Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day-to-day living that wears you out."     ~ Anton Chekhov

… just got back… from… a walk… up the hill from... our… house………… wait… let me… catch what's left of my… breath. 

Richard does this every day, and I used to. It's not just a 2-mile stroll. You start out from our house walking along the sidewalk that goes straight up the hill leading to wilder hills of brush and two or three California Pepper trees, too. Hundreds of wild rabbits live in what must be a huge warren under the biggest tree at the top of that hill, and the "soldier" rabbits nervously rattle away in the brush that lines the sidewalk as you pass.  

Quail live there, too. I know because, nearly every third or fourth day in the winter, Richard leaves about 20 pounds of wild bird seed up under one of the Pepper trees along the way. When the quail "watch-dog" sees him strew the seed, he calls to the whole crew of quail. They get so excited, especially in the winter, that 20 pounds of seed is gone in 2 days… every single little seed.

I've seen coyotes walk across the flattened out, chained-off portion of cemented-ground at the top of the hill. No explanation of why this splayed piece of cement was ever laid there in the first place. It's chained off with a rusted length of chain-metal, but that's never bothered the coyote population. Or me, either, for that matter. I checked it out just once on an early-summer morning, but I was cured quickly when I saw a snake sunning itself on that cement "patio."

Once I saw the saddest thing… a huge, very long, headless bull snake was laying in a reckless contortion. I looked at it for a long time, trying to understand why anyone would cut the head off the only snake I knew of that had the nerve to kill rattlesnakes! Then I realized… The maintence men, who were charged with trying to keep Wild Nature in line along the sidewalk to nowhere, must have come across him as they were chopping off limbs of the wild tag-team bushes. They chopped off his head, and flung his body out and away. Slithering all over that wild domain, he died one day because he was in the way of "civilization," I guess... in the way of the sidewalk that nearly no one ever uses, along a seldom-used road up a hill.

When you get to the very top of that curved road, there are houses with fences and dogs in the yards. There are green lawns and flowers galore and cars parked along the street. The view northward, behind the houses, is immense. You can see across the wide valley below all the way to the first row of high hills that stand in front of Mount Baldy and his buddies. 

That valley is, of course, filled with towns, cities, people, streets, freeways, trees, and even a man-made lake for fishing. Of course, the "lake" is stocked with more trout than the water can accommodate so that "fishermen" can catch them in record numbers. I betcha I could even catch one of those fish. I think they'd jump at the chance to get out of that ghetto called "the lake." Most of them have probably had enough of shoulder-to-shoulder Southern California living!

The streets are much straighter among those houses at the top of our hill. They go right down from those homes towards the the major roads and racing freeways to get where people want to go. Who would rather take the scenic route along the wild hills that continue and continue into more and more savage land? 

Savage, you ask? Yes, I say. Just listen once to a band of coyotes when they hunt down a deer up there. After all these years in Southern California, the barking of the chase and then the screams of the coyote kill-frenzy still make me shiver.

The way back down to our house is softer and more sheltered. Houses perched on small lots with tamed trees line the rest of the walk, more usual, more civilized, more what you'd expect. Once in a while I see someone from one of those houses taking a walk down "my" street," passing the wild place with a dog on a leash, or a bat in their hand to ward off… something or other, I guess.

I only ever saw the tables turned once on a walk around those 2 miles. As I walked along the populated section of "my" street, down into a valley between two hills of backyards, there he stood! A coyote that looked like a hybrid of coyote and wolf. He was standing right below one of the backyards under a large civilized tree with its huge leafy top, and he was staring at me! 

No fair! This was NOT that wild portion of the 2-mile, curvy street. This was MY territory! I stamped my foot and lunged toward him, confident that he would run away, of course. 

He didn't!

He took 2 strong, confident steps TOWARDS me!  ME! …and he never took his eyes off mine

The wild world is much stronger than the civilized world in these circumstances, I finally realized. He wasn't afraid. It was just a private matter to him, between the two of us, and he knew he could take me out! 

I had two chances, go back up that humungous hill or cross the street like a frightened deer. 

Of course, there was only one thing to do, being the asthmatic person that I am… I crossed the street, keeping my awareness on him without a stare-down. He'd win that, for sure, too, and maybe he'd lunge at me.

