Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

Instead of noisy fireworks to usher out the year, here's the exuberant King's Singers with a wonderful rendition of the Overture to the Barber of Seville.

2016 was a slow year for us travel-wise but we did get around a little. We enjoyed Rajasthan in India and crossed the Taj Mahal off the bucket list. Srinigar in Kashmir was our most exotic destination—staying on a houseboat ala A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Getting to India, via Emirates First Class, was a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. Our next trip with them will be back in Business Class but we'll muddle through. The Uncruise Cruise up to Princess Louisa sound with Stella and Jim was memorable with a stop in Victoria for a city tour from Len and Karen Vopnfjord and in Seattle, the Dale Chihuly museum and a dinner with Henry and Axel. Jim, Stella, Richard and I all bought hats together at the legendary Byrnie Utz store. I finally got to the Holocaust Museum in DC and also to Washington's Mt. Vernon and Jefferson's Monticello homes. We enjoyed our yearly trek up to Benicia to visit Richard's brother's families for the Thanksgiving holiday with a splendid brunch at Zuzu and Debra's lovely home. The Christmas trip to Las Vegas tested our patience as the traffic was horrible but the two Cirque du Soleil shows: O and Love made it all worth while. 

We ate well during the year and especially enjoyed one of Roseanne's splendid Apple Pies—one of the best I've ever tasted and I've tried a lot of pie. Ashley and Dave introduced us to Luke's Lobster where we had both lobster and crab rolls in DC and in Vegas. Linda Katmarian's Baked Kataifi Custard was dreamy. The Peking Duck at the Peking Gourmet in DC is still as good as ever. Humberto and Maria's homemade tamales were a huge treat. We discovered McConnells divine Turkish Coffee ice cream only to have it discontinued at Albertson's. The Grilled Octopus at B and B (I believe it is on most of the Batali menus) in the Venetian in Las Vegas was splendid. Another great discovery—the tiny prime grade ribeye rounds from Costco; whoever uses the words tiny and Costco in the same sentence? My new friend Lori Austen's chocolate truffles were mind-bending.

We remodeled and sold a condo in Oxnard and bought and remodeled a house in Temecula. I took a couple of writing classes and joined a writing group where I made 5 new friends. Nancy took me on as her assistant editor of the Bottom Shelf Volunteers Newsletter and Richard and I continue to enjoy working in the store. I managed to pull off six acoustic neuroma support group meetings. Had a wonderful time playing golf with Shari and her father, Bob. 

Our great grand niece gave birth to another boy making us a great great grand aunt and uncle once again. 

On my to-do list for 2016 was learning to play Mah Jong which will carry over to 2017 along with learning the ukelele (our neighborhood group) or the concertina—still trying to decide. The sounds emitting from a beginning concertinist might kill the cats which possibility is pushing me in the ukelele direction. Other than those two things I have no resolutions except to stay alive for another birthday in November. 

Oh yes...and I wrote 184 blog posts. Happy New Year!!!

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo and I share the experience of having cultivated the same rare brain tumor—acoustic neuroma. His initial diagnosis was a little unusual in that he dreamed he had a brain tumor -  and it turns out he did! How likely is that? I can tell that he still has a little paralysis on his left side...not enough to be a bother. He had excellent surgery.

Leah Keith wrote an article about her tumor experience in the New York Times, posted below. Leah and I also have the Acoustic Neuroma Association in common...she is leader of the LA support group and I am the leader of the San Diego group.

