Los Angeleno by birth, Northwesterner by choice, Second-hander by nature. Librarian, housebound chef, father, and lowly subject ruled over by the needs and whims of a very old house. Partial to Mexican, Italian and Vietnamese cookery but will eat damn near anything. Collector of many strange things..the result is chaos and anarchy and a very pleasant place to live. There is pleasure in accumulation, not just "collecting": music, books and film, in all their multi-formated glory. Outsider artists and those kinds of prints you would recognize if you took liberal studies classes in college. Cooking implements and gadgets for recipes still untried or those ventured. Glasses for most types of libations. Flowers in the garden, herbs in the pot. It's a life of the senses and a good home life reflects that. Walking helps take in all the rest. Requires no special equipment, opens up the pores, brightens the taste buds, clears the decks for further adventures, puts on the miles, widens the eyes and helps fuel the imagination.
Live boldly, play graciously and love with all your heart knowing that true love comes only once or twice in this lifetime. Speaking of which..donde estas, Empress of my Heart?
"Lack imagination and miss the better story" Yann Martel
"Life is a great adventure and I want to say to you, accept it in such spirit. I want to see you face it ready to do the best that lies in you to win out. To go down without complaining and abiding by the result....the worst of all fears is the fear ofliving." Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
"Not I - not anyone else, can travel that road for you You must travel it for yourself" Walt Whitman
And above all, friends should possess the rare gift of sitting. They should be able, no, eager, to sit for hours-three, four, six-over a meal of soup and wine and cheese, as well as one of twenty fabulous courses.
Then, with good friends of such attributes, and good food on the board, and good wine in the pitcher, we may well ask,
Ex-railroad man, homeless guy and library patron. He loved Westerns, biscuits and gravy, his cigarettes and old cars. More than anything, he loved to laugh. Laughing wasn't always easy to do, but he laughed alot. Dammit, Patrick, you're going to be missed.
I don't have a single contemporary hot wireless device and somehow I am happy.
Some folks just don't get that. How could I possibly be happy and not be hip at the same time?
Well, let's see what I don't have and then we'll look at what I do. I don't have a smart phone. What I have is a fairly dumb phone with a battery that is failing. It takes photos, sends texts, probably has other functions but I never use them. I don't have a personal computer of any kind although I do wish and dream about Apple products and hope to someday graduate to a really nice desktop model. I currently do not do much in the way of social media but know all about Twittering, Face Booking and the like. I don't download books or transfer stuff to a devices so I can listen to them every where I go. I don't do digital movies, which, for me, is a travesty anyway.
I don't have a lot of things that seemingly make life worth living, least ways by contemporary standards. But the funny thing is that I really think all those devices and the lifestyles and conveniences attached to them are really great and I am happy for those that have them, use them and make their lives more fulfilling because of them. That is, until someone's cell phone goes off at a concert. Or a tablet lights up in the middle of a movie. Or when someone comes up to the desk and talks and talks and talks to someone other than me on the phone all the while expecting me to serve them as if I am Redbox kiosk.
I think that someday I will move on past this old school way of thinking and get some of those new cool toys but then again, perhaps not, well, least ways, not right away. I still like to spin my music on a turntable, watch my tunes unspool on my reel to reel. I still thrill to iron oxide tape and buy cassettes and VHS tapes whenever I see a title I don't own on disk. I still cook from scratch and avoid most convenience foods like the plague. I love to line dry sheets, I love to take public transit whenever I can. I still think reading a newspaper in it's paper and ink format to be one of the best reading experiences going. I love to get someplace slow, like on a train or on a bike or on foot. I love to explore someones mind with real letters, share thoughts over the phone or talk face to face. Emails are dandy but there is nothing quite the thrill of opening up a letter from someone you cherish.
I think that certain things, things not necessarily hip, are vital and real. I think of the things my grandmother taught me, manners and courtesies, "yes sir" and "yes ma'am", things that sometimes irk people because they worry that the things you say a reflection of their age and not one of respect. I think of tolerance, of discipline, etiquette, knowing that eating properly at a table, opening doors, of offering someone your seat, those marks of being well brought up, those gentlemanly arts, never go out of style.
I think of my Esteemed Companion in the midst of all this talk of old school courtesies and know that when she gets to sample them from me she knows that they are from the heart, that they are there to show her that she is worthy of that respect and care that goes along with those things that others might eschew to be too slow, clunky or old fashioned.
Whenever she thinks of me I hope she'll be able to say, "now there's a man who has the sense to be courteous, a man who knows how to hold his mud, how to open a car door, how to write a decent love letter, who knows when and where to ask the right questions, to be open and when to hold back. He is a gentleman through and through and after they were done making him they broke the mold".
I know that having all the cool toys and being hip and ironic are the hallmarks of a new age man., but baby, if I get to have a choice know that I will be old school till the day I take leave of this lovely place.
Care to take a stroll and leave those cell phones behind, anyone?
Sometimes, when you look at it through scratched lenses, you think, "man, it's a tough life". My prayers are rarely answered, and my requests aren't necessarily honored; my wishes aren't always fulfilled, and my dreams, well, let's say that that most of the time they remain unfinished only because the dawn comes and I wake from my slumber.
But really, that's so much nonsense. Life is hard sometimes, sure, what's life without a bit of rain? Without the rain you have no rainbows. Same for spiders, bogey men and unsolicited phone calls. Spiders make webs and eat pesky insects and leave their webs behind for me to groove on on misty fall days. Bogey men give a reason to cuddle close during scary movies or cling to my sweetheart on walks through the night streets. Unsolicited phone calls are a drag but when you are feeling a bit mean and a bit cranky they're just what the doctor ordered. Give back a bit of what you get.
My prayers. Whoa. What do I pray for anymore these days? A small parcel of happiness? Not one wrapped in bows or paid for on credit. Not a big slug of it, either. Small doses here and there, thanks. A sincere smile. A quarter on the sidewalk. A long sought for record in the ten cent cassette bin. Good news on the phone. My children, healthy, strong, happy. My health. Those things are prayers answered enough.
I suppose I don't make too many requests these days either. Quiet in the late hours. A bit of meaningful work at the branch. That the toilet is flushed and that beds are made. Someone else washing the dishes would be nice once in a while, too. But in requesting we must remember to only ask for so much. And to honor those requests made of you.
Wishes. Ah, wishes. I remember when they were aided by shooting stars, or petals on a flower. When I would think really hard and believe that those things I wished for would come true. Wishes have grown up quite a bit since then. I can wish for world peace, for an election to play out favorably. I can wish for a beautiful sunset, or a long morning in a warm bed. I can wish for a few extra dollars to play with on payday, or even wish for something like love to be as beautiful as I think it should be. I wish for many things: my children's happiness, for peaceful resolutions, for hearts to heal. Those kinds of wishes are not necessarily easy to fulfill, but they are wonderful behold when they are.
But my dreams. Now there I excel. I dream of many things, not too much unlike Rip Van Winkle did before he ran into that strange bowling game up in the hollow and got his priorities straightened out. Mind you, I'm not out flying kites or napping under trees when there's work to be done, but I can relate to the desire to while away the hours, to play with my kids, to see rainbows on the horizon instead of storm clouds. I dream that my life will be a positive note in the lives of my children, that whoever I end up with as a partner cherishes me as much as I cherish her. I dream of a good life..not necessarily well appointed, but comfortable. I dream of happiness, but again, of the small "h" variety. Little dreams. A nice garden. Walls painted in pleasing colors. Of a trip now and then. Of a pantry full and a stove burgeoning with delights for family and friends alike.
I suppose those prayers and requests and wishes and dreams are answered and fullfilled everyday in small ways. For that I can be thankful for, and I am.
We are getting ready to wrap up our summer reading program here on the coast and so far it has been a mighty good one. I came onto this post last year with a program in place and it was not quite what I was used to, but, hey, it wasn't mine to control just to monitor. Programs were attended, prizes given out, treats eaten. Attendance is everything. This year it's been a bit different, a bit more like what I am used to: reading logs, gauges of measurement on the walls, programs reaching far and wide and an ice cream social coming up on the heels of it all.
But I was able, in the midst of all the children's librarian planning, to slip in a couple things I felt were important to do. I did fit in a moderately well used Farmer's Market Bingo program. I like what they around the county and what they represent and wanted a tool to somehow get kids down to the market, interact with the growers, the vendors, all that.With the program theme revolving around food I felt it was a good match. But my big wrap up for the summer, since the idea of outdoor "drive in" style movies didn't really fly well here on the cool in the evenings coast, was to push for storytelling in the park. The park across the street from the branch, in the end, was booked but I managed, here at press time, to secure two tellers who promised to share their art with family and kids here at the branch later on in August. I am beyond pleased as it is bringing back to me a bit of my early library career history. Once a storyteller, always a storyteller.
I have been fascinated with the art going a long time back. Maybe it was the sea stories I heard back in my days with the fleet. Maybe it was all the tales my parents and grandparents told of 1940's LA and of Pancho Villa and growing up in Mexico during the Revolution. Maybe it was my penchant for cinema, for good stories, for a tale well told. No matter, I was sent off to workshops right at the beginning of my time doing children's work and thought to myself, man, I could do that, too. And so I did. Gathered up tales by Lang and the Grimm Brothers, learned a few good paper folding stories, picked up a few magic tricks and songs and I was ready to share my tales, too.
