Monday, August 31, 2009

Tunes for Life

(Click here and start the music........ and don't watch the video..... just listen as you read and make up your own pictures..... even if that behavior is sooooo 20th century........)

I'm not sure that it was "the seminal event of the 20th century", as one of its producers pronounced it, but it certainly had an impact.

40 years ago and I was a high school graduate heading off to the Ivy League and "Sure," G'ma and Daddooooo said when I asked if Linda and I could go to this big festival in Upstate NY that summer. Then an opportunity to travel abroad came my way, and I'd be gone til the end of August, and that's how I didn't go to Woodstock.

Graham Nash said that "if all the people who say they were at Woodstock really had been at Woodstock the planet would have tilted on its axis." But I think he's missing the point. We all imagine we were in Bethel that weekend because just thinking about being there makes us smile. And the music and images are part and parcel of thinking about that time; I really can't separate them at all.

I hear Country Joe singing and it's Spring Weekend, 1970, and I'm marching in the streets of Washington, DC, participating in the Mobilization Against the War instead of dancing with my boyfriend at Sigma Chi. I wasn't big on chanting slogans, but yelling The Fish Cheer was totally cool.

Running into Grace Slick in a pet boutique in Marin, I blinked and we were both once again dark haired and looking for somebody to love.

Rob Thomas and Santana made beautiful music together, and because it's the soundtrack to the Little Cuter's freshman year in high school it always makes me smile, but for me, Carlos will always be skinny and vested and wrestling with his guitar on a humid Sunday afternoon. No matter how many times I saw him around town I never failed to see the artwork from Abraxas floating like a halo above his head.

I know the back-story to most of the songs on Crosby Stills and Nash's eponymous first album, and I remember the clothes I was wearing when I heard the tales. It was the album on every stereo as I unpacked my gear freshman year; I'm 17 every time I hear one of the songs.

Jimi Hendrix gave me back the National Anthem at a time when patriotism had become synonymous with support of the war and my flag as a symbol had been usurped by those patriots, leaving me oddly bereft. I can still feel his screaming guitar while listening to some sweet young thing sing it at a ball game.

Woodstock was about making lemonade out of lemons. It was about kids being as responsible as we'd always told our parents we could be, if they'd just relax and let us be. It was being part of a community with great tunes. Is it any wonder we all remember that we were there? In a sense, some of us still are.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Old Friends

I have a lot of old friends. I'm not talking about people who have known me since I was 12, or who lived on my street when I was in nursery school. I'm talking about people of a certain age who are important in my life. And none of them would take offense at being referred to as old, either. That's part of why I like them. They are all comfortable in their own skin.

Harry was a Canadian newspaper editor who snow-birded with Nannie and Grandpaw in Florida. He smoked a pipe, and bought me one when I admired his the weekend TBG and I met him. He'd lead long walks on the beach, all of us smoking and picking up sharks teeth and opining on everything and everyone. He wrote fabulous letters (he would have been an avid blogger, I'm sure) and sent the Big Cuter a porringer as a baby present, complete with a poem extolling the virtues of the infant, the parents and the gift-giver himself. Profanity and profundity were intertwined in his speech; his writing was elegant. A bit of a roue, probably somewhat of a cad if I'm honest with myself, he brought a buzz into the room as he entered. As interested in what we had to say as we were in listening to him, he was a window into another world, an era we'd read about but he'd experienced and was willing to share.

Much less dramatic, but equally elegant and educated, Irene would leave a ceramic cat in her apartment's big bay window if she was interested in having visitors. Living as she did on the route to Shaker Square from just about everywhere on the east side of Cleveland, she'd raise her window shade and wait for company. I can't imagine that she ever had to wait for long. Gingersnaps and tea or ice water in crystal glasses accompanied conversation on politics and literature and child-rearing. Her eyesight was fading but her wit was sharp. She, too, was a great letter writer up until she moved East to be closer to her family. She had been a long-time friend of Nannie's and I counted it as a great compliment when I was deemed worthy of an introduction.

The Iron Eagle and I have very different politics and backgrounds yet we rarely disagree on anything that really matters - funding the library and the schools and supporting local merchants and maintaining the quality of life on one of Earth's most wonderful peninsulas. He's been a mayor and an engineer and a Cal Bear and a very proud grandfather and he's always willing to put his energy and his actions behind his intentions. Never shy with his opinions , he's always willing to do the leg work and fend off the sniping to make his vision a reality. There's a breadth of knowledge and an almost-New York -like twinkle in his eyes that remind me of Daddooooo at his best. We're a mutual admiration society, he and I; I can't imagine that anyone could resist being on the receiving end of his affection.

Is this, perhaps why we've been friends? I, too, have no compunctions about stating my facts - and if they're not facts they should be - with all the authority my short but sturdy frame can muster. But it's more than that. For me, at least, it encompasses the surprising ease I feel in their company. There's a wonder that we've found each other, and a surprise that we connect on any level at all. It's a different perspective, a history we did not share but which is of interest to us both. We are exemplars of events the other knows only through pictures or books, a window into the past shared on a personal plane.

