Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Happened in La Habra Heights?

I have been going to the local Farmer’s Market most Fridays for the last several years and, as many of you probably already know, have formed close relationships with several of the growers and merchants.  There is Lisa, the Dry Dock Fish person, who saves Sand Dabs for me, and John, the Farmer, an ex-Marine who quotes inspirational axioms to me and most of his other customers, Marcia, the manager of the Market, the Noah Honey person, the Orchid man, Rachael, of Blackmarket Bakery with her delicious scones, and one of my all-time favorites, Jimmy who specializes in citrus and avocadoes.
A young Hass Avocado sprout
Last week I overheard Jimmy telling a customer about Hass Avocadoes and how they all came from one tree: a tree planted by a mailman in La Habra Heights, whose name was Rudolph Hass.  Hass was a simple man, born and raised in Milwaukee.  He dabbled in the ministry and moved to Pasadena in the early 1920s.  The story told by his grandchildren is that he saw a newspaper article demonstrating the money potential of raising avocados.  Since he was making twenty-five cents an hour as a mailman, he took a flyer and bought an acre and a half avocado grove.  The trees were Fuerte avocadoes which were much in fashion among the wealthy Pasadena population.

The original Hass Tree
In an effort to get his grove more productive, he cut many of the older trees and bought about a hundred seeds from A.R. Rideout, a professional grower.  Mr. Hass had some success grafting but felt the need for professional assistance, which he got from a professional grafter, Mr. Caulkins.  It took three years, but eventually all but one of the trees was producing Fuerte avocadoes.  Caulkins advised Hass to “wait and see” what that tree might do.  Within a few years the tree began bearing fruit, but not Fuerte fruit.  The Hass family found they preferred the new avocado, and began selling it from a roadside stand.  Soon, chefs were interested and eventually the tree itself became valuable.

Hass's Fallbrook Grove
Hass patented the tree in 1935, but purchasers soon found a way around the exclusivity of the sale of the tree and began grafting to their own trees.  By the 1970s the Hass avocado became the most popular and now accounts for more than 95% of California sales, only a few still come from the Fallbrook grove that started their commercial success.

I used to tell people in Iowa, where I grew up, that avocados had no taste.  I now know that they were shipped way too green and my mother was unaware that they should ripen before we ate them.  Like many foods, the flavor comes from the oil content, which needs time to develop. When I first moved to California as an adult, a family friend and his wife became surrogate parents for Mary and me in San Diego.  I remember Thelma Neff showing me her avocado tree, growing in a wheelbarrow and producing delicious avocadoes.

I have tried on several occasions to grow from a seed that had begun to sprout and subsequently I now have a six-foot tree on my deck that is healthy, but not fruit-bearing.  I also have two commercial Hass trees in varying degrees of health.  In spite of Thelma’s success, I am told avocadoes need to be in the ground.  I am in the process of replanting the largest and oldest tree across the street where my son lives.  Maybe then I can get some fruit.

In the meantime I buy from Jimmy, who picks and packages groups for me that allow me to have perfect fruit almost every day.  I read where Rudolph’s wife ate whole wheat toast with sliced avocado every day for breakfast, and she lived to be 98.  Longer than the original tree, which perished from some malady after 72 years.

Are any of you strong fans of avocadoes?  Drop me a comment and let me know.

My next post will share with you my meeting of a recently passed writing icon, Ray Bradbury, who I had the pleasure of seeing just a few years ago.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


“What does a woman think of when she chooses how to do her eyebrows?  And how old is she when she makes that decision?” I asked my wife, Mary these questions several months ago and she responded by saying that she didn’t think most women styled their eyebrows.  But then we have raised only boys.

I’ve always had some sort of fascination with eyebrows.  Maybe it stemmed from the fact that my mother had heavy brows that would have met over her nose had she not regularly plucked them.  I have somewhat a similar problem and certainly now that I am older, I find I have to trim them or they would get way too bushy.

John L. Lewis
Maybe the bushiness is part of my fascination.  At an early age I was impressed by the eyebrows of John L. Lewis, probably the only person who defied FDR and Truman that my father didn’t admire.  Later in life I remember Mary’s Uncle Mike, who was one of the Dental Board members I had to work through to get my Wisconsin dental license.  His brows were equally as impressive as John L.’s, but in a nice, warm, Irish way, which suited him well in his acting avocation.  Although I never saw him do so, he probably could wiggle them as effectively as Groucho Marx.

