Too Intense

“The thing, Kennedy, your problem is you’re too intense.

I did not understand what Miss Palos Verdes Estates aka M’Lou was saying at all. Her friend Janet agreed. “WAAAAAY too intense. You need to take it easy. Here. Take this album to your room and listen to it.”

To this day, it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. ❤

A few days later, Janet and M’Lou showed up at my dorm room door. “We’re gonna’ go hitch and see if we can score some weed.”

“Too bad we’re not in LA. All we’d have to do is go down to ‘the strip’.” M’Lou sighed. They were homesick.

“Scoring weed” wasn’t easy. Pot was VERY illegal. A jail sentence could result from smoking a joint in public, but it was a glorious September early evening in Denver, we three were pretty cute and Stapleton Airport was a short walk away from Temple Buell College, originally Colorado Woman’s College.

We headed down Quebec St. toward the airport and before long a VW camper van passed slowly. Janet stuck out her thumb. The VW stopped. We got in. I ended up sitting on some hippy’s lap. He had shoulder length brown hair, a beard and a flowered shirt. He was OLD! 25. We laughed and talked and scored half an ounce. I went out with that hippy a few times. He was a really nice guy.

Anyhoo, they let us out at an open field by Stapleton Airport. We were high. M’Lou had the weed stashed somewhere on her person because she had the most common sense of all of us (she claimed). We hung around in the field and watched the sunset.

Weed was pretty much just weed then. It wasn’t usually very strong and after a few hours it was gone from my system. It made me silly, but not all that high, not ridiculously high, not immobilizingly high. Most of all, I dampened down the intensity. Janet and M’Lou were right. That WAS my problem. I AM very intense. But then, the fall of 1970, I was probably EXTREMELY intense. I wasn’t in the best place psychologically when I went away to college. I had a recently broken heart. My dad was very sick. My brother was a total mess, living on the street. The world was falling apart and somehow I felt it was my job to “patch things up and hold them together.”

That first semester at college I experimented with being a hippy, but the dark side of hippy-dom showed itself over the passing months. Janet had a very bad acid trip, freaked out and ended up hiding in my dorm room while I talked her down. “I don’t feel safe anywhere else, Martha. You have to let me in.” Over Christmas I went home and when I got back to school, sober, I saw that the profound poetry I’d written while high was very stupid. “Uh, wow, my hand,” stupid.

Vague Geriatric Wanderlust for the Financially Sketchy

One of my longest-time friends is receiving an award, a really special one, in Denver next month. She invited me. My first thought was, “I don’t have clothes for this!” I described my fashion crisis on Facebook and got GOOD help. Out of THAT I realized 1) I have a fancy outfit, and 2) I don’t want to be buried in it. Realizing I could show up in something other than jeans and a sweatshirt, my fingers shot back to my friend a big, red YES!!! Then I investigated the cost of the hotel and everything else the trip would entail, and I had to write again, “I can’t.”

Friends stepped up with invitations to stay with them, but even then? Not easy. I thought about it for two nights (seriously) and realized that what I really want to do is hang out with her. She’s invited me several times and I have never gone. I wrote again, explaining how we wouldn’t get much of a chance to talk, catch up, anything at the event and I’d really like to have that chance. We’ve decided I will come up for a weekend so we can talk and do things together.

Money is a “thing.” Day-to-day I feel like a well-off, prosperous person but that feeling depends on remaining mostly stationary. I can no longer “GO!” paid for by a credit card I can easily pay off with an extra summer class as I once did.

I had a student some years ago whose father had left his mother and moved back to Spain. The father wanted the son to visit but the son wasn’t sure. We had a heart-to-heart about this (in my mind non-dilemma) and I said, “Whenever you get the chance, GO! Just GO!!” With a ball-point pen I wrote “Just GO!!” on his jeans. He was sitting facing me and I wrote it just over his knee. Over the weekend he had those words tattooed on his leg. I wonder what kind of shit I’d be in today for writing on a kid’s leg…

I still believe in that philosophy, but it’s not that easy. The man “in” my life (at a distance) has written:

* Colorado…….se potessi arriverei lì in un attimo…..adesso abbiamo un volo diretto da Roma a Denver con Norvegian……prima o poi….