It was a happy time, that first librarian assignment. I had a great manager who believed in the power of good programming, was game to let me do whatever I conjured up, so long as it reflected well with the branch and brought up our monthly statistics. I kicked around the idea of a guild with colleagues and friends, and after a few months of fits and starts, got together the first incarnation of the South Coast Storytellers Guild at the Costa Mesa Branch Library. Those first few months felt as if we wasn't going to launch but by our final show in August Susan, Nancy and Jim and I were able to drag in a full house which pleased me and my manager immensely.
I took that talent on the road and performed all around the region, worked good times with Make a Wish, with church groups, at birthday parties. Went up north to Oregon and started another guild, the Jefferson State Storytellers with the Ashland Branch children's librarian. Did storytelling in the park, a llama backpacking trip, told tales in a staff gather for the State Librarian, hung out with magicians and built up a crew who went on to do great things. By the time I got to the Puget Sound I was almost ready to stop awhile as the competition was heavy and storytelling began it's shift from an small regional, ethnically tinged, locally cultural art form into a major source of entertainment, bucks and egos. Did a bit of telling with Everett and then, years later, after disillusionment and much too long of a sabbatical, began to tell tales to my kids. Back to the roots of it all, a blazing fire, good mood lighting and a fist full of tales to share with wonder filled children.
The idea of the guild came about mainly from my connection with the regional Renaissance Faire but it eventually took off and went it's own way. I looked them up this morning and was happy to see that they are still associated with Costa Mesa and are still performing and conducting workshops regularly in Orange County. And while it has been years since I have stood in front of an audience and wove a tale I have to admit that this latest effort to gather tellers at the library to tell stories to family and friends sounds like a mighty good time, but more a possibility to possibly enter into the art once again.
Once a teller, always a teller, indeed!
A bit of contemporary South Coast Storytellers Guild scheduling:
I was sifting through my blog posts the other day, looking for things to share with my Esteemed Companion, who is now an avid reader of this wild and wacky blog and thought, goodness, there are over 600 drafts in my files, why do I have so much stuff in there? Why hide it when I have a new reader eager to see what my life was like five or so years ago?
Yes, it was a bit of slog at first, dredging up all those old worlds that were so cleverly illuminated by those tired old words. Those posts brought up days that were truly hard, tough times, filled with too much change, too much sorrow, too much, too much, but then, when all is said and done, is the basis of what I am all about now, today. We cannot change in a world filled with same old, same old, it requires a down right revolution at times, times filled with paradigm shifts, hard decisions and a ton of self cleansing unloading. Hold onto too much and your craft goes down with you in it. Create a lighter craft, get more buoyancy and learn to sail further, safer, longer, faster.
I found that these old words still work as they are filled with mental imagery and times that I almost forgot about, times that I happily shelved and stopped thinking about. It's good to remember old times, but better, to place those freshly reviewed times into a sort of working memory file and then keep on moving forward.
My Esteemed Companion is welcome to review these things as she can see where I have been and better understand where I am coming from. The rest of the world, too, can weigh in and see if this wild and wacky Accumulate Man is worth following.
You have so far. Stick around, read awhile and know that only better things are up ahead and around the bend!
Standing under the stars last night I was given a gift of grace and I'll be forever thankful for it.
We've had an interesting time of it lately, my dear Esteemed Companion and I. We had been entrenched in a long slugging match with others, something not of our choosing, a truly fruitless event, a much too time consuming slice of what I've come to call The Covelo Crisis, one that, for a moment it seemed, was out to wreck our wee fragile craft. But being that our hearts are young, that our vision is set, like good lovers should be, on the future and not on the past, we were able to dispel the shadows that have been lurking about and instead do fantastic things with a day. Berries were picked, a library was run, supper was barbequed, Legos were played with, ice cream runs and pies and laughter were shared, all of it, happiness and joy and silliness, were all brought back into the room, set up and played with as if those things, our hallmarks, had never left.
But it was under the stars later on, after the pie and the chat and a bit of sweetness, that made me realize how wonderful and mysterious the ways of the world are.We were standing under timeless skies, under stars and planets and moons and suns that had seen everything and remembered nothing and now there we were, throwing our mere mortals selves into the mix. Would we pass beneath those celestial bodies, like so many others, unheralded, or would we somehow find the way to have our story told and remembered? I couldn't quite get out what I was trying to say that night but I think that being remembered, having our tale told, was what I trying to find my way to.And what better way to have that story told is to show the world that what we have...shining, bright, filled with happiness and joy, something unmatched and unseen in this neck of the woods in a long, long time....is worth commenting on, remembering, sharing, talking about.
We are more than mere public servants, more than parents, more than children of our people, more than just folks out and about in our communities. We are purveyors of an important message and that message is that if you are sincere and approach life with joy, respect, passion and grace your gifts to the world will be reciprocated. And luck, if one's luck holds and finds its way through the thickets of all that its normal and wild and strange in this world, is finding that one singular person who recognizes this prized self that we hold so dear, that finds that connection, that balance, to all the things that are worth cherishing in this world.
Ah, to this grand kind of luck! Thank god for it for we seemed to have found in the other someone who is willing to share in kind, piece by piece, word by word, these quiet and excited exchanges of equity, selflessness and wonder that we thought were lost to us.
Grace is in the little things, the unbidden blessings, the ones that sneak in under the stars and answer the question, Why Me? with more than mere declarations of love, but more declarations of recognition, of acceptance, of belief in the other.
In the midst of the grand silliness we were dealing with it was easy to set aside the simple things that filled us with joy and instead concentrate on all the things that were true ship wreckers. Pie, a bit of play, fewer words, a lot of quiet, somehow restored all that was missing, supplied us with the kind of grace we needed to move comfortably once again in the world.
Here's to gifts of grace found only under the stars on a practically moonless night in a grove deep in the heart of Covelo. Here's to those things that make life, this one and only pass of ours under the stars, truly worth living.
Not everyday that Topps passes up an opportunity like this. Maybe they'll wake up and smell the book paste before it's too late.
I know that Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle all have their respective values as far as baseball cards are concerned, their ball playing histories aside. I know, too, that the Disneyland bubblegum cards that I collected as a boy are mighty precious to Disneyania collectors these days as well. Heck, there's not a commercially minded individual out there worth his or her salt without a trading card contract these days. Face it, trading cards are good clean fun, help promote destinations and sports and hobbies, and helps to keep the chicle gatherers of the world in business, too.
So instead of lamenting that my image can't be swapped at the local card store I decided to do the next best thing: make my own trading card. Sure, it's not wrapped up in fancy metallic paper, and those that need it are not going to get that hard stick of noxious flavored bubble gum along with it. But you are going to get a thrill, that much I'll grant you. "How's that, Accumulate Man? What kind of thrill are you talking about?" you may ask.
Well, to make the trading card splash even bigger I joined up with the powerhouse Flickr group Librarian Trading Cards. Hot bunch of folks, let me tell you. Better than a bus load of ball players. Heavy hitters. Techno folks, first amendment rights advocates, brainiacs and book geeks and wild cats all around. Who could resist trading cards of such a motley group? Not me, buddy. I posted my card right away.
No home run info, no stats, heck, no clues to where to buy a great pizza or what my favorite color is. The information posted is consciously vacant of hard particulars and is made purposefully vague. But it's the image, sport's fans, that matters. The old pirate is finally unmasked! Contact Interpol, the FBI. Post it around town when you put up those missing dog posters. Hide it from the kids as it will promote nightmares. It's there to admire or villify, but no matter, because now when you see out and about in town you can say "Hi there, Accumulate Man! Loved that snazzy suit!"
It was a cornucopia kind of cooking weekend. Food fairly flowed out of that kitchen of mine. Chalk that up to one cancelled trip, a couple nice grocery runs, a wealth of wine in the basement and bunch of cookbooks dying to be used. The weather helped quite a bit, that's for certain, for rain and wind and uncertainty made being inside a cozy and practical thing to do.
Not that The Boy and I didn't get in our walks or our errands. There was just enough sunshine and just enough cash flow to make that part of our weekend easy, fun and necessary. But eating well is necessary, too, especially when your heart is heavy, your mind is preoccupied and cooking becomes the only way to banish the demons from the house.
Worked out pretty much okay. The demons were pretty much held at bay right up until dinner time Tuesday night. That's when they rose up and snapped at The Boy for lollygagging. Too bad for him. He now is in charge of dinner dishes for life. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It seemed that the whole weekend was about groceries or shopping or cooking. Friday after work was a major store run, and in ended with a nice run in with a big pan of pork chops. Saturday, chock loaded with meaningful runs out in town to banish the ghosts of road trips not taken, started off with homemade french fries with garlic and parmesan and Cajun spices. Our travels took us out and about but brought us back home in time to whip up not just one but two extra large homemade pizzas.
Sunday was a better day, no shadows or misdeeds coloring our good fortune, just a good walk, a bit of yardwork well done, and nice round of Mexican food pulled off with aplomb. Monday seemed to be more of the same...a high level of enthusiasm getting work done, for curry and for pulling off a wet, late afternoon walk. There was even energy left over to pull off a poundcake recipe found in Donna Hay's The New Cook cookbook. Yup, thank goodness for Hershey's kisses. Who needs frosting when you can let the cake do the melting for you?
