Too Much Drama

Periodically WordPress does something with the blog editor and it’s almost always buggy. Then the kinks get worked out then you go on to use the new blog editor with its spicy alterations and then they do it again. The most recent iteration has hidden my favorite blogs from view on my Reader, has given me a strange jumpy screen that will not properly load, has frozen my laptop attempting to load. Yesterday it told some of my readers that my blog was “not on this server.”

I’m a paying customer (as it happens) so this annoys me a little bit. I’m the first to say my blog is not the most important news of the morning, not to me or anyone else, but it’s a thing I do while I drink my coffee, the dogs chew their rawhide and I make the transition from sleep to wakefulness (probably obvious from my posts). Sometimes I am even inspired to write a spicy story.

Writing a blog is a completely elective activity for me. I’m past the point in life where I want drama or gratuitous change. In fact, I feel that’s a problem in this country. Rather than changing important things, we fuss about a lot of stuff that doesn’t matter.

In other news….

Yesterday my dog ran off. Bear. It was a terrifying event since I love Bear probably more than I should AND I live on a highway. She dived through the lilac hedge and got to the front sidewalk. I saw her and yelled, “Bear!” and I guess she thought she was in trouble because she high-tailed it toward the golf course, away from the highway, thank goodness.

Dusty and I went out to find her and failed. I came home to be sure Mindy was still inside because I left everything open. My neighbor, E,  texted me that she had some freshly picked green beans and I texted back, “Bear ran away,” and headed out the front door with Dusty. I unleashed Dusty so if he saw her, he would go get her (he would). I hadn’t gone 30 feet when I saw first, my next door neighbor, Tom, was outside in his front yard and Bear was coming up the street. I was behind a honeysuckle bush so my neighbor didn’t see me, but I saw what he did. He called Bear to him. Dusty went to Bear and both went to my neighbor. By then I’d caught up to them and we had a happy reunion. Meanwhile, E caught up to all of us. It was a really beautiful moment.

“I saw her run past so I decided to get out here and see if I could catch her and put her in my yard,” he said, “then come get you.” Tom is an old guy who just had a hip replacement.

E is in her mid-seventies. We stood in Tom’s yard and I tried to introduce Tom and E properly, but I was distracted so E finished what I started. We chatted and Bear leaned against me and Dusty got pats. I was pumped with adrenaline — a feeling I don’t like and have felt far too many times in my life.

We all went home — well, Tom stayed home — and Bear was exhausted. She was also strange. I realized she felt she’d been bad. I didn’t think she’d been bad. She came home. She was headed toward me when she saw Tom, whom she knows and likes. Probably when I yelled “Bear!” she thought I was angry — though I’ve only been angry with her twice. The day wore on, the adrenaline was slowly backing off, but I decided to take everyone for a walk at the slough before it started raining.

It was a miserable walk. It was humid, the air hung heavy, there were mosquitoes everywhere and none of us were happy. It was so strange. We came home and the afternoon routine unfolded in the predictable way dogs prefer. Then someone posted on Facebook a video of Glen Campbell singing “Gentle on My Mind” with John Hartford, who wrote the song. I’d never heard them sing it together. It was on the Smothers Brothers show.

I’m not a big fan of Glen Campbell and all of that was so long ago, but somehow it seemed to bring back eons of time, memories, events, visions of the future (in which I’m now living and it’s NOTHING like I envisioned) and the sense that it’s too late now for me to straighten THAT out (ha ha). I began to cry — I know it was an emotional release of the adrenaline and fear of Bear being hit by a semi-truck.

Bear climbed up on my lap (she is an 80 pound giant breed livestock guardian dog), put her muzzle on my cheek and looked at me. I was still crying. Bear went to sleep. I thought of the day and the incredible sweetness in that moment when two friends stood beside me because my dog had run away and I needed help.