BUT — I’m now seriously thinking about going (somewhere). My little first-world crisis last week awakened me to the fact that I’m not really ready just to stay here. The thing about GOING at this point in my life is that it has to be (as with a visit to my old friend) the right journey. I’m not sure yet what that will be — the Middle East or Switzerland. Typing this, I think I made my decision. One of writing’s great gifts is clarification.

As I wrote this post, Mohammed’s radio blared (sweetly), this song that I sang in the shower when I was a teenager. It drove my mom crazy. I don’t sing well, and I didn’t know all the words, but, dammit, I was LEAVING ON A JET PLANE!!!! 😀

*Colorado ……. if I could I would arrive there in a moment ….. now we have a direct flight from Rome to Denver with Norwegian … …sooner or later….

It's All Evanescent

“No! Don’t open that Michelle!” I leap quickly to the curb and push Bella’s back passenger door closed.

“I want to see Bear.”

“I know, but that’s not a good way for her to come out. She’s fastened in there.”

“Never do that, ‘chelle. Don’t mess with other people’s animals,” says Michelle’s and Connor’s mom. Michelle puts her head down, ashamed.

“It’s OK. I’ll get Bear.” I go to the back of Bella, open the door. Michelle is right beside me. “Remember when she ran away that day?” The little girl wearing the rainbow tutu, tights and boots nods. “I fasten her in now.” I loop Bear’s leash around my wrist. “OK, open that carabiner.” Michelle does. 8 year olds like to show their competence at stuff. Bear jumps down. “Can I walk her?”

“Uh, OK.” Mom is standing by and knows how this works. Michelle takes the middle of Bear’s leash and I have it by the loop. I’m walking Bear. Michelle is holding on. Bear lunges toward a patch of untouched snow (talk about evanescence!) “Whoa!” says Michelle, laughing. “Bear’s STRONG!”

“She weighs more than you and more than half of what I do. She’s a powerful beastie. Let go, Michelle. Bear wants to roll around. She LOVES snow more than anything.”

Their mom takes out her phone and photographs all of us, Connor, Michelle, Bear rolling in the snow, and me holding Bear’s leash. I imagine that photo in some dim someday.

Christmas. Elizabeth invites me for dinner with her and her husband. She prepares lamb. We have a lot of fun talking and then Bob tells me he has the seat from Eddie Rickenbacker’s plane. He tells me the back story. I’m amazed. I love those early flyers. He goes down to the basement and brings it up for me to see. I sit in it. I sit in Eddie Rickenbacker’s seat. Here, in Monte Vista, Colorado. Bob tells me how the Smithsonian didn’t want it and shows me the letter. “They have another seat.” Bob shrugs.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Airplane Seat

Then Bob brings up a couple of photo albums from the early 20th century. There are pictures of Europe. I correctly identify the locations as Italy. Milan. There’s General Pershing. In another couple of photos is the Alamo.

“I have no idea who these people are,” says Bob. “My brother got them from the dump in Durango.”

I carry some dishes out to the kitchen. There’s Elizabeth in the winter sunlight washing dishes. I take a photo with my phone. In the foreground is the mince pie I made. The steam vents in the top are cut exactly the way my grandmother taught me.

An “ordinary” moment.

At the Rio Grande County Museum I spy an old gas stove from the 30s. I had one just like it in a house I rented in Denver. It was great. I comment on it to Louise who runs the museum. She tells me the story of the stove. Then I notice what she’s done. She’s set up a 1930’s kitchen, table with embroidered tablecloth and china, ice-box, cupboard, kids’ play table with a kids tea set beside the grown up table. It’s so pretty. Next to it, behind a temporary partition, a screen, she’s set up a teacher’s desk, slate, old text books. “Oh, a school house!” Louise beams.

“You want my grandfather’s history book? He was born in 1870. I have his math book, too.” She says yes.

The boots in the featured photo were my favorite shoes for nearly a decade. We covered miles and miles together in Montana, Colorado, Oregon, California, Utah, Arizona, Switzerland. They were with me on a journey that turned out — decades later — to have been one of the most important in my life, a journey to Zion, Lake Powell (ick), Kayenta, Monument Valley, Arches. My friend (plaid shirt) and I had no idea at the time that we were on a journey of a lifetime that would define and seal an emotional bond that has lasted for more than 20 years.

You can see my boots in this photo. They had blue laces for a little while.

