There But for the Grace of God…

My brother was homeless off-and-on during his adult life. It was mostly because he couldn’t keep a job and he couldn’t keep a job because he was an incorrigible and belligerent drunk. He was also a masterful con artist, especially toward those who loved him. I’ve written about him a LOT here on my blog and while I probably DO have more to say, I don’t think I want to say a lot more. It did give me a slightly different perspective on homeless people, however. I came to see that there are people (like my brother) who’d rather be homeless than contend with their habits and who will use the concept of “rescue” as a way to manipulate others.

The summer I was on medical leave from teaching (having had a nervous breakdown, the summer of 1994) I was sitting in front of the sainted Quel Fromage on Washington Street in San Diego. Quel Fromage was a coffeehouse of the pre-Starbucks type. I spent a lot of mornings there that summer and had become part of the little community of regulars who ALSO spent their summer mornings enjoying that spot in the San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest. We got so we kind of “knew” each other. The tables were fenced off from the main sidewalk. I was sitting at a table next to the fence.

One morning as I sat at a table, drinking a latte and drawing, a homeless guy, who had a beautiful border collie, came by and put two dollars on my table. “I’ve wanted to give you that for a long time,” said the guy. “Buy yourself a coffee.”

It was a stunning moment.

I know, personally, how close that reality is at any given moment. That crazy (literally) summer I nearly lost my house. Until my disability was approved, I had no income. I had recently been divorced and my ex closed “our” banking account — an account that was money I’d earned. I was at the point of standing in line in strange little buildings to pay my bills with cash. I was selling things so I could buy groceries. One of my neighbors bought lots of my stuff and never used it. I got it back when I was on my feet. I knew ONE thing in those times; I did NOT want to lose my house. A lot of reasons, but probably the big one was what would happen to my six dogs????

One of my students in 1996 was a homeless woman with PTSD. She was scary, but determined to get off the streets and become a counselor. I taught her in a freshman composition class. She liked me, and well she should because only two years earlier I’d nearly been her crazed neighbor on the street. I GOT her situation. The counseling department of City College was awesome working with her and over time, she calmed down. She saw she could do college. She saw that people were going to accept her. In the middle of the semester she was awarded a therapy dog — a Belgian Malinois. This was important because she’d been raped twice. The dog would protect and calm her. She was living in the back of her pick up truck. Social services was working hard on her behalf to find her a real shelter. Soon she and her dog moved into a converted motel room. Little-by-little.

The Malinois came to class with her. They always sat beside the door in case she had to escape. 😦 One day while they were taking an exam, and the woman had forgotten to tie the dog to her desk, it walked up to me in front of the class and lay down at my feet. I felt honored, and the dog’s gesture solidified a long “friendship” between me and this woman. One of the things I found while I was organizing “The Examined Life” was a letter from this woman telling me she’d graduated from San Diego State with her MA in social work, was working with homeless women who’d suffered traumatic experiences (war, rape, etc.) and she still had the Malinois. ❤

Homelessness changed drastically during the “Great Recession,” which will be remembered as “The Minor Economic Blip” when held next to what’s happening now. Still, the result of that for many families in San Diego was homelessness. At the time, I had students who lived on the street with their mom and siblings and were using government financial aid to put food on their family’s “table.” It made for some pretty awful classes as students who are not there to learn are difficult to teach. Over time, some families were moved into special housing — one such situation was an abandoned dormitory at San Diego State that was slated to be torn down.

In the immortal words of Jello Biafra, “We have a bigger problem now.” Homelessness in the economic reality of COVID isn’t just a bunch of people like my brother who would rather live under a bridge than, well, anything else, the guys who’ve discovered they make plenty of money panhandling so why work? (Truth) Now it’s communities of working people living in cars.

People are always looking for “the answer to homelessness.” There is no answer. The reasons for homelessness are as varied as the individuals living on the streets. Money alone won’t fix it. Education alone won’t fix it. Substance abuse counseling won’t fix it. But everything together can help SOME people. And, among the most troubled souls, there are angels.