Later on, a police car went by, its siren going. Dusty looked at me as if to say, “Well? It’s the right time for a howl, Martha” and I agreed. Dogs and wolves howl for many reasons, but one is to reaffirm their ties to their pack. When I had the Siberian huskies, it was a common thing at the end of the day when I came home, if they heard a “howl” (coyote or siren) they would come to where I was and we would assert our unity. It’s strange, but it’s what they do. Dusty learned this from his Siberian husky mother/sisters. I don’t remember Dusty EVER starting a “howl” but last evening he did. He doesn’t howl well, Bear mostly barks, Mindy only gives it a shot, but we all put our heads back and did our best.

Dogs aren’t people. Sometimes you have to meet them part way.

OH BTW, I’m composing this on WordPress’ old editor which is reliable, not difficult to use, and is accessible under WordPress Admin in your drop down menu.

a-ROUND and a-ROUND and a-ROUND

Of all the rides in all the cheap carnivals traveling the country, in all the fancy amusement parks across the world, in all the shopping malls in which they’ve been installed I can only say, carousels make me sick. Around and around is bad enough but adding an up-and-down forward movement to that is pure sadism. When I was a little girl, I didn’t feel that way. I know I found the baroque world painted on the carousel at Elitch Gardens enchanting.

People say, “Life is a carousel,” and I don’t know what they mean. Back in the days of long dresses it was a game people played, and there was a brass ring involved that you tried to catch as you passed by. So maybe “life is a merry-go-round” means that you try to catch the brass ring (golden opportunity) and if you don’t, you can try next time? I have no idea. I hope it doesn’t mean life is a sickening ride on a fake animal that goes no where and the good news is it lasts 3 minutes? That’s a very grim metaphor.

WARNING!!!! Keep them AWAY from the Thesaurus or they Will Try to Mess With You

“What’s the difference, teacher?”

“Well, some animals can’t ‘amble’. A snake, for instance, or an ant. It’s a kind of walking that’s slow and loose and hasn’t got any destination, necessarily. Some animals often amble — like a giraffe, a horse, a cow. A sheep could, but probably doesn’t.”

“Why snake can’t amble?”

“C’mon Rahim, that’s just silly. You can figure that out.”

“Rahim, a snake can’t walk,” whispers helpful Korean girl.

“Oh, right. My bad! But ant can walk. Why can’t ant amble?”

“It’s not their nature. They have these little short legs, they move very fast all the time and they always have a reason to go somewhere.”

“That’s true, teacher. Can you amble?”

A Shimmering Moment

A long time ago a Thai woman I knew in Denver gave me a couple yards of white silk with a subtle pattern of bamboo leaves worked into it. It was beautiful, white, shimmery. I carried it around for 30+ years and finally I gave it to my neighbor here in Monte Vista because she sews. She’s making a blouse out of it.

She said it was too much, too big a present, but I explained it wasn’t a present. It was something I would never do anything with, and it would just end up at a thrift store. Not long ago we were wandering around Del Norte seeing what there was to see, and she looked for buttons for the blouse. Selection of anything (except maybe mountains, potato varieties and livestock) is not always great here in the San Luis Valley, and she found a close proximation to the ideal buttons. She asked me what I thought and to my (everlasting?) surprise I had an opinion. “They should be plain mother-of-pearl.”

“I know,” she said, “but they don’t have any. Maybe I’ll find some later.”

I thought about the story of that material. In 1983, back from China, homesick for China, I was living in a large and beautiful apartment (now a condo that goes for 1/2 million dollars) in Capital Hill in Denver with my ex and my brother. It was awful. My brother had bottomed out after his wife ran off with a pimp taking their daughter, and I’d rescued him. My ex was working, but wouldn’t be for long, and it was clear he was not wild about me. “So many good looking women out there and here I am, stuck with you.” I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be in that life, I wanted to be back in China, but I had come home because the ex had hepatitis and couldn’t recover in China. All for the marriage, right?

Not long after we’d returned, we went to the first annual Festival of Asian Arts and Culture that was being held at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It was beautiful. It was sponsored by the Asian Pacific Development Center which was a mental health facility specifically treating Asian immigrants. At that time, many of them were Vietnamese, Cambodians and Hmong with severe PTSD. The festival was put on by the various Asian cultural groups in the city. There was dancing and music representing each culture, along with food, arts and crafts.

