New Year’s Eve Memory from My Misspent Youth

It’s been years since I’ve labored under the fardel of a reticule — or partied on New Years so, Rag Tag Daily Prompt, perhaps I should write about New Years past. The most peculiar New Year’s Eve in my memory was 1978 going to 1979 (I think). In 1978 the divorce from my first husband was final. The year was hard, finances were tight, grad school seemed a million miles away, my boyfriend-like-person was complicated by which I mean mostly gay. That day I performed my clerical job at the College of Law and drove home in the cold, feeling like I might be coming down with something. Only part of that (awful) apartment in Denver was heated. Friends — a couple, Bob and Diane — had let me know they were bringing me a party.

I had no idea what that meant but at 10 I was dressed up and ready. They arrived with champagne and cheese and we proceeded to get lightly, happily, drunk. My neighbor called from down stairs to ask if we wanted to come down and join HIS party. He and his friends were doing lines. Uh, no thanks (shudder) but that was the late 1970s in my world.

At midnight I realized the point of New Years Eve. It’s the acknowledgement that a bad year is OVER and CAN’T come back. (That’s all well and good but 2020/2021 taught me that isn’t necessarily true. The possibility of a new and sinister status quo exists.)

My boyfriend-like-person called from Aspen to tell me he wished he were with me. Well, if wishes were horses, etc. At 1 am I knew I was sick and sent Bob and Diane home. I went to bed with a fever, and, apparently Bob and Diane didn’t fully close my front door.

At 8 am I was awakened by — God, what WAS his name? Mark… That was it. A law student who had come to fix me New Year’s breakfast complete with champagne and strawberries.

I did not like this guy, and I’d told him. We’d gone out a couple of times, and they were both absolutely not my cup of tea. Among other things, the guy was boring which is, truly, one of the bigger problems in a wouldbe boyfriend. The boyfriend-like-person was NEVER boring. I’m also a pretty superficial person and the guy wasn’t what I considered good looking. Yeah, I know beauty is skin deep, but we have to look at that skin. I’d already told him I wasn’t interested and I certainly did not want him in my house. But, being a law student (it’s all about argument, right?) he took it as my playing hard to get (who WOULDN’T want him?) and began serious wooing. Waking up to a pretty table with a breakfast on it after a night of drinking? A table set and breakfast prepared by someone who’d more-or-less broken into my apartment? Seriously. That was not to be born.

“What are you doing here?”

“Happy New Year!”

“I’m sick. Thanks but, no.”

“There’s champagne with strawberries and waffles!”

“Yeah, but why are you in my house?”

You see how it went. The good news is that he married one of my friends the following year. I introduced them to each other. Little match-maker me. ❤

The BEST part of that New Years was what I saw outside my bedroom window later that morning. Here’s the backstory. At some point(s) during the two horrible years preceding, my VW had been rear-ended AND I’d been in a minor head-on collision going the wrong way on a one way street, side street, near one of the dormitories of my university. Nothing that rendered the car undriveable, but I didn’t have the $$$ to fix any of this. That morning I looked out of my bedroom window to see that someone, driving home from a New Year’s Eve party, had skidded on the ice and hit my downstairs neighbor’s car so that it was up over the back of my VW. My neighbor and I went out that afternoon to look at this situation. It looked like his big Buick was humping my VW. Clearly I wasn’t going anywhere and neither was my cokehead neighbor.

Whoever had done it had left notes telling us he would lose his insurance if we called the cops etc. and he was willing to repair our cars outside the system. We were skeptical, but we called him. What else were we going to do (well, call the cops but…) The upshot was that my car was repaired — back and front — just like new. Thinking back to life in my 20s? Even at the time it seemed like total chaos.

The featured photo is me in my VW sometime in the late 1970s. It was taken randomly by a traffic camera and I found it online. How’s that for weird.

Later this morning I will head to Del Norte to take down my show and see if I made any money. I was thinking; how many of you never heard of Del Norte, Colorado until you read my blog? Well, here is a map so you can more completely imagine the wonders. The arrow points in the direction of Monte Vista.