Monday. Ah, Monday. Coffee in the morning, a nice antipasto for lunch. A nice bit of experimentation with roasted herbs and chilies that resulted in a firey adobo sauce. A bit more time and patience resulted in a grand pot of Boston Baked Beans and a even bigger pan of scalloped potatoes for dinner. A quickly simmered pot of peas rounded out the menu. Nice supper to be had all the way around.
But tired was a word that was going round and round in my head that needed to be fully examined and experienced. There had been too many other words spread around that weekend about weekend drives not taken, too many talks about cats not purchased, too much worry about money. Too many nights in a row where waking and reading and movies took the place of sleep. Too much disappointment about not even seeing a bit of your shadow about. So what did I do when The Boy failed to answer the dinner call? I fumed, pouted and went upstairs to read and listen to music. Left him to eat his supper alone. Then came downstairs and came down on him hard for blowing off his one basic duty: the dishes. Pure silliness, but there you go.
So, I ate a bit humble pie with my coffee for breakfast this morning. That and a big bowl of leftover curry and rice. Love that homemade curry powder. Love that whole homemade thing. So lunch, what do want to eat for lunch? Maybe pork chops marinated in adobo sauce? Maybe a nice reprise of last night's dinner? Maybe I should just quit wearing myself out in the kitchen and try my hand at "boily" bags and microwaving for awhile? Only kidding there, Jane, only kidding!
Donna Hay, The New Cook: Pound Cake
Reed Hearon, La Parilla: Adobo Sauce
Betty Fussell: I Hear America Cooking: Bean Town Beans
I had a great things to do list going for the day: sweep and mop out the kitchen, scrub the bathtub, do a bit of cooking, take on the back house in order to get that pigsty into shape before spring break. I knew that I wanted to get in a bit of baking, as I've had a half a pound of butter sitting out for a day getting soft. I also knew that I had to crank out a loaf of bread or two, as I've been pretty low on cash and figured that kneading a loaf of bread would reduce my need for bread at the dinner table tonight.
But wouldn't you know it! The sun came out today and that completely and totally blew up any and all initiative to get things done, least ways, for the time being. It wasn't quite a "go out and fly a kite" kind of moment, but that sunshine did tell me that I was way behind on one of my annual things to do list points, and that was to go walking as often as possible. I figured a good brisk trot down to St Vinnies to check out the day old bread scene would qualify, so off I went. That is, after a presspot of coffee, and a small breakfast, and a chat on the phone with The Painter. Priorities are important.
But it was good thing, that walk. I love that my car is down, and I love that I have no cashflow at the moment. I truly am glad for that credit card moratorium, and I infinitely happy that The Boy has a weekend off in Boise so that I can have a weekend to myself. When he is here I feel a distinct obligation to get out and about and do something as not to squander our time together. Today I felt all those old "selfish" muscles were being stretched. I didn't mind that all too much, but it did remind me of that very long year I had last year that I got to know myself again. And that was one year, while instructive, that I am not too keen on reliving again any time soon.
So I took my walk and realized that the little trot that I had planned was not going to be enough. Somehow I have let my walking jones atrophy, and I knew that I needed to break it in again with a longer walk in the sun. I took in the sights at St Vinnies, and wrestled for a moment with a Vita-mix commercial mixer for a hundred bucks. I can picture what it goes for new but then I knew that I had to come to terms with the fact that I had no way of paying for it or no way of getting it home. Thank goodness for both of those things. But I must admit I did do some psychic jujitsu on a mom and her kids over a Tupperware popsicle maker. They hemmed and hawed over it and finally put it down and walked away. It was all of a quarter and pretty much new. I can see them now in the summer time, arguing over which flavor popsicles to get on a shopping run at Safeway. Too bad for them. I figure I will send it along to my kids in Boise next week. It's too cold at the moment to appreciate it, but come summer it will be a godsend.
The sun drew me out of the store and down the highway and up towards Goodwill. I had a buck and two quarters left to spend for the day. Amazing what you can find to buy with that kind jingle burning a hole in your pocket. I didn't really care for hauling much home, so I spent it on cassettes, which of course I have precious few of. Twelve tapes, a buck thirty. I felt good and took that bag filled with a popsicle maker and loose tapes up over the highway, past the high school and down the road towards home.
What I loved more than anything about that walk was how cozy it made this little town feel. Sure, it's a small town to begin with, both in size and population, but when you work close to home, spend your money close to home and keep a lot of your activities near by as well, well, you tend to run into folks that you know on a pretty regular basis. I ran into Ross, my local used book merchant, and Ernie, my old barber and Rod, a landlord and former owner of a downtown pawnshop. I saw my United Way handler, Jo, pass me by on the highway, waved at a number of shopkeepers as I passed, said hello to clerks here and there, and checked out the pulse of the local economy as I walked.
I found out that that new juice bar and vegetarian restaurant is now open on Bay Street, that Pedro's Sombrero Taqueria is now serving an all you can eat buffet, and that the local cutlery shop is going out of business. I got to walk in the sun and feel the heat, check out the lay of the land and appreciate the gleam of sunlight on the water. It was a good walk and has helped make for a mighty good day.
Sometimes those things that we think are true hassles turn out to be one mighty fine gift. I may not have had a car to drive or a bank account to exercise this weekend, but my heart is a lot happier and my soul a bit lighter for the lack of it. All well and good. Hope your day was swell as well.
I will have to think twice about dickering at a garage sale these days. For years it was the staple event of our summer weekends, that is until I started working for systems that plugged me into Saturdays on a regular basis. I have to admit that was a good thing for someone to do to me. The whole summer went by this year and I never once stopped at a garage sale.
But maybe, right now, I should. I know don't have much cash to spare these days but maybe it's time to spread a bit of that wealth around. Maybe my gas bill will show up a week late, or maybe my grocer will feel me tighten up at the register, but I know that if I don't drop some real cash around town somebody in my neighborhood might feel that pinch a bit deeper than I, or the grocer, or the gas man ever will .
Reading the article posted below gave me my own California foreclosure flashback. I lived through a big boom back there in the early nineties, one that had housing prices skyrocketing out of sight and folks scrambling to secure loans in order to get in on the next "big thing". I was no different. I had a GI Bill loan burning a hole in my pocket, I had a chance to buy a nice old house in a quaint neighborhood, and to top it all off, I had no sense at all about the realities of monthly household finances. Some things never change, or sometimes they change for the better. With the purchase of that house I learned a very hard financial lesson, yes indeed.
In those days I was somewhat young, fairly stupid, flush with hubris, and very puffed up with myself. I just having secured my MLS from UCLA and had just married my latest wife, one with a degree and a nice paycheck to boot. The house we were renting in Santa Ana was poised and ready to go on the market. It was a charmer, an old 1920's bungalow, recently remodeled, freshly painted and very nicely landscaped. A real beaut, but a very pricey beaut. I still remember thinking how cool it was to be able to buy a house and not have to put a down payment on it. All I had to do was show that I was working, plonk down that GI Bill guarantee that five years worth of service bought me, and viola! instant home ownership! I never really looked at what that house was going to cost me on a month to month basis. I was too enamored with my success and what thought I had. I was looking at rainbows and ignoring the rain. IN the end what I had was a dream resting on shifting sands but no amount of convincing would get me to see it.
An old house is an old house, no matter how pretty it might seem from the outside. The porch pillars had dry rot, the furnace had a gas leak. The bathroom was too small, thermostat didn't work come winter, the pvc piping and the pop-up sprinkler heads didn't cooperate in the summer, and the closet space, which seemed so ample when we were renters, just didn't take us very far once we were owners. The bloom was off the rose almost from the start. Too bad, as it was a mighty cute house.
But the biggest problem was the not so much the size of the house but the size of the payment. I know that 1800 dollars a month is a lot of money to blow on rent today, but it was a mountain of cash back then. And it was even more once my relationship fell apart, when I was saddled with that monstrous payment alone. No amount of garage sales could have staved off defeat back in those days. One month went to the bills, one month went to the mortgage, the next month went directly into panic and by the time I made the house payment again I knew that all was lost, and so was the house.
I have to wonder if I had started putting everything I owned out the door if it would have mattered. I know that whoever bought the house that year got a better deal than I did, especially if they got it through an auction. But I know, too, that whoever bought it lost money on that thing. Housing prices in the Southland were way too high in those days, and the market tanked hard. It recovered about five years later and is once again doing what it did to me and countless thousands of others seventeen years ago. It's falling out of the sky like a burning Zeppelin and taking down the "American dream".
I suppose I'm lucky. I have a house I bought on the cheap. I put it back together and refinanced when the rates were right. My "rent" is low and I can afford it. You would think after all I went through I would have learned some sort of valuable lesson. I didn't then but I sure am now. I still wonder what could happen to my house if things went suddenly south again, the way they did in SoCal. Because of those days I play everything close to my chest and close to home.
Experience has shown me that it's only one short hop from success to "everything must go". Yeah, I know all too well. I've been there.
We're already talking about Dia de los Muertos at work, kicking around the idea of setting up a display with all our cool celebratory skulls and paper cutouts and masks and all. I think it's great to bring our patrons into that very sacred and yet very public celebration. It's important not only for cross cultural purposes, but to help those that are afraid of, for whatever reason, the Halloween/All Souls/All Saints Day festivals to live alittle, celebrate life for the moment and celebrate the lives of those people that came before them.
