Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

I BELIEVE IN AMERICA

The film begins with the screen black. A man’s voice declares, “I believe in America!” His Italian accent tells us he’s an immigrant. The camera then reveals him in closeup—mustache and suit as black as the background in which he seems suspended. A humble if successful undertaker, he pleads with someone we cannot see: His daughter has been dishonored. He seeks justice. But it will not be in the American way. Or will it?

The Godfather presents America as the land of opportunity. For many millions born on foreign shores and their first-generation American children, it has been just that. But the irony of the undertaker’s speech soon hits home. The Godfathermakes clear that in America, hard work and risk-taking offer great rewards. These values may be applied to a great many enterprises. Not all need be legal.

Those who saw opportunities by breaking the law are duly noted in downtown Las Vegas’s Mob Museum. I was there last week, since I did a small portion of the research for my next novel on their website. Moreover, I admit to a fascination with the Mob—particularly Jewish gangsters of the first half of the 20th century. They were legion. Money guys like Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky? Sure. But many more were stone-cold killers like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. (FYI, Lansky and Siegel appear in the novel.)

The Mob Museum details the rise—and fall—of the Sicilian Mafia and its affiliates, including the Jewish gangs, which provided murder—and lots of it—for hire. (Protestant and Irish gangs terrorized New York and Boston before them). For many young immigrants lacking education and living in slum conditions, crime paid. Death often came early; success comes with a price.

Ultimately, the FBI squeezed and put away the classic Mob bosses. Vegas cleaned up its act. Other ethnic groups stepped in. Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicans, Mexicans, Chinese, Russians and Vietnamese, as well as groups native to the Heartland, carved out their own American opportunities.

This nation will always face the Mob in some form. But ordinary criminals—even the drug cartels—will not destroy our democracy. We’ll rot at the hands of corporations and the super-rich. They buy politicians and virtually write our laws to eliminate regulations protecting ordinary citizens and reduce their taxes and liabilities, society be damned. In the process, they brush crumbs to the floor. Some people lap them up.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman advises, “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor, either.” I support ambition. I succeeded financially because I risked working for myself and pushed to meet my goals—honestly and ethically.

I also support a sense of balance. The Christian Bible tells us that not money but theloveof it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Mishnah offers wisdom through a Jewish lens: “Who is rich? He who appreciates what he has…” (Avot 4:1).

I believe in America. I also believe that keeping the pursuit of wealth from devouring ethics requires making wise choices. November will reveal whether greed outweighs goodness and lemming-like, this nation marches off a cliff.

For you who are celebrating Yom Kippur starting Tuesday night, may you have a meaningful holiday and be sealed for good in the New Year.

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A GENERATION ENDS

My aunt, Rita Nachem, died two weeks ago at 97. A generation ended. Last Friday night at my synagogue, I said Kaddishfor her. But as much as I mourn, I celebrate her life and those of all my aunts and uncles.

Aunt Rita was the last survivor of six Finkle children, including my mother Blanche. My grandparents, Lyon and Minnie, had three children in quick succession then paused before bringing into the world another three. Each older kid was assigned a younger sibling to assist Grandma. Aunt Rita, ten years younger, was my mother’s “baby.”

All my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family are gone. Added together—counting only first spouses, eliminating one I never knew, and including my great uncle and aunt, Moe and Anne Horowitz, who I consider second parents—they numbered twenty. Until I became an adult, I never considered my aunts and uncles by marriage distinct from my parents’ siblings. I never felt less than their nephew.

Uncle Larry Nachem died some years ago. Carolyn and I called him a day or two before his death and chatted. He did not fear the inevitable. Actually, he sounded pretty good. People in their final days often experience a resurgence—if for only a moment. While it’s not always possible, we got to say goodbye. We were glad.

Over the years, we called Aunt Rita regularly as did my other cousins, and spoke with her two weeks before she died. Obviously declining, she sounded tired. Nonetheless, as the matriarch of the family, she asked about us and our children. She uttered no complaints.