Little did I know as I sat in the audience, enjoying the show and feeling even more homesick for China, that I would be the coordinator of the Second Annual Festival of Arts and Culture. It was a fantastic experience — an immense challenge. The festival ran for two weeks with national performances every night. That alone made it an enormous undertaking. I fell into the job because I’d volunteered at the Asian Pacific Development Center as a fundraiser. The director — a half-Japanese/half-white psychologist — had brought me in after I’d written them about my experiences in China, how homesick I was for China, and how much I wanted to help. I’d written that if my homesickness was just a micron of what displaced Asians were feeling, I’d be a good fit. Very, very few Americans at that time had been to China and that gave me a way in.

At first I was regarded with suspicion — I was the only white person there. All the psychologists, office workers and members of the board were Asian. Gossip is one of the ways things are accomplished in every Asian culture, so I knew there was a LOT of background chatter about me and my motives. Finally, everyone saw that I was just a guileless person with no agenda at all, who just wanted to help. It turned out that there was a place that could only be filled by a white person with a love for Asia.

The Asian cultural groups did not get along with each other. I was a neutral party. It worked well. Through that experience I saw that whatever it means to be “white,” it also means to be “blank.” I spent hours on the phone listening to the Japanese trash talk the Chinese, the Chinese trash talk the Thai, etc. in a great a circle of gossip and mistrust. The Thai woman was president of the board and she did not trash talk anyone. Her mother had come to America, ended up in Denver and opened Denver’s first Thai restaurant. In a dinner there with only this woman and my husband, I was told how the whole maladjusted Asian community worked. “You have to help us,” she said. “No one else can, you see we believe in the Center and we want the Festival to work, but we don’t get along with each other.” I shouldered the yoke of the Festival and enjoyed every single minute of it. It was one of my life’s greatest experiences.

The festival was a huge success that year. It was beautiful and inspiring and fun — and it still happens in Denver. Afterward, I was then offered my dream job by an organization I’d worked for before as a volunteer teacher, but because the marriage mattered and the ex had gotten a job in California I didn’t take it. The Thai woman (Patty) invited us to the restaurant for dinner one more time and there she gave me two pieces of Thai silk from which I could make a Thai costume. One of the pieces was lost to time, the other is across the street from me here in Monte Vista made into a blouse by my neighbor who came to America from Australia a long time ago.

Just a Casually Terrifying Bark

Dogs are everywhere and if you’re walking with Dusty T. Dog in the evening, it is never a casual walk. It involves strategy, lightning reflexes and a good, strong hand on the leash. Why?

Dusty T. Dog is known in his inner circles (me) as “El Barquero Grande.” Part Doberman Pinscher part Labrador retriever (two barky dogs), Dusty T. Dog has a formidable and quite barbaric “Yawp.” It usually means, “Hey Dude, ‘sup?” But you’d never know that. And, if Dusty gets “wound up” — shudder.

My neighbor in CA wound up Dusty with the intention of getting Dusty to bite him. He hated my dog (I kind of don’t blame him) and wanted him hauled away and put to sleep. What my neighbor didn’t understand is that, because they were seldom at their house — it was a part-time home for them — Dusty felt it was his duty to protect everything in sight, all Dusty was doing was protecting that man’s house from intruders. He also didn’t understand that Dusty loves his yard and he loves people.

It got very ugly with a note pushed into my fence saying the neighbors were all afraid of my dog, that my fence wouldn’t keep him in the yard, that there was fecal matter everywhere because I didn’t clean up after my dogs (completely untrue as I have always done that daily), that the cops had been called. In reality, Dusty COULD but wouldn’t jump the 4 foot fence and, when I was not home, Dusty and the girls were all confined to a 100 square foot dog run behind a 6 foot fence. The dogs were always inside for the night by 8 pm so it wasn’t a question of their barking all night, either. Most of all, if the neighbor had ever come into my yard and met Dusty, he would have understood the whole story, but it was more interesting for him to curse and yell and bait my dog and call the cops.