You can watch Mark here: 


CreditBrian Rea

Dude was a doctor who wanted to leave medicine. We met almost 20 years ago, when he applied to a writing fellowship program at the movie studio where I was an executive.
When I called him with the good news, he jumped up and down and screamed into the phone. Then he told me he didn’t hear anything after the word “accepted.” “To me,” he said, “you just sound like an angel.”
No one had ever called me an angel before.
Months later, Dude moved to Los Angeles. In the beginning of our professional relationship, I would give him notes on his screenplays.
Our personal relationship happened later. I was a 26-year-old black woman from Georgia, and he was a New York Italian 13 years older. I don’t remember when or why he became Dude, but after the naming, he anointed me Lilly, short for Li’l Dude. From then on, we were those people to each other.
Continue reading the main story
Dude loved biking, hiking and anything I cooked. I loved Pilates, arctic martinis and anything he wrote. We sang. We danced. We watched movies and debated their merits. We read to each other before falling asleep.
Our relationship was not an obvious one, but neither of us liked the obvious. Dude smelled like freshly folded laundry, baked chicken, red wine and loaves of bread as they rose in the oven. He said my smile lit up a room.
Waiting for success was not easy for Dude. Achieving a No. 1 ranking in his Ivy League graduating class had been effortless compared with selling a screenplay. I tried to explain that in Hollywood, success equaled talent plus luck, but he didn’t understand, and I couldn’t understand why he didn’t understand. We argued. It felt like the beginning of the end of us.
Dude broke up with me before leaving for the airport to bury his father. The phone call was as sudden to me as his ailing father’s death had been to him.
I told myself I had pushed him too hard. I told myself I wasn’t “this” or “that” enough. I told myself he just didn’t love me as much as I loved him.
Eventually, time brought on the occasional check-in phone call. I learned that to make ends meet, Dude took an administrative-assistant job at a Hollywood studio. “It’s better than staring into a microscope for hours,” he said.
Hollywood, for him, had lost its luster. He was no longer writing, but he also had no interest in returning to medicine.
I knew that I, as his marginally successful producer former girlfriend, had become a reminder of the only defeat he had ever known. I feigned excitement about his new job.
I didn’t want to know much about his dating life, and he didn’t seem curious about mine. Calls became less frequent, and dinners happened only at birthdays. But when we were together, we laughed, ate, drank and sang as we always did. Then we returned to our separate lives.
Everything changed two years ago, when my ear began to ring. I was awaiting a “green light” on an animated film. The ringing was loud and constant. I called Dude.
After a hearing test, CT scan and M.R.I., my life turned into someone else’s movie. Dude said he would come with me to get the results. I didn’t stop him.
I was found to have a 2.5-centimeter acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor of the nerve connecting the ear to the brain; it occurs in about 2 of every 100,000 people. Unbeknown to me, I had already experienced 50 percent hearing loss in my right ear, and my facial nerve had been engulfed by the tumor. Removing it would be difficult. Half of my face could become paralyzed.
This was highly specialized surgery, and my doctor said I was blessed because the best surgeon was only 15 minutes away; he was the Michael Jordan of neurotology.
I could feel Dude trying to contain his excitement about meeting His Airness of the ear and brain. I gave him permission to geek out. I figured someone should be happy about something.
After the appointment with M. J., Dude and I walked silently. Once we arrived at my car, I broke down. Dude held me.
I was scheduled for a translabyrinthine craniotomy, the most conservative approach. I would be deaf in one ear, but if M. J. was as good as everyone said, I would still have the smile Dude had once loved.
The movie I was producing was going into storyboards.
During that time, Dude and I talked on the phone every night until I fell asleep. In my doubting moments, when I asked if we were doing the right thing, Dude would say: “We have the best surgeon. We chose the right surgery. We will be fine.”
I liked that he used the word “We.”
In my darkest moments, when I asked if he would still love me if I lost half my face, he said: “Hell, no. Deformed people make me nervous. So if Lilly’s face gets busted, Dude out.”
We laughed, and then the man whose constant reply to my “I love you, Dude” had always been “Ugh” said: “I will always love you. No matter what happens.”
“Here is your medical directive,” said the hush-toned woman on the other side of the table.
Dude had joined me at 8:30 a.m. at the hospital, where I signed enough paperwork to buy a house. My mother and sister had flown in and waited outside the door while Dude and I handled the grimmest of business. Dude wouldn’t allow me to read the medical directive. He turned it over to the signing page and placed his hand over the words.
“Sign!” he said.
I did as told, but not before I turned to him and said: “Don’t pull the plug too soon. I’d like to become a Lifetime movie.”
He smiled and nodded. That was all we said about the fact that I could die that day.
My mother called Dude her “son,” and my sister referred to him as her “brother from another mother.” We had become an unconventional family.
“Who ordered a pizza pie?” were the first words I heard from Dude as he entered my hospital room the next day carrying my dinner over his head. I smiled broadly. He smiled back even broader. I knew that he smiled because I could smile.
The next days were filled with wobbly steps, tightly held hands and many firsts. After I got home, Dude and I continued our pre-op ritual with almost nightly phone calls.
Thirteen months after my diagnosis, on an ordinary Tuesday in November, we talked for hours. He spoke of his love of James Brown and his longing for forbidden foods like bacon and foie gras. He made me ask Siri on my new iPhone to do pornographic things to him. We laughed until I fell asleep.
The next day, Dude’s worried assistant (he was running the department now) called to say he hadn’t shown up for work. When I arrived at his apartment, the paramedics were leaving.
Dude had died.
He had not been ill. He had not had an accident. His heart was just done with its work.
I held on to a railing, and the paramedic sat with me until my world stopped spinning. I knew once I entered the apartment, life would be forever divided. “Before Dude” and “After Dude” would preface everything.
The police arrived. There were interviews, phone calls and a three-hour wait for the coroner. During it all, I stood behind the kitchen counter staring at the back of Dude’s always pristinely blow-dried head. Soon I would have to call his friends and family and divide their lives, too.
Now Dude lives in photographs, one voice mail, one piece of video, one pair of hiking boots, his favorite jacket, a few worn sweatshirts, his watch, his cat, his screenplays, his copper pots and pans, his surgical instruments that he used to fry chicken, and the recesses of my memory.
I will never again hear him explain that Miller Genuine Draft 64 only has 64 calories as justification for why it’s O.K. to drink a six-pack in one sitting. I will never hear him explain every stage of the Tour de France in a way that makes me wish I could ride a bike. I will never know that he is hanging on to my every word when I tell him some ridiculous story about my day, and I will never again hear him laugh at that story.
When my rare tumor was found, I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Now I know I was the luckiest woman in the world. For 13 lucky months, I got to stare into the abyss and feel safe jumping into it because a man who loved me promised to hold my hand all the way down.
If I had known that I would be the one who had to let go, would I have done anything differently? No.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Octopus's Garden