The Admonition Heeded

At 6:30 the little girl and her brother were out the door and on the school bus. It was a long bus ride — an hour — winding through the small towns and farmlands of Sarpy County, Nebraska. Ed, the driver, turned from the kids’ S shaped street onto a major road and then headed west toward Papillion where he would pick up two more kids then across the cornfields to Ralston, one kid, then back east into Omaha where the bus would fill and arrive at school.

Fields stretched out to the horizon on all sides. Shallow streams flowed toward the Missouri River and disturbed the regimented rectangles of the corn fields, their brief valleys filled with trees. The little girl watched the mists rise in the hollows as morning warmed.

Everything was something to see.

Nebraska’s cold gray and white winter. The green-roofed white farmhouse on the low hill, standing determined and solitary, sheltered by tall cottonwoods, the icy road, the deep snow, the bus stuck, tromping together through winter, the kind farmer who let Ed use the phone. Four kids sitting around an unknown woman’s kitchen table while the tow truck pulled the bus off the ice and out of the snow. “Thank you kindly,” said Ed, shaking the farmer’s hand.

“Think nothing of it,” said the farmer. “You kids learn good today, OK?”

Was it Me or the Soufflé?

A long long long time ago in a different time and different place I was invited to my friend/boss’ house for Thanksgiving dinner with her family. It was really nice and I brought my fancy Sweet Potato soufflé. From then on, whenever a holiday came around I was asked, “Great! And you’ll bring the soufflé?” Was it my fascinating conversation, my brilliant wit, or the soufflé? It really didn’t matter. I got a good dinner out of it and enjoyed the company and so on and so forth.

I don’t have the recipe any more, or I would share it. I haven’t found it online, either, but there are a LOT of sweet potato soufflé recipes out there, so it probably is, too. It had sherry, eggs, brown sugar, pecans (inside, not on top), sweet potatoes, butter, salt… More like dessert than a vegetable dish.

I was thinking about how the holidays have changed over the course of my life and which I enjoyed most and which were the strangest. The strangest were definitely Christmas Eves with my friend Sally, her (ew) icky “boy”friend, family, ancillary friends at a sort-of Chinese restaurant near the harbor in San Diego. I don’t know where they (and apparently) other people got the idea that Christmas Eve dinner in a Chinese restaurant was a thing, but there we all were. If you know, let me in on it.

The irony of it was funny. One of her oldest friends was a really obnoxious yet lovable guy who’d been a kind of nemesis of mine during my time at the international school where Sally had been my boss. By the Chinese restaurant days, Sally had been long retired and the guy still worked at the international school. I’d moved on to other, more lucrative, teaching adventures. I used to drive the 40 miles (yikes!) down to that restaurant for Christmas Eve dinner wondering why I was doing it, but there I was. I think I was drawn by the absurdity — and friendship.

My favorite Christmases were in Montana with my Aunt Jo, Uncle Hank and Aunt Martha and those in Switzerland with my Swiss family. I knew well — in both cases — that the sweetness of those Christmases wouldn’t last long except in memory. There have been many other lovely Christmases, too. I was thinking this morning that this is why I still “do” Christmas. A lot of amazing things have happened in this season, and I like to keep the door open.


Featured photo: me and Sally some Christmas or Thanksgiving in the 1990s.

Smelled Like Teen Spirit

Barbies

Back in the 90s, the days of Grunge, I lived in the hood — City Heights, San Diego. I liked the music of the times very much. I even went to a bunch of concerts and listened to it on my boombox in my garage on the weekend if I was working on an art project. In those days I was busy with the famed and immortal “Barbies Battle of the Bands; Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims.” For what it’s worth, if you ever think of making a sculpture with Barbies, don’t. Mattel has LOTS of rules about that. I only got so far as making the instruments and stages and designing costumes for my two bands — The Black Widows (punk) and I think the other was The Bottle Blondes (girl band). All that remains of the monumental project are the guitars and parts of the drum kits. It was fun, but when Lucio, a little neighbor boy, came up to hang out with me and draw pictures one Saturday and asked, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I began questioning myself. Otherwise, I was teaching and hiking a LOT and didn’t know I was on the cusp of getting a great job (1999).

