Monday, November 26, 2007

Chevron Needs Help

The lingua franca is disappearing. Trying to make allowances for immigrants by accepting a lower standard of English usage is destroying the language on both sides of the equation. It is dummying down the whole country to accept a new substandard of abbreviated jargon which leaves everyone hampered, handicapped even. Our children (not mine) are feverishly thumbing their way through digital cyberspace on their text messaging devices, using the latest hip short cuts to express their notions that only the esoterically advanced have even a hope of comprehending.

On the one hand we have Andrei Codrescu the Romanian essayist and poet who has come here and mastered the language to the point where he teaches English and uses it with remarkable eloquence. On the other we have corporate representatives who do not check and never even conceived of the idea of reviewing something or having someone else check it before hanging it out for all to see, and for the most part never even notice its ignorant comedic offensiveness.

It is enough to make one “real angry”. Leaving the L Y off the end of the adverb is so commonplace now that I hear school teachers at the private school, from which our two youngest have now been removed in favor of home schooling, trotting out this qualifier routinely. For example, while driving back to Los Angeles after our Thanksgiving in Redding, we saw this sign at the Chevron Station in Pixley. Ironically there was a help wanted sign at the entrance. Look again and see how many errors have been made in this simple attempt to be helpful. This is the side of Chevron Corporation we see directly dirty lavatories and runaway inflationary priced fuel, all run by semi illiterates. You would think that there would be an established protocol for all signage at a corporately sponsored facility.

The price of the gasoline is sky high, but the standards are rock bottom. All that matters is the dollar $ign.

“Door Locked When Occupied” would have been cheaper. The final tragedy is that some one engineered the sign. Our standards are surely under attack.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Saying Good Bye to Los Angeles

How often do we who live here in the City of the Angels have to feel that ache when some one we have grown to love comes to the point where their life is taking them in a new direction. They are leaving our city. We know they will remember their days here. This is my farewell to them all. Here is a sunset shot for them looking west from my dental office on Sunset Boulevard.

In the evening,
In London or in Budapest
Where warm nights rarely hang so still,
And when at dusk
The slipping sun reaches out,
Blood-red behind the wisps of clouds,
The gathering gown,
Deep night settles on
The remnants on another distant day,
You will remember
How the thick orange sky
Sank beneath the silhouette of tall palms,
Where warm sands
Edge out the Pacific's rim
And The City of Angels becomes a memory.

And when gathered
In high-draped halls
At table or beside the fire,
Contented then,
As talking bubbles
With thoughts you love to share,
When practiced tales,
The patch work of experience,
Delights the company with your wisdom,
Will you then
Fill up your glasses
With wine as red as any sky we've known,
And raise a toast
To friends so far away
In places where perhaps you’d rather be?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Waiting For Geppetto

Geppetto the carpenter, Pinocchio’s famed father- For Francoise whose daughter Maelise dances ballet with our daughter Maran, and whose sad chair went to Doctor McLeod's hospital

My arm is split, my legs are weak,
In fact they come apart,
You really shouldn’t sit on me
Unless you’re strong of heart,
And you should really understand
My useful days are done.
I’m waiting for Geppetto,
I’m praying he will come.

There was a time when I was new
A long, long time ago,
We left the wood shop in a cart
Six chairs in a row.
We even had a table
That came with us in the set.
The wanting of Geppetto
Had not dawned upon us yet.

Now I am old and broken too,
I’ve been fixed at many points,
And hard and crusty lumps of glue
Are bunging up my joints.
And should you sit upon me
I fear I’ll fall apart,
I’m waiting for Geppetto
To bring to me his art.

Geppetto, he could mend me
He’d bring out clamps and glue
He’d clean the crust from out my joints
And make me good as new.
So as you go about your day
Where ever you may roam
If you see Geppetto
Have him come and take me home.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ninety And Still Driving

For the ninetieth birthday of Beverly Morsey, my patient and friend for thirty years, who at eighty eight, queried when submitting to significant dental care, “Am I going to be able to have my golfing lesson afterwards?” She remains an inspiration to us all!

