Crowd Control

“Dude, are you doing better? You looked so forlorn when you came by here a little while ago. Want some Fosters?” The oil-drum homeless guy reached out to Roger with a paper bag, top turned down around a large can of beer.

“Are you kidding?”

“No, dude. It’s decent beer. I was in Australia once. Shoulda’ stayed. Had a woman and everything. You hoping to see the Green flash?”


“Perfect conditions for it. Clear sky, bright sun, I dunno, we might get lucky. You wanna’ buy some shrooms?”

“No, I don’t want to buy some shrooms.”

“Just thought I’d ask.”

Roger shuddered, and decided to head further down the beach without taking his eyes off the horizon. He found a place to sit on the sand and looked toward the west. To his right a small group of dread-locked nouveau hippies was dancing in a circle around a drummer. Marijuana smoke wafted toward him.

“I wonder what happened to my god-damned phone?” he muttered, more loudly than he realized.

“Material things are ties. They anchor us to desire,” said a young man in a saffron robe passing by. His head was shaved, his feet were bare. He stood in front of Roger, blocking his view of the sun.

“Could you get out of the way? I want to see the green flash?”

“Oh, sorry dude,” said the young man. “Namaste!”

“No privacy anywhere any more,” said Roger.

“It’s a public beach, dude, what do you expect?” The kid with the skateboard and pit bull sat down beside him. “You trying to see the green flash?” The dog licked Roger’s ear.


About the Green Flash

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake

Part 3: Connectivity Issues


Yesterday, not long after my blog post went up, I got a text from one of my neighbors who’s currently a “snow bird.” “I want to read your hiking book.” She’s originally from San Diego and her grandson lives within sight of the main locale of the stories.

I texted her back, “It’s not happening,” with a little explanation, then I went about my morning. In the back of my mind was the book, of course.

The book is flawed. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. Its flaws are, in their way, reflections of MY flaws. I fixed the two new typos I’d found and closed the file.

Then I did my chores, thinking the book was a done deal, a closed subject.

I looked at Bear’s blue eyes, which are very beautiful but they are also, probably, the reason I have her.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Whoever bred Bear thought they were a flaw. Thought they indicated deafness or blindness or?” Then I thought of Dusty T. Dog. He was so flawed the shelter didn’t think he was adoptable. He’s STILL flawed, but WOW. For nearly 12 years he’s been my loyal, loving companion no matter WHAT.

Then I thought of Mission Trails Regional Park itself — the location of most of the stories in my book. It’s not perfect. It was never where I WANTED to be. It was simply what I had, the only place I could hike with my dogs during a long and VERY flawed time in my life. And it ITSELF was barely snatched from development and freeways — by whom? A group of San Diego citizens INCLUDING me! I, with all my flaws, was one small agent in the protection of 5800 acres of chaparral for future generations to see, know, enjoy.

BEYOND that, the place itself has seen a lot of life (and destruction) before it became a park — dirt bikes, ATVS, and people four-wheeling up the steep slopes. Stolen cars dumped in the stream and over the embankments. When I first started hiking there, a Ford pickup from the 40s rusted away in the stream leading to Oak Canyon. During WW II it was a military training base, including exploding shells (some unexploded shells have been found in recent years). There had been developer dreams of cutting across the hillside with a four lane freeway on the bed of a road that had been used by the water department. Neither it nor I are a pristine perfect flawless wilderness. I began to wonder if maybe it was a BETTER book because it’s not perfect.

And more… My father’s flaws, his MS, inspired me to propose, design, and raise the money for the building of a wheelchair accessible guided walkway to one of the most interesting historical features in California, Old Mission Dam.


Walkway to Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Late yesterday, I decided to write a note for the readers of my book explaining its flaws, that Createspace COULDN’T print the cover right no matter what and directing readers to the website where they could see the actual photo (including the featured image for this blog), apologizing for my weak proofreading skills and the relentless and (to me) invisible typos (just now found another one 😦 ) and explaining that it all reflects my flaws and the flaws of the world as it is.