My next door neighbors had teenage daughters, and the oldest was about to turn 15 which meant, as they were Mexican, it was going to be time for her Quinceanera, a fancy ball to mark the entry of a girl into womanhood. It involved a BIG party. None of us in the hood were wealthy (ha ha) so I didn’t know how that was going to go. I have never been to one but I heard stories and read journal entries from students over the years. It is a BIG deal.

One of the biggest events of the Quinceanera is the waltz.

A Quinceanera in Pasadena — really, aren’t those every little girl’s dream gowns?

After months of practice for the waltz, the moment finally comes during the reception. It is assumed that the Quinceanera (young woman) prior to this date has not been able to dance with anyone before. It is at this time that the Quinceanera will dance the waltz with her chambelan and accompanied by her damas and other chambelanes. This is a major highlight of the celebration. Other important highlights will follow such as the toast and the cutting of the cake. (Source)

So…there I was one late afternoon in November, I was in my little house grading papers with my six dogs hanging around, and I heard uncharacteristic music coming from the front yard. Huh? Strauss and giggling. Strauss and laughing. Strauss and “No, pendejo. ¡Asi!” More laughter. After a while, I decided that I REALLY needed to put my truck in the garage, right? It was an emergency. As I walked to the garage I saw one of the loveliest pictures from my life in the hood. All these kids, wearing the baggy-jeaned, Dr. Martin, grunge fashion of the times, had a boombox set up on the girl’s mom’s car. It was pumping out waltzes and they were practicing.

I loved it.

P.S. That girl later bought my house!

Watch Where You’re Going

When I was a little kid, the little wobbly compasses dads put on their dashboards fascinated me. “Which way are we going now?”

My dad never put one in our car. “I know where I’m going.” He had a reliable sense of direction and mom could read a map, but my Aunt Martha definitely needed one — and had one — but she’d argue with it. We spent 30 minutes one rainy afternoon driving around the same four blocks in Colorado Springs because she didn’t believe her compass…

Most of the time I lived where all anyone needed to do to know which way was north was look for the mountains which were always due west. Things got a little confusing in San Diego where the mountains were to the east, and more than once in the first couple of years I lived there, with the ocean in mind (west) I turned toward the mountains (oops!) Now the mountains are in all directions, but the various ranges look distinctly different from each other.

The sun is more reliable than mountains but even that gets tricky when you can’t see the horizon, like in Switzerland or Pennsylvania. In all my hiking years (not including now which is barely hiking) I never used a compass. I knew how — know how — and I carried one but somehow? Landmarks. It seems that all my trails were out, up, down, back.

Early in my hiking life, in a dense forest — Fontenelle Forest — along the Missouri River with my 7th grade science class on a field trip — boys with Col. Smithson, girls with Mrs. Idiot — the girls got lost. Mrs. Idiot freaked out. The class fragile girl had an asthma attack, and woods person that I was, I stepped up, “I’ll find Col. Smithson.” Since I spent most of my free time wandering around in a forest that was part of THIS forest, I’d learned a LOT about getting back home for dinner. Mrs. Idiot didn’t want me to go alone, so she sent a classmate with me. Kathy Keough. Off we went. Kathy was scared. I, the intrepid “Natty Bumpo” wasn’t. This was finally fun! But Kathy insisted we stop to pray. OK. Soon after, we encountered Col. Smithson and the boys. “Can you find your way back to them?” asked the Colonel, beginning one of his interrogations.

“Yeah.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.”
People really do like to stop to talk when action might be more the order of the day. I led him and the boys to Mrs. Idiot and the rest of the girls, and became a legend for a short time. “How did you do that?” asked Mrs. Idiot.

“Landmarks.”

What were these landmarks? After we left the main trail, we walked along the river on rail road tracks. About halfway from the main trail to the narrow trail we took into the woods, was a dead skunk. When we left the tracks, we turned right, into the forest and began heading back toward the main trail through the trees. I knew this. I knew (because we had turned back toward the main trail) that if we just turned right, we’d hit the tracks and the river. The dead skunk would let me know about how far it was to the main trail. I didn’t think (with my 12 year old wisdom) we really needed to find the Colonel. We needed to find the bus. It was sheer coincidence that we DID run into Col Smithson. HE was furious with Mrs. Idiot for letting Kathy Keough and me leave the group. She should not have done that. Smart people stay where they are if they get lost, but…

Our nature field trip turned into something else, a lecture on safety in the forest and using a compass. Col. Smithson had been in two wars and had a lot to say about that.