P.S. In my blog, I have chosen to write openly about the mental crisis I faced. It was terrifying at the time, but in the grand scheme of my little life, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. As Henry Miller wrote in one of his novels, we might fear the abyss, but if we have the courage to fall, we will discover what we need to discover. When I recovered, I was greeted at my job by comments like, “It’s Lazarus!” and not given enough classes to support myself. People no longer trusted me, even after 13 years of exemplary work, and it became clear that I had to find a new job. People think things like clinical depression is contagious or something. I don’t know. In any case, there are so many people out there (out here?) who’ve fought that good fight and emerged stronger and more aware. I wouldn’t be me now if that terrible summer had not happened and, honestly, I wouldn’t want to be anyone else than the person I am now. ❤

Dancing While White

As we all now know that for a long time in San Diego I lived in a racially mixed neighborhood. I was the mixture. Any-HOO this is not another post about racism. It’s a post about vari-colored people living their lives and having a good time spontaneously in the most ordinary place in the simplest way.

We also know I loved disco. We might also know that I like film — especially, probably, French film. Back in the late 90s/early 2000s there were still places where a person rented video tapes. The one I frequented most was Hollywood Video on University Ave and 52nd street in San Diego, basically down the hill from San Diego State and just when I made the right turn into the deep “hood” where I lived.

One afternoon on my way home from school, I stopped in Hollywood Video and found it nearly empty. Yay! They had an amazing selection of foreign films. Netflix doesn’t compare to what that little outlet of the chain store had. There was a market for foreign films there because the “hood” was one of the first places people landed after making their “world migration.” In my neighborhood were many refugees. Some from Afghanistan, some from Somalia, Ethiopia. Others from Thailand and Cambodia. French is still a “lingua franca.” (ha ha)

So there I was, looking at the French films, trying to pick one, and suddenly I heard Michael Jackson’s voice coming out of the giant screen in the back of the store. It was his great disco album, Off the Wall.

I hurried back, expecting a good video (I wasn’t disappointed). Another woman was there already, a black woman about my same age (that would have been late 40s). Michael Jackson was just starting to sing “Rock With You.”

“That’s when Michael Jackson was good,” she said.

“He was still black then.”

“You got that right, sister!”

We high fived and danced together until the song was over. Yeah, she was better.

Ice Cream Freezer

For months and months and months after he’d seen the old ice-cream freezer in my house, Mikey wanted to make ice cream. I always put him off because I didn’t really KNOW how to make ice cream. Finally I read a recipe in the cook book my Aunt Martha had given me so I knew. It was just — as I always believed — frozen milk with other stuff added in. Then came a day, one of the best days of my life and maybe one of the best days of the boys’ lives. On the way home from the BMX jumps, we stopped by the store where I bought salt and everything we needed to grill burgers and roast marshmallows — and make ice-cream. Mikey was over the moon, plus I was letting him sit in the middle front seat of the Ford Ranger so he could shift. Really, when is life better than THAT???

I know not every late-30s/early-40’s woman hangs out with a half a dozen kids, but we were friends.

Mikey and his brother lived about a block from me, up the alley. Their friends from school hung around on weekends. I had a truck. The BMX jumps were at the urban wilderness park where I hiked. The rest is history.

We got home from our hot afternoon — August 15, 1992 — and I set Mikey up with the ice cream freezer. I gave Jason a can of WD40 so he could see what was up with the old Ford in the back of my back yard. Jimmy disappeared and I found him in my room writing a story on my Macintosh (old school, black and white screen, etc.). Mike Smith — the tragedy of the long story that was our lives — was still around and he just helped out generally. Mike Smith was a natural athlete and a charismatic character with a prescient home tattoo of flames on his ankle.

I was still making the video of the boys at the jumps, so I hauled out the camera and video taped that late afternoon as part of the film we were making. It’s all on videotape in my “studio” play room, whatever. I also took still pictures that evening and I”m happy I did. It turned out to be a very important day for everyone in that yard.

And the ice cream was good. We put strawberries on top and Mikey didn’t even mind being pretty much the only guy turning the crank.

More Racism…

I read a really horrible stupid illogical racist rant last night on my neighbor’s Facebook page. I got where the writing was coming from, but so much is wrong and inflammatory. I wrote a long response as a comment on my friend’s post, but I hate when people take over my Facebook with their rants, so I quickly deleted it.

I realized it might belong here. Race again… Sorry.

First of all when it comes to fundamentals, there’s no such thing as race. It’s pretty certain we all came from the same gene pool long long ago and, for us in the United States, far far away. What we call “race” is essentially skin color, though I remember as a kid in school, in social studies, we had a two page spread of the “World’s Races” and their pictures. I don’t know what was originally meant by the term “race” and the older I am the less I understand it.