“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” M. Teresa

As for “jolly” the word of the day, it’s one of those Christmas words. I never use it. Sorry WP.

Living Far Side Cartoon

“What are you up to?” the mailman asked me.

“Cleaning as usual. When your roommates are dogs…”

“Living with animals is like that. Have a nice day!”

I return to the zoo that is my living room with junk-mail all of which is for Bear to shred.

When I lived in San Diego I lived, literally, two blocks from the zoo. It was the 80s. San Diego was not as big a city as it is now, and while the zoo was fancy, it was a lot plainer and simpler than it is today — and cheaper. We (my ex and I) always bought season passes. His sons spent part of the summer with us and a season pass took us to the zoo and Wild Animals Park (since renamed…) as often as we wanted to go.

I love animals. I went to the zoo a LOT — at least weekly during the “off” season when the animals had more freedom from observation by tourists. The first year we lived there — and I was desperately homesick for Colorado — I hung around with a Rocky Mountain Goat in the petting zoo and imagined we were having similar feelings. The goat was very tame having been brought in as a very small kid and raised by the zoo staff.

The shows with the trainers and animals were amazing. I saw a cheetah whose best friend was a golden retriever. (You can learn more here. It’s a wonderful testament to dogs) I learned that mountain lions purr. I learned the difference between seals and sea lions. I watched raptors demonstrate their wing-span. I learned about the tragedy of the white rhino. I learned about the California Condor rehabilitation program and how it was going (it is run by the San Diego Zoo). I learned WHY zoos are good things and I ended up subscribing to that philosophy after taking my niece on a truck ride through the San Diego Wild Animal Park to “mingle” with giraffes and rhinos.

But even more interesting was the behavior of the animals when no one was paying attention to them. One early morning, I was strolling down the steep hill where the lions (tigers and bears, oh my!) were then kept. The lions were at the bottom of the hill. I heard them roaring. Really ROARING. I also heard the unmistakable snuffle grunt of a large pig. I know about large pigs because, when I lived in China, they roamed the streets of my village, freely feeding on garbage and scraps. I’d also heard hundreds of them killed for meat. A pig’s life in China was a strange mixture of liberty and death.

What was going on?

I crossed to the other side of the road leading down the hill. I wanted to watch without being part of the scene. If it really WERE a live pig, right?


Snuffle, snuffle, GRUNT!


Snuffle, snuffle, GRUNT!

I got where I could see the lions, male and female, looking through the fence of their enclosure, trying to see around a huge Natal plum hedge, roaring. What were they trying to see?

Then I saw it.

A ground’s keeper, with a shovel, behind a shed, on the other side of the hedge, out of sight of the lions, was using a shovel on the pavement to clean the mud, debris and garbage from a rain gutter.

It sounded JUST LIKE a pig!


My Friend, Spike

I’d like you to meet Spike.

Coast Horned Lizard - Mission Creek 1


Spike is a California Coastal horned lizard. Hiking in the coastal chaparral of San Diego, I often caught a glimpse of Spike, and I think I picked him up once or twice. I like him a LOT. As you can see, he’s not easy to see (ha ha). That’s because Spike has a lot of predators, including scorpions. Spike is a furtive little fellow out of necessity. In different places — depending on the color of the dirt and the kinds of rocks about, Spike might have slightly different coloration.

I named all of them Spike. It was fun to be hiking along, catch sight of him on the edge of the bushes, and say, “Hi, Spike! Be careful out there!” Once I even picked up a tiny baby Spike. He was one of the cutest little critters I’ve ever seen.

Passing Time at the Local Coffee House


“If you’re going to ‘Go Gonzo’, you have to find some novel you like and type it over a gazillion times until you find your own style. God forbid it’s War and Peace.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“I agree. It doesn’t.”

“If I type someone elses’ novel over and over, I’m going to be really good at writing that novel.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think Capote would’ve called Hunter Thompson a typist.”

“He was definitely a writer, though he did have a typewriter.” I thought I was funny, but Peter didn’t.

“People make a lot of noise about his drug use, don’t they?”

“So dumb. It was the times. Remember your frantic phone searches back in the day for ‘Vitamin Q’?”