There’s a theory that some people have a bit of magnetite in their noses…

Do humans have a compass in their nose?

Asked by Lee Staniforth of Manchester, UK

Some years ago scientists at CALTECH (California Institute of Technology in Pasadena) discovered that humans possess a tiny, shiny crystal of magnetite in the ethmoid bone, located between your eyes, just behind the nose.

Magnetite is a magnetic mineral also possessed by homing pigeons, migratory salmon, dolphins, honeybees, and bats. Indeed, some bacteria even contain strands of magnetite that function, according to Dr Charles Walcott of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, “as tiny compass needles, allowing them [the bacteria] to orient themselves in the earth’s magnetic field and swim down to their happy home in the mud”.

It seems that magnetite helps direction finding in animals and helps migratory species migrate successfully by allowing them to draw upon the earth’s magnetic fields. But scientists are not sure how they do this.

In any case, when it comes to humans, according to some experts, magnetite makes the ethmoid bone sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field and helps your sense of direction.

Some, such as Dr Dennis J Walmsley and W Epps from the Department of Human Geography of the Australian National University in Canberra writing in Perceptual and Motor Skills as far back as in 1987, have even suggested that this “compass” was helpful in human evolution as it made migration and hunting easier.

Following this fascinating factoid, science journalist Marc McCutcheon entitled a book The Compass in Your Nose and Other Astonishing Facts.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

(Source)

I’ve wandered compass-less in the Laguna Mountains of San Diego County for hours and always got back to my car. Maybe there’s something to the nose-compass theory. Still, it seems to be part landmarks, part sun position, part up and down. It’s cool that now we have these amazing phones that have maps, compasses and GPS. It’s uncool that they can lose their charge.

Featured photo: My brother in our local forest in Nebraska. I think I’m done with the Pearl Buck project — seriously it was getting on my nerves… I found sections that COULD appear sometime in the future — women in Chinese fiction is one of them. We’ll see.

Nothing Logical About It

While I think that private, uh, enterprise space travel is a little out of this world, spacey (if you will), I’m glad Captain Kirk is getting his big chance in Jeff Bezo’s space vessel, Blue Origin. “Captain Kirk is rocketing into space next week — boldly going where no other sci-fi actors have gone.” (Source)

I was a Trekkie. Yep. Back in the 1970’s. I was a little late coming to the wonders of Star Trek, but I finally arrived. It was a big part of my life, actually, which tells you all you need to know about my life at the time. It went on TV at 4:30 every week day and I never missed it. When I started graduate school (1976) and was discharging my duties as a teaching assistant, I had a terrible dilemma; keep full office hours or bug out 15 minutes early?

At first it was no big deal. No one came to my office hours, but after I’d been teaching for a while (my very first ever class), students started coming around and hanging out. I took off at 4:15 no matter what. One day a kid said, “Why do you always take off early?”

By then, less intimidated by my new status of professor, I felt OK saying, “Star Trek comes on at 4:30.”

The kid (understand he was only 4 or 5 years younger than I was at the time) started laughing. “We all go to the union and buy a pitcher and watch Star Trek. Come on.” At the time, 3.2 beer was legal for 18 year olds in Colorado. I was promoted to “cool professor who drinks beer with students while watching Star Trek.”

I had — in my “office” at home — a life sized free-standing Mr. Spock. When, at the end of the quarter, I invited my students to my and the We-Were-Too-Young X’ house for a party, my students were amused (understatement) to find Mr. Spock standing there. Of course, someone brought him out to the living room to join the party.

Possibly the high point of all this Star Trekkery happened after what seemed like a lllllooonnnnngggg Star Trek hiatus, a Star Trek movie came out. I was visiting my brother and his then wife in Santa Rosa, CA and we decided to go see the movie. The lights went down. The crowd hushed. The Star Trek theme song came up and my brother and I both cried. His wife’s amusement bordered on disgust… “You two,” she said, and shrugged.