If I were turning ninety, and my friends were gathering near
It would be a grand occasion that would be very clear
And I’d say, when the cake is cut, with my glass raised to toast
That of all my life’s occasions this one I’d remember most.
I’d tell them I’d recall this day for my whole life, I guess,
Which, if I were young, might be a phrase that would impress.
Then I’d thank them all for coming and for making such a fuss,
And in a quiet moment, I’d thank God for all of us.

I have been to lots of birthdays ever since I was a child,
And some of them were swell affairs and others were quite mild.
There were many for the six year olds, and for the sweet sixteens,
I still wish I were twenty one, but only in my dreams.
There were parties for the thirties and the forties don’t you know,
And lots of folks they’ll make a splash on reaching the ‘Five O’.
After that they’re not so many, though of course they still come by
And I recall I thanked The Lord when I reached seventy five.

I’m ninety and still driving, in fact I’m going strong
If you want to shop or go to lunch, why yes, you come along.
I don’t take any chances I just try to do it right,
Although I’m getting nervous when I have to drive at night.
I have some pals who ’tween themselves they privately have joked,
About the folks they know who had their licences revoked.
And should they pine to be behind the wheel again, I’d say,
“If you want to keep on driving I’m not standing in your way.”

I’m ninety and still driving, next time we’re on the links
Take care who you bet on, or you might be buying drinks
I may not make a birdie every time I take a swing,
But if I make a hole in one, I’ll dance the Highland Fling.
There may not be too much time left, and not a lot to waste
I’m picky what I choose to do, it must have style and taste.
With golf lessons and painting and shopping I feel grand,
I think I may have just enough for what The Lord had planned.

Neil McLeod - 9.1.2007.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Good Doctor Isidore K.B. Kwaw M.D.

This extraordinarily well qualified compassionate physician provides emergency care at his "Urgent Care" facility at 9201 Sunset Boulevard. I meet a lot of doctors one way any another, and I share my respect for this colleague so that we all may benefit.

Isidore K.B. Kwaw M.D.

Doctor Kwaw’s a physician of note,
An amiable, affable bloke
Who labors away
Be it night time or day
For the patient whose arm might be broke.

If a fellar falls flat on his face
And needs his neck put in a brace,
If he’s cut and he’s bleeding
What ever he’s needing
It’s to Doctor Kwaw he should race.

For the Doc will ride in on his bike
If you’re names Thomas or Dickie or Mike,
And he’ll do what it takes
To patch up the brakes,
Or a wound from a sword or a pike.

There’ll not be a word of dismay
No matter how sad your array,
But with kindness and skill
He will fix you until
You’re fit to get back in the fray.

So you don’t have to have it said twice
Should life deal a blow that ain’t nice,
If your bladder is burning
Or tummy is squirming,
See Kwaw for a fix in a trice.

Write Me Some Lines

for Terry Becker a visiting emergency patient 9.7.2007

A patient who said just to tease
While I fixed his teeth up, Sir, please,
Write me a few lines
Mid the groans and the whines
For you, Sir, it should be a breeze.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


There is a legend that if you should gather twelve caurie shells on the coral beach, the fairy folk will weave a spell that will bring you back to Skye.

There's an island I know made of heather and peat
Where the mountains rise sheer from the sands,
And out in the loch there are seals at play
While the mist hides the craggy headlands.

My love for the island is calling me back
To the land of my tartan my home,
To the Waternish beach above Suardal,
It's there in my heart that I roam.

There to the west a trophy you'll find
Blessed with its own special spell.
The great old Dame at the Castle
Knew of this magic well.....

They say if you go to the Coral Beach
With the wish in your heart to remain
On the isle with the mist and the magic
You shall come to this island again.

You must go to the beach with your wishes,
When the tide is low look and find
Twelve wee shells of the Caurie
On the beach there all at one time.