“You’re one to talk, Mr. Amyl Nitrate.”

“Oh yeah.” I laughed at the memory of us in a cavernous black-walled disco passing around a bottle of RUSH. “Oh and the movies!”

“Yeah, I think a lot of young people know Hunter Thompson through Johnny Depp and maybe some English teacher.”

“That’s a laugh, isn’t it? English teachers?”

“Fuck you.” We were, both of us, English teachers.

“Hey, there’s an Edith Wharton novel in progress. Look at those two.” The couple beside us was clearly in the throes of a late morning break up.

“Oh man, I’d never go back to that, would you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Not a chance in hell.” Peter shuddered. Our young love had had enough drama for twenty people.

“Yeah, and they’re always saying, ‘You’d like to be young again, wouldn’t you?’”

“A lot of people would. You sure as hell would prefer walking without a cane, but…”

“Shhh. This is good.”

We drank our coffee and watched the sitcom at the table in front of us.


“If I have to explain it, you’ll never understand it.”

“Right. Yeah, I get that. If I understood you and all your deep and meaningful ideas and your precious fucking soul, we wouldn’t be breaking up right now, right? This is all because I don’t understand you. Look, I fucking understand you. I fucking understand that this is only scene one in this stupid ass drama you’re always staging. Once a month, at least. I could schedule it. Well, you know what?”


“I do understand you, and you’re just NOT all that interesting. Hot, yes. Interesting? No.”

Brakes squealed. Glass shattered against a light post. A woman screamed. The white-noise of predictable urban traffic came literally to a screeching halt. Only one car was in motion and it was the one that should not have been. A white Nissan.

“Did you see that?”

“Can’t you pay attention to me for once?”

“I think that guy’s been killed.” Mark dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a Bic pen. He spread his left hand, palm flat, scribbled for a second or two, then wrote.

“What are you doing?”

Peter was already running to the corner. I called 911. “Yeah. A cyclist. Hit. No. The driver left. Backed away from the light post he hit and took off down 6th. No I don’t know if it was a he. It could’ve been a she. We need an ambulance here, sweet-cheeks. Not some PC gender awareness interrogation. White Nissan. I didn’t get the plate number. Vanity plates, but no, I didn’t see it completely. There’s a heart.”

Passersby formed a circle around the body, each person hoping that what they saw on the street between head and helmet was not brains, but it was brains. Peter returned to our table, clearly shaken.

“My god,” he said. “Is it so difficult to look out your car window and see a cyclist about to make a LEGAL turn? Did you get the plate number?”

I shook my head. “Vanity plates. A heart. That’s all I saw.”

Sirens screamed all around. The ambulance finally arrived. EMTs pushed the circle of protectors away from the body and lifted it onto a stretcher. Some of the spectators were so shaken they had to be helped back to the sidewalk, safe from the random horror show of life. The ambulance pulled away, no sirens, no lights. Death was no one’s emergency. Fire fighters attached a hose to the hydrant and blasted the brains down the storm drain below the painted a blue dolphin and the words “We live downstream.”

“That’s what you don’t understand,” Mark said, sighing, looking at his hand. “Any minute, any day, any time that could be me or you with our brains splattered on 6th and University, circled by strangers, and some old fag calling 911.”

“It’s not nice to call people fags, Mark.”

“OK look, honey. I was making a point. That guy’s dead. He got up this morning, god knows what happened between here and then — maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend, too, or given the neighborhood…”

“There you go again, gay-bashing.”

“I’m NOT fucking gay-bashing. Why do you keep changing the subject? Wait, I get it. You can’t handle the truth. That’s it.”  Mark — the young man — turned around to us and said, “You guys are gay, right? You’re a couple, right?”

“Yes,” said Peter. “Going on — what? Thirty-five years.”

“There, Jessica. They are fags.”

“That’s right, sweetie,” I called out over Peter’s now bald head. “We’re fags.” I looked at Peter. God he’d been a beautiful young man, this great love of my life.

When the police came by asking questions, the young man — Mark — showed his hand.

“This is the license plate.”

