Monday, May 30, 2005
Alex has been putting in a water garden in the front yard, just a little one, the size of a half-wine-barrel. A goldfish already lives there, as does a potted water lily. I've been watching the water lily bud emerge and rise closer and closer to the surface; today it opened to reveal an exquisite pale yellowish-white blossom.
Looking down at the lily pads and the bloom, I was shot back through time to an outing to Zook's Dam, in Pennsylvania, in my childhood. There I saw for the first time wild water lilies floating on the surface of the water, as mystical as any saint, as improbable as giraffes and luna moths. We trespassed into rowboats that were moored by the shore, and looked closely at the lilies. My mother, with her usual wicked impatience, grew tired of our dog Raggs barking on the shore, lured her into the rowboat, and then pushed her overboard. Raggs' instincts kicked in, she learned to swim, and stopped barking at us.
I don't know for sure which Zooks they were or why they wanted to dam the creek and make a nice-sized lake; I think -- I think -- there used to be a mill there in the days before electricity and highways. But Zook's Dam was a Destination in that rural area 'way back when I was leetle. In the summer, people boated upon the waters to fish for bluegills and bass; in the winter, people skated on the thick ice just to be out in the open air. I stood in ice skates for the first time on the waters behind Zook's Dam, and fell and cracked my head so hard that I worried my brains would fall out. I was warned to stay away from the big kids skating fast; mom pointed out the nubbly, bubbly ice over the hidden lilies and cautioned me not to trip or fall over it. It was out under the great gray winter sky, and I could never forget the thrill.
Zook's Dam collapsed not many years later, perhaps from the weight of the silt that accumulated, maybe because of a spring flood, maybe because the dam was built by plain old people, not specialists. I waited for the dam to be rebuilt, and the fishing and skating to resume, but in vain. The wide waters became a swamp, then a pasture with a trickling creek through it.
Looking at the water lily blooming on the surface of a tiny pond today, I finally understood, just a few years short of a half-century later, that they couldn't rebuild the dam. For one thing, county building permits were unavailable for damming creeks, and two, the knowledge of how to build a dam without certified engineers and construction companies was utterly lost.
In the front yard, in these suburbs, I'll remember. And I guess I'll write about Zook's Dam, too, so that someone else will know.
I read Jerry's blog like it was one of my morning comics. He writes well, and observes things in an interesting way. Strange characters leave comments on his blog, including the mysterious Dr. Pants, which sounds like the name of a creature I would not wish to touch with a stick. Anyway, in his blog, Jerry answered Dr. Pants' challenge about books, and (surprisingly) named me as one of the next-challenged bloggers in the chain. Yeah, I can sort of handle this one...
How many books do you own?
About four big bookcases full, ranging from junk to calculus. I've read most of them, except for the books on math and some really funky ones about mystical spirituality. The math books were my dad's, and I keep them because they remind me of him; the ones on intense spirituality are there for research I've been putting of for a decade or so.
What was the last book you bought?
The Mummies of Urumchi by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I was caught up in Terri Edward's essay, "Clothes of Sand," and found less than shit that was reliable on the web while I was researching for the illustration. Great book.
What was the last book you read?
The Stray Lamb, by Thorne Smith. (See a couple blog entries back.)
Name five books that mean a lot to you, and that you've read more than three times.
1. Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope. I read this when I was 13 and fell in love with the idealism, the first-person perspective, and the description of fighting.
2. Rupert of Hentzau, the sequel by the same author. I loved it for the wrongness of what the hero did, for love; the swordfight between Rupert and Rudolph was/is one of the most exciting exchanges I've ever read; and the ending was so bitter it aged me many years. (That's a good thing at 13.)
3. The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester. Great story. If you want to know how to write, this is a book to read. Lyrical and rich, intriguing and swift.
4.The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge. Extraordinary writing, just beautiful to read.
5. Watership Down, by Richard Adams. You don't get writing more exquisite or non-superfluous than this.
Challenge five people to answer this on their blog.
Uhh, I'm screwed. The only non-mentioned bloggers I know are Wendy, Terri, and Alex. Whether or not they'll play is questionable. Alex in particular will probably look at this and say, "Oh, so that's what you were fiddling with when you were supposed to be drawing a cartoon?"