Second, I think it’s probably true that a lot of white people don’t like darker skinned people. I don’t know why other than they were taught to mistrust darker skinned people or they are (as are all humans) afraid of what is unfamiliar.

OK. Here it is. I’m going to attempt to knock it down point by point. My refutation is in green (Kennedy, dontcha’ know). The “article” is in black italics.

I have often wondered about why Whites are racists, and no other race is……

Other races are equally racist. I learned this as one of the few whites in China in the early 80s. I became very familiar with the stereotypes of Americans, the images, the attitudes I was supposed to have. I experienced it every day, sometimes in expressions of surprise that I WASN’T like the stereotype. It was still there. I learned more about international racism teaching international students and hearing things like this which came out of the mouth of a Korean girl, “We don’t have racism in Korea. We all the same.” She didn’t mean “all the same” as “equal.” She meant they were all JUST LIKE HER physically, culturally, linguistically, a homogenous culture. She thought Koreans were better than Americans because Korea has no racism, but without the challenge of living with different ethnicities, how would they know?

Someone finally said it. How many are actually paying attention to this?
There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, etc. And then there are just Americans..

“Just Americans” are, by this implied definition, white Americans. All these other people are referred to euphemistically by their nationality. If this idiot did the same with “just Americans” he’d have to describe us as “Irish Americans, German Americans, British Americans, Scandinavian Americans, Russian Americans” etc. which is, actually, what we are. We might have white skin, but we come from different places. These terms – Asian Americans, African Americans, etc. — are ways of emphasizing that though these people look different from “just Americans” they are Americans, just the same.

You pass me on the street and sneer in my direction.
You call me ‘White boy,’ ‘Cracker,’ ‘Honkey,’ ‘Whitey,’ ‘Caveman’… And that’s OK..

I have never experienced this and I lived in a ghetto, a barrio, in California for 17 years. After reading this, if I passed this guy on the street and knew it, I’d probably cross to the other side to save myself from getting into a fight. 🙂

you say that whites commit a lot of violence against you….

Which is evidenced on film and police reports.

So why are the ghettos the most dangerous places to live?

The problem in “ghettos” is less skin color than poverty. Please refer to the video at the bottom of this post. As I said, I lived in a ghetto as one of the few white people. I was always safe even though it was the second (or first sometimes) highest crime neighborhood in San Diego. It was a dangerous place to live FOR ALL OF US so we looked out for each other. Violence existed — too much of it — but it was perpetrated by a few and was usually related to drugs, the sale of drugs or guns, and gangs — all of which were related cause and effect to poverty. The vast majority of people in my “hood” were, like me, hard-working people trying to hold their shit together from one end of the month to the other.

There are PLENTY of white people living close to the edge, yet, we think of these neighborhoods as where minorities live. That right there is racist. My white friends and co-workers wouldn’t even come to my neighborhood to have dinner at my house. They were that afraid. White privilege might be coupled with white ignorance.

A police station was set up in our hood in the building that was once our Safeway. The cops set out immediately getting to know the people who lived there. They saw their job as law enforcement but also as becoming part of the hood. Their program worked. Violent crime went down without a single incident of “police brutality.” We residents wanted the police there. We wanted the crack houses gone. We wanted the gun violence gone. The police made a huge difference.

You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi.
You have the NAACP.
You have BET….

We “just Americans” have everything else. The United Negro College Fund was set up to provide money through donations to black kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. MLK day was established to honor an American hero who happened to have been Black. Cesar Chavez? Same deal, but a Hispanic dude. Yom Hashoah? Honestly, I was once on the fence about that, but having witnessed the reality that fascism is still alive and well in this world, I say we need MORE days remembering the Holocaust. Ma’uled Al-Nabi? For Muslims it is essentially the birthday of Mohammed, their prophet. Merry Christmas, dude.

If we had WET (White Entertainment Television), we’d be racists.

This is petty. TV is nothing but a way to sell products to a market. BET is an avenue to sell stuff to Blacks, stuff that they like and use.

If we had a White Pride Day, you would call us racists.