And I really like the view.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


sorry loyal readers....... today's post was delayed by not checking my work ...I typed PM instead of AM in the scheduler...... I feel bad :-(

Forgiveness and Redemption

Ted Kennedy was a great senator and an effective champion of liberal causes. He also drove off a bridge with a girl in the car while married to another girl who wasn't in the car. And the girl in the car died. Today, his eulogists can't seem to find Chappaquiddik on a map.

Michael Jackson was as cute as a button as a 5 year old and made beautiful music as an adult. But would you send your 8 year old to his house for a playdate? No one presenting the hours of tributes last month touched the issue more than briefly.

Michael Vick is drop-dead gorgeous and a gifted athlete. His inability to play nicely with other species sent him to a federal penitentiary. Now he's returning to the NFL and the animal abuse story is replayed and rehashed and remarked upon and, at the risk of sounding ridiculous (ouch!) the remonstrations have been overwhelming the football.

So I've been thinking about celebrity and scandal. If I believe in the possibility of rehabilitation, then I ought to cheer for the progress that Michael Vick has made. Tony Dungy is a man whose public persona I admire, and he has leant his imprimature to Vick's return to the NFL. I'm hearing all the right words, and, never having met the man, it would be as arrogant of me to assume that he is lying as it would be for me to assume that he is telling the truth. The social worker in me wants to believe him; the rest of me hears crying dogs. It's perplexing.

Teddy Kennedy did many wonderful things in his very privileged life. He led with dignity and he died with grace. His family and friends loved him and the world is a lesser place without his voice. But would anyone else have walked away from that accident without just a little bit of jail time? I have issues with that conduct, and I think society should have issues with it, too.

There have to be consequences; without them we do not learn. And once we learn, we should be welcomed back into the fold. Why am I having such a hard time with this?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Flora and Fauna

It rained this week and the plants are so grateful. The crepe myrtle wasn't dead or finished blooming as I'd thought. It was just resting and waiting for the monsoon.
I found another Caesalpinia pulcherrima at Lowe's yesterday and for $2.50 I brought it home. It's sitting in the courtyard as I contemplate where to put it. Though it's much too hot to plant it now and be guaranteed success, once again, I was unable to resist the siren's call.

The hibiscus which lured me into possessing it has already fallen victim to the curse attached to its new home. I didn't plant it the first day, but rested it atop the pot-which-continues-to-fail. That was the night the rains and the winds refreshed the plants secured in their moorings by soil and roots. Sadly, the poor hibiscus was a victim of my procrastination and the morning found it lying on its side, branches broken, reproaching me with its helplessness. Even though I know it's only a plant, I felt bad.

(Poor grammar or not, that's just how I felt.... 5 years old and sorry I'd been so dumb and now look what has happened. Some feelings are just hard wired into me. My lower lip goes right out into the pout, my eyebrows meet over my nose and my left hip juts out with attitude. I'm responsible for the damage and I know it and it's not the end of the world but still....... I should do better.)

I just noticed two coyotes nose to nose in the middle of my street. They sniffed, and parted ways, one towards my palo verde and the other meandering through the cacti up against the neighbor's barbed wire fence only to return followed by two softer, smaller versions of herself. One came along dutifully. The other scratched and rolled around in the gravel fronting the driveway and then made himself comfortable, watching the world go by. Shortly, Mom returned and nuzzled him up and out of that spot and make it snappy. The two cubs are sniffing my cacti as Mom watches the road and the window behind which I'm typing. The kids are pooping and chasing each other and now they're leaving. Mom's making lazy circles in the roadway until both babies have bounded across and are safely to the other side. An incoming SUV makes everyone pick up the pace and then, after the danger has passed, Dad trots over, slinks beneath the fence and they're gone. And as soon as they vanished into the mesquite trees I realized that the ground squirrels and the rabbits and the birds are nowhere to be found. There's not a lizard on a rock, not a quail on a wall, not a hummingbird on the adenium. Those coyotes shut down the eco-system for a while. Now that is power.

My oleander must know that I am ambivalent about it. It is neither growing nor dying. It sits in a position of prominence and does nothing. For years, I had besmirched Nerium oleander as "a highway plant", suitable for median strips and along sound-prevention walls. But Mary Irish loves them and, after hearing her extoll their virtues, I found a healthy one at Wal-Mart and planted it as a screening bush. I've watered it and fertilized it and mulched it and it sits there, doing nothing. I can hear it laughing at me, staying too healthy to throw away but not adding anything except a watering chore to my life.

Yes, I talk to the plants and Yes, they talk back to me. We don't always accompany our conversations with vocalizations, but we know what we're saying. Shoving my ungloved hands into the warm loosely packed soil as I readied the pot for the hibiscus, I was taken back to Marin. My fingers were remembering the quality of the soil in my garden beds. At this time of the year, the lilies were 8 or 10 feet high, leaning under the weight of huge and fragrant blossoms. The bacopa and impatiens planted beneath them were soft contrasts to the bold reds and yellows towering over the ferns behind them. The soil in the pot was providing all the love I needed at that moment. The manicurist cleaned up my nails afterwards, but the planting had nurtured my soul.