Thursday, May 26, 2005
to someone, that Babe attacks me every time I walk on the north side of the house, heading for the back yard. I don't know why. He was my dog for two years when we lived in the house on Cooper, and never attacked me on any side of the house there. But once we moved here, every time I came through the north-side gate, pow! a grinning, barking, leaping 100-lb German shepherd pressed forward to try to bite me.
Now of course we're not talking about the serious kind of biting Babe can do, but still, those honks and pinches aren't all that funny. I was able to get quite a workout trying to fend off his fervor, and did get quite a few bruises, even through work gloves. One day I came through the gate with the wheelbarrow, and when he charged, I aimed the wheelbarrow at him to push him back. He merely dove to the side and I ended up being chased around the wheelbarrow until I could duck in the nearby garage door and slam it. Another time I thought I would fix his wagon by putting the plastic bucket I was carrying over his head so that I could get past him -- because once I was past him, the game was over and he was happy. It didn't work. He grabbed the bucket in his teeth, gave a mighty shake of his head, and the plastic bucket cracked into pieces. Escape into the garage again.
Finally, in frustration, I went to the hardware store and bought a wooden closet pole about 1 1/2 inches thick. Hey, I watched Xena -- I know a quarterstaff can be quite a weapon.
The key to victory turned out to be learning how to torque the staff to wrench it free from Babe's grip. I began to win our bouts on a regular basis ... as long as I remembered to carry my "quarterstaff" with me, that is.
Babe lost most of his interest in attacking me on the north side of the house once Howie came to us. Howie apparently needed attacking more than I did, and Howie could outrun Babe. I was off the hook. The times Babe has remembered that I should be attacked for bringing the garbage can back inside the gate, Howie usually intervenes and lures Babe off.
There is one other time that Babe will attack me, Bernie, Alex, or John; I rediscovered it today as I tried to leave the pool. Some days (not all) Babe doesn't want people leaving the pool. He stands at the top of the steps and barks, which is noisy but cute, and one is inclined to ignore him and just walk out. However, one then has to be prepared for a crude pinch on one's midsections. After the third time I tried unsuccessfully to get out of the pool, Howie once again came to my rescue. "Look, Babe! Howie's got the ball! Go get him, Babe!"
As I said, Howie can outrun Babe, so I don't feel too bad. I woo-hoo-hooed my way quickly out of the pool and onto the patio before Babe figured out he'd been tricked, but I've got to remember that Babe is feeling pretty good these days and make sure I step out of the pool when he's occupied elsewhere.
P.S. (a few minutes later)The unpleasant little boy who was assaulting his neighbors with his obscene rap music had visitors over after school (guess he's not all moved out after all) and I ran outside with my phone poised to call 9-1-1. From the shouted obscenities and the bellowed words "my house" that I could hear (in my studio, with all the windows closed) I thought maybe his father was beating up his mother. The boys, who were on the front porch, saw me and stood up to take a good look. I went back inside and put Babe on a leash and went out front to take pictures of my flowers, just as a reminder that there is a big-ass mean-looking dog in residence
And I guess that's one of the big reasons I don't mind playing "Attack Mommy" with Babe. When it counts, he's not attacking me, he's defending me. Good dog, Babe.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Maybe that's why I decided to read Thorne Smith's The Stray Lamb this past week. Dad loved Thorne Smith and his quirky turns of phrase, his inventive vocabulary, his outrageous story lines. In his chair in the living room, Dad would sit and smoke L & M cigarettes (though he later switched to Marlboro Lights after bumming a few of mine) with an ugly brown melamine coffee cup beside him -- with beer in it, reading The Stray Lamb or Turnabout, cackling to himself now and then over a particularly delicious turn of phrase.
He wouldn't let me read Thorne Smith until I was fourteen, due to the sexual nature of the content: ummm, infidelity and underpants were mentioned. (There were no graphic sexual depictions in Smith's work; but back then, all sexuality was taken seriously.) Even when I was fourteen, we made a deal: I could read his Thorne Smith books if I kept the dictionary beside me and looked up any word whose definition I didn't already know. I learned "misanthropic" and "sanguinary," "vicarious," "sardonically" and "jocund." And many more. By the time I was done snickering over The Stray Lamb, I was primed for Turnabout, in which a husband and wife get on an Egyptian god's nerves and are switched into each other's body. Such venom in simple language, such commentary on life.