After being resoled three or four times, there wasn’t enough leather left on my boots for another resoling job. I left them behind in Zürich and got new boots for my birthday, splendid boots. I was sad, though, and my friend Pietro handed me “la macchina” (camera) so I could take a picture. Pietro died of lymphoma the next year.

My daily reminder of the evanescence of things is my morning coffee. I’ve finished, Teddy is cleaning my cup.

Swiss in the San Luis Valley

This coming summer — on June 20, the Saturday closest to my grandmother Beall’s birthday — I’ll be reading from the trilogy. The trilogy’s official title is very long and cumbersome, but the titles I wanted were taken, so I titled it, Across the World on the Wings of the Wind. Long though it is, it’s very expressive of the three books together. They are Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price. You can learn about them on their website.

I expect to read from The Brothers Path and The Price. Savior is pretty far away from the experiences relevant to the people to whom I’ll be reading. The project is turning out to be part of a presentation and exhibit on Swiss immigrants in the San Luis Valley.

Switzerland might be a small, land-locked country, but Madame Helvetica’s people really got around. In the 17th and 18th century many left — as my ancestors did — for religious reasons. Life in Switzerland was hard for many centuries, and in the 19th century, many, many left for better opportunities. The emigration from Switzerland continued well into the twentieth century. Most of the Swiss in the San Luis Valley arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swiss ancestry is one of the most common in the United States.

Members of my family left illegally, with no passport or permission. There is a letter to them from the Canton of Zürich telling them they will be arrested if they return. I’ve enjoyed free coming and going for more than twenty years, so it seems the hatchet was buried some time back. I love Switzerland and wish, sometimes, that I was a boomerang, but…

I’m looking forward to the project and working with the Rio Grande County Museum and people in the valley I don’t know yet. One family — the Knoblauchs — are doing the Swiss thing; they have a dairy farm — the Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy — goats, cattle, yaks — and they make cheese.

Wheels of Cheese at the Knoblauch’s Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Ranch

I’ve visited their farm and really enjoyed it. My favorite animal was the yak.

Because of my best friend, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, the Akbash, the livestock guardian dog, I’m very interested in how people protect their livestock from predation. The Knoblauchs use llamas to guard the stock in the day and Great Pyrenees guard the stock at night. They also have the sweetest pit bull on the planet.

Right now the project is at the GIANT amorphous size of a project, but soon, I hope, it will start to center on itself and we’ll know what it is.

As for me, I’m only 10% Swiss but that ancestry has had a disproportionate influence on me as a writer and maybe as a person. My Grandmother Beall (family names include Stober and Schneebeli) was an important person in my life even though she died when I was ten. I can’t explain it and have stopped trying. If I’ve been channeling her family all this time, it’s fine with me. I love them and their stories just as I love my aunts and am proud of my family’s adventures.

When my Aussie neighbor Elizabeth brings me jelly she has made, she brings it in a “boomerang” jar.

Sitting Here, Waiting to Be Inspired with a Good Title for this Post

I’m not waiting for much of anything any more, and certainly not for spring (ew). Though, to be fair, once spring comes, I’ll start waiting for winter. Sigh…

Retirement has altered time’s curvature. I don’t have to “wait” to the same degree I did when I was working. I used to wait a LOT. I waited at red lights. I waited in traffic. I waited for the class to start and for class to end. I waited for the end of the semester. I waited for meetings to finally finish. I waited for “luv.” I waited for planes. I waited for — well, the list is interminable, and if I keep going YOU’RE going to wait for this post to end. Or maybe you won’t wait.

I did my most intense waiting as a teenager, but teenagers are just intense. I remember waiting for my CLOTHES to dry so I could wear a certain shirt because it had to be THAT shirt or nothing, or the world would collapse.

Teddy is here, waiting for his coffee. Even dogs wait.

Kids wait, but live in the moment at the same time. It’s a nice balance. Yesterday when I saw the kids, the little girl had a beautiful soft doll — Elsa. I said, “I love Frozen.” I do. I saw it on the plane coming back from (ha ha) Iceland. It was one of the high points of the trip.

“Me too!” she said. “I just saw Frozen II!”

Their mom told me that they had taken the kids to the movies to see Frozen II, and it wasn’t until they were waiting in line for popcorn that the kids realized where they were. “They’ve never seen a movie in a theater before,” said their mom.

“They must’ve loved it.”

“They did!”

