Photo by Gláuber Sampaio on Unsplash

Now I Know

A few years ago, we took our granddaughter camping. It rained all night, thundered with lightening strikes, and in the morning everything was soaked but the day was bright and clear.

We went hiking up a trail to a lookout where we could see all of Devil’s Lake. In my mind’s eye, I could imagine swimming across it. And I right away wanted to go down the hill to the lake to swim.

Of course, when we got there the shore was full of people. It was a vast, shallow lake and a favorite for families especially those with little kids. I took my granddaughter’s hand, she was about eight then, and we waded into the water.

“Look at all the little fish!” I said. A school of baby fish weaved through our legs, tiny slivers of silver grazing our legs, tickling us. It made me happy to see the fish. It was magical. “Put your hands in the water, maybe we can catch one.”

The fish swam away and my granddaughter yelled, “I want to get out!” “I want to get out now!”

So I pulled her out deeper, thinking that if we got out of the shallows where the little fish were skittering about, she would throw herself into swimming and we could have a good time. We had done that before. Swum and jumped, dodged and ducked. It was something we had always done together.

“I can’t stay here!” “I have to get out!” Now she was screaming as loud as she could. Other swimmers stood up in the water to look at her. People on shore stopped what they were doing. It was alarming, hearing her scream so loud. I tried to hug her, pull her up out of the water but it didn’t do any good. She just kept screaming.

It was unbelievable to me.

I smoothed the hair out of her eyes and tried to get her to stop screaming and look at me. “We’ve gone swimming in lakes before. They all have fish, honey.”

“But I didn’t know the fish were there. Now I know.”

Good Morning, OB

To the left of the stairs leading up to the pier at Ocean Beach in San Diego, there is an overstuffed couch. A couple of guys with heavy blond dreadlocks are sitting on the couch and smoking while others in various types of homeless thick-wear (wearing everything you own) are wandering about, chatting, looking bored already. It is just 8:00 in the morning. The guys on the couch are too far away to say hello to, I tell myself. Plus they seem oblivious to me and why shouldn’t they. Another tourist looking at them. I go up the stairs to the pier.

At the top of the stairs, on the little space that is available to stand and admire the ocean and watch the surfers, the rest of the pier shut off to pedestrians for some reason not explained, there is a young woman in a black shirtdress that is gathered snug at the waist with a skirt that puffs out like there is a petticoat underneath. She looks ready for work, sprightly and tailored. She is wearing flip flops which seems incongruous given her dress and when she leans against the bridge railing and stands on her tiptoes to peer at people below, I see that the bottoms of her feet are black, as black as a five-year old going barefoot all day in the summer, but more, days’ worth of black. It has been a long time since her last shower. Still the dress, it seems fresh. I wonder how she keeps it that way.

Next to the pier, a parking lot has every space filled by residential vehicles, mostly vans but not all, some cars. The windows are covered with towels and shirts. People may be living in their cars but they want privacy, for heaven’s sake, reminding myself. People create places for themselves and the places have walls and doors that close even if those things are cars with windows covered with towels or tents with zippered flaps. The parking lot looks like a village. People have lived there a long time.

It is one thing to be homeless but have your place, however ginned up it is, and quite another to be out in the open with nothing, to sleep on the low wall along the sidewalk at Ocean Beach, say, completely exposed to everyone and everything. There are two women doing just that, both wrapped in blankets, sitting up wearily as I walk by, looking as if they are surprised they are still where they were the night before. I consider what it would be like to shut my eyes while I lie out in the open, to sleep exposed to the world although I’ve been told some people would rather be out in the open and see what’s coming than be in a tent and be surprised by what is outside. I don’t know.

None of the homeless people I see approach me. No one asks me for anything. One man says good morning but only one. It’s as if I don’t exist in their world, like I am invisible and I probably am. There are so many of us tourists walking by guarding our phones and our wallets, it must get tiresome, to have to live your life with all the onlookers, especially ones you know will go home and talk about you, all the homeless in San Diego, how they are all over the beach, and what a terrible problem they are.