So the Animal Control officer came out and I happened to be home. I saw him taking photos of the yard from outside the fence. Dusty liked the guy and was just standing beside the fence waiting to be petted. He didn’t bark. I let the guy in, showed him the dog run — into which all the dogs happily ran when I said, “Go to yard!” — and explained our routine. The guy looked for fecal matter and found none. Then he said, “One of your neighbors complained.”

“Yeah, I know. I got a letter from them.”

“Can I see it?”

I went in the house and got it for him while he hung out with “The Models” (my Siberian husky girls) and El Barquero. After he read read it he said, “I guess I need to talk to all your neighbors. I’ll get back to you. Sounds like a problem between neighbors more than a problem with Old Dusty here.” Dusty was leaning against the guy getting his ears scratched and groaning happily. “I wish every dog complaint I answered was like this one. This is Dog Heaven.”

I felt tears welling up.

The upshot was my neighbors were educated that I was a very responsible dog owner but I would be taking steps to keep Dusty quiet. I ended up buying a bark collar that was supposed to train Dusty while I was gone by delivering a shock to his neck when he barked. The collar worked great, but Dusty LOVES to bark and he would rather be burned than stop barking. Ultimately I took out the battery and left the collar on Dusty’s neck for show. I put up a higher fence in front of my yard as well, not to keep Dusty in, but to make my life more peaceful.

Here in Monte Vista people are a lot more tolerant of dogs and things dogs do. I even apologized to a guy for Dusty’s bark and he just said, “He’s a dog. Dogs bark.” The delivery guys think it’s good because I’m here by myself. “It’s better for you, ma’am,” they say. But, on a walk, if Dusty becomes aware of the presence of anything that might threaten me, he will bark fiercely. To some dogs, it’s a provocation.

El Barquero’s nemesis — Ace the Chill — is a black lab who lives on the corner by the alley. Ace has been known to occasionally go to the fence and bark at El Barquero Grande and El Barquero remembers this. When we walk by, Dusty gets nervous and alert, smelling the presence of Ace the Chill. Ace usually just watches us go by with nary a flick of his tail. He likes Bear and sometimes lumbers over to the fence to say “Hi!” if he sees Bear and I are alone. He has no interest in meeting or engaging with El Barquero.

Dogs all have different, sometimes complex, “dogonalities.” Even a fierce barky dog like El Barquero Grande is more than one thing. But I totally get it that he can sound scary to the casual observer.

My Pardner

“This is my partner, Meg.”

I remember that transition. It was weird. You had to call your unmarried live-in main-squeeze SOMETHING and “partner” was the word that seemed to have the most caché. It wasn’t sexist or diminishing like “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” Meg would always be willowy and faux-independent. She would cling to Larry’s arm more tightly than would a wife, but they were in an open relationship.

I always thought Larry was in an open relationship. Meg was probably hoping to get married, but I was probably wrong.

In my life, the word “pardner” was nicer. It was a word my Uncle Hank would say to me to get me away from the noise of the family, whatever noise — my mom and her sisters, my cousins, my brother, whatever was going on that made me unhappy. “C’mon pardner, I have a job for you,” and I would follow him. Sometimes we’d go to the garage and work on a car. Sometimes we’d go to the shop and he’d show me his latest saw or the boxes he was making. Sometimes we’d just take a slow walk to the back 40 and back to the house.

When I was grown up, sometimes it was my idea. “You wanna’ go for a ride out west of town in Little Red?” (the name of his old Mitsubishi small pickup. The first time I proposed this — and we went — he said, “Well by golly, Martha Ann, you can drive a stick.”

“You wanna’ go get coffee at McDonalds?” (He liked that.) “You want to go shopping for Jo’s Christmas present?” (That was a howl for both of us.)

Pardnership is knowing your pal well enough to know when they need to escape, and good pardnerships are rare. I miss my pardner very much.

The Love Sorcerer

“Two tickets. The Dean’s box. You want to come?”

“What’s the music?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s not on the tickets?”

“No. I mean I don’t know. I don’t have them. They’re at the theater.”

And so we went. El Amor Brujo. My first symphony. I wore my best dress. He wore his interview suit.

We didn’t look all that out of place.


