My Grandfather’s World

When I was a little boy my maternal grandfather was a heroic figure in my life. My parents were divorced and I didn’t see my father that often, so it was my grandfather who was the male role model in my world, and what a role model he was! Larger than life, he was a practical joker who told great stories of days long ago and took me camping in the Adirondack mountains.  His love of baseball was legendary and people told me the stories of how, as a young man, he was recruited to play for the New York Yankees, but didn’t go because it would mean playing on the Sabbath.  Born in 1901, his was a life that saw changes that had to seem remarkable to him. When he was born, powered flight didn’t exist. The last time I saw him before his death he was boarding an airplane in the Pittsburgh International Airport.  In his lifetime he saw two world wars, a great depression, multiple genocides, women’s suffrage, school desegregation with the end of Jim Crow, the inventions of radio and television, and humans setting foot on the moon. He heard the sounds of ragtime turn into jazz, and then into rock-n-roll and country music.  He knew joy in a life-long marriage to my grandmother, heartache with the death of two children, and renewed joy with the arrival of my Mother, who he adored.

My grandparents, Howard and Doris Jenkins in 1943.
My grandparents, Howard and Doris Jenkins in 1943.

I often wonder what would I show him if somehow I could magically bring him back into the world as it exists today for me.  There are so many things in the world today that didn’t exist during his lifetime, which ended in 1974.  What would he think of my cell phone and all its functions? The internet?  My big screen high definition TV?  He may have had a color TV at the very end of his life, but I’m not certain of that.  What about my debit and credit cards? I don’t remember him ever using anything other than cash.  I’m not sure, but I don’t think he ever had a mortgage or a credit card.  What new food would I take him to try?  When I was growing up we never heard of cuisines such as Indian food or Thai food which are now regular parts of my diet.  I remember that pizza was new to him and he’s the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t like it. I doubt that ever met a vegetarian and I’m sure he never once heard of the term “gluten free”.  So many changes and new things.

When I think about my grandfather’s world, it’s not just the technological changes that differ his life from mine. His world was more static than mine. I wonder what he would think about the frantic mobility found in 21st century American life.  He was self-employed in a business his father started and he lived in the era of the company man in which you were likely to spend your entire career with one company from which you retired and collected a pension.  That’s not the case anymore.  I started my career with a 110-year old company that, while it is still in business, it is a mere fraction of the size it was 30 years ago. Most of the businesses that I’ve worked for are no longer around.  My grandfather knew most of the same people his entire life.  I haven’t seen anyone whom I knew in elementary school in decades and have only seen 2 people I knew in high school in the past 10 years.  For me, even family life is tenuous.  With the exception of my wife and mother, I almost never hear from my family members.  My grandfather lived in an era of social engagement, of membership in groups like the Grange, Masons, and small country congregations.   Yes, his social world was more geographically limited, but maybe it was richer in other ways.  He didn’t get steady feed of Facebook pictures accompanied by his friends forwarding political propaganda telling him how to think, but he did get people who would just drop into the house early in the morning to share a cup of coffee.   By necessity, his relationships had to survive the hurts and betrayals that are an inevitable part of human-relationships.

My Grandfather's Family in 1909. He is the boy seated at the very front center.
My Grandfather’s family in 1909. He is the boy seated at the very front center.

I’m not really sure why I contemplate these things.  Maybe it’s that I sometimes envy the stability that I think existed in his era?  Sometimes I feel disoriented and adrift by the ever increasing change in my world.

I know that showing my grandfather my world is just a fantasy, but still I wonder what he would say about the life I have built, the person I have become, the work I do, and the world in which I live?  What questions would he ask me and what answers would he have for my questions? What could he teach me about creating and maintaining life-long relationships with people?  However, it is the human dilemma that such conversations are not possible.  We each live in the era of our times and we only receive glimpses of the past and future through the generations the precede and follow us.  My nieces and nephews will see changes in the world that I can only imagine, but at some point I suspect they will also wonder what it was like to live with only 3 TV channels that went off the air at midnight and how I could navigate up and down the east coast highways without the benefit of a GPS. I wonder what questions they might want to ask me 50 years from now?