Probably even better because they didn’t have to wait for it!

Do We EVER Grow Up???

When I was a little kid I dreamed of faraway places and I was sure I would have “Seven League Boots” of my own and see all of them. My first inkling of the actual size of the world was taking the skis to China and realizing there was no way in hell I was going Langlauf in Tibet. It was too far, too remote, and, at that time, foreigners could only sneak in.

My great heroes — T. E. Lawrence, Richard Halliburton and Lowell Thomas — had accomplished their feats on foot (ha ha), train, camel, yak, bi-plane. Our world — big as it is — is considerably smaller than was theirs!

My good friend is out there now on a vacation from dreams. One part of it includes my entire bucket list. Well, the biggest and most impossible part of that list. There are really only two things on it. Langlauf in Yellowstone and visit Jordan.

I woke up yesterday feeling weird about it, a completely new feeling weird. I’m not good at all at identifying my emotions having been raised to suppress them. I’ve only lately realized I’ll act out without knowing why. emotions are fuel. (“Anger is an energy, anger is an energy…”) I spent the morning confused and weepy trying to figure it out then I realized. I want to go, too. Wow. So simple. Just exactly like a little kid who doesn’t get to go to the big kids’ birthday party at the bowling alley or ride Space Mountain.

Like that. Only I’m not too little for the ride. I’m too poor. Grrrr….

Envy? Resentment? Nothing that sophisticated. Just the sense of being excluded, not from what my friend is doing, but from my lifelong dream because of money.

Meanwhile I’m reading people dissing Bloomberg because he has money.

Feeling sorry for myself, I worked on my challenging painting of the potato cellar, cleaned house, rode the bike to nowhere, talked to a friend about how I felt which helped a lot to clear things up. Then I sat down and priced out the journey I would like to take and that was fun. Reality is a great thing — having options laid out in front of me by the grace of Mr. Internet.

Once I’d had a look at reality, I was fine. It was interesting exploring the explorations available. Some journeys are only for people from 18 to 35. Club Med? What? No, the idea is that only people of that age are something. I don’t know. There are some open to people between 18 and 70 (I’d better hurry). Some are open to people 18 to 99. There are some tours that start at $10,000.

I understood myself in a new and different way as I perused the options.

I saw the difference between me at 30 and me now. National Geographic offers adventures that involve activities that would have interested me when I was younger, but don’t now. I don’t want to visit Palestinian refugee camps, for one. I no longer see that as enlightened. I see it as patronizing. Suffering people do not constitute a zoo for my perusal on an outrageously expensive Middle Eastern trek. I also don’t want to sleep several nights in a Bedouin tent. First of all, it’s not that easy for me to get up off the ground (but I can!!!!) Second, none of the numerous Arabs I’ve known in my life want to sleep in a Bedouin tent, either. Besides THAT (and while this does not equal a journey to Arabia) the Saudis BROUGHT their desert to LA back in the 80s — literally. They filled an enormous exhibition hall with sand — sand from Arabia, not sand from Manhattan Beach. They built models of medieval ruins. Set up Bedouin tents and bazaars. Talking with a vendor that day I asked how real it was, and he said it was very real, except for the air-conditioning.

Also, by the grace of an Afghani refugee family with whom I was close in San Diego, I went on Hadj. Video Hadj. It was a very long and amazing journey, but Mohammed Ali Kabiri explained that it counted. “This is for those people who are so far away or too sick or crippled to visit Mecca.”

I thought of Richard Halliburton’s dream of visiting Mecca (he succeeded) and of Richard Francis Burton sneaking into Mecca disguised as an Arab… And here it was on VHS.

As I searched yesterday, I realized that my ideal trip is impossible. No one’s going to Damascus now or Beirut. I saw that tours to Jerusalem are very Christianity-focused (it’s the market) and I was wondering if there were a way to avoid that, even though I would like to see those places and am not at all antipathetic to Christianity, I’m not seeking a profound religious experience. If it happened, great, but that’s not the kind of pilgrimage I’m seeking.

In Savior I wrote about the Middle East. It took an incredible amount of very interesting research to go back in time. I started with T. E. Lawrence’ thesis on Crusader Castles. The hero of that novel — Rudolf von Lunkhofen — travels as a Teutonic Knight from Acre to Gaza to Jerusalem to the Qaddisha Vallen in Lebanon back home to Switzerland. To write this I had to learn about Jerusalem in the 13th century. The only map of Jerusalem I have is a medieval map, but I got to know that map very well.