I kept walking, and he kept staring at me, and we never met again. It was just one of those things… just one of those crazy things… a trip to my fear that now and then rings, just one of those things…  And I was so glad for the end of it!  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, and I'm not sure where I'm going. If I knew where I was going, I wouldn't do it." ~ Frank Gehry

Once we lived in Montana… "The Big Sky Country." But it was just for a while. The sky IS bigger there than anywhere I've ever been. It's wider and higher and sometimes bluer, and it has the biggest, angriest storms I've ever been in … well, except for Texas. You've got to be tolerant if you're going to live in Montana… of people, of animals, and, certainly, of the weather. Bears wander about like they own the place… and they DO! At least they did for a lot longer than the people who own the place now.

The Blackfeet people live there, and have done, for about as long as the bears have. They both understand how to live together in peace, it seems to me. It's best not to get "the sweats" around bears. I read once that they are the third smartest animals in the world, and that makes them lots smarter than I am most of the time. No need to make them nervous or jumpy or anything… And, for heaven's sakes, don't creep around them like a frightened rabbit. Or in my case, just stay in the car and drive slowly, carefully, away.

We all lived in trailers when Richard's company was building the missile silos in northern Montana for the U.S. government a long time ago. Bears would come around to ravage the big metal trash cans for tidbits and morsels. They'd lumber into the area, and, not being grizzlys, those brown bears didn't look that big on all fours. Their little beady eyes looked for anything that smelled good to them, anything. All they had to do was knock the lids to the ground, slam the cans to the ground, and rifle through the contents… yum!

Wives used to come out and watch them from their porches as though those bears were muzzled and trained. I, on the other hand, cowered inside our trailer, inside the bathroom, and sat on the stool's seat with my baseball bat in hand! 

I could never have been a wife like the one in "Little House on the Prairie"… never, never, never! In my mind that TV show was a farce! They lived miles from any other folks. Her husband would go out to shoot game of some sort for dinner, and he'd lug it back home. Well, people did that in Montana, too, when we lived there. OK, I believe that much, but...

But that "Little House"… Sheesh! It was never, ever dusty! There was no noise of the constant wind rattling through their cabin, I guess their windows were perfectly plastered, or something. And if any of the folks got injured in any way, they were miraculously healed by the next week's episode! And Mrs. Ingles' skin was smooth as silk… always… even when she had beads of sweat dripping down from the perfectly clean hair above her powdered forehead! I say again… SHEESH! 

And, where were the bears? I did see them in one episode on our little trailer TV, I think. But bears are big and they aren't afraid of much of anything. Why would they be, these large, smart animals who get to sleep through each cold Montana winter? The humans were driving, working, cleaning house, grocery shopping, and dusting, while trying to keep warm in temperatures that could dip as low as a brutal -43 degrees of winter cold!

Well, that was many years ago, and the SALT talks calmed down the idea of missile silos pointing towards Russia back then. When the agreement was signed, the company sent everyone back where they'd come from, and, with the outsiders gone, the town-folk got right back to small-town life in Montana, the state with "black ice" and no speed limits on any highways… none!

But right now I'm facing my own big brown bear, right here in my own "studio!" OK, OK, my "studio" is really our spare bedroom upstairs. I have to create a original piece of art that needs to be 12" x 10." I've never, ever worked that small! It's much harder to create a well-designed tiny piece like that than the larger pieces I'm used to designing. And that's the "bear" I'm facing right now as I'm writing this, instead of slogging into my "studio" to get to it! 

Well, I guess you'd call it a cub I'm facing, not a bear… right? But I got "the sweats" just thinking about that little, tiny piece of cloth that needs to be deftly designed. Hope I'm up to it… Well, maybe I'll start tomorrow...    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"One does nothing who tries to console a despondent person with a word. A friend is one who aids with deeds at a critical time when deeds are called for." ~ Euripedes

What a crummy week I had! Perfectly CRUMMY! I lost all hope, all balance, all understanding. I was just miserable. Life had punched my lights out, and my mouth couldn't smile and my eyes couldn't see any brightness and my ears couldn't hear any kindness, anywhere.

Now, don't you dare feel sorry for me! I don't deserve it a bit! It was my lucky lot to be born in a free country, to have a good husband who is still with me after all these years, to have such good health that all I need to do is lose some weight. While half of this world is hungry and so many people in this world have no clean water, my "problem" is a "vanity!" And, no, I won't reveal it to you because I'm ashamed of myself.