T. Lawrence Lamb argues with an old seagull who quarrels with everything Lamb says, until finally Lamb bursts out, "You're an insufferable old fool and you don't know you're alive." In Turnabout, Tim Willows says to his complaintive wife, "I wish to several different sets of gods I could change places with you for a while ... I'd sit down and write myself a book. It might be a rotten book, but at least I'd have the satisfaction of finding it out." I've remembered those two quotes almost every day of my life since I read them; I've tried to live my life so that no one would ever say such to me.
Dad left me with quite a legacy in those books. They were formative even when I had no clue that I would become a writer, and I'm grateful for the unorthodox world-view they portrayed. Yet it's only in middle age that I look at the main characters of Thorne Smith's books and see that he wrote about men who were trapped and dragged down by life, whose only salvation was magical in nature, no remedy to be found in the real world.
I'm sorry I didn't see that sooner, but there was nothing I could have done for him, not really. I loved him, and he knew I loved him; we shared an understanding and accepted what we had, and what we couldn't have, and still knew we were alive, and had the satisfaction of knowing we were doing what we could to stretch our senses out as far as they could go.
While many of my friends have given up on an afterlife, I hold onto a hope that someday I'll get to see him again, and ask him what he thought of my books, and I will promptly backhand my fingers across his arm and tell him to dream up a spectral typewriter, sit his spectral ass down, and write the book he always had a sneaking desire to write.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
I suffered greatly during the shaking of the almonds at harvest and the bounteous snowy blooms in February. As bad as the worst cold I ever had, the illness from allergy would make me hack and think that I would die. Then I quit smoking, one of the wisest decisions of my life, and the allergies got worse. I alternated between bronchitis, pneumonia, and sinus infections, part of the circle of the seasons.
After nearly twenty years in CA, the almond blossoms bother me a little, but not much while I'm taking the miracle drug Astelin. However, jasmine vine and Texas privet (mainstays in dry-climate landscaping) have taken over as the main offenders, and NOTHING can eliminate that sickeningly sweet odor or the lungs-on-fire sensation of standing next to those plants in full bloom. Today we visited a wonderful water-garden nursery and it was simply gorgeous -- except that they had potted Texas privet everywhere. By the time we were done with our tour, I could not even think clearly, let alone breathe freely, and I really, really wished there was a place to go barf for a while. I know my face and neck will be covered with little allergy pimples tomorrow, just in time for Sunday church.
Alex was suggesting that we dress all in black, as ninjas do, and take a truckload of Tri-ox (a soil sterilant and killer of all plant matter) around town and kill all Texas privets and jasmine plantings. Sounds good to me.
I'm always amazed to see people unaffected by these damned plants. Are they totally invulnerable to every allergen in the world? Or are they accursed by other allergies, such as to cats, or roses, or PG movies?
My eyes are as red as a pot-smoker's, I can't breathe through my nose, and I itch. Still, I have this vision of an unused corner of the yard dug deep and planted with cattails and water lilies, water falling entrancingly from the lips of a fat, vapid frog, with fish swirling in its depths. Yeah, I could dig that.
Friday, May 20, 2005
When I worked in a hardware store (utter bliss) I had to do a lot of lifting when I worked in the Nursery Department, grasping gallon pots upon gallon pots to place them on the shelves, not to mention the bags of compost and chips and potting soil. Not so very long after the Nursery Department, I moved to the Paint Department, and had to hoist gallons of paint to the shelves, and five gallon containers, and soon found that gripping three gallons of paint cans in each hand was easy as pie. That was because I was using my legs to lift, and not my back.
As a result, I don't have sweetly skinny little Tee-Hee, DaddyBoughtMeA Horse legs, I have GonnaKickYourLazyAss legs that match up with my ICanLiftAllDayShoulders. Alas, the boot manufacturers all know that the Tee-Hee crowd are the money market, and the KickAss old women are few and far between. Women's boots that fit around the calf are hard as hell to find. Especially quality boots. Men's boots don't come in my foot size. Screwed again.
