“I Want to See Mt. Palomar in Snow!”

When I was a kid in school in Nebraska, I was always excited when the Weekly Reader showed up. It left a big impression on me that lasted a long time, like until now long time. One of the great things I read about was Palomar Mountain where the Hale Telescope sat. Once the Good X and were living in San Diego, and I realized WHERE that was exactly, I was excited to go see the telescope. I loved space. We went soon after we found our apartment. It was great.

When our first San Diego winter(1984/85) rolled around, and I read that there were 12 inches of snow up there, I wanted to ski the trail from the campground to the observatory. It was one of our first back-country ski trips in Southern California. I learned a lot from it.

First, Southern California plants thrive in winter and die down in summer. Second, most of the 2.2 mile trail to the observatory was lined in brush meaning we had to stick our poles in the manzanita and sage scrub. It was ludicrous, hilarious.

At that point, I didn’t even know what those plants were except an enormous pain in the ass. As we neared the observatory, the trail was cleaner.

Higher ground, finally a decent trail to ski.

The ferns that grow along the upper trail were dormant and the pasture was wide. In the fullness of time (years) I would see the mortreros in the rock along the trail where the Indians ground acorns and I would know that the trees around me were mostly Coastal Live Oak and Jeffry Pine but I wasn’t there yet.

It took a long time to get up there, and though it was an insane caper, it was fun and the sight of that beautiful dome rising from a snowy landscape took my breath away.

We decided not to go back down on the trail. Parts were steep and narrow with almost no means of controlling a downhill ride, no room to turn, no place to plant poles. We took the road — which, up near the top had not been plowed.

As we careened down the mountain, whooping in exhilaration, we passed a family who, having heard there was snow up there, had brought their equipment for a fun California day. This consisted of a cooler, a couple beach chairs, a beach umbrella and a couple of boogie boards. This wasn’t irony; this was serious. As we whizzed by, one of the kids yelled out, “Hey mom, THAT’S what we should be doing!”

That was my first experience with the Southern California phenomenon of “going to the snow.” Many, many years later, when I was teaching Critical Thinking through Nature Writing and my students had to go “out” into nature and write about it in their journals, I read many sweet and funny stories about my students’ first encounters with the glorious white stuff. Most were surprised that it wasn’t softer to land in. Others were surprised it was so cold. On days when I took a dog or two up to the Lagunas to run through snow drifts on the Garnet Peak Trail, the Sunrise Highway was always lined by cars filled with people who went into the “wilderness” only about 50 feet for the experience of winter. Lots of people filled the back of their pick-up truck with snow and put small snowmen on the hood.

Today I took Bear and Teddy out to the Refuge. I’m still a little friable physically. The knee isn’t quite right and the groin muscle is tight and achy, still, but better. I was worried Teddy would pull too hard in one direction and Bear in the other, but no. Bear walked with me so I didn’t even feel her on the leash. Teddy is starting to understand what a leash walk is. It was perfect. All day showers have been coming over the San Juans in waves of air-brushed clouds of snow that obscure everything and go on their way. The three of us walked most of our walk in just such a miraculous shower.

Skis are not the only way to love snow.

Skiing Cuyamaca Peak — Cougar Tracks

A year or so after the Good-X and I moved to San Diego (1984) we bought a 1972 VW camper van with a pop top. It was an awesome vehicle (until the block cracked) and we had a lot of fun with it. We also had moved our skis with us from Colorado. We had heard — though we wondered how it could be true — that the mountains east of San Diego sometimes got enough snow to X-country ski.

Sure enough.

The first time we went up there was with a couple with whom we were friends and from whom we rented an apartment. We went to the Laguna Mountains. Of course I had no idea at that time that the valley in which we skied that day (on 8 measly inches of snow!) would someday become as familiar to me as my hand, or that I would learn to regard those 6000 foot “hills” as mountains. I was, I admit it, a Colorado snob. Now I know.

From my high valley even the highest 14er rises only 7000 feet from the valley floor, no greater gain in elevation than the top of Cuyamaca Peak from San Diego. In fact, it’s just the same. I learned that a mountain is a mountain in relation to the land from which it rises, regardless of how a mountain is defined by geologists or geological surveys or Alpinists. I’m not a mountain snob any more. The Colorado fetish with 14ers now seems a little silly. If you want oxygen deprivation hold your breath. 😉 I’m joking. I know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Today when I look at Windy Mountain or Pintada from the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge I see snowcapped hills that rise 5000 feet from where I stand. Mountains, but…

There are two ranges outside San Diego, separated by one of the innumerable fault lines that criss-cross California. Between the two is a narrow valley with a fissure and a spring that, in time, I got to know well. The ranges are the Cuyamacas — in which I lived for eleven years, and, just 10 miles further east, the Lagunas, in which I hiked and skied. The Cuyamacas have a leash law. The Lagunas do not.