We often visited Aunt Rita in the Boston area—the last time in May 2017 during an unusual cold spell. She lived in a wonderful independent-living community near my cousin Sue (my cousin Bev lives in far northern California) and maintained an active life—bridge, movies, discussions. When she turned 90, all the cousins who could—it’s a long trip from Israel—gathered to celebrate.

I mentioned relationships going beyond “blood.” I’m proud that Aunt Rita was fully Carolyn’s aunt, too. No “by-marriage” asterisk there. Aunt Rita was always interested in Carolyn’s storytelling and acting career, as well as Seth, Yosi and Aaron. Carolyn was always fascinated by Aunt Rita’s travels—she and Uncle Larry traversed the globe—and her thoughts on opera, books and current events.

At seventy-four, I harbor no illusion about living forever. My parents’ generation is gone. Mine will leave the stage, as well. Each survivor will endure the pain of loss until we are no more. But memories of my family stay with me. Live in me. I’ve been lucky to have a large and loving family. And with three adult children plus nephews and nieces, and all those remaining cousins—I’ve lost a few—there’s plenty of family left.

Death represents no mystery. We all die. Life after? That’s a mystery to the living. Ultimately, we’ll be forgotten save for those with a passion for family trees. But for as long as we survive in someone’s memory, we’ll enjoy something of an extended life. I don’t believe in heaven. But being remembered—hopefully positively, if only for a short time—works for me.

For you who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah starting Sunday night, Happy New Year. May you enjoy health, peace and prosperity.

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BROWN PEOPLE

On August 8, Fox News’s Laura Ingraham stated, “In some parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.” She also said, “Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people…” Changes “…most of us don’t like.” Who are the “most of us” upon whom such changes have been forced?

Ingraham clearly referenced white anxiety—white Americans suffering growing numbers of brown people in “their” country. According to CNN, Fox’s fan base is almost 100 percent white. The immigration issue disturbs whites. (Months ago, President Trump asked why more immigrants don’t come from Norway. He might find the answer in his mirror.) The next night, Ingraham denied her comments related to race or ethnicity. Rather, they expressed her desire for secure borders following the rule of law and shared goals of “keeping America safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.”

Three words to Ingraham (which she will reject): Get over it. American immigration policy doesneed a thorough (which does not mean not racist) review and overhaul. I do notbelieve that the United States should—or can—circle the wagons and compel white dominance. Of course, I’m selfish. A white, Christian America excludes me and my family. I’m also a realist—and a humanist.

Last weekend, Carolyn and I visited our son Yosi in Los Angeles. We had dinner at a brown (Colombian) restaurant. Brown people ran it—and well. The next day, we went to L.A.’s revitalized downtown to browse The Last Bookstore, which occupies an old bank. So did many other people of all ethnicities—people who share the love of reading.

On our flight home, we sat among thirty-five new UC Berkeley freshmen on their way to orientation—brown, yellow, black and white members of the class of ’22. All bright and eager—the successful professionals, business people and artists and citizens of the next decade and beyond. Not “the white stuff”—“the right stuff.”

Ethnic diversity also impacts my own Jewish community—although we’ve been a diverse people for millennia. A visit to Israel reveals Jews with roots in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, China, East Africa and the Americas—North and South. Skin tones and hair color run the range from dark to light. Features vary all over the place. All are Jews.

San Francisco-based B’chol Lashon  (“In every language”) provides summer-camp and other experiences for Jewish kids with other than total—or even partial—Ashkenazi (Eastern European) background. They can see themselves clearly in the Jewish mirror. They’re in my mirror, too, because we’re all a single Jewish people with many backgrounds and customs.

My synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, embraces Jews of all genetic types—those born into Jewish families and Jews by choice. We’re now running an ad on the outside of San Francisco’s MUNI buses to make our position clear that there’s room for everyone under our awe-inspiring dome:

(photo) CHICKEN SOUP + (photo) SRIRACHA BOTTLE = (logo) SHERITH ISRAEL

To be an American is to adhere not to any particular ethnicity but to American values. It’s time to reaffirm that our flag of red, white and blue pledges the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the red, white, black, yellow and brown.

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THE SUITCASE

Retrieving the newspaper from my front steps last week—I’m a dinosaur—I saw a white suitcase on the sidewalk. My first reaction? As a native New Yorker and a Jew with family in Israel (I was last there in March/April), I’ll attest that the risk of confronting a bomb is real. But who would target my leafy street? I waited.

Several hours later, I went for a walk. The suitcase? Still there. I noticed it lacked one wheel. I concluded that someone—perhaps a homeless person; they wander the neighborhood—didn’t want to lug it any further. An hour later, the suitcase was gone. I felt relieved.

This wasn’t the first abandoned suitcase I’ve encountered. Several years ago, for example, I saw two—open and stuffed with clothing—in the Presidio National Park near my house. Who leaves packed suitcases in a park? My imagination produced a short story, Two Suitcases By the Side of the Road.

The protagonist, a retired executive, encounters two suitcases on a short hike in—yes—the Presidio. A widower who writes fiction to occupy his time—with little success—he imagines the person who left them: a woman he names Grace. He envisions his character fleeing marriage to a dull dentist in Marin County to live with a woman in Santa Barbara. Grace’s plight spurs him to examine his own figurative baggage—an early infidelity and a ruined friendship.

We all carry baggage—errors and indiscretions tucked into hard-shell cases securely locked. But refusing to acknowledge the deeds we regret can haunt us. The protagonist wonders if his imagined Grace can handle her own past transgressions and find happiness. He concludes the story with this observation:

“I’d like to say I know more about how things with Grace will turn out, but that’s asking too much. Particularly of Grace. We each look at our life—turn it over, dissect it—and arrive at a pretty good sense of where we’ve been and a decent idea of where we are. Where we’re going? That’s pushing it. We try to write the stories of our lives, but our lives write us.”

My baggage could fill an old-fashioned steamer trunk. Maybe two. I deal with it by periodically hunkering down in a quiet corner of my mind, unpacking my trunks and sifting through their contents. Repressing awkward matters that mar our past only nourishes them until they sprout so large they burst from their confinement and do additional damage. A little fresh air and sunlight keeps them from metastasizing.

On the other hand, I find objectionable the desire of people to spew endless streams of detailed confessionals. (This commentary represents a one-time general statement; I retain the option to return to it in the future.) The penchant—common here in California—to constantly air one’s blemishes to friends, family and the public constitutes a narcissism I find overwhelming and alienating.

So, I keep my balance while keeping my failings to myself. In doing this—and risking the ire of therapists everywhere—I leverage my mistakes as learning tools while keeping them at a sufficient distance to avoid plunging me into depression. That would result in life writing a chapter for me I won’t appreciate.

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CONFESSIONS OF A TRIBALIST

Last May, the author Michael Chabon—himself Jewish—told graduating Reform rabbis and educators they needed to help dissolve Judaism. The goal? A world where everyone’s the same. Amy Chua, the Chinese-American Yale law professor, who authored Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, opposes that view. I side with Chua.

In “Tribal World: Group Identity is All” (July/August 2018 Foreign Affairs), Chua writes, “The human instinct to identify with a group is almost certainly hard-wired…” In that context, she faults U.S. policymakers for underestimating “the role that group identification plays in shaping human behavior.” Tribes are for real.

I’m guilty of upholding my Jewish identity. Some friends brought up as “just Americans” have confided they envy my ethnic identity. Granted, many North American Jews exhibit no particular concern for Judaism and Jewish life, as Chabon would have them do.