The desert southwest has many wonders, but deliciousness of soil is not among them. The plants know this, and compensate by allowing volunteers to self-seed and thrive where they will be happiest. I've learned over the last 3 years to be thankful for the things that grow and not to begrudge those that don't survive. I sing to the flora, and, sometimes, they sing right back. And sometimes, they don't.

But the birds still nest in the saguaro and the ground squirrels make mounds in the berms and the desert willow I planted last Fall is already peeking over the wall, preparing to screen the pool next door from view. I've learned to be grateful for 15 minute showers while hoping for 2 hour storms. And I watch the world fly and lope and slither by.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Most Important Meal of the Day

It's my favorite meal. I can eat it any time of the day or night. I can eat more of it than you would guess, given my size. And while I might feel full, I will never feel bloated. I have lots of little places in my stomach to hide all the eggs and english muffins and real butter and pancakes and hash browns and biscuits and orange juice and bagels and oatmeal and fresh fruit and skim milk you would care to put in front of me. Right now. TBG and I used to have eating contests late at night at The Rosebud Diner, in those long-gone days when we could eat what we wanted and rely upon our metabolism to do the rest. We always started with breakfast.

I had a really good breakfast in L.A. last week. They waved me in as I opened the door and within the welcome was a sit anywhere efficiency I warmed to immediately. The waitress had water on the table before I had opened my menu, and my challah french toast was dusted perfectly with cinnamon and powdered sugar. "Heah ya go, sweetie" accompanied every dish placed on every table; there wasn't an "r" to be heard from anyone's lips. The rye bread was gorgeous and gooey and had exactly the right amount of caraway seeds. There was a Reserved table which filled with some stylishly dressed 80-ish men, all wishing each other "Gut Shabbos." I felt as if I'd been beamed up to Manhattan without leaving Beverly Hills.

That scene reminded me of another great breakfast place. Every morning, Daddoooo would take the LIRR into Penn Station and cross 7th Avenue to eat at Leon's. There was a group of them, all in the schmatta* business, all of them putting off the troubles of the day for just a little bit longer. They teased the waitresses and pulled quarters out of little girls' ears and always had the booth under the window. I don't remember much about the food, but I can bring back the frenetic, funny, boisterous men-at-work atmosphere without any trouble at all. It made me want to hurry and grow up so that I could have those breakfasts every day, too.

We used to bring G'ma breakfast in bed every Mother's Day, but that involved only pouring juice and opening the bag containing the prune danish we'd purchased at the bakery that morning. If she'd wanted anything hot, we'd have made her come down to the table and be served. After all, breakfast, more than any other meal, is best when fresh off the griddle. I've heard of people who keep their pancakes warm in the oven until they've made enough to serve everyone, but I don't know any of them personally. Those gathered around my table in the morning are happiest when I move the food from the pan to their plates without stopping at a serving dish. They want to taste the love without any delay.

When we lived on Staten Island, we'd wait on the steps for the french toast at The Dakota Diner, hoping for a spot at the counter. In Chicago, the Golden Nugget on Clark and Surf (across from the bus depot that's now condominiums) was our go-to spot. With Big Steve and the SSA crowd, with the Cuters, with grandparents or cousins - we were there, downing french toast and scrambled eggs and hash browns under faux stained glass windows with blue trees. In San Francisco, we became friends with Sal and Stefan at Dottie's True Blue Cafe while staying at the Clift Hotel around the corner. We had no idea that they were famous restauranteurs; they dubbed me "The Skim Milk Queen" and remembered us 3 years and 2 restaurants later. In Marin, we'd default to Denny's. The clientele was as odd as the service was reluctant, but the food was tasty and you couldn't argue with the price. Here in Tucson we're fans of JerryBob's but we're not convinced. It's friendly, but it doesn't feel like home. The Crying Onion is certainly in the running but it, like JerryBob's is closed after 2pm. One wonders, don't southwest desert foodies get hungry for late night breakfast?

And now, that's enough typing. I'm hungry for eggs and toast.

*schmatta - transliterated from Yiddish. Literally, a rag. Thus, "the rag trade" which took place in the Garment District in NYC in the mid-1900's.

Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day of School

He starts school today. He thought, studied, tested, planned, researched, applied, considered, decided, registered, funded and relocated. I watched. He owns the entire experience, and I'm bursting with pride at the same time as I am having an awful time not being there and helping.

Daddooooo always gave us a new pencil the night before the first day of school. It had the logo of his business, fancy green calligraphy and a point that was sharpened to the teeniest tiniest most perfect tip. It made you want to get to school the next morning just so you could write with it.

We got new shoes for the first day of school. Gym shoes were just that - shoes you wore in gym class. They weren't worn in the classroom and if you hadn't grown, last year's model would work just fine. But you definitely got new school shoes, along with a new purse or lunch box depending on your age and gender and a haircut and 3 new outfits. I suppose we out-grew or ripped or otherwise mutilated clothes which had to be replaced, but I don't remember much beyond the 3 new outfits and the shoes.