It didn’t end there. No. YEARS and YEARS maybe DECADES later, 2009, all this lost in time, my stepson and his wife decided to have Christmas with me in my little house in the San Diego mountains. They brought everything including post-dinner entertainment. We spent the afternoon in the Lagunas where there was 12 inches of snow, then came home for supper. Afterward, presents opened, wood stove cranking, dogs dozing…

“I wasn’t sure about this,” said my stepson. “I think you’re going to be surprised. It seemed like a strange conceit to me, but I think it works.”

He popped a DVD into the DVD player (obviously) and, yeah, here came the music. We were all reverentially silent, the film “rolled” (spun) and we enjoyed it.

I could offer a long analysis about Star Trek but already 900,000,000 people have beat me to it. At this point in my life I think it’s enough to say I really, really liked it. Good luck, Captain Kirk. Live Long(er) and Prosper.

Troppo Pesante

I was watching a film — not a great film — the other night, A Home of Our Own. It is a monument to suffering set during the early 1960s, about an impoverished woman struggling to raise her 6 kids and provide them with a home, using everything she has — brute stupidity, ignorance, stubbornness, necessity, determination, and a limited amount of charm, enough to make her a sympathetic character. She also has a sufficiency of that quality that has suddenly become so popular, “grit.” BUT as I watched I was hit by the tremendous weight of my own memories.

It was strange that realization hit me in Italian. “Pesante,” I thought. “Troppo.” Too heavy.

If I go to a spot in the infinite library of my mind and remember some small something, the whole thing opens like a book, incredible details, days, hours, colors, and I feature in them not like the story-teller but a character, sometimes a curious little girl, sometimes a young woman with no idea what’s going on. It is a bright series of days, of feigned certainty and motion.

One of the readers of this blog is writing a memoir. She expressed how, for her, the past — memories — are not just events in time and that the process of writing a memoir they are transmuted through the creative act of writing. I’ve written a few books based on my life experiences that focus on a moment, a period, in my life or an activity. But these others? The weight of them and their rapacious detail?

I just don’t know. I think I have a phobia about going there with my keyboard, my fingers, my mind.

Tedious Quotidian Update 43.7.3.vii

Teddy Bear T. Dog and I escaped for a short, hot ramble yesterday. It was redeemed by small puffy clouds passing overhead sometimes giving us shade, a luxuriant, cooling WSW wind, solitude and late summer colors. There has been so much smoke in the air in recent weeks that it’s been challenging to find a window of opportunity. Teddy had a GREAT time. There must have been a whole Noah’s Ark of animals out there since his last jaunt. The day was clear, even to the end. A bright, white moon — the first in weeks that hasn’t been orange from smoke — passed overhead.

This past weekend was my 50th (51st) high school reunion, but I didn’t go. Friends texted from the reunion saying they missed me and were going to Zoom. I attempted that twice, but for good or ill (I’ll never know) there were problems. Photos on Facebook illustrated the passing of time. I was thinking last night as I looked at the photos that we’re all massive accumulations of stories, some of which intersect. How in the world can all of those stories even fit into one room?

I really want to know about these people. I liked them in high school. We were — as it turns out — a rather astonishing group. My English teacher told me that but I thought she was just being encouraging. I wonder what — for each of them — was the biggest moment for them in the 50+ year interval (other than the births of their children)? What do they wish they could have done but never had the opportunity to do? What did they do that they never imagined they would do? Something wonderful? Did they “stay on course” or (like me) wander all over the place? Are they who they thought they’d be or, back then, did they really have NO idea? Did their values change along the way? How? And here I am: the same “girl” I was back in the day, wanting to have deep conversations with people.

My deep conversations are here on Women’s Wilderness Legend, Waterproof. Some of my high school classmates read this blog and, as a result, they, at least, know me, but not everyone gets up every morning and spends the golden 30 minutes drinking that blessed and sainted cup of awesome coffee, punching the keys on their laptop.