Happy Ending

She wrapped the shawl around her cold shoulders and went out into the fog. The yellow street lights made piss poor progress in that wet darkness, but it didn’t matter. She knew her way. “Either he’s there or he isn’t. If he isn’t, I’ll go home. If he is, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

It occurred to her that this was no choice at all.

“Wow,” she thought. “I’ve been pacing the floor this whole evening and THAT’S the best I can come up with?”

She knew herself. She wouldn’t raise her voice. She wouldn’t complain. She wouldn’t drag him home. She wouldn’t lock him out. She wouldn’t do anything, so what was the point of this?

“I saw him at the Purple Breasted Pigeon with Carla,” said her co-worker, Lucy, just two days before. “They were clearly not ‘just friends’ if you get my drift.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“We women have to stick together. It’s us against them.”

“If it’s ‘us against them’ why are we with ‘them’ in the first place?” The thought crossed her mind. She didn’t think of her marriage as an adversarial relationship, just sometimes a crappy one.

“I guess,” she’d said to Lucy. “I don’t know why it’s like that, though.”

“The nature of the beast,” Lucy said, nodding wisely, “the nature of the beast.”

Beast,”  she thought as she made her way through the fog. “Beast,” she said aloud to the empty street. Ahead she could see purple neon reflected on fog. It was a neighborhood bar, after all, and she was almost there. She heard music. She thought of their dating days, hers and Lamont’s, and how often they would go out dancing and how they never did anymore. “What happens to love?” she asked the vague and heavy air. “Maybe it’s the nature of the beast.”

She turned around. There was no reason to go inside looking for her husband and her friend. She would only look foolish, a step down from merely feeling foolish. Soon she was home, a three-story 1950s apartment building near the park. She and Lamont loved it when they first saw it, couldn’t believe their luck. She opened the front door, went upstairs to their apartment and unlocked the door. Lamont stood in the kitchen chopping onions.

“Where have you been, honey? I’ve been worried. Visibility is crap tonight. It took me over an hour to get home from work. There were crashes everywhere. Hey, did Carla tell you the news? I ran into her a couple nights ago when I was passing the Purple. Remember when I couldn’t get any close parking? She and her dude are moving to Oregon! He got that job he wanted. I bought her a drink. Anyway, I thought I’d make us some chili. Sound good?”

My Friend

From the time I moved to San Diego in 1984 until I moved away in 2014 I knew S. She hired me to teach for her in the fall of 1984. We didn’t always get along — in fact, we had a few boss/teacher disagreements that were serious, one that caused me to quit. She let me come back. As friends we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, either, but we were “there for each other” most of the time.

S is a very talented painter, truly masterfully talented, but her art took a backseat to the “luv” relationship she fell into 27 years ago with an unemployed, egoistic, self-important, attention seeking, manipulative, do-gooder named J. At that point, I believe on the rebound from a failed marriage, S “rescued” this guy. He’s one of those people Emerson described in this passage from “Self-Reliance:”

If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, ‘Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home.’

When J came into S’ life, S’ life slowly became smaller and smaller and he became the “important person” in the relationship. She fought it, but she was afraid to “lose” him. He abused her in many ways, primarily by belittling her and minimizing her effort. Of course, she supported him, and so she (a woman of her time — she’s 1/2 generation ahead of me) explained it as him wanting the recognition all men need.

Ultimately, everything she did related back to the relationship. Her various illnesses were — I half suspected — bids for attention from J. The only “attention” she got as a result was when he could boast that he was her “carer” something he claimed with the knowledge that others would feel compassion for him and think he was a good guy.

He assumed the leadership of many social causes (pro bono). He could be heard on the radio on Sunday mornings at 6 am. When tsunami and attendant disasters hit Japan, he and some of his other old hippy cohorts organized not a relief effort, but a symbolic effort — they went to the beach and bowed toward Japan. When he turned 70, S organized a celebration of J’s life and achievements. No way in hell was I going. I knew too much about him.