I still remember the night being alive with the scent of five foot josh sticks when I was day tripping in Singapore years ago. My ship pulled in during the Hungry Ghost Festival and the world was alive with the spirits of the dead. I know that when I put up an altar in my home for All Souls Day that I feel the house become alittle bit more alive with the ghosts of my parents and abuelos and all the wild Mexicans and border crossing Indians and Southern fools out of my past. The house becomes damn near crowded with the drunkenwhoops and etheral nortenos and wails of remorse. But I like it that way. Fill my life with meaning, show me the way through your mistakes, your joys, your discontents, your pleasures. Let me show you a good time, don't let that enchilada plate go cold, don't let that Budwieser get too warm. Eat, while I spin big band and CCR and mariachi and burn incense and candles and the midnight hour in your memory.
So I read with interest the last chapter of The Things They Carried. It was a paean the dead, a remembrance, a love letter. It was a moment of celebration, celebrating love and life and loss. Unless those who came before us were monsters and without a shread of redemptive qualities about them, how can it not be a bittersweet moment when we set up those photos and candles and momentos? Those things are as important, but not as important as the stories we tell about our people, for without the stories, without having someone to pass the stories down to, those photographs become as meaningless as tombstones in an abandoned graveyard. Someone stumbling on those photographs someday might ask "Who those people? What ever became of them? What kinds of lives did they lead? Were they good? Kind? Wicked? Or were they alittle bit of all of that?"
Tim O'Brien put stories about the dead this way:
"But this too is true: stories can save us....in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world....The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way the memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness" from The Things They Carried
I am ready once again for October to come, to celebrate my people. In the meantime I want to do something even more important, and that is I want to celebrate life.
As Tim O'Brien and his comrades would say, there it is.
"I really believe that if there's any kind of God, he wouldn't be in any one of us -- not you, not me, but just this space in between. If there's some magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone else, sharing something. Even if it's almost impossible to succeed, but who cares, the answer must be in the attempt."Before Sunrise
“You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.”To Have and Have Not
Two nights, two different films, two completely satisfying moments of pure cinematic delight. Last night was a crisp, clean copy of To Have and Have Not, tonight was a pan and scan but fresh VHS copy of Before Sunset. If there ever were two movies to bookend a Valentine's Day Weekend film fest, it would be these two. One film filled with classic lines, rejoinders and double entendres, the other a wish fulfillment that arrived in real time on the streets of Paris and finally answered the "what if?" question left behind in the recently viewed Before Sunrise.
Once again I thrilled to the "you know how to whistle, don't you Steve?" moment between that young, fresh and feisty Lauren Bacall and a lovestruck, wizened, chuckling Humphrey Bogart, but even more important was listening to the Celine character in Before Sunset sing her waltz tempo love song to the long lost Jessie, a song filled with heart, soul and not just a little bit of longing. Certainly one thing those two movies share, incredible moments of song. Bacall's "How Little We Know" duet with Hoagy Carmichael is a complete and total knockout!
Two timeless films that speak to the optimist in all of us. Laugh, cry, thrill to the joy of wonderful film making and know that in movies like these time is meaningless when it comes to fulfilling fated love. How grand! When can we un-spool them again?
Two years ago Punkin and I ran down to Portland to catch the Saturday Evening Bird Show. "Bird show". That was her term, but funny how apt it was, and what an event it turned out to be.
I had only heard about it only a few days earlier at the Kitsap Audubon monthly meeting. It was at the beginning of the meeting, that part where folks could share their latest birding events or sightings. One of the officers had just come back from a weekend in Portland with his wife. His wife handled the shopping part, he handled all the birding events. But that whole vortex thing the Vaux Swifts went through really spurred on my interest. I had to see this flock going down the chimney drain thing for myself.
Well, not by myself. I had to take Punkin. She was, at that time, all in love with her Papa and anything, as far as outings were concerned, was good with her. We fit in a stop at Goodwill for a bag full of books, a quick stop at Krispy Kreme for a bag full of fresh glazed donuts and then played innumerable games of sugar induced I-Spy as we sped down the road towards Portland.
We got there with plenty of time to spare. The Chapman elementary school site is right up against a city park, so playground time was in order. The school is set the middle of a somewhat toney neighborhood, nicely nestled up against a hillside, providing a somewhat expansive theater type viewing arrangement, so all city view seats in the field were good ones. What struck me most was the grand cross section of Portland's citizenry that turned out for the gig. Sure, for them it's an every night extravanza in September, but for those of us new to the deal it was a pretty far out way to blow a Saturday night.
The hillside was covered with picnic blankets, families out with friends, wild packs of punks with their hair all spiked up, hillside sliders with cardboard sheets, wagons and snow sleds. It was full carnival effect, a wild city fair with Mother Nature the star of the show. Meanwhile, the sun headed towards the west and I had to wonder what the hubbub was all about. The occasion siting of a Vaux Swift would send the crowd into rapturous applause, but as we got closer to that down-the=drain moment the birds began to gather in mass. First close in to the school, then winging their way out over the river, to return and depart over and over again, gaining in numbers, bringing in hawks, upping the cheers and commotion in the crowd to near pandemonium.
But it was that moment when the swifts started to go down the chimney where the crowd went completely and totally wild. You would think that those bird were practiced performers out to please a crowd the way they gathered and joined together in sky, Busby Berkley style, for their final dance of the evening. They gathered together and swirled and within moments nearly all had disappeared down the old brick chimney, a genie bottle in reverse. A few hawks darted about trying for snacks, and more than a handful of swifts had to flit off and find lodging elsewhere, but it was a performance and a half and the crowd roared as the swifts finished up and retired for the night.
Punkin still refers to that night as one of her "most special" moments and asks fairly regularly to go back to watch it all over again. I recently read about a couple of sites here in Washington that favor largely in the Swift's annual migration story, but what was even more exciting was to read about a school in Monroe that has a big "bird show" happening, only because Monroe is much closer to me than Portland. I don't mind the two and a half hour run to Portland only because I like to drop into Powell's Books to pick up some some quality used titles and I like to grab some pizza at Rocco's for that long drive home. But when time and money and gas prices are working in the favor of a shorter trip, who am I to argue?
This go 'round I will be taking The Boy, who I think, after hearing about his sister's adventures forever now, is game to go along and experience the event for himself. It's a happening that everyone, not just birders, should witness at least once in their lives. So, see you in Monroe. Maybe we can even do a stop at Krispy Kreme, too, just for old time's sake.
Looking out through the window today I have to wonder where that weather pattern went to, the one that shed rain and cancelled my big porch project so easily on Saturday. I woke and heard the rain falling softly on the roof, and came downstairs aching for more sleep but knowing I had things to do. Taking a look out the window confirmed that "doing" that day was going to be different than what was on my things to do list. I was pleased and not in a small way.
Rainy day activities such as movie watching or reading are part of the "standard operating procedure" thing here in the Northwest, but it wasn't in the forecast for the weekend last week. I had a raft of things to accomplish, all of which were outdoor related. I had to scrape and primer and repaint the porch, the one that was so nicely done only a year a go. But then there was a handful of other tasks, mostly revolving around those pesky plants and vines and trees that were trimmed back only a month or so ago. I suppose we haven't hit fall yet and trimming is just one part of the deal of home ownership. I had things to put away and berries to pick and wood to haul and stack from a friends house. Yep, a ton of stuff. A good two days worth. Then the rains came. And all that was put aside for another time.
Not that it rained all weekend, just that Saturday, but it was enough to put me in the long run fall/winter/spring mindset. Seems like months since I've been there, in that "where's my couch, where's my novel, where's the comforter hiding?" kind of mindset that seems so darn natural around here nine months out of the year. So, that's what I did with the meat of my day, after I helped my boy with his science homework and sent off a handful of bills. I grabbed an older William Gibson novel, Pattern Recognition, a large mug of water and a comfy cotton throw. Plopped myself on the couch. Read. Napped. Got up to pull together two distinct and fully wonderful meals: green chili enchiladas/sopa de arroz/black beans and later on, a pasta dish with loaded with vegis and meat and nice cheesy cream sauce. Not much more than an ample slice of peace, quiet and nap induced serenity. How nice is that?
Well, make that "sick day", singular. Let's also add to that that one of our volunteers called me "Andromeda Strain" for coming in and dragging along my healthy virus after me during last weekend's working party. I should have looked him straight in the eye and corrected that. "That's MISTER Andromeda Strain to you, buddy!". Or something like that. All I could do was laugh. Laugh and then cough up a handful of lung.
At that point I knew it was time to go home. But going home in the middle of the work day is tricky. You must display some sort of "sign". that you need to go. It could have been that "serious face" that my colleague pointed out, or maybe that "flush" that my boss spied, that did it. But no matter. I said "to hell with it" and went home to bed.
I had to hit up the market for citrus fruit and assorted grocery items first. Then I had to step into Goodwill next door and due to that timely stepping found music and movies for my "convalescence". Some bed rest. By the time I got home and sorted everything out, including a snack, it was damn near time for The Boy to come for his lunch. Which I ate along side him. Starve a cold, feed a fever. Or it is starve a fever, feed a cold? No matter, it was leftovers and we both grooved. Especially him. He got the rest of that afternoon off at home.