The Talmud (Shevuot39a) teaches, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.” All Israel [the Jewish people] are responsible each for the other. I take this to heart.

I read baseball box scores each morning and note the performance of each Jewish player. As of yesterday, the Astros’ Alex Bregman—this year’s All-Star Game most valuable player—had 22 homeruns and 71 runs batted in. The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson hit two home runs last night. The Red Sox’ Ian Kinsler  had three hits. The Orioles’ Danny Valencia, a position player, pitched.  When Orioles relief pitcher Richard Blier—having a great year—went out for the season with an injury, that hurt. Basketball’s Omri Casspi signed with Memphis. Hooray!

It’s not just sports. Last Sunday night, Carolyn and I went to the Jewish Film Festival to see a documentary about Sammy Davis, Jr. As my synagogue’s congregation and Israel’s population attest, Jews display a wide variety of genetics and cultural backgrounds. I believe in Am Yisrael Echad—the people Israel is one. We’re universalists despite our particularism.

Am I offending others, such as Whites, Blacks, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Asians, Latinos, Cat Lovers, and Chocaholics? If so, who determines our universalistic identity? Hopefully, no one. I can see the inevitable outcome: Jews forego Chanukah for Christmas to be “like everyone else.”

Yes, tribalism can be toxic. Witness the Greater Middle East and India, for example. Examine Europe: France’s Jews, who suffered during the Holocaust with French complicity, endure violent anti-Semitism, much at the hands of Muslims. European Muslims don’t have it easy, either. A Muslim friend born in England is achieving great success as an actor yet remains wary. Mesut Ozil, five-time German soccer player of the year, left the national team after criticism for posing for a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (admittedly not my favorite political leader).“I’m a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil, born in Germany.

The United States offers ample proof that tribalists can be loyal citizens, who take our Constitution and values to heart. The hyphenated American—Jewish-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans and so on—helped make this nation great. When the current political idiocy ends, we will continue to do so. The hyphen enables us to bring varied religious and cultural backgrounds to a common table heaped with bagels, ribs, Mongolian beef, tacos, chicken vindaloo—and respect. All enrich the American experience.

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GONG DAY–PART TWO

Last August, I celebrated my 45th—and final—radiation treatment for prostate cancer with Gong Day—ringing a large brass gong in the cancer center’s office. But another treatment continued.

Two days ago, I received the last of six quarterly shots of Lupron, which suppresses testosterone, the environment in which prostate cancer cells form and multiply. My urologist’s office lacks a gong, so I rang one internally. My PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) score again was undetectable. When this last shot wears off, my PSA should rise to about 1.0. That’s way below any level of concern.

I write this to pass on the good news and tell men that watching out for prostate cancer shouldn’t be considered an option—or an embarrassment. I reference a puzzling comics panel in the San Francisco Chronicle (12-8-17): “The Fusco Brothers” by J.C. Duffy. One brother appears in a urologist’s office wearing a t-shirt declaring #1 PROSTATE. Doctor: “As a urologist, I’m naturally curious about your t-shirt, Mr. Fusco.” Fusco: “It’s just my way of saying, ‘Nothing to see here!’”

Help me out. Has the doctor notseen Fusco’s PSA results (by no means conclusive), examined his urine or given him a rectal exam? Or is he about to? Fusco is visiting a urologist, which leads me to believe his primary-care physician sent him. Did the primary believe Fusco had a different problem. Bladder, perhaps?

Now to Fusco’s statement. Does “Nothing to see here” mean he anticipates a clean prostate exam? Or, having kept his appointment, is he trying to back out?

Fusco’s smile—or smirk—suggests that his prostate has been given a clean bill of health; he wore the t-short anticipating this and to inform readers that men should follow his example. Get checked. Or maybe, following the sardonic tone of the strip, he’s a doofus, mortified by the exam process.