When I left San Diego, S and J were some of the last people I saw. When I arrived at their house, J told me S wasn’t ready and I could wait outside. This person could not even invite me to sit down or offer me a glass of water. I went out into the backyard to wait. When S was ready, I was called in and J was a completely different person. S was — as she had been for a while — in a wheelchair (she has a serious auto-immune disease, still in somewhat early stages at that point, ALS I believe), unable to bathe and dress herself. She smelled and her hair was dirty — two things she would not have abided if she’d been able to take care of herself. I could only imagine how she felt. We had dinner and J acted like my best friend. We took pictures and said our good-byes. The next morning I called and suggested maybe it would be nice for J to get a break and maybe an in-home carer a couple of days a week would be good for S. She insisted J liked being her carer and did a good job. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings by suggesting that. Besides, who would pay?(She lives in a paid for house near the beach in San Diego) My guess was he just didn’t want anyone else in the house.

I stopped talking with S when I moved here and had difficult adjustments of my own. I was no longer in a place where I could listen to hour-long phone calls that detailed the truly awful thing J was doing to her. A little distance showed me that I was not a friend; I was a sob-sister, a vehicle of her catharsis. The gravity of S disease, and its progress she was describing on the phone, made J’s treatment of her even more unbearable for me.

I talked to her about it. I told her what she was describing to me was abuse. She didn’t hear me. The moment had passed where she could eject that person from her life. She explained how he cared for her and defended him. Finally I just asked, “Do you love him?” If anyone knows how irrational love can be, it’s me.

“Yes,” she said. “I love him, but you wouldn’t understand.”

That was the last straw. I thought to myself, “You don’t complain FOR TWENTY YEARS to your friend about your lover’s mistreatment of you and then say that..” And I “broke up” with her. It was hard, but I knew from my experiences with my alcoholic brother that you can love someone and be completely unable to help them.

Today I heard from “her” via J who used her email to write to her friends. It’s a sad and incomprehensible message as J takes center stage and his way of giving information is indirect and self-important, but I got it. My friend S is in the last months of her life. I wrote J and said he did not need to keep in contact with me about her as I am 1000 miles away and cannot do anything to help. I then wrote her daughters. If I am to hear about S, I would rather hear from them.

I guess I’m writing this for myself but having been in abusive relationships more than once, I learned that if my friends tolerated it I could pretend it wasn’t happening. I have felt so much regret that I didn’t understand this important point of friendship years and years ago. I wish I had the power to turn back the clock to 1995 or something and, the first time S called me with complaints about J, I wish I’d had the ability to say, “He doesn’t love you. He’s using you. He will hurt you. He will steal your money and your life.” Either she would have heard me, or not. Either way, it would have been better. Maybe.

She was a vibrant, funny, intense, creative, passionate woman — truly a woman of her generation — sharing the confusions of her moment in history absolutely. There is a photo in her house of her and her two little girls, taken by their dad, S first husband. It’s probably 1967. She is wearing a long striped Moroccan gown with a hood. The VW Bus in which they’re traveling is parked behind them. They are in Morocco and the wind is blowing. S is so young, so beautiful. Her little girls — now in their 50s — are tow-headed angels next to her. The color in the photo is faded, the spectrum shifted to blue.


Freedom of Choice

I stood in front of them as they hung on their hooks, hundreds of them, some small, some large, some battery powered, some with rechargeable batteries, some old-school (move them yourself with your hand), some with Disney princess handles (that works for about two nights then the kid forgets the princess) and dinosaur handles (same story). Some promised whitening, some promised to polish away the tartar. Promises, promises, choice after choice but no choice really at all because (I have to say this), at the end of the day,  they were all…


“Can I help you find something?” asks the friendly kid stocking shelves.

“Naw. There’s just too many of them.”

“That’s for sure.”

And I knew who had the job of hanging them up and keeping this absurd display going.




A victim of collision on the open sea
Nobody ever said that life was free
Sank, swam, go down with the ship
But use your freedom of choice

I’ll say it again in the land of the free
Use your freedom of choice
Your freedom of choice

In ancient Rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice!

Then if you got it you don’t want it
Seems to be the rule of thumb
Don’t be tricked by what you see
You got two ways to go

I’ll say it again in the land of the free
Use your freedom of choice
Freedom of choice

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom of choice

In ancient Rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He picked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
He dropped dead

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want