Sometimes you see photos of San Diego looking east from Coronado Island. You see ocean, town, bay, city and, behind everything, a snowy mountain. That mountain is Cuyamaca Peak.

Cuyamaca Peak with snow on it

The second time the Good X and I skied in San Diego County we headed to a trail head at Green Valley Falls (fantastic falls in spring and in a wet summer, idyllic with pools and slides to play in, drop down, swim in, wade). We parked, paid our $5 day use fee, strapped on our skis, and headed up a trail we knew nothing about. It wound around the north side of the mountain to the west where it looked down on San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. We climbed, and climbed and climbed until we got to where we could see San Diego, but that wasn’t all we saw. We also saw fresh cougar tracks.

I didn’t know anything about mountain lions then except that they are dangerous. I had no knowledge of that world yet and little curiosity. We high-tailed it down and headed home, stopping on the way to watch a movie and have dinner.

Twenty years later, I would live at the base of that mountain and see it on fire. Later, I would see that far western slope with fire weed blooming. I would hike the trails in the Laguna Mountains in all weather, and ski to the top of Garnet Peak against all sanity and all odds. I would see a mountain lion.

Garnet Peak (a fun hike in the Laguna Mountains) in the winter of 2003/2004 after the Cedar Fire, oil on canvas.

The skis in the featured photo are just like the skis I took with me in 1984 from Denver to San Diego. They are — were — wonderful back country skis. They needed to be waxed which I liked because I could control the “slide” depending on my adventure. I found these old skis three years ago in a thrift store here in Monte Vista. They aren’t my very skis, but when I saw them they seemed to call out, “Get us OUT of here!” I had not had my hip replacement (second one, different hip) yet and I wasn’t moving very well. I was with my friends. We’d gone for lunch but weren’t ready to go home, so we visited a new thrift store in town. Without thinking, I reached for those old skis and cradled them in my arms. Elizabeth said in a soft voice “Are you going to ski, Martha?” There was so much pity in her eyes that I set the skis back where they were and went back to shopping. I returned to the store alone a few days later, forked over $30, and brought them home. They stand in my studio along with many other very personal treasures from my life. In a way, that room is my “medicine bundle,” my little trove of talismans.

Looking back on my first forays into the San Diego mountains, it’s funny to realize all the things I didn’t know yet. Makes me wonder what else I don’t know yet.


P.S. I’m writing my ski stories because writing the stories is how I figure things out. Now that it seems I’ve reached the end of this moment in my life, I want to see it more clearly and understand it better. I hope it’s not too tedious. ❤

Borrowing a Surfboard

Lifetimes ago, I went to the beach often. I liked it best in the off season (obviously) when there weren’t a lot of tourists. My favorite San Diego beaches were Coronado — where you could walk forever and which had a dog beach at the north end, and Ocean Beach because of the town and because of Dog Beach. For taking kids to the beach for a swim and dinner cooked on a hibachi, La Jolla Shores was best.

At the south end of San Diego beaches is Imperial Beach which has the misfortune of being at the mouth of the polluted Tijuana River. The estuary down there is a wonderful wetlands, and Imperial Beach is (was?) the only beach town not gentrified out of normal reality. Ordinary people live(d?) there. IB is also the beach where I surfed that one time.

Yes ladies and germs, I surfed. No, I didn’t stand up on the board.

It was an incredibly hot early September afternoon. The Boys on Bikes had come up to my hood which was 10 miles away from where they lived — Imperial Beach — to go ride BMX at Mission Trails, but it was just too hot. “Let’s just go home and go to the beach.” So, we did. They piled themselves and their bikes into the back of my truck and we headed back down the coast. Then, “Martha, you want to surf?”

Well, yeah.

“I can get a board,” said Greg.

We got to IB and commenced driving up and down the streets ostensibly looking for Greg’s friend’s house. Finally we reached a house with an open garage door. “This is it,” said Greg. I stopped the truck. Greg and Jason got out of the truck and went to the garage where they untied a surfboard from some ropes that held it hanging from the ceiling.

“My friend won’t mind,” said Greg, loading the board in the back of my truck. We were off to the beach.

The waves were about 2 feet and breaking cleanly. Not bad for a person surfing for the first time.

They immediately began telling me what to do, but I pretty much knew from watching guys surf for the previous 17 years. I’d also boogie-boarded (sort of fun) and body-surfed (a lot of fun) a lot so I had a little understanding of how to catch a wave. Those things are not surfing, but they are still informative.