So take the road north from the Castle,
Go to Claigen below Beinn Bhreac,
Then follow the path by the cliff tops
To the beach there away to the left.

There look with you love for an hour
While the tide is out lying low,
For the wee crinkled shells of the Caurie
Till you have all twelve in a row.

Then look to the loch and the shoreline,
And south where the great Tables lie,
And imagine the lofty pinnacles
Of the Cuillins against the wild sky.

In your heart you've cemented the blessing
Of the peat and the heather and moor,
And by keeping those twelve little Cauries
You will find your way back to the shore.

So remember the Old Chief who called you,
To come back to the Isle, with a sigh,
And your treasure will guide your steps swiftly
Back home to the Isle of Skye.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Called to Torah - Bar Mitzvah

For a son who is being called to the Torah this year October 6th 2007

Show me a dark-eyed handsome lad
Whose face is like the full moon,
Whose long eye lashes when his eye flashes
Might cause a maiden to swoon.
I’ll show you a mother like many another
Whose anxious heartfelt pride,
Is reaching out with love not doubt
To the son who is leaving her side.

Show me the diligent Torah scholar
Who is ready to hear his aliyah
And rabbi-willed his heart is filled
With atavistic fire.
I’ll show you a father standing tall
Part of a line of tradition
Ready to make that minyan call
To a son that has come to fruition.

Show me the throng filled synagogue
Ranked on both sides of the aisle,
When gabbai or rabbi stand by his side
To prompt with a word or a smile.
And I will show you a family
Who are moved by the moment to sigh,
As he takes his place in that long long line
And never an eye will be dry.

I am the mother who like any other
Has a heart that is filled with pride
Who bore the dark-eyed handsome lad
That stood by the altar side,
Who answered the call to Torah
To consider the question “Why”,
We follow in this long tradition
And it’s hard to keep my eye dry.

Like the Roman Catholic Confirmation service which takes place when a boy reaches the age of fourteen or so, the Jewish Bar Mitzvah is a sort of coming of age and is a celebration for the family and the community of a young man’s right of passage. The candidates answer the call (aliyah) to read a passage from the Bible (Torah-the first five books or Pentateuch) and explain its meaning. In so doing they publicly display that they are mature enough to understand the laws and traditions of society and why they should adhere to them.

This is and age old process, and in Jewish culture qualifies them to participate in the minyan, the communal prayer in which at least ten men are to be present, and at which matters of significance may be discussed. Any parent will naturally feel a deep sense of emotion when witnessing this religious service, and in western culture a great deal is made of the occasion to include family and friends in what can be extravagant festivals.

A mother asked me the other day if I would write a poem for her son who was about to answer his call to the Torah. She is confident that he is
going to do a good job, and she wants to express her love and admiration and pride for him as he comes of age, already committed to following his father’s career as a cardiologist. This then is my offering.

Neil McLeod 8.26.2007.

Gabbai - The Gabbai the rabbi's assistant stands next to the Torah reader holding a version of the text with vowels and trop markings

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Grandson's Wish

for Alfred Weinstock my dear colleague and brilliant periodontist, who pined for his grandfather’s stories, but was always disappointed not to hear more. He remembers that the Cossacks rode through his village and trampled him down when he was a boy in Poland.

Grandpa tell me again

Tell me about your childhood Grandpa
It’s something I long to have told.
Tell me about your shtetel Grandpa
Tell me now before you’re too old.
Sit down and draw upon your pipe,
Send smoke rings above Shabbes board
Tell me of when the Cossacks came
Trampling through in a hoard.

Grandpa, I love your old stories,
No one could tell them like you,
Not even our Yeshiva Rebbe
Tells stories as real as you do.
Yet every time that I ask you,
You say with a nod and a sigh,
“There’s really not much I can tell you!”
Though I see the tear’s glint in your eye.

Grandpa, I stood by a grave side
A son wore a black coat all torn,
And a widow was decked in a black lace shawl
To hide her face so forlorn.
Then I thought that they’d never hear them
The stories that their grand papa knew,
So Grandpa please tell me your stories
Before this evening is through.