Gotta give you just a sampling of 5 minutes of yesterday, though... I was at the post office waiting in line to buy some of their darling padded envelopes to send some tidbits to my two sisters-in-law in Nebraska. The lady behind me had the same envelopes in her hand so, of course, we chatted. The lady said she was 86-years old, and as we talked, she kept looking at me very closely, but that was easy to ignore. She was 86 years old. She said that her daughter had just started selling Mary Kay cosmetics. 

"Isn't that nice," I said. "Does she like it?"

"Oh, yes. She really loves it." 

Then she stared at me again and snorted!  "You don't have to look as bad as you do, you know! I'm going to give you my daughter's card so you can get some of her Mary Kay products. She will teach you how to put them on your face. It would sure help you look better…" (her EXACT words)

"Oh, thank you very much, " I muttered like a frightened child… but she WAS 86-years-old, and it WAS the worst week of my life, so what else could I expect?  

Instead I want you to meet a very close, very dear, friend of mine who helped me get my balance back. She helped me see clearly again while her own eyes are nearly useless now.

Anna is an extraordinary teacher. Ask any of her students who now speak English. Ask any of her collegues who learned from Anna how to overcome the complexities of teaching non-English speakers. Ask the parents in her night-time parenting classes who learned how to be much better parents. Yup, Anna is extrordinary!

Every day at lunch time, Bob, an award-winning educator and all-around good guy, and I would meet in Anna's room and talk, and laugh, and tell each other the silly things that had happened in our classes that morning, or talk about politics or whatever else was on our minds. Oh, and Bob and I would reach into that huge jar of candy that Anna always had sitting there on her desk. Long, tall Bob only ever took one piece, if that, but I think every noontime I'd fill any pockets I had on me with those rolls of sugar called "Smiley's!" Gee, I loved them!

Now, every day, Anna liked to get her grading done and all the set-ups for the next day ready before she left for home after school was over. Bob was so organized and efficient that he wouldn't walk out of his door until all was perfectly ready for his history classes in the morning. I would gather up all the English essays I needed to read when I got home, clean the white-boards so there was no trace of the colored markers on them, revamp the chair arragements for the next day's first period class, and then head for home.

Each of the three of us had different parking places. Bob walked right out of his classroom's back door, only steps away from where his car was parked. I would walk down the front breezeway of our school, past the main office, and into the large parking lot where most of the teachers parked. But Anna always parked in a small parking strip at the side of the our school because it was so close to her room. 

That parking strip held 10 cars, at the most, and it bordered a very busy, very crowded avenue. It was so small that it looked to me like a parking lot on a very strict diet! The best part was that it was nearly always empty, except for Anna's car. It was Anna's own private parking area, thank you very much!

After school one day, Anna walked out to the parking strip, and balancing her load of books and her bag full of student work, she poked around in her purse searching for her car keys. When she got the door opened, she began the wrestling match to tuck her night's work into her car. Just a few feet away cars were speeding past her.

BAM! SMASH! CRASH! A car careened into the parking strip and hit Anna's car, twisting it until it came to a stop nearly touching the school building's wall. Anna was pinned to the blacktop, half-way underneath her car! 

The stolen car that hit her heaved itself backwards a mite, untangling itself from Anna's car, and squealed away through the massive jumble of traffic that had suddenly slowed down so drivers could gawk at the crash site. Anna was alone and stunned, too stunned to know if she'd been hurt. 

Magically, police arrived. An ambulance sped into the parking strip. Cars on the avenue began to move again. But all this happened in slow motion for Anna, and none of it made sense to her.

The truth of what happened doesn't make much sense, even now. A young man had "stolen" a car and was whizzing through traffic with his father chasing after him in the family car. Why he sped through the tiny parking strip is anyone's guess. The father, who must have seen the accident, came back to the crash site and explained it to the police who'd already caught the young man. Case closed. But not quite… 

Besides other injuries, Anna lost the sight in one eye. She could have died. But she told me later that just before it happened, she had both hands on the top of the open door-frame of her car. When the careening car hit her, all she could think of was "DO NOT LET GO OF THIS DOOR!" It was almost like someone was commanding her to "Hold On!" Obviously, at some point the twisting of her car ripped her hands off its door, and she landed underneath her car. But holding on as long as she did saved her from having the car wheels flatten her completely.