Eyebrows however are a woman’s realm.  The stylist who has cut my hair and Mary’s for thirty years was more informative when I asked her the eyebrow questions.  She said most girls, when they are around fourteen get interested in defining themselves and eyebrows are one of the ways they do that.  Most work with nature and just shape them, accepting what they have as a base coat.  This would be true of many movie stars, such as Audrey Hepburn, Heddy Lamarr, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Carla Gallo
Others may want to try to improve on nature.  One example might be Paris Hilton.  My favorite improver is an actor I just saw recently on an episode of Bones, Carla Gallo.  She has severely trimmed her brows to provide, not only interest, but also some definition of the character she feels is Daisy Wick: na├»ve, impulsive, sensual and open, all at the same time.

I doubt if Mary ever gave much thought to defining who she wanted to be as a teen.  She remains interesting and attractive, mostly because she is totally herself, using her talents and natural beauty without need for embellishment.

Abigail Breslin
And not every movie star feels the need to define themselves, or if so, not at the age of fourteen.  Two examples come to mind.  I had the good fortune to work once with a casting director, who worked with the rising star, Abigail Breslin, shortly after she did “Little Miss Sunshine”.  She said that Abigail is a delight to work with, modest, fun, and totally without ego.  I find her brows kind of cute.
Young Lohan

Lohan - 2006
Another actor, from a different mold, is Lindsay Lohan, who started out with almost the same eyebrows as Abigail when she was in “The Parent Trap” but has radicalized them and her life since then.

While I don’t think eyebrows are defining in their own right, they do represent an indication of how we see ourselves, and how we deal with our own personal demons.  What do you think?  Send me a comment.

In my next post, I’ll share with you a story I learned on my last visit to the Farmer’s Market. Unless I’m mistaken, you’ll be surprised.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Film and Wanda

As literally, a card-carrying member of the Industry (in Southern California you don’t need to say the film industry, there is only ONE Industry), especially true now that my AFTRA affiliation has broadened in scope from just AFTRA to SAG-AFTRA, which cost me $99 but may have saved me the $1300 SAG initiation fee, I was intrigued when late last month the WSJ announced that a Chinese conglomerate named Dulian Wanda Group had made an offer to buy AMC Entertainment Holdings.  I was particularly interested because one of my favorite films or all time is A Fish Called Wanda.

What’s that all about?  Apparently no one has actually figured that out.

AMC, which has about 5,000 screens, mostly in mega-plexes and mostly in the U.S. might be looking to sell.  After all, even though attendance crept up in 2011 as did revenues, mostly analysts concluded it was because of 3-D technology and franchise series like Harry Potter and Action Heroes.  But why would China want to buy?  They greatly restrict even the showing of foreign movies in the country.  This year they are increasing the number allowed to a total of 34, up from only 20 a year prior to this February.

I saw my first American movie in a foreign country in Hong Kong, before the turn-over.  It was the first “James Bond” film and was sub-titled in Chinese with a sound track in English.  Later, when I was stationed on Okinawa, I would visit Taiwan and watch Kung Fu films that were made in China, or more accurately Taiwan.  Great stuff, although not anywhere as great as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers.

But I can’t picture any great influx of Chinese film into U.S. theaters in the near future.  In fact, Wanda’s CEO, Wang Lialin, said as much when he opined that the AMC Board would make those decisions over time.

The event gives pause as to what has happened to change our habit of going to the movies? It is unlikely due to the Recession.  In the Depression, movies were the spark of hope that people used to ward off the despair in their everyday lives.  But then again, they didn’t cost an overage of $7.34 a seat, even adjusted for inflation.

When the composition of the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was announced prior to the recent Oscar presentation, we found that it was totally non-representational of the theater-going audience: few women, hopelessly mature in age and with the ethnic diversity of the Augusta National Golf Club.  And these are those who are influential in the Industry.

Is it any wonder that films have become formulaic, with franchised characters and special effects rather than story?