We have St. Patricks Day, we have Octoberfest. Columbus Day is a big deal in Italian neighborhoods, however you might feel about it. There is a HOST of other ethnic celebrations of our various European heritages. We have the Sons of Norway, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sons of Italy, annual festivals at the Greek Orthodox churches — and more depending on the various regional concentrations of various European nationalities. All of these are “White Pride” events. It’s ALSO important here to note that every group of Europeans who came to this continent took shit from whoever was here before them. “Irish need not apply.” “Park closed to Italians.”

If we had White History Month, we’d be racists.

Black history month was devised as a way to help schools bring the achievements of black people into a curriculum that was absolutely Euro-centered. I think it’s fair to say that we have 11 White history months.

If we had any organization for only whites to ‘advance’ OUR lives, we’d be racists.

As the dominant culture, we don’t have to organize to “advance our lives.” WE ARE that organization for ourselves. That is the definition of White Privilege.

We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce, and then we just have the plain Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that??

Ah, here we go. The salient point seems to be that this guy doesn’t like spending his money on this stuff.

A white woman could not be in the Miss Black American pageant, but a woman of color can be in the Miss America pageant.

Again, petty. Beauty pageants are questionable at best, and the Miss Black America Pageant is a relic of black protests of the late 60s when an African American woman was very unlikely to be named Miss Anywhere.

If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships… You know we’d be racists. There are over 60 openly proclaimed Black Colleges in the US . Yet if there were ‘White colleges’, that would be a racist college.

Black colleges emerged because Blacks were not admitted to colleges anywhere.

Ok, now the rant gets really ugly. The guy wants us to believe that we need “white pride”? I’m not even “white”. I’m pink with brown spots, but I can’t even summon up “pride” for that.

I think many of us are proud of having come from this or that nationality. I am, but I know it’s absurd. I didn’t earn my Irish, Swiss, Scot and Swedish heritage. It’s an accident of parentage. That I think they’re all cool cultures is because I was taught to and because I took the trouble to learn about them. That’s WHY we have Black History Month etc. So kids from THAT background (gruesome though it is) can learn about their roots and be proud of the courage of their ancestors.

I can’t even refute the rest of this bullshit. Everything about the conclusion to this diatribe is illogical and wrong. Essentially, when some of the people in a culture have ALL of the rights offered by that culture, and some of the people in that culture are DENIED (palpably and demonstrably) SOME of the rights offered by that culture, those people are oppressed.

I’ve seen some of my Mexican friends treated badly by some white people. I’ve seen white people say to them, “Learn English. This is America” after laughing at a mistake the Mexican made in English. It’s totally possible for those white people to learn Spanish, too, and live in a larger world, but they’re busy being white. Because I speak Spanish well enough, I got to experience so much more than would have if I were “English only.”

I taught a class that was ALL black students and my first job was combatting their suspicion of me so they could learn during those three hours a week, succeed in my class and move on with their dreams of entering a university and finding a career. In that class, I taught a black girl whose last name was O’Shea. On learning that is an Irish name, she decided to embrace her Irishness. When I said, “You know how your family got it, right? Some slave owner or overseer back in the day…”

She said, “But I’m still part Irish, right? That’s an Irish name.”

I said, “Yes,” but I had tears in my eyes. Kennedy here, right? Lots of Irish immigrants ended up overseers in the South. It’s a big part of Gone With the Wind.

“I’m proud to be part Irish, like you.” Wow. I was full on crying at that point. It occurred to me then that it meant a lot to her — and maybe my other black students? — to find a concrete bit of commonality, a link to a white person that they liked. It happened several times over the years.

She came to class the next night with a big green shamrock on the front of her notebook and wore green for St. Patrick’s day.

Maybe a lot of white people haven’t had my advantages, you know, living in a ghetto and teaching in an inner city community college or a community college on the border of Mexico, or working three or four part-time jobs to hold life together. Maybe a lot of white people haven’t had their garage filled with fatherless boys from every racial group working together on their bikes with the Good X, or of teaching a little elementary school Mexican boy to draw every Saturday, then being taken to lunch by that boy when he got to be 15 and had his first job. Maybe a lot of white people have lived white lives and haven’t been able to experience the struggle of other people, people we identify by the color of their skin, the most superficial thing there is.

Here’s the video I promised followed by the guy’s bullshit rant, with its obligatory guilt trip at the end.