My friend Anna has one eye left, but that eye has only a narrow pin-hole for her to see through. Her eye looks well enough outwardly, but she can only see a fraction of what is there in front of her with no depth perception at all. Anna cannot distinguish colors, anymore. Things are gray or black and white, mostly, even though she had the best eye doctors in the country examine her weekly to try to save what she has left. Now, the hope is that she will have her pinhole vision a little bit longer...

And on Tuesday, the day we always meet for lunch, Anna was helping ME feel better! You see, Anna reads people and understands folks better than I ever can, and she is a "no nonsense" person, to boot. Never, in the 15 years we've know each other, have I ever heard Anna complain about HER circumstances, though… never! And her "ticking bomb" of an eye problem is no exception.

But yesterday at lunch, when I dragged out my distress with my "poor me's" and my "ain't it awful's," Anna told me something that I certainly never knew. As I teared up and whined about my unhappiness, Anna looked at me and said, "Cry, Terry… just cry. It helps."

"But you never cry, Anna! Wha…"

"Oh, yes, Terry. I DO cry… sometimes I cry a lot."      

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do." ~ Maurice Sendak

"It's raining.
It's pouring!
The old man is snoring.
He bumped his head
And fell on the bed,
And couldn't get up in the morning."

When I was a little girl, I sang that song over and over until my Mom asked me to learn a new one! She didn't know that I was concerned about that "old man" and how bad his injury might be, and I wanted to help him, but I didn't know him. I was sad when I sang that song.

Now I know that the old coot was probably just drunk, and when he finally got home from the tavern, he probably fell across the bed and passed out.  He couldn't get up in the morning because he had an hellacious hang-over. And that's that! I've very little sympathy for him now.

A while back I wrote a piece about my three best friends in Culver City who all liked me but didn't like each other very much… There was Bobby, the sweet one. There was Linda, the selfish one (but don't forget, she was an only child). And then there was Sandy. I've not written about her, mostly because she wasn't either one of those kinds of people. She was Sandy.

Of course, now I'm looking at Sandy through older eyes, but then I was as innocent as a dove. And I wasn't what you'd call a child. I was 12 or 13 years old, but back then, most of us at 12 or 13 were not very worldly-wise. Most of us, that is, but I'm pretty sure that Sandy had been born worldly-wise.

Sandy was about two years older than I was and she lived caddy-corner across the street from us. Her parents owned a gas station in Culver City, or maybe her Dad just worked there, I don't remember for sure. They were nearly never home, though, and Sandy was on her own most of the time. She had an older brother who I nearly never saw, either. 

Sandy went to a private school somewhere, not to Betsy Ross Elementary School or Culver Junior High, like I did. They must have taught lots more in that school than they ever taught at my school because she sure did know more about life than I did… well, the parts of life that no one had ever introduced me to. I learned things from Sandy that I learned nowhere else.

We'd walk for miles talking, talking, talking about things that most teenaged girls talked about. On one of those walks I told Sandy that I "liked" a boy named Jim. 

"Wha'ja do with him?" she asked me one day.

"Well, in speech class the teacher picked Jim to do a scene in front of the whole class, and she asked him to pick someone to be in the scene with him, and Jim picked me!" I still remember feeling my face flush. Jim picked ME!

"So what!" said Sandy. "Wha'ja do with him?"

"Well, I sat in the chair next to him and we were supposed to pretend it was a car, and…"

"Who cares about THAT! What did you DO with him!!!"


"AFTER CLASS, SILLY? Didn't you kiss him and stuff?"

"Noooo. Of course not! We were in speech class. But what do you mean "stuff?"

"You know…. STUFF!  STUFF!!"

No, I didn't know. I hadn't even had my first "real" kiss with Chris yet. (Remember… I wrote about that a while ago, about the party at Larry's house… you know, my first real-life kiss. If you don't know look back a few entries… it's there.)

"C'mon… tell me… what's 'stuff'?"

"Well, I have a boyfriend, too," Sandy said. "He likes me, and we've kissed and stuff."

There she went again with at that "stuff" stuff. What in the world was she talking about, anyway?