So, what did this sick boy do the rest of the day? Stayed in bed and rested. Made a big difference. Finished up The Hacienda by Lisa Teran. Started The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Chabon. Popped in Stripes with Bill Murray. Funny how many comedies Ivan Reitman has made that I've seen. Seen recently. But finished up with a film that was meant to warm up my system. The Punisher, another great Marvel comic to the screen gun fest. "What? No cookbooks?" you might ask. Not last night. Saved myself for Thursday and the bibliography I generated for the upcoming food program we're going to have at the library. Attached it to Cookstalk! More than made up for my lack of cookbooks on Wednesday.
Ooops. That was a lie. Found a risotto cookbook yesterday, too, and dived into that as well. Risotto. Looks easy peasy to an old pilaf maker. Add that arborio rice to the ol' shopping list.
So that sick day, rather, sick afternoon, served me well. I just felt that after ten days straight labor that my body, which has had that hitchhiking virus along for well over a week now, needed a bit of down time to rest it up for the upcoming weekend. We all need our strength for the weekends, eh?
I know that Halloween is coming, if anything, from the candy displays and costume sales at the local supermarkets and discount emporiums. Freddies had a Halloween themed corner by the front door this last Sunday at 40 percent off filled with ticky tacky things to place in the home to help celebrate the season. The second hands this month were filled with all the same kinds of junk folks bought at Freddies last year and the year before that to help fill up their doorways and tables and such to help make them more "scary", to help put people in the mood to unload scads of candy and don rubber masks and mangle pumpkins. It's a jolly time of year and I love it so, not only for the sacred right to scare children witless but because I love the colors of the season, the scary movie rite of passage that I put my children through, and the peaceful melding of the pagan and the Catholic issues that seem to battle within me all year long.
Bringing the Dia de los Muertos celebration into my home is a relatively new thing for me. I know that we didn't give that celebration a nod when I was a boy. It was enough just to do all the "traditional" Anglo things that went along with our suburban lives. My mom shed her Mexican-ness long before I ever had any inkling that she was one, and so my connection to all those kinds of things only came to me sideways when I went to visit my grandparents. I can still picture an altar of sorts set up in my grandparents' bedrooms, with votives burning year round and a multitude of saints adorned by their various charms and flowers. But in my house it was enough, it seemed, to do tamales once a year at Christmastime and to embrace the foods of my ancestors. Yep, that's as far as it went. Celebrating the dead just wasn't done and it certainly wasn't hip.
But Dia de los Muertos is, that for certain. And by doing it I'm not trying to take the "hip" road, that's for certain. No, the reason why I break out the photos and get out my calaveras and things is because I want to do right by those that came before me. I like to set up that altar because, love them or not, somebody's got to give them their due.
Mind you, Halloween is still a big deal in my house. The Boy and I will certainly be doing the candy thing, don costumes, set up that nasty cobweb stuff. I have a plastic cauldron filled with carnival type toys and chocolate Kisses and such to hand out. We'll set up some sort of freaky deaky thing on the porch, not enough to scare kids to the core but enough to make the younger ones who make the climb quake a bit. That part of it should be there, it's the scaring season.
But inside the house, on a cabinet by the kitchen, I will set up my altar for the year. Old photos will be dragged out and set up. One of the old plaster saints from my grandfather's collection will be brought out. I'll be sure to cut the last flowers from the garden and set them up just so, and cook a meal with some favorite items to set out as well. I'm sure that I have beer or two in the fridge for Senior, as well as a pack of Marlboros, and I'll be sure to place some chocolate and some sunflower seeds out for my mom, too (maybe she can get back to smoking whereever she's at these days, who knows). Maybe I'll get in the mood and bake something that looks like those skulls I've seen photos of, the kind that they make down in Mexico, or maybe not, but at the very least I'll try my hand at some paper cutting. It is a celebration, you know.
It'll be simple, but with one thing apparent: those folks, my mom, my dad, all the elders that have passed before me, they will be thought of, talked about and celebrated. And believe me, The Boy will know all about them through this celebration. Yeah, it's through the remembering that the dead stay alive. And, baby, there's nothing scary in that at all.
Walking is overrated as a form of transportation. Least ways, that's what I was lead to believe when I was a young man out and about in the wilds of Southern California. It was my understanding that if I didn't have a car I was a loser, a joke of some sort, a blight on the lives of the car lucky, a lesser strain of man. Funny how that goes, though. Without a car I still managed to have a great social life, hold down jobs, be a regular consumer, get a degree and grab a couple wives out of the deal. I have come to believe that those periods of my life when I went without a car were more fulfilling, more jam packed with life than those times when I've had four wheels to take me around town.
I'm still without a car. I went through my cash reserves and overspent on groceries and such. Decided once again that the starter for the Honda was not going to happen this week. Or next week for that matter. The Boy won't be here for a month yet, so, with three block commute and groceries a couple miles away, what's the hurry to fix those wheels? I still manage to make meetings, socialize with colleagues, grab provisions and find really great second hand finds. Unless I'm talking furniture, which I don't need, or a run to the airport, which I can't see happening any time soon, what do I need a car for?
Today I took a walk with a shoulder bag and a debit card with a balance. I found time to get a haircut at Ernie's Barber down on Bay Street. His shop is always busy but today I went in and got a haircut almost right away. I checked out movie times at The Orchard Theater, found a nice Croatian cookbook to pass along at St Vinnie's, took to the hills by the high school and found my way to Save A Lot. I did a massive amount of grocery shopping last night, but who can pass up ten limes for a buck? How can you turn you nose down at two avocados for a dollar? Not me, baby, not me.
So, what's a man to do but saunter over to the Goodwill when it's on his route back home? I had intentions of buying that starter at the beginning of the day, but I was having too much fun being on foot. I passed two patrons walking about on my way to the market, saw one of the deputy directors driving by on her way to an errand, and, in the end, had a blast walking home in the sunshine hauling home my treasures. And what did I find today, you might ask? Oh, let's see. How about a...
..a shrink wrapped VHS copy of Orson Welles' Macbeth? Or a clean digital print of Lord of theFlies? I also came across Short Cuts, Goldfinger, Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, and Lewis/Martin's Scared Stiff. Left behind Horse Feathers and Dr. No. Maybe I'll swing by there tomorrow and see if they're still around.
..copy of the San Francisco's Junior League cookbook, circa 1987? Or a copy of Beard Award winning Jamison's Born to Grill? Or even this strange British paperback publication on How to MakeGood Curries? I even found an oversized copy of the latest version of The Little Engine That Could for my youngest. Cool.
..great condition cd copy of Led Zeppelin IV? A handful of tapes including Beck's Gold and Green Day's Dookie andSmashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream?
..a really nice deal on a long handled, two gallon industrial sized brass pot for seven bucks? That was my big WOW of the day, hand's down.
So, I've had a grand day out. I got a good walk in. I caught a matinee of The Wrestler and managed to come out of the theater into a sunny afternoon. I passed along that cookbook to my colleague and she loved it. Some things are not meant to be bought and put on a shelf but passed along to those who would really appreciate them. She did. How nice for both of us.
So, there's a snapshot of a day of a man without a car. Sure, location, location, location. But still. It's a matter of mindset and desire and knowing what you can and what you can't do without a set of wheels. Right now I feel I can live without a car. Things will change and then we'll get that car on the road. Just not at the moment.
But as far as living without a cat? 'Nother matter altogether.
I've been heading to this crossroad for days. The cold weather could not be ignored a moment longer, for it finally took it's toll. I went out to fetch my car after supper in order to get back to work on time. I had a box of books that needed to be loaded up for a program at the local J high tomorrow morning. One quick trip down the street, but alas, it not meant to be. A slight and subtle turn over, then nada. Zip. A few lights to let me know that battery had a bit of juice but not enough to turn the beast over.
Just when I thought that my extra tour of duty was going be cancelled my boss came to my rescue: she'd supply the truck, all I had to do was get there. Not a problem. Now I can get myself over to Sears, exchange that wonky car battery of mine and get my act on the road. Good thing The Boy has already come and gone to Boise. No pressing engagements outside of entertaining a bunch of 7th, 8th and 9th graders in the morning. Regail them with tales of graduate school madness. Make them salivate at the thought of being an underpaid and underappreciated professional.
Don't get me wrong. I love my work. But when it comes down to compensation I have to wonder what I was thinking when I signed up for that librarian degree. But, really, what does money matter when you love what you do?
Besides, it's been great for my private life. Almost all my friends, wives and lovers over the last twenty five years have come into my life due to my choice of work. Libraries. Who needs to hang out in bars when you can wow friends with books and hand puppets and such?
So, the back to the battery. Haven't had a car die on me in a long time. Fuel pump issues, sure, but that was last summer. I suppose that's when the battery got worn down. Did I have some sort of sense throw at me somewhere between now and then? Nope. Instead of buying bags of groceries or dvds you'd think, especially after the snows of December, that a battery would have been high on my wish list. I couldn't fit it in. Too busy. Not enough time. Not on the things to do list.
Not until it failed, that is.
I have a five minute walk to work. I have a full larder. I am pretty much spent out this paycheck. In a world where there was just me to answer to I'd let weeds grow up and around that car of mine. As much as I love that beater of a car, I wouldn't mind having a car free life for awhile. Walk to the market, spend more time around the house, find a way of making my neighborhood work for me.