We saw the Cirque du Soleil show "Love" in Las Vegas. My favorite piece in the show was the Octopus's Garden. The costumes were beautiful, whimsical and the dancing and staging perfectly captured the music. Photography wasn't allowed so I guess these are illegal photos above I copied from a Google search.

"Octopus's Garden"
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus's garden in the shade

I'd ask my friends to come and see
An octopus's garden with me
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus's garden near a cave

We would sing and dance around
Because we know we can't be found
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden in the shade

We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
(Lies beneath the ocean waves)
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they're happy and they're safe
(Happy and they're safe)

We would be so happy you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus's garden with you
In an octopus's garden with you
In an octopus's garden with you

Octopithe supposed plural of octopus, is a favorite among fans of quirky words, but it has no etymological basis. The form was created by English speakers out of a mistaken belief that octopus is Latin and hence pluralized with an -i ending. But octopus comes from ancient Greek, where its plural is octopodes, and though it came to English via scientific Latin—one of the late varieties of Latin that kept the language alive long after it had died out as a first language—it was never a native Latin word and didn’t exist in that language until scientists borrowed it from Greek in the 18th century (and if it were a Latin word, it would take a different form and would not be pluralized with the -i ending).
All of that is beside the point, though, as octopus has been in English for centuries and is now an English word when English speakers use it, so there is no reason not to pluralize it in the English manner. Granted, some Latin and Greek plurals survive in English by convention, but octopi/octopodes is not one of them. Octopuses is far more common than octopi in edited writing of all kinds, including scientific writing.
Still, while the use of octopi can’t be justified on an etymological basis, it is not wrong. It is old enough and common enough to be considered an accepted variant.