Monday, August 06, 2007

All Those Books

Down From The Shelves
A self criticism

My friend Andrew Ettinger can’t remodel his house with all the books in the way so they have to moved out by the box load to a neighbors garage temporarily. The impression created by viewing the piles reminded me of my own unsorted collection which prompted me to consider just when I might get around to tidying it if ever.

The books, jammed and squeezed
Seem to have tumbled from the shelves
Into waiting piles,
Ready for the packing boxes.
Pictures and statuettes
Hover with clocks and cannon.
Binoculars and speakers,
Not a nook left, a complete wall
Cluttered behind the settee.

Endless broken intentions
Wait to be reposited in a neighbors garage;
Time waited not.
A cascade of unmanaged treasures,
Each with a mortgage,
An unredeemable debt of time,
Life’s lease is too short.
So to the boxes of consignment they go.
This year, next year, sometime,
Never to be opened again
Until one day, inherited or sold,
Each one’s brilliance will shine again
When fingered by curious grandchildren
Or a shop customer
Who will thrill as you once did
When first you deemed the text
Worthy of a place on your shelves.

A Traditional Toast to the Bride and Groom

Last New Year's Eve, in Redding - California, Cory proposed to Brittney. This was the second time I have seen proposal on the stroke of midnight. Previously it was when Beth and Seth Carlson got engaged as the new milenium broke. So twice makes it a tradition.

For Cory and Brittney Fator

Twice is always I’ve been told,
Twice makes it a tradition,
Twice upon the midnight stroke
A suitor made petition.

Twice upon the midnight hour
As New Year’s bells were peeling
I have seen a young gallant
Set his love a reeling.

Twice with pounding heart and bold
In fates uncaring face
I’ve seen the question “Will you?” asked
When all might see disgrace.

And yet the moment was not lost
The bold hearts found their favor
And with the nod and answer, “Yes”
Their path was bound forever.

Twice I’ve seen the light of love
Sparkle in their eyes
Those pretty maids whose open hearts’
And trembling lips reply.

I have seen the goblet raised
And proffered to its prize
The ring linked to the chalice stem
Before her very eyes.

And all of us will tell the tale
With pride and admonition
How our young lads should never fail
To follow this tradition.

From thence to church to stand before
Our pastor, who’s commission
Is to anoint their heads and bless
This marriage - that’s tradition.

Let us toast the damsel
Who said yes to this young man,
And the mothers and the fathers
By whom it all began.

So stand with me and raise a glass
With each one by your side
And toast the health and happiness
Of our new groom and bride.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls
To Brittney and of Cory

Dr. Neil S. McLeod 7. 29.2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Cutty Sark Burns

I am mourning the near demise by fire of the Cutty Sark the fastest tea clipper ever to ply the seas between Britain and the Far East. She brought tea from China, and later wool from Australia, home to the waiting buyers at astonishing speeds. The life aboard ship must have been grim for those whose backs were being broken to win the race.

My great grandfather sailed to New Zealand in 1872 aboard the first composite built tea clipper, the Wild Deer. She was Scotland's answer to the American fast clipper designs. This ship was so successful that she was the basis for the design of the Cutty Sark.

Cutty Sark

Of Ships and the Sea

Sing me a song of fine old ships
Of fine old ships and the sea,
With hulls that ply the rolling waves
Like a claymore flying free;
With hulls that ply the rolling waves
And built of wood and steel,
That rise up like a cathedral
From a massive bolted keel.

Sing me a song of hardy men,
Who toil in the shipwright’s trade,
Who bend their backs from dawn ’till dusk
By whom these ships were made.
Who bend their backs with saws and nails,
With red hot bolts and steel,
And build the ships from bilge to deck
On a massive bolted keel.

Sing me a song of men that sail
In ships on the seven seas,
Who ride the waves in storm and gale
And laugh at the ocean’s breeze;
Who ride the waves in rain or shine
In ships of wood and steel,
With hulls that rise like a great church roof
From a massive bolted keel.