Life is a Blur

I have cataracts, just like my old dogs who are dead now but not from cataracts, from other things that happen at the same time like extreme old age which I don’t have yet but I’m working on it, the cataracts giving me a hint of what is to come, the blurring of everything valuable into one big colorful stew like the lights on the San Diego freeway a few days ago where I resolved to drive like I lived there so I punched the gas going down the ramp and merged like a Las Vegas dealer hides the Ace of Hearts in a deck of cards he’s shuffling for tourists from Des Moines, the turn signal on my rented red car clicking like a timer, there is only so much time, I tell myself, make the most of it.

In Flight

It is a writer’s dream, flying high at sunrise. The plane is quiet in the way it is in the beginning of a flight when everyone is silent in reflection and hopefulness, hope for a good weather, hope for a great vacation, hope the plane doesn’t crash.

As soon as I write those words, the plane starts to jiggle, adjusting itself to new air, a new level. Stepping higher can be rough business sometimes and I never assume a flight that starts out smooth will stay that way.

I start each flight figuring it’s my last. I don’t pray to land in one piece. Instead I just give myself over to the fates. I repeat a mantra I made up thirty years ago the first time I flew after probably five years of swearing off air travel, the reason for the decision forgotten but probably due to heartbreak involving airplanes, not people dying, but them being separated and sad and overwrought. Not people, me. I connected planes with being sent packing, pretty much over and over again by the same person. The routine of it was exhausting  and created in me a place of almost permanent melancholy.

My mantra is a sign-off, a thanks for the memories kind of thing, short so I can repeat it a dozen times between when the plane revs up and when it is completely off the ground. It’s a farewell. To the earth, to my people, to my life. And once I’ve said it those dozen times (not counting, but estimating), it’s like sealing an envelope and putting it in the big blue mailbox that used to be down the street from my house, on the corner where my kids waited for the school bus. The mailbox is gone now and so are they. No one mails letters anymore anyway.

The pilot just instructed the flight attendants to take their seats.  We are in thick clouds and the flying is very bumpy. For a while, it seemed we would quickly be above it all, reach that blue sky over the clouds and sail along like swans on a cool summer pond. I could drink my coffee and marvel at my good luck rather than worrying that the wing is about to snap in half. That I am resigned to the fates doesn’t mean I don’t worry.

It’s smooth now and the seatbelt sign is off. The flight attendant will bring my coffee soon which means I can sit and have the perfect life I imagine myself having. I look at the clouds below, thick like the cotten batting loosed from an old quilt. And I can begin to see the ground, farms with the land in squares, infintesimal houses where people are sitting in their overalls and eating oatmeal. I could have had a life like that. It’s not so foreign. My life could have gone in a hundred different directions.

Post Nasal

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

My nose runs a ridiculous amount of the time.

My nose runs if I am hot, if I am walking fast, or if it is Wednesday.

I don’t know why this is.

I sit down at my desk and my nose is running. So I reach for a Kleenex.

I get in the car to leave the dog park and my nose is running. So I reach in my pocket for a used, very used Kleenex.

I stop at red lights and sometimes, when I think no one is looking, wipe my nose on my sleeve, like I’m 9 years old and getting called in from recess.

A very long time ago, I had a cocaine-snorting boyfriend. His nose didn’t run this much.

No. I’m not allergic to anything. And no, I don’t do cocaine. Only once. At a Grateful Dead concert so many years ago I’m not exactly sure when it was. Where it was, I do remember. I remember that, and also, that nobody cared. I did, though. I thought I was committing the crime of the century. I’m such a law-abider, it isn’t funny.

Back to my nose. Constant sniveling, which is what it amounts to, is so unbecoming. So is wandering around clutching a Kleenex or, as my mother would say, a hanky in my little age-spot-dotted fist.

This, not the state of the world, not the latest travesty or injustice, not the current poll or yesterday’s analysis, this, my friend, is the topic of my blog today, my overly-running nose. Make of it what you will.

Dog Days Friday Round-Up

The point of a writing class is to write stuff you wouldn’t otherwise write. This week I wrote an essay about cobwebs in which I rhapsodized about the nasty, looping cobwebs in our ancient basement. And in so doing I figured out many things. I bet you have a basement with mysteries, too. Write about it. Unless you live in Florida or California where basements don’t exist. Then you are on your own.