Jason and I went out with the surfboard. Jason demonstrated and then it was my turn. The wave came up behind me — I saw it — and I was on the board on four legs. The wave came under me and took me in to shore. I rode a couple of other waves in the same way, but by then it was even too hot to stay at the beach and we didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Jason had been buried up to his neck in sand, which was funny until it got hot in the sand. The vibe was all “Let’s take back the surfboard and go to Mickey D’s.”

We washed the board at the end of the beach where there was a faucet, loaded it back into the truck and went back to Greg’s friend’s house. He and Jason took the board into the garage and hung it up.

It was then I realized we’d “borrowed” that surfboard and we hadn’t been looking for Greg’s friend’s house at all. We’d been looking for a board we could “use” for a little while.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/rdp-sunday-beach/

There But for the Grace of God…

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

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

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

It was a stunning moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/06/rdp-thursday-homeless/

Goethe’s 250th Birthday

August 28, 1999, the end of my first week teaching writing at San Diego State, my teaching dream come true, I was going meet my good friend, Denis Joseph Francis Callahan, at Pacific Beach. Our plan was to eat sausages at a German restaurant. We were celebrating — well, Denis was helping me celebrate — Goethe’s 250th birthday.

Before dinner, we took an end-of-the-day walk on the beach. There in the near distance was an immense beautiful sand castle with candles burning in the windows. Dusk had arrived and the light from the candles reflected on the water left behind when the shallow waves retreated. It was marvelous.

“Goethe’s birthday cake,” I said to Denis.

On our walk back, Denis said, “Would you mind pie instead?” in his Staten Island accent. In Denis language “pie” = pizza. I thought, “Why not? Goethe loved Italy.”

Caveat: I didn’t take the featured photo.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/rdp-thursday-sand-castle/

Dancing While White

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He was still black then.”

“You got that right, sister!”

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

Ice Cream Freezer

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/rdp-sunday-ice-cream/

“Place of Grace”

Prize to anyone who can find the San Luis Valley on this photo.

Most of Colorado is wilderness and I don’t have access to it because 1) much is inaccessible and 2) I have mobility problems, but it’s OK. Where once I thought “I have to see it” now I think, “I have to leave it alone.” I’m happy walking in semi-remote, semi-wilderness areas. I’m happy skiing on a golf course. I don’t think this is all the result of arthritis. A lot of it has to do with working for more than a decade in an urban wilderness park.

In 1988? 87? I first visited Mission Trails Regional Park it wasn’t a park. It was just 5000 acres of emptiness left over from WW II. The main feature was Old Mission Dam which had been built back in the day by the Kumeyaay Indians to supply water to the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. I didn’t venture in very far — just enough to see the November version of the San Diego River (“You call that a river?” said a Swiss student of the trickle that is the river most of the year)

Old Mission Dam


I started hiking there every day. No one was there. There were some trails but not many. It was just a lump of wilderness surrounded by San Diego and suburbs. It was a landscape I didn’t know and I began learning it, but the first thing I learned was that we never know even the most familiar landscape. I hiked there nearly every day for more than 20 years, in all weather, all seasons, all times of day.

In the early nineties, we started seeing road-graders at work and sticks marking some major construction project. Ultimately we learned that HWY 52 was going to cross the northern boundary of the wilderness because, by god people have to go shopping and go to work.

For a while we made a quest out of pulling out sticks and mildly “monkey-wrenching.” Then, construction stopped for a short time when they found the bones of prehistoric horses. Of course that wasn’t enough to stop progress, so once enough bones has been excavated that they could be studied, it all began again. My wilderness was being cut in two and the former silence was filled with graders and trucks going backwards and forward. Still, once the road bed was graded it was a while before they began real construction. There was a lull in “progress.”

Circumstances led me to the top of South Fortuna in the wee hours of a December morning. That dark night Molly and I danced down a hill, enjoying silence and stars (not easy to see in San Diego). The NEXT day they finally began real construction on the road. After that it would carry cars.

Molly and I were there for the last silent night.

Part of the road deal included “mitigation” — acres given by the city to what would become the largest urban wilderness park in the United States. One Sunday afternoon, pure coincidence, I happened to see a few people wandering aimlessly around a small mesa near the intersection of Mission Gorge Road and Father Serra Trail. I went over to talk to them and that led to me being a member of the board of directors of the Citizens Advisory Council that would build the park. They needed someone who actually KNEW the landscape. I was to be the liaison between the board and the rangers, the board, the rangers and a volunteer organization that I would organize. The visitor’s center I “helped” build became a model for visitor’s centers all over the country. I would have a voice in the educational programs presented in the Visitor’s Center. I would organize volunteer tour leaders who would teach people how to care for that fragile landscape and teach children how to “see” it. To people who don’t know it, the coastal sage chaparral really looks like NOTHING.