Lessons From My Senate Campaign

My campaign for Florida Senate has largely been forgotten, but I haven’t forgotten the insights I gained from that experience.  I ran as an independent in what to me seemed to be a very bizarre campaign.  The Democrat in our race, Bill Montford, was really the conservative with the big money ties.  His campaign received a ton of corporate donations and he raised about ten times what all the other candidates combined were able to raise. The Republican in our race, John Shaw, was a very nice, bright, and creative fellow with progressive ideas, ran on a platform focused on legalization of hemp. None of us really matched the stereotypes commonly applied to our party affiliations.

I didn’t win the election, but I came away feeling that I performed well.  For an under-financed, relatively unknown, independent candidate I attracted a good number of votes. As I watch the national campaigns I recall my own experience.  Here are some of the lessons I learned from my short time on the campaign trail:

  • The average voter is remarkably unqualified to cast a thoughtful vote: For the average voter politics is just another team sport. A majority of Republicans blindly vote for Republican candidates and a majority of Democrats blindly vote for Democrats without any real knowledge of the candidate.  Often they just blindly condemn the other team, parroting nonsense they hear in soundbites.
  • Tea Party Candidates lack even a basic understanding of our history or system of government: During my campaign I would often would attend these large candidate rallies where we all were given a chance to make a short speech to a crowd.  I’ve never heard so much stupid uninformed nonsense as what came out of the mouths of the then popular Tea Party candidates.  I remember one candidate who in a single breath condemned Obama the socialist while celebrating women’s suffrage (It was the anniversary of women’s suffrage day).  If you know your history, this is a dumbass statement since the people who first fought for and who ultimately won women the right to vote were the American communists and socialists.  Women’s suffrage was never a capitalist cause.
  • You’re not supposed to talk about where the money comes from: If you want to see a State government candidate soil themselves on a public stage, start listing where their campaign donations actually come from.  I brought out the fact that my Democratic opponent, Bill Montford, had received campaign donations from a number of large financial institutions and he nearly panicked, insisting that most of his donations came from little old ladies who gave him their last $5 because they so wanted him to be elected. I would note that once elected, he voted in favor of a revision to the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act that makes if much more difficult for consumers to sue dishonest car dealerships.
  • Regardless of political perspective, most of the candidates off-stage are really nice people who seem to care: I actually liked most of the other candidates I met on the campaign trail, even my opponents.  They often seemed very interested in my ideas and I think most were sincere in their desire for public service.
  • You tend to see a lot of the same people at different events: I attended as many different candidate forums as I could in hopes that I would meet a lot of different people.  Instead, I found myself meeting a lot of the same people over and over again.  The average voter simply doesn’t come out to meet the candidates for office.
  • Some people feel entitled to abuse you: People hear over and over again about dishonesty and corruption in government such that some simply assume that anyone even remotely connected with politics is fair game for their anger and crazy ideas.  I remember one woman who started yelling at me about how corrupt and terrible politicians are.  I tried to calm her down by explaining that I’ve never actually held elected office and have no more part of what the government does than she does.  It didn’t help.

Riding and Ranting – Children In Adult Prison

Is putting a child in adult prison for life without parole ever justice?  How should we respond when a child commits a serious crime?  Why does the United States refuse to sign onto International Treaty regarding the rights of children?  Why are children in the State of Florida more likely to end-up in Adult prison than anywhere else in the developed world? In this episode Abrams considers these and other issues as he rides back to his office from lunch on a beautiful Tallahassee Spring day.

Why I Ride A Scooter Rather Than A Motorcycle

I’ve had a lot of fun lately creating scooter videos in which I talk about law and life in Tallahassee for my YouTube channel.  People often ask me how and why did I get started riding around on scooter, and don’t I really want to be riding a motorcycle.

I got into scooters from bicycling.  I love the sense of freedom and connection with the environment I experience riding my bicycle or scooter.  I get to be in the environment rather than enclosed in a metal box on 4 wheels. I get an unobstructed view of the world around me and I get to feel the air and smell the scents of the places along my journey.

Why ride a scooter rather than a motorcycle?  Here is a list of why I prefer a scooter rather than a motorcycle:

  1. Storage/carrying capacity – Most motorcycles come with little, if any, storage. My scooter has a large lockable storage compartment under the seat, it has a sort of glove-box compartment in the front beneath the handlebars, and I’ve added a top-box to the rear where I can carry my laptop and books. I even have a place where I can hang a grocery bag.