I made the fatal mistake of reading about octopuses and their gardening habits. The more I read, the more I regretted having ordered the grilled octopus at B and B the night before seeing the Love show. 

Protective legislation

Due to their intelligence, octopuses in some countries are on the list of experimental animals on which surgery may not be performed without anesthesia, a protection usually extended only to vertebrates. In the UK from 1993 to 2012, the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) was the only invertebrate protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.[36] In 2012, this legislation was extended to include all cephalopods[37] in accordance with a general EU directive.[38]

From Wikipedia: 
The idea for the song came about when Starr was on a boat belonging to comedian Peter Sellers in Sardinia in 1968. He ordered fish and chips for lunch, but instead of fish he got squid (it was the first time he'd eaten squid, and he said, "It was OK. A bit rubbery. Tasted like chicken."The boat's captain then told Starr about how octopuses travel along the sea bed picking up stones and shiny objects with which to build gardens. Starr's songwriting was further inspired by his desire to escape mounting hostility among the Beatles; he would later admit that he had "just wanted to be under the sea, too." Uncredited assistance in developing the song's chord changes was provided by Harrison, who can be seen helping Starr work the song out on piano in the Let It Be documentary.[5]
The song, which contains the lyrics "Oh what joy for every girl and boy/Knowing they're happy and they're safe," is sometimes thought of as being a song for children, like "Yellow Submarine" or "All Together Now". It has also been performed by the Muppets several times in various episodes of their shows.
The basic instrumental track was recorded 26 April 1969, with the Beatles lineup of two electric guitars (Harrison and Lennon, the latter using his finger style technique as on "Julia", "Dear Prudence", etc.), bass guitar (McCartney) and drums (Starr). Starr also provided a temporary guide vocal. (Take 2 of the recording, featuring this guide vocal, Starr singing the first verse three times, is track 14 on disc 2 of Anthology 3.) In the absence of George Martin, the Beatles themselves were listed as producer, with Martin's apprentice Chris Thomas present in the control room to assist. Thirty-two takes were required before the Beatles were satisfied with the track.
The backing vocals by McCartney and Harrison during the guitar solo were put through compressors and limiters to create a gurgling sound. Harrison added the sound of bubbles being blown into a glass of milk using a straw.

Sepia Saturday 349: Me, myself and I

“A photograph is usually looked at- seldom looked into.” 

The prompt photo is from the Farm Security Administration photo collection—170,000 photos depicting American life from the mid-thirties to the start of WWII. You can wander through the images here.

The half-wrecked camera he's using looks doubtful but I guess it worked. I asked Jim, my brother-in-law and camera collector, what kind of camera it is.  

"Not sure. Pre-Polaroid street vendor/photogs used heavily reconfigured Graflex cameras, or others, many of which were modified to produce a tintype up through circa 1940. The rear 50% of the camera box was where he processed the print. Probably some wet plate process that dried easily. The cameras looked like junk but worked OK for their street vendor purpose. I bought an incomplete one to scrap out for parts I needed a few years ago when restoring a rather fine high end SLR Graflex ? ? ? ? ?"

Then he sent this: 

The Mandel-ette Postcard Camera, manufactured by the Chicago Ferrotype Company of Chicago, Illinois USA, was introduced ca 1913.  Apparently, time has changed this camera's name to Mandelette.  The hyphen has been dropped in modern usage.
This direct-positive camera with attached developing tank was marketed to street, or itinerant photographers.  It produced photographic postcards on 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch direct-positive paper.  The Mandelette and similar street cameras were portable and compact outfits.  Due to their built-in processing capability, street photographers could offer the public inexpensive finished photographs on-the-spot.