I did find some boots; I may have to pay someone big bucks to cut the tops down an inch or so. I have this fantasy that they will sag after wear and fit well. Currently, they look like shiny stovepipes, things I'm embarrassed to wear on an actual ride. In order to properly break them in, I set off the other day to the hardware to purchase some neatsfoot oil to soften the leather.
No one among the (youthful) staff had ever heard of neatsfoot oil. From my earliest memory, neatsfoot oil was something every household had to break in new work shoes. You soaked the leather with it, and after the leather was dark with oil, you wore the boots/shoes a little more each day until the boots/shoes were your own, molded to your own feet and ankles. When snow or rain had attacked your footwear, you re-oiled it with the neatsfoot oil to preserve it. You expected boots to last for twenty years, at least. Kids in California don't wear boots, by and large. Even if they work in the orchards or vinyards or farms, they don't need expensive leather boots to last -- they can get by on WalMart $5 sneakers or somesuch. And the kids who don't have to work in the agricultural venue, for the most part have mommies or daddies (but rarely both) who will pay for Nikes or Reeboks, or brands of influence that I have never heard of.
My Wolverine Durashocks brand workboots, broken in with neatsfoot oil, are so sweetly accustomed to my feet that I don't notice them when I wear them. I've had them for at least ten years, and though they have been worn, they are still in great condition.
This morning I feel full of energy and very little pain. It is a good day to go out in search of Neatsfoot Oil ... and a crate of strawberries, fresh picked from the field. If I don't find the oil, I'll at least have the pleasure of the season.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
And then I walk back the hallway and peer into the studio to see the pic on the easel. Shit. Right there, the blue hasn't flowed accurately into the purple. And there, that looks like a smudge, not a blend. Shit, shit, shit, this plane doesn't flow as it should.
I love my artwork when it's done. But until then, it's work, work, work. Years ago I said I wouldn't contract out for art ever again. Yet here I am, sweating stinky sweat worrying that what I said I could do won't pan out. Why do I do this to myself?
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Little Mister Crap-Rap is moving, as I understand. U-Haul rental trucks have been carrying away furniture for several days. Gosh, I'm sorry to see that happen. Guess that real estate curve was the proper enticement to get parents to stop the volume obscenities. Who says there are no benefits to capitalism?
Doggies, doggies: I got some samples of a new dog food called Canidae for Babe and Howie. Babe has an ongoing problem with licking that has been aggravated since good old Pedigree new-and-improved their formula. I mixed a sample pack of Canidae in with the boys' dry Pedigree this morning and they snarfed down their whole bowls, instead of picking at the food. And the best news is, neither has the shits from new food concepts. I'll increase the amount of Canidae the next couple days; if there is no adverse reaction, I'll switch out of the Pedigree completely. Canidae is more expensive, but tough on me. I hate seeing my dogs itch and tear at their pelts and stain them with unneccessary food dyes. Better to change foods than to pay a veterinarian to prescribe drugs.
Also on the doggie note -- Howie will still bite me if I try to play hopscotch. Indeed, after I once again demonstrated the hopscotch pattern to my granddaughter, he herded me into a corner of the patio.
California is still broken!!! Global warming has made our weather about 20 degrees cooler than it usually is, and unleashed insane amounts of rain. Shit, if this keeps up, we might as well move back to Pennsylvania. At least there you could eat fish out of the river.
Nothing in the local papers about the Preakness. I don't even know who's running.
Writing and artwork are like pitons pounded into a steep and crumbly slope. They're there, but not especially stable. A project sits on my work desk, smeared with sky blue and shitass-mix black-and-brown pastels, and I both hate it and love it. God knows what I will do with it tomorrow.
Night calls, and hungry dogs. Sleep well, all who read.
Friday, May 13, 2005
and up two houses decided to treat the neighborhood to rap music. I say "incontinent" because he is unable to converse with his little friends except loudly, with the word "fuck" spurting out of his mouth every few syllables, much like the recording he inflicted upon us for most of the day.
His parents have been asked to intervene, but they are unable to do anything about it, apparently. Their junior-high infant rules the roost. They have no say in his music, his dress, his conduct. He does not care that senior citizens live next door to him and might not want to hear his and his recordings' truly disgusting language; the past and hard-earned retirement mean nothing to him. He has no interest in the future, and takes no account that there are toddlers across the street, receiving the full volume of the barrage.