  1. Non-conformity – The concept that riding a motorcycle is non-conformist rebellion is as mystery to me.  I perceive motorcycle culture has highly conformist with lots of leather, black paint, and chrome. Scooter culture, by contrast, is quirky and unique. Scooters tend to be more colorful and scooter riders incorporate a wide range of colors and styles in their clothing.


  1. Gas Mileage – Scooter engines tend to be smaller than motorcycle engines.  My scooter has a 278 cc engine, which is quite large for a scooter, but small for a motorcycle.  Most scooter engines are under 175ccs. Consequently, scooters get incredible gas mileage, often in excess of 100 miles per gallon.  Compare that with a large Harley Davidson Cruiser which gets worse gas mileage than my car.


  1. Weight – My scooter, which is a larger than normal scooter and is considered a touring scooter, is quite lightweight at about 300 pounds.  This means it’s easy for me to maneuver, to push around, and to hold up when stopped.  Compare this with 800+ pound weight of a touring motorcycle such as a Honda Goldwing.


  1. Sound – A lot of motorcycle riders like the loud rumble of their engines.  I admit, I’m not averse to the sound of a finely tuned power-engine, but I enjoy the quiet purr of my scooter, especially on long trips.  My scooter doesn’t roar even at top speed.  It just purrs along with a quiet confidence that I really enjoy and is less fatiguing than a constant roar.

For me, a scooter is the right choice. I can appreciate the beauty of a traditional motorcycle and I certainly don’t take issue with motorcyclists, but those bikes don’t draw my attention the way a simple Vespa Scooter does.

Matzo Ball Soup As Art

For the past 8 days many Jews, including my wife and me, have abstained from eating bread as part of our observance of the holiday of Passover. My go-to food during this time of year is the legendary Chicken Matzo Ball Soup.  Actually, this is one of my go-to foods throughout the entire year.  For me, there isn’t a holiday or season where chicken matzo ball soup doesn’t enhance the experience.

I’ve been on a quest for many years in pursuit of the world’s best chicken matzo ball soup.  At least once a month I try out a new recipe or tweak the ingredients of an existing recipe in hopes of taking an already nearly perfect food to the nirvana level.  Chicken Matzo Ball soup is really wonderful medium for artistic expression because it’s simple, yet the balance of the details matters tremendously.  For example, the basic standard ingredients are simple: chicken, broth, matzo balls, carrots, celery, and spices.  From these basic ingredients you have a platform upon which you can build a gastronomical masterpiece.

I experiment with different ways of cooking the chicken. I’m committed to adding ground peppercorns, although they’re missing in some of the recipes.  Ground peppercorns give the soup a bite that brings it alive. Another trick I’ve learned is that I make the matzo balls with olive oil rather than regular vegetable oil because I find that it gives me a lighter and fluffier matzo ball.

I cook by feel.  I add parsley, dill, salt, and ground peppercorns until I sense it’s right.  I let it cook a while. Taste. Add whatever additional spice my instincts tell me to.  It cooks some more. I taste. Tweak the spices. The process repeats itself time and time again. Throughout the entire cooking process, I keep the peppercorn grinder handy and use it liberally.

My lack of measurement and intuitive cooking style results in erratic outcomes that take me to one of two places.  Either my wife says “This is best batch yet”, and I mentally crown myself as worldwide king of chicken matzo ball soup, or she says “this isn’t your best batch” at which point I do my best to hide my sense of failure while desperately trying to figure out where that batch went wrong.

Soup PotEach time I set the empty pot on the stove in preparation for soup-making I receive the gift of possibility.  The majority of my diet consists of remarkably predictable mass-produced restaurant food or prepared food.  The quality is consistent. The taste, predictable.  Unless someone screws up, there are no surprises.  Scratch cooking doesn’t come with guarantees. It leaves open the possibility of greatness, the specter of mediocrity, or worse, culinary disaster.  I find joy in this possibility of creation.  Not all art involves watercolors and easels.  Art exists where we find it, where we express ourselves, and where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  We only need to set the scripts and recipes aside.  The rewards of possibility arrive when someone sits at my table.  They take the first spoonful expecting an ordinary bowl of chicken matzo ball soup.  I watch as their eyebrows raise and they smile in response to the flavors passing over their tongue as they recognize an old friend dressed in a fresh set of clothes.  Chicken Matzo Ball soup is no longer the same for them.  It has forever changed. Art happened.