Here’s the Whole Absurd Mess

I have often wondered about why Whites are racists, and no other race is……
Someone finally said it. How many are actually paying attention to this?
There are African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, etc.
And then there are just Americans.. You pass me on the street and sneer in my direction.
You call me ‘White boy,’ ‘Cracker,’ ‘Honkey,’ ‘Whitey,’ ‘Caveman’… And that’s OK..
You say that whites commit a lot of violence against you….
So why are the ghettos the most dangerous places to live?
You have the United Negro College Fund. You have Martin Luther King Day.
You have Black History Month.
You have Cesar Chavez Day.
You have Yom Hashoah.
You have Ma’uled Al-Nabi.
You have the NAACP.
You have BET….
If we had WET (White Entertainment Television), we’d be racists.
If we had a White Pride Day, you would call us racists.
If we had White History Month, we’d be racists.
If we had any organization for only whites to ‘advance’ OUR lives, we’d be racists.
We have a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Black Chamber of Commerce, and then we just have the plain Chamber of Commerce.
Wonder who pays for that??
A white woman could not be in the Miss Black American pageant, but a woman of color can be in the Miss America pageant.
If we had a college fund that only gave white students scholarships… You know we’d be racists.
There are over 60 openly proclaimed Black Colleges in the US .
Yet if there were ‘White colleges’, that would be a racist college.
In the Million Man March, you believed that you were marching for your race and rights.
If we marched for our race and rights, you would call us racists.
You are proud to be black, brown, yellow and orange, and you’re not afraid to announce it.
But when we announce our white pride, you call us racists.
You rob us, car jack us, and shoot at us.
But, when a white police officer shoots a black gang member or beats up a black drug dealer running from the law and posing a threat to society, you call him a racist.
I am proud…… But you call me a racist.
Why is it that only whites can be racists??
There is nothing improper about this post. 
Let’s see which of you are proud enough to send it on.
I sadly don’t think many will.
That’s why we have LOST most of OUR RIGHTS in this country.
We won’t stand up for ourselves!
It’s not a crime YET…. But getting very close!


So…the kids came over yesterday afternoon with their mom bringing Halloween cookies they’d made. There was much hugging and telling of stories. At one point, Connor found a pile of leaves I’d raked and stood there and threw them into the air so they’d fall on him and his sister. His sister got a little annoyed, but not much, and shook them out of her hair.

I was involved in a talk with their mom, so I only watched Connor out of the corner of my eye. Still, I have a clear image of a little boy in a blue jacket tossing yellow leaves toward the sky.

One of the things the kids do in their own yard is run, racing cars that are passing by. Since I live by the highway, cars go faster, but Connor was giving them a good run.

I’ve always been a kid magnet. I was thinking about that last night and I remembered something in an essay by Larry McMurtry in his collection of essays about the West, In a Narrow Grave. He wrote about an uncle he’d had that all the kids followed everywhere. He described him as an adult who, the kids sensed, had never quite grown up. I know that’s true of me. Maybe that’s why I never felt I would be up to the job of actually raising them.

But kids, like musicians, need appreciators too.

Yesterday as I sat down on the stoop in front of my house so I’d be at “kid height,” I was hit by a memory of some other kids, Kaye and Phi. Their parents were Vietnamese refugees. The years were 1988/90. My ex and I were living in our house in the “barrio” which then was largely populated with people who were living in Section 8 housing and people who’d lived on that street for decades. It was a “hood” in transition. The old-timers were white and Mexican. The new-timers were Asian and African American. Over the years, racial gang warfare escalated in in the hood and throughout the city (originating in the hood). But initially, it was pretty calm.

Kaye and Phi were twins, six years old, but Phi had been born with a disability — her legs were crooked and did not grow at the same rate as the rest of her body. Over the years she had surgery to straighten them, but she would always been extremely short. Kaye spent a lot of time at my house. She wanted to assimilate, to belong. She was very bright, and by the time she was seven, was doing a lot of translating for her mother.

I was still missing China and looking at their house (there was one house between our houses and their house faced my front yard) comforted me. Shoes lay outside the front door. Bok Choy dried on strings tied from the side of the house to the back fence. When New Years came, red papers with characters were glued to the sides of the door and a bright red diamond of paper with a door guardian was glued to the door itself. Working in the front yard, I could hear the family talking among them selves, and I loved that. Vietnamese sounds — to me — a lot like Hainanese, the dialect spoken by The Old Mother to her son, my best friends in China. Kaye couldn’t have known this. What she did know was that she was completely welcome at my house and I didn’t find her Vietnameseness in the least alienating.