If you had a smart mom, which we did, you'd already bought the basic school supplies a week or so earlier. The notebooks had to be the right thickness, and the lines on the paper the exact shade of blue. Our 3-ring binders with light blue cloth covers and a printed label inside the front cover where you wrote your name and new grade started out pristine and ended up ravelling at the edges and covered in doodles and notes and memories of the year transcribed as they happened.

Personally, I preferred the 48-count box of Crayolas to the 64-count. In third grade we were allowed to bring ink pens to school. Real ink pens, since ball-points were a rarity (Bich and the Biro brothers created the clear plastic stick pen in 1952, the year I was born). You could bring a fountain pen and an ink jar or you could use a cartridge pen with disposable plastic ink cartridges (some things never change). Lavender or turquoise or black or royal blue inks were all acceptable; red was only for the teacher.

Beyond providing my pencil and a good luck hug and kiss, Daddooooo's role was to leave in the morning before I got up, just like he did every morning. Getting to school was a G'ma and kids operation and he only got in our way. Routine, down to the last possible minute, was the key to a successful departure. Thinking ahead and trying to stay calm were laudable goals, but doing the same thing the same way every morning was the secret.

There are all these little things that Moms do at the beginning of school. They make sure you have pencils and a backpack and notebooks and lunch money. They worry for you so you can enjoy those last few days of summer. They tell you where you have to be and when you have to be there and they get yelled at if you aren't on time so you don't have to worry because Mom is taking care of it. And Mom's relaxed, because she knows just how slow you'll be and exactly how late you can sleep and she won't let you down.

That's my fantasy, anyway. The reality was somewhere closer to "she'll be really pissed at you if you don't get in the car right now" combined with "I really really hate to be late" with a dash of anticipation and anxiety thrown in for good measure. But Mom's there in the middle of it.

The year seems to start in September not January, for me. The sense of newness, of wonder, of the dream not sullied by reality - I remember it as a student and as a parent. And he's there and I'm not and I'm feeling the loss.

And I think, if I admit it to myself, that I'm just a bit jealous, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What to Do on a Hot Tuesday Afternoon

I became a Hot and Spicy Bowler.

I bought bowling shoes, though that was more a matter of being too old and too ornery to wear someone else's smelly foot coverings. They are white with blue trim and have very flat soles and nice gushy laces. My fingers only got stuck in one ball (then I realized that I was in the kids' section) and I really liked tossing the swirly red sphere I chose.

There weren't any teams, and our conversation was mostly giggling and taunting. The other lanes were peopled by more serious combatants who seemed to be aiming at points we were only pretending to find. I found out that big paper scorecards with little pencils don't exist in the modern bowling alley. Roll the ball and the electronic scorer puts your result up on the overhanging wall for all to see. It was a good thing we didn't really care - otherwise the humiliation would have been overwhelming. Bumpers in the gutters might have been a good idea for us; who says they're only for little kids????.

Once we got the hang of it, though, we began to heat up the lane. No gutter balls, several strikes, and we all broke 100 in the second game. The ladies next to us were congratulating our improvement and wishing us luck. The gentleman on the other side and the one two lanes down from him were too intent on their own performance to notice us but we didn't care - we had each other. Haircuts were critiqued and proud parenting was noted and aches and pains were commiserated with and after about an hour we were done.

Yes, we were too tired to bowl a third game. I know, it sounds absurd, but my forearm and my wrist were announcing their presence with authority. We changed our shoes and handed the cashier the discount coupons our leader provided and an additional $2.15 each and we were through

The Happy Ladies Club had, once again, brought me to a congenial group of women who were willing to laugh at themselves in public on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon. I can hardly wait til we meet again. And I wonder, should I ask for a bowling ball for my birthday this year?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

TV in Beverly Hills

There's comfortable free fun in the heart of Beverly Hills. Inside the Paley Center for Media are nearly 150,000 media experiences and all you have to do is walk in the door. They asked for a donation, but, this being Beverly Hills and all, my wallet contained only one lonely $50 bill nestled behind my plastic. The volunteer at the desk smiled and waved me inside, with vague instructions about going up the steps.

There are lots of steps on several different staircases. I was having a Zero Mostel moment, humming "one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down" when I honestly came to "one more going nowhere, just for show". Just a little freaked out, I found the front desk and started all over again.

Walter Cronkite had just died, and the tv in the big front window was running loops of him being famous and fatherly. The walls had Hirschfeld drawings and I spent more than a little time feeling nostalgic for Sunday mornings with the Arts and Leisure section of the NYTimes splayed open in the beam of sunlight on the living room floor, propped on my elbows searching out the Ninas, reading the Sam Goody ads, fantasizing about being old enough to do the things they were writing about.

It was a sunny, lazy, Southern California day and I was mellow. Which is different from relaxed. I was hyper-aware, energized from my walk , bombarded with images and memories and new spaces -- that is not my definition of relaxed. Relaxed includes pillows. I was going with the flow, wending my way while humming and letting the afternoon take me along for a ride. Mellow. And in that frame of mind, I walked back into my past.

Greeted by an intelligent smile and a list of most requested titles, I was whisked to a comfy desk chair at a private carrel, asked not to pause (it stretches the tape) and left alone. .........