I thought about taking my sound system out in front of the house and playing at full volume Barney songs, or maybe classical music, or possibly (to be as irritating as the monotonous foul-language rap) the barking dogs version of "Jingle Bells" but I could not bring myself to be that hateful.
His parents bought their house at what must have been about $250,000 dollars; they could easily get $700k for it now. I'm truly hoping that they believe the stories about real estate being at the peak of the market and sell, sell, sell. Their darling little asocial offspring deserves a fresh chance somewhere else.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
When you're putting off doing all the things you know you have to run around and do, the best thing to have with you is a cute dog.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
I spent six hours today in the studio -- not playing computer games or writing e-mails, but working on art stuff and on presenting art stuff. It was frustrating as hell while Photoshop Elements was screwing around with my brain and tremendously gratifying as I discovered how to manipulate images in spite of PE's malicious waywardness. Six hours! Shit, if I could bring myself to do that every day, who knows what I might accomplish?
Today was significant in that I did a lot of work without a deadline to drive me. There is no doubt in the world that I am an adrenaline junkie and do well with a LOOMING cutoff date. The work I did today didn't even, technically, have to be done. But I did it. Good for me. I may grow up yet.
But let's hope not. At least, I want to be, at this point, a candidate for Growing Up Wrong.
P.S. The new "comments" feature at the Press is really cool. I didn't think it would be, but it is.
Monday, May 09, 2005
20 horses beating themselves up to get to the rail and the lead -- there ought to be a law against such a large field in the Kentucky Derby. Most of those youngsters' races have been against fields of 10 or fewer. To double that number in the same amount of space has just got to fry those horses' minds. Giacomo's jockey, Mike Smith, did a phenomenal job of threading his horse through that mess to go from 18th to win. Wow. Watching the race, suddenly, at the end, Giacomo just kind of popped out, making me say, "What the hell? What the hell?" Okay, well, shout, not say.
Bellamy Road was out there at the crest of the wave, but when there got to be a few other horses beside him, he just faded away. Afleet Alex made a great effort (placed 3rd) but there just wasn't enough left to keep going. About Closing Argument, I just have no idea.
Spanish Chestnut is a sprint horse. He was entered in the Kentucky Derby not to win the race but to burn out Bellamy Road, who likes to be out in front. And burn Spanish Chestnut did, keeping the pace incredibly hot, until exhausted, he drifted back to finish 16th. What a shame his owner didn't use some better sense and keep Spanish Chestnut rested; he'd have snatched up the Preakness easily.
(The Kentucky Derby is 1 1/4 miles; the Preakness one mile; the Belmont Stakes is 1 1/2 miles.)
And hell, yes, horses got cut up and hurt in that stampede. That was a nasty race. Why do I watch every year? I guess I'm like a lot of people, always looking for the next Secretariat.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Thus we did expect heavier rain than usual in the November - to - March rainy season, as happened back in 1996 (at least I think it was 1996) when a large portion of the county close to the San Joaquin River became a lake inspite of the levees. However, after that fateful drenching year, April was still the end of the rain season and we had California weather to cheer us up after the water worries. Not so this year. The Bay Area is expecting lows in the 30's before dawn and stable warm weather is nowhere in sight for us here in the Valley. This is nuts.
Lillian could live out her childhood and most of her adolescence and not see weather like she's experiencing; the fun dancing in the rain and flowing gutters in May is an extremely rare event here. She might not ever remember it. How much does one remember from being three years old? How often does California turn into Oregon?
Today (though today will seem like tomorrow after I'm done sleeping again) is Derby Day. Back East, the newspapers would have been full of speculation about the favorites and the long shots; the names Lukas, Baffert, and Zito would have been on every sports page. Here, the Kentucky Derby warranted a couple lame paragraphs in an overview on page two of the sports section yesterday. So annoying. Perhaps if one of the horses running carried a political message branded or painted onto his thoroughbred ass the West Coast would sit up and notice. I spent the afternoon jonesing on clips from the Derby site (http://www.kentuckyderby.com/2005/). Bellamy Road is the horse to beat, it seems, but Afleet Alex has shown some heavy duty running and may have the staying power to take the Belmont Stakes.