Every morning the little girls walked to school — a walk that involved going up the street, turning left, walking four blocks to the liquor store, turning left and walking another block. Most of the kids in my hood walked to school. Everyone’s parents worked two or three jobs. How else were the kids going to get there? I am sure at school she experienced ostracism and bullying for being Asian.

Their grandfather lived with them. He had, apparently, experienced something pretty horrific during the Vietnam War. Most of the time he sat calmly outside the front door smoking, but once in a while he lost it completely and would jump up and down yelling, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” in an inconsolable rage. I thought it was funny, but maybe that was just me. But think about it. It is a pretty funny image. His son would bring him into the house.

Finally the family (by working and working and working) saved enough money to move into a better neighborhood with better schools. Kaye and Phi came to tell me goodbye. I sat on the steps leading to the side door of my garage and we talked. I told them it would be better. That our neighborhood wasn’t very nice and she would have better teachers where she was going (Mira Mesa one of the Asian ghettos of San Diego). Just before she left Kaye gave me a little piece of note paper. On it she’d written,

That note stayed on my refrigerator for years. It reminded me of a really great little girl and that being nice was a good direction to take with people in general. Not a very deep message and yet profound in its simplicity.

P.S. in the photo I’m 36 🙂

Language Problems

In Guangzhou in 1983, toward the end of spring, I discovered the most incorrigible mosquito bite on my left forearm. Not only did it NOT go away, but it seemed to grow. We’d recently emerged from an El Niño winter — rain for four months — into a torrid spring. It wasn’t torrid in the sense of suddenly exposed bosoms and spread legs, but torrid in the sense of, “Holy fuck! Is my sweat EVER going to dry?”

After a couple of months trying to deal with this mosquito bite, and seeing it grow into an odd circle, I asked my friend, Lia. “What’s up with this?”

“Xien (癣),” she said. Pronounced she-en. “We can get medicine in Shi Pai. It’s very common. There are two kinds of medicine. One works quickly, but it burns. The other, well, men might use it when they get xien down there,” she nodded toward the ground, signifying the pubic area. We walked over to the pharmacy in the village and I came home with a little bottle of burning stuff. Soon the xien was cleared up.

Fast forward, I dunno, maybe four years? A wet winter in San Diego, another El Niño. I noticed that xien had returned. But what the hell was it in ENGLISH???? I had no idea. Luckily, I lived in the neighborhood where “world migrations end” and, at that period, were thousands of Asian immigrants in the Section 8 housing in my little barrio of the world. There were Chinese pharmacies all up and down University Boulevard.

One afternoon, on my way home from school (I walked the four miles) I stopped into one of these pharmacies. I felt as if the doorway was a magic portal to my Chinese home village of Shipai. All around me were the familiar jars of raw materials — desiccated lizards, snakes, spiders, herbs, dried ginseng, mysterious roots I couldn’t identify, slices of nutmeg, star anise… In the case in front of the the man were boxes and bottles of common Chinese remedies — even the famous hepatitis crystals from which my ex had had to make tea were there. I saw my favorite cold remedy — Gan Mao Ling. An abacus rested on the counter. I had to look around a few times to understand where I was. Outside the open door was University Boulevard. Inside this dim room was China. The smell! Wow. I closed my eyes and savored the transport of nostalgia.

“Can I help you?” He looked at me very bewildered.

I put my arm on the counter and said, “I have xien and I need some medicine.”

“Why you come here and not grocery store?”

“I don’t know what it’s called in English.”

How completely insane I must have seemed to him.

“Why you not know?”

“I lived in Guangzhou for a year and got it there. I never had it in America and I don’t know…”

He reached under the counter and brought out a black light. He turned it on and pointed it at my arm. The xien glowed. “You can use this,” he put a tube of Tinactin on the counter, “Or this Chinese medicine,” He set the familiar bottle of burning stuff next to the Tinactin.

That’s how I learned that I had ringworm and that ringworm is a fungus. I also learned that the word xien means “glow.”