Did you just think of the show you'd choose? Are you considering more than one? Not I. I asked my lovely escort if I could watch Howdy Doody and she smiled back at me and said "Yes, you can watch Howdy Doody." And I knew that she knew what it meant to me to hear that. Mellow is a wonderful state of mind.

And Howdy Doody was just as I remembered him, in all his grainy black-and-white magnificence. The kids in the Peanut Gallery were wearing skirts and bow ties and every one of them had the same haircut and we all watched Buffalo Bob and Clarabell and Howdy for a while. Nostalgia only took me so far, though. I moved on to The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the Florida show. Paul was sweating and pushing George out of the way and Ringo was singing along as if he were in the shower and the girls in the audience were squealing and I was 12 again, kind of embarrassed that G'ma and Daddoooo were in the room while I watched it, but not moving until the last note was sung and the final bow was taken.

I watched more - Kennedy/Nixon debates and Bonanza and Red Skelton - and enjoyed the guffawing from the couple in their carrel down the way. But the pool beckoned and I'd been sitting for hundreds of miles so I returned my list with heartfelt thanks and moved on.

And in the back of my head, on an endless loop, ran a mix of she loves you, yeah, yeah it's howdy doody time, that gir-irl, isn't right for Princess SummerSpringWinterFall. Mellow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Beverly Hills is definitely not a walking city. But with 450+ miles of driving ("after 276 miles, bear left...." intoned the GPS lady) and sitting still, we were looking for fresh air and exercise. So, Yes, we wanted to walk to Century City to see our movie. Skeptically, the concierge gave us directions and we set out on our adventure.

The air in California smells better than air anywhere else I've lived. There's a fecundity to it, a heft, a whisper of an aroma you just can't catch. Even as we walked down Wilshire Boulevard and crossed to Little Santa Monica, it rose above the passing cars and buses and felt like a gentle hug. I was reveling in the feeling when I felt the Big Cuter picking up the pace and suddenly the green hand welcoming me to the other side with the perfume of adventures to come was replaced by a countdown starting at 10. I'm in reasonably good shape, and we were striding instead of strolling, but I barely got across the intersection in the time allotted. Definitely not a walking city.

As if to make the point, the Budget Rent A Car lot taunted us with a 911, a Ferrari next to a Prius, an orange Challenger, a red 'vette, a blue Cobra..... what were we doing on our feet? There were no dirty cars on the roads; beater or Bentley, everything gleamed. And, it turned out, we were walking in the opposite direction of where we needed to be. We flagged a cab and joined the party.

The next day, while the Big Cuter entertained himself, I walked back toward Rodeo Drive. I passed rock roses on the median strips; no simple oleander for Beverly Hills. A bright yellow Rolls Royce convertible was parked, top down and doors unlocked, in front of a store with only a name stenciled on its door. There was no way to tell if it sold luggage or lingerie; it might even be a law firm. There was a doorbell but no speaker that I could see. Would they judge my potential as a client if I dared to press it? After a brief Julia Roberts/Pretty Woman moment, I moved on.

There were cacti and succulents in well-tended public gardens. Opuntia in Beverly Hills - my prickly pear cactus had vacationed with me, it seemed. Every hedge on every front yard down every side street was perfectly manicured and trimmed to exactitude. Even the dandelions were corralled into neat beds; if they had to exist, they would be tamed. The man sleeping on the bench with all his belongings in 2 bags beneath him had the the cleanest bare feet and a well-worn but serviceable Tommy Bahama shirt almost covering all of his belly. He was down and out but appropriate for the neighborhood. Not quite Nick Nolte, but not the most threatening street person I'd ever seen, either. There are rules in Beverly Hills, after all.

That was made quite clear to me by the volunteer at the Paley Center for Media. Before entering, I thought I'd drop off a prescription and use the waiting time to browse. "Is there a Walgreen's nearby?" I queried, innocently, naively, hopefully. "Sweet-haht," he replied in pure Brooklyn-ese, "there are no Walgreen's in Beverly Hills."

Lesson learned. No walking. No Walgreen's. And clean cars and feet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Blogspot is having issues saving the sapces between my paragraphs. I'm working on it. Please, don't be discouraged by the big box below; I really mean it to be 5 separate paragraphs.

Notes on Our Road Trip

The Big Cuter and I were together for 7 days. Almost immediately, we were in a comfortable rhythm of eating and driving and sleeping and packing and loading and doing it all over again. From the desert Southwest through LA and up the Central Valley to Marin and San Francisco we watched as both the landscape and his life began to change.

We saw an overturned mobile home, whose sides had separated from the base and which was spewing pink insulation all over I-10. The two 60-something be-hatted women beside it were an unlikely pair to be driving the shiny F-150 which was attached to the toppled home, but there they were, standing on the side of the road as traffic inched by and sighed for them.