From massive bolted keels they rise
These ships of wood and steel,
Built by men who toil all day,
With muscle and sweat and zeal.
Built with the shipwright’s craft and skill
For the lads who sail the seas,
Who ply the foam in a hull for home,
And laugh at the ocean’s breeze.

Wild Deer

This image from the Turnbull Collection in the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco was taken on the day my great grandfather made landfall at Port Chalmers in New Zealand in 1873.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Religious Harmony

When my niece Bailey was just going up to university at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, that’s in California, I went rootling around the book stores that punctuate the heart of the Ventura area for a copy of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet”. It has long been one of my favorite texts, crammed full of clever whimsical and profound truths that are fun to quote like:

“... thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”

My thinking was that it would be a resource for those mellow moments that I remember occurred for me when I was at Guy’s in London, and that she might find some inspiration in it. Of course the book did not just fly off the shelves at me which might have been disappointing had the habit of nosing around dusty volumes not become a passion, pheremonically impulsed as a pig might rut out a truffle. In one of the numerous forays I glanced upon “Rhymes of the Old Cape” by Joseph Crosby Lincoln, and, thinking it might have been about South Africa, I browsed through a couple of well constructed poems and thought that at $1.50 I could risk the chance of finding at least one poem I liked.

It is now three years later and Bailey is about to graduate and launch on a new career as an operatic soprano. Opening the book the other day I found that it related to that other cape, south of Boston where Province Town dominates the north returning peninsular, Cape Cod. The book is quaint and filled with treasures, and one in particular has made all the effort worthwhile and not the least wasteful of my energy. Here is Mr. Lincoln’s delightful and hard hitting testament on getting along. I can not help feeling that if we as a nation could have found more common ground between us and been united in our efforts for Christian outreach, there would be a lot less problems in the world. In the back of my mind somewhere there is the conviction that al-Qaeda would not have become so entrenched in Afghanistan had we sent in missionaries to fill the vacuum left by the retreating Russian Army.


South Pokus is religious,--that's the honest, livin' truth;
South Pokus folks are pious,--man and woman, maid and youth;
And they listen every Sunday, though it rains or snows or shines,
In their seven shabby churches, to their seven poor divines,
Who dispense the balm and comfort that the thirstin' spirit needs,
By a-fittin' of the gospel ter their seven different creeds,
Each one sure his road ter Heaven is the only sartin way,--
Fer South Pokus is religious, as I started off ter say.

Now the Pokus population is nine hundred, more or less,
Which, in one big congregation, would be quite a church, I guess,
And do lots of good, I reckon; but yer see it couldn't be,--
Long's one's tweedledum was diff'rent from the other's tweedledee.
So the Baptists they are Baptists, though the church is swamped in debt,
And the Orthodox is rigid, though expenses can't be met,
And the twenty Presbyterians 'll be Calvinists or bust,--
Fer South Pokus is religious, as I said along at fust.

And the Methodist is buried, when his time comes 'round ter die,
In the little weedy graveyard where no other sect can lie,
And at Second Advent socials, every other Wednesday night,
No one's ever really welcome but a Second Adventite;
While the Unitarian brother, as he walks the village streets,
Seldom bows unless another Unitarian he meets;
And there's only Univers'lists in a Univers'list's store,--
Fer South Pokus is religious, as I think I said before.

I thought I'd read that Jesus come ter do the whole world good,--
Come ter bind the Jew and Gentile in a lovin' brotherhood;
But it seems that I'm mistaken, and I haven't read it right,
And the text of "_Love_ your neighbor" must be somewhere written "Fight";
But I want ter tell yer, church folks, and ter put it to yer strong,
While _you're fighting_ Old Nick's fellers _pull tergether_ right along:
So yer'd better stop your squabblin', be united if yer can,
Fer the Pokus way of doin' ain't no use ter God or man.

Joseph Crosby Lincoln