Department Stores and Garage Doors

As a little kid, I had nightmares of being abandoned by my family. I almost think I was born with “abandonment issues” because I had the same fears in real life — especially if I went shopping with my mom and “lost” her in the (to me) tall racks of clothing. I have a dim memory — mostly colors (pink and gray) — of screaming (my mom would say, “bloody murder”) because I couldn’t see my mom.

As it happened in real life, my family is all gone and I’m still here. The fear of abandonment has not (heh heh) abandoned me, either.

I think little kids — well, me, anyway — know they’re small and relatively helpless, very dependent on their adults. It really is the worst thing that can happen to be left behind by your grownups.

Back in the day when I live in the “hood” there were a lot of illegal immigrants living there. They worked hard — three jobs were not uncommon for those people who were struggling with all their might to get a better life for their children. They risked a lot crossing the border, most from Mexico but many from points even farther south.

Unless you’ve seen the way the very poor live in Mexico, it’s pretty easy to be indifferent, but I had seen it. Here’s a clue for anyone who hasn’t. When I replaced my garage door, the man who replaced it (it was one big heavy panel of wood) told me he would take it to Tijuana where someone would use it as a wall for their shack.

A couple of these families lived in houses a few doors down from me. Lucio and his mom managed to stay long enough for him to finish middle school, but the family next to them were not so lucky. They had two little girls who, every day, dressed to the nines, hair perfect, shiny shoes, marched to the local elementary school where they were caught in the bilingual bind. The early 90s were a confusing time for Mexican kids in American schools. Should they be taught to read in Spanish, English or both? Some afternoons I helped these little girls with their homework, and I saw that they might not learn to read because of the confusion in the educational system. Basic literacy should have nothing to do with politics. “Teach them Spanish, teach them English, who cares but be sure they can READ! It really doesn’t matter WHAT language. We all learn second languages anyway.”

One late afternoon I was hanging out at home, maybe grading papers — I don’t remember — and there was a child-high knock on my front door. It was the little girls. “No one is at our house,” said the older one.

“Come in and we can do your homework ’til your mom gets home.”

They came in and we worked on spelling and the alphabet and whatever they had in their book bags. Night fell and no one came for them. The little girls were worried and so was I. What had happened? Finally, the police came through the neighborhood knocking on doors, looking for the girls. The little girls’ mother and grandmother had been picked up by “La Migra” and were in a detention cell at INS. Their aunt was coming from Tijuana to get them.

I know the little girls felt they had been abandoned when what had really happened was that their grownups had been stolen.

When I hear the rant about immigration and “building a wall,” and all of this horrendous cant and the egregious threats to close the border and stop aid to Central and South American countries, I’m disgusted. Most of the people I have known who crossed illegally were not drug dealers or perpetrators of violent crime or out to “take jobs from real Amuricans.” They just wanted a better life for their family. They didn’t want to raise their kids in shacks made of old garage doors.

Oh, here’s a diagram made by the Border Patrol showing how effective the “fence” is against smuggling. 🙂 The red lines are lines INTO the United States. The semi-diagonal line at the bottom is the fence.


King o’Dirt

“Dude, I scored.”

“No way.”

“Way. You know her. Big-tits, bleached blond. ”

“Craig’s MOM?”

“She let me.”

“Dude. Yuck. That’ disgusting. She’s a ho. We going to King o’Dirt or not?”

“How are we going to get there?”


“That’s like, I dunno, fifteen miles?”

“Martha will take us to Mission. We just gotta’ get to Martha’s house.”

“We can take the trolley to downtown then ride from there. What’s that?”

“Five miles or something. Not that far.”

“Will Martha do it?”

“She will. I bet she’ll take the video camera. It’ll be rad.”



Note: It’s doubtful the word “brassy” was used in this conversation.

Weather, a Matter of “Mood”?

I now live in a weather place. For 20 years, I lived in San Diego and, surprise, surprise, it’s a weather place, too. The weather is usually pretty subtle, but it’s definitely there. The coldest house I’ve ever lived in was 10 miles from the beach. When it gets down to 45 and there is no heat (normal for houses there) it’s COLD. That’s when I learned to wear long johns. Thank goodness I had a fireplace that offered, at least, an illusion of warmth. Space heaters are good in a closed space, but in an open, Spanish style, 1940s stucco house those heaters are not much good unless you sit on them.