Aside from that delay, we had smooth sailing and excellent weather. We ate at In-n-Out Burger which was a treat for his East Coast palate and I failed, once again, to take a proper picture of the Welcome to California sign. People still don't understand how to merge onto 580, and their need to slow down to 5 mph while doing nothing but going up a protected on-ramp still fuels my road rage, but my Fast-Trak worked in his car so we were able to use the special lanes and zip through the toll booths without stopping. And then, across the bay, we saw the two eucalyptus trees that marked the edge of the property line for our big house and we smiled. Big, fat, self-satisfied, happy to be there right then with each other smiles.

We stayed in Marin the first two nights, easing ourselves into the scene. LA was a good buffer between Tucson and Marin; the startling differences between my last two homes actually revealed themselves more fully once I got back to the desert. There in Marin, driving past San Quentin, seeing the hills above Terra Linda in the late afternoon sun, negotiating the Costco parking lot, walking to the open air mall for local beers with dinner, I remembered all the reasons I'd loved living there. The comfortable sense of being in the best place on earth, surrounded by softly rolling green hills and well-mannered fellow citizens is unreal when compared to anywhere else. And it feels great.

(Beaver Cleaver still lives there, I'm sure. For a while, in fact, we thought he lived down the street from us. Of course, that was our first summer, when going outside without an adult was a first time experience for the Cuters.)

I was in the place the Cuters call home and the Big Cuter was explaining just which beer I'd like the most, given what I had said about pale ale in the past. There was a tall, good-looking, well-spoken man sitting across the table and he was the same little boy with the scar on his knee and the long curly hair who'd asked for permission to ride his bike alone to the park if he finished his homework first. The bookstore across the way had gone out of business (A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books....... isn't that a great name?) and the yogurt store was gone, too, but I had no trouble conjuring up memories. He was moving on, and I was there to watch.

Driving to his apartment in San Francisco, the GPS lady kept wanting us to turn left off Market Street. The street signs suggested otherwise. Her constant need to inform us that she was re-calculating was only slightly less annoying than seeing the damn garage entrance but being unable to turn into it. But the garage guys were quick and efficient and funny and friendly and so was the rental agent who'd had the building pay for the electricity while the Big Cuter was travelling so that he didn't have to go through the hassle of turning it on himself. Doors were held for us as we carted in our treasures, people said Hello in the elevator.

Kindness from strangers; we knew we were back in California.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Things They Carried

Every generation, it seems, has its war. WW I just lost its oldest survivor; Anne Perry's novels make the trenches seem much closer than 100 years past. WW II = The Greatest Generation. Books, tv shows, movies......... ok, Tom Brokaw, I get it already. Korea (a "conflict" not a "war") hangs somewhere between Daddooooo and The Beatles and is so conflated with M*A*S*H and anti-war 60's sentiment that it has lost its connection to a specific time and place for me. When I conjure Korea I go to the DMZ as Earth's last untouched wilderness spawning flora and fauna unseen in generations or to Kim Jong Il singing "Ronrey". Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan - the discussions always seemed to be more about politics and collateral damage than about troop movements and battles. And then there's Viet Nam.

A brother-in-law. A roommate's boyfriend. A fraternity brother. Moose and Stroker. They all served and they were all damaged in ways that seemed different than the change G'ma described in her brother upon his return from Patton's Army. Uniformed ROTC cadets racing up Libe Slope accompanied by cold stares or hissing from bell-bottomed classmates. Girls doing poorly on exams to skew the curve and keep their male classmates safe with their 2S Deferments. The War defined our generation with its negatives.

Walking across campus with Stroker was as close as I ever came to sharing in that vibe. He'd been a boxing champion in the Navy, and with his height and sculpted body and Native American genes he was a presence who could not be ignored. I felt teeny-tiny next to him, and it was more than the discrepancy in our sizes. There was an aura of controlled violence and a "stay away" piece that could be felt across the quad. He was on "the option plan" for the two or three semesters he was attending classes - he'd explain to his professors that it was his option to show up or take tests or submit papers and it was their option to pass him or not. He always passed. As the bouncer at The Salty Dog, he would smile and kiss me and pass my friends in ahead of those waiting in line, and every time I'd hear someone murmur, "I can't believe SHE knows HIM." He read philosophy and looked both ways when we crossed the street and never ever mentioned a word about the jungle or the fighting and yet it was always, unmistakably, a part of him.

Moose and I took Physics for Poets together my Junior year. Professor Silverman tried hard to push the concepts into our non-scientific brains, but for the most part it was a hopeless cause. We did the reading and the homework and the labs but the essence of the subject was elusive. What were we to do? Moose had the answer: "The Hat will teach us." And so he did, for The Hat was an acquaintance who wouldn't dare to disappoint the giant that was Moose.

And then there was my obsession with Mr. Houseman. He sat in the first row and asked questions. Lots and lots of questions which were annoying to me because he obviously understood what was going on and wanted the rest of us to know that he was smarter than we were. And so, one day, I mentioned my aggravation to Moose. At the end of class, Moose sauntered down the aisle and loomed over Mr. Houseman. "You see that lady back there?" he said, pointing my way. "She would really appreciate it if you stopped asking questions in class." I laughed, and waved and we left the auditorium. Three classes later, Prof. Silverman interrupted his lecture to peer over the podium at Mr. Houseman and ask if everything was all right because "You've been strangely silent these last few days." Poor Mr. Houseman...... Moose had scared the braggadocio right out of him. Quietly menacing and totally believable. He had a big laugh and huge heart and a hole in his ankle from a bullet he took while dragging a buddy into an evacuation helicopter - the only war story he ever told.