“My” park was the first of its kind in this country. When the Garden of the Gods in Colorado wanted to build a real visitor’s center, they looked to ours. When I see signage on trails in my valley, I’m seeing echoes of “my” park. Parks like Mission Trails educate people to love and care for the wilderness. I’m proud to have been a part in establishing it and protecting it. Godnose those acres gave me so much. That they are not now a mall, freeway and water park is partly due to me. That’s the thing in my life I’m most proud of. I helped preserve 6000 acres of “wilderness.”

And it preserved my soul.


Now I live in a truly wild place. I sometimes think of it as my reward for the good things I did during my purgatory years in San Diego. Every time I go anywhere — Penitente Canyon, up one of the Frisco Creek trails, the Big Empty, anywhere — I see what I am able to see because of my apprenticeship at Mission Trails Regional Park. The whole time I was there I thought I was missing Colorado. The reality is that “my” chaparral was teaching me how to see and where to look so I could come back.

“This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling, soothed me, it cured me of my pains, and finally, when I had fully understood my love for it, it taught me freedom.” Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power

The title of this blog came from Beth who left the words on a comment on one of my blog posts.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/rdp-saturday-wilderness/

Trail Fail… Responding to Wild Sensibility’s Challenge…

If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
Arionis of Just A Small Cog and Rebecca of Wild Sensibility.

~~~

Back in my thirties, forties, and into my fifties, when my right hip went south (without me) I ran miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles on narrow rocky trails in the California chaparral and in the mountains east of San Diego. I ran up and down hills like a bitch. Everyone said, “You should be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself!” but I never did. Never. Not once.

Ha.

The trail and I were as one. I felt those trails beneath my feet with the same knowledge with which we know the lines on our own hands. No one could keep up with me let alone catch me.

I bet you can’t even SEE the trail…

Why once — when I hit the trails to run off a disappointment — I ran up the steepest ‘face’ of one of the ‘mountains’, down the other side and up the next mountain. I didn’t know there was a guy running behind me, trying to catch up. When I finally stopped, and the guy caught up, he said, “Damn, woman, you’re fast. I’m fast, but I couldn’t catch up. Do you do this all the time?”

I gave the guy a hard look and thought, “That’s one fit dude,” and answered, “Pretty much every day.”

But pride goeth or love hurts or something and I fell in love. No, not with the guy who chased me. The guy’s name was Mike, and he was (IMO) beautiful and very smart. It turned out to be a pretty good short-term relationship, too, and it ended in friendship that was even nicer than the relationship. But this was the beginning when people are incoherent, babbling fountains of unasked questions, reading each other’s faces and looks and gestures. He was also 15 years younger, and that was one reason for all the incoherent babbling and face reading. It was a little scary. We hung out a lot as friends and had a blast. But as happens, the friendship grew and hit the infamous When Harry Met Sally moment. Neither of us was sure about it. Meanwhile, we kept hanging out, eating dinner, going to movies, talking, hiking, and riding mountain bikes and stuff.

Then, one quiet Sunday afternoon we went to Balboa Park. Balboa Park is near the top of any San Diego sightseer’s list. It is the location of the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Museum of Art. Many of its beautiful buildings were built for the American Exposition of 1915. It sits at the top of a mesa not far from the harbor and downtown. It is completely and totally flat. As flat as the valley in which I live now.

Mike and I wandered around, talking and (gasp) holding hands. As we talked I realized this was that miraculous, rare thing called “requited love.” Inside I felt like a million Lawrence Welk bubbles were dancing in my heart. I was so happy that I turned to physical anarchy to release my emotions. There was a small square of grass, small wooden stakes pounded into the earth on each corner, encircled by a flimsy white string about 18 inches above the ground. I did a perfect scissors jump over it and then another over the other side. And then I screamed like all the tortures of hell had suddenly found my left knee to be inexorably damned. I’d landed with my knee hyper-extended not knowing, when I jumped, how much lower the ground was on THIS side of the string than the the side I’d jumped from.

Star marks the spot

Mike helped me up, got me to my Ford Ranger and I drove home. “Walk it off, Kennedy,” echoing in my mind, but when I stepped out of my truck, I collapsed. My knee wasn’t going to hold me. I managed to stand up and limp to my house, let myself in and get past the dogs to the phone.

“Mike, I need to go to the ER.”

Sometime later — a year or so — Mike and I were no longer an “item.” He was in college taking a keyboarding class. One day, in the mail, I got his homework…

Kids…

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

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

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

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

But kids, like musicians, need appreciators too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. in the photo I’m 36 🙂

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/11/07/rdp-thursday-deep/