Remuneration…

Seven years ago when I was cleaning out “archives” preparing my move back to Colorado from California I found this old pay stub from Head Ski. Most of of the cool stuff I found I photographed and threw out, this too. None of the jobs I did at Head Ski were great jobs. The first (fall 1974) was a factory job, on the line, finishing skis in preparation for the Christmas rush. I wasn’t completely aware of that at the time, but when I was laid off I understood it perfectly. Part of me — now — understanding how things worked and knowing what happened next — part of me wishes I’d never quit Head Ski. I wouldn’t have stayed on the line. When I was called back from lay off I was put in the mail-room, a middle-world between the office and the plant.

This pay stub is from the interval during which I worked in the mail room. I did cool stuff for the company at that point and even met Howard Head who was a charismatic, compelling, optimistic character who liked me. If I’d stayed? My imagination paints all kinds of wonderful things for that alternative reality, but who knows? Maybe back then I felt some sense of foreboding thinking of continuing to work at Head Ski. I don’t remember any such feeling, but??? I do remember thinking that with a B.A. in English, I should be doing something profoundly important.

I don’t see it that way any more.

Not long ago a reader commented on a blog post that we live many lives in our lifetime. This pay stub evokes a whole life, confusion, odd choices, long drives, an undetermined future, a bad marriage.

So what did this paycheck cover? It was a weekly thing. Rent was $140/mo in married students housing at the University of Colorado. Our apartment was by the track, the very track you can see if you watching Downhill Racer in which Head Skis have a cameo role. Five sacks of groceries (paper bags) usually added up to about $25. I figured $5/bag and that was a couple weeks, depending. Laundry? A handful of quarters. In short, this was a normal, lower-middle class pay check, about the same as I make now even though the numbers on my “pay” check look like a bigger number, the same amount in the sense of “real wealth” (as defined by Alan Watts) which is what that paycheck buys.


Summer continues relentlessly. The air has been so smoke-filled that I’m not going outside much. I know sooner or later it’s going to break and fall will arrive and then the good times. Meanwhile, having done my five apple paintings I’ve moved on to a medium I can’t control 100%. It’s a good thing. As I carved away at these bits of linoleum, I thought of when I learned this. I was 15. Most of what I do as an artist I learned in 9th grade. Good or bad? I have no idea. Anyway, the challenges here are mechanical: keeping the tools sharp and not cutting myself. 😀



Mammaries are Made of This

Back in Nixon’s time, when the door opened ever so slightly to the People’s Republic of China, there was a thing called “Ping Pong diplomacy.” I don’t know the whole story, the ins, the outs, the backs, the forths, but I do remember it made us all question the way we held our ping-pong paddle. Suddenly it wasn’t cool to call ping-pong ping-pong, it became “Table Tennis.” When I got to China about 10 years later, I didn’t see a single person playing ping-pong. Badminton, but no ping-pong. Still, it was an amazing historical phenomenon and if you’re interested you can read about it here, “How Ping-Pong Diplomacy Thawed the Cold War.” It’s a wonderful story.

My other ping-pong story is pretty sordid (now you want to read it?) and icky, but… In 1977, I had a professor in graduate school who was a letch. Maybe more than one, but I only learned about the one. I was (and probably remain) a pretty naive kind of female human and when he invited me and (allegedly) several others to his apartment for a ping-pong tournament, I believed him and I went. Of course, no one EVER showed up but we “waited” for them. At a certain point the professor made a grab for my mammary gland and I was out of there, nauseated and angry. BUT in the interval of waiting, we did play a game of ping-pong in the rec room of his apartment complex.

A month or so later a friend — a grad-school schoolmate — had a party in her apartment. I went early to help her set up and get a head start on intoxicants. At one point, I was telling her the story of my bizarre evening with El Groppo. We were laughing about it and playing air ping-pong. I was already Bed, Bath and Beyond to the wind so I didn’t notice that people had begun arriving. A game we had begun in an empty room finished in a room with a dozen people sitting around on the floor, watching. The coup de grâce of the performance (as it was then, by virtue of the arrival of an audience) was me saying, “Oooooh what a cute little booby!” quoting the professor.

And there on the floor sat that very professor. To this day, I believe he deserved the public humiliation.


And, from the Waybac Machine, this is what my garden looked like on September 9, 2020