Letting my “fingers do the walking,” my computer and I wandered around the virtual Middle East yesterday looking for a tour that I could afford that would take me to at least one Crusader castle. I was successful.

Inside cover of Seven League Boots by Richard Halliburton, copyright 1933, my mom’s bookplate ❤

I checked the balances on all my credit cards — well, I’m definitely skilled in paying those suckers down. 🙂 Now it remains to be seen if I go or decide to let all this remain in the realm of dreams. Each option has value.

Literary Ghetto

I had an epiphany yesterday about my books. At the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op there is a special section for “local authors.” The sign over the shelf says, “We love local authors!” Not really. Putting them on a shelf like that isn’t “love.” It’s stigmatization.

Here’s what I mean.

None of the books I took to the Narrow Gauge in October have sold. It occurred to me that the local authors shelf is kind of a ghetto neighborhood. Local authors’ books should be interspersed with the other books in their genres. My books should be shelved with historical fiction. Why would anyone look for historical fiction about Switzerland, Mennonites or the Crusades on a shelf in an Alamosa bookstore tagged “Local Authors?” That does not mean “most desirable.” It sounds like a warning… I’m thinking of liberating them next week some time.

This has also led me to think about how much of life is disappointing. We want things. We hope things. All the time. Most of the time we don’t get whatever it was we hoped for or wanted (or is that just me?). Along the way we get wise advice, such as “Let nature take it’s course,” or “All in the fullness of time.”

When I was in Milan about a million years ago there was a young woman in the neighborhood where my friend’s sister had a store. This young woman was determined and earnest about converting me to Buddhism. I was pretty miserable in Milan a million years ago. I had a broken heart, a fairly flat wallet, few options and a desperate desire to get away, but I couldn’t. I had to deal. That the girl was so adamant, so desirous, of persuading me was, right there, an eloquent synopsis of the whole philosophical/spiritual problem of striving to overcome desire.

It’s incredible how many times that situation happens in life. You’re trapped with your emotions and all you can do is deal. Anyway, I wrote pretty beautifully about it in a book that will never be in the local author’s section or anywhere else. 😉

I wrote about being in Venice alone one afternoon, wandering around and studying the mosaics in the Basilica San Marco. While I was there, I suddenly understood Yeat’s poems, “Byzantium,” and “Sailing to Byzantium” more profoundly, differently, than I had before. They are poems about artifice and desire…

From the book…

To work for ANYTHING without WANTING to? The merely MECHANICAL, for a man to to work without desire. But a machine? No desire, yet,working, furthering the desires of its maker for earthbound immortality? Extending the purpose for which the artist was born? Good God. Yeats’ golden bird chirps into infinity. A soulless, animatronic, singing mechanism, like this Byzantine labyrinthine basilica, a curiosity for which I waited in line 48 years. Yeats himself left only the immortal idea, there is no bird, only songs, “. . . images that yet, fresh images beget” Inspiration; the animating breath. In a corner, in a dark and quiet shelter from the gold, the devout kneel, noiseless, before a painted statue of the Virgin. Her sweet face, compassionate and gentle, the child on one arm but the other open ready to succor another, offer mournful man what he needs more than God’s glory–God’s mercy; she models, inspires, love. 

I look at the ceiling and for the first time notice how living stories suffuse each voluptuous arch. The fish of the sea and the birds of the air struggle to life in a segment between archangels. The sea is crowded with fish; in their midst, a dragon. A golden eagle dives from one corner; a goose, a swan, a gull, a heron, an egret, a duck and a raven fill the rest of this compressed and golden sky. “All mere complexities of mire and blood.” Nearby, Noah releases a dove. St. Mark crosses the Mediterranean and is hauled up the Adriatic. His corpse sits on the boat like a living entity; the sea is rough; three men struggle to bring in the sail while a fourth, the animate soul of St. Mark, holds the rudder steady.

I study this “monument to its own magnificence” (Basilica San Marco in Venice) as well as I can–though to do a decent job would take me YEARS; I am that ignorant. I buy postcards, step outside and wait for my eyes to adjust to the light of the pigeon tormented piazza. In Yeats I had found not just “a” key but the key. 