And that, I think, is the overriding reality of Viet Nam for me. They went, they served, they came home and they were silent. The fraternity brother would dress all in black and go out in the middle of the night, skulking and lurking and trying, it seemed, to recreate the sensation of Indochina. No one ever asked him, though. The brother-in-law had nightmares and was unapproachable as a resource for the Little Cuter's "interview a veteran" essay in high school. The roommate's boyfriend showed up on campus after his tour, but he ignored all of us who'd considered ourselves his friends before he'd left. I wanted a closer look, a sense of what they'd seen and felt and done, but it wasn't mine to share.

Then I found the copy of The Things They Carried which Princess Myrtle had left for G'ma on one of her visits from New Haven. She doesn't share a lot of herself, but this book has her name on the front cover and was the only grandchild-donated book I saw while packing. With that as recommendation enough, I put it in my suitcase for the road trip. And I cried on the treadmill as I read On the Rainy River. Faced with danger, sleeping in a sewage field, they were children and it was scary and inexplicable. Jimmy Cross and Lemon and Kiowa and Mary Anne, whether real or apocryphal, are slices of the event which shaped my coming of age.

Riding home from a lacrosse game one spring evening in 2001, the Big Cuter noted that his age cohort had never known the USofA to lose a war. He opined that their cheeriness and lack of anxiety about the future was directly related to that fact and that my cynicism and pessimism came straight from being "of the Viet Nam generation, of loss and of failure."

There's some truth to that, I'm sure, but there's more. It encompasses futility and shame and fear and lack of control and a sense that our transition to adulthood included a passage through or around a life-threatening disaster. Not a lack-of-jobs disaster or a financial meltdown disaster but a get-yourself-shot-and-killed disaster.
Reading Tim O'Brien is the closest thing I've found to making it real right now.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Reward

For those of you who have been reading for a while, I offer this new incarnation of The Burrow.

For those of you who've been noting the side-bar updates while awaiting a new post, I hope you enjoy the new look.

If you're new to the site, Welcome and to the 81 visitors as of this afternoon, thank you!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On Hiatus

I'm finishing up G'ma's move and preparing to move the Big Cuter to SF for Law School.

Blogging will have to wait until I return from Cali on August 14th.

Look for the next post on August 17th, when, once again, I'll be faithfully sharing my musings every weekday at 6am.


The Amster came over this afternoon. She's been on vacation with the boys and a variety of friends and relatives for the last 10 days and her absence has been noted both here and at the gym. I'm known as half of a duo; "Where's your partner in crime" has been the dominant theme on the weight floor this week.

We lolled on the noodles in the pool and brought each other up to date on our lives. G'ma's move, what I'd done in the gym, how she liked the books I'd lent her, her divorce papers, Mr. 6's repeating the shark explanation (with all the seriousness the subject deserved) to any and all who would listen.... the mundane and the profound mixing easily together as we reveled in each other's company.

Dinner was Costco's Chicken Alfredo - an unhealthy but delicious and easy to heat casserole - and salad and garlic bread and way too much wine. The Big Cuter was keeping up with us, glass for glass, drinking the odd beer he'd purchased at Wally-World once he heard that Amster was planning on needing a ride home at the end of the evening. Conversation at the table was legal and family and travel and cars and sunshine and laughter. Dinner could have gone on all night.

But, we're teaching the Amster the joys of old movies, so off to Douglas we went, for the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice. Greer Garson is too old, and Olivier is too gay, but it's still a wonderful (if somewhat heavy handed) way to spend a couple of hours. Amster had a hard time keeping track of the characters at first, but whether that was because it's in black and white or because we were still imbibing is difficult to tell. We laughed and cheered and worried and smiled and generally had a fabulous time.

And running through the evening was a common theme - Amster and the Big Cuter share a cultural zeitgeist which often excludes TBG and me. The Duchess??? Apparently, it's a movie starring Keira Knightley. They knew all about it; TBG and I were clueless. They agreed that Pierce Brosnan's version of The Thomas Crown Affair was a much better viewing experience than was the Steve McQueen version (though the Big Cuter admitted that the earlier movie was "a better film") and no amount of description or lustful sighing on my part could convince the Amster that Steve McQueen was waaaaaaay hotter than Pierce Brosnan ever could hope to be. They're closer to each other's age and have friends each other's age and for a while I was feeling weird about the whole thing.

But then I had to smile. TBG and I are truly at another inflection point in our lives. Our friends are now attractive to our children. The Big Cuter was genuinely glad to spend the evening with the Amster. They had conversations. They exchanged one-liners. They admired each other's intellect and reason. And TBG and I just loved it.

If only the Little Cuter had been here, too..........