Street cameras with integrated processing allowed photographers to avoid the expense and complication of maintaining a fixed business establishment.  Studio photographers needed to attract the public to their place of business.  Advertising was a necessary expense.  In contrast, street photographers approached the public.  Many street photographers simply stood on busy sidewalks with their camera, tripod and sample photographs on display.  The more lucrative locations were beaches, fairs, rodeos - places where people were relaxed, having fun, ready to spend a small sum on impulse purchases, and open to the idea of taking home a remembrance of their good times.

Was our photographer also a cook? The stained apron leads me to guess that he probably was. I can imagine him on the cookline flipping hamburgers and making sandwiches. When somebody wanted a photo they'd likely pop inside and request a picture. The cook would wipe his hands on his apron and turn into a photographer, just like that. Did he have two hats–one for cooking and one for photography? The hat he's wearing is perfect for him. It frames his face with just the right amount of brim. Of course, the white in contrast with his skin color is beautiful. The hat looks well used with a little wear on the brim and on the crown.  

You wonder what the photographer felt about having his own photo taken and saved for posterity. Notice his facial expression (is he amused or wary?) and the 3/4 pose, which is frequently used for portraiture. Standing between the restaurant and the camera, he's captured bridging his two worlds. I hope he was flattered and I certainly hope he was given a copy of the photo. 

Looking at the sweet paper frames he used for his display, I guess again (this is all a game of imagination) that he chose the most artistically pleasing frame he had available for each image. I wonder what he could have done with the incredible photo editing software we have today? 

The below photo is of ME eight years ago looking through one of Jim's cameras; it's the only image I could find that matched the prompt. I have to confess I've used it before so it's hardly fresh. But I used the incredibly simple, free, Google Pixlr Editor to add a sepia filter, a kaleidoscope filter, and a posterizing filter and make it a little more interesting. Every time I use these filters I'm amazed that these tools are available to everyone FREE.
Original photo
Sepia Version


Over at Photofunia, I put myself up on a gallery wall and in a vintage book. 

“Photography is like stealing.You rob someone of a moment that exposes something essential about their character, their soul if you like.There are people who are very conscious of that, who find that terrifying.The thought that everyone, friend or foe, can get so close to you, look you straight in the eye and judge you without having any control over it or being able to respond. A part of them has become the property of the photographer.” 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Five Sentence Fiction: Mr. Bass is off the hook

He was so nervous; but of course they'd let him go. Why had they kept him hanging there for so long? He squirmed in the warm sunlight, hoping against hope that the weight scale was accurate; his body vibrated slightly with the motor's rhythm and his hooked, dry mouth felt on fire. A man's dark shadow cast over him and he felt a splash as the man spat a wad of tobacco juice right past his head into the water. The man leaned in closer with the pliers, muttering under his breath, "Okay lucky Mr. Bass—looks like you're off the hook this time."
Etsy: airstrikeinc

Fiction: My Life of Crime

The take for my first unplanned criminal act netted me $368.00 scooped out of the cash register during an espresso machine explosion in Ocean Beach. Everyone ran out of the place and I ran in to see if I could help. But there it was...the open cash register calling my name. I knew insurance would cover everything and it was a victimless crime, but still my conscience was killing me. Would I do it again? I thought not. It was a unique opportunity, too easy to pass up. I wasn't willing to take that kind of chance again—not with my own scruples, nor with the law I had worked to uphold for all those years.

Another two weeks passed; two weeks closer to getting my checks. Other than Cocaine Nose, my husband, and Ginnie, my ex-partner, nobody knew of my plight. I decided it was wiser to suffer through this period of transition without answering questions or seeking help. Most importantly, I didn't want to confess to anyone in my family about how another of my marriages had gone bad.

Ginnie invited me to stay in her guest house but I'm not one of those people who mooch. I deplore a mooch and Ginnie wouldn't take money from me. I had a free-loading brother-in-law, always dropping by for a "surprise" visit with nothing but a toothbrush in his shirt pocket. Not only a mooch, he was a pompous know-it-all. He liked to bloviate on any subject at any opportunity whether he knew anything about the subject or not. Most of my ex-in-laws I remember fondly but this one was for the birds. No, I'd have to be literally on the streets before I'd accept Ginnie's offer.