Some of the people I met and talked with in Milan were Buddhists, Italian Buddhists. From these Italian Buddhists, I heard the argument that mastering desire is enlightenment. One handed me hand-rolled sticks of incense from Tibet as I stood in the doorway of the shop in the Naviglia. “If you do not WANT anything you are free.” This, I guess, is peace? The thin young woman who pressed the sandalwood sticks on me had an earnest not beautiful face; passionately and with consummate desire, she tried to get me to change my mind without knowing my mind. For me, God is inexpressible, unutterable. Awe. God is the force that pushes me beyond myself. I am his “golden handiwork;” his “golden bird upon a golden bough”–this earth. I WANT that song with all the burning ferocity of lust. 

The tranquil slow evening, the leisurely shutting down of businesses along the street, a new bottle of Italian spring water, I stood holding my incense; that was my first night in Milan. Tomorrow will be my last. I see all of it already in my mind as a form distilled and perfected through time, emerging. I loved that fervent girl standing there, color for my yet unpainted picture. I smiled and told her that yes indeed I do know the terrible pitfalls of desire (who would know better?) that I even saw the Dahlai Lama, and when? you were six or seven I tell her. It isn’t that I did not believe that what she told me is true. That desire makes us miserable is ONLY logical, but logic isn’t sufficient. “Hey, you guys overcome desire, you can reach Nirvana; you can become divine.”

More Political Ranting, Sorry

It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen in the upcoming election. That’s always true, but this year has a sinister edge that I never imagined seeing in American politics.

My friend Perla came to the US from Argentina. She escaped the maelstrom of a dictator and found freedom in the United States in the 1980s. We talked about this at the little Valentine’s oriented pop-up shop at which I had the incomprehensible set-to with the child. Perla was expressing her fears for the future in the United States. Part of this was a description of the moment in which the Argentines lost their Constitutional rights.

“I was just driving home from school or work or something but I never forget the moment. The radio, it came on the radio, first a march,” Perla vocalized a march, “then this. ‘The constitution has been suspended. As of today, you no longer have the right to vote.'” And that, she said, was it. She, her husband and her little girl were able to get out of Argentina. “Coming to America? These beautiful double doors opened for me and we were safe. Double doors, Martha.”

We talked a while about this — about other people I’d known who’d had to leave their homes forever because of their nation’s politics or because of war.

So now we have a maelstrom of Democrats storming the country looking for the nomination. I avoided watching any debates until they started to count. I have no memories of the Iowa debate, only the debacle resulting from the caucus votes. New Hampshire was more memorable because Amy Klobuchar made her way out of the background as witnessed by the fact that she picked up delegates. She’s my favorite, but I’m not “Amy or no one” by any means. IF we get to vote in November and IF the election isn’t totally fucked, I’ll vote for any Democrat.

I NEVER imagined writing that. OH well…

People already have their “favs.” There’s the whole “Bernie or no one” camp that elected Donald Trump last time, leading some to believe Sanders is a Russian asset. There’s the “Warren or No One” camp. There’s the “Only Biden can fix this” and I actually think he’s the best bet, but he’s not going to win. Trump’s nastiness in Ukraine took the shine off Biden’s name, guilty or not. Strange how the media is the actual decider of what people do. Bloomberg got slammed yesterday on Twitter by Offal’s egregious son who found video of Bloomberg talking about his anti-crime policies in New York. Of all absurdities in this maelstrom, Offal, Jr. and then Offal himself called Bloomberg a racist.

The liberal reaction I saw was all against Bloomberg. The reality that the crime being fought happened in neighborhoods where most of the people were minority people. I lived in a neighborhood like that in San Diego. It wasn’t racism that led the police to arrest mostly Mexican and Black young men. It was the fact that these were the people who were committing the crimes — most gang, drug and gun related. All of us in the hood were grateful that a cop shop was dropped into our neighborhood and grateful when we no longer lived in the highest crime neighborhood in San Diego. The cops practiced stop and frisk. It wasn’t “racial targeting” at all. Even my boyfriend at the time (white guy) got stopped and frisked and so, for that matter, did I. The cops were looking for a red Escort wagon. There I was. One of the cops (dyslexic, apparently) punched the license plate number incorrectly and I was pulled over by TWO cop cars, told to get outside my car and put my hands on the roof. It was 2001 so I was a 49 year old English teacher — definitely a suspicious character — but I was innocent. That’s the point.