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Move

You get what you pay for. The "2 guys and a truck" were exactly that - and they were 6 hours late, too. But G'ma is moved into her pod-castle, and nothing was broken or lost during the move. I probably should've checked the apartment before we left, but G'ma was in the car and it was already 4pm and I was tired. Very very tired. And she doesn't have to vacate the Old Folks Home space until mid-September, so I have time to dispose of the detritus left behind.

I'm guessing that architects of pod-castles have determined that residents in Assisted Living spend most of their time in the bedroom. G'ma's is huge, with a picture window framing the mountains and the sunset. All of her bedroom furniture and some of the living room furniture fits comfortably. The living room space is another story entirely. She's watching tv at an angle, there's no getting out onto the patio without moving an arm-chair, and that 27" tv really should be a flat screen instead of jutting out into the room like an elephant's trunk. But she's safe and her immediate surroundings are familiar and those were my main goals.

And I'm exhausted. Fell asleep on the couch at 9:15 last night (hence the delay in publishing this post) and woke up at 4am grinding my teeth and panicked. With nothing to which I could attach my heebie-jeebies (a great word from childhood which does not get enough use in adulthood) I felt like an idiot - but an awake idiot. She's in. The move is done. The major pieces we left behind have been spoken for. What am I worrying about?

The caregivers in the pod-castle were responsive and kind and remembered G'ma's name and told her they wer glad she had come to join them. There was a 20-something volunteer perkily volunteering. The med-tech had issues with the punctuation on a medicine bottle's label (omitting the period between do not crush and open capsule and mix with applesauce leads to an interpretation requiring G'ma to swallow a capsule the size of her pinkie --- the whole pinkie --- instead of snacking on an applesauce/potassium fruit cup 3 times a day) and no one seemed to want me to write a check for her rent, but other than that the pod-castle was exactly as advertised. The residents were friendly, the big screen tv in the rec room has an easily understood remote, and dinner, though served earlier than she'd have liked, was "good.... interesting.... good." The morning staff will bring her a breakfast tray at 10am, and it will be just what she's been eating for the past 40 years. "OOOH, that will be lovely."

I left notes everywhere, reminding her that she's in her new home and reiterating the process which will bring help to her suite. I never lost my patience when she asked (every 15 minutes) "Why am I moving?" I connected her tv (though I lost the remote) and found Star Trek for her to watch. I laid her nightgown and bathrobe and slippers on the bed. Her laundry hamper is just where she wanted it to be and her clocks are all re-set to the right time.

So why is my stomach in knots this morning?

As we were falling asleep last night, TBG murmured "You're a good daughter. You know that, don't you?" Yes, I know that. I just wish the status didn't come with so much angst.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Life in the Deli

I think I'm coming to an epiphany. Obssessing will do that for me, and I certainly have been single-minded in my focus on G'ma's move these last few days. I'm feeling more and more like the pastrami in the rye bread sandwich, with the Big Cuter here on his way to Law School and G'ma there on her way to the pod-castle. They each require my attention. Neither wants to be a burden. Both are happy to let me make most of the decisions except the ones they want to make for themselves. And neither of them lets me know in advance into which category a particular decision might fall. It's a good thing I love them both.

G'ma came back from lunch today to an apartment stripped to the bare walls. "I'm moving, right?" And it hit me right then. I have been pouting while putting pictures into boxes and knick-knacks wrapped in flannel nightgowns into dresser drawers and lamp shades on the back seat of my car and you've just reminded me of why this move is a good thing. You can't live alone and you can't afford 24/7 care at home and what if you are alone and get sick in the middle of the night and don't remember to call me for help. Just like in my first job, the best alternative is the least restrictive alternative. It's just hard to remember that least restrictive assumes that some restrictions are necessary.

And that's the problem. I want everything to be just as it was when I was 7. I don't want to consider the fact that her memory is failing and that her physical capabilities are waning and, worst of all, that she doesn't seem to want to do very much about it. Brain Training Exercises?? Physical therapy? Fall Prevention class? Chair yoga? They are all available and have all been rejected.

My frustration, I think, is that I have been framing the problem inappropriately. I am setting goals that I would set for myself (making friends, staying fit, taking charge of things on my own) instead of setting goals that G'ma would set for herself. She doesn't want to make new friends - why should I decide that that is something she needs to do? She's comfortable using her walker - why should I decide that she'd be better off trying to develop the strength to do without it? Rejecting opportunities to participate in activities at The Old Folks Home doesn't mean that I chose a bad place for her to live, it means that she doesn't want to participate. Nothing more and nothing less.

It's been hard for me to resist assigning blame to all and sundry for G'ma's lack of engagement in the world around her. But maybe that's been the problem. There is no blame to be assigned. There is no guilt, no second-guessing, no issue at all. G'ma is doing what she wants to be doing, and just because it's not what I want her to be doing/know she ought to be doing/used to want to be doing doesn't mean it's not ok.

The Little Cuter told me several years ago that "G'ma could stay with us forever. She's kind of invisible." If that invisibility is where she is most comfortable, then I might as well relax into it with her. Letting myself off the hook shouldn't feel selfish (though it does) or lazy (ditto) but I'm going to try to believe her smile and the affirmations she sends my way : "I trust you, sweetheart."