Reluctant to return to Ocean Beach on the slim chance that I might be recognized, I was walking around downtown San Diego for a couple of hours each morning to get exercise and burn off my anxiety-generated adrenaline. On the plus side, I was getting to know the city a little better. You can drive around a town for years but you never really know a place until you cover it on foot. Logan was only a couple of blocks away from the promenade; I enjoyed walking along the water and around the outside of the convention center. Once in a while, I'd spot an unexpired entrance badge in the trash, pin it on and go inside. The energy at conventions ran high and rubbing shoulders with happy people improved my outlook. The religious articles convention was enlightening; the home show very entertaining. The best show I attended was the Natural Food Expo where I filled a shopping bag with free energy bars, colon cleanser pills, exotic vitamins and tea bags...enough to keep both me and the roaches with clean guts and full of energy for a few weeks.

Most days, I ended up at the library for a few hours. I knew just how long I could sit there before the librarians began giving me the fisheye. During all the years working the beat in Las Vegas, I didn't have enough time to read. Now, at last, I had all the time in the world. Mostly I read the periodicals: The New Yorker; The Atlantic; Granta. It's likely you didn't think I was that kind of girl, but you'd be surprised by the reading material both cops and the bad guys enjoy when nobody's watching.

Maybe you're wondering about the cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. Skin cancer on my right arm, the one I dangled out of the car window for 25 years. One day an ugly growth popped up and luckily I went straight to the dermatologist. They took a chunk out of the arm and sent me on my way. That was three years ago and the spot was back. If you're going to have cancer, skin cancer is the best option.You can see it and the surgeon can see it, unlike most forms of the stinking disease, rotting away inside somewhere, discovered too late. No, I considered myself lucky on the cancer front.

Last Friday, I was sitting in the library in my favorite chair in a shaft of sunlight contemplating the word "bloviating". Warm and full of energy bars, I was dozing when I heard the scrape of the chair next to me being pulled back. I looked up from my magazine into the bright blue eyes of Bob Davis."How're they hanging?" asked Bob, sitting down in the chair. Bob was a well known small-time hustler in Las Vegas. We'd picked him up a few times for scams. He stretched out his legs and settled himself into the chair."You're probably thinking by now you can relax after pulling off your little heist in the coffee shop.You sanctimonious cops always turn out to be the worst." he said, shaking his head. Suddenly my guts turned to water and I hustled off to the ladies.

I returned to the chair because I realized there were eyes on me and it didn't matter if I ducked out of the library— they would likely tail me. I decided to go for sympathy and dump all my woes on this guy. Things were looking pretty bad—could I make it any worse?  "Listen Bob. The worm turned on me and I'm in bad shape—my husband sniffed our savings up his nose, I was forced into retirement and I've got cancer. Could you cut me a little slack here? I don't know what you've got in mind, but please forget it and leave me alone."

By the way, was I surprised to see Bob here in the San Diego Library? Many of the long term hardened con guys spent winters in Vegas on the hustle, then moved their operations over to San Diego to relax during the summer months. It was just my bad luck that this sleazy guy had the goods on me. 

He laid out his ratty scam and let me know where I was to fit in. The plan was so full of logic holes it already stunk like old cheese. But, I was desperate for cash to get myself out of the roach infested shit hole room and over to a decent place in Point Loma. I listened closely. 

Almost Dead/Unrealistic Resolutions

In the midst of celebrating my birthday, I received an offer in the mail for a free cost estimate on my funeral or cremation services. Apparently, I and my contemporaries have segued into a new demographic group...the Almost Dead. Generation AD. 

The offer from Berry-Bell and Hall throws an entirely new light on life ahead. I'm forced to think about the kind of casket I would like: wood or steel are the choices. I'd like to waste not one second on this decision, opting for cremation and I really don't care what happens to my ashes. However, rudely forced into thinking about THE END, I recalculated all the odds, using actuarial tables and find I can now expect to live to 87.5 years old. Not being one to stretch things too far, I'm hoping for 85 which would be just fine with me.  