If you’ve got a good read on this, let me know. But I can state without reservation that blood tests for PSA don’t hurt (and they offer juice), any man can pee into a plastic cup (the bathroom’s private) and a rectal exam (while imperfect) can provide a urologist with useful information.

I’m glad my urologist followed up for several years, used some advanced technology and caught my cancer. Has treatment been a thrill? No. Difficult? Also no. The cancer center with the radiation machine I call “The Beast” has a TV and pool table—which I used. Coffee, too. I experienced some fatigue and went to the bathroom a lot. But after radiation ended, the bathroom bit slowed way down. Energy returned.

The Lupron shots produce hot flashes, but lighter clothes get me through the day and a cool bedroom helps me sleep. Critically, hormone shots offer great odds that I’ll avoid a recurrence of cancer for a long time—hopefully forever. (Although at some advanced age, it won’t matter.)

This year, 29,000 American men will die because they ignored their prostate. Forget the awkwardness of a cartoon character and take it from a real flesh-and-blood guy who’s been there. A #1 prostate is one that gets checked regularly. And if needed, undergoes a relatively short period of treatment that can produce long years of health, activity and joy.

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“THE ALIBI”—A FABLE

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Joe follows the bailiff into the courtroom for his arraignment. He sits next to a haggard public defender, who nods. Joe smiles. Sure, he committed the crime. But he knows he won’t be indicted.

Joe admits he came to the end of his rope. He’d worked a good job in a shop manufacturing auto parts. But the Great Recession and foreign competition drove sales down. They let him go. It took a while, but Joe found a new job. For lower wages, yes, but jobs were scarce. His new employer faced the same business challenges, only worse. The company folded.

Joe hated collecting unemployment, but he had a family. And he did look for work. Until he figured there wasn’t anything out there for him and stopped. His wife got a job in a bakery. Minimum wage, no bennies. But something. Joe became a househusband.

He drove the kids to school then his wife to work then picked up everyone after. They once had two vehicles, but his wife’s SUV got better mileage and cost less to insure, so he sold his truck. The money went fast. At home, he cleaned a little, did laundry then watched Fox News. Under Obama, America was in deep trouble.

Once a week, Joe shopped a specialty market with low prices on dented cans, torn packages and produce a little less than prime. He still left cooking dinner to his wife.

No slacker, he occasionally dug up odd jobs to help lower their debt. It kept rising. The economy picked up then got hot. But the way Joe figured, it still left him out in the cold. He voted for Trump.

America being made great again, he reentered the job market. Automation and the skills that went with it had passed him by. When a guy got beat down like he’d been beat down, he just couldn’t get up.

Then the lightbulb went off. One afternoon, he went to the mall. Crowds were smaller given how many people shopped online, but it still contained a nice jewelry store. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a small hammer and chisel, broke a glass case, scooped up expensive watches and diamond bracelets, and walked out. An alarm sounded. He ran. A security guard tackled him. Joe wasn’t worried.

“How do you plead?” asks the judge. Joe’s attorney is about to answer when Joe stands. “Not guilty, your honor. You can let me go.” The judge scowls. “You’ll have your day in court.” Joe smiles. “Don’t need it. If I say I’m innocent, that’s all the proof you need.” The judge tilts her head. “And that works how?”

“Trump’s getting ready to meet Putin in Finland, right? Some U.S. Senate committee just said the Russians interfered with the 2016 election. All of America’s intelligence agencies concluded that before. But Trump tweeted, ‘Putin says the Russian state had nothing to with it.’ He tweets that a lot.” “So?” asks the judge. “So, Russia gets away with it. I’m just saying, I had nothing to do with that robbery, so—”

The judge bangs her gavel. It booms like a rifle shot. Joe grins in response to the resignation on her face when she announces, “Case dismissed.”

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ONE DONALD IS ENOUGH

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy aside, the nation remains focused on Central American children separated by the federal government from parents who have crossed our borders illegally, claiming refugee status. Democrats anticipate leveraging this issue during this fall’s midterm Congressional election campaign. But some have forgotten their goal: to beatDonald Trump, not beDonald Trump.