“Seriously? Do Me <3?”


“What was the make and model of the car?”

“Nissan. Sentra. Maybe two years old. White.”

“Anything else you remember?”

As the police talked to her boyfriend, the events seemed to finally register in Jessica’s self-absorbed little brain and she began to cry. Mark reached for her hand, leaned forward and whispered in her ear. They stood and prepared to go.

“Sorry for bashing on you guys,” said Mark. “She can be hard to talk to sometimes.” He shook our hands.
“No worries,” said Peter.

As they walked away I wondered how this smart young guy could take that girl seriously. She was wearing sweatpants with the word “Juicy” silk-screened in glitter across her ass. Peter and I sat together for a few more hours then decided it was time to go to Whole Foods. Peter helped me up from my chair.

“C’mon, cowboy,” he said.


I wrote this story in response to a prompt 3 years ago.

California’s Aching Early Winter Light

I don’t miss anything about California. I was finished with it long before I moved away. But, there is one thing, and when I see it in a photo I feel yearning, sorrow, loss and love — nostalgia. It is the light at the end of the day, coming across the ocean, reaching inland. The slanting rose and golden tones touched everything.

I did not notice it when I lived there, though I did a lot of hikes in the late afternoon into darkness, and I spent some time on hilltops watching the sun set over the ocean. For many years I drove home from school in this light, and when I lived in the mountains, I saw this light hit the distant hills with orange/pink as I headed east toward home. I took many walks on the beach in this light, cooked burgers for the kids in this light. I wrapped up art projects in my garage in this light. I got dressed to go out in this light. Walked to my car in this light. Wandered around Old Town in this light.

It meant nothing to me then, this light.


Black-shouldered Kite, hovering


Chris Bava and the existing wall between Tijuana and San Diego

P.S. The photo above is of my friend, Chris Bava (RIP). Behind him is the wall between Tijuana and the San Diego metro area. Each of the crosses you see here represents a person who died trying to get over the wall. Chris lived in Playas de Tijuana with his wife, Cat.

One Bark Family

Back when I lived in the “hood” — City Heights in San Diego — a young Navy guy and his Japanese bride moved into a house at the end of the street. She’d gotten knocked up in Japan and he’d “had to” marry her. He bought a house and a Labrador retriever puppy who lived tied up to a tree in front. The wife was named Sunny and the dog was named Shadow. Soon Sean (the baby) came along and about two years later the Navy guy was gone, never to be seen again. Sean was walking, Shadow was escaping, there was another dog, Blackie, a border collie mix, and Sunny was turning tricks to earn a living.

Shadow got little or no attention and somehow had sized me up as a person who liked dogs, so many mornings she’d slip out of the noose and come to my front porch. She would bark one “Woof” and I’d go outside and take her for a walk in the grungy canyon nearby and throw a ball for her. Then I’d take her home, refasten her to her tree, and come home. I didn’t — then — have a dog of my own.

Time passed, Shadow had a litter of puppies, one of which became my first dog, Truffle, who also only barked one “Woof” whenever she barked. A kid down the street named Shadow and Truffle the “One bark family.”

Truffle and Molly in the Medicine Wheel

Truffle, Big Red Dog, and Molly

Sean and Blackie began following Shadow to my house. When Shadow and her litter were ultimately picked up by Animal Control, Sean and Blackie (called “Brackie” by Sunny) came on their own. I very often fed them both breakfast. Blackie had figured out how to drop the bar on Sean’s crib and let himself and Sean out every morning.

Sunny, in the interval, got pregnant again but this Navy guy didn’t marry her.

Meanwhile, in Japan, her father died leaving her a substantial amount of money. Sunny, who was not a professional prostitute, started another career and began driving a popsickle truck through the neighborhood. Before long, her mother came to live with her in San Diego. They moved out of the hood and when I saw them last — two or three years later — Sunny had a beautiful akita, an old mom, a seven year old son, and a beautiful red-haired daughter.

That is the story of Shadow, matriarch of the One Bark Family.

Department Stores and Garage Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Illusion Reveals Reality; Fellini

Warning! This post contains “un-masked” language!