For the next ten years in the AD category, I can expect to spend a lot of money and work hard at simply staying alive: exercising and eating practically nothing, having a wellness check-up every six months, having every dot and speck that appears on my aging hide burned off lest it turn cancerous and the cursed MRI's to make sure it's not my tumor causing my increasing craziness. Maybe the worst part of this stage of life is that all of my contemporaries are in the same boat. Nobody wants to hear about your health issues so you better have something else to talk about. 

And so I've been casting about for months, looking for something new and different to do with my time. I found a detective school where for only $750.00 I can, from the comfort of home, acquire a detective-type education and offer my unlicensed services to insurance companies and the federal government for follow-up interviews on security clearances and other exciting assignments.

I'd have a job title again! Tired of writing "retired" on surveys and visa applications, I'd be able to write "Private Detective" or "PI" in that spot. No, I'm not crazy enough to believe I could do this job, but just for fun I'm putting this objective on my fantasy New Year's resolution list right under learning to play the concertina. 

Fiction: Illegals

I must begin by saying I'm not an American. Few people know about my background. I crossed the border from Canada as a tourist in the early sixties and never went back. I think of the border as the maple syrup curtain, taking a page from the T.C. Boyle book*. Hey, if there's a tortilla curtain along the border with Mexico, the one across Canada's gotta be maple syrup or "the fridge door." At first, I thought I'd go back within a year, and then five years and then I had a life here and that was that. But I was illegal and had that secret to keep until I got through the legal tangle. Yes, unlike illegals from many other countries, the door to Canada was always open to me. At any time, I could return there but I was addicted to being an American and wanted to stay that way. It had become overwhelmingly complicated to straighten things out.

When I met Lars in 1964, we were both living in an apartment building in Culver City. We actually met in the local Catholic church and discovered we were neighbors. I'd walked up the hill to the church and on the way passed a young man who seemed to be in a hurry. I consciously stepped to the far side of the sidewalk to let him by, but he reached out and grabbed me on the breast as he passed. I was too shocked to even yell at him. I stood helpless, stunned, rooted to the spot. After a few minutes, watching him run down the hill, I collected myself sufficiently to continue on to church. When I sat down in the pew, waiting for my turn in the confessional, the shock and fear settled in and I started to weep—a classic damsel in distress. Lars asked if he could help and one thing led to another. It was the last time I went to confession as I didn't want to own up to what Lars and I were doing. As we clicked instantly, we had soon had only one rent to pay.

He was working as an electrical engineer, designing small motors for electric toothbrushes, chain saws, conveyor belts and the like. In those days, we didn't call ourselves "consultants"—we got our under-the-table jobs by word of mouth. In the U.S. on a student visa, Lars graduated from Cal State and loathed the idea of leaving sunny Southern California to return to cold and gray Malmo, Sweden. He'd hoped to fall in love with an American, get married and have all his problems solved. Instead, he fell for me—a skinny illegal Canadian with bad judgment. The last thing he wanted to do was move back to Canuckistan with me.

I had a cash-paying job working in a food plant doing quality control for $100 a week. I wasn't unskilled and had graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in Chemistry. They gave me the lab tests to do—boring work that nobody else wanted. The company was cheap and corner-cutting, but they got caught once in a big recall and instigated a QC program to protect themselves from a repeat. All day long, I stood in the stinky lab recording the pH, total acidity and lot numbers of ingredients and shrugging off propositions from the sleazy plant manager, who was exactly the same age as my father. When I came home at night, I'd tend to the acid burns on my hands and stand in the shower scrubbing the smell of blue cheese off my skin. Just before I met Lars, I was asking myself what I was doing there and very close to throwing in the lab coat and getting a bus back to Saskatoon. 

