone of higher status in this new world of mine was clearly chowing down on my allotment of dairy and fresh fruit.

I didn’t dare rat out the nuns to my mother, even less to my aunt and uncle who were by now thoroughly entrained to accept wartime sacrifices with resilient good humor. In fact, we were all better off in some ways because Uncle Ken’s father and brother owned and ran a butcher shop. I also loved accompanying Aunt Josie on her rounds and observing her dimple up and flirt with the purveyors for extra nice piece of fish or bit more cheese. Until winter came, there was also the family victory garden that provided us with fresh tomatoes, greens, carrots and turnips, all easily turned into fresh eggs and even once, a chicken, via the barter system. I know these ideas seem positively quaint to many, but you can find versions of them alive and well today, see Transition Towns.

When I was home for school holidays, I loved a family high tea, all of us in hand-knit cardigans courtesy Aunt Josie, consisting of baked beans on toast, scones with marmalade (very sparingly spread), and countless cups of strong English tea sweetened with (also rare) condensed milk. I simply cannot imagine my beloved, long-gone elders, responding to a crisis by emptying meat cases and canned food shelves or stuffing their carts with toilet paper. As crowd scenes from The Crown depict, the love and pride the British felt for their country and for their leaders (Churchill and the royal family), ran deep. I believe this helped sustain them through their own existential crisis and it concerns me that we are coming up short in this regard.

We’ve been making extra effort to eat well and with more attention in my household, of late. And today, I had a reminder of how wonderful the plainest of foods can be from none other than Sam Sifton of NYT Cooking. Here’s a recipe with ingredients straight from your hurricane stockpile (fellow Floridians) for Simple Beans on Toast. I think, for the duration, you’ll be able to download all the Times recipes without a subscription. Actually, each day seems to bring new examples of altruism and generosity, for example, from museums and the entertainment industry, to cite two, that could help us keep our spirits up which is at least as important as not letting each other down. Let me know if I misspoke re: NYT Cooking. I’d be glad to copy/paste/post the recipe. Inside this grandmother is still that little girl in a flannel night gown, holding a candle.

Sourdough, Again

You can buy sourdough starter, but the best way to get it is from a friend because it will always come with its own story. I wrote here nearly a year ago about my mother’s adventures with sourdough ‘mother,’ a gift from her Ukrainian-Canadian friend. History repeated itself for me, when I got my own pint of sourdough from a friend who cultured it himself from flour, water, and patience. The existence of sourdough is further proof that we share a world with mutually-beneficial species, and with some effort we can be in right relationship with them. In this case, wild yeast.

The newcomer to my household has proven itself a resilient culture indeed, a friendly upstart that has changed how we make, enjoy, and think about bread, in our family. In short, over the past year, I have been baking a loaf or two EVERY WEEK, except for when we were away for six weeks last summer. With some trepidation, I put a cup of recently fed starter (it ‘eats’ just water and flour) into a recycled Talenti gelato jar, screwed on the lid, popped it into the freezer, and crossed my fingers. Fortunately, there wasn’t a power outage kind of hurricane event in 2019. All I had to do on my return was let it thaw, feed it for a few days, and we were back in business.

There are probably hundreds of recipes for sourdough on the Internet, and based on my sample of only those designated ‘easy’ and ‘beginners,’ every one of them is likely to frustrate the hell out of you if you’re a stickler for consistent results. So, count on a lesson — or three — in patience (a first rising can be 4 hours or 12).

We have another newcomer in neighborhood, a single, good-looking young man who replaced the family with the three noisy dogs we were glad to see go. And it turns out, our new neighbor was born in Ukraine. When you have a common wall and adjacent driveways, a certain amount of intimacy is inevitable if not always welcome. I already had a good feeling about him, though, because one day while we were away, he heard our daughter on the patio, audibly grieving her recently deceased father, and came over to make sure she was all right. This was a breach of protocol in our mind-your-business kind of neighborhood for which I am grateful.

My relationship with sourdough starter has taught me that is has no respect for your schedule, so get used to that. If you’re a control freak, you’ll be sorely tested. Things that influence ‘mother’ and therefore how your bread turns out include, of course, the quality of the water and flour you use to feed the culture; whether you let it warm up and expand enough before starting your recipe; the ambient temperature of your kitchen, the humidity, even your mood (i.e. cool or warm hands) and possibly the kind of music you’re playing in the background. Mine seems to like The Eagles and Van Morrison. I’ve had whole wheat loaves turn out so pretty I photograph them. Others that look like, and have the airy consistency of, an oversize English crumpet. But here’s the thing. Regardless of how a loaf looks, no one in my family has turned down a slice. We have almost forgotten what bread from a commercial source tastes like. We’re becoming connoisseurs of the distinctive tang that gives sourdough its name.

So the other night, we took this promising start a little further and invited O. to dinner. He rang the doorbell one minute after 6:30, wow! Dark, well-barbered hair, neat beard, wearing a tight black tee that showed his muscles, and dark jeans. He put his bottle of wine on the dining table, and shook my hand with a slight nod of his head.

Right away, he noticed our keyboard and ukuleles hanging on the wall and asked if we were musicians. I welcome curiosity and interest like this, so I ‘introduced’ him to the rest of our family via the group of photos under the hanging instruments. Our cat seemed to take to the stranger as well, rubbing against his legs and submitting to some strokes. Meanwhile, wine was being uncorked and poured, the Camembert I had remembered to take out hours ahead, was sagging nicely on the cheese platter next to the basket of crackers. I had made a salad earlier and had only the pasta to toss before serving. The evening was launched.

We chatted easily about our backgrounds, like neighbors who are interested in getting off to a good start do. He asked if we socialized with others in the complex and we mentioned the chili cook-off a few weeks back. The truth is, with the exception of dog-walkers and young families, most people are polite enough, but generally keep to themselves.

Turns out O. was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union and came to the United States at age 14 with his mother. His parents had been long divorced. He speaks English without an accent and is fluent in Russian, Ukraine, and the language of computer science in which he has a degree. He had been here 25 years, with a stint at UF Gainesville before getting a degree at Eckerd. He designs websites and codes, and intends to be his own boss eventually.

Given how much his former country had been in the news, I hesitated to talk politics. But – and I’m not sure how this happened – somehow we got there, and it turned out our views were aligned. Two hours passed quickly and pleasantly. The food was evidently enjoyed. He had a late date but insisted on helping clear up the dishes. My mother would have called O. ‘well-brought up.’  Soon, it was time to say good night. He would like to cook for us, he said. When he does, I’ll bring him a loaf of sourdough and a story.