Hmmm. I don't think "fibbing" was on my list of 51.
So I won't do it. Fib anymore.
Okay, face it, I'm a road warrior. I love my car and the freedom it brings. I love to get around and I love the fact I don't have a car payment. I like my low insurance fees and I love my little itty bitty tag fees. I love everything about my car.
Except for moments like these, when it decides to abandon me in the midst of winter.
So next time I do Goodwill, instead of looking around for stereo speakers or Mexican masks or for things the kids will enjoy maybe I'll see if someone's unloaded a battery charger instead. At the very least, maybe I'll just join AAA.
Woke early, messed about. Pulled together a sponge for bread, washed last night's dishes, padded about with a pot of hot coffee in hand. Goofed around the house until the last minute. Thank goodness for bus schedules! Caught the 10:30 foot ferry to Bremerton and started the day's adventures.
The water in the sound was awash with light, the air dense with fog. I found myself talking to one of my branch "regulars" on the way over. One of those folks who come and go, fill up our time, take up all too many word moments, fill the air with need. So it feels from the other side of the desk when they come in waves and all of them want something.
Today I found myself out and about and in the midst of my public. I am public librarian, as you must know by now. I serve all those that come in the door, well heeled or mad, clean or the great unwashed. We make no distinctions about our patrons, we only ask that they are kind, and if not kind, at least courteous. Today I found that my people were all about me in the world, a world I have chosen to stay and live in, to work in. For that I was glad.
When you drive you see things all around you, but primarily you look straight ahead to help maintain that subtle balance of sanity on the road. Once you leave a car behind and take to the streets on foot or with public transit, all those niceties and barriers disappear. I found myself on the wrong bus across town first thing and was reminded by several of my fellow passengers when I went to pull the stop alert cord that there were no stops, least ways, not until we hit the East side transit center. Wow. Suddenly my day of adventures was filled with choices. Just like life. Turn a corner and find either circuses or car bombs. Today I found that I could go to the mall or back again to the transit center again. So I disembarked and started my trip from the beginning.
Men love to get lost, or so it seems. To women it must seem maddening, but for men it's a return to boyhood. We love to wander, find secret places, turn over rocks. My bus trip was like that. I saw three or four of my "regulars" while on that bus route, either outside walking on the streets outside my bus window or riding along with me. I sat in the back where all the wild ones tend to congregate. I sat with an old stripper and a meat cutter, a couple or three folks that were deeply crazed and marginalized by society, almost all plugged into music players of one kind or another. The meat cutter was deep into a loud public chat, and he engaged us all. By the end of voyage we all wishing him well in finding a new gal, since his fiancee broke up with him recently and he couldn't find anyone new to sit next to him on the bus.
I know that by walking about in the community that I serve that I expose myself to new avenues of approach, not only by making myself more approachable at the desk, but by making myself more visible in their lives. I saw my black spiritualist riding along in the bus with me..it was all I could do to go up to him and ask if he had any further insights about God. I saw my cowboy hatted homeless gal ride across from me..we smiled as she continued with her knitting. One gal I had seen before asked me if I was a bus driver.. I told her, "no, I'm a librarian"..she said, "oh, that's why I recognize you". Others reflected immediately on our service, one told me that we were a godsend, as her husband was always out to sea and she needed to do things with her youngster outside of the house. Unlike other WestPac widows I have known, at least she was filling up her time with books and craft shows instead of stray men.
So, know that I am one with my community. I walked back to the ferry terminal from the east side of town, a good two or three miles, with bags of groceries and movies and such hanging from my hands. It was a sunny day, pleasant and somewhat warm. I had made a few life decisions by the time I finished that walk, caught the ferry, then helped my friend Ross with his book store windows, and by the time I hit home figured in a few more critical decisions as well.
As The Painter just told me on the phone, the fact that The Boy is still gone this weekend is a sign, a sign that those things that I feel so strongly about, strong enough to move on them, that God, or, at least, a sign from one of his lesser minions, is taking an interest in my behalf. I'm not sure about God but I do know that my little saints tend to look out after me. I think that this is one more little footnote that they are interested, that they are somehow riding herd, and instead of watching the whole pack of cattle of my life go over the cliff, this time they'll go off and find those cows a new patch of grass to whittle down.
Right now I am tired, happy and filling up on a bottle of inexpensive Syrah from Grocery Outlet. I have a pot of pork broth and pot of pintos on the stovetop, and a couple loaves of sourdough bread ready to pop in the oven. I have new music on the deck, new movies to watch later this evening and a couple plans to put into action. All is well in the world for the moment.
Know that I am thankful for the actions of my little saints, for that gorgeous sunshine, strong hands and a heart, that despite all I've thrown at it, manages to keep on ticking.
Another ass whuppin', that is. I feel that everyday something is out there in line to dole another one out to me. Another issue with the car, a paycheck that doesn't go anywhere, groceries that cost too much, relationships that soar then fizzle. That little house in the back was another one this morning. Oh, so much junk! I figure I do two more mornings like the one I had this morning and most everything will be moved out. It'll look like hell downstairs in the basement, but I suppose that's what garage sales are for.
Going in and out of that house with stuff was not so much a physical but spiritual and emotional ass whipping. I felt those kids of mine behind every box of toys I humped. I felt the bank riding me hard with every meaningless stack of stuff I hauled. I felt the Estranged One most of all, whipping my ass for hiding back there and not fully engaging her with our problems. Hauling things out of that little cottage was like taking a lease out on my soul. I felt the weight of every object, dialed into every lash, registered every kick in the ass. And somehow, strangely, it felt good.
I know it sounds like I'm being hard on myself. I suppose at some point in life I needed to be. I don't think...and maybe that's been my problem. I've emoted all my life, not really thought too hard about things, and that's what has gotten me into this current mess. I feel too much. I felt too hard when the Estranged One left, felt too hard when the family came back, felt too much about meaningless trinkets, felt outrageous amounts of pain when Jane said goodbye and even felt sad about missing the kids even before the kids left. I felt too much about my issues at hand, but didn't give too much thought to thinking about them. About how they would all add up if I didn't do something about them. I suppose that's where the ass whuppin' comes from. From the realization that I haven't been thinking at all. And now, with my mind wide open, it's finally registering the pain of neglect. Things are all very clear to me. Thank goodness for that.
You know, the world gets in line every morning for this bit of exercise. From the moment I open my eyes at six until I go to sleep at eleven. I feel that one way or the other that I've needed this, not so much getting beat up by the world, but the reflective time that I've denied myself, to fully understand everything, not just the workings of my heart but what it is that drives me to listen to my heart instead of my head. Being a Romantic is not without it's costs.
So, know that in all that shifting something good has come out of it, something more than just acquiring an empty space. Oh, so much cleaning left to do. Maybe a paint job, too. After all that ass whuppin' that kind of work will be a relief.
I watched her walk in the branch. It was the cut of her face that threw me, but more, it was the color of her hair that I recognized. That all too familiar shade of silver. She walked up to the desk and asked to place a book on hold. That part was easy. But it was her face that knocked me down. I knew that face.
After I found the book she requested I asked for her library card. As I placed the book on hold I saw her name.
"I feel funny even mentioning this" I told her.
"Mentioning what?" she asked.
"You remind me alot of my grandmother" She asked if she was someone I had liked. I said, yes, that she was special to me as she helped raise me when I was very young.
"But what's truly interesting is that you both have something else in common."
With a cat around you don't have to worry about coming home to an empty house. You go away for a few days and you might come home to a somewhat pissed off roommate, but at least you are coming home to something.
I got back yesterday afternoon from a three day conference in Spokane. It was nice to get out of the neighborhood, to take to the road, to drive again. It was great to feel sun on my face, to talk to old colleagues, to blow the taxpayer's high dough on professional enlightenment, to eat good road food, to find and revel once again in small adventures. It was a 24/7 experience of taking in the moment, whether that moment was speaking before a crowd, hanging out with other librarians in the presidential suite or walking the streets of a faraway city in search of decent plate of Greek food and a well maintained bookstore.
All in all getting away for a bit does what it's supposed to do..opens up the mind to new possibilities but also pads the way to appreciating what you left behind. For me a few days of travel is only as good as that moment I experience every time I come back home from the road, when I hit that downward slope on Sidney, see the sweep of the Sound before my eyes, knowing that my home is only a minute away.
I thoroughly enjoyed mussing up someone else's room, eating food someone else prepared, having a channel changer to click and wine to sip that other folks paid for. I loved finding cookbooks far from my usual haunts, eating chow that was easy to criticize, listening to speakers that helped me both better understand and tell my tale, and finding interested ears for my tawdry tales. It was more than good to get away, but yesterday as I pulled into the drive I was equally happy to be back home again, home to my little house, my bills, my overgrown yard and especially to my somewhat irked cat. Irked? Yep, I have the bite marks and scratches to prove it.
I suppose if I had a gal waiting for me here at home I could have gotten bites and scratches out of her, too, but that cat is lot less hassle and bit easier to maintain.
Looking at my film collection you might think it would be time for me to open up my own little movie house. I think it would be grand to build it into some kind of pub-like setting, spin some music, pour a little wine and then turn down the lights and splash a bit of old cinema on the walls, just like that theater down there in Portland. How cool would it be to serve up pub food, play tunes while the crowd rolls in, then, when everyone is poured and well oiled and lightly fed, pop in a film, chat it up a bit and let it roll.