"If you don't tell me what "stuff" is, I'm going to…" What, Terry, what in the world are you going to do? The truth is that you're going to do nothing. After all, you couldn't threated to tell her Mom like you always did to your little brother Jack! I bet her Mom knew what "stuff" was, though. 

"Oh shut up!" Sandy snorted. And I followed after her, still wondering what "stuff" meant. But the Foster Freeze place was just ahead, and my mind turned to bigger and better things like a tall vanilla ice cream cone double-dipped in hot chocolate coating that would quickly harden just after the lady twirled it in the chocolate sprinkles.

On the bare-footed walk home with chocolate sprinkles still sticking to my face, I realized that I hadn't asked Sandy about "her boyfriend!"

"Who is he, Sandy? Does he go to your school?"

"Nope," Sandy giggled. "He works at my Dad's gas station, BUT DON'T YOU TELL MY DAD ANYTHING!"

"I wouldn't do that, Sandy!"

"Well, he's 28 years old and he likes me! He told me that he did, and we kissed and stuff," Sandy announced proudly. "He's married, but he said he didn't love his wife anymore, he said he liked me more, so we did stuff and he said he's my boyfriend now!"

That was a lot to swallow for me. Poor man… he didn't love his wife anymore… How could that be? I mean once you were married ALL the books I'd ever read said that "they lived happily ever after!" Sandy must be wrong about that. It couldn't be. Wait… what did "stuff" mean, anyway? Hmmmmmm………….

Well, time passed and Sandy announced one day that she was going to have a party at her house, and I was invited. She was going to ask some kids from her private school to come and I HAD to be there. No threats were necessary, though. I'd be there, for sure.

We probably had cake and ice cream, but I don't remember. I DO remember that we played "Spin the Bottle," though. And I do remember that one of the boys from her class was there and he was cute! Now, I didn't have a clue what "Spin the Bottle" was, but Sandy said that we all had to sit on the floor in a circle, so we did. I noticed that Sandy's floor wasn't as clean as our floor at home, but that wasn't part of "Spin the Bottle."

Now, I've always liked Coke, and the first part of the game, evidentally, was finding an empty bottle. Sandy only had full bottles of Coke, so she handed me one and said, "Terry, drink this, and hurry up! We need the bottle!" So I did. I figured this game was going to be good. So far, the first part was fun!

Well, we were all sitting in a circle on the floor and I was full of Coca Cola and the cute boy was sitting right opposite me and he was smiling at me. I was starting to LOVE this game. Who'd thought this one up, I wondered?

Then Sandy grabbed the empty bottle out of my hand, set it so carefully in the exact middle of our circle, and she gave it a spin. This was the dumbest game I'd ever seen! You sit in a circle and you spin a bottle around… must be a game for lame-brains, I thought. But the silly empty bottle finally stopped spinning and it pointed to me! Sandy grabbed the bottle and gave it another spin. Is this all there is, I thought? Yuck!

I did notice that she had given the bottle a slower spin this second time, and when it finally came to rest, it pointed to one of the boys in the circle. Sandy nearly broke her knee stretching over to reach that boy, and they kissed! They KISSED! So that's the gist of this game… It was a "kissing game!" Hmmmm…. 

Well, the bottle made the rounds of the circe and it finally came to me, and I gave it a mediocre spin. When it stopped, the mouth of the bottle was pointing directly at the homeliest boy in the circle… one I had no desire to kiss. He looked at me sheepishly, and I leaned across the bottle for the shortest kiss in human history. I was always one who abided by the rules, mind you. But why didn't that stupid bottle point at the cute guy directly across from me?  Just my luck, I thought.

Round and round the bottle went, and round and round the circle we went, and finally, finally the bottle landed where I'd hoped it would land. The cute boy across the circle had his turn, but he never spun the bottle at all! He brazenly took the bottle in his hand, laid it on the floor, and turned it carefully so that it pointed at me! I guess he wasn't abiding by the rules, but I didn't care at all, because this game was finally getting interesting! I think the homely boy said something like, "No fair!" but who cared! I loved this game! What genius had thought this one up, I'd like to know! 

Well, that was the only time I ever played "Spin the Bottle," and it was many years before I learned what "stuff" meant. I was always a "late bloomer," and, as much as I hated that term when I was young, now I think that I was lucky. In fact, I think that luck was always on my side! Whew!