Lars and I were saving money to buy a house. All we needed was 15% down and we could reap the benefits of a $40,000 property's appreciation. At that time S. California houses went up at least 10% a year. It didn't take a genius to figure out what a good deal it was. At $6000 down we could expect to make our investment back in a little more than a year and get the benefits of living in a house instead of the close quarters of our apartment building.

For all we wanted a house, we still enjoyed inexpensive fun in the apartment after our work was done. The building we lived in was full of international students. Our neighbors were Ghanaians, in the U.S. sponsored by the Ghanaian government, studying agriculture. Well, only one was actually studying; the other had left the Ag program and was working as an assistant to a disk jockey in Watts. He'd walk around the pool in the evenings practicing coolness and  working on his intros—the audience was largely black and he was flattening out his British accent and trying to learn "Americanisms." A dude you'd call him now, he wore large black sunglasses and a tam. 

The boys lived on peanut soup. They'd brown a whole chicken in a huge pot, add water and simmer it for a couple of hours, strain everything out and add the meat back. A gallon of water went in with a jar of peanut butter, a few jalapeno peppers, and any vegetables on hand. The pot sat simmering all day. The boys were generous and hospitable and soon we were joining them for soup suppers once or twice a week. I'd bring two chickens and the veggies, bearing most of the cost. The boys did the cooking. It was a great arrangement. Every so often, we'd drink a lot of wine and beer and dance African style. It took them quite a while to get Lars and I loose enough to do the moves, but finally we got it. Two Ghanaians, a Swede and a Canadian—a less likely foursome would be hard to find. We loved each other and I was closer to those three than I've ever been to anyone else in my life. Maybe it was because we were illegal and always expecting to be found out. I wonder if everyone with such secret lives emotionally on the edge stoked by adrenalin and fear. 

Even though we scrimped and saved, on Friday nights we went to the West side Bowl-a-Drome and splurged on the special abalone dinner. We really did "thank god it was friday"—and we'd survived another week at our crap jobs. Frieda was our regular waitress—a classic with a mop of curly bangs and bright red lipstick painted over her lip line. "Hi kids," she'd greet us..."the usual?" Frieda always had news and loved to talk. Her husband drove a truck and was gone much of the time while she worked and coped with two teenage boys who ran her ragged. We liked her and liked her stories.

We'd settle into the red leather booths, light up our cigarettes and wait for our Harvey Wallbangers. The table-top jukeboxes were still working in the place and we'd play the songs with the buttons worn down. It was 1966 and Nowhere Man was our favorite, illegals that we were.

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody
Doesn't have a point of view
Knows not where he's going to
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don't know what you're missing
Nowhere man, The world is at your command
He's as blind as he can be
Just sees what he wants to see
Nowhere man, can you see me at all
Nowhere man don't worry
Take your time, don't hurry
Leave it all till somebody else
Lends you a hand
Ah, la, la, la, la

And then, pure bliss. The meal would come: pan-fried lightly breaded abalone, loaded baked potato and a salad from the spinning salad bowl. I think the dinners were $6.99 each. Even now, fifty years later, my mouth waters when I hear the sound of pins crashing in a bowling alley or the Beatles singing that precious song. Little since then has tasted quite as good.

*The Tortilla Curtain (1995) by T. C. Boyle

Merry Christmas


Better late than never....

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


The I15 was stop and go...mostly stop. 31/2 hours of it and we were in Primm, 60 miles from Vegas. Seemed like a good idea to take a break but once we were off the road we realized there was a jam-up for miles on both sides of the Primm exits. We found a parking spot and decided to wait it out and check into Whiskey Pete's. Lucked out again in that we got a seat at the IHOP. The crowds behind us faced an hour wait.

Our room was OK, recently made over. The carpet in the hallway simulates wood. Very strange choice but this is a strange place. Lots of angry people running around, probably half crazed from the freeway. The people in the next room were screaming at each other. Later in the night, like 3:00, they were singing. Better than the screaming. 
I put a dollar into the Texas Tea machine. Thrill of the day.


Cannot wait to see Primm through the rear view mirror.