Congress has yet to address immigration law and policy in a coherent and comprehensive manner. Its occasional attempts at problem-solving resemble Band-Aids affixed to holes in the hull of the Titanic. Yet some Democrats seem to copy the behavior attributed to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat: he never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

Last weekend, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, was booted from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia. Owner Stephanie Wilkinson related that her wait staff felt uncomfortable serving Sanders’ party. I assume her staff leans Democratic. Certainly, it’s anti-Trump. But expressing differences of political opinion in this way does a disservice to our political process. And to Democratic candidates. Ms. Sanders picked up on this.

Addressing White House reporters, Ms. Sanders explained in level-headed, straightforward, un-Trump-like terms that harassment of people who work for any administration does not represent the American way. I agree—the first time I’ve ever agreed with anything she’s said.

President Trump, not surprisingly, took the opportunity to miss an opportunity. Statesmanship? Fugeddaboudit. His response included an observation that the Red Hen needs a paint job. This was the comment of an angry ten-year-old hurling insults in the schoolyard. Countering Ms. Sanders intelligent words, it offered another smidgen of hope for Democratic victories.

Still, at least one Democrat may have dimmed the party’s hopes by also responding like a ten-year-old.

Los Angeles congresswoman Maxine Waters, who works the far-left side of the aisle, went Trump. At a demonstration against current immigration policies, Ms. Waters told protestors, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” [Italics mine.]

Ms. Waters sent a message to independents crucial to Democratic hopes that difference of political opinion enjoys no legitimacy in America.

In his 1998 book Civility, Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, the Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote of Leviticus 19:18, “The duty to love our neighbors is a precept of both the Christian and Jewish traditions, and the duty is not lessened because we happen to think our neighbor is wrong about a few things.” We can hold to our religious and politicalopinions while engaging in exchanges of ideas free from intimidation.

Absent such civility, Democrats will appeal to their base on the left but alienate centrists looking for reasonable answers to complex questions. Frustrated, they could cast their ballots for Republicans or, also damaging to the Democratic effort, sit the election out.

Further dragging down American public discourse as Trump has done serves no worthy purpose. Demagoguery and hatred tarnish the American Dream. They equate it with Macbeth’s poignant observation: “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”

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LANDLORD

San Francisco scorns landlords. Old-time melodramas made them villains seeking to evict kindly families unless granted the favors of a nubile maiden daughter. The citizenry recently voted to provide renters facing eviction public funding for legal representation. Yes, renters can get screwed. So can landlords. Ask Greg.

A senior, Greg owns a four-unit building—he lives in one—in southeastern San Francisco. Once, he also owned a house in Bernal Heights. The two properties drained his resources, so he sold the house and retained the apartments to provide income for his old age. Rent control has depressed that income. He figures his rents are about one-third of market. They cover less than his mortgage and insurance. Upkeep comes out of his pocket.

It gets worse. One of Greg’s tenants is a drug user with mental problems. Greg calls him “barking mad.” About five years ago, he was taken in as a subtenant by another tenant. The master tenant left. Failing to reach an understanding with his own attorney, Greg accepted rent from the “new tenant.” That put the man practically out of reach.

The new master tenant trashed the apartment—carpeting ruined, the stove filthy. He also used it as a drug flop house with all kinds of people staying over. Topping that, he moved a family into the separate garage that’s part of his unit—and collected rent. That’s illegal. It also exposed Greg to legal problems if the children there were hurt.

In April, Greg started procedures to evict the people in the garage. The master tenant had thirty days to respond. He didn’t. The people in the garage went to a tenants’ help organization. That stopped the eviction. A month-and-a-half later, Greg’s attorney and the family’s pro bono lawyer reached an agreement. The family would leave in mid-July, and Greg would pay them $5,000. A jury trial would have cost Greg $15,000.