I took in a film tonight downtown, something I rarely do. I don't know why I don't do it more often, but tonight it was easy to catch, as the film I wanted to catch was right up the street at the Historic Orchard Theater. Seven o'clock showing of Gran Torino. I can't tell you how many films have come and gone out of that little house that I've wanted to see. Some I've caught up with at home on dvd, but most I've only gotten to read the reviews about or heard tell about them through my colleague at work. But tonight I managed to drag my groceries home in time for a quick turnaround and had cash enough in my pocket to pop for a flick. It was a good thing to do. Great movie, wonderful time.
Wonderful if only because I felt that I was doing my part in keeping that little house going. There were only a half dozen or so of us in the theater tonight. That made the screening feel very intimate. For a moment I sat to the back of the auditorium, right next to the door, close enough to the projection booth to hear the film sproketing through the projector. I moved a bit closer to the screen after that, not close enough to hear my neighbor rummage around in his popcorn tub, but close enough to block out the ambient light of the exit sign. I paid good money to experience the movie on a big screen, and I sat close enough to make that screen seem bigger than anything I could experience at home.
What's wonderful, too, about the whole movie out in town thing is the joint emotional experience you share with the crowd. It it never fails to thrill me, those shared cinema moments. It's one thing to be at home and get all intellectual about a film, really study it in a somewhat controlled environment, but it's another to register the movie through other peoples reactions. Isn't it something to sit there and groove with a bunch of strangers and laugh at a scene together? I find it fascinating that we all find different things to laugh at, or find similar ways to feel that grand sweep of panic or joy or pain that the characters feel together as a group. I suppose that's why I am so dogged about keeping my little film group going, why I work it so hard at maintaining it's momentem. It's that communal experience, that vicarious thrill we all share together, each and every month, that makes watching movies together so worthwhile. It's a grand thing, indeed, even if that grand thing only lasts for a moment or two.
Tonight, in order to earn that movie time, I had to hump almost fifty pounds of groceries..on foot. I have friends coming over for supper on Saturday. I plan on making Mexican that night. Always a crowd pleaser. Enchiladas, spatchcocked chickens, fresh frijoles, a pan of Mexican rice, a jar of my cousin Ray's famous salsa, and couple new sauce and salad recipes I cadged out of the Seattle Times on Wednesday. I think it will be great to break bread, drink wine, chat books and all that with new friends and family of my colleague. Get out some toys for her boy to play with. Play some parlor games together as a group. Nothing better than having friends over.
But later on this weekend, after the food is put away and the dishes are done, I hope to find some time to plow through some of the movies I found today at Goodwill. Sure, all of them are on VHS, but still. Get aload of these titles:
House of Games
The Sheltering Sky
The Handmaid's Tale
La Cage Aux Folles
The Quiet Earth. And all, except for two, were new in the box. A buck a throw. How nice is that?
So all that, plus a screening of An Inconvenient Truth at the Port Orchard Branch on Sunday at 2PM. Wow. All the movies a man can stand. Maybe, just maybe.
But still, it's a time thing we're facing here. Like with books and music, there's all too much to see, to read, to listen to. Where are we going to find the time? Well, how 'bout right now? Who needs to open a movie house when the best local cinema is right upstairs? Come on by and I'll pour you a glass of some Barefoot Pinot Grigio. Heat up some enchiladas. We'll nosh abit, then turn down the lights and let those reels spin!
I walk a lot these days and so I tend to find things. Not quite in the same way as my patron Bob does. He's constantly finding stuff..tools, coins, and yesterday even a wallet full of ID. But then again he walks hard everyday, puts in lots of miles, really racks it up. Me, most of the stuff I come across is common everyday trash. All too much trash. To some folks the world is a mobile garbage heap. But today I was coming home and off to the side of the sidewalk, almost buried in the high spring grass but not quite, was a photograph. Had to have that photograph.
Knowing that quite a few photos of mine have been scattered by the seven winds I had to pick that one up, study it a bit. I was a sepia toned shot of a matron with two kids. The woman is definitely a Latina, judged not only by her facial characteristics and skin tone but also by the costuming and the looks of the kids. What got to me more than anything else was that that woman was dressed up in bridal array. She had the veil up and over her head, but the rest of her gown was a dead giveaway that it was a wedding day photo. Pearls, flowers, shy beatitude, pure unmitigated happiness.
The girls..were they relatives? Her children? Her sisters? Nieces, cousins, kids of the same? I want to ask that gal some questions...was the day a good time? Did everyone show? Did you have a band, a catered reception? Was it held in a hall, or like my cousin Sonny, was it held in the backyard of some good natured relative, or maybe in your own backyard? Are you happy now? Heaven forbid, are you still married?
I found that photo and I think of all things I've found over the years by the side of the road...screwdrivers, a silver wedding band, a few quarters and once a small bottle of Jack Daniels..and know that things just find their way out of car windows or from under hoods of cars. Roll off car roofs. Get tossed. But that photo. Where are the rest of them? What about the rest of that day? What about the rest of her life, the moments in between that Mona Lisa smile and the rest of her adventure called life? Why was that photo sitting there off to the side of road? Was it a slip up? Was it a case of not liking it and tossing it out the window like my Estranged One used to do with the mobile Polaroids I used to shoot of her? Was it the case of some thieving types that came across her car or a household load of things that they had to unload and that stretch of the highway was where that one particular photo happened to land?
I know that it is not impossible to find folks these days. If I had a digital camera or a scanner I could shoot and post that photo but then again maybe the totemic magic of that shot is in the mystery that it provides. Maybe some day I will be standing in line at Saars or Safeway or wandering around the farmer's market or just be out there, in the aisles of some second hand or rummaging around at some garage sale and I will look up and she will be there. What could I possibly say to her? Hello? Haven't we met somewhere before? Or, "hey, I found a photo of you off the corner of Tremont and Sidney. How was the wedding? Are you happy? Sure looked like it in the picture..."
One way or the other that photo is now part of my life. Right now it's sitting in front of me on my computer. Later on I'll post it on my fridge, maybe even frame it. Make that mystery trio part of my family, part of the journey that we all take in this life, and that is a wandering amongst strangers, strangers who sometimes in the end become more important than kin or blood relatives ever hope to be.
$260. Chicken feed, I know, but seems like a lot when you don't have it. And when you do, it pretty much just flies right out of your pocket. But I had a bit left over from taxes, a bit left over from my mom's little gift to me, and there were a few things that I wanted to get. So I did what any red blooded American would do on a nice day like today: I went out and shopped! All so patriotic of me, yes indeed!
So, what did 260 bucks get me? Not a whole heck of a lot, but I spread it around some and picked up a few things, like a new discontinued Kodak digital camera at Walmart. A small hamburger supper at Wendy's. I upped my membership at Hollywood Video, had a nice filling lunch at Kim's Teriyaki and picked up couple of propane cylinders for creme brulee and bbqing. Grabbed a one way bus ride to Freddies and bought a nice couple bags worth of groceries, including some long range pantry ingredients, like mushroom flavored soy sauce, cardomon powder, Mirin, a bottle of Marsala and a small bag of turmeric. Picked up a half way decent bottle of cabernet, Meridian, at Rite Aid and bought a couple of Hershey bars with almonds to take to work. And, the really big deal of the day, I bought a bag full of lamb shanks at Farmer Georges to use in a very tasty recipe I found in Nigella Bites. Just can't wait for that.
It was money well spent. The walks that went along with all that spending were pretty wonderful, too. The walk last night came with a grand sunset attached to it, and today's walk was beyond stellar, the day being about as gorgeous as a day could possibly be. It was so fine I wouldn't be surprised to see a bill in the mail charging me for it. Those walks always come with small adventures, or take me to places where I see folks that I know. Today I ran into one of the moms I know from the branch. Then I hit up an estate sale and came across a cockatiel for sale and found out that that bird had the same name as me. Damn near made a sale just on that small point alone, but I knew that I would be bummed out to come home and find my namesake in Guapo's mouth, so I passed on the offer.
The biggest thrill of the day though was finally hitting up the much heard about butcher shop on Bethel, Farmer Georges. I had to to tell those counter folks that I've lived in this town for almost twelve years and had never stopped to shop there. I have to think that says alot about where I'm going with my cooking. It's one thing to want to stretch out a dollar, but it's another thing entirely to want to eat well. I think today was the little food revelation that I needed, cholesterol count be damned. The meat in that place was all too awesome. Just the beef shanks alone will get me back there next weekend. I see a major pot of pasta sauce coming out of my kitchen soon, with those beef shanks playing a starring role.
So, what to do to top a day like I've had today? It sure has been grand, no doubt about that. I woke up late, watched Standard Operating Procedure by Morris, his latest documentary on the excesses of war in Iraq. After I dropped that off I picked up Mamet's Red Belt and a copy of the Dark Knight. Need to see what all the fuss is about with Heath Ledger's (poor son of a bitch) roll as the Joker. I know that my lawn is beginning to resemble a movie backlot jungle (the neighbor's cheese eating chihuahua gets lost wandering around in it) so that means that I must drag out my push mower and get to work. But you know, I would rather just read a couple magazines, or wile away the hours here at the computer, or even take a nap. Maybe I'll bake a cheesecake, or cook up a pot of beans. I think that it's waay too early to consider having cocktails on the veranda, but I know that a nice chilled glass of chardonnay or three will be fine later on.