When you factor in how technology now offers us a variety of times, places, and costs to view film, and the blur between television and film, and the streaming of entertainment through our myriad of handheld devises, it is understandable that the Industry is dramatically changing.

It will be interesting to follow what Wanda does with their new acquisition.  What do you think might happen?  Comment me with your thoughts.

In my next post I think I’ll share with you what I have learned about eyebrows.

Monday, June 4, 2012


The day before Memorial Day Mary and I traveled 100 miles towards where I used to work, in Camarillo, California.  The company I worked for has moved all their personnel since I left, some to Indianapolis, the new headquarters and some to Newbury Park and Woodland Hills.
As it turned out my thoughts were less on the ten years I spent with WellPoint and more on the relationship Mary and I had with the woman who was being memorialized, Sandra Webster.

She and her husband, Ken, had been on the ship that transported us to our first tour as a Navy couple, to the Philippine Islands.  We got to be fast friends on the twenty-one day excursion and shared genuine sentiments when we landed, that we would look forward to seeing them on the base.

As our sponsors met us and escorted us to our quarters, you can picture our surprise as we met our new duplex neighbors, the Webster’s.

Ken was a fighter pilot with all the baggage that goes with that, including complete confidence and self-sufficiency. Two examples that come to mind are when he suggested that I use Crisco in my MG windshield wiper motor to make it run more smoothly.  When the rainy season ended and the temperature got in the 90’s the motor literally fried, causing a resale problem when we rotated home.  The second was when moisture condensed under the crystal of my Hong Kong purchased watch.  “Warm it gently over a light bulb”, was his suggestion, which did cause the moisture to dissipate, but also caused the entire crystal to leap from its housing with an audible “pop”.

In spite of that we became fast friends and remained in contact with occasional meetings for almost fifty years.

The last twenty provided fewer opportunities to meet because Sandra was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, an almost certain death notice.  Against all odds, Sandra beat her cancer with radiation and a reoccurrence of peri-tonsillar cancer with surgery in the radiated area.  The surgery perforated and for the last dozen years of her life she lived with a feeding bag.  She maintained a remarkably positive attitude toward life and saw her sons marry, enjoyed the birth of their children and even saw her grandson get sworn in as a Marine Officer by her husband.

Her last days were spent in Hospice and I found myself acutely aware that, even though my sister had used Hospice and several other friends from several other areas of the country used the services, I had no idea how arrangements were made or how they were paid for.

I found the subject to be much more complicated than I would have thought, and would recommend additional reading on the topic if you have a continued interest.  Wikipedia is a good place to start.  Having said that, I did find several items of interest:

·         Hospice in the United States started in earnest in 1971 when Hospice, Inc. was founded.

·         Hospice is greatly under-utilized, especially in the family support elements

·         Hospice in the U.S. depends greatly on volunteers, many of whom are the closest team members to the family and patient because they are seen more frequently and often are the source of respite care; freeing family caregivers from their accepted duties.

·         The distinction between Hospice and traditional care is that Hospice has a palliative focus, while traditional medicine is focused on cure and healing. Balance between the two by patient, family, and medical staff explains why most patients don’t enter Hospice until the final days of life, rather than using the six-month entitlement, which may be extended.

·         Hospice is primarily funded by Medicare, which accounts for about 72% of funding.  Medicaid and other insurance picks up 12%, and about 10% is funded from patients or other social agencies.

·         Hospice venues include hospitals, nursing homes, and dedicated hospice facilities as well as homes, and care may move from one venue to another through a course of treatment.

·         Hospice is dedicated to reducing pain: physical, spiritual, and social.  I have personally never heard a negative comment from anyone who has come in contact with hospice services.  In my own case, my father died of a massive stroke and my mother made her personal peace, quickly, in a nursing home, so they never used Hospice. My sister, on the other hand used the services for about ten days before she passed away on her living room couch, recently turned 65, the age of more than 80% of Hospice recipients. For more than a year, I received notice of support services for me, in my grief.

A subject that interests me that that a Chinese concern has just purchased AMC, which controls a bundle of the movie houses in the U.S.  What are they going to do with that?  Maybe my next post will provide insight.

Have any of you had experience with Hospice?  How did it work for you?  Write a comment to let me know.