For sure I won't be wearing a white gauze outfit when I watch the Derby this year. I might, however, need to dig out a sweater.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Tonight I could kick ass.
Well, I think I could. No pain, (no pain!) and freedom of movement, all due to Dr. Jack Morris' chiropractic expertise. Dr. Jack is one of those rare individuals who doesn't do what he does to make a living. He is a chiropractor because he can help people recover from injuries. He doesn't like return visits. He released me from my pain in TEN minutes. TEN. I need to take it easy for a few days, but where I was bed-bound yesterday, today I had to mentally admonish myself to behave and not do too much, I felt so -- great!
And yet Dr. Jack is not the chiropractor that Dr. Guy Schenker is, but Dr. GS is all the way back East in Pennsylvania. Dr. GS is the most amazing healer I have ever known. He should be world famous, he should be a Nobel Prize winner ... but he isn't, and I have no idea why not.
I had knee problems from the time I was 16 until I was 26, when I went to him at my mother's urging; the toss up was buy a cane to keep from falling down or see this chiropractor. He fixed my knees. I only went to see him if I was having pain (which was a given, as Dad passed on to me his extra vertebra and a penchant for doing too much) in my back, but he stopped my summer allergies, my clumsiness in walking, and strangely enough, boosted my immune system somehow so that I did not catch colds. At All.
I love chiropractors and what they can do, if they are honest and capable practitioners. I love Dr. Jack for what he has done for me since I found out about him; I love Dr. GS for his genius and how he makes time for me when I go back East.
While I was writing this post, a shower began, and I was moved to go outside with my 3-year-old granddaughter and dance in the rain in the gutter, forgetting utterly the pain and injury I had yesterday. That's the real magic in chiropractic -- when you can forget that mere hours before you were a cripple.
Laughing and dancing, dudes.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
My beloved dog Howie leapt backward to join two other dogs on the morning walk and as I had his leash draped across my shoulder and held the end in my hand, his leap pulled me abruptly over backwards and down. I didn't fall, but my day has been one of lying down and icing, heating, icing, heating, and hoping to God that my chiropractor can put me right.
I hate getting older. I hate getting hurt.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
When I was about 14 years old, my father allowed me to read his Thorne Smith novels, on the condition that I keep a dictionary in my lap while I did so, and look up any words I didn't know the definition of. (Believe me, there were quite a few.) I drank down The Stray Lamb as though I was a dehydrated wanderer in the desert and Thorne Smith the only well. It was witty and clever and just sexy enough to engage my adolescent hormonally foggy interest. However, one line has stuck with me every day of my life since I read that book, informing my days, coloring the glasses through which I see the world. In The Stray Lamb, the main character chides another, "You don't even know you're alive."
Since that time, so long ago, I tried to ask myself daily if I knew I was alive. Since that time, when I was only in junior high, I began to assess people I met; did they know themselves to be alive? Most people I've met don't. They measure themselves by their successes and failures and their comparisons to Televisionland and whatever current trend is extant in their community. That kind of awareness was not what Thorne Smith was referring to. He wanted to say that there was a sense of living that you could feel through the soles of your feet, through your skin, through your own eyes and senses without the input of mass media. Do you know that you can do that?
Listening to the new someone today, I could see that she had little idea that she was alive. She was all about sidewalks, and video assists to respond to church, and cute ideas that reduced seekers of truth to First Communion Kiddies. A frog started to call while she was telling how a church she went to was so wonderful, extolling projecting the lyrics to a song on the wall (holy bouncing ball!) and she never paused to wonder -- wonder! -- about a frog singing. The frog, for her, did not exist. Other opinions did not exist. The joy of other people's experiences did not exist. Only hers. "I am existence," that poor soul might say, if it were honest.
But "I am alive in this strange and mysterious world" -- forget it. The world is only as strange and mysterious as her living room permits.
Does she know that she is alive? Hmm, maybe, but not in a world in which others are also alive. "We have, we saw, we believe."
This is a little strange, I realize, but what about those important stances that say, "We don't know. We hope. We believe"?