It's great to have a day off when the rest of the world is working. Made all that walking and errand running and spending a bit more pleasurable. Yeah, all two hundred and sixty dollars worth of spending! Mighty grand time, yes indeed!
Maybe it's the chicken's fault. I found a great pack of chicken breasts last week at Safeway for a good price and have been using them up a little at a time, a breast a day. Hmmm. Let's not go there.
But seriously, I've tried them many different ways these last few days. I have been using my grill pan a lot, which makes cooking them all too easy. A quick turn of the pepper grinder, another quick turn of the salt grinder, a bit of olive oil, five minutes or so over medium high heat and viola! a very nifty piece of meat ready for just about darn near anything.
So, last Thursday I turned the first piece into a sorta a Greek type sandwich. I used up one of the last pieces of flat bread that I made for my dinner party last weekend, heated and folded and added a spritz of that very tasty garlic sauce that I only seem to be able to find at Central Market. A handful of green leaf lettuce, a slug of tomato slices, a rather large slice of onion (not too cool since I had desk duty that afternoon), a slice of deli provolone and that chicken, raging hot with that oil/pepper/salt thing. WOW. Had to go back to work and brag about that.
The next day I tried to recreate an old pasta sauce standard that I made a lot in the fall but the sauce failed miserably. I sauteed everything in butter but the butter did not go well with white wine I used I added a can of tomatoes to try to turn the thing around but it was a failed mission. I ate my fill and tossed the rest out. What a waste. One for one.
The next day I grilled up another breast, but this time tucked it in the middle of a freshly baked sourdough bun. Added a bit of lettuce, a squirt of mustard and a rather large slice of onion. No kissing me, babe, not unless you were onion happy, too.
Today I was hankering for tacos so I fried up four corn tortillas, loaded each of them up with a slim slice of cheddar, a schmear of quacamole, a nice pile of chopped grilled chicken breast, a handful of cilantro/green leaf/Walla Walla Sweet and a dash of Tapatio sauce. Four down and that's gotta be it for the night.
One breast left for tomorrow. Should I attempt to redeem myself with another round of that pasta sauce? I have the half and half on hand, I just don't have the proper amount of cheese to really do it justice. The cheese makes all the difference, you know? Maybe I'll try it again next week with another batch of breasts. I'm sure I'll just grill that last one up, slide it between a couple slices of sourdough. A bit of provolone, a nice big wedge of lettuce, put some garlic butter in the pan and man, a new grilled cheese sandwich thrill. Oh wow, maybe it won't make it till tomorrow! It was hard working kind of day today!
I woke up aching, but I sort of like it that way. I went to bed the night before last and hit the pillow, thinking I would watch a bit of tv but the next thing I know it's Sunday morning. All I can say is that my favorite time of year is here, and that's yard work season!
I can't say that it's been a regular source of fun the last couple of years. In fact I pretty much turned my head away from it all and sort of let my yard become the bum of the neighborhood. More the butt of jokes, an object of derision. I don't know how I couldn't "see" it, as I was walking back and forth to work, seeing the yard both coming and going everyday. I was off somewhere else, apparently, immune to the logic of cut and make pretty. Heck, I even went off to help some gal with her yard to settle a babysitting deal, all the time slighting mine. As my perennials would say, what a jerk.
Well, that's all over with. As Arnold said to himself after the fact, I'm back.
This weekend was a taste of what came before, years before, when those yard work duties blocked out every weekend, and summer vacations were spent taking care of the house. But what is somewhat perverse about that is that I enjoyed it, loved shifting soil, making things look good. The yard, when I bought this house eleven years ago, was a disaster, or least ways, a design that was functional in the eyes of another man. I chalked it up to a absent landlordism and left it at that. Spent the first four years moving railroad timbers, knocking out old and mismanaged shrubbery, putting in rose beds, the like, all the time working on the inside of the house as well.
I am not saying that I am a master gardener or the ultimate handyman. I've seen that kind of action all around me since I've lived here as I have neighbors who really excel in those kinds of things. I am a putterer but I feel I do that kind of thing well. Well, again, not the last few years but I am back on the case. I now have my assignments before me and I feel good about it. For starters I told myself "three bins a week". That's how much noxious weed control I would get out of the yard and down to the dump. I also told myself flowers this year as well, and after much work now have the makings for three really sweet little beds. I also told myself that the railing and the porch both needed tending to and those jobs have already been started. Lots more to do on top of that and that's grand, so long as the weather holds out.
And even if it doesn't, so what? Back in the day I worked outside until the rains of November helped me understand that it was time for me to refocus my energies on my inside work. If I remember correctly that's when the muses would come to visit. One year they even helped me think up and build up my mantle piece. Maybe something new and exciting like that will come to me this fall, like the exhaust fan above my stove or a real reworking of the basement. But for now I see tomato starters, sunflower seeds and dahlia bulbs before me. I see an outside fire pit aching to be used and the sinking of two posts that needs to be done so I can rock outside in my Guatamalan hammock. I see plenty of bbq time coming up because this year I can actually see the bbq, whereas before it was just too much to handle.
This year I see flowers where before there were weeds, and I couldn't be happier, or feel more alive.
When spring comes around I'll always think of road trips up past the San Fernando Valley to the place where the Green Man and hobby horses once roamed. It's been years since the Faire played that region, and since then Renfairs have become big business. Somehow it's not quite the same thing, but maybe that's how things get to be as you get older. Things change and that's okay.
The Renaissance Faire Pleasure Faire seemed to be a natural fit for the region back in those days. Started by theater students, starving actors and hippies in the mid sixties as a way for them to practice their crafts and put on a show, it was first held out at the old Paramount Ranch in the hills above Agoura. In later years it turned into a heavily sponsored seasonal bachannal, an outlandish showpiece for artisans and costumers and LA daytrippers to disappear into. It was our local annual spring festival, one where folks bent on participating in ancient pagan revels were allowed to get wild and crazy, even if only for an afternoon.
The switch of faire from Agoura to the state park in San Bernadino took a bit of the shine off of the old thrills. The faire was transferred and then transformed in such a way that it was never quite the same faire again. Maybe that's the price of the corporate life. They took a grand pagan event and watered it down with Michelob values and in the end weighed it down with a boatload of rules and regulations that went contrary to the wild pagan event that they started out with. Bacchus doesn't really crave rules and regulations, you know?
Nevertheless, prepping for the spring Renfaire in Agoura was a pretty big deal for those of us who participated back in those days, something we took seriously all year long from the moment the spring fair closed. Sure, there were other obligations we had to attend to, things like marriages and jobs and finishing up pesky school degrees, but all those things seemed to be less important, just sidelights, distractions, food to fill the belly while we gathered goods, read books and watched movies to feed the collective Renfaire soul. Face it, there was a time when The Taming of the Shrew outweighed Casablanca in my eyes. That in itself says an awful lot about where we were coming from.
But still, I wasn't an artisan or an actor or even plugged into the Faire as a participant. I was just a paying man at the gate, but a man with an obsession. By the time I hit my third or fourth faire I couldn't stand the idea of going in street clothes anymore. I looked around casually in second hand and antique stores for costume pieces, but by 1983 I became fairly militant about it. I
started reading costume books, started accumulating fabric and friends who could sew. But there were big problems, though, living in the Big OC. We had actors and artists in abundance, sure, thinking in terms of the grand old Laguna pageant, but nothing that really supported the means and ways of folks who really wanted to upgrade their Faire personas. In other words if we wanted to play we had to hustle, and hustle I did.
I couldn't really find much in the way of used costumes in Orange County. I'm sure that if I had trolled the junk shops in Hollywood I would have struck gold, but the closest I ever got to finding anything worth a damn was finding an old velvet waistcoat and a pair of pantaloons in a junk shop in Orange. A label on the inside of the jacket said that it was an New York Metropolitan Opera piece. That in itself made it a totally pedigree piece, but it was at least two sizes too small. Try as I might I couldn't fit into it let alone had the cash to buy it on a starving student's salary. It would have taken too much reconstruction to make it work. So I left it behind and learned how to sew and built up costumes of my own. Wove and dyed and messed around. Learned to paper machie and make masks. Cut up wool blankets, cobbled together pieces and made stuff for my friends. Nothing elaborate, but workable. Much, much better than going in street clothes.
So when I saw the story below about the sale of costumes at the Rep in Seattle it made my mouth water and made my mind reel. I have to wonder what was there that could have transformed my wardrobe into something truly grand. Sure, I haven't been to a Renaissance Pleasure Faire in years and I have to admit that I haven't attended any of the local varieties of faire if only because I knew that they are not in league with the Faires of old. Back in those days I was in league with Bacchus. When I took those trips to Agoura I went up into the hills and cavorted about with satryrs, wenches, minor gods and all the great unwashed who wished to drink, sing bawdy songs, eat turkey legs and pasties and watch the plays of The Bard.
Yeah, times and bodies and tolerance levels change. Maybe I should approach this local summer fair thing with the temperate mind of an older man. Tip my flagon with the new breed and find a haybale where I can comfortably sit and sing the songs of the old times and tell tales of the days when the Renaissance Pleasure Faire really was all about partaking in pleasure, pleasures that have long escaped most of us in this heavily sponsored age.