We are all about the dog. It hasn’t even been a month since our beloved Minnie died and we are over the moon about our new dog, Swirl. He is healthy. That is the difference. It takes a toll caring for the dying – dogs or humans. You forget what it’s like to stroll down the street carefree. This week we remembered. It’s lovely and joyous.

“He (or she, no, never she, always he) is a lying sack of shit” is one of the priceless phrases from my intense anti-poverty agency days. I watch said sack every night on the news and wish my old colleagues would rise up and yell at him and that everyone else would quit dancing around the truth of his endless, shameless lying. Voting is the only thing that will put the sack in the trash.

By some queer gift of God, I always imagine myself to be thinner and better looking than I actually am. This allows me to have a happy-go-lucky attitude much of the time until someone captures me in a photograph where the truth shows itself. Oh well. I wear delusion like a magic cape and it fits fine. And, yes, I did tuck my shirt in for the first time in about 5 years and it felt swell.

Tomorrow, it is supposed to snow, a lot, and I am oddly looking forward to it. I like having snow except for the cold and the shoveling because it covers up garden issues. Snow tomorrow means I don’t have to wrestle with the crazy ass bush with the 500 foot root that the landscaper didn’t extract when he had the chance and which is already growing like steroided ganglia next to my porch. The snow will smother it, if only for a day.

Cobwebs

The cobwebs in the basement are thick and clammy. They hang like wet strings from water pipes and electrical wires running along the papered ceiling where, along the edges, you can see the 100-year-old 2 x 4s that are the bones of our house.

The plaster on the walls, reapplied every ten years or so, is peeling again. It curls in thick strands, suspended until the weight becomes too much and the plaster drops and shatters on the floor. Under the plaster is the brick foundation, each brick mortared to the next so carefully you think you might see fingerprints.

The floor used to be dirt, just dirt. Our three-story house with the brick foundation rested on dirt, brown and packed so hard it could be swept with a broom, but still dirt. We changed that though because it was unnerving, it seemed risky to have a house built on dirt, primitive, although the house with its dirt basement had already lasted a long time before we moved in. The house wasn’t going anywhere.

The basement holds many of our things including a black trunk of baby clothes I haven’t opened since my now 46-year old daughter became a toddler. Don’t ask me why. Part of me thinks her tiny undershirts and corduroy overalls may have mouldered after all these years and if I open the trunk and see just the remnants of her infant wardrobe in moldy shreds, it will break my heart. The trunk sits on an old wooden desk in the room where we keep all the old paint cans and vast stacks of record albums that we brought to our marriage but then never played anymore, the music on them tuned, I guess, to our private lives before we met.

There is a tiny bathroom in the basement. It is very narrow with just a toilet at one end, it has been decades since the toilet flushed and would have been nearly as long since anyone ventured into the bathroom at all if my son hadn’t gone in searching for rats. You see, I had found a dead rat in the yard and called an exterminator. He came the next day, armed with a clipboard and a flashlight, and walked around the house and through the basement pointing out the countless ways that rats could get into our house, the tiny bathroom being one. They will swim up toilets, you know, a disquieting fact if there ever was one.

We threw out newspapers and magazines, old furniture, and anything that would be food or shelter to a rat. That is a long list of things, though, so the mound of debris in front of our house was enormous. It felt like we were unpacking a hundred years of secrets and mistakes for everyone to see. Vast quantities of dirty laundry, you might say. But we rid ourselves of rats, in the narrow bathroom and everywhere else in the basement.

Now we have a new washer and dryer and a new freezer. There are shelves for the big pots and cookers that we rarely use. Tools are stored in a set of red drawers, each with its own lock, and the birdseed is in sealed bins. In the back of the basement, though, is our old dining room table. It lies on its side with five chairs. We bought it new after years of using an old farm table that sank in the middle; the new table was a luxury, beautiful and glowing, but over the years, there were scratches and water marks, scorches, and other abuses. So one day we bought a new table, much like the old, but perfect, and when the men came to set it up, they looked at the old table, about to be taken to the basement, and said, “This should have lasted a lifetime.” And the words stung, even though I was paying them and not looking for their opinion, so I’ve kept the old table and chairs in the basement all these years, the cobwebs draped on them like streamers from somebody’s birthday a long time ago.