Then I moved up to the mountains east of the city partly so I could have things like thunderstorms and freezing temps. I lived in a stone house that was originally built as a summer get-away cabin in the 1920s. I loved that house and the town and the landscape and it was hard to move away even though now I have all those things to the nth degree and I’m happy — and a house that is not as romantic and fairytale, but  lot more comfortable. I lived there for eleven happy years. The people who brought my California mountain cabin last year are already selling it. They’re going to lose money on it. One thing about a place like that is you don’t buy it in the heat of passion because it’s not easy to live in a weather place in Southern California. The house had all it needed to be comfortable for a person with low standards of comfort but… As someone said when I first moved in, “Most people stay here two years.”

I guess that weather up there is depressing. It’s hard when your pipes freeze for the first time and you don’t know enough to be grateful that all the plumbing is outside and it’s not flooding your house.

The other day I was walking the dogs. It was a clear sunny cool afternoon, air scoured clean by strong gusts 20 maybe 30 mph, narrow little brooms of wind. One came pushing across the golf course (open field this time of year with all the greens covered). It was fun to watch. It was 20 feet wide. It started high, bent the tops of the cottonwood trees, slid down its private little wind hill, hit the ground, whisked all the leaves off the ground and into the tennis court fence. I turned away from it, finally. When it had nearly spent itself, we continued. A pickup pulled up beside us and the driver said, “You’re tough.”

It’s been cold here these last few nights; cold is single digits and double digits preceded by a “-“. Since I have to leave the back storm door open enough for the dogs to push open and go out, those temps mean the water in the hoses to my washer could freeze. It happened yesterday because I forgot how that can happen. Now all is good and the hoses are protected. One of my friends posted on Facebook that it’s getting to be time for wool socks and headbands. Well, I’ve been wearing wool socks for a month now. No, not the same pair. Good grief.

The thing about weather is that it’s interesting as long as it’s not deadly. Here’s a story of a time — a legendary moment — when the weather turned very ugly long before anyone knew that life on the plains was gong to prove too “depressing” for most people.


No Way to Choose the Best Day of This Year

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “One More Time.” If you were able to relive one day from the last 12 months, which day would it be — and why?

The past twelve months have given me one great day after another. I couldn’t choose. There was Christmas Day when I got up to find that I actually had a Christmas stocking and it had presents in it! And more — my friend’s husband, who was a painter before he lost his vision to macular degeneration at a young age — had given me a painting of the very area to which I’d then recently moved. It was just a beautiful Christmas. And it included riding a horse — something I didn’t think I could do!!!

There was the moment of seeing the Sandhill Cranes for the first time. Lily loving the snow — even the moments when Lily died had an absolute unforgettable beauty. In fact, I’d relive the whole twelve months, the writing and painting and new friendships forming, older friendships maturing, revisiting old haunts in Denver, connecting with a best friend from earlier days, a new puppy, moose tracks in the snow, frost on the branches in the dead of winter, my first garden here in Monte Vista, the sight of my beautiful neighbor coming over with an invitation to a craft show, a stranger and a policeman helping me right my fallen trash can, a drive across the Rocky Mountains — THROUGH the Rocky Mountains — with a friend to visit a college near Aspen, more of my native state than I had ever seen before and yet? Familiar roads linked up; snow on the top of Vail Pass. The Potato Festival and reconnecting with the dad and daughter who’d come trick-or-treating the Halloween before as a knight in chain mail and a princess. The trip over the pass on a train that pulled cars from The City of New Orleans (riding in one!) to hear John McCutcheon, visiting a small goat ranch and being close to a yak for the first time (I loved her). Seeing livestock guarding dogs at work. The sweet visit of my wonderful step-daughter-in-law and all our conversations and, with her, a brief visit to Santa Fe through the late fall landscape of Northern New Mexico. Green chili at Ninos. Stopping to buy chilis and piñon and ending up with a bag of homegrown Johnathon apples. The first Rocky Ford cantaloupe in more than thirty years! Having a novel accepted by a publisher, publishers. Writing the novel. Hallowe’en with my friends, a hike with friends to the Paint Mines, a brunch celebrating the anniversary of my return to Colorado. The potato fields in bloom, the dust from the barley harvest, sunsets, my friend’s developmentally disabled son, with his extraordinary patience and keen eye being the FIRST person to spot the hidden horned owl in the tree during the Crane Festival bus tour.

No way to choose.