In the next weeks, the master tenant will receive notice of the date he will be physically evicted. If he refuses, he can demand a lawyers’ conference and jury trial. Over the past three months, Greg has not accepted rent. California law stipulates that if Greg takes money, he ends the eviction procedure.

Greg hopes that the process costs him “only” $15,000. It will take another $10,000 to clean up the apartment. He regrets always being a little “loose” with tenants out of kindness to the less fortunate. “From now on, I’m going to demand a squeaky-clean record and an upscale job.” He reflects with sadness that he will now be “one of those gentrifying landlords.”

Greg considers not keeping the Bernal Heights home “one of the worst financial decisions I ever made.” He cautions, “Most San Franciscans don’t realize how difficult it can be to be a small landlord. If this happened twenty years ago, I’d have gone into debt.”

He emphasizes that the situation would be more just if landlords had a right to demonstrate to a court that his rents are way under market and should rise to a fair level. He figures that his below-market rents cost him— conservatively—$36,000–$40,000 a year. “It also should be easier to remove a tenant whose behavior is unconscionable.”

No matter how reasonable those observations, Greg does not anticipate relief any time soon.

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THE MARVEL OF SMALL MUSEUMS

Back in the ’50s, American car companies introduced new models—radically different—every year. Advertisements touted that them as longer, lower, wider. Americans loved everything big. Many still do. Me? Take museums. I like small.

The best-known museums are—to use a term—yuge! In London this March, Carolyn and I again visited the British Museum. We’re members. I love lunch in the members dining room. Great soups! But the enormous crowds can make a visit a little—or a lot—less pleasurable. We’ve also seen the permanent exhibits—including the Rosetta Stone—many times.

I get worn out with the Louvres in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went to the Met a few weeks ago. We do every time we’re in the Big Town. My favorite part? Walking up and back through Central Park. The crowds and exhibit choices—too big.

Thankfully, we discovered the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle. The building rises nine stories but has a small footprint. The rotating exhibits feature contemporary (or relatively so) artists and are modest in size.

We had the galleries almost all to ourselves. I loved the work by Derrick Adams, presenting the challenges African Americans faced traveling the nation before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. MAD also hosts artists in-studio. We chatted with Katya Grokhovsky, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and creates fabulous installations.

My favorite museum is small—and hardly typical. SFO Museum places exhibits—small and smaller—throughout San Francisco International Airport. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, SFOM offers fabulous opportunities to see carefully curated, constantly changing collections of art, craft and design when you fly. And even if you don’t. Many can be accessed pre-security. The airport may be crowded, but with these exhibits, you can get up close and personal.

When Carolyn and I fly overseas, we take in the pre-security exhibits in Terminal A and Terminal G. Domestically, we usually fly out of Terminal 2 where we just saw an exhibit on Maneki Neko—Japanese cat statues bringing good luck to homes and businesses.

SFOM has hosted many exhibits since the concept’s inception in 1980. My favorites include radio bars from the 1940s (we have one that belonged to my parents), women’s shoes (over the top), typewriters, cocktail glasses, gambling devices, American folk art, Chinese porcelains and evolving flight attendant (nee stewardess) uniforms.

Small museums abound. We love London’s Pollock’s Toy Museum (oldtoys) and Florence Nightingale Museum. The Morgan in New York has offered wonderful exhibits (from Babylonian jewelry to Ernest Hemingway). Who but the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco would put on display Mahjong and its impact on American Jews? (My mother played; my sister still does.)

SFOM won’t achieve the fame of the Met, the Louvres or the British. And truly, you can visit many other wonderful large museums around the nation—the Chicago Art Institute, the Smithsonian complex—and the world. We love the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

But size doesn’tmatter. A single, carefully curated exhibit in a modest space—like an informal dinner with family or friends—can deliver big rewards. That’s no small feat.

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