The media directs our attention to the shiny surface. We have our knee-jerk reaction, indulge in some name-calling and move on to the next thing. This is how they will get us. “Squirrel!”

Perla also asked me how I deal with this and I told her that I know all I can do is vote in November, if that’s still an option. Meanwhile, I’ll walk the dogs, paint, hang out with friends when I can, and vacuum up the dirt the dogs drag in from the yard.

Sad Bear of the Muddy Paws

“What Bear? No, I know that’s not three inches. Teddy told you WHAT? You know Fred. Remember last year Fred told us that the beaver by Mr. Martinez’ house was as big as a bear? Fred exaggerates. Anyway, I don’t know what weather forecast he’d heard or seen that said we’d get 12 inches. Maybe for Wolf Creek. No, Bear. Wolf Creek is a real place. No, I didn’t believe Fred, but, you know, I hoped. Yeah, he did say that. He did say ‘Albuquerque low’. I know that can mean we get a LOT of snow, but Bear, there’s never a guarantee.”

“Things have to be just right. We live in a desert valley. What? A desert is a place where there isn’t much rain or snow. Here’s how it works. There’s a VERY HIGH narrow mountain range to our east that has a southward curve there at the pass. That’s the Sangre de Cristos. To the west there is an IMMENSE and high mountain range, the San Juans. The San Juans scrape the precipitation out of the clouds that come west. The Sangres curve to the south down there and scrape the clouds that come up from the south. Storms that come from the north? Yeah, there are a lot of those, well the mountains to the north where all the ski areas are? They scrape the snow out of the clouds heading south. It’s got to be a very wet fast moving storm for us to get anything. I’ve learned that. At first, like you, I was disappointed, but I think, in the long run it might be for the best. I’m not spring chicken and the sun really helps me keep the heat bill down.”

“I know, I know, we want to keep the golf course closed. Listen, Bear, before you were born, we got a HUGE snowfall in May. It was wonderful. Dusty, Mindy and — WAIT! No! You’re right! You were here. Wow. Time flies!!! Bullet still lived on that corner and he got loose. That’s true, Bear. You have to take the good with the bad but I still don’t like those big holes in the yard and vacuuming all the time. I know it’s good for you, but seriously. But what I’m trying to say is we could get more snow. No, sweet Bear, as my mom used to say, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Let’s stay cool, and avoid that circular suffering of the weather forecast, hope, realization, disappointment. I love you, too, Bear. You want this rawhide pencil?”

Teen Daze

“Honey, I’m not hemming this skirt way up there. It won’t even cover your behind. People will get the wrong idea.”

“What’s the ‘wrong idea’?”

“That you’re cheap.”

“What does that mean?”

“No man wants used merchandise.”

Elizabeth shook her head. That didn’t make sense either.

The usual fight with mom over fashion. Elizabeth was petite. Any dress or skirt she bought at the store had to be shortened. On top of that, she made a lot of her own skirts and dresses. Mom HAD to mark the hems. There was no way out. Elizabeth shrugged. They’d reached a compromise; the middle of Elizabeth’s knee. Elizabeth wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the option was somewhere below the knee and seriously?

Elizabeth had found a way around mom’s puritanical totalitarianism.

By 7 am every morning she was out the door, books in hand. She raced down the short cut through the yards to Kathy’s — Kat’s — house. They had 20 minutes to get to school, a daily adventure that took them over an old trestle, across an open field, sideswiped the new mall, down two neighborhood streets, into the high school’s back door.

It was cold. February was fusty and ambivalent as ever, shooting them sharp snowflakes one minute, gusts of cold aggression the next, and blessing them with sun the next. Halfway through the field they looked around to see if anyone was looking. But who would? They lived in the furthest reaches of the city in a brand new neighborhood with brand new schools. They set their books on the ground and put one foot on their book pile in case the wind came up. They heisted up their coats, grabbed the waistband of their skirts and carefully rolled them. “Is it straight?” asked Kat, turning so Elizabeth could see her back.

“Yeah. Mine?”

“Looks good.”

They were set. The only danger was if they happened to sit on their skirts during some class or another, unrolling the back.

It was years before they understood why the boys liked sitting in discussion circles so much or why they were so clumsy with their pencils, always dropping them on the floor.