Everyone wears one. I’m about to put on “friendly retiree exuding enthusiasm for Valley Art Co-op Gallery and Gift Shop.” It’s a neutral face, easy enough to wear. I think (anyway I do) we even wear masks when we’re alone.

Interestingly, one of the earliest dreams I had as a kid was of a long hallway with black and white tiles and green walls. I’ve often wondered if this was the hallway in the hospital in which I was born — St. Lukes in Denver.  There were doors on both sides and I ran down the hallway afraid. I tried a door and inside was a face, and the face pulled off a mask, and another, and another, and another. It was a terrifying dream. I woke up screaming and my dad came with a glass of water, took me to the bathroom and tucked me back in. In a sense that is life. There is falsity — malicious and not; chicanery, illusion, pretense everywhere. The biggest question of my life has been, “What’s real, anyway?” I do not recommend asking that one unless you’re ready for a wild ride.

Fellini was fascinated by the masks people wear even in front of themselves. Maybe especially in front of themselves. The day Fellini died — Halloween, 1993 — I was in the midst of personal upheaval, the beginning of the ripping off of years and years of masks. That night — before I learned about the death of my favorite film director and hero — I was struggling aginst the depression that would ultimately throw me down. It was the beginning of a strange and confusing ride.



My plans for the evening were to meet a good friend at a coffee house downtown (Bassam’s in San Diego) and go from there to a Halloween party at Cafe Sevilla. I’d been out the whole afternoon with other friends listening to Tibetan monks do throat singing.

I don’t know if that comes across as surreal to you as it was to me.

I got home and realized I’d given no thought to a costume. I painted bones on a pair of leggings and put on a black turtleneck. I went into the bathroom and went at my face with makeup, painting an honest self-portrait, and went down town.

Here’s the poem I wrote about that night. The language is rather blue so be warned and the poem is pretty bad, still, it’s an homage to Fellini who strove with all his films to tear the masks away in the most loving and compassionate manner. If you’ve enjoyed his films, the poem might make sense.

To Fellini

I had done my makeup;
The top of my face, Marcel Marceau;
The lower regions, Nosferatu.
I had lost track of time,
brushing the pattern of bleached bones
on black leggings when the alarm went off
telling me to go.

My friend, wearing a slouch hat
Black eye, fake blood, looking like
a railroad bum thrown off at a lonely junction in western Oklahoma
waited outside that coffeehouse, owned by a Palestinian
who always wears berets.
“Jesus! You look scary!”
I had nothing but ennui, incomplete visions,
unfocused depression, hair in my eyes.
I felt the space already, in the places where your films inoculated me
intravenous plugs of sodium pentothal and delight.

My friend ordered me coffee, then, as small talk, he said
“Did you hear? Fellini died.”
My numbness and ennui made sense.
The cappuccino came
The tongue depressor stir-stick stood
erect in the cream.

An old, tired woman wearing a flowered, floppy hat came through the door,
Selling roses; red lipstick sliding down the corners of her mouth.
She peered into my face and jumped back.
“Dio!” she cried and crossed herself.

Your most recent, ultimate news dripped from my painted sockets.
Carnivals and sheets,
Music, tits, lusty buttocks clothed in red wool, on a bicycle,
a peacock (mechanical) in the snow, a beautiful illusion;
roller-skating feminists
Wandering rejection and sex un-sexed
thorny phalluses, spinning dildoes, desperate cunts,
libidinous balloons, children tucked in bed,
the great mass jerk-off in the old Ford,
the immortal romantic dance, the spiraling dream,
the little nun, the tall old crazy uncle,
Volpina — all that we really are, unmasked, all we will always be
the illusion and its never-ending battle.
Silhouettes on the sheet, the Japanese video journalists,
“Bere il latte!” My laughing friend, my radiant self
Gino Soccio, punk teenagers, cabbages, Dobermans,
vaginal vacuums sucking-up coins.

At the party I danced, sad-faced, bored,
to throbbing Brazilian music.
You would have won the costume contest,
dressed